There are few situations more overwhelming than finding yourself in one of India’s largest cities. The sensory assault soon crescendos into an all out war on your senses with the cacophony of noises and smells fighting for your attention. The problem is these aren’t pleasant sounds and smells, constant honking, yelling along with the stench of garbage urine and body odor. So, what can I say to convince you that visiting any of these cities would be an enjoyable experience. Well, along with staggering statistics these cities also boast some of the best dining, sights and experiences India has to offer.
Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai
MUMBAI 20.5 million
Mumbai has something for everyone with the world’s most prolific movie industry, one of Asia’s largest slums, the most expensive residence ever built and more artists and servants than L.A. India’s most modern metropolis is a 24 hour party or the best place to find a good book and a proper cup of coffee- you decide. We’ve talked to travelers that couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but we could have stayed and eaten the cupcakes at Theobroma forever. It’s a city where dreams are born and dreamers dwell, so come and get inspired!
When to Go: October to February
Don’t Miss: Chowpatty Beach (FREE), Malabar Hill (FREE, a round trip cab ride from Colaba is about $4) , Bollywood (If you’re an extra they pay you!), Restaurants of Colaba (a nice dinner for two $20-$100 without wine), Dharavi slum (tour through Reality Tours is $10 per person), Dhobi Ghat laundry area (FREE, a round trip cab ride from Colaba is about $4)
Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi
DELHI 17 million
Delhi is many travelers first stops in India and offers a good jolt of culture shock as camels compete for space among the rickshaws and foot traffic. The capital is crowded, polluted and aggravating, but if you can get past it’s poor traits the city offers treasures in it’s bazaars and ruins tucked into the mayhem. They have a great metro system, making getting around easy and allowing you to surpass the infuriating taxi and tuk tuk drivers. There’s even a little backpacker enclave, Pahar Ganj, where you can easily find other travelers to complain or convene with.
When to Go: November to March
Don’t Miss: Humayun’s Tomb ($5), Jama Masjid (FREE), Red Fort ($5) and Delhi’s Bazaars (FREE)
Mother Theresa’s tomb in Kolkata
KOLKATA 14.1 million
As India’s third largest city Kolkata oozes old British charm. The crumbling facades of the colonial buildings lining Mahatma Ghandi Road are a reminder of Kolkata’s former grandeur as the capital of British India. The markets are bustling and the chaos is anything but British. However, the colors are definitely Indian at the flower market along the Hooghly Riverbank. If you’re looking for a taste of culture, enjoy the mild, fruity flavors of Bengali cuisine or stop at street stall for a famous khati roll. Between the tastes and the teeming streets there won’t be a dull moment in Kolkata.
When To Go: October to March
Don’t Miss: Victoria Memorial ($5), Mother Theresa’s grave (FREE), Flower Market and Fruit Market (FREE), Khati Rolls at the street stalls ($.50-$2)
A Colonial church in the French influenced Pondicherry
CHENNAI 8.9 Million
Chennai is often not included on anyone’s list of highlights in India, but it might be a great place for you to start your trip. There’s not a laundry list of sights to see and so you have time to settle into India without any pressure of missing out on something. In addition it’s a great gateway to the South, which is much more laid back than the North and might allow more time to adjust to India before taking on the touts up North. Chennai also offers an escape plan if India’s fourth largest metropolis is too much; hop a bus to Pondicherry, a mellow ocean side town that’s more reminiscent of Europe than India.
When to Go: November to March
Don’t Miss: nearby Pondicherry, which is a taste of Europe in India