Five Indian Cities Not in Your Travel Guide

by Mackenzie Thompson

From the untrained eye India may seem like an overpopulated land, brimming with people, cows and an array of overwhelming spices. Adversely the whirlwind of culture, sights and happenings in India are enough to change a person’s perspectives on what they have always loved.  Beyond the normal scope of tourist destinations are hidden adventures awaiting those who look past the front and into the heart of India.

Follow this list of Indian cities that may not have the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, but have so many insouciant places you will never look at India, or life, the same again:

Encompassed in the foothills of the outer Himalayas lay the refreshingly cool air of the incredibly plush and magnificent terrain of Nainital. Resting high above the state of Uttarakhand, the hill station is bursting with life and activity. Streets are teeming with street vendors, bustling shops and enveloped by the glittering Naini Lake. Naini Lake, unlike other bodies of water seen in India, sparkles with sunlight. Boat tours send tourists gliding across the water to different sections of the hill station where shops and street vendors wait. Panipuri, hallowed out fried bread filled with chutney, masala, potato and chickpeas dipped in spice water, is sold in bundles of 5 for 20 rupees, a cultural treat you cannot miss. Even rainy days in Nainital make for the best memories, never ending room service means sipping masala chai for hours on end as you look out onto the lake swaying with the wind, just be careful of intruding monkeys that have been known to knock on windows. Day or night entertainment can be found at the Boat House Club, where the old wood floors and walls smell of fresh water and the windows open directly above the water of Naini Lake.

Nighttime in Lucknow reveals rows of lights running against the highway, flashing as your taxi passes with incredible speed. The capital city of Uttar Pradesh is adorned with architecture both new and old. The Ambedkar Memorial is a memorial ground guarded by 62 elephants made of marble brought from Rajastan. At a distance the sight of this memorial looks so glaringly white and pure, your eyes will have to squint in order capture all of the beauty. If you are looking for a challenge both mentally and physically, the Bara Imambara labyrinth is an exhaustingly amusing structure in Lucknow.  A winding building of complex routes and rooms, a trip through Bara Imambara could last hours, and gives you priceless views of Lucknow from high up above the city.

Floating atop Sagar Lake protrudes the Jal Mahal, or Water Palace, in Jaipur. Across the way from the palace is a winding road where camel rides are offered. As you sway with the camel and look out to the palace with it perfect reflection on the water, you will never be able to forget this unbelievable moment. A part of the World Heritage List, Jantar Mantar is a masterpiece. 14 devices are spread throughout the site, their complex structures and angular shapes were used to measure time, eclipses and star locations over 200 years ago.  Like a life size M. C. Escher painting, Jantar Mantar is an otherworldly site. Amer Fort is placed in the forested hills of Jaipur, its great walls can be seen from miles away as they guard the fortress inside. Elephants decorated in jewels stomp the grounds where gardens and lakes are meticulously placed creating sharp contrasts with the blues, greens and reds of this magnificent structure.

A trip to southern India is a needed contrast in your understanding of the Indian culture. The coastal city of Chennai touches the Bay of Bengal, a salty clear body of water with strong undercurrents. The variety of exotic fish will leave you baffled in the local restaurants. An entire day should be dedicated to just driving down East Cost Road, a never ending road of the pure and natural beauty of southern India is bolstered by the this road. An unobstructed view of the bay can be seen the entirety of the drive, so little traffic and so much blue and sand will leave your heart singing. On your drive, stop at the must eat restaurant Moonrakers, about an hour drive south of Chennai in Mahabalipuram.  The freshest calamari you have ever had and King Fisher will be served endlessly as you eat in the open front restaurant watching busy shoppers bargain. Another natural sight in Chennai that has both grandeur and age is the 450-year-old giant banyan tree in Adyar. A prodigious piece of nature, the aerial prop roots that hang to the ground are sturdy and flexible, perfect for a quick rope swing.

A myriad of cultures can be seen in India and one of the most surprising can be seen in the  “French Riveria of the East”, Puducherry.  A strong French influence is noticeable in the streets and structure of the French Quarter. Motos zoom by with dark, full bellied Indian men in the front, and the pale hands of a French man hanging on smiling in the back. The integration of these two cultures in one city has created a place unlike any other. Its cuisine incorporates the delicate tastes of the French and the strong spices of southern India. The collection of essential restaurants lined down the streets offer the best of cuisines. The walls in the French Quarter are garnished with artful graffiti, colored and designed with precision and beauty. The crystalline beaches make a stroll on the Promenade, in the center of town, the perfect end to reflect on your travels through India.