The information in this article is inspired by the Rough Guide to India, your essential guide for visiting India.
We asked the Rough Guides team in Delhi to vote for the most beautiful places in India. After much deliberation, here are the results...
Agumbe is a village situated in the Thirthahalli taluka of Shimoga district. It is associated with rainforest conservation efforts and the documentation of medicinal plants. A stunning place to start off our list of the most beautiful places in India.
Jaisalmer is the quintessential desert town. Its golden, sand-coloured ramparts rise out of the arid Thar like a scene from the Arabian Nights. A long trip across the Thar is rewarded by the sublime vision of Jai Singh’s yellow-stone citadel floating above the sand flats. Camel treks can take you deep into the surrounding desert.
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Dawki, 35km from Mawlynnong, is the most important of the Meghalaya–Bangladesh border crossings to Tamabil, two and a half hours from Sylhet. The real attraction is the crystal clear water and suspended bridge at nearby Shnongpdeng, the source of the river, seven kilometres away.
Around 20km west of Jabalpur, the Narmada River suddenly narrows and plunges over a series of waterfalls. From there, it then squeezes through a seam of milky white marble before continuing on its westward course. The Marble Rocks, known locally as Bheraghat (or Bhedaghat), are a good place to while away an idle afternoon.
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Lush forests of deodar cedars, apple orchards and giant, ice-dusted summits flank the hill resort of Manali. This beautiful place is situated in the Kullu Valley — the starting point of the trans-Himalayan highway. Manali — long a favourite hangout of Western hippies — is set in idyllic mountain scenery and offers trekking and whitewater rafting. Or, relax in the hot springs in nearby Vashisht.
The great riverbanks at Varanasi, are lined by stone steps – the ghats. Built high with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pavilions and palaces, temples and terraces, the ghats stretch along the whole waterfront. They change dramatically in appearance with the seasonal fluctuations of the river level. Each of the hundred ghats, big and small, is marked by a lingam, and occupies its own special place in the religious geography of the city.
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Srinagar would be a major draw on the strength of its Himalayan scenery alone, but it is the city’s serene lakes and grand gardens that make it irresistible. The largest is Dal Lake, with a surface area of approximately 21 square kilometres. The lake is usually as flat as a mirror and incredibly photogenic, with the surrounding peaks reflected in its greenish-blue waters.
Walk through this spectacular rhododendron-filled valley with icy pinnacles towering overhead. A fragile road etches its way up the Teesta Valley and splits at Chungthang. One branch bearing northwest to Lachen and beyond, the other due north to Lachung, to the beautiful valley of Yumthang.
The famous Dudhsagar waterfalls, on the Goa–Karnataka border, are some of the highest in India. They are a spectacular enough sight to entice a steady stream of visitors from the coast into the rugged Western Ghats. The Konkani name for the falls, which literally translated means “sea of milk”, derives from clouds of foam kicked up at the bottom when the water levels are at their highest.
Heading east towards Chamba, the road descends through deodar forests to the meadow of Khajjiar. Here the small temple of Khajjinag looks down over a vast rolling green with a small lake cupped in the centre. Khajjiar is a popular day-trip from Dalhousie for Indian tourists who come to take pony rides.
Until 1994, the lands north of Leh were off-limits to tourists and had been unexplored by outsiders since the nineteenth century. Now the breathtaking Nubra Valley unfolds beyond one of the world’s highest stretches of driveable road.
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Hiking around Munnar's tea plantations, grassy mountains and dazzling viewpoints is the perfect antidote to the heat and humidity of the coast. Munnar’s greenery and cool air draw streams of well-heeled honeymooners and weekenders from south India’s cities. However, increasing numbers of foreign visitors are stopping for a few days too, enticed by the superbly scenic bus ride from Periyar.
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Chilika Lake, a huge saltwater lagoon south of Bhubaneswar, is good for birdwatchers. Fed by fresh-water rivers and washed by the sea, this biodiversity hotspot is a wintering ground for migratory birds and home to a number of threatened aquatic species, including the Irrawaddy dolphin.
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Our Delhi team voted for Madikeri as an excellent base in India. From here one can explore the lush national parks, natural beauty and gorgeous coffee plantations that abound in this scenic stretch of the Western Ghats. The pleasant road to Abbi Falls, Madikeri’s famous 21m cascade, winds through the hill country and makes for a good day’s outing. Viewed from a hanging bridge, the falls are at their best during and after the monsoons.
Described by one of our editors as magical, this village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya is simply stunning. The surrounding areas are just as unforgettable, with natural bridges made by twisting the roots of rubber trees crossing the rivulets and streams. All this puts Mawlynnong on our list of the most beautiful places in India.
Kerala's scenic backwaters, edged with coconut palms, lush green rice paddies and picturesque villages, make for a beautiful escape from hectic city life. Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary forms the focus of a line of ultra-luxurious resorts on the water’s edge. A backwaters cruise here is a great place for peace and quiet.
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Set against the rugged Vindhya hills, is the medieval ghost town of Mandu. 98km southwest of Indore, Mandu is one of central India’s most atmospheric monuments. This tranquil backwater sees far fewer visitors than it deserves, save for the busloads of exuberant Indian day-trippers on weekends. Even during the relentless heat of the dry season, the ruins are an exotic spectacle.
Among a surreal landscape of golden-brown boulders and leafy banana fields, the ruined “City of Victory,” Vijayanagar. Better known as Hampi, the city spills from the south bank of the River Tungabhadra.
This once dazzling Hindu capital was devastated by a six-month Muslim siege in the second half of the sixteenth century. Only stone, brick and stucco structures survived the ensuing sack. You'll find here monolithic deities, crumbling houses, and abandoned temples dominated by towering gopuras.
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This hot and desolate landscape is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. Situated right on the border with Pakistan, its striking white plains call out to many of the more intrepid explorers in our team. The treeless salt marshes to the north and east, the Great and Little Ranns of Kutch, are breathtaking expanses of cracked white earth. Be warned they can flood completely during a heavy monsoon from July to September.
From July to August, when its rolling alpine meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, this sprawling National Park is a bucket list destination for many in the Rough Guides office. Bhyundar Valley – the Valley of Flowers was discovered in 1931 by the visionary mountaineer Frank Smythe. It is named for its multitude of rare and beautiful flora. The meadows are at their best during the monsoon, from mid-July until mid-August.
Pangong Tso, 154km southeast of Leh, is one of the largest saltwater lakes in Asia. This icy saline lake, cradled by stark and sombre mountains 4350m above sea level, comes second in our list. We think it epitomises the breathtaking majesty of the high Himalaya.
Visitors to Kerala in search of an exclusive tropical paradise may well find it in Lakshadweep the islands. They lie between 200km and 400km offshore in the deep blue of the Arabian Sea. Quiet lagoons, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs teeming with aquatic life and secluded white-sand beaches... The list goes on. The absolutely spectacular Lashadweep was a unanimous choice at the top of our list for the most beautiful places in India.
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