Uttar Pradesh and Agra
Follow the renowned Heritage Arc of Uttar Pradesh through some of India’s most atmospheric cities.
The banks of the holy Yamuna River are fringed by Agra’s tributes to the majestic Mughal Empire – the pinnacle of course being the Taj Mahal, entrancing with symmetry and etched marble. A deserved apex of the Golden Triangle, a day trip does not do Agra’s splendour justice. Set up fort at the decadent Oberoi – with reflection pools, pavilions and unmatched views of the Taj from every room, it is the ultimate indulgence.
Head east to Varanasi, the spiritual gem of India – alive with religion and colour, it never fails to draw you in. One of Hinduism’s seven holy cities, its sacred Ganges waters are a potent symbol of the Hindu life cycle. For a quintessentially Varanasi experience, head to the ghats at sunrise for a boat trip in the atmospheric morning light, and catch the puja (prayer rituals) on the crimson-glowing waterfront. Experience the beating heart of Varanasi in the labyrinth of characterful narrow galis that are the old city.
Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh
Take a detour off the beaten track to less-visited Madhya Pradesh, a state awash with cultural gems: see the greatest (and oldest) example of Buddhist architecture in Asia – the UNESCO-listed Great Stupa in Sanchi - and be captivated by the grand mosques of Taj-ul-Masjid, Lakshmi Naraya and Shaukat Mahal. Head to remote Chhattisgarh for untouched natural beauty and the vibrant tribal art of the Bastar people. The state capital, Bhopal, scintillates with centuries-old mosques, bustling bazaars and fascinating archaeological museums. With their impressive white domes, sky-piercing minarets and pretty, ornate arches, Bhopal’s mosques make for a spectacular sight. Divided by two artificial lakes, the walled old city lies in the north while the more modern face of Bhopal is found in the south: a cityscape dominated by shopping centres, smart hotels and restaurants.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
The must-see city of this region, the shared capital of Hyderabad is where Muslim and Hindu cultures collide, its Old Quarter a cacophonous symphony of Urdu and Hindi. Wander the narrow streets, packed with swarming market bazaars and zooming auto-rickshaws, and sample the aromatic Deccani cuisine, which is well-known for its fiery flavour. An essential sight is the extraordinary (and at times eccentric) cache of Mughal, Buddhist and Hindu treasures collected by the noble Salar Jung family, in their grand museum on the southern bank. A hoard of glittering relics, including precious stones, manuscripts and weapons from across the globe, ensures this gallery is unrivalled by any other in the world.