Traveling in India can be daunting for even the savviest travelers. Infrastructure is lacking, there are hordes of people to contend with, putrid-smelling trash everywhere, sanitary issues with food and water, and the traffic is pure bedlam beyond anything I’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world.
You’re probably thinking, “why would I want to go there?” right?
Simply put India is one of the most animated and intriguing countries that you’ll ever visit. Having to put up with some inconveniences doesn’t mean you should pass up seeing some of the incredible sights the country has to offer. The history and architecture are fascinating, the vibrant colors are memorizing, and the locals are engaging.
Here are four highlights on the west coast not to be missed.
Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is India’s largest city and financial center It’s a plethora of things to do and see. We began our exploration by walking around the picturesque harbor dominated by the iconic Gateway of India built in 1924 by British Raj. Near the harbor are some fine-but-crumbling examples of British Colonial architecture, bustling Colaba with its Causeway market, and of course the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Other city sights include Dhobi Ghat – the world’s largest (outdoor) laundry, Bombay University, Town Hall, and Minara Masjid. You can venture out on your own in a taxi, but be prepared to be in hours of traffic. An alternative is to take an all-encompassing city tour.
Another fun place to visit is Bollywood, the heart of India’s film industry. Make sure to take a Bollywood tour to get behind-the-scenes secrets, explanations of special effects, and see the gallery of costumes.
If you’re a foodie, but afraid to experiment with Indian cuisine (trust me, “Delhi-Belly” is a real thing), try a walking food tour for safe sampling among the street food stalls.
Extra time in Mumbai? Visit Elephanta Island – ancient cave temples dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
For the luxury of extra multiple days in Mumbai, I can’t recommend highly enough that you plan a one-day trip to the Taj Mahal. While this day trip may set you back a few dollars, it’s well worth the expense, especially if you’ll not likely get to India again. Taj Mahal is India’s most famous love letter and one of the finest examples of architecture in the world.
Goa is India’s most popular beach destination. Beaches here aren’t the most beautiful in the world but are lively and fun and worth exploring. If you only have one day, try a tour of three of Goa’s sunny, palm-lined beaches – Kerim Beach, Ashwem Beach, and Anjuna beach.
If beaches aren’t your thing, Goa has other things to do. There’s a tour of old Goa that has been compared to old Rome along with a spice plantation, where you can see and smell aromatic spices that India is so famous for. There are also excellent places for yoga.
Mangalore is more than meets the eye. It was our least anticipated city but ended up being one of our favorites. Mangalore sits on the Arabian Sea port and is a major commercial center in India’s Karnataka region.
We only had one day in Mangalore, so we were up at the crack of dawn to climb a 200-step hill and see the 42’ monolithic statue of Bahubali/Gomateshwara, built in 1432. The statue was magnificent, and the panoramic views from the top made it worth the effort.
Subsequently, we set off in a car to explore the outskirts:
We sifted through the temple of 1000 Pillars in Moodbidri with pillars carved from granite, each having its own unique stories carved on it.
We ambled through botanical gardens at Soans Farm in Belvai, followed by a delicious picnic in an enchanting bamboo forest.
Udupi has unique temples that are visually fascinating, especially gorgeous Shree Amruteshwari Temple.
Kochi (also called Cochin) is in India’s Kerala state, arguably the prettiest part of India, and sometimes called “God’s own country.” It’s a mix of medieval Arab, Chinese, British, Portugal, and Dutch influences. My picks of things to do in Kochi would be to take a leisurely walking tour through Fort Kochin and cruise through the backwaters.
Built in 1503, St. Francis Church is reputedly the oldest European church in India. The church is noteworthy as being the original burial place for explorer Vasco De Gama after his death in 1524, although his remains were transported to Lisbon just 14 years later.
Though not as old as St. Francis, Santa Cruz Basilica’s architecture is much grander, and is listed as a heritage edifice of Kerala.
Princess Street is one of the oldest streets in Fort Kochi with lots of small shops, bookstores, and cafes. Considered Kochi’s main tourist strip, it’s a great place to find street art or to people-watch.
Kochi is known for its Chinese fishing nets, cantilevered on the waterfront. Legend has it that the nets were brought from China by Kublai Khan’s court in the 14th century. There seems to be perpetual motion going on with the nets. In front of the nets are streets stalls where you can buy freshly caught fish and handmade souvenirs.
And not to underestimate siren call of just a simple stroll along the beach. I can never get enough of that!
We spent some time walking and shopping for treasures in Mattancherry/Jew Town, the center of the spice trade in Kochi. It’s an area brimming with shops and antique stores. We ducked into courtyards of boutique hotels lining the waterfront which brought us out onto the bay.
Unfortunately, I was not able to experience the idyllic and peaceful backwaters of Kerala’s Alleppey district. I’d pre-booked a houseboat cruise through canals, lakes, and paddy fields, but because a local strike was taking place, all tours were canceled so as not to put tourists in danger. So disappointing!
If you have more time in Kerala, you might want to try a relaxing weekend in Wayanad.
We recommend cruising with Costa as a great option to see a lot of India. We thought of it as our “floating hotel,” stress-free, which was saying a lot after we’d already been a week on land in Delhi, Agra, and Mumbai, with hassles everywhere we went. If you’re looking for a way to see India on a medium budget, give it a try – our cabin was always clean, buffet food was good, and the price was right.
Note: Booking with Get Your Guide…always double check return times to be sure the tour you’re signing up for gets back well before your ship’s departure time from that port.
Here’s how to apply for an Indian E-visa in Australia.
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