Editor’s Note: *Due to the current Covid-19 outbreak, international travel is discouraged at the moment – this article is meant to serve as inspiration for a future trip once the pandemic has come to an end.*
Home to over one billion citizens spread across more than thirty states and union territories, India is a veritable treasure trove of grandiose structures scattered all throughout the nation. While Agra’s Taj Mahal is renowned worldwide for its great size and elegant design, visitors should make sure to expand their horizons beyond just one building. From vibrant temples to imposing citadels, India is truly second-to-none when it comes to architectural splendor.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2013, this colossal compound is renowned nationwide as the largest fortress in all of India, measuring in at roughly 700 acres (283ha) in total. While the complex is packed full of historic structures and monuments, some particular highlights include Rana Kumbha Palace—named after a 1400s-era monarch from the Sisodia Dynasty—to the Vijaya Stambha, an ornate tower built in the 15th century to celebrate a major military victory. For those interested in the many battles that took place at the fort over the centuries, be sure to visit Fateh Prakash Palace, which now houses a museum packed full of antique weapons and artifacts.
A truly spectacular fixture of the southeastern hills of Gujarat, the Palitana complex is made up of roughly 850 temples scattered across the landscape. This sprawling region is considered one of the holiest sites for followers of Jainism, drawing a large number of religious pilgrims each year to ascend over three thousand steps and profess their faith. Any visitors unfamiliar with the principles of Jainism should be sure to pay a visit to the Shri Vishal Jain Museum, an institution rife with ancient artifacts, sculptures, and paintings that highlight the history and practices of this ancient religion.
Birla Mandir (Kolkata)
Built in the late 20th century, this opulent temple shares its name with several other structures across the nation, each one made at the behest of India’s historic Birla family. Carved from white marble and sandstone and crowned with three elaborate spires, the complex is regarded as one of the most stunning architectural marvels to be found within Kolkata’s affluent Ballygunge district. Upon entering the temple, guests will be met with a wealth of artistic flourishes ranging from extravagant pillars to intricate murals, as well as a wealth of statues and monuments dedicated to Lord Krishna, Radha, and a wealth of other Hindu deities.
One of the most dazzling structures in all of India, this historic temple can be found in the very heart of Madurai, the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu. Equipped with fourteen gopurams, each individual tower within the complex has been painstakingly adorned with thousands of tiny intricate sculptures, each one swathed in a wealth of vibrant colors. While the temple is marvelous even just from the outside, be sure to make the trek through Thousand-Pillared Hall—home to hundreds of carved depictions of Hindu gods and mythological creatures—before heading to the edge of Golden Lotus Pond, a sacred pool located in the center of the temple complex.
A prominent landmark within the northern reaches of Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior Fort has been standing strong for over one thousand years, surviving the rise and fall of many mighty empires throughout the ages. Visitors should be sure to admire the handsome Jain sculptures carved in stone as they arrive at Urvai Gate, then gaze in wonder at Man Singh Palace’s intricately-carved exterior walls flecked with vivid blue and yellow murals. Upon entering the Gujari Mahal, tourists will be treated to a truly spectacular array of ornate sculptures displayed alongside ancient pottery and tools used by the bygone inhabitants of this stately fortress.