Uttar Pradesh doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Rajasthan, Kerala or Kashmir, but as a travel destination this expansive state looms large, thanks to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, and the enthralling city of Varanasi.
Known as UP, and often referred to as the cow belt or Hindu belt, India’s most populous state covers the vast, sprawling plain of northern India, bordering Delhi, Uttarakhand (formerly Uttaranchal, was part of UP until it split in 2000), Nepal and Bihar. The mighty, myth-laden Ganges – Hinduism’s most sacred river – rises in Uttarakhand and flows through the state providing a spiritual backbone exemplified by the bathing ghats of Varanasi and the pilgrimage centre of Allahabad – the most auspicious of India’s four Kumbh Mela sites. Just outside Varanasi, Sarnath was where Buddha first preached his gospel of the middle way, and Kushinagar, near Gorakhpur, is where he died. Devotees of a different kind are drawn to Mathura and Vrindavan, the birthplace of the much-loved god Krishna.
But nothing draws tourists like India’s most famous icon, the Taj Mahal, and the other Mughal monuments in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. On the banks of Hinduism’s second-holiest river, the Yamuna, the white-marble Taj stands as an unrivalled monument and architectural wonder. Of course, the nawabs in UP’s capital Lucknow and the British in Allahabad also left behind an impressive architectural legacy that‘s lasted well beyond their downfall. Although Agra and Varanasi stand out in UP, it would be a shame not to delve deeper into one of India’s most historically and politically important regions.