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Top 10 Historical Destinations in India

With 40 sites in India being on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list, India has a plethora of historical sites that stand tall as a witness to their glorious past.

Bindu Gopal Rao

If history is on your mind, India is a Pandora’s box as there is so much to see and celebrate in every corner of the country. To make it easy, we list 20 historical destinations and what you must see there.

1. Agra

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Home to one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, Agra has several historical sites that are worth a visit. Start at Fatehpur Sikri; located 40 kms away, the red sandstone structure has monuments like Jodha Bai's Palace, Tomb of Salim Chisti, Jama Mosque, and Buland Darwaza. he Lal Quila or Agra Fort on the banks of the Yamuna, Itimad-ud-daula's Tomb, Guru Ka Tal, Chini Ka Rauza, the tomb of Allama Afzal Khan Mullah, and Sikandra—the burial site of Emperor Akbar—are other sites you must see.

2. Delhi

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In the capital city, you must see the Red Fort that was constructed in 1648 when Shah Jahan shifted the capital from Agra to Delhi. The site for the Presidential speech on Independence Day, the fort was made of white limestone but painted red by the British when the limestone started chipping off. The Qutub Minar, that is home to a 2000-year-old iron pillar that has not rusted, is a fine example of Indo-Muslim architecture as well. Humayun’s Tomb said to be the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal, Hauz Khas, India Gate, Safdarjung Fort, Tughlaqabad Fort, Jama Masjid, Lodi Garden, and Agrasen ki Baoli are other historical sites here.

3. Jaipur

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When in the Pink City, do stop by at the iconic Hawa Mahal or ‘Palace of Winds’ built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh that has 953 intricate windows. Also visit the majestic Amer Fort, as it is home to the Sheesh Mahal, Shila Devi shrine, and several courtyards. Do check the frescoes, painted ceilings, and marble inlay work when you are here. The Jantar Mantar, Jaigarh Fort, City Palace, Albert Hall Museum, Royal Tombs in Gaitor, Jal Mahal, and GaltaJi temple are some other sites to see. If you can, check out the Abhaneri Step Well, which is 95 kms from Jaipur.

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4. Bhopal

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With a glorious past, Kamlapati Mahal dates to 1722 and is named after the widow of Nizam Shah Gond, Queen Kamlapati. When in Bhopal, also see the Shaukat Mahal, a fine specimen of Asian, Western and Islamic architecture with Gothic influences that houses the Municipal Corporation of the city and was used as a Public Audience Hall in the past. A stop at Gohar Mahal, built by Queen Qudisiya, who changed the patriarchal ruling world when she sat on the throne to rule Bhopal will reveal stunning Indo-Islamic architecture. Do make time to visit the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, 50 kilometres from Bhopal that has 600 caves with rock paintings made in the Neolithic Age. Another stop must be at the Sanchi Stupa that dates to the 3rd century B.C and houses relics of the Buddha.

5. Ahmedabad

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A UNESCO World Heritage City, Ahmedabad will delight history buffs with its extensive historical monuments that have stood the test of time. Start your exploration with the Sabarmati Ashram—the place where Mahatma Gandhi started his non-violent struggle for India’s freedom. If you want to see the the Tree of Life in stone, head to the Siddi Saiyyed Mosque which has the Siddi Saiyyed ki Jaali—a stunning piece of carved lattice work. Dada Hari ki Bhav in the old city, Jhulta Minara (Shaking Minaret), Hathisingh Jain Temple, and Tomb of Ahmed Shah are other must-see places. The best way to experience the history of the city is to sign up for an old city walk that is organised by the Department of Tourism.

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6. Kolkata

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The best starting point for a lesson in history in Kolkata is at the Victoria Memorial built during the peak of the British era. The stunning white dome facade is offset by lush gardens and the museum is a repertoire of British memorabilia including paintings, weapons, sculptures, and more. There is also Fort William built in 1696 whose stonework facade took 10 years to complete. The Howrah Bridge, Belur Math, Marble Palace, Tagore’s House, Indian Museum, Prinsep Ghat, Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Writers Building, Town Hall, Albert Hall, and Nizam Palace are some of the places that must be on your itinerary here.

7. Hyderabad

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With an identity that merges the Nawabi influences with the local Telangana nuances, Hyderabad’s old city is a treat for history lovers. The iconic Charminar is arguably the best place to start exploring the historical past of the city. The four minarets of this structure, that is easily the most identifiable symbol of the city, dates to 1591 and is set amidst an old market area. The Golconda Fort that flourished primarily for being the centre of diamond trade in the past, is a massive, fortified structure with mini forts, citadels, gateways, and more. Do not miss Fateh Darwazaan, an acoustic marvel where a hand clap can be heard over a kilometre away. Adjacent to the Golconda Fort are the Qutub Shahi Tombs that are a must see. Makkah/Mecca Masjid, Chowmahalla Palace, Salar Jung Museum, Taramati Baradari, Toli Masjid, Paigah Tombs, Spanish Mosque, and Falaknuma Palace are other historical sites in the city.

8. Mysore

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The city with royal connections, Mysore is home to the magnificent Amba Vilas Palace, commonly called the Mysore Palace, which is said to have among the highest footfalls at a tourist place in the country. The palace is breathtakingly beautiful with ornate work that can be seen on the walls, ceiling, and even flooring. Do make a pit stop at the beautiful Lalitha Mahal palace that has Italian palazzos, iconic columns, and domes set amidst verdant landscapes as well as the Jaganmohan Palace that housed the royal family in the past. Do not miss the stained-glass shutters and ventilators as well as the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery that displays works of masters like Raja Ravi Varma.The Brindavan Gardens, Chamundi Hills, St Philomena's Church, Oriental Research Institute, and Town Hall are other historical attractions.

9. Hampi

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One of the finest examples of history and beauty of heritage is in Hampi, which is an ode to the often repeated phrase that describes its beauty—‘poetry in stone’. Start at the Vittala Temple that has the stone chariot which is the symbol of the tourism of the state. Most of the temples have been largely destroyed and have no idol worship. An exception however is the Virupaksha Temple, said to be one of the oldest temples where people have been continuously worshipping from the 7th century. The ancient Hampi Bazaar adjacent to the Vittala temple has several shrines and carved ruins of ancient structures. You will need many days to explore Hampi but do include the Royal Enclosure, Hemakuta hilltop, Kadalekalu Ganesha, Krishna Temple, Lakshmi Narasimha statue, Queen’s bath, Lotus Mahal, Hazara Rama Temple, Elephant Stables, and Matanga Hill on your trip here.

10. Port Blair

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While the Andamans are known for its pristine beaches, it has some amazing places for history buffs. The Cellular Jail is the most iconic, as this is a structure that has been a mute spectator to the struggles of freedom fighters led by Veer Savarkar. Ross Island that can be accessed by a ferry has some Japanese bunkers, an old church, and many British vestiges. Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the tricolour for the first time on RossIsland in 1943. A stop at the Samudrika Naval Marine Museum—which has sections for people of Andaman, marine archaeology, history of Andaman, marine life, and geographical information—is a great way to understand the history of the city. Make the time to spend an evening at Flag Point that commemorates the tricolour. Other places that you must see are the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Chidiya Tapu, Chatham Sawmill, and Corbyn's Cove Beach.

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Photo: Shutterstock; Bindu Gopal Rao
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