The Indian film industry has emerged as one of India’s most powerful tourism ambassadors.
Whether it’s a hero serenading a heroine in the misty hills of Munnar, Kerala, a big fat Indian wedding filmed at a fort in the royal city of Udaipur or dramatic war scenes captured in the rugged terrain of Ladakh, cinema fans are drawn to the locations featured in their favourite films.
Here are five options for Bollywood-inspired travellers.
Ghats in Varanasi
The holy city of Varanasi is home to more than 100 picturesque ghats — a series of steps leading down to the water — along the mighty Ganges. Dating back to the 14th century, these stony architectural masterpieces, imbued with a special significance in Hindu mythology, are used for various religious rituals. According to Hindu folklore, Lord Brahma created Varanasi’s ghats to welcome Lord Shiva, by performing a special horse sacrifice in front of a sacred fire.
Two of these ghats — Manikarnika and Harishchandra — are reserved for cremations. The Dashashwamedh Ghat, one of the oldest and most famous, is believed to radiate enormous kinetic energy, with a constant flow of pilgrims, Hindu priests, flower sellers and food vendors around it at all times.
It is also the venue for the Ganga Aarti, which takes place here every evening. Priests holding gigantic brass oil lamps chant Sanskrit mantras to the rhythmic beat of drums and the clash of cymbals, offering an immersive spiritual experience to travellers.
The ghats are also found in several films — from the Sonam Kapoor blockbuster Raanjhanaa to the critically acclaimed Masaan starring Vicky Kaushal, as well as The Last Color, produced and directed by Michelin-lauded Indian chef Vikas Khanna.
Kashmir has long been a favourite with Bollywood. From snow-capped mountains to glistening rivers, breathtaking valleys and lush meadows, it ticks all the boxes.
Bollywood’s love affair with Kashmir started back in the 1960s when Shammi Kapoor (dubbed the Indian Elvis Presley) cavorted in the midst of Dal Lake in a flower-decorated shikara to woo a coy Sharmila Tagore, Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan’s mother, in Kashmir Ki Kali.
Contemporary films such as Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Highway, Rockstar and Haider have further established Kashmir’s reputation as a must-visit destination. The region's other top attractions include Gulmarg and Sonmarg, which have pastoral mountain landscapes and verdant vistas.
The backwaters of Kerala
India’s southern state of Kerala is known as “God’s own country” for good reason. A salubrious climate, exotic flora and fauna, lush landscapes and scenic beaches make the state a top choice among film directors. War, starring Hrithik Roshan, and Shahrukh Khan's Dil Se.. are among the films shot in these parts.
The state’s breathtaking backwaters, and a complex and interconnected riverine ecosystem of lakes and tree bridges, are a top draw among those seeking nature. Houseboat cruises are booked months in advance.
Alleppey, one of the most popular backwater towns, is always a prominent addition to Kerala’s travel itineraries, especially for couples on their honeymoon. Kumarakom, another backwater venue, is also a visual treat, crisscrossed by 44 serpentine rivers where visitors can also sail.
“The place is called backwaters because the lake contains fresh river water that is stored and used for agriculture in paddy fields and when released, merges with the Arabian Sea. There are barrages in this interconnected system of canals, rivers, lakes and rivulets, which ensure that sea water does not mix with fresh water, making it a popular attraction,” explains Lalith Mathew, a Thiruvananthapuram-based travel agent.
The royal legacy in the stunning Rajasthani city, exotic culture and stunning lakes have grabbed the attention of not only Bollywood, but also international filmmakers. From Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, starring Salman Khan, to Hollywood hits such as James Bond’s Octopussy and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a British comedy-drama directed by John Madden starring Dev Patel, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith, have captured Udaipur’s beauty.
So enamoured was the crew of Octopussy, the 13th Bond film in the series, that no less than half a dozen locations were chosen for its shoot, including famous hotels like The Monsoon Palace, Lake Palace, Jag Mandir and the Shiv Niwas Palace. Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s RamLeela, a romantic saga starring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, was shot in the city’s heritage area and includes Gangaur Ghat, Ambrai Ghat and the city palace.
Pangong Lake, Ladakh
Pangong Lake, perched 4,350 metres above sea level in the Ladakh region, is the world's highest saltwater lake. Deriving its name from the Tibetan word Pangong Tso, or high grassland lake, it is a mesmerising water body that changes colour by the hour, appearing blue, green and red at different times.
Its shimmering water contrasts starkly with the dun-coloured arid mountains encircling it, adding to its visual appeal. Extending 134 kilometres, one-third of the Pangong Lake lies in India and the other two-thirds in China. It is the setting for the climax of Aamir Khan’s blockbuster Three Idiots.