Your complete Uttar Pradesh travel guide
Most travel guides to this incredible state cover the many attractions that draw in the tourist hordes. It’s the same thing over and over again. My one is a little different as you will find the information you need to get the most out of your time. In this blog, your complete Uttar Pradesh travel guide, I want to provide you with the practical information to make your dream trip a pleasurable experience. We all know that this state is home to the epic Taj Mahal and the awe-inspiring holy city of Varanasi, but how do you travel here?
While it is a breathtaking corner of the universe, it can be an epic challenge to leave your footprints in this state. It’s loud, brash, dusty and intense. It is also colourful, vibrant, and food for the soul. How do you make sense of all this intensity? How do you get from one destination to the next? Where can you find the best food? Will you be safe? If so, how can you keep it that way? Do I need to worry about my health?
These are the questions I will be addressing because this information will be more useful to my readers than a guide to the best spots. There are a million of those, so you don’t need another. Although I will be touching on a couple of my favourite underdog destinations that do not receive nearly enough attention, I want to change that. So here we go, guys. Get your notebooks out, and let’s get started.
Here is my video on this topic for those who would rather listen to something than read a blog.
Uttar Pradesh tourism.
Firstly we need to talk about why people come here in the beginning. Like I said I wouldn’t be spending too much time on this matter as you have a truckload of blogs covering that. However, I have an obligation to touch on the subject and if you have heard it all before then simply skip this section.
So let’s start with what is so special about this state. Well, firstly, it’s the people. There are a lot of them. In fact, there are 204 million of them. That’s over half of the population of every man woman and child living in the United States crammed into an area smaller than Texas. This creates a riot of humanity as you can well imagine. The incredibly fertile Gangetic plains have made it all possible. Human beings have settled here for thousands of years, and that has left endless wonders to keep the avid backpacker wide-eyed. What’s more many of the countries most iconic sights can be found here.
Varanasi India’s city of lights sits proudly along the banks of the mighty river Ganges. Of all India’s cities, this is probably the most iconic. With over 2000 years of history to discover Varanasi can keep you fixated for weeks. Again I won’t be going into detail here as I have a separate post for those who want to visit Varanasi and experience all the spirituality that comes with it.
Agra and the Taj Mahal.
Every person reading this must have heard of the Taj Mahal and it’s found along the banks of the Yamana river. Agra is the undisputed king of Uttar Pradesh as visiting the Taj Mahal is the very reason why many visitors come here at all.
The Moguls also left a whole lot more than simply the Taj to take in and there is a liberal sprinkling of sights to feast your eyes on including the imposing Agra fort. Be warned that these sights are spread out, and getting from one place to another can be infuriating. For tips on getting around this problem, keep reading to the bottom of the page.
The iconic ruins of the mogul palaces of Fatehpur Sikri are just waiting for you to explore. The Moguls left an indelible footprint here and to find out more and make sense of what you are seeing check out this long yet engaging documentary on the history of this enigmatic family. It includes a lot of of the most important archaeological wonders you will be encountering along the way. Fatehpur Sikri is for me is the crowning jewel of Muslim architecture in India.
Now for my three best underdog attractions. You can spend weeks exploring the many ruins and temples of these towns. Backpackers are comparatively rare and I am unable to work out why?
Chitrakut is a tiny town not far from the city of Allahabad. The narrow yet charming streets have plenty of charm to keep you entertained for days on end. Known as Varanasi in miniature, Chitrakut sees almost none of the publicity of its more famous counterparts. There are no burning ghats, and the town appeals largely to Hindus who come from far and wide to bathe in its sacred waters.
The historical wonders of Lucknow are well worth checking out, and with the absence of much tourism, it gives an insight into the raw culture of this state. The many grand British Raj-era buildings are sure to grab your attention, and your camera will definitely get a good workout. Lucknow also boasts some of the finest food in the whole country to dig into after your long day of exploring.
The last place that many people dont mention is Ayodhya. This town is also steeped in history and ideal for those who want to experience the culture without the traveller hordes.
The Lord Buddha gave his first sermon here in Uttar Pradesh in a town called Sarnath. He also passed away in Kushinagar, and both destinations are strewn with monuments. This state is pivotal to Jains, Muslims Buddhists and Hindus alike. So there is a whole lot of reasons tourist come here. I had to choose my words carefully to keep it brief, but you get the picture, right?
Safety in Uttar Pradesh.
Phew, now we have looked at the plethora of reasons why tourists flock in their droves here we will now take a look at how you can stay safe on your travels. There are several issues for tourists to this state to consider, and I will walk you through the most relevant.
Pollution and environmental problems in Uttar Pradesh.
About 400 million people live along the banks of the Ganges and its tributaries. That means about one in twenty people on the whole planet depends on this one river’s bounty. The land is understandably becoming exhausted and the mighty river Ganges is slowly becoming stagnant. Despite 15 designated national parks, there are not nearly enough trees to filter out all that CO2.
India has a complete lack of sanitation infrastructure, and the people are largely left to deal with there household waste by themselves. There are refuse disposal systems in place, but they are rudimentary at best. A lot of rubbish is burned, and lots more of it simply builds up in the streets. While mountains of rubbish are unsightly, you can simply walk around them. However, you won’t be able to escape air pollution.
Poor air quality is a major issue here, and it can affect the best of us. Especially in December to early February when it can get so bad, it is hard to see across the street. Kanpur was the most polluted city on the planet but has now been superseded by Ghaziabad for that rather ominous title. Either way, they are quite close to each other, so I am sure you get the picture. Many people in this state have to contend with an air quality ten times what WHO states as safe.
So what can you do about it? Well, you can start by not coming in the peak months as it is intolerable. Well, it is for me, anyway. Dont spend mountains of time in the big cites with no breaks as developing a chest infection is a real threat and if that happens head to a pharmacy immediately before anything gets any worse.
If you asthmatic, make sure you don’t forget your inhaler and keep it on your person at all times. If you run out, you can purchase another without prescription from most pharmacies. You can also download the Air Visual app on your phone for live updates on the pollution count and get predictions for the near future.
Scams in Uttar Pradesh.
Ok, there are a lot of these, and you are very likely to be a victim of one during your travels here. I would go as far as to say that if you can spend your whole holiday in this state and not encounter any, I will gladly change my name to Susan.
There are that many! I have a whole post on the common scams and schemes you are likely to encounter. Its called is it safe to travel in India? I would implore any visitor to Uttar Pradesh to check this out. It is an issue that demanded a post all to itself. I have been duped many times on my travels, so learn from my mistakes and avoid it happening to you as much as possible.
People trying to con you twenty times a day can feel draining on your soul but remember many of these people are impoverished and are simply trying to make a quick buck. Try not to lose your cool and carry on as it is an inevitable part of your experience.
The most unfortunate part of this is it hard to let anyone into your little bubble as you will be reluctant to take the chance of engaging in another long sales pitch. It is important not to let this aspect stop you from meeting the super-friendly and hospitable locals as a whole.
Use your common sense when there is a conversation being sparked up. If someone randomly stops to speak to you while you’re walking up the street and it starts with something nonchalant like its hot today, you can bet this is going to turn into a very long chat. Of course, it’s bloody hot today its semi-desert out there!
Dealing with extreme poverty.
With all those people comes epic inequality and inevitable poverty. If you happen to be coming from the west or a developed part of the country what you will see will be positively heart wrenching at times.
When I first started to travel to areas of the country where this is prevalent, I wanted to help everyone. You can’t as there are so many people who need help mixed in with yet more con artists. You would bankrupt yourself quickly trying. These days what I do is choose carefully those who I give my help too.
Personally, I give my donations to the disabled mostly as there is no support system in place. Without the means to create money, I would imagine life could seem particularly hopeless for these unfortunate souls. I always buy food rather than give money. You can’t return a meal, and I am concerned it would be spent on something less productive.
Honestly speaking, I often reflect on this when I am back home, and I need my problems in life put back into perspective. Encountering this side of the state is also inevitable, but you must resist the urge to try and help everyone. As rough as that might seem, it is just not feasible.
Petty theft in Uttar Pradesh.
With all that poverty comes an increased risk of petty theft that I would hope is blindingly obvious. You will have to stay a little vigilant and take precautions. Not to the extent, you become paranoid, but you will need your wits about you.
Don’t leave valuables in your hotel room and don’t leave your day pack unattended. Avoid flaunting your wealth as it is unbelievably inconsiderate; it also makes you a more likely target. Take care in crowds and on public transport. I have found wearing my day pack on the front of my body to be particularly helpful as this acts as a deterrent. When you are in rickshaws, make sure your daypack is securely on your lap. I have experienced someone trying to snatch it out of my hands on more than one occasion now.
I have read about tourists being drugged in Uttar Pradesh several times and fleeced when they are out cold. I personally have not experienced this or met anyone who has, but it makes the media every so often. So if a stranger offers you food or a drink dont take it just in case. As bad as that seems its better safe than sorry.
The food of Uttar Pradesh.
This state is home to the world-famous Mughlai cuisine. Many of the most iconic dishes we associate with India can be found strewn across menus everywhere. This style of food can trace its origins back to the rise of the mogul empire and today has an Indo-Persian style. Many of the dishes are aromatic and rich in flavour due to the liberal use of spices such as saffron, cardamom cumin and coriander seeds. Not to mention lots of butter and cream to make it all taste extra naughty.
Such classics as Korma, Tandori chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala can trace its roots to this part of India. There are also some of the dishes you might not have heard off such as Haleem or Aloo Gosht (mutton and potato.) I can assure you they are no less worth sinking your teeth into than the more famous counterparts and not be missed.
Kebabs feature on many menus here, and the town of Lucknow serves some of the best in the land. Particularly the world-famous Tunde Kebab in the town centre. It serves a mouth-watering array of dishes that will keep you coming back again and again. With so many ways to prepare skewered meats, it is hard to list them all, But my top three are mutton Sheekh, Galawati and Tunde Ke Kebab. Oh just try them all.
Vegetarians won’t be disappointed either with the states producing fine panner cheese. Dishes such as shahi panner and paneer Tikka masala are incredible and are also not to be missed either. I have found these states to serve up some of the best tandoori pieces of bread in the country such as Nans or Rotis. However, don’t expect them before seven as its custom not to switch on the oven before then but, don’t ask me why?
For those with a sweet tooth, there is plenty to feast on. Muglai cuisine can claim the fame to Barfi (a dense milk-based sweet) Kulfi ( a frozen dessert) and the ubiquitous Gulab Jamun (yet another milk-based sweet) to name a few. While these are my favourites, I can say with confidence they’re definitely not all delicious. Some taste just wrong so ask to try a bit first before committing to buying a whole kilo.
Transport in Uttar Pradesh.
It must be a surprise to no one to discover copious transport links connecting every town and village in this state like a misshapen spider web. The state simply isn’t big enough to warrant flying everywhere so unless you are going to hire a private car and driver for the duration of your stay you essentially have three options of getting around. Now I will briefly touch on each so that you get an idea of how it all works.
Firstly you have the bus. This could be public or private, and both have their pros and cons. With the public bus service, you have the freedom to leave at any time as there are so many. It is also affordable, and they are reliable. The downside is they are heat traps when you find yourself stuck in traffic and are comparatively slow.
Private busses are less frequent, and they cost more. However, if you are prepared to spend out a little, you can find your self reclined in a comfy chair in the AC while it is baking outside. They are faster than public busses as they stop much less. They also stop less for toilet breaks, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. Sometimes they go so long that I have to ask to stop. I often wonder how the hell are they doing this? Its been six hours! Not all of the private busses are like that, but some certainly are.
Riding the Indian rails is king. Its fast, reliable and as comfortable as you pay it to be. There are a lot of different classes and its complicated to understand if you have never used it. There are over 3000 stations in India, and some train journeys can take more than two days to complete. Astonishingly they are often punctual despite how far they have had to come. I feel they can teach the British train service a thing or two about being on time. For a detailed break down of how it all works and transport as a whole in the country, check out my post on getting around India.
The last thing I will say about transport is when you are in big towns where the sights are spread out over many miles hire a rickshaw for the day. Negotiating fares and paying for individual journeys can be a nightmare and will cost more anyway. You will also get the benefit of some local knowledge.
Of course, you can try getting around by public transport, but often this is equally as stressful and will be time-consuming. It is just not worth the few rupees you would save. When you hire one, make sure there is plenty of other rickshaws around so there will be a bit of bargaining room for your money. You are far more likely to get a good price.
Summary of your complete Uttar Pradesh travel guide.
Now that was a long post, and I kept it as short as I could. I could have easily made it double. Sure this state is stressful to visit and way overcrowded, but the memories you get from visiting here will last a lifetime. This state is magnificent, and there is an excellent reason why it appears on so many of our itineraries. I hope you have found my Uttar Pradesh travel guide to be of value.
So with that said I think that is enough of me rambling on so I will wrap this up. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section provided, and I will get back to you. So until the next time my fellow intrepid traveller’s happy trails.
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