Sit back with a cup of masala chai as we take you on a tour of some of India’s must-see architectural gems.
Sanchi: Raisen District, Madhya Pradesh
This Buddhist site was built during the early Mauryan period, started by Emperor Ashoka, who is credited with spreading Buddhism throughout India. While Sanchi is best known for its great stupa, the complex is also home temples and the Ashokan pillar, and is a standout example of Buddhist art and architecture.
Fatehpur Sikri: Agra District, Uttar Pradesh
Translating to “the city of victory”, this destination was the capital of the Mughal Empire for a short period of time. Built by Emperor Akbar during the second half of the 16th century, this city combines many different elements of architecture including temples, monuments, and one of the largest mosques in India, the Jami’ Masjid.
Elephanta Caves: Island of Gharapuri
The Elephanta caves are located on an island in the Mumbai harbor, and were built between the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 6th centuries. The caves were christened “elephanta” by the Portuguese due to the elephant structures on the island. Inside the rock cut caves are intricate relief sculptures, including the impressive seven meter-high Sadashiva—a 3 headed sculpture with each face representing a different personification of the Hindu god, Shiva.
Khajuraho Temple: Northern Madhya Pradesh
The temples at Khajuraho are known for their integration of sculpture and architecture, with structures adorned with detailed relief designs and scenes on their facades depiciting the four Hindu tenets of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. These carvings combine courtly scenes, depictions of deities, and erotic images. These structures were built during the Chandela dynasty and are a combination of both Hindu and Jain temples.
Quwwat al Islam Mosque Complex: Delhi
Built by Qutab-ud-din Aibak, this complex houses Delhi’s first mosque, with its name “Quwwat-al-Islam” translating to “glory of Islam”. The mosque was erected in the space of former Jain and Hindu temples, with some of the structural elements from these temples being reused in the construction of the complex. Its red sandstone and marble minar, built in 1193, is an important highlight of the complex, at 73 meters high it is the second tallest minar in India (Fateh Burj at Mohali being the tallest).
Ajanta caves: Aurangabad District, Maharashtra
These caves, located in a horseshoe expanse of rock, are known for their interior painted murals, which are the oldest surviving example of Indian painting. The entire site includes about thirty caves which were created as early as 500 C.E. and speculated to be used as Buddhist prayer halls and monasteries. The caves were rediscovered in the early 19th century, having been forgotten and uninhabited for more than 1,000 years prior.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex: Bodh Gaya, Bihar
The first temple built by emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C.E., this location is one of the four holy sites connected to the life of the Buddha. The complex includes the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha was believed to gain enlightenment as well as a main temple, stupas, and shrines to the Buddha.
Ghats: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Varanasi, a sacred city of India, is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. This location draws pilgrims due to its location on the bank of the river Ganges. The city is well known for its ghats- areas with stairs leading to the water intended for religious bathing. Some well known ghats include the Assi Ghat, located where the Ganges meets the Assi river, and the Darbhanga Ghat, noted for its architectural detail and aesthetic appeal.
Ancient city of Srirangam: Trichy District, Tamil Nadu
This temple is located on an island in the division of the Kaveri (Cauvery) and Kollidam (Coleroon) rivers, once its own city, Srirangam is now incorporated into the city of Tiruchchirappalli. This location is one of the most frequented pilgrimage sites in South India, with the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple the central attraction. Constructed in the Vijayanagar period (1336–1565), the temple is known for its two mile perimeter and Hall of a Thousand Pillars, with statues horses in its colonnades.
Taj Mahal: Agra District, Uttar Pradesh
And of course, no list of India’s architectural wonders could be complete without the Taj Mahal, built between 1631 and 1648 by Shah Jahan, the Mughal ruler, for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The mausoleum structure is praised for its satisfying symmetrical design, paradisiacal imagery, and beautiful details including qur’anic inscriptions and precious stone inlays depicting foliage. Indian, Persian, and Islamic aesthetic styles blend in this iconic monument.