The heart and capital of northern India for over a thousand years, seat of Mughal Emperors and the British Raj, in it’s vast sprawl Delhi encompasses every century from the 11th to the 21st! This is one of the most fascinating cities of the World with layer upon layer of history. Once the shining beacon of Islamic learning as the Sultans held the marauding Mongols at bay, Delhi houses over 1300 listed monuments and countless smaller buildings; garden tombs of Emperors, mosques, colleges; renowned Sufi shrines, markets, museums, galleries and the final sweeping testament to the soaring ambitions of the Raj in Lutyen’s Delhi. This is a city too often dismissed by travelers hurrying through and yet it offers the greatest riches of every description in India. It is also a shoppers Mecca! Delhi deserves a minimum of 3 nights.
Located close to the border with Pakistan north-west of Delhi, Amritsar is the home of the Harmandir Sahib, the Gurudwara that is the centre of Sikh spirituality popularly called the Golden Temple because of the gold leaf that covers the dome. The Sikh tradition of universal charity reaches its peak here with an astonishing 50,000 people being fed daily from the mammoth kitchens or langar. Although a busy and non-descript industrial city, Amritsar was the scene of the 1919 massacre at Jallianwala Bagh by British troops of an unarmed and peaceful crowd that formed the watershed moment for the Raj. A thirty minute drive takes one to the Indo-Pakistan border at Wagah which witnesses one of the most entertaining military ceremonies every evening as flags are lowered and the border ceremoniously closed amidst a theatrically choreographed and lavishly costumed military ballet clearly rehearsed between the rival militaries.
“If there be a Paradise upon Earth, it is this, it is this, it is this,” the Emperor Jehangir is supposed to have said as he lingered in his favourite garden of Shalimar, looking out over the ethereal lotus strewn waters of Dal Lake, quoting the poet Amir Khusro who wrote this verse in homage to his beloved Delhi. With its wonderful houseboats on the lakes around Srinagar, flower filled valleys, mighty glaciers, lakes and streams bursting with trout, sumptuous Wazwan cuisine or the most exciting heli-skiing in the world from Gulmarg Kashmir, despite its troubles, remains one of the most gorgeous regions in the World.
Once called the “Constantinople of the East”, this once glittering city epitomized the high courtly culture of the late Mughals and its syncretic traditions. Only a whisper of that old sophisticated Lucknow remains amidst the chaos and din of the modern capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Yet the buildings from that period are some of the most beautiful and famous of the post-Mughal period. The Seige of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny and Rebellion of 1857 is commemorated by the ruins of the British residency where the flag was never lowered during British times. The city is still famous for it’s astonishingly good food, jealously preserved from dilution and change by the citizens. It is one of the most interesting places to visit and yet is too often overlooked.
"Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together". Mark Twain
This is the holiest city in Hinduism and one of the oldest in the world. To rise before dawn and embark on a boat on Mother Ganga and watch the Sun emerge from the fog shrouded plain to light the palaces and temples that line the banks of Varanasi is to understand why this city is named Kashi – The Illumined. A few miles outside of Varanasi is Sarnath, one of the most important sites for Buddhists where the Buddha preached his first sermon and which now has one of the finest site museums in India displaying some of the exquisite sculpture and artifacts excavated at Sarnath.