Destination India

See India through the eyes and lenses of Instagram users

Sophie Eastaugh, for CNN.Updated 21st April 2017
(CNN) — India is undergoing a dramatic transformation.
With 10 million people flocking each year to its colorful, noisy and bustling cities, the country is facing the largest urban migration in history.
As the Asian giant's economy continues to flourish, places such as Kolkata, Chennai and Ahmedabad are creating unprecedented opportunities for their burgeoning workforces.
But beyond the numbers, what is life like in India's cities? We asked Instagrammers to give us an insider's guide, showing us the places, buildings and activities that make each city tick.
We've ventured beyond Mumbai and Delhi to five diverse corners of the Republic.
The kaleidoscope of stunning images reveals a changing India, where old and new are morphing to create an eclectic and fascinating landscape.
Located in the eastern corner of India, Kolkata is a vibrant metropolis of 4.5 million people. When taking in the 14 million residents of the surrounding area, it is India's third largest city after Mumbai and Delhi.
As Calcutta, it was India's capital during the British Raj and the base of the East India Company, which built the city's port, opening up lucrative commodity routes between India, China and Europe.
Today Kolkata has become a major hub for IT firms, based in Bidhannagar -- a satellite town built in the 1960s. Nicknamed "Salt Lake City," it was constructed on a reclaimed salt lake -- the road to which can be seen in Rakesh Kumar Das's beautifully minimalist Instagram.
Kolkata's New Town houses India's largest football stadium -- rival home teams East Bengal and Mohun Bagun are the country's most popular. Kolkatan Instagrammer Orijit Basu captured the city's unique football status with a perfectly-timed shot of a boy playing in Kolkata's old center.
"Cricket is the most popular game in India, but ... football is in the veins of Kolkata," said the 39 year-old. "Sachin Tendulkar (a legendary Indian cricketer) and Lionel Messi are equally popular in this city!"
From the elegant criss-crossing of old tram tracks by rickshaws to the almost palpable scents of the vast flower market at Mallick Ghat -- we love the old romance of Kolkata reflected in these shots.
This city of 5.6 million people in the northwestern state of Gujarat, has a textile industry that rivals that of Mumbai and a substantial pharmaceutical sector. Designated to be one of Narendra Modi's "smart cities", plans to construct a metro are underway.
Ahmedabad's beautifully-preserved old center, however, offers a peek into the past, with its "pols" -- traditional Gujarati housing clusters of ornately-carved wooden buildings that accommodate between 10 and 50 families.
Aersh Ahmad, 29, is a pharmaceutical business owner who manages the group Instagram Ahmedabad. He lives in a pol in the city's historic center. "People live in a very close society, where neighbors are very close to each other," he said. "Everyone knows each other, eats together. If you leave your house unlocked it's ok. Gujarati people think everyone is their brother, even if they are strangers.
"There are a lot of corporate buildings, malls and multiplexes coming up in Ahmedabad, but they are preserving the old center."
Spot a boy in the peeling yellow doorway of a pol in Yash Sheth's Instagram, and be mesmerized by Ahmad's shots of the city's kite festival. Don't miss the beautiful stepwell in nearby Adalaj -- built in the 15th century, villagers descended its five staircases to drink, wash and bathe.
Chennai, in the eastern state of Tamil Nadu, is one of India's major economic and cultural hubs. Known as "the Detroit of India" for its automobile industry, the city also boasts thriving IT, finance and healthcare sectors, and one of India's oldest museums.
The 13km Marina Beach and the 7th century Mahabalipuram temple make Chennai a tourist hotspot. Last year it was chosen by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit, and a sleek new metro opens in June.
Indulge in the city's famed curries or escape its madness in Kovalam, a fishing village on the road to Mahabalipuram, which is famed for its surfing school. In the city center, you can find tranquility Elliot's Beach, and look out to the futuristic estuary, as snapped by Infant Clinton.
Chennai's Instagrammers were quick to show off the city's colonial and ancient architecture -- from the brightly-hued Kalapeeshwarar Temple captured by Farhad Behrana, to GV Balasubramanian's detailed photo of the annual Car Festival at the 8th century Parthasaray Temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.
"The deity is brought to a chariot, a massive structure, which people pull by hand through all the streets surrounding the temple," explained Balasubramnian, a retired technical engineer. "A lot of people come to witness it and ask for what they want -- it is believed that the God will grant it to them."
Capital of the northern state of Rajasthan, Jaipur -- known as "The Pink City" -- was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. Ahead of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1786 (then George IV), his successor Maharaja Ram Singh II reportedly ordered for the city to be painted pink: the color of hospitality.
Today, the city of 6.6 million people welcomes thousands of visitors as part of India's "Golden Triangle": Jaipur, Delhi and Agra's Taj Mahal. It's not hard to see why -- Singh was one of a line of Rajput Maharajas who controlled Rajasthan out of opulent palaces, notably the Amer Fort, 11km north of Jaipur. The stunning descent to the palace's lake can be admired in this Instagram by Holly Seidman, or the labyrinth of rust-colored walls shot by Gursimran Basra.
Furthermore, the city's Hawa Mahal has an ornate façade of 953 windows, to allow royal Rajasthani ladies a protected view of the street, while the Jal Mahal is a heart-stoppingly romantic palace, atop a 300 acre lake.
An hour's drive towards Agra, Chand Baori is one of India's deepest and most stunning stepwells. Its 3,500 narrow steps are captured beautifully by Instagram's famous travel couple, Nataly and Murad Osmann.
Jaipur is also known for its handmade jewellery and crafts, and its delicious cuisine -- nutty, syrupy sweets and spiced dhal with bati, wheat rolls.
Varanasi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is the holiest of seven sacred Hindu sites in India, and said to be the founding place of Buddhism, making it a destination for thousands of pilgrims and tourists.
Home to 3.6 million people, Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Running through its heart is the river Ganga, worshipped as a Hindu goddess and central to residents' washing, fishing and transport activities, as well as sacred ceremonies.
Gursimran Basra's powerful Instagrams capture the Ganges' significance, from the daily Ganga Aarti blessing setting the riverbank ablaze, to an intimate family passage to a wedding on the opposite bank. One shot reveals a seller of paan, a traditional South Asian stimulant made from betel leaves and spices.
The 25 year-old business analyst says:"Because of the holy Ganges, the traditional Hindu culture prevails here, which makes it different from other cities in India. People go to Varanasi to remove their sins and pay homage to the Hindu God -- there are cremations, there are lots of Sadhus (Hindu holy men) who sit there for days and days. It's a beautiful place to photograph."