The capital city of India is a glorious concoction of the old and the new. Temples that are centuries old, archaic Muslim quarters, and modern residencies, all exist alongside each other. Home to over a crore people, Delhi is a treasure trove of historic gems, gardens, museums and a thriving food culture. Travel to the metropolis for the vibrant bazaars of Chandni Chowk that give way to Lutyens’ New Delhi, which is the historic heart of the city. For an insight into the legacy of the Mughal era, go to the 16th century Humayun’s Tomb, the towering sandstone mosque of Jama Masjid, and experience the sound and light show at Red Fort. Tourists can spend mornings at the extravagant Akshardham Temple and evenings at the Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Dargah (shrine) that boasts of sufi music and delicious kebabs. Another popular attraction of Delhi are its pulsating markets that sell everything from baubles to handicrafts, sell everything you can possibly think of. Those who have travelled to Delhi for its particular brand of food, will have a lot on their plates. From hole-in-the-wall eateries and local student cafes in North Delhi to lavish restaurants and bars in South Delhi, there is no dish or cuisine you won’t find here. A huge incentive for travellers is the variety of public transport, wherein the Delhi Metro is the cheapest and easiest way to get around the city.
Home to the grandiose Taj Mahal, Agra’s city echoes of its bygone Mughal era days. Located in Uttar Pradesh, tourists from across the world flock to Agra all year round. Boasting of three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Agra Fort in the city,the white marble architectural wonder of the Taj Mahal and the nearby Fatehpur Sikri. Agra is also dotted with numerous tombs and buildings that have been left behind by the Mughal empire. Agra’s tourism can also be credited to its sweeping gardens of Soami Bagh, Ram Bagh and the most beautiful of them all, Mehtab Bagh. Agra city is also swarmed by a multitude of temples that add to Agra’s vibrant character. The Balkeshwar and Kailash temple on Yamuna’s banks worship Lord Shiva, while the Mankameshwar Temple is loved by the locals for it mellifluous aarti. And while you are in Agra, you should definitely incorporate Sikandra in your itinerary. Akbar’s tomb, or Sikandra lies north to the city, and takes about thirty minutes from Agra. Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb, fondly referred to as the Baby Taj is another must visit.
Lucknow or the City of Nawabs sitting on the banks of the Gomti river, is regarded as North India’s cultural capital. Uttar Pradesh’s capital, Lucknow is replete with historical elements dating back to the colonial era that are known over the world for their Awadhi-style architecture. But Lucknow’s ethos lies in its delectable cuisine and its unique Chikankaari (shadow-work embroidery) garments that are must-buys if you are in the city. Lucknow is also known for its sweeping gardens and pure Kathak dance-forms that are showcased in numerous events held across the city. The city is also thriving with a lovely Urdu poetry scene. The ginormous tomb complex of Bara Imambara is home to a stunning labyrinth and neighboured by the equally popular mausoleum of Chhota Imambara, the Husainabad clock tower and a fantastic art gallery. And while in Lucknow, feast on its delightful assortment of Awadhi and Mughlai food that comprises of everything from kebabs to the makhan malai (a saffron-flavoured local ice-cream).
Located in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, Nainital is one of the most beautiful hill stations in Northern India. The stunning Nainital lake is bang in the middle of the city and offers tourists stunning sunsets and enchanting sunrises. One legend says that Nainital derives its name from the Goddess Naina, whereas another legend claims that once when the Goddess Sati was being carried by Lord Shiva, her eye fell in the area. The lovely hill station promises a rejuvenating weekend break for those who are coming from the capital city and is definitely worth a visit. Like most hill stations, Nainital has a bustling mall road, warm cafes and a very busy Tibet market. The mall road houses shops selling candles with intricate designs, wooden knick knacks and colourful woollens. Do bring back some souvenirs as keepsakes! If you have time, do visit Sattal, Naukuchiatal (for paragliding and kayaking) as well as Ranikhet for its surreal beauty. If you are looking for a quiet, carefree holiday, visit between the months of January and April. It'll be cold, but there won't be any crowd.
This city has been a refuge for spiritual seekers long before The Beatles christened it with their visit in the 60's. Widely known as the pilgrimage town and also the 'yoga capital of the world', Rishikesh is home to myriad temples, yoga and meditation centres and a plethora of adventure activities. With an interesting backdrop of the rapid flowing Ganges river and iron-made suspension bridges (Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula), the city has also been a popular hub for travellers and backpackers alike. When it comes to food and drinks, Rishikesh remains a strict teetotaller and a vegetarian, even though you might find with great exploratory skills, a few restaurants not adhering to the prohibition. Some great restaurants and cafes include Little Buddha Cafe where you can enjoy your meals in a treehouse-style ambience. Rishikesh provides a spectacular treat to the eyes and music to the ears during sunrise and sunset, as sadhus (priests), pilgrims and tourists all around, prepare for the routine 'Ganga Aarti' with temple bells resonating all around and innumerable diyas or small clay pot lit lamps dancing over the river Ganga to that reverberating music, as religious offerings. Rishikesh warmly welcomes thrill seekers, who can try out a number of activities such as white water rafting, bungee jumping, kayaking, zip lining, mountain biking and rappelling. The city also annually hosts the International Yoga Festival where yoga gurus, aficionados and devotees from around the globe throng the place (popularly the Parmarth Niketan Ashram) and give various lessons and lectures on yoga, meditation and spirituality.
An ancient holy town and the starting point for pilgrimages to the Kedarnath Temple and the Badrinath Temple, Haridwar is the first recipient of the mighty rapid and revered Ganges, originating from the Gangotri Glacier. Its vast mythological background, beautiful temples (Shanti Kunj Gayatri Parivar), spectacular festival celebrations and the world famous Kumbh Mela (hosted every 12 years) make it a popular destination to be visited from around the world. Haridwar comes alive during sunset, when the evening aarti (ritual of worship) starts at Har Ki Pauri, a ghat (steps leading to a river) and the main attraction of the town where both the Ganga banks are lit up with floating claypot candles and chants of devotees and priests resonate musically throughout the town. The religious city serves no alcohol anywhere and restaurants are strictly vegetarian too, some well known ones being, Big Ben Restaurant, Chotiwala and the Haveli Hari Ganga Restaurant.