Welcome to the Places To Visit in North India guide.
Are you ready to receive your stripes of backpackers 5 stars ? Let’s Go !
Header photo from the city of Orchha at sunset. Credit photo : Olivier Bergeron
Table of contents
- Dharamsala – Mcleod Ganj
- Amber Fort
- Agra – Taj Mahal
- Fatehpur Sikri
- Varanasi – Benares
- Going more far
- Reference to Places to Visit In North India
- FAQ Places to Visit in North India
In my opinion , Amritsar, the capital city of the sikh, is a must-do in this Places To Visit In North India guide. Despite the city itself is over crowded and dusty, the Golden Temple is a white jewel, full of spirituality. The golden temple, itself, lays in the middle of a big pond, surrounded by a white marble palace.
Hearing music , here in this place is a marvelous experience, it’s simply beautiful and magic. Around you , you can see sikh take ablution in the pond or meditate around the palace.
We met one proud Sikh family, very happy to be taken on photographs with theirs armours and weapons.
Tips : The white marble is very slippery, take care of you and your camera !!!
Dharamsala – McLeod Ganj
From Manuj Ka Tila near New delhi, we travelled by bus, all the night, to Mc leod Ganj , the night was cold (-6°C outside) and the bus insufficiently heated, we couldn’t sleep. But finally we arrived in a wonderful landscape of Himalaya (Himachal) surrounded by pines tree and snow capped mountains.
Dharamsala is located in the north state of Himachal Pradesh. Well Dharamsala is the city of Tibetans in exil. Coming here, we would secretly hope to see the see the Dalai Lama but he was in his annual retreat in Bodhgaya in this time.
I was impressed by the tibetans , preceding me in temples, singing the mantra « Om Many Padme Um », rolling the wheels and ringing the bells. Assurely,the scenes were so charming and beautiful and full of spirituality.
Culinaryly, it’s hard to avoid the « momos » , sorts of steamed or fried dumplings filled with vegetables and sometimes meats.
One day , we walk to the Lake Dal and more far until reach a village, the road was very beaufiul with pines tree all along the way. The next day we walk to the west for discover the countryside with fields of mustards, lovely small farms and the mountain life of this people.
We arrive to Jaipur by train on a foggy morning. The landscape was fantomatic during the trip. Jaipur is located in the state of Rajasthan in the north west of India.
Duly accompanied by the rickshaw Jean-Paul belmondo (A famous french actor !!!), who drive us through the chaotic city, we discover it’s landmark and life.
The iconic landmark of jaipur is the Hawa mahal or Palace of Wind. Build from red and pink sandstone, it was completed in 1799. The purpose of this palace was to allow to royal ladies to look at festivals and the everyday life in street !!
The Jantar Mantar is a must do in Jaipur. It’s an astronomical observatory build from the year 1728 and completed in 1734. Each instrument has a purpose, somes allow to calculate eclipse or calculate the time of sunrise and sunset by examples.
As other city in india, Jaipur is a paradise for street photography. The subjects don’t miss between the serpent charmer, the womans dress with colorful clothes, the sadhus, and all the representatives of the everyday life.
On the road to the Amber Fort, don’t miss to give a look at the Jal Mahal, a palace sitting in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake.
Amber is a giant fortress , located 11 kilometers north of Jaipur, on top of a hill. The fort is build with red sandstone and marble, it is a magnificent exemple of the rajput style.
Amber was the capital before 1727 AD. Maharaja Man singh I start to build this fort in 1592 AD. His successors Mizra Raja Jai Singh I and Sawai Jai Singh II bring some change later.
Agra – Taj Mahal
Agra is located in Uttar Pradesh state, 210 km south of New Delhi. It was the capital of the Mughal empire. This town is home to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Site : The Taj Mahal and The Agra Fort.
A classic of romantism in this Place To visit In North india. The iconic Taj Mahal, where the Prince Charles and lady Di took their famous picture some years, is located in the city of Agra .
The Taj Mahal is a memorial dedicated to the second wife MumTaz Mahal of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Situated on the bank of the yamuna river in the eastern part of Agra, the mausoleum is cover by ivory white marble. The real tumbs of Shah and Mumtaz are under the mausoleum at the level of the garden. In the main chamber in the mausoleum you can see two false sarcophagis.
Agra fort is another impressive landmark in the city on the yamuna river as the taj Mahal. Build with red sandstones, its construction has begun in 1565 AD and took 8 years to complete.
We came to Fatehpur Sikri on a one day trip from Agra. It’s a charming ancient fortified city full of colors , artisans, shops in the bazaar under the ruins site.
Another great city to add to this list of best places to visit in North India. Orccha is located in the north of the state of Madhya Pradesh.
We really enjoy Orccha, this small city isn’t too much touristy, effectively visitors tends to get straight to Khajuraho or Varanasi. It’s a great spot to relax compare to the effervescence of others cities. This medieval city offers a lot of palace and temple , endowed with a fabulous architecture. We assist to some impressive religious fervor here during ceremonies.
The countryside around orchha is lovely. One afternoom, we rent a bike and we ride to the orchha nature reserve on the opposite side of the river Betwa. After some kilometers in the forest, we finally have a picnic along the river. When come back, we meet a young boy , Bam, around 10 years old. It was funny to speak english with him. After sympathizing, he bring us to his home , along the river, for say hello to his family.
Crossing the bridge over the Betwa river is a stiking experience, effectively the bridge doesn’t have a parapet so you pray, standing up at the extreme border of the bridge when a bus cross the bridge !!
Our next step was Khajuraho, we let the city and rent a taxi with a couple of old retired french Robert and Mona who where not afraid to backpaking at 70 years old !!!
Tip : rent a bike for discover the countryside.
One of my favorite and an essential step in this guide because of the beauty of its temples, Khajuraho, a village of Madhya Pradesh, is renowned for its multitude of sculptures which are among the masterpieces of Indian art, representing many erotic scenes of tantric inspiration or inspired by the Kama Sutra. A group of temples dedicated to Jainism also display magnificent sculptures. The Khajuraho Group of Monuments are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Parshvanatha temple, Khajuraho
Built during the Chandela kings period, the Parshvanatha temple is a 10th-century Jain temple . Despite the temple’s Jain affiliation, its exterior walls feature hindhuist Vaishnavaite themes. The entrance has an inscription with a magic square.
The earliest idol enshrined in the temple appears to have been that of Adinatha. In 1860, a Parshvanatha idol was installed in the main sanctum which where deserted at that time. An Adinatha statue was placed in a secondary shrine attached to the rear of the temple.
Adinatha temple, Khajuraho
Built in the late 11th century, The Adinatha temple is a Jain temple. It is dedicated to the first Jain tirthankara Adinatha, although its exterior walls also feature Hindu deities.
Religion corner : Jains Tirthankara are individuals who have conquered the saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, on their own, and made a path (tirtha) for others to follow and reach the Moksha (liberation) from the samsara. They are 24 tirthankaras per cosmic age according to jains. The last one is Mahavira (6th century BC). They are also called Jina (Victor) for conquering anger, pride, deceit, and desire. After understanding the true nature of the self or soul, the Tīrthaṅkara attains the Kevala Jnanaa (omniscience).
This hindhu temple is also known as « Kunwar Math » . It was the last built during the chandela period in 1125.
The temple is dedicated to the god Shiva in the form of a linga, which is deified in the sanctum .
Villages around Khajuraho can be full of surprises and leave our Western minds bewildered by culture shock !! maybe it’s due to tantric atmosphere…
Ok so. Firstly, some days before Khajuraho, we met Karen , a young korean woman living in San Francisco. One morning in Khajuraho, my wife, me and Karen walk outside the city for visiting one temple. Approaching a small village, a young girl comes towards us, holding cow dung in both hands and smiling at us, her gaze fixed in our eyes. You can’t imagine our 3 bewildered heads, saying no no no and not knowing how to react to the situation. !! Even today we ask ourselves the questions : did she want money, or make an offering or a sign of welcome knowing that cow dung, and yes, represents fuel, fertilizer, a component for to make bricks for huts dotted around the poor suburbs or even a by-product of the sacred cows ????
Secondly, two days later, coming back from another group of temples, we walked on foot with my wife in the direction of Khajuraho. A woman in her thirties with apparently her 2 young daughters, walked in front of us about thirty meters. Suddenly the woman turns around and walks in our direction. Stunned and motionless, we watched her squat next to my feet and urinate without any embarrassment!! Once finished, she left to join her daughters as if nothing had happened. My wife begins to fart at lead, exclaiming: « she almost pissed on your sandals ». Once again what was the meaning of this gesture? contempt, territory marking, provocation or whatever…
So explore , around, and maybe, you too, will get unforgettable memories to tell by the fireside or to incredulous colleagues!! Moreover, nowhere else in this world, i have souvenir like this ..
Varanasi – Benares
« The City where the Fire Never Stop. »
Varanasi is the place that will shake your personality. It’s one of the seven sacred cities in India. An imperative place to visit in North India. It’s not for the faint heart but if you have already decide to travel in india, well, you are strong !
Varanasi is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, we arrive to Varanasi by train. The scene of the third act of the tragedy was already setup, effectively the train compartments were full of dying people, doing their last trip to the holy city, hoping to reach their last breath there, the fifth act…. Dot.
According to hindhuism, expiring here allow the direct liberation of the cycle of life and death, the mokhsha.
A boat tour on the Ganges will give you another view angle on the city. In the city itself. For photographers, the chaos,the colors, the famelic cow in dark street are a paradise for street photography.
One evening, we sat on the Manikarnika Ghat, along the Ganges, contemplating the cycle of the cremation, one after the other, a wood a bonfire replacing another, a new one erect every time. It’s hard to describe our feelings. the feeling to be nothing, just a dust in this universe with our lives burning as fast as a life of a butterfly, mirroring our own end. I spare you the humans remains details of the crema…
With some moodiness, we go back to the hotel, totally emptied, our body, clothes and hairs smelling the disgusting sweet smell of the burned human flesh, odor very hard to make disappear under the shower.
More Fun Now, after this shocking paragraph, the Ganga Aarti puja leads by the brahmans , in evening , along the Ganges, is a fabulous ceremony, a spectacle you can’t miss.
Tips : be careful when you take photos along the Ganges, don’t forget families are in dolor loosing their loved ones , somes can become agressive. So be discret, respectful and sage.
We came to Sarnath with a rickshaw from Varanasi. Located in Uttar Pradesh too, sarnath is a holy place of buddhism, indeed Buddha Sakhyamuni after reaching the enlightment at Bodhgaya, came here for preach his first sermon.
Despite some destruction in the past, you can still see the Dhamek Stupa where the buddha give his first sermon. Just around , you can see the pilar of ashoka from the t
After fighting at the Varanasi train station for buy a ticket, surrounding by 30 people stick together and trying to reach the counter, we finally took the train to Gaya in the Bihar state. During the long and very very slow trip to gaya, we meet Christopher Titmuss in the same compartment than us and we have a very interesting discussion with him, effectively, Christopher was ordered theravada monk in Thailand and spent seven years there in his twenties. Since he founded a buddhist center in Devon, England and author around 20 books. We enjoy a dinner at Bodhgaya with his group.
Well, Bodhgaya is THE PLACE where Gautama Siddhartha (Sakhyamuni) reach the enlightment under the bodhi tree (ficus religiosa) and became a buddha . The city is full of pilgrims ans monks from the buddhist world : nepal, tibet, japan, Thailand, Bhutan etc …
We really like this serene city, a pure enjoyment after many nights waiting for trains during the previous weeks. Today, you still have a stupa : the Mahabodhi temple and we meditate in the garden under a descendent of the bodhi tree , interrupting the meditation for try to catch the falling leaves before they reach the floor, a lucky charm to bring back home ! The whole accompanied by chants and prostations of tibetan and nepalese monks and others. A great spiritual atmosphere for resume.
The red sandstone slab between the tree and the temple has been place there by Ashoka and mark the spot of buddha enlightment (the vajrasan or Diamonf throne).
Apart from the Mahabodhi temple, you will find in the city many temples of congregations from various countries, a world tour in itself !
A personal anecdoct : The head monk of the Thailand temple receive us on the roof of one of the building, during this time we have a long and rich conversation about spirituality and prescience. He teach us that here at Bodhgaya 5 buddhas arise, and reach the enlightment in this place, after some cycles. In conclusion, still this day I remember one of his quote :
« Whatever the circumstances, stay happy, happy, happy in your heart »
Going more far
Mahanirvana Tantra by Arthur Avalon. (Sir John Woodroffe)
Reference to Places of Visit In North India
Britannica : Varanasi
Amber Fort – Archeology Department of Rajasthan
Britannica : Taj Mahal