My recent years of living in New Delhi have allowed me to travel extensively in the northern part of India. Whether it is a weekend in Rajasthan or a few more days in a hill station further north, these escapades outside the capital make you eager to discover more places. Here is a short summary of my favorite getaways in North India! Top 5 cities in North India.
Jaisalmer, the Forgotten Desert
Located in the extreme west of Rajasthan, near the Pakistani border, Jaisalmer is the town that lies in the heart of the majestic Thar Desert. Dubbed the ‘Golden City’ for the ocher sand color of its facades, Jaisalmer is a city that I appreciate for its size and preserved heritage. The city reveals the lives and traditions of the inhabitants of the Thar Desert. Spending a night in the desert under the stars being lulled by the songs of the camels was one of my greatest moments in India. I also really like the fortress of Jaisalmer where people still live inside – unlike other hill forts in Rajasthan. No doubt, the many hours spent on a train or car to reach the city is worth it! You can read about my stay in a desert resort in Jaisalmer here http://blog.shantitravel.com/en/pabu-ki-dhani-an-oasis-of-life-in-the-desert-of-rajasthan/
Udaipur, the Romantic City
My first impression of the ‘Venice of the East’ was not that positive. When I returned to Udaipur the second time and took the time to indulge myself in its attractions, I learned to appreciate the serenity of the White City. Known for its Lake Palace made famous by the James Bond film Octopussy, the city has a very nice downtown. Dotted with a few streets, small shops of leather and handicrafts, and many rooftop terraces to enjoy the sunset over the lake, Udaipur is a joy to walk around in. Udaipur is also a great place to bike around the other major lake (apart from the Lake Pichola), the Fateh Sagar Lake. Do not skip the snack breaks at the small roadside eateries. For the more adventurous, the surroundings of Udaipur are superb for one or even several days of horseback riding!
Orchha, a Hidden Gem
I discovered Madhya Pradesh rather late during my life in India. The charm and quiet life of the city are alluring. For my weekend in Orchha, I booked a room with ‘Friends of Orchha’. With the support of a dozen families, the association has created homestays where authenticity is simple and engaging. The highlights of my stay in Orchha were breakfasts at sunrise in the company of these families and discovering the architectural beauty and temples of the city on foot. A picnic by the riverside is another pleasant experience to be had.
The Mystical Varanasi
Also known as Benares, this holy city of Hinduism was built on the banks of the River Ganges. Thus for hundreds of years the river and its ceremonies have marked the life of the inhabitants. In Varanasi, you must observe the morning ritual of priestly ablutions. If summer temperatures are hard to bear, nothing beats a walk at dawn to see the colors of the city in the mist of winter. In Varanasi, I love getting lost in the streets and all the silks to be found. Varanasi can be a stressful and tiring city. So I particularly enjoyed the cruise on the Ganges from Chunar to Varanasi at sunset.
The Energetic Calcutta
Calcutta is not just about snapshots of ragged children cared for by Patrick Swayze in the slums and orphanages that were run by Mother Teresa. It did not take me long to realize that Calcutta had much more to offer. Of course, certain realities are difficult to witness. But mostly I discovered a city full of energy. The British heritage is indelible and the atmosphere is young, dynamic as well as historical. When temperatures are mild (November to March), the parks, markets and artistic neighborhoods of this historical capital city are bustling.