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UTTAR PRADESH

Uttar Pradesh is the microcosm of India with multicultural, multiracial, conglomeration of fabulous wealth of nature-hills, valleys, rivers, forests, and vast plains. Uttar Pradesh is studded with places of tourist attractions across a wide spectrum of special interests. Uttar Pradesh can claim to be the oldest seat of India's culture and civilization. It has been characterized as the cradle of Indian civilization and culture because it is around the holy Ganga where the ancient cities and towns sprang up. Uttar Pradesh has an enormous historical legacy. The renowned epics of Hinduism; the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were written in Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh also had the glory of being home to Lord Buddha. Gautama Buddha had spent most of his life in eastern Uttar Pradesh, wandering from place to place preaching his sermons.

AGRA

Taj MahalThere are very few cities in the world that can match the history and heritage of Agra. Located at a distance of 204 kms south of Delhi, Agra is the single most famous tourist destination of India. Situated on the west bank of River Yamuna, the architectural splendor of the city is reflected in the glorious monuments of medieval India built by the great Mughals who ruled India for more than 300 years. Agra has a rich historical background, which is manifested in the numerous historical monuments in and around the city. Agra was founded by Sikandar Lodhi of the Lodhi dynasty from the Sultanate of Delhi in the 16th century. Babur, who was founder of the Mughal dynasty in India introduced the concept of square Persian-styled gardens here. Emperor Akbar built the Agra fort, while Jahangir beautified it with palaces and gardens. Shah Jahan marked the zenith of Mughal architecture, by building the Taj, the unspeakably beautiful riverside mausoleum that is undoubtedly today’s biggest tourist attraction of Agra. The city also offers excursions to Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary that make it a complete tourist destination. Agra city is not only a reputed tourist destination but is also a shopper's paradise as it offers breathtakingly beautiful handcrafted items.

Taj Mahal: Many assert that the Taj Mahal is the most beautiful structure in the world. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Resting like a rose and ivory dream on the banks of the River Yamuna, the Taj is a gigantic monument inspired by love. The Taj Mahal, described, as the most extravagant monument ever built for love has become the de facto tourism emblem of India. This poignant mausoleum was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife Mumtaz Mahal, who had died during childbirth in 1631. It left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey overnight. The Taj took 20 years and 20,000 workers to build. The materials were brought in from all over India and central Asia and it took a fleet of 1000 elephants to transport it to the site. The architect of the Taj Mahal was Ustad Ahmad, a native of Lahore who was awarded the title of "Nadir-ul Asr" (Wonder of the Age) by Shah Jahan. To house all the workers, an entire community rose up around it, and the descendants of those workers still live in the shadow of the Taj today. Shah Jahan married the queen Mumtaz when he was 21, when he had already two children by an early consort. Mumtaz gave him fourteen children and died at the age of 39.after giving birth to their 14th child. When she was still alive, she extracted four promises from the emperor: first, that he build the Taj; second, that he should marry again; third, that he be kind to their children; and fourth, that he visit the tomb on her death anniversary.

Agra Fort: Other major attraction of Agra is the massive red sandstone Agra Fort, which is also situated on the bank of the Yamuna River. The great Mughal Emperor Akbar commissioned the construction of the Agra Fort in 1565 and additions were made till the time of his grandson Shah Jahan. The auricular fort's colossal double walls rise over 20m (65ft) in height and measure 2.5km in circumference. They are encircled by a fetid moat and contain a maze of superb halls, mosques, chambers and gardens, which form a small city within a city. Unfortunately not all buildings are open to visitors, including the white marble Pearl Mosque, regarded by some as the most beautiful mosque in India.

Itmad-ud-daulah’s: A tomb, which is also known as the ‘baby Taj’, was the first Mughal structure completely built from marble. It was built by the Empress Noor Jehan as a memorial to her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg in 1622 - 25.

Sikandara: Situated 12 km from Agra, Sikandara is the tomb of Akbar, which was begun by the Emperor himself and completed by his son, Jehangir. This richly decorated structure is a quaint mixture of styles.

Jama Masjid: Built in 1648, in memory of Sheikh Salim Chisti and his grandson Islam Khan by Jehanara Begum, Shah Jahan's daughter, the masjid has a wonderful assimilation of Iranian architecture.

Fatehpur Sikri: Situated 40 km from Agra, the city of Fatehpur Sikri is an imperial city built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar between 1571 and 1584. The architectural grandeur of this deserted city cannot be described in words and one can only experience the aura of its magnificent edifices by seeing them. Fatehpur Sikri is built in red sandstone, which is richly ornamented with carving and fretwork. It was abandoned 14 years after its creation. A shortage of water is believed to have been the reason. Today it is a ghost city, its architecture is in a perfect state of preservation and wandering through the palaces it is easy to imagine that this was once a royal residence and a dynamic cultural centre.

LUCKNOW

Lucknow the capital city of Uttar Pradesh rose to prominence as the capital city during the era of the Nawabs of Awadh. These Nawabs ruled the northern region of India for about a century after the decline of Mughal Empire and most interesting monuments in Lucknow date from this period. The Nawabs were great patrons of the art, especially dance and music. The city became known as a center for Urdu poetry and courtly diction and reached its acme during the reign of Walid Ali Shah who was a connoisseur of music and poetry. Today, the city is dotted with remnants of its historic past.

The imperial city has an unmatched cultural heritage that makes it a special tourist attraction. Despite the Indo-Persian legacy, Lucknow has a composite Indian culture. Lucknow is also known for its elaborate cuisine and ‘Chikankaari’ are exquisite shadow-work embroidery on fine muslin cloth. The places of interest in Lucknow include Rumi Darwaza, the Residency, Kaiserbagh Palace Complex, National Botanical Reasearch Institute, Sikandar Bagh, Asafi Imambara and Hussainabad Imambara. Hussainabad Imambara houses the tombs of Muhammad Ali Shah and his mother and was built between 1837 AD and 1842 AD. This Imambara has a white dome and numerous turrets and minarets. The walls are decorated with verses in Arabic. Asafi Imambara is Bara Imambara, built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulan 1784 AD, it is one of the architectural highlights of the era. The central hall is said to be the largest vaulted chamber in the world.

Hussainabad Imambara (Chhota Imambara): Near the Rumi Darwaza, this structure houses the tombs of Muhammad Ali Shah, its builder, and of his mother. Built between 1837 and 1842, it is also called the Chhota Imambara. It is approached through a fine garden. The Imambara has a white dome and numerous turrets and minarets. The walls of the mausoleum are decorated with verses in Arabic. Chandeliers, gilded mirrors, colorful stucco, the King's throne and ornate tazia or replicas of the tombs at Karbala adorn the interior.

Asafi Imambara (Bara Imambara): Also known as the Bara Imambara, it was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1784 and is one of the architectural highlights of the era. The central hall is said to be the largest vaulted chamber in the world. Except for the galleries in the interior, there is no woodwork used in the structure. Within the premise of the Imambara is a grand Asafi mosque.

Shah Najaf Imambara: This white-domed structure derives its name from the town of Najaf, about 200 km south of Baghdad where the saint Hazrat Ali lies buried. It is situated on the right bank of the Gomti. The remains of Ghazi-ud-din Haider and his wives were buried in this mausoleum including Mubarak Mahal, his European wife. The entrance leads to a beautiful garden. The silver tomb of Ghazi-ud-din Haider lies in the centre of the building and is flanked by the more imposing silver and gold tomb of Mubarak Mahal on one side, and another tomb on the other.

Residency: Built for the British Resident in 1780-1800, it was originally a very extensive and beautiful building, It was a scene of dramatic events during the Mutiny of 1857. The scarred ruins tell the story of the British community besieged by the rebels. The main house overlooks the river and is surrounded by terraced lawns and gardens.

Kaiserbagh Palace Complex: The construction of the Kaiserbagh Palaces was started in 1848 by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and was completed in 1850. They were built to create the eighth wonder of the world. The yellow buildings on three sides of the quadrangle, now the property of Taluqdars, once provided quarters for the ladies of the harem. In the centre, stands the Baradari, a picturesque white stone edifice, which was earlier paved with silver.


VARANASI

Varanasi GhatVaranasi, the city of Shiva on the banks of the sacred Ganges is one of the oldest living cities in the world. The name Varanasi probably derives from the two rivers that flank the city, the Varana to the north and the Asi to the south. While the boundary of Kashi (Varanasi) is delimited by the circular Panchakroshi Road, Varanasi is the main city, extending from Asi Ghat and circling around to the confluence of the Ganges and the Varana. Yet a smaller area, defined as Avimukta, starts at Kedara Ghat in the south and ends at Trilochana Ghat. Most important of all is Antargriha, the "Inner Sanctum" around the Vishwanath Temple, which encompasses Dashashwamedha Ghat, Surya Kund, the lingam of Bharabhuta, and Manikarnika Ghat. Another, later, interpretation suggests three sectors or khandas in the form of Shiva’s trident, each centered around a temple – Omkara to the north, Vishwanatha in the centre and Kendra to the south. According to the historians, the city was founded some ten centuries before the birth of Christ. The city is mentioned in Holy Scriptures like 'Vamana Purana', Buddhist texts and in the epic, 'Mahabharata'. Mark Twain, the English author and litterateur, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Banaras, once wrote; "Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together."

The life and activities in the city centre around the holy river is remarkable. Life on the banks of the Ganges begins before dawn when thousands of pilgrims - men, women and children come down to the river to wait for the rising sun when immersion in the sacred river will cleanse them of their sufferings and wash away their sins. Everyone has their own way of celebrating the ritual contact with the holy Ganges; some bathe, other dip themselves entirely into the water once, thrice or any number of times; some drink the water; other make water offerings to the sun; while others fill their pots with holy water to take back to their homes to perform rituals and purification. The offerings to the sacred waters vary. Pilgrims give flowers, fruits, lamps and their respectful prayers. On festival days and religious occasions the riverside is thick with their colorful bobbing up and down on the waters. It is believed that this water can absolve the sins of many generations.

The Varanasi region was administered by Hindu rulers for several hundred years until the 17th century, when it fell into the hands of the Mughals. As was the practice many buildings of the previous rulers and the religious structures of the Hindu and Buddhists were demolished during the wars of the conquest. Silk weaving in Banaras is a cottage industry and in many areas of the city, especially the Muslim quarters, one can see looms at work all day. Entire families are involved, Children often pick up the art from the elders at an early age. There are shops in Banaras and throughout India that sell these fine silk fabrics.

SARNATH

Sarnath, also known as Mrigadava (deer park), situated 10 kms north east of Varanasi, is one of the holiest places for the Buddhists. Buddha came here after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya and gave his first sermon, 'Maha-Dharma-Chakra Pravartan' (in Buddhist terminology) which literally means, “set the 'wheel of dharma' or law rolling”, more than 2,500 years ago. In this sermon, he preached the doctrine of Buddhism, by revealing to the world the middle way (the way of life of a monk on the path to enlightenment), the four noble truths and his Eight fold path - the path to end sorrow, achieve inner peace, enlightenment and ultimate Nirvana.

There are a number of twentieth century Buddhist temples in Sarnath, built and maintained by monks from Tibet, China and Japan, but the main attraction is the Deer Park with its ruins of several monuments. During Emperor Akbar's time, an octagonal tower was built on top of the stupa by his governor, Govardan to commemorate Humayun's visit to the place. Inside the deer park is the Dharmekha Stupa, believed to be the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon. One of the most-visited sites, Sarnath today, despite the crowds, radiates a serenity that comes from being the cradle of one of the gentlest creeds ever propounded.

JHANSI

Jhansi FortJhansi, the gateway to Bundelkhand, was a stronghold of the Chandela kings but lost its importance after the eclipse of the dynasty in the 11th century. It rose to prominence again in the 17th century under Raja Bir Singh Deo who was a close associate of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. However, its greatest claim to fame is its fiery queen Rani Laxmibai, who led forces against the British in 1857, sacrificing her life to the cause of Indian independence. A new dimension has been added to this historic city with the introduction of the Jhansi Festival, held every year in February-March. It offers a fine opportunity to enjoy the arts, crafts and culture of the region. Jhansi also has a number of tourist attractions including Jhansi Fort, State Museum and Rani Mahal.

Rani of JhansiRani Lakshmibai of Jhansi was probably the bravest of all the leaders who fought for India’s independence against the mighty British. She died in battle as she led the Indian mutiny in 1857, the first armed uprising against British rule. Statues of Rani Jhansi in heroic pose stand all over northern India. For many in the Independence movement, she was India’s Joan of Arc; a martyr and icon whose example set in motion the freedom struggle that eventually rid the subcontinent to its colonial rulers.

The Jhansi Fort located upon a rocky hill was originally built by Raja Bir Singh Judeo in 1613. Today, it houses a collection of sculptures and provides an excellent insight into the eventful history of Bundelkhand.

ALLAHABAD

Allahabad is among the largest cities in Uttar Pradesh. Hindu mythology has it that for the Prakrishta Yaina, Lord Brahma, the creator God of the Trinity, chose a land on earth, on which the three rivers would flow into a quiet confluence. Brahma also referred to it as `Tirth Raj’ or the `king of all pilgrimage centres’. Recorded evidence also exists in the revered scriptures – the Vedas and the grand epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as also in the Puranas – of this holy place formerly called Prayag. Allahabad stands at the confluence of two of India’s holiest rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna. Sangam, as the confluence is called, is the venue of many sacred fairs and rituals, and attracts thousands of pilgrims throughout the year. This number swells to millions during the world-famous Kumbh Mela. A third mythical Saraswati river, believed to flow underground towards the Sangam, gives the confluence its other name, 'Triveni'.

PilgrimsEmperor Akbar founded this city in 1575 and called it by name of `Illahabas’, which has now become modern Allahabad. The monarch realized its strategic importance as a waterway landmark in North India and also built a magnificent fort on the banks of the holy Sangam.

The city being an important cantonment during the British Raj has some beautiful remnants of colonial architecture. In the early 20th century Allahabad became an important city where history, culture and religion create a confluence, much like the sacred rivers that caress this God-graced land.

KHAJURAHO

Khajuraho is actually located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, but for the convenience, we have included it in this section. It lies in the forested plains of the region of Bundelkhand. The Khajuraho temples were built between the 9th and 11th centuries by the warrior kings of the Chandela dynasty, which survived for five centuries before falling to the Mughal onslaught. Famous for its western group of temples depicting erotic sculptures of love making between man and woman, the definite reason behind such mass scale temple construction that is now over a thousand years old remains unknown. According to local legend, these temples were built by the first Chandela king to atone his mother’s sin, whose consummation with the Moon god heralded the start of the Chandela dynasty. The sexual fantasies displayed in the sculptures are mind boggling. These fascinating temples of Khajuraho are India's unique gift of love to the world and represent the expressions of a highly matured civilization. These exquisitely carved temples are also the site for an annual fair on the occasion of Shivaratri which is celebrated here as the wedding of Shiva. This living tradition fits in with the new theory about Khajuraho that the temples were built as chariots for the gods who came to attend the wedding. Khajuraho combines history, architecture, culture and environment with delectable charm. It takes one away from the noise and pollution of the city, with its fresh air and scenic countryside. Its quaint charm and marvelous beauty of the temples attracts people to it and makes it Madhya Pradesh’s most famous tourist attraction.

KhajuraoWestern Group of Temples: The most prominent structure at Khajuraho is the Kandariya Mahadeo temple, which is the largest and soars 31 metres high. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the sanctum enshrines a lingam, a phallic symbol. The amorous couples are most sensuously depicted in the Chaunsath Yogini temple, dedicated to goddess Kali. Facing eastwards to the rising sum, Chitragupta temple is dedicated to the sun god, Surya. A three-headed image of Brahma is enshrined in the Vishwanath Temple. The lintel over the entrance of beautiful Lakshman Temple shows the trinity of lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, with Lakshmi, Vishnu's consort. The temple of Devi Jagdamba is considered to be one of the most erotic temples of Khajuraho. It has the most talked-about image, Mithuna and the sensuously carved erotic figures. The sculpture and architecture blend so perfectly that each building appears to have been conceived by a single and highly sensual mastermind.

Eastern Group of Temples: The temples in this group can be subdivided into two; one being a cluster of Jain temples and the other, scattered through the small village. Parsvanath Temple is the largest in this group. The temple was initially dedicated to Adinath but the statue was replaced by that of Parsavanath in 1860 A.D. The Jain temple, Gantai has a frieze, which depicts the 16 dreams of Mahavira's mother and a Jain goddess on a winged Garuda. Dedicated to the Jain saint Adinath, the temple is lavishly embellished with sculpted figures, including Yakshis.

Southern Group: This comprises of only two temples. A track running south from Jain enclosures reaches the first called Duladeo Temple. It is among the latest built temples at Khajuraho, more accurate, finer and equally graceful, with figures of Mithuna and women in various poses. The other temple is Chaturbhuj Temple which has a three meter image of Vishnu.

GWALIOR

The splendor of this royal city is living since the sixth century. Gwalior is named after a saint who cured the local chieftain Suraj Sen from leprosy. Steeped in the splendour of its past, the ancient capital of Gwalior has yet made a successful transition into a modern Indian city, vibrant and bustling. A multitude of reigning dynasties, of the great Rajput clans of the Pratiharas, Kacchwahas and Tomars have left indelible etchings of their rule in this city of palaces, temples and monuments. This fort city of Gwalior is also located in Madhya Pradesh.

The strategically important fort at Gwalior dominates the city and for centuries it controlled one of the major routes between north and south India. Its history goes back to 2000 years, with rock inscriptions from the 5th century still to be found. From the 12th century control of the fort and surrounding area passed through a succession of Muslim, Tomar Rajput, Afghan, Mughal and finally Maratha rulers. During the 12th century Qutb-ud-din Aibak was the first ruler to hold it but eventually the Tomars took possession. It was under Man Singh who came to power in 1486 that many of the great battlements and interior palaces were built. After a short period of control by Lodhis, the first Mughal emperor took over the fort, and described it as a “Pearl among the fortresses of “Hind”. During the collapse of Mughal empire, the Scindia line of Marathas conquered the area in 1754. The British took control of it during the Maratha wars and held it for 30 years after capturing the Rani of Jhansi within its walls in 1858.

The Mighty Gwalior Fort: The massive fort, which overlooks the city is a testimony to its glory and grandeur. The magnificent mementoes of a glorious past have been preserved with care giving Gwalior an appeal unique and timeless.

Teli Ka Mandir & Saas-Bahu Ka Mandir: The 9th century Teli Ka Mandir, towering 100ft. high, is a Pratihara Vishnu temple of a unique blending of architectural styles. The shape of the roof is distinctively Dravidian, while the decorative embellishments have the typically Indo-Aryan charactereistics of northern India. Also dedicated to Vishnu is the graceful Saas-Bahu Ka Mandir built in the 11th century.

Man Mandir Palace: It was built between 1486 and 1517 by Raja Mansingh . The tiles that once adorned its exterior have not survived, but at the entrance, traces of these still remain. Within, the palace rooms stand bare, stripped of their former glory, testifying to the passing of the centuries. Vast chambers with fine stone screens were once the music from the great masters of the day. Below, circular dungeons housed the state prisoners of the Mughals. Emperor Aurangzeb had his brother, Murad imprisoned and later executed here. Close by is Jauhar pond where, in the Rajput tradition, the ranis committed mass sati after their consorts had been defeated in battle.      

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