Alwar, with its forts, palaces, and cenotaphs, offers the quintessential Rajasthani heritage experience. The most prominent of its structures are the Bala Quila that looms over the city, and the ornate Vinay Vilas Mahal, which houses rare Mughal paintings from the 18th century. Drop by the City Palace’s Government Museum for more insight into Alwar’s history. Objects of particular interest here include Emperor Akbar’s sword and an illustrated Mahabharata on a 200-foot-long scroll. There are several places to stay, but heritage hotels like Neemrana’s Fort Palace and Aman Bagh provide the first-hand experience of living like a royal.
Alwar is approx. 167km/3hr40min by road from Delhi.
Farrukhnagar’s heritage monuments include the unusual Baoli Ghaus Ali Shah, an octagonal stepwell with three arches on each of its eight sides. Photo: Sanjay Austa
A short drive from the bustle of Delhi, the sleepy town of Farrukhnagar has restful scenery and a smattering of historical points of interest. One of these is an octagonal stepwell, the Baoli Ghaus Ali Shah, which was built in the 18th century and is said to resemble a Turkish hammam. Watch the sun set from the ruins of the 18th-century Farrukhnagar Fort, built by Nawab Faujdar Khan, before driving out the next morning to Sultanpur National Park, just 8km away. The sanctuary has about 150 native species of birds, and from September to March is also home to flocks of migratory birds. This is a great time to spot sarus cranes, the world’s tallest flying birds, as well as the graceful greater flamingos.
Farrukhnagar is approx. 58km/1hr40min by road from Delhi.
Veer Garh, a homestay in Shoghi, is blanketed in snow during the peak of winter, between December and February. Photo: India Untravelled/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
A 30-minute drive from Shimla, Shoghi has high points for both active and laid-back wanderers. Soak in mountain views as you walk through its deodar forests, home to the blue magpie, black drongo, and khaleej pheasant. Follow it up with a hearty meal of saag, roti, and ghee: the sarson ka saag (mustard greens) is particularly good here and hotels and lodges can arrange for lunch in a village home. If you have time to spare, catch the six-hour train ride from Shoghi to Kalka on your way out on the toy train bound for Shimla. This train zigzags through 102 tunnels, offering scenic views of clear streams, and snow-covered peaks in winter.
Shoghi is approx. 331km/6hr30min by road from Delhi.
Rampur is home to several violin and oud-making factories. The oldest, called New Slovakia Musical Ltd., is in the neighbourhood of Puraniganj. Photo: Sanjay Austa
Slightly off the beaten track, Rampur has an interesting history. Because the Nawab of Rampur did not participate in the uprising of 1857, Rampur emerged as the only Muslim state in the North Indian plains to survive the mutiny. Though no longer the opulent kingdom it once was, Rampur remains strongly infused with the Nawabi culture, littered with domes that are reminders of its not-too-distant glory. Pay a visit to the grand Hamid Manzil that lies at the heart of the crumbling Rampur Fort. It was once the winter palace of the Nawabs but now houses the central Raza Library, which has a world-renowned archive of rare manuscripts that were collected over time by the royals.
Rampur is approx. 207km/4hr15min by road from Delhi.
Lucknow’s striking Bara Imambara was built in 1784, to create employment during a time of famine. Photo: Varun Shiv Kapur/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
In Lucknow you might pause between tucking into melt-in-your-mouth kebabs, biryani and creamy kulfi long enough to pay attention to the city’s architectural heritage. Both the food and the buildings are the legacy of the nawabs of Awadh, who ruled their kingdom from this seat, contributing significantly to its touristic charms. Make sure to check out our food guide before you go, and read more about the city’s architectural heritage here. There are also city tour companies like Tornos, which organise food and cultural walks; having a guide with you can be very helpful with such an overwhelming amount of things to do and see, and eat.
Lucknow is approx. 1hr by flight from Delhi.
The massive Gwalior Fort holds not only numerous monuments, palaces, and temples, but also the Scindia School, a 600-student boys’ boarding school situated on 110 acres within the fort. Photo: Zoonar/Photographer/ZOONAR GMBH LBRF/Dinodia Photo Library
With great shopping potential (Chanderi and Maheshwari saris, lacquerware, and hand-woven carpets) and rich built heritage (the fort, palaces, temples, and tombs), Gwalior has a lot to offer the culturally curious traveller. One of the city’s most interesting facets is its musical history. Pay tribute at the small, simple tomb of Tansen, the celebrated singer and composer of Akbar’s court. This lies beside the intricate mausoleum of Hazrat Mohammed Ghous, a sixteenth-century prince who became a Sufi saint, and who was Tansen’s spiritual mentor. These dusty grounds are the site of the annual Tansen Samaroh music festival, held in December. Explore the city with our guide here.
Gwalior is approx. 350km/5hr50min by road from Delhi.
Between April and June, the forests in Lansdowne are laden with berries, some of which are edible. Photo: Arnav Gupta/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Spirits haunt this cantonment town, high up in Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal district. While ghost hunters will love the legends around Landsdowne—there’s supposedly a lambe haathwali budhiya (an old woman with abnormally long fingers) who haunts the Kaleshwar Mahadev Temple—the town is also a haven for nature lovers. Stroll along the Mall picking bright orange berries off their prickly bushes; or make your way up to Tiffin Top that has an unhindered view of the Himalayas on a clear day.
Lansdowne is approx. 261km/6hr15min by road from Delhi.
Dehradun is a hotspot for tourists, but the hill station also has many nature trails, leading to peaceful vista points. Photo: Paul Hamilton/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Dehradun is India’s unofficial boarding school capital, but has several sights apart from the elite educational institutions. Its most frequented tourist spots are the salmon-pink, Greco-Roman building that houses the Forest Research Institute, and Kempty Falls, 45km outside the city. But the better way to the ticking heart of the city is to forego tourist attractions and follow the locals on their daily routine. Dehradun has a Maggi fetish unmatched by any other city, colonial-era treats at its bakeries, and a steelcrafts factory where visitors can observe the manufacture of ceremonial swords and replica armour. More in our guide here.
Dehradun is approx. 243km/5hr30min by road from Delhi.
Lakeside terraces and rooftop restaurants are ubiquitous. On summer evenings, they fill up as soon as the temperature drops. Photo: Martin Harvey/Getty Images
Hugging the fringes of the shimmering Lake Pichola in Rajasthan, Udaipur is named after its founder, Maharana Udai Singh II and full of fairy-tale palaces, havelis, and streets lined with stores selling everything from jewellery to miniature paintings. This means plenty of sightseeing, even if you restrict yourself to the City Palace, which was built by various Mewar rulers over four-and-a-half centuries. But Udaipur has smaller charms too, like the many rooftop restaurants that serve all-you-can-eat thalis and have dinner-time screenings of Octopussy, the James Bond film that was shot in the city. The Maharaja’s vintage car collection, displayed at the Garden Hotel, includes a 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II in mint condition. For more ideas, use our Udaipur guide.
Udaipur is approx. 253km/4hr50min by road from Delhi.
The confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers, a little outside Leh. Photo: szefei/YAY Micro/Dinodia Photo Library
Only a short flight from Delhi, Leh is an oldie but goodie, attractive to both cultural and active travellers. Learn lessons in compassion at the Hemis and Thikse monasteries, tuck into bowls of steaming thukpa at a Tibetan restaurant, or climb the 500-odd steps to the top of Shanti Stupa. The views from up there are gorgeous, especially as dawn breaks over the valley. You could also go rafting at the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Wind down your trip with a visit to the market to stock up on local souvenirs like soft pashmina shawls, tart leh berry jam, and colourful prayer flags. Sip on a cup of kahwa at one of the town’s cosy cafes, some of which retail yak cheese.
Leh is approx. 1 hr 30 min away by flight from Delhi.
Perched at an elevation of 7,500 feet, Landour is a sleepy town in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun district. Photo: Paul Hamilton/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Landour’s most famous resident is the writer, Ruskin Bond, who signs books at the Cambridge Book Shop in Mussoorie—a steep four kilometres below Landour—every Saturday. You may also spot him somewhere among the mighty deodars, red rhododendron flowers, and quaint British-style cottages that give this hill town the appearance of an old-fashioned picture-postcard. Read more in our guide before you go, but remember that the best thing to do in Landour is just curl up with a book at one of its cafes. Bring back fresh strawberry jam and gooseberry preserve found at stores that have been around for nearly a century.
Landour is approx. 278km/7hr20min by road from Delhi.
Corbett is India’s oldest national park, established in 1936 and named after hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett, who played a vital role in its protection. Photo: Rohit Varma/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Fall in love with the forest when you visit Corbett, India’s oldest national park. The reserve is inhabited by elephants, as well as majestic birds like the great Indian hornbill. Spot them on a jeep safari through one of the park’s many zones. If you’re lucky, you may even see one of the park’s tigers. More in our guide here. The weather is most pleasant between November and February, though most of the park is open until June.
Jim Corbett National Park is approx. 246km/5hr20min by road from Delhi.
Take a boat to the small forested island in the heart of Bhimtal Lake, accessible only by water. Photo: Aniruddha Kibey/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Skip Nainital for the relatively tourist-free town of Bhimtal. It doesn’t have the religious shrines or colonial monuments of Nainital, but for walks, charming views, and utter relaxation, Bhimtal can’t be beat. Check into one of its charming homestays and spend your break fishing, tucking into fresh parathas, and exploring the modest local market. Sattal, a a series of seven interconnected lakes, is located at a 9km/15-minute drive from Bhimtal, and offers activities like kayaking. More in our guide here.
Bhimtal is approx. 307km/6hr50min by road from Delhi.
At the charming Sunnymead B&B just outside Shimla, guests are served meals of pasta, homemade strawberry cake, and salad with leaves picked from the garden. Photo: Lalita Iyer
Give the crowds of Shimla a miss by checking into Sunnymead Bed & Breakfast on the outskirts of the city. Animal lovers will be particularly fond of the heritage homestay—there are three dogs and two cats. The building is constructed in the traditional Dhajji–Dewari method, which involves filling light timber frames with stones and soil to create earthquake resistant structures. Wake up to valley views, and go on long walks to the city’s bazaars and the famous Mall Road for people-watching and snacking. More here.
Shimla is approx. 343km/7hr by road from Delhi.
Monks light prayer candles at the Dalai Lama temple in Mcleod Ganj, 4km from Dharamsala. Photo: Julian Bound/World Pictures/Dinodia Photo Library
Known for being the headquarters of the Dalai Lama, the town of Dharamsala offers calm to the busy traveller. Go on walks through pine forests, and spin prayer wheels at the monasteries. The Tibetan community is centred in McLeod Ganj, where you can warm up with a steaming bowl of thukpa and delicious momos. Better yet, learn how to make them yourself at a cooking class. About two hours away is Andretta, a green village with a vibrant artistic community, where you can take a pottery class.
Dharamsala is approx. 1 hr30min by flight from Delhi.
Wildlife SOS’s elephant conservation centre gives volunteers a chance to interact and help with the rehabilitation of animals. Photo courtesy Wildlife SOS
The Taj Mahal is one reason to visit the city of Agra. There’s also the majestic Agra Fort, the sixteenth-century city of Fatehpur Sikri, and Wildlife SOS’s bear rescue centre inside Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. At the centre, which was created to rehabilitate circus animals, volunteers build hammocks for the bears and help prepare the animals’ meals. Wildlife SOS also has an elephant rehabilitation centre, 30 minutes from Agra city centre, where volunteers can interact with the gentle giants, and take morning and evenings walks with them. These activities can also be modified based on individual interests. Read more about what it’s like to volunteer with Wildlife SOS here.
Agra is approx. 233km/3hr45min by road from Delhi.
was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.
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