Twenty best places to visit in North India
Twenty best places to visit in North India
It’s only fair to start talking about the north with the historic ‘Golden Triangle’ of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Then we’ll take you through the deserts of Rajasthan into the magnificent Himalayan paradise destinations. So, let’s start where most trips begin and talk about the twenty best places in north India to visit.
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Delhi – A Capital with Character
It’s a modern city with a very rich history, getting best of both worlds. The way it’s constructed, its architecture and its monuments, tombs, temples and ruins prove this description. It’s a sprawling city and every area is like a world of it’s own, even the highways feel like they connect different worlds. You can visit Old Delhi for its history, go street shopping at Sarojinini Nagar and Janpath, eat some delicious street food, shop at alternative designer stores in HauzKhas Village and even join some hipsters at Pahadganj. Everyone loves each and every one of these things about Delhi and yet the luxury shopper or fine diner will have any choice they want with the high-flying malls and luxury stores around. Delhi has it all. It makes one massive mesmerizing metropolis where as time passes you can discovering more and more.
Chandni Chowk in Delhi is a bustling market worthy of a look
Agra – More than the Taj Mahal
Yes, Agra’s claim to fame, the Taj Mahal, is undoubtedly magnificent (especially at dawn or dusk). But the city is full of monuments. From the Agra Fort and the Baby Taj (a small black Taj) to Akbar’s tomb and the fortress city of Fatehpur Sikri. They individually have their unique historic significance and architectural genius. Well, it’s the least you can get from the Mughal’s capital in India. The city itself can be quite an experience. A bunch of bazaars jammed to one with its history parallel to the Yamuna River on the east. Taj Ganj, the settlement around the Taj Mahal, has cheap lodging and marble inlay makers making figures and art. Additionally, Sadar Bazaar has even more swanky accommodation, craft emporiums and restaurants for you. Agra is a great peek into the extravagance and the artistic impulses of the Mughals and their social effects.
Apart from the Taj Mahal, there’s a lot more to see in Agra
Jaipur – Take a Piece of Culture
Jaipur is the biggest and most bustling city in Rajasthan. Roam the old city bazaars for great handicraft and souvenirs. Search the courtyard-like markets for top-notch textiles and accessories made into ethnic wear. Eat the kachori from ‘Kanji’ or the traditional ‘dal bati’ at old Jaipuri food joints for super interesting food. And that’s without including the monuments. The Amer Fort, a marvel to explore, has an exquisite light and sound night show that is worth seeing. The Sheesh Mahal (palace of mirrors), the Galjati Temple (or the monkey temple), the Nahargarh Fort and the lesser known Royal Cenotaphs outside the city are incredible sights to see. Even the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, is a visual delight in the city. Photographers will have a blast in Jaipur with its Rajasthani architecture, and anyone interested in history, urban life and culture will absolutely have a blast in Jaipur.
Jaipur and it’s incredible forts, like the Amer Fort, are definitely worth the visit
Ranthambore – To Spot a Tiger
One of the best Indian destinations for tiger sighting, you actually have good odds of seeing a tiger here. They smugly assume ownership of the park, unperturbed by visitors and their cameras. The proximity of this reserve to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur makes it more convenient for nature lovers. There’s also neelgai, chital, jackals, leopards, and a plethora of birds. The Ranthambore Fort is another beauty, with views of the entire park from above. The new development is that there are ‘buffer zones,’ where you can stop and get out of your jeep. They’re open all year round but the core area is shut from July 1st until September 30th. October to March is the ideal time to visit. Animals also frequent the lake during this season since there’s less rainwater. Summers are less crowded due to the heat and winters very busy, so plan ahead.
The Ranthambore Fort overlooks the entire park, giving it a great view
Jaisalmer – The Desert’s Golden Edge
Jaisalmer is relatively more difficult to get to (overnight train from Jaipur or drive from Jodhpur) but totally worth it. The ‘Golden City’ is a typical Rajasthani desert town, with camel rides at sunset, camping in the desert amidst the arching sand dunes. The village folk in their vibrant turbans fill the bazaars and there’s absolutely no match for Jaisalmer’s sandstone structures. Walk through the meandering streets with no fear of getting lost in this medieval gem. Look for traditional dance performances and don’t forget to visit the towering Jaisalmer Fort and the Gadsisar Lake, two unforgettable experiences.
The Gadsisar Lake is definitely worth a visit, a beautiful oasis in the Thar Desert
Jodhpur – The best fort city in Rajasthan
Jodhpur borders the Thar Desert to the east, getting the best of the desert while still not entirely in it. Almost all houses in the old town are painted in a lovely blue, creating the ‘Blue City.’ The stunning Mehrangarh Fort (easily Rajasthan’s most beautiful) looms over the beautiful blue. Zip lining off the fort is a brilliant experience no one should miss. Apart from the fort, go around town if you have time; see the puppet makers, tie and dye artists, spice markets and more. Lose yourself in the bazaars that circle around the clock tower at the heart of the city. The Jalori and Sojati Gates will give you a nostalgic feeling of Jodhpur’s age and history.
Pushkar – Small, Sacred and Young
Legend says that Lord Brahma, a Hindu deity, dropped a lotus flower in a place north of Ajmer, and there a lake sprung out. Pushkar and it’s sacred Pushkar Lake are an incredibly important pilgrimage site, and also attrack many young backpackers. The lake is flanked by hundreds of temples and ghats, one of them being the only Brahma temple in India. This goes along with rooftop cafes, bakeries and a very colourful market filled with handicrafts, hipster clothing and food. Sunset by the lake is a great experience. If you come to the Pushkar Camel Fair in November, you’ll see throngs of pilgrims, folk musicians and artists, camel traders and tourists for its charming desert vibes during the festivities. Climb to the Savitri and Gayitri Temple to get views of Pushkar from above and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Remember to book in advance for the fair.
Great for backpackers, the sacred and spiritual city is one of the best places to visit
Varanasi – The Cradle of Hinduism
Also called Benares and Kashi, the old city lies off the famous Ganges River. The banks of the river have an array of ghats leading to holy waters, where you’ll witness priests, pilgrims and religious folk in colourful attire performing rituals in the river. The Varanasi ghats are also where Hindus religiously cremate their dead and where the Ganges aarti takes place. Watching this ceremony take place is one of the most intense and moving experiences you can have in India. Varanasi has a unique vibe as one of the major pilgrimage sites. ‘The city of lights’ is one of sages and priests where deities abound.
Khajuraho – The erotic temples
The sensual sculptures of the Khajuraho temples are incomparable to anything else. There are several theories as to why the Chandella dynasty had such explicit erotic temples built in the 10th to 11th century. In 1838, the British rediscovered this forgotten architectural marvel, 400 km southeast of Agra and west of Varanasi. The Western Group temples are particularly stunning with pinkish sandstone and almost 3D reliefs creating a realistic account of the practices involved. Add this to the subtle changes in hues by the changing daylight, moonlight and the night floodlights and you’ll be staring for hours! Khajuraho village, athought belittled by the grandiose temples, has it’s own discreet charm as a laidback spot with a nice market and pretty restaurants. The Dance festival there is a great time to visit Khajuraho.
Udaipur – Charming city of Lakes
Udaipur is a famous rich and romantic setting you’ve probably seen but never known where it’s from. Lake Pichola seems painted with an array of island palaces with beautiful balconies, havelis (royal decorated mansions), ghats and lovely restaurants all with views of the lake and its surroundings. Some of these island palaces have been transformed to hotels, like the Lake Palace Hotel and the Jag Mandir. The City Palace east of the lake is a wondrous century old palace built over hundreds of years. Fateh Sagar is also to the north of the lake. With such a variety of views in the ‘City of Lakes,’ it’s a must on any trip to Rajasthan.
Lake Pichola and it’s island palaces are a wonder to behold
Orchha – The Hidden Gem
Chhattisgarh’s more or less undervalued gem, Orccha is a must visit if you’re taking a trip to Khajuraho. Actually, the name itself translates to ‘hidden place,’ an apt meaning for this dhak-covered medieval town. It’s conveniently 18 km away from Jhansi. Its architectural value has been recognized over the years. Its lovely shikharas, palatial remains, havelis and sandstone cenotaphs invaded by flora have all been preserved. The village is a great place to relax by the Betwa River on your way down to other cities. Orccha has become more popular , you’ll find many guided tours and tourists here. THe best way to enjoy it is to let the bustle clear, lay back, and take in the charming historical aura of this place.
Kanha National Park – Sit on Nature’s Lap
The Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh is easily one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in India. It sprawls over 940 sq. km of deciduous forest cover, grasslands, hills and rivers. You’ll spot a myriad of bird species and other fauna (tigers) and be awestruck by the early morning beauty of the park. Tiger spotting is more difficult than in other reserves. However, it’s totally worth a visit for the rest of the wildlife and the refreshing countryside views it offers.
Bandhavgarh National Park – Bengal Tiger Territory
195 km from Jabalpur and 237 km from Khajuraho, this national park houses the most number of tigers in India. The Bandhavgarh National Park is 448 sq. km and by far the best reserve to spot tigers. During season time, you’ll have the best chances to see them and get insight to their lives and habits. Accommodation is available near the park entry, which makes it even more convenient. Check out the different sorts of birds while lounging at your lodge. If you’re more interested in architecture or history, it also contains some enthralling ruins.
Rishikesh – a Charming and Spiritual Himalayan Escape
Relaxing on the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh holds a crazy mix of different types of people. From yogis, sanyasis, travellers, hippies, backpackers, adventure sports enthusiasts and more, they all come to enjoy the Ganges River with the Garhwal Mountains looming over. There are many ashrams and yoga centres here. Go white water rafting, mountaineering or one of the easier recreational treks. The unparalleled adrenaline rush of bungee jumping and the tranquility of its original charm, make Rishikesh a spiritual and exciting place. Walk upriver, sit among the rocks and meditate. All in all, it’s a lovely experience to spend a good amount of time in, hence one of the best places in north India.
Amritsar – An Awakening of Humility
Amritsar, Punjab’s largest city and holy city for Sikhs, is famous for its Golden Temple and stately domes that command the busy old town streets’ view. Walking around the bazaars and the narrow by-lanes of the old quarter is an experience on its own. There is also a glaf retreat at the Wagha border 29 km west (Indo-Pakistan frontier) where Indian and Pakistani solider elaborately bring down flags every evening. Interested in history? Visit the site of Jalianwala Bagh (where silent protestors were massacred during India’s struggle for freedom and independence).
Soak in the sights of the Golden Temple and the beautiful Amritsar
Chandigarh – An urban design benchmark
The interesting administrative bureaucratic mess surrounding Chandigarh isn’t the only worthy thing about this city. It’s modeled on Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision for a city “symbolic of the future of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, [and] an expression of the nation’s faith in the future.” Architect Le Corbusier (Charles Edouard Jeanneret) designed Chandigarh back in 1952 as the progressive town undergoing structural experimentation. Even amid controversy, architects and designers study Chandigarh’s buildings across the world. It’s much cleaner and greener compared to other major Indian towns. The rock garden here is the most frequented tourist destination in India after the Taj Mahal.
Dharmshala – Center of Buddhism in India
Home to the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, Dharamshala has a unique spiritual vibe to it. The Dalai Lama stays in McLeod Ganj, slightly north in Himachal Pradesh, and there are numerous monasteries that make the valley wonderful. Buy Tibetan souvenirs and eat the best momos in India. There’ll be heavy snowfall in the winter and heavy rain during the monsoon season, but after the monsoons, it’s perfect to visit. You can also stay at McLeod Ganj in one of the many lovely lodging options there. Visit the Dalai Lama Temple, especially during chanting and spin the prayer wheel during for good fortune. Dharamshala is also the base for superb Himalayan treks. There are numerous things to visit around it, so you can spend weeks and not get tired of it all.
Shimla – Cool, Colonial and Charming
This Himalayan town is wonderful, housing steep valleys, apple orchards and maize terrace farming on its hills. Shimla is at 2159 meters and always has cool weather and stunning views. Unsurprisingly, the British made it their summer capital, retaining its colonial aura through churhes, mansions, resorts, culture, and British-named shops and homes. Christ Church and Scandal Point are major landmarks there. The Mall is the main shopping area and the Gaiety Theatre hosts several shows. Indian tourists visit from May to June, so if you want to evade the crowds, come in a different season. October and November are great times to visit, but book in advance. Keep an eye out for brass bands, sports screenings and pony rides.
Nice colonial and relaxed vibes, Shimla is a worthwhile visit if you’re going north
Kashmir Valley – A Heavenly Delight
The Kashmir Valley is easily one of India’s most beautiful destinations. This exquisitely cool and lush place is like heaven on earth. Entering from Jawahar Tunnel or Zoji La Pass, the views will be fantastic, verdant and perfectly mountainous. The snow capped Pir Panjal Range, the bright green fields of corn, wheat, almonds etc., and some of the highest quality wood only adds to Kashmir’s beauty. Benign spices blended perfectly make the cuisine special. Not too industrialised, the renowned handicraft of Kashmir is worth checking out. The downside is unfortunately there have been years of political and social conflict over Kashmir, sometimes violent. This is by no means a reason to not go, but if you do be on your guard constantly around there.
Srinagar lies in the Kashmir Valley, being the largest city and the summer capital of the whole region
Leh and Ladakh – Distinctly beautiful valley
It’s an entirely separate part of the country in administration, culture and terrain. ‘The Land of High Mountain Passes’ is often called ‘little Tibet’ for its rich Buddhist culture. Ladakh is a Himalayan desert and ultimate experience for extreme bikers and drivers. It’s a sparse landscape, but the terrain changes are otherworldly. Leh is Ladakh’s stunning thriving capital. To its north lies KhardungLa, the highest drivable pass in the world that reaches the Nubra Valley’s sand dunes. Pangong Tso is an incredibly lovely picturesque lake. You need a permit to visit, so reach Leh a day early to get them. A jeep or a bike is ideal to traverse the region. While there’s very little rain and snowfall, it’s very inaccessible because of the heavy snowfall blockages to reach Ladakh. As you venture farther into the wilderness, it becomes less accessible but not impossible.
The picturesque and unique landscape of the Nubra Valley will be something you can set your eyes on
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