10 Things to Do in Northern India
Featured destinations: Northern India, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Shimla, Udaipur, Varanasi, Jodhpur, Darjeeling
Published 28 February 2017
Northern India is perhaps best known for the Golden Triangle, the popular first-timer route of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. But there’s a whole lot more to the region than that: the peaks of the Himalayas tower over the far north, tigers roam the jungles and the scent of toasted spices fills the air. Whether it’s your first visit to India or your hundredth, you can’t fail to be blown away by the chaos, colour and culture of it all.
Here are our top 10 suggestions for what to do while you’re here:
Watch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, Agra
If you see just one sight in India in your lifetime, this should be it. The delicately designed façade of the Taj Mahal, a monument commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631in honour of his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, changes colour depending on what time of day you visit. Try early morning for purples and pinks, late morning for bright gleaming white (and fewer other visitors) and late afternoon for soft orange and peach. For a different perspective head across the Yamuna River to the Mehtab Bagh Gardens, from where you can see the Taj reflecting romantically in the calm waters.
Hike up to the Amber Fort, Jaipur
Easily accessed on a day trip, the Amber Fort stands proudly at the top of a large hill in Amber, around seven miles outside Jaipur. To reach the fort, you have to ascend the steep pathways, a sweaty walk of around 10 minutes. Although it is possible to take a taxi (or an elephant, but this is highly discouraged due to welfare concerns) the walk is a much better way to take in the pretty views down to Maotha lake and the Kesar Kyari Gardens below. Once at the fort, admire the gorgeous mosaics and colourful courtyards at one of Rajasthan’s stand-out architectural sights.
Gaze upon the Golden Temple, Amritsar
Otherwise known as the Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, the holiest temple in Sikhism, is a much-recognised symbol of northern India. Constructed in 1577 on the edge of a large body of holy water, the glinting golden façade of this temple houses the sacred Adi Granth scripture, drawing visitors and worshippers from far and wide. Consider visiting twice: once in the daytime, when the gold glitters, and once at night, when the entire complex is illuminated.
Climb the minarets of India’s largest mosque, Delhi
More than just a transport hub, Delhi has a number of attractions for visitors. One of the best is the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It’s a huge complex, with space for over 25,000 worshippers. If you like, you can climb the 40-metre-high minarets, which afford excellent views over both the mosque and the maze of streets that surround it. If there isn’t a service on, it’s worth having a quick peek inside too, as marble and red sandstone detailing is exquisite.
Feast on north Indian cuisine
Northern India’s cuisine is packed full of flavour, and is definitely something to try while you’re in the region, especially if you’re a fan of Indian curries back home. Garam masala is a popular spice here – look out for it in the curries, such as palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and aloo ghobi (potato and cauliflower). Dishes here are mostly vegetarian and often served with naan bread, roti or samosas, all washed down with a fresh cup of chai.
Cruise Udaipur’s tranquil Lake Pichola
After the craziness of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, Udaipur makes a refreshing change. The city, surrounded by forested hills, backs onto the delightful Lake Pichola, giving it an open, breezy feel much-loved by local and international visitors. The best way to explore is to set off on a lake cruise, admiring the temples, ghats and houses as you go. Many cruises stop off on the island in the centre of the lake, where the Lake Palace Hotel offers refreshments served among its pretty rose gardens.
Explore the ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur
The largest city in Rajasthan after Jaipur, Jodhpur is found on the edge of the Thar Desert in the western part of the state. With the high concentration of blue houses in the city’s old quarter Jodhpur has earned the nickname ‘Blue City’. The best place to appreciate the blueness is from the ramparts of Mehrangarh Fort, atop a 150m hill, from where 360° city rooftop panoramas are visible. While the fort is one of Jodhpur’s most popular sights, Jodhpur also boasts various palaces, lakes and temples, which combine together to make the city an exciting detour.
Search for tigers in Ranthambore
Also found in Rajasthan, Ranthambore National Park is a popular diversion for Golden Triangle visitors, who come here for wildlife safaris in the jungle. With 61 individuals roaming the area, Ranthambore National Park is one of the best places in the world to see wild tigers, but even if you’re not so lucky, you’ve still got a chance of seeing jackal, crocodile, lizards, sambar deer and 272 species of birds. There’s also Ranthambore Fort to wander round if you need a break from all the animal-spotting.
Visit the ghats of the River Ganges, Varanasi
The riverfront steps leading down to the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi are known as ghats. There are 87 ghats in the city, most of which are used for bathing and puja ceremonies (prayer rituals), with a few also used as cremation sites. Visiting Varanasi’s ghats, either by boat or on foot, is a great way to gain an insight into a culture and way of life of the Varanasi people. Note though that watching a cremation ceremony is not for the faint-hearted – bodies are wrapped in cloth, burned, and their ashes dispersed into the water.
Come within touching distance of the Himalayas
The snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas are the highest in the world, and even if you have no plans to climb one, gazing at their lofty heights from a distance is entrancing. A few places in northern India offer fabulous mountain views – try Shimla for hikes around the Himalayan foothills, Gangtok for mountain monasteries and views of Kangchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world, and the Tiger Hills near Darjeeling for glimpses of the mighty peak of Everest itself.
Inspired to visit northern India? Take a look at our northern India holidays page, or give our India Experts a call.