Uttar Pradesh attracts a large number of visitors, both national and international; with more than 71 million domestic tourists (in 2003) and almost 25% of the All-India foreign tourists visiting Uttar Pradesh, it is one of the top tourist destinations in India. There are two regions in the state where a majority of the tourists go, viz. the Agra circuit and the Hindu pilgrimage circuit.
The city of Agra, gives access to three World Heritage Sites: Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and the nearby Fatehpur Sikri:
Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
Agra Fort is about 2.5 km northwest of its much more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as a walled palatial city.
Fatehpur Sikri was the world famous 16th century capital city near Agra, built by the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, whose mausoleum in Agra is also worth a visit.
Dayal Bagh in Agra is a modern day temple and popular tourist sight. Its lifelike sculptures in marble are unique in India. Agra's dubious modern attractions include Asia's largest Spa as well as Asia's first and only 6D theatre.
The pilgrimage circuit includes the holiest of the Hindu holy cities on the banks of sacred rivers Ganga and the Yamuna: Varanasi (also considered world's oldest city), Ayodhya (birth place of Lord Rama), Mathura (birth place of Lord Krishna) and Allahabad (the confluence or 'holy-sangam' of the sacred Ganga-Yamuna rivers).
Varanasi is widely considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world. It is famous for its ghats (bathing steps along the river), full of pilgrims year round who come to bathe in the sacred Ganges River.
Mathura is wold-famous for its colourful celebrations of the Holi festival, which attracts many tourists also - thanks partly to the hype, which the Indian film industry has given to this highly entertaining socio-religious festival.
Thousands gather at Allahabad to take part in the Magh Mela festival, which is held on the banks of the Ganges. This festival is organised on a larger scale every 12th year and is called the Kumbha Mela, where over 10 million Hindu pilgrims congregate — the largest gathering of human beings in the world.
The historically important towns of Sarnath and Kushinagar are located not far from Varanasi. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath after his enlightenment and died at Kushinagar; both are important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. Also at Sarnath are the Pillars of Ashoka and the Lion Capital of Ashoka, both important archaeological artifacts with national significance. At a distance of 80 km from Varanasi, Ghazipur is famous not only for its Ganga Ghats but also for the Tomb of British potentate Lord Cornwallis, maintained by the Archeological Survey of India.
Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, has several beautiful historical monuments such as Bara Imambara and Chhota Imambara. It has also preserved the damaged complex of the Oudh-period British Resident's quarters, which are being restored.
Dudhwa National Park is one of the best tiger reserves in the country. Lakhimpur Kheri - home to the Tiger Reserve - and Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary - the most concentrated sanctuary in India with a large population of tigers as well as leopards - situated in Bahraich and bordering Nepal is also worth a visit. Some areas require a special permit for non-Indians to visit.
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