An Interactive Guidebook to Northern India Beyond the Golden Triangle

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The Golden Triangle—the well-known Indian tourism route that connects Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur—comes to mind when people think of northern India. Yet, even though we recognize the allure of places like the Taj Mahal, northern India offers much more to see without the hassles, ripoffs, and crowds associated with being a popular tourist destination.

Dharamshala, Amritsar, and McLeod Ganj, among other lesser- known locales in northern India, fit this description. Opening views of the snow-capped Himalayas, smaller towns with fewer foreign visitors (we were frequently the only ones), cooler temperatures, a diversity of religions, stunning temples, and a toy train that depicts one of the country’s most picturesque train journeys are all features of these places. These locations are outside the well-traveled and traditional Indian tourist routes.

This comprehensive guide provides suggestions and inspiration for things to do and places to visit outside the Golden Triangle in northern India, with a focus on Amritsar, McLeod Ganj/Dharamshala, and Shimla. These regions of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have been high on our list of places to visit for more than 10 years, and with good reason.

Beyond the Golden Triangle in Northern India

1 . Use a women-only cab service to get a ride from the Delhi airport. Here’s something unusual: a taxi service with only female drivers. Unusual anywhere, but particularly so in India. Except for our driver, Meera, all the drivers waiting to pick up passengers as we left the Delhi airport were guys.

Why? Read on.

A Planeterra Foundation initiative called Women with Wheels collaborates with the Sakha group and the Azad Foundation to offer career and training opportunities to underprivileged women in Delhi. Every G Adventures traveler’s itinerary includes a Women on Wheels pick-up when they land in Delhi. It guarantees the women drivers a consistent source of income and gives tourists safe and comfortable transport to their lodging in town. Meera, our driver, has the steely grit and composure necessary for driving in Delhi, particularly during the morning rush hour.

  1. On the Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Amritsar, relax and sip Chai.

Trains were one of the factors that led us to select this specific G Adventures vacation in northern India. We love riding trains. It’s our preferred mode of transportation, especially in India, where the journey is the main attraction. The train’s motion, the transition from rural to urban settings, the people you interact with, and the enchanting rhythm of life aboard an Indian railway are all important aspects of the story. Even having tea on the train is an occasion.

  1. Watch the India-Pakistan border ceremony’s high kicks, posture, and mustache competition.

We have passed many strange land borders as we have traveled from one nation to another. Still, nothing compares to the ceremonial that marks the boundary between Pakistan and India at Wagah. The ritual is held daily in the early evening as the gates between the two nations are ready to close for the night.

Imagine a 30,000-seat stadium (on the Indian side) with an askari officer as the emcee, rousing the crowd to applaud as loudly as they can to submerge out the Pakistani crowds on the opposite side, a parade of young  lasses waving the Indian flag, and a mosh pit where enraged hordes dance to their favorite Bollywood songs.

  1. Enjoy the Golden Temple at night.

Beautiful nighttime view of Amritsar’s Golden Temple. This location’s natural beauty alone does not guarantee its beauty. The pleasant, serene, and inclusive ambiance reflects this.

The temple complex is packed with tourists as the most important Sikhism pilgrimage site. Yet, despite the steady influx of people, there is a sense of serenity, silence, and meditation. Regardless of their circumstances, everyone is respected, welcomed, and even cared for.

Although we had the Amritsar Golden Temple on our minds for years, our experience exceeded expectations with its subtle kind of wonder.

Our recommendation is to locate a calm area to relax and be after touring the temple complex.

  1. See how a volunteer group at the Golden Temple langar serves 60–100k people daily.

The langar of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a large kitchen serving 60,000–100,000 people free hot meals every day, is one of the temple’s most prominent features. Just try to understand that, please. The variety of cuisine offered here is astounding.

Another astounding statistic is that most volunteers who help with food preparation and service also provide their time and money. The concept of Seva, or “selfless service,” is central to Sikh thought. Volunteers are drawn to the Golden Temple from all throughout India and the world.

Our local guide showed us through the kitchen during the early tour as volunteers were getting ready for the morning shift. Everyone worked together with the specific goal of feeding others, whether it was stoking the fire, making chapati, or washing the dishes. The atmosphere was depressing. The rhythm was calm.

  1. In Himachal Pradesh, take in meandering vistas of the Himalayan foothills.

As you leave Amritsar’s lowland plains and travel into India’s Himachal Pradesh highlands, the road begins to wind up towards the mid-mountain area. Reduced temperatures and better air quality.

As we get closer to the cities of Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj, the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas and Ladakh gradually start to emerge in the distance.

It’s simple to say, “Oh, those distances aren’t so huge,” when you look at a map and examine distances in northern India. There won’t be much of a wait.

No.

You are looking over the two-lane mountain roads that are winding and tight. So yes, a 140-150 km journey might take 5 to 7 hours.

All viewpoints are advantageous. Little villages, wide hills, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and verdant terraced fields. If your driver is anything like ours, you’ll also appreciate listening to the ten different horn melodies he uses to warn other motorists and some Punjabi music to go with the Himachal Pradesh scenery.

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