Including India’s holiest city Varanasi, the city of the Nawabs at Lucknow with its distinctive architecture and cuisine, the stunning Taj Mahal and Fort at Agra, the deserted Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri, Allahabad one of the oldest cities in India and Dudhwa National Park for safaris on elephant back.
Main Cities: Agra, Varanasi, Lucknow, Allahabad
Airports: Agra, Varanasi, Lucknow, Allahabad
Local Language: Hindi, Urdu
Fun Fact: Even decades after Independence, the streets of Shahjahanpur witness a strange and crude convention. On the day of Holi, the festival of colours, people of the town parade a randomly chosen man, almost naked and wearing a garland of shoes, while beating him with brooms. This happens in the presence of senior district officials and even the High Court is aware of it, but somehow it has escaped a ban.
Exploring Uttar Pradesh along the Heritage Arc comprised of Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi, takes you to a land where cultures have evolved and religions emerge. The Arc takes travellers through a kaleidoscopic journey of monuments, architectural wonders, pilgrimage centres, spiritual experiences and wildlife. A tour here will be rich in culture and authenticity, as well as seeing India’s most famous iconic landmark, the Taj Mahal.
Agra is easily accessible by modern highway from Delhi – here you can visit the impressive Agra Fort, experience the beauty of the Taj Mahal and take a heritage walk through the old city. The deserted Mughal kingdom of Fatehpur Sikri is a short drive from Agra.
Lucknow is a much under rated city in our opinion. The city of the Nawabs has a rich Muslim heritage and culture which is reflected in the ornate Imambaras (congregation halls) which are well worth visiting. Of historic significance is The Residency at Lucknow, the place that served as a refuge for approximately 3000 British inhabitants during the time of the uprising of 1857. Don’t leave Lucknow without trying some of the local cuisine, biryani and succulent kebabs are the highlights. The old town is an interesting place to wander amongst the bazaars and narrow lanes.
Varanasi, the oldest city in the world, will take your breath away. This sacred city on the Ganges is a full on assault on the senses but utterly magical at the same time. A dawn boat ride on the holy Ganges amongst devotees performing their early morning rituals is one of life’s must have experiences. In the evening, experience the aarti ceremony where priests line the riverside ghats (steps) to perform the ritual with brass lamps and mantra chants. The Buddhist stupas at Sarnath are not far from Varanasi and make an interesting excursion.
Allahabad is another important holy city in Uttar Pradesh. The Kumbh festival held every six years and the Kumbh Mela every 12 years at Allahabad (Sangam – meeting of rivers), are the largest gatherings of pilgrims on this earth. An annual Magh Mela also takes place on the same site.
For wildlife enthusiasts, Dudhwar National Park is an emerging park in the Lucknow region whilst Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary, which is accessible from Agra, is home to Gangetic dolphins and crocodiles.
Kumbh Mela: Allahabad, January/February
The Maha Kumbh Mela is the largest religious congregation in India, attended by millions. The over month-long fair held every 12 years, is marked by the construction of a massive tented township, complete with cottages, huts, platforms, civic facilities, administrative and security measures. It is organised immaculately by the government, the local authorities and the police. The mela is especially renowned for the presence of an extraordinary array of religious ascetics - sadhus and mahants - enticed from remote hideaways in forests, mountains and caves.
Magh Mela: Allahabad, January/February
An annual gathering of Hindu pilgrims in Prayag, on the banks of Triveni Sangam (the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati).
Taj Mahotsav: Agra, March
A celebration of the region’s cultural heritage showcasing a wide range of arts and crafts, cultural performances and cuisines.
Lucknow Mahotsav: Lucknow, November/December
An annual festival to exhibit the art and Nawabi culture of Lucknow.
The best time to visit this state is between October and March