Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh, a vast, socially conservative and deeply agricultural state, is India's answer to Texas - although its population of 190 million actually exceeds that of most nations. The state holds what are arguably the most famous cultural landmarks of both Indian Islam (the Taj Mahal at Agra) and Hinduism (the bathing ghats of Varanasi). While the former is the world's greatest architectural gesture to a single instance of inconsolable grief, the latter is a riverbank that has for centuries born witness to a constant stream of death at its funeral pyres. Many - from the most seasoned Indophile to the first-time traveller - count these shrines as the high-water marks of any trip to the subcontinent.

Modern UP's reputation is less enviable domestically: many of India's elected political leaders have 'colourful' histories, but the level of political corruption in the state is exceptional, and casual criminality and violence are so high that some question the rule of law.

What's more, the state's position as both cradle of Hinduism, bisected by the Hindu spiritual life-force River Ganga, and cultural heartland of Indian Islam has spawned one of the most febrile frontlines in the contemporary conflict between India's two largest religions. The contested sacred ground at Ayodhya has been the site of bloody conflict since the Babri Mosque was razed by militant Hindus in 1992.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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