Uttar Pradesh – A Land Where Cultures Have Evolved & Religions Emerge by Prateek Hira

Embedded in the heart of India is Uttar Pradesh, a land where cultures have evolved and religions emerge. The greatness of Uttar Pradesh lies not only in this confluence but also in the emergence of cultural and religious traditions along some of the greatest rivers in the Indian sub-continent – the Ganga and the Yamuna.

Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, Uttarakhand is one of the most beautiful northern states of India that enthralls everyone with its spectacularly scenic landscapes. Charming hill stations juxtaposed against snow-capped peaks, quaint villages along winding mountain roads, serpentine rivers carving their way through hills, world-renowned conservation parks like ‘Jim Corbett Tiger National Park’ and ‘Asan Wetland Conservation Reserve’, world heritage sites like ‘Valley of Flowers’ and ‘Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve’, waterfalls hurtling down slopes and serene lakes shimmering amidst beautiful towns – that’s Uttarakhand for you.

Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are actually brother states which separated recently when two different states were carved out of one gigantic state of Uttar Pradesh. Both the states share a  lot in common and represent India in a precis. Two together host two ‘Kumbhs’, in Prayagraj and Haridwar that are supposed to be the biggest human congregation and then together share India’s most revered river, Ganges. The most pious destinations too exist in both these states that include, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath, Kedranath, Jageshwar, Devprayag and Gangotri in Uttarakhand and then Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Varanasi,  Ayodhya,  Chitrakoot, Vidhyachal, Sarnath, Sravasti and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh.

Rich in experiences, these two states offer not only breathtaking sights, an enviable history & culture but above all enriching experiences that are its core product proposition. Of course each corner is quite different and unique, and each place in the two states is worth a visit still, there are a few hidden gems that need to be further explored and highlighted and have all the potential of making it big and happening. My pick in Uttarakhand is The Beatles’ Ashram, a place in Rishikesh that is connected to The Beatles band. In 1968 when the Beatles were on the top of the chart, they badly needed a holiday. The members of the band had a keen interest in Indian spirituality and Indian music. George Harrison particularly, having learned sitar from the great Pt.  Ravi  Shankar for a few of the tracks, was floored with India, so the group chose Rishikesh for their holiday break and coupled it with learning transcendental meditation there. Rishikesh being the place of origin of yoga was just apt for the purpose. The members stayed at a house just above the Ganges at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, known as Chaurasi Kutia and spent time meditating and living a satvik life. The place can be visited today, to go back in times and understand how the band lived here and how powerful the Indian culture is, not only to attract but also transform the lives of westerners. Similarly, Kainchi Dham Ashram in Nainital that transformed Apple’s founder Steve Jobs life and then was also visited by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on Steve’s advise, is another place that needs to be highlighted. These places connect us with Indian spirituality that has all the powers to transform.

While Uttar Pradesh too is a treasure trove, I particularly am impressed with a boat trip from Prayagraj to Varanasi (or in parts of this full trail) which is an experience to look for. The Ganges should not only be seen as a river but in fact as a civilization unto itself. This long 180 km river trip with camping options is a great way to explore destinations en route and the life around. Some villages and towns that one can visit on this boat trip are, Sitamadhi where Lord Rama’s sons Luv & Kush fought a battle with their father’s army and Maharishi Valmiki had his Ashram, Mirzapur is another interesting place for pottery and carpets and dotted with British architectural remains,

Vindhyachal is famous for Vindhyavasini temple, Chunar for the magnificent fort and a small British cemetery and finally just before Varanasi is Ramnagar renowned for the fort and its visually rich museum. Above all, all through the sail one experiences a great aquatic bird life and a bit of wild-life too when camping on the banks overnight, it is an experience to behold and appreciate how rivers are an integral part of our lives, yet we care the least for them. Another great experience and a destination in Uttar Pradesh is Ayodhya, specially its Diwali celebrations which now is state government’s flagship tourism event and is fast gaining international accolades, in fact, Ayodhya got mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records for lighting maximum ‘diyas’ (earthen lamps) at one place  at  the  same time. This event is not  only  enjoyable  but also quite unique as the concept of Diwali actually started off in Ayodhya when Lord Rama returned from exile. Ayodhya is a temple town that offers some very unique and unpretentious religious experiences to make people understand spirituality and Hinduism and could be a great destination if promoted and projected well.

The two states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have indeed a lot to offer and we only need to discover, explore and plan to put forth each of its hidden treasures that are sights to behold and appreciate.

Read full Magazine issue here: fabindia.net-May issue