The northern states of Uttarakhand and populous Uttar Pradesh (UP) stretch from the snowy Himalayas to the steamy plains of the Ganges. They have, between them, almost every type of landscape apart from the sea: cold glaciers and hot deserts, huge forests and teeming cities. And they contain some of India's most venerated sites: the source of the Ganges, the mountain temples of the Char Dham, the holy Hindu city of Varanasi and the unfailingly spellbinding Taj Mahal palace in Agra. You can also visit Victorian-esque hill stations, the tiger-inhabited Corbett National Park and the once lavish Muslim capital, Lucknow. These lands have inspired everyone from the great Buddha and Mahavira (founder of Jainism) to the Beatles, who stayed with the Maharishi at Rishikesh, now home to countless ashrams, gurus, yogis and one of the world's finest spas.
Uttar Pradesh has also been the most dominant in Indian politics and culture since Independence, with huge religious fairs (millions of Hindus congregate at Allahabad every January and February) and poignant traces of Muslim rule and British imperialism.