5 Great Places in India Most Tourists Never Visit
Bibi Ka Maqbara: Aurangabad
I have been so blessed to have spent over two years in India and feel like it is my second home. Here are five of my favorite places that I never heard of until I moved here.
1. Bibi Ka Maqbara: Aurangabad
Also known as the Mini Taj, this beautiful and ornate mausoleum, built in 1660, is a slightly smaller replica of the Taj Mahal. It is surrounded by serene pools and gardens. This place is seriously off the radar but well worth a visit if you can find your way to Aurangabad. The aggressive hawkers that flock to the Taj Mahal are absent here. I also did some good shopping at the little bazaar set up outside the gates. Prices were very reasonable and I was able to really bargain. This was one of my favorite memories of India. I got there at sunset and it was stunning.
2. Karni Mata Temple: Udaipur
For the record Udaipur, also called Venice of the East, is seriously beautiful. Get a hotel on the lake. You can find a decent room for about Rs 1000/night. I am all about getting off the beaten trail. I heard about Karni Mata from a local friend. It is only a thirty minute walk out of town. You can also get there by Rickshaw in less than ten minutes. You have two choices to get to the top of the mountain. You can join the worshipers huffing it up the steep zigzag path to the summit. This way is free. If that’s not your cup of tea then you can take the well-used cable cars up. This will cost you just over Rs 100. Be prepared for long waits to get your turn. Indian tourist know how great this place is and flock here. There is a system. You get a number...just ask a local when your turn will be (numbers are called out in Hindi). So why go here? The view rivals that of the Monsoon Palace but it is much easier/cheaper to get here and minus a lot of the fuss. You get a 360 view of Udaipur, the lakes, and the surrounding countryside. Seriously breathtaking.
3. Cloth and Jewelry Shopping: Surat
If you are hanging out in Mumbai and have a day to spare, take the Shahtadi Express train to Surat. You can leave in the morning, enjoy the views of the lovely countryside, spend the day shopping in Surat and be back in Mumbai that evening. Surat is a major textile capital in India. Prices here are crazy cheap. Start out somewhere like Bombay Market (it is actually in Surat not Bombay). You can get beautiful fabrics here; ready to wear, "unstitched", and off the bolt. If you are not into traditional Indian wear Surat is a great place to get a western-style suit made, although you will need a few days to get them sewn. If you are looking for some bling, Surat is also the diamond and gem cutting capital of India. Gold is also well-priced here. I do not know how ethically sourced these are so please do your research. Locally sourced gold and stones are available. If gold and diamonds are not your thing, beautiful and affordable costume jewelry is abundant. No matter your budget, you can shop til you drop in Surat.
4. Hiking during monsoon season: Khandala/Lonavala
Many foreigners avoid the rains but Indian tourist know to head to the hills during the rainy season. The air is cool and fresh, the forests are lush and green, and the waterfalls are in their full glory. Make sure you get some chikki (like nut brittle) to take home. Try come on a weekday, as the weekends are a bit insane. It is seriously overcrowded. Khandala is the first hill station outside of Mumbai. Blink and you'll miss it. Five kilometers away is the city of Lonavala. There are beautiful hikes around both towns. I have so many wonderful memories of wandering the trails in this area. Try bring along rain gear and nonslip shoes. Make sure you check out Bhaja Caves, one of India’s best kept secrets. These are a group of 22 caves cut into the rock dating back to the 2nd century BC. It was built as a Buddhist place of prayer and meditation. The whole area is magical.
5. Raj Mandir Theater: Jaipur
You have not really experienced India until you have been to the movies. Don’t worry if you don’t understand Hindi, you will still have a blast. Audiences tend to be quite interactive. There is no problem if you want to shout advice or cheer on your favorite actors. Everyone gets involved and it is loads of fun. Just read the synopsis online first so you can follow the plot-line. Please be respectful when the national anthem is played before the movie. It is really insulting to remain seated or talk during the anthem. The most impressive theater is the Raj Mandir in Jaipur. It is famous for its retro bling. Built in 1975, it is still going strong. Bollywood stars have been know to frequent this opulent theater. Don’t be worried about the cost, tickets are very cheap, starting at about Rs 130. Take a break from the crowds of tourist lining the streets and enjoy a favorite local pastime.