Uttar Pradesh, is spartan in terms of numbers of destinations one would want to visit, but what it lacks in number, it more than makes up for in quality. First and foremost, it houses one of the greatest wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal located in Agra. What most people tend to miss, close to Agra is the Chambal River, great for nature safaris and the riverside Bateshwar Temples which hardly any tourists visit. Also lesser known but also worth exploring is, Lucknow which was associated with the princely court of Oudh and then with the British, both traditions lingering on in the city whose finest monument is the Bara Imambara. Traditional cuisine and music from here are definitely worth exploring and enjoying.
Further east is Varanasi, the oldest city in India and for many, the most shocking but it provides at its very worst for a fascinating culture shock and its very best, a spiritual journey that will stay with you for life. An important centre of Hindu pilgrimage, it is believed that those who die in Varanasi will be released from the cycle of rebirth. Pious Hindus still come to Varanasi to spend their last days, living in simple communes run by a multitude of religious trusts and then their bodies are burnt on the ghats which lead up from the sacred River Ganga. Within feet of each other, people come here to wash away their sins by bathing in the river, the dead are cremated and holy men meditate. Every evening there is a boisterous, yet enchanting prayer ceremony which is not to be missed. But, what many people tend to ignore is the old city. It is worth having a guided tour to discover this lesser explored area of the city with its narrow by lanes, crowded bazaars and temples.
ACTIVITIES: City tours, culinary experiences, wildlife, birding.
National Parks & Nature: Chambal, Dudhwa
Cultural: Agra, Varanasi, Lucknow, Allahabad
Off the beaten track: Kotwara, Ayodhya