India has an incredibly long and rich history – so long and rich that it’s hard to know where to start. I spent 8 months living in India during 2015-16, and tried to visit as many historical sites when I wasn’t working; especially sites related to colonial history, a particular interest of mine. Among them were, roughly in order of things-worth-seeing:
- The Taj Mahal – the number one stop on everyone’s India list, and for good reason. Don’t miss it.
- The Cellular Jail in Port Blair, Andaman Islands. Off the beaten track for most tourists in India, this grim colonial prison (now a museum) was where the British sent Indian political prisoners, far from the mainland in the middle of the Andaman sea.
- Ross Island, Andaman Islands. This one’s a real gem. This bizarre, tiny island, just a short boat ride from Port Blair, is a jungle of abandoned and overgrown houses once home to British residents of the Andamans. It’s uninhabited now, so a day trip there involves exploring the relatively recent ruins of the British colonisers’ attempts to recreate their own town and culture in this distant spot of land.
- Hampi: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hampi’s sprawling ruins were once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Now a tiny village but definitely on the new hippie trail, Hampi is home to my favourite temple in India and its resident elephant Lakshmi. It’s a little hard to get to, six hours by train to Hospet from Goa, but it was one of my favourite places in India.
- Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the “Amritsar Massacre” and one of the worst atrocities in British colonial history. In 1919, British Colonel Dyer open-fired on a crowd of unarmed civilians in a walled-in square, killing hundreds if not over a thousand. It marked a major turning point in India’s fight for independence from Britain, and it is well worth a visit if you are near Amritsar.
- The desert kingdoms of Rajasthan: impressive forts rise out of the Thar Desert in this state in northern India, where princely kingdoms dominated before India’s independence.
- Shimla, the former summer capital of the British Indian empire. This pretty hill station is now a popular holiday destination for north Indians in both summer and winter, but the old Christ Church, mock-Tudor library and “toy train” still feel undeniably British.
- Ooty, an old British hill-station in South India, is much less visited than nearby Munnar. It is a packed and hectic town but contains curiosities recalling its British past – the main square is called “Charring Cross” (with two “r”s) – set in the stunningly beautiful Nigiri hills. It also has a totally charming and wonderful steam train, the Nigiri Mountain Railway, which is unmissable if you visit.
- Mumbai: Gandhi’s house (Mani Bhavan), the Gateway to India and the Taj Hotel are all markers of India’s very recent colonial past.