Journeys of discovery and delight continue to fire our imagination and provide the fuel for exploring many pathways to lesser-known places.
North India is filled with many such thrilling havens of natural wonders and incredibly satisfying cultural experiences.
National capital New Delhi is the perfect gateway to travel to other destinations such as Lucknow and Agra, which serve as the jumping point for other less touristy jewels.
Let’s sample some of the multiple charms of Delhi before heading out. We can never get enough of the layered history of this “Eternal City” — so beautifully documented in its built-up heritage, from the days of Indraprastha of the Mahabharat times — to the modern-day developments of the 21st century. We will mark time in the old bazaars of Mughal-era Shahjehanabad and gorge on street food, after hectic explorations of the spice market, the jewellery seller’s street, and perfume shops filled with scents from Kannauj, the old perfume capital of India.
Kannauj is readily accessible from the historic city of the Nawabs of Oudh— Lucknow. We’ll get an excellent opportunity to explore how ittars (scents) are made following centuries-old home-grown ways— and often with secret family recipes. Be sure to take a crystal bottle or two for a friend back home.
Back in Lucknow, trawl the old quarter of Amina Bagh to shop for textiles and chikankari work, jewellery, and souvenirs. At Chowk indulge your taste buds with melt-in-the-mouth kebabs, biryanis, and yummy kulfis.
In Agra, we would be remiss not to take our fill of the legendary beauty, charm, and ethereal splendour of the Taj Mahal, the historic nuances of Agra Fort, and, the serene ambiance of Mehtab Bagh, the original of which was Mughal Emperor Babur’s favourite spot to unwind from a day toil and stress. Keep your eyes peeled for another perspective of the Taj from the garden at sunset.
While the Yamuna River by the Taj brings to mind so many myths and legends of this holy waterway, we need to head out to another iconic river— which is the Chambal. Crocodile-spotting and birdwatching are the highlights of a river cruise on this mighty river, which is closely associated with the Chambal ravines, the famous hideout of fearsome bandits like Man Singh.
From Agra, you can also enjoy a day out at the spectacular ruins of Fatehpur Sikri, the abandoned capital of Emperor Akbar. This red sandstone edifice is rich in atmospherics and fantastic architectural details, which will surely delight the creative spirit in you.
Agra also makes for a great springboard for one of North India’s most beautiful game parks. This is the famous Ranthambhore National Park, which is idyllic terrain for the Royal Bengal tiger and many other exotic species of the Indian jungles. This was also the years-long residence of the late Macchli, the most photographed tigress in the world. This daunting queen was famous for having single-handedly in a terrifying battle, fought and routed a crocodile— another scary resident of the NP. Jeep safaris offer exceptional tiger-spotting opportunities and birding distractions along the way.
Delve deep into your learnings of history and heritage but from another perspective. This time we should head to Gwalior, the 8th-century bastion of the Scindia rulers. What will just blow you away, at first sight, is the monumental splendour of Gwalior Fort straddling a hilltop. Look out for stunning Jain rock sculptures embedded along the lofty passageway to the fort. You can spend quiet moments at the shrine of legendary Hindustani classical music maestro Tan Sen’s tomb and the numerous shrines scattered about and adorning its interiors. Do take time out to enjoy the fantastic nightly Sound & Light Show, which recaptures the highpoints of this historic fortress in Indian cine star Amitabh Bachchan’s rich baritones.
Gwalior itself is a fabulous gateway for exploring beautiful gems like Orchha, Khajuraho, Datia, Shivpuri, and more…but let’s keep that for another trip.
Meanwhile, let's unspool the memories that we’ve already collected over this fab trip and—gloat over them like a miser over his hoard of gold.