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An essential guide to Northern India

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Monkeys scampering across the gardens, whilst the sun hazily emerges around the curving banks of the Yamuna river. A gold film enshrouds the splendid white marble mausoleum; at 6am The Taj Mahal stands in all its glory. An iconic moment that brings many people to India. Are you tempted?

India has had a turbulent and troubled past, but now it is flourishing, teeming with life and fighting to be recognised for its diversity, fortitude and colour. An undeniable assault on the senses. If you are considering where to even begin uncovering the jewels and treasures of India, the north of this vast country offers the perfect introduction.

Start in New Delhi, the sprawling, mad and intense metropolis where old and new collide. After a nine hour flight, be prepared for a long wait in the immigration queue, despite procuring the necessary visas via the internet months before and a surplus of idle immigration officers; the first indicator of the sometimes maddeningly frustrating bureaucracy of India. The noise and oppressive heat is the palpable once leaving the air conditioned confines of the airport. A hair-raising taxi drive weaving through the rickshaws, mobile barbershops, entire families on one tiny motorbike intermingled with Holy Cows is how India will welcome you.

In the heart of Old Delhi, amidst the hustle and bustle of street vendors and markets, Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques, stands  built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656. The impressive architecture and sheer size (the courtyard alone can accommodate more than 25,000 people) makes it must see stop on your agenda.

A short walk away, situated in the Chandni Chowk district of Old Delhi, is the Sikh Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, one of the nine historical Gurdwaras in the city. Before entering, wash hands and feet and cover your head. It is important to respect local dress codes, especially in places of worship. The langar, a delicious free meal cooked for anyone that wants it, is representative of the Indian hospitality that you will encounter in every corner and offers you an immersion into the tastes and flavours of north Indian food. Spend the evening at India Gate to soak up the holiday atmosphere.

Take the early morning train to Agra, the only way to travel in India, with panoramic vistas through the windows of your carriage giving insight into the microcosms of passing village life. Don’t forget to be careful when using any form of transport with your personal belongings. 

Start by visiting Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, once the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. It is within sight of its more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal, and can be more accurately described as a walled city. Take a guided tour here and be transported back in time to the intrigue and rivalry of Mughal India.

A visit to Agra would not be complete without viewing the the Taj Mahal. To make the most out of this experience, it is worth hiring a reputable guide, they can ease the ticket buying process and get you near to the head of the queue. Also, a good guide can give you great insight to the mysteries behind the mausoleum. Be prepared for a very early start in order to to catch the sunrise behind the building.

For a glimpse of the real Rajasthan, visit Ranthambore National Park, the former royal hunting ground turned nature reserve, covering 392 km² of desert. Ranthambore was declared one of the Project Tiger reserves in 1973. Here you are most likely to spot a tiger on safari due to the open nature of the terrain, yet with a population of 60 tigers a sighting is not guaranteed. Yet, with an abundance of other wildlife, deer, antelope, crocodiles, turtles, wild boar and numerous species of birds, a visit to Ranthambore is a chance to see a lesser known captivating and tranquil side of India.

Finish in The Pink City, named so for the terracotta walls of Jaipur’s historic centre. The pink walls originate from the direction of the Maharajah, who requested the royal colour to adorn the city for the visit of Prince Albert in 1876. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, home of the City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort and Jantar Mantar. It is a haven for bartering and haggling in the bazars and markets that line the streets, but when shopping be careful that you don’t receive old 500 or 1000 rupee bank notes as they are no longer in circulation.

If you visit during the hottest season, April through to June, allow at least three days to fully do justice to this vibrant historical city as there is so much to see.The Amer Fort is one Japiur’s principal tourist attractions and is set on the hill above the city. Visitors to the fort should be aware that there are alternatives to the cruel bedecked elephant ride up to the entrance of the fort - you can either walk or take a jeep.  

Before booking always remember to familiarise yourself with the local law and customs and check the foreign commonwealth website for advice and information. India is a vast and varied country, but these northern destinations offer the ideal introduction to immerse yourself in the rich culture of India.

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