The football fever is in the air once again as the fifth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) is all set to begin over the coming weekend. Two-time champions Atletico De Kolkata (ATK) will start the proceedings by kicking off against the two-time finalists Kerala Blasters. Ten cities from all over India will play host as teams put everything on the line to claim the title of champions. A treat for football fans, here are the ten cities that you can travel to watch the match and explore its culture.
The Assamese city is home to the John Abraham-owned NorthEast United FC. Playing their games at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, the franchise has caused ripples on the ISL scenes.
What to see: Apart from the match, The Kaziranga National Park is a delight to visit once the monsoon season ends as the varying diversity of wildlife is a gift to the eye. Follow it up with a drive to Dipor Bil, a freshwater lake which was declared as national bird sanctuary with over 19,000 species of birds on showcase.
The second city on the list has to be the football crazy city of Kolkata. Home to two of the country's biggest clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, the city is a paradise for sporting fanatics.
What to see: Once the capital of the British empire, the city of Joy hosts several striking monuments that give a glimpse into the history of India. From the Victoria Memorial, built in the memory of Queen Victoria, to sunset on the Howrah Bridge, spanning over the Hooghly River, Kolkata has it all. Right on the banks of the Hooghly also lies the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, famous for its association with Ramakrishna. End your day with a visit to the historic Eden Gardens or the 85,000 capacity Salt Lake Stadium.
The steel city of India saw its city come into major limelight when the ISL expanded from a 8-team tournament to a 10-team one. The JRD Tata Sports Complex hosts the home matches of the football club led by Head Coach Cesar Fernando.
What to see: On your stopover at Jamshedpur, make your way to the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary containing a large population of Indian Elephants. The Dimna Lake, near the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary, provides picturesque aesthetics. With glistening water, the lake is surrounded by a lush verdant forest and hill peaks.
Visit the Feroz Shah Kotla, the famous cricket ground which has seen overseen several memorable Indian victories, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where Delhi Dynamos play their home matches.
What to see: Dilwaloon Ki Delhi. Starting from the never-ending maze of Connaught Place to the glamorous India Gate and through the streets of Old Delhi, the capital of the country has sights that you simply cannot afford to miss. Food at Chandni Chowk has to be on top of your list while parathas at parathe waali gali is a must.
Although Mumbai City FC have continuously under-performed in the ISL despite boasting strong teams, the city they represent is one loved by everyone who goes there.
What to see: "Mumbai ki hawa mai kuch hai" is a popular statement for any tourist who goes there. And although it does not do much to explain what is great about the city, it does give a glimpse into the feeling experienced. From sitting at Marine Drive for endless amount of time or walking through the streets of Colaba, you can feel the emotions associated with the city. From the Haji Ali to Bandstand in Bandra, a trip to the financial capital of India is like living through your happiest memory over and over again.
Pune City FC, who play their home matches at the Balewadi Stadium, have an intense rivalry with the Mumbai City FC with whom they compete for bragging rights in the Maharashtra derby.
What to see: Once Shivaji Maharaja's home, Pune is popular as a student city. Lying merely a three-hour car ride from Mumbai, Pune is rapidly growing to be one of upcoming destinations in the country. This bustling metropolitan is a dynamic cultural hub and places like the Shaniwar Wada are its major highlights. Aga Khan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi once took respite, is a known tourist location while Parvati Hills, from where one can spot the entire landscape of the city, is a lesser known destination. A short diversion to FC Road, where local food is sold at its best, has to be on your things to do.
Fatorda Stadium located in Margao, where Goa FC play their home matches, is an hour's drive from the Panjim.
What to see: Yes. Yes. Yes. Goa. The place where Aamir Khan and his crew took off to during Dil Chahta hai. The place where everyone plans to take a trip to, but very few do. When in Panjim, praying at the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church beckons. Follow this serious affair with a fun one by making you war to the Miramar Beach. Take a walk along the river as the sun sets behind the blanket of blue or participate in adventure sports if you are there earlier in the day.
While the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium will leave you awestruck, the Sree Kanteerava Stadium is gaining popularity. The Sunil Chhetri led side were at their terrifying best last season ultimately falling one step short.
What to see: A short trip here to the capital of Karnataka should take you to Lal Bagh, a famous glasshouse botanical garden, and then to the Bannerghatta National Park, an expansive national park with diverse species of wildlife. Witness an architectural marvel on your stopover at the Bengaluru Palace. Home to the high-tech industry of the nation, Bengaluru lies at the center of the Southern heartlands.
Home to the two-time finalists Kerala Blasters, Kochi is a major port city in Southern India. Playing their matches at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where they regularly sell out their 55,000 capacity home, the experience of watching a match here will live on for ages.
What to see: A visit to Kochi should include a trip to Fort Kochi, which is the heart of this port city. The St. Francis Church was the first European church built in India and therefore, shouldn't be missed out upon. See hordes of 10 meters high Chinese fishing nets, exclusive to Kochi, installed across the sea. A city known for its diversity, a trip to the Jew town and Mattencherry will take you to the Jewish synagogue and the spice markets.
Previously known as Madras, Chennai is the fourth-most populous city in the country. Chennaiyin FC, partly owned by Indian cricketing legend MS Dhoni, have a crazy fan-base in the city.
What to see: Close to the island nation of Sri Lanka, a visit to Chennai is like walking through a memory lane. Marina Beach is too beautiful to skip while the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is a brilliant showcase of the Dravidian influence on the city. The Chennai Central Railway Station, which happens to be 142-years old, is a major hub of the south and a prominent landmark of the city.