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VOTE: The BEST travel destination in India

Last updated on: December 14, 2012 11:19 IST

VOTE: The BEST travel destination in India

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We are asking you, our readers to vote for the best travel destination in the country. Tell us!

A country as varied as ours is a paradise for local as well as international travellers. After much debate (and difficulty), we've drawn up a short list of the places in India you absolutely must visit.

We haven't included religious destinations in this list, so you won't find temples, mosques, monasteries and even the Ganga aarti here. As far as possible, we have tried to get a healthy mix of slightly off-the-beaten-track and popular destinations.

To vote for a particular destination, click the thumbs up icon next to the description. The final list will be drawn from the destinations that receive the maximum votes from you, our readers!

So without much ado, we start out with...

Pangong Lake
Leh

Perhaps the most beautiful of the lakes in the country the Pangong Lake covers over 604 sq km. Thanks to Bollywood -- important sequences in Dil Se and 3 Idiots were shot here -- the picturesque lake has also become the most recognisable lake in the country.

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Bada Imambara
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

One of the grandest buildings of Lucknow, the Bada Imambara is perhaps best known for its central chamber that houses the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula. Visit it if only to get lost in the maze of structures that helps support the hall measuring 50mx16m and standing over 15 meters tall with no beams supporting the ceiling.

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The Cellular Jail
Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The cellular jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was perhaps the most infamous of the prisons of the British Raj where rebels and dissidents of the Raj were packed off it. It's most famous inmates included Batukeshwar Dutt and Veer Savarkar among others.

Today, the jail complex is a national memorial monument.

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Image: Pangong Lake
Photographs: Courtesy Varun Gupta/Travelling Lens

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Roopkund Lake
Chamoli, Uttarakhand

Also known as the Skeleton Lake, the Roopkund is a glacial lake in Uttarakhand that is best-known because of the more than five hundred human skeletons found at its edge. For most part of the year, the Roopkund is covered with ice however the journey itself is an enjoyable experience.

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Salarjung Museum
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

The Salarjung museum has a collection that goes back to the 1st century. The museum is famously known for its musical clock that chimes every hour, where a soldier comes out to strike the gong on the clock. The Veiled Rebecca an Italian statue is also a must see. There is also a 3D painting of The Nizam of Hyderabad

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Monuments of Khajuraho
Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

Best known for their erotic sculptures, the temples of Khajuraho are probably quoted against the Indian moral brigade more than they're visited. Go there though, if only to understand our heritage and the tantric ideology better that suggests sex to be an important part of human life and important to the attainment of moksha.

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Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Carved into a hillside rock, the caves of Ajanta and Ellora are the perhaps the most famous landmarks of Maharashtra Tourism.

The 29 caves at Ajanta date back to between the 2nd and 6th century BC while the 34 caves at Ellora date from between the 6th and 11th centuries AD and boast of murals and frescoes that tell the story of Buddhism and depict stories from the Jatakas.

For the longest time however they remained undiscovered till John Smith, a British Army Officer who accidentally came across them while on a hunting expedition in 1819.

Today Ajanta and Ellora attract hundreds of thousands of tourists and are also part of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Image: The monuments of Khajuraho
Photographs: Uday Kuckian/Rediff.com

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The Living Root Bridges of Cherrapunji
Cherrapunji, Meghalaya

In the wettest place on earth, bridges are not constructed. They grow by themselves! Cherrapunji is home to the Indian rubber tree that produces secondary roots from its trunk forming bridges over rivers. Some of these root bridges are over 500 years old and are therefore quite safe to walk on. While here don't miss the Umshiang double-decker root bridge, one of its kind in the world!

Two of our readers visited it and returned with these pictures!

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Sabarmati Ashram
Sabarmati, Gujarat

Soon after he returned from South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi established his first ashram in the Kochrab area of Ahmedabad on 25 May 1915.

A little over two years later, it was shifted to the current site, along the banks of the river Sabarmati on June 17, 1917 since the Mahatma wanted to experiment with farming, animal husbandry, cow breeding and Khadi.

The Sabarmati Ashram remained Gandhi's home until 1930 and was one of the major centres of the Indian freedom struggle. It also became home to the ideology of Satyagraha that would eventually set India free.

Visit it, if only to soak in the history and find inner peace.

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Little Rann of Kutch
Kutch, Gujarat

Barren, arid and not the kind of place you'd like to visit if you're faint-hearted, the Little Rann of Kutch best known for the last refuge population and conservation of Khur or the Asiatic wild ass as well as one of the few places in India where flamingos breed naturally. Visit it, if not to be enthralled by the Rann's unique beauty at least to tell people that you visited the 'Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary'!

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The city of Jaisalmer
Rajasthan

Known best for its proximity to the Thar Desert and home to one of the few living forts, the city of Jaisalmer offers you a slice of Rajasthani culture in a way that few other cities do.

Take a boat ride in the Gadisar Lake, visit the fort that offers breathtaking views of the city and the desert, the Jain temples within the fort walls and the many havelis that promise to leave you speechless.

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Image: Jaisalmer Fort
Photographs: Adrian Sulc/Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Auroville
Viluppuram, Tamil Nadu

Designed as an experimental township near Pondicherry, Auroville is supposed to be a universal town where people from all nationalities can live in peace. As of July 2010 people from 43 countries have made Auroville their home. Visit it if only to witness how people from diverse cultural backgrounds can indeed live as one.

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Marari Beach
Mararikulam, Kerala

Chances are you've never heard of this quiet little beach less than 11km from Alappuzha town in Kerala. The sleepy village of Mararikulam offers everything you're looking at from a quiet vacation. Even though there are few resorts in the area, the beach itself visited by celebrities such supermodel Kate Moss and musician Paul McCartney among others, is idyllic to say the least.

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The Sunderbans National Park
West Bengal

Visit the world's largest littoral mangrove belt in the world and home to an estimated 400 Royal Bengal Tigers and thousands of spotted dear. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sunderbans National Park is best accessed through a tour operator who will organise your transport as well as the necessary permits needed to enter the park.

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Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve
Andhra Pradesh

The largest in India, the Nagarunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve spreads across five districts -- Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar, Kurnool, Prakasam and Guntur -- of Andhra Pradesh.

Even as the total area of the tiger reserve is 3,568 sq km its core area is about 1,200 sq km and by a recent estimation in 2010 had a population of 60 tigers. The reported presence of around 20 tiger cubs is also a good indication of the number of tigers going up.

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Image: Auroville
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Valley of Flowers
West Himalaya, Uttaranchal

Located in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, the Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal is, well just that -- a diverse area rich in flora and fauna. It also happens to be home to rare and endangered animals such as the snow leopard, brown bear, blue sheep and the Asiatic black bear as well as rare and exotic flowers such as the Brahmakamal, the Blue Poppy and the Cobra.

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Victoria Memorial
Kolkata, West Bengal

The building of Victoria Memorial was envisioned by Lord Curzon. It has various paintings, photographs and sculptures that shed light on the British Raj in India. During the evenings one can enjoy a light show.

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Anjuna Flea Market
Anjuna Beach, Goa

The Anjuna Flea Market is perhaps the most well-known of the weekly bazaars in Goa. Held every Wednesday, the market is the place to head to for pretty much everything you want – from electronics to quirky trinkets and even a haircut!

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Charminar
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

Chances are you'll find a lot of similarities between Chandni Chowk and the area from which the Charminar in Hyderabad rises for both localities boast of busy, bustling markets selling all kinds of wares and at least one sprawling mosque each.

Hyderabad's best-known icon, the Charminar is in fact a structure built at the spot where Quli Qutb Shah prayed for the end to the plague epidemic. Even though graffiti on its walls have spoilt the beauty of the structure, the Charminar does offer stupendous views of the city of Hyderabad. Carry a camera, even if it means having to pay a little extra on the ticket.

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Image: Charminar
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Gateway of India
Mumbai, India

What do you say about the most recognisable landmarks of Mumbai? Built to mark the visit of King George and Queen Mary the Gateway of India also saw the Mahatma walking from under its arch when he returned to India from South Africa the Gateway was also the very spot from where the British finally left India as the last of the British troops marched out on February 28, 1948.

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Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Mumbai, India

Identified recently as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was originally built to commemorate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee on the throne and was hence called Victoria Terminus originally. The grand old building houses the headquarters for Central Railway and is probably the only railway station that first had a lady's name and then (in 1996) was renamed after a man (the Maratha warrior Chatrapati Shivaji).

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India Gate
New Delhi

The best-known landmark of India around the world after the Taj Mahal, the India Gate stands at the heart of New Delhi and was inspired the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Built in 1931, it was called the All India War Memorial and commemorated the 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who lost their lives in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War.

After Independence, the India Gate now houses the Amar Jawan Jyoti (or the flame of the immortal soldier) that is kept burning in the memory of the soldiers who have laid down their lives for India.

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Hawa Mahal
Jaipur, Rajasthan

Constructed in the form of the crown of Lord Krishna the Hawa Mahal is Jaipur's most recognisable landmarks. Visit it to witness first hand its characteristic five-storey honeycomb structure with 935 tiny windows decorated with intricate latticework that allowed the royal ladies to watch everyday life in the street without being seen themselves.

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Image: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Dal Lake
Srinagar, Kashmir

The crown jewel of Kashmir, the Dal Lake has found its way into our collective consciousness thanks largely to the many films to which it forms a backdrop. Take a trip in a shikara or spend a night in the house boat and shop in the floating flower and vegetable markets or simply witness the beauty of the floating gardens -- Dal Lake of Srinagar has indeed much to offer

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Backwaters of Kerala
Kerala

What is the USP of Kerala Tourism today was once the primary transportation alley of the state. Kerala Backwaters is essentially a network of 1500 km of canals, rivers and lakes that are one of the largest fresh-water sources in the country that also boast of a rich and varied marine life.

Among the three backwater regions, the Vembanad stretch is said to be the most beautiful with the Vembanadu Lake being the longest lake in South Asia and finds a mention in the prestigious Ramsar sites, with rich bio-diversity.

The best way to explore the backwaters is by hiring a boat that usually comes with a cook, a navigator and a considerably large hole in your pocket. Alternatively you can rent out the boat for a night and spend the rest of the days in one of the many resorts and hotels that dot the banks.

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Qutub Minar
Mehrauli, Delhi

The tallest minaret in India, the Qutub Minar is inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan its construction was started by Qutu-ud-in Aibak and completed by Iltutmish. Made out of fluted red sandstone and being covered with carvings and verses from the Qur'an the Minar was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The Minar is also the first Indian monument to have an e-ticketing facility.

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Mehrangarh Fort
Jodhpur, Rajastan

The largest of all forts in Rajasthan, Mehrangarh was founded in 1458 around which the city of Jodhpur grew. In the 500-odd years that it has stood atop the 150m high hill with 360 degree views from its three-km long ramparts around its edges, the fort has never once been captured. The fort recently hosted the 50th birthday celebrations of supermodel Naomi Campbell's boyfriend and found a place in celluloid history courtesy Christopher Nolan who shot parts of The Dark Knight Rises here.

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Image: Dal Lake, Srinagar
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Taj Mahal
Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Inarguably India's most recognisable monument to the world, the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. Regarded as the finest example of Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal is essentially an integrated complex of structures that took 21 years and thousands of artisans and craftsmen to complete. The Taj Mahal also appears on the new listing of the New Seven Wonders of the World

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Fatehpur Sikri
Agra, Uttar Pradesh

The grand Buland Darwaza opens into the sprawling 16th century city of Fatehpur Sikri that served as the capital of the Mughal Empire for ten years. Fatehpur Sikri is also where the legends of Akbar and his famed nine courtiers were born.

According to various historians, Emperor Akbar took personal interest in the construction of Fatehpur Sikri seeking perhaps to revive the grandeur of the Persian court that was made famous by his ancestor Timur.

Even to this day, Fatehpur Sikri has many well preserved palaces and courtyards that stand testimony to Akbar's love of architecture.

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Wagah Border
Punjab

The only road link between Pakistan and India till as recently as 1999 (when the Aman Setu was opened to traffic in Kashmir) the Wagah border is the scene of an elaborate ceremony at the end of each day during which the flags are lowered and jawans from both sides engage in what British television presenter Michael Palin calls 'carefully choreographed contempt'.

It is an almost unbelievable sight to watch as infantrymen from Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers march towards the iron gates stomp their feet, lower their respective flags simultaneously, fold them, shake hands brusquely and return as the gates slam behind them.

Visit the border to witness first hand this amazing if somewhat strange ceremony unique perhaps only to India and Pakistan.

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Jallianwala Bagh
Amritsar, Punjab

The Jallianwala Bagh stands as a silent testimony to the atrocities of the British on their Indian subjects. It was the venue of the infamous 1919 when on April 13 the British Indian Army soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering and killed the people indiscriminately.

Even though firing is said to have lasted for about 10 minutes but it killed by some accounts over 1500 people. The bullet marks on the walls remain to this day even as thousands of visitors pay homage to those who died at a memorial that was inaugurated on April 13, 1961.

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Image: The Taj Mahal, Agra
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Marina Beach
Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Covering a distance of 13 km, Marina Beach is the longest natural urban beach in India. The Marina Beach in Chennai runs all the way from near Fort St George in the north to Besant Nagar in the south and is largely sandy unlike the famous Juhu Beach of Mumbai that has numerous rocky formations along its lengths.

Take a walk down Marina beach if only to admire the numerous colonial buildings that run along the shore or just to be part of the gathering of thousands of people (30,000 on weekdays and 50,000 on weekends) who throng there each day.

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Chandni Chowk
Delhi

Built by Emperor Shah Jahan and designed by his daughter Jahan Ara, the Chandni Chowk market was once the grandest bazaars in the country divided by canals to reflect moonlight from which it took its name.

While the market itself isn't exactly a place you'd like to go sightseeing if you're a tourist, a discerning traveller might just find it worthwhile spending time in its winding alleys.

Visit it if you want to get the real taste of what India is and while there don't forget to visit Karim's that sinfully delightful eatery that is simply unmissable.

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Old Goa

The former colonial capital of Goa, the historical city of Old Goa is home to some of the most stunning churches and convents including the Basilica of Bom Jesus that preserves the body of St Francis Xavier.

Ideally, hire a self-driven vehicle to reach this quaint little wonder, where history encounters you at every other turn, located just about 10 km from Panaji.

If you're lazing around, take a ferry (that also carries vehicles) to the island of Divar that draws you almost as soon as you step on its soil.

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Nandankanan Zoo
Bhubaneswar, Orissa

The 400-acre large zoo has over 101 enclosures with 202 sub-enclosures and is home to more than 1580 animals, including 634 mammals, 812 birds and 134 reptiles.

This also include 15 species of endangered mammals, 6 species of endangered birds and 10 of endangered reptiles and is also the only zoo in India that is home to the Patas monkey, Eastern Rosella and the open-billed stork. The Nandankanan Zoo is among only three other zoos in India that having green-winged Macaws, Cinereous Vulture and Nicobar Pigeon. Really, do you still need a reason to visit it?

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Image: Chandni Chowk, Delhi
Photographs: Wikimedia Creative Commons

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Junagarh Fort
Bikaner, Rajasthan

One of the few forts in Rajasthan that isn't constructed on a hilltop, the Junagarh is the fort around which the city of Bikaner grew and flourished. The fort was originally called Chintamani but got referred to as Junagarh or Old Fort when the ruling family moved to Lalgarh Palace that stands outside the fort limits.

The many palaces, temples and pavilions that dot the fort and reveal the fort's fascinating history as does the Junagarh Fort Museum that exhibits manuscripts in not just Sanskrit but also Persian, miniature paintings, jewels as well as farmans (or royal orders) and portrait costumes headgear galleries among other things.

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Red Fort
Delhi

The majestic Red Fort from where the Indian Prime Minister addresses the nation on Republic Day each year has been a silent witness to the many power struggles the country faced over the centuries. When it was first constructed in the 17th century, the fort complex served as the palace for Shah Jahan's new capital Shahjahanabad and remained the capital of the Mughal Empire till 1857 when the British Indian government exiled Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Take a walk inside the Red Fort and soak in some history or on January 26 be part of the populace and witness the Prime Minister's speech about the state of the nation and his roadmap for the country's future.

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Kaziranga National Park
Golaghat and Nagaon, Assam

Home to the one-horned rhino that can be found nowhere else in the world the Kaziranga National Park is also a World Heritage Site that has the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world. The Park has been declared a Tiger reserve in 2006 and is also a breeding ground for elephants, swamp deer and wild water buffalo. Hire a cottage in the park to spend some time in the wild and take elephant rides in the park's lush green environs.

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Tiger Hill
Darjeeling, West Bengal

Tiger Hill is over 11km from Darjeeling town and can be accessed by a vehicle followed by a trek up an incline to the summit. The views however more than make up for all the huffing and puffing. Ensure you reach in time for what is arguable an incomparable site -- the splendour of the Mt Kanchenjunga as the sun rises over the majestic mountain range.

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Image: Red Fort, Delhi
Photographs: Alex Furr/Wikimedia Commons

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