The world is littered with tourist destinations for those seeking a coastal paradise, a mountain adventure or a cosmopolitan city break, but India is without equal in its ancient riches of breathtaking architecture and spiritual tradition. Uttar Pradesh is the epitomy of this sumptuous heritage, boasting three world heritage sites among the many majestic monoliths of Agra, and four cities at the holiest heart of the Hindu faith on the banks of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. These two concentrations of magnificence blend perfectly to satisfy thirsty cultural appetites.
Rightfully considered one of the most magnificent buildings ever seen, the gleam from the Taj Mahal’s towering buttresses is reason enough for visiting India at all, let alone just this city; and yet in Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, the 500-year-old Mughal capital nearby, the modern capital of Uttar Pradesh houses two more timeless monuments to power that would be headline acts in almost any other city on earth. Also not to be missed is Akbar the Great’s 16th century mausoleum, and its modern reflection, the ambitious work in progress that is Dayal Bagh temple.
The confluence of the sacred Ganga and Yamuna rivers at Allahabad plays host to Hinduism’s annual Magh Mela festival, and every 12th year the Kumbha Mela sees over 10 million pilgrims form the world’s largest gathering of humanity. Elsewhere on the river banks are the holy cities of Ayodhya and Mathura, birth places of Lords Rama and Krishna respectively. Held in highest Hindu esteem, though, is Varanasi. Thought by some to be the world’s oldest city, its divine Ganges waters teem constantly with believers from across the globe.
Quite apart from its myriad Hindu sites, other cities in Uttar Pradesh lie at the centre of the Buddhist faith, including the scene of Gautama Buddha’s first sermon, and that of his death. For those with a hankering for history of the more natural variety, the numerous reserves famed for their tigers, including the Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Bahraich near the Nepal border, are similarly unique. India’s holiest state is therefore also richly appealing for the tourist seeking visual magnificence of every kind, with the Taj Mahal its crowning glory.