India : Classical North
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India’s largest city, Delhi, has been one of the country’s commercial and economic hubs for centuries and, as a result, is incredibly rich in culture and history. Made up of the ancient walled city of Old Delhi and the more modern sector, New Delhi, the city encompasses a staggering array of beautiful architecture, notable monuments and age-old temples, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Red Fort, Qutab Minar and Humayun's Tomb. Other key attractions include the 17th century Chandni Chowk marketplace – still one of the city’s most popular retail centres today, particularly for jewellery and traditional Indian saris; the iconic Bahà’i Lotus Temple – an award-winning architectural gem; and the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.
Fringed by the rugged Aravali Hills, Jaipur is the capital and largest city in India’s northern state of Rajasthan. This city is famed for being India’s first planned city featuring a multitude of pink terracotta buildings within the walled historic centre, earning it the nickname,’The Pink City’. Jaipur falls within the Golden Triangle, a popular tourist circuit, which includes Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, and serves as a gateway to the neighbouring desert cities of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. This colourful city is a combination of tradition and modernity and offers visitors vibrant bazaars, lavish palaces and ancient temples. The salmon-hued old city is home to the opulent City Palace, encompassing an impressive assortment of palatial structures, sprawling gardens, courtyards and buildings. Don’t miss the fairy-tale splendour of the Amber Fort, set against the backdrop of the arid landscape.
Home of the world-famous Taj Mahal, Agra is one of India’s prime tourist destinations for specifically this reason, though its attractions also extend to an array of other impressive historical sights. These include the red-hued Agra Fort, the sacred Jama Masjid mosque and Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tomb, with its white marble facade embellished with intricate inlaid designs and semi-precious gems. The Taj, however, is in a league of its own and needless to say is a must-see for any visitor to the city. Commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 15th century as a memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, it is an architectural masterpiece of exquisite craftsmanship and perfect proportions.
This historical city in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, was home to Queen Rani Lakshmi Bai, who led a rebellion against the British army in the mid-1800s. Statues of Rani, who is regarded as the Joan of Arc of India, can be found in numerous places in northern India. She is depicted in a heroic pose, riding a horse, the reins between her teeth and a sword in each hand. Jhansi Fort, her stronghold for 17 days, now houses a sculpture museum. Collections of archeological pieces can be viewed at the Rani Mahal and an array of historical weapons, statues, costumes, painting, coins and manuscripts can be seen at the Jhansi Government Museum.
Located southwest of Kanpur, Khajuraho is considered one of India’s seven wonders and listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The city encompasses the nation’s largest array of medieval Hindu and Jain temples, decorated with intricately detailed erotic sculptures and reliefs. The site incorporates close to 100 sacred structures, some of them exquisitely preserved, and each evening, a light and sound show is staged here, covering the history, philosophy and craftsmanship encapsulated in this archaeological goldmine. Other highlights include: vibrant Annual Dance Festival of Khajuraho; the Panna National Park, home to leopards; the Arhanta Yoga Ashram, where visitors can take classical Hatha yoga classes. The city also boasts a wide variety of wonderful shops, markets and restaurants.
An ancient and deeply sacred city, Varanasi rests along the banks of the holy River Ganges and encompasses a wealth of beautiful riverside temples, stately old forts and vibrant markets. It’s considered the spiritual capital of Hinduism, and it’s widely believed that dying here will bring salvation. As a result, the city is home to a multitude of ghats – stone steps leading to the river –some of which are used for bathing rituals and others as cremation sites. An early morning boat ride along the Ganges offers an excellent way to take in the ghats and the bustling activity centred on them.
India’s largest state, Rajasthan, is also one of its most captivating. Known for its vibrant cities, the golden splendour of the sprawling Thar Desert, the age-old Aravalli mountain range and countless beautiful palaces, temples and forts – a legacy of its royal Rajput heritage. Highlights include the colourful capital, Jaipur – a veritable shopping mecca; the serene city of Udaipur, with its glittering lakes and mountainous backdrop; the ancient palaces and rosy-hued architecture of Jaipur, dubbed ‘The Pink City’; and forays into the desolate beauty of the Thar Desert’s sun-drenched dunes.
India’s famous northern state is home to some of India’s most well known tourist sites, the Taj Mahal and sacred Varanasi. The mighty Ganges flows diagonally through the state from the Himalayas in the north to the open plains of the east. Agriculture is the most important contributor to Uttar Pradesh’s economy, employing about three quarters of the work force. In the sixth century BC, Uttar Pradesh was associated with two new religions - Jainism and Buddhism. It was at Sarnath, just outside Varanasi that Buddha preached his first sermon and laid the foundations of Buddhism.
India’s second largest state, Madhya Pradesh is located right in the middle of the country and hence also known as ‘the heart of India’. It is the least developed of all the states, it is home to many traditional ethnic tribes, many of which are cut off almost entirely from the modern world, and is dotted with ancient, abandoned cities that offer a striking contrast to the bustle of India’s modern destinations. The region has a rich cultural and historical heritage, encapsulated in an array of antiquated palaces and hill forts, as well as over 20 temples devoted to the Kama Sutra, featuring magnificent architecture and astonishing erotic sculptures. Roughly 30% of Madhya Pradesh is covered by forest – constituting 12% of all India’s forests in total – which makes it an excellent place for wildlife sightings.