“Where do you come from? Delhi or Noida?”
“Which part of Delhi do you come from?”
When I answer, ‘Ghaziabad’ to these questions. I swear, their eyeballs bulge & tongues come out. People in Delhi & all the villages and cities around Delhi think that people from Ghaziabad dress in Black kurta-pyjama, speak in vernacular Hindi, put a tilak on their foreheads & walk around with guns in their pockets.
Ghaziabad is not all crime, people! Some decent people live there. Similarly, not all people who live in Uttar Pradesh are bhaiyas and behenji’s.
Uttar Pradesh, has its own charm & quirks . And there are one too many places that would blow your mind, figuratively. Here are my five favorites where I can go again and again:
1. The capital – Lucknow!
Lucknow – the capital of Uttar Pradesh & formerly part of Awadh region of India exudes heritage in every nook and corner. Their Rumi Darwaza marks the beginning of the journey that takes you to the architectural marvels of Bada Imambara and Chota Imambara. Their stories will leave you in awe: did you know that Lucknow has a malai paan that melts in your mouth? It’s because the nawab couldn’t eat the actual betel leaf paan because of old age and no teeth. So, they quickly made a melt-in-the-mouth malai paan.
Not only for paan, Lucknow is famous for its Kebabs, Kachoris, Thandai, Basket chaat, Sheermal and many sweets (mithais). And when we talk about the specialties of Lucknow, how can we not speak about the exquisite Chikankari. You can’t get enough shades, stitches and styles in your wardrobe.
I can go to Lucknow anytime because of their Food, Monuments, Chikankari, and their quintessential Lucknow style.
2. One of the oldest city in the world – Varanasi/ Kashi
Second on the list, but equally favorite is Varanasi- the place of Gods. I like places that have more than one name & I like places that have water bodies. If the place also offers good food, and great tea; you can’t stop me. And to top it all, Varanasi also has monuments, stories, people & their very own Benarasi silk.
During the day, you can go exploring the food trail, but in the evenings, you must come to the Ghaats for a boat ride and witness the majestic evening Ganga aarti.
Some 12 kms. away from Varanasi, exists Sarnath – the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon. Even though Sarnath is so close to the hustle bustle of an old city, the gardens and temples are on a different decibel rating altogether where you can appreciate the chirping of birds, the rustle of leaves & the swaying of breeze.
Visit Kashi for food, forts, Ganges, Ghaats, Silk and Sarnath!
3. One of the 7 wonders, Taj Mahal, of Agra
Agra never gets old, never gets worse or better. It just stays surprised at the incoming crowds, the crumbling infrastructure, the mushrooming of Petha shops & the magic in marbel – The Taj Mahal.
The place needs no introduction, no background, no explanation – Taj Mahal happens to be on the itinerary (bucket list) of every one for this is the only story that’s been told so many times to so many people in numerous dialects, at all times of the day, in all kinds of style.
4. Fatehpur Sikri – of Buland Darwaza
Next to Agra, exists the tall Buland Darwaza built by emperor Akbar to mark his one of the many victories. Inside the premises, you would also see the revered dargah of saint Salim Chisti. Sadly, it’s not a well-kept place & you see the walls chipping off & the soul of the place withering away. And yet, I love to come here again and again much before I knew of Jodha-Akbar who stayed here for years.
5. Mathura & Vrindavan – of mischievous Lord Krishna
Mathura – where Lord Krishna was born; Gokul – where Lord Krishna grew up; Barsana – of Goddess Radha; Vrindavan – where Lord Krishna took his cattle for grazing; Govardhan – where Lord picked up the mountain with his little finger – and the entire strip of land filled with happy people, chanting as naturally as we breathe.
While you walk through the narrow lanes, the smell of sweet pedas wafts in, with menacing monkeys around & naïve looking cows roaming about. Wherever you look, you see a place of worship, and whatever you hear, there will be a spin of Radhe, Radhe there!