Whereas Rajasthan may be India’s soul and the South may be India’s getaway, North India is without a doubt the living, beating heart of the country. Home to the majority of India’s massive population, there is never a doubt that you’re in India when you’re in the North. It is like nowhere else on earth in terms of noise, chaos, smells and liveliness. No trip to India is complete without visiting it’s gem, the Taj Mahal, taking in the capital’s contradictions, and visiting enchanting Leh/Ladakh.
Located on the banks of the Yamuna River Agra is famous for the gorgeous white marble Taj Mahal. The huge number of tourists that visit each year come for the Mughal-era architecture. The city houses three UNESCO world heritage sites and is a must see for must tourists. Unfortunately, it is one of India\'s most polluted cities so visitors get a first hand look at the issues facing India.
India\'s second largest city, Kolkata, is the former capital of British India and is considered by it\'s citizens the intellectual and cultural capital of the country. Nobel Prize winning poet Tagore was from here as were several other celebrated writers and film directors. However, for many visitors one of the most famous Kolkatans was another Nobel Prize winner, Mother Theresa, who made her name helping the poor here. While it\'s easy to see how Mother Theresa spent her entire life helping the poor here, the city offers some beautiful colonial architecture and well kept museums in all of India.
The magical Buddhist ex-Kingdom of Ladakh and it\'s capital Leh are stunningly beautiful and inhabited by the friendliest (mostly Tibetan) people in all of India. The spectacular desert scenery, arid mountains and jagged peaks are gorgeous. Contrasting the stark peaks are the monasteries that provide a glimpse into spiritual and cultural life of centuries past. This was one of our favorite stops in Indian and shouldn\'t be missed!
One of India\'s top domestic tourist attractions, Srinagar in northern Kashmir offers indulgent houseboats, Mughal gardens and beautiful floating markets. The population is majority muslim, causing the chaos of the city to come to a halt during prayer times. We stayed on a houseboat in Nagin Lake, decidedly quieter than Dal Lake and enjoyed a quiet stay during Ramadan.
Manali is a classic backpacker hang out with chill cafes, cheap accommodation and live music every night. We enjoyed taking in the views of the Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal Ranges as well as the fast flowing Beas River, but this is mainly a place to relax. The town is tourist friendly welcomes visitors to spend several more days than planned.
Spread over several green hill sides leading up to steep mountain ridges, Darjeeling is a quiet town away from the hustle and bustle of India. Known for it\'s tea plantations, you’ll always be close to a steaming cup of tea. See why we enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of this former East India Company hill station.
Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India. Located on the River Ganges it is a holy city. The waters of the Ganges are considered sacred and many Indians come here at the end of their life as it is believed that by being cremated on the banks of the river you will skip the process of reincarnation reaching enlightenment. This fascinating city is a place that has to be experienced to be understood.
The Beatles made Rishikesh famous when they came here in the late \'60\'s and it still serves as a haven for spiritual seekers from all different backgrounds. It styles itself as the Yoga Capital of the World and sits on the holy Ganges River. We met some of the most eccentric people of our trip here and participated in some very interesting rituals, prayer ceremonies and yoga classes. Staying in an ashram on the banks of the Ganges, we soaked it in before we couldn\'t take it anymore.
Amritsar is home to Sikhism\'s holiest shrine, the dazzling Golden Temple. The large complex with the temple sitting in it\'s holy pool attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists each day. You can enjoy a free meal with your fellow visitors in the enormous dining hall to take in the religion’s social structure. Outside the temple the old city is a frenetic place making Amritsar a city best visited on a short stay.
New Delhi is the largest metropolis by area and the second largest metropolis by population in India. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with 16.7 million residents as of the 2011 Census. As our first stop in India it was an eye opener, crowded, dirty streets and soaring temperatures made this city one that we were happy to move on from. The Red Fort, Hamayun\'s Tomb and Pahar Ganj area were highlights, but we won\'t be going out of our way to get back to Delhi.