India - Getting to know Uttar Pradesh

‘U.P’, as it’s commonly referred to, is quintessential India in all its sense-defying glory. The world's most romantic palace (the Taj Mahal, of course!), Hinduism's holiest city, undiscovered national parks packed with rare wildlife, and evocative memories of the days of the Raj all combine to make this one of India's most fascinating destinations. It’s also exceptionally easy to get off the beaten track on an Uttar Pradesh holiday, with every opportunity to experience cultures and lifestyles barely touched by the passing of time.

Kebabs

If you're a culture creature, Uttar Pradesh is pretty hard to beat for a holiday in India. It's the kind of place where every day is more enthralling than the one before. Indeed, there's so much to see we must manage your time carefully! The iconic Taj Mahal is bound to be top of the list, and gazing at its glistening domes and delicate decorations will have you spellbound. Varanasi's kaleidoscopic world of noise, aromas and colour will leave you dumbfounded and enthralled in equal measures. Undiscovered Lucknow is a rising star, packed with regal palaces, bustling bazaars full of handicrafts, and dazzling street food.

Deserted palaces, ancient tombs shrouded in mysterious forests, evocative ruins and a host of surprisingly good wildlife encounters just up the ante. If you’re looking for a real connection with both India's mysterious past and its vibrant present  - U.P offers it all.

Essential Uttar Pradesh

  • Agra: Of course Agra is all about soaking in the spectacular views of the Taj Mahal's shimmering domes. Its white marble most spellbinding at sunrise, reflecting every change of light. You will inevitably be sharing the sunrise with crowds of visitors, but this doesn’t detract from the experience, and there’s an ethereal calm at this time of day. Agra, however, is more than just the home of the Taj Mahal. The tombs of Itmad ud Duala and John Hessing echo the delicate craftsmanship of the Taj Mahal, whilst Ram Bagh, the first Moghul garden, is a haven of fragrant trees and tinkling fountains. And there's all manner of interesting colonial architecture in the Cantonment area, which is well worth exploring too.
  • Varanasi: The Hindu City of Light is one of the oldest in the world, steeped in spiritual traditions that are both moving and bizarre. The banks of the mighty River Ganges are dotted with funeral sites and pavilions known as ghats. Pilgrims perform rituals at the ghats and bathe in the holy river, said to wash away sin, as the smoke and scent of the funeral pyres lies heavy in the sultry air. Hop aboard a boat in the early light just after dawn for a mystical experience. Away from the river, get pleasantly lost amidst the city's labyrinthine alleys flanked with unexpected temples and shrines.
  • Lucknow: Lucknow is often overlooked by tourists, and is all the better for it. For a start, it's full of spectacular Islamic and British Raj architecture. The fairytale Hussainabad Imambara glistens in front of a tranquil pool like a smaller version of the Taj Mahal. The huge Bara Imambara complex is a feast of ornate domed palaces, spooky underground tunnels and even a labyrinth. The British Residency ruins remain an eerie reminder of Britain's complex relationship with India. Besides historic architecture, Lucknow’s street food is garnering something of a reputation. Don’t leave without sampling the smoky kebabs, fragrant biryanis and paya kulcha (a spicy mutton soup served with hot breads).  

Uttar Pradesh away from the crowds

  • Chambal: Just an hour away from Agra, the Chambal valley, with its tranquil river, feels a million miles distant. It's a magnet for rare birdlife, turtles, crocodiles, and even freshwater dolphin. Head out on a small boat to explore or wander around the rural villages on foot. You’ll be staying at the family-run Chambal Safari Lodge, a homely eco-lodge full of antique furnishings and surrounded by flower filled gardens.
  • Dudhwa National Park: Tucked up close to the Nepalese border, Dudhwa is an undiscovered gem comprised of three national parks: Kishanpur, Dudhwa and Katarniaghat. This pristine landscape is home to indigenous birdlife and rare beasts such as the one-horned rhino. Leopard and tiger roam the land. From primeval forests and mosaic grasslands to muddy marshes, the topography is as varied as its wildlife. Unusually for India, there are tribal villages to visit too.