Exploring the Many Wonders of India - United Hub

Exploring the many wonders of India

By Nick Harper

A land of extraordinary beauty, history and diversity, India should be on every traveler's bucket list. With more than a million square miles to cover, one visit just wouldn't be enough. Often times, visitors to India try to cram too much into one trip. Seeing each city at a slower pace and experiencing the culture will be more rewarding than hurriedly checking off as many cities as possible. Here are five cities that should be at the top of your itinerary when visiting India for the first time.

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Delhi

The temptation for many international travelers is to land in Delhi and head straight to Agra to see the majestic Taj Mahal or to visit the many ancient fortresses in Jaipur. To overlook India's capital is a crime — the city is a historic heavyweight and symbol of the old and the new.

From a tourist's perspective, the city can be split between New and Old Delhi. The latter is a frenetic maze full of backstreet bazaars and home to the mighty Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, India's most imposing mosque. Founded in 1648, Old Delhi was built as a walled city within Delhi that was home to elegant mansions where nobles and members of the royal court lived. To the south, the British-built New Delhi is a district of wide, tree-lined boulevards, museums and the impressive Rajpath, a ceremonial boulevard whose name translates as 'King's Way.' Now, New Delhi serves as the capital of India with all three seats of India's government residing there.

An incredible array of markets, some of India's most delicious street food and a growing number of chic cafés and bars should convince you to prolong your stay, before you head off on your next adventure.

Agra

A four-hour drive or two-hour train ride south of Delhi, you'll come to Agra. More specifically, you'll come to Agra and India's monument to eternal love, the magnificent Taj Mahal. Completed in 1653, the Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, as a symbol of love and final resting place for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Believe the hype: the ivory-white marble mausoleum is everything you imagined and reason alone to visit India — as eight million visitors do every year. Pro tip: visit as early as possible to give yourself a chance of capturing a photograph without anyone else in the frame.

As impressive as it is, the Taj Mahal is by no means Agra's only attraction. As India's capital under the Mughals, that empire also left behind a magnificent fort and a number of must-visit mausoleums and tombs. Most of the major monuments, including the Taj Mahal, are lined up along the banks of the Yamuna River, which runs down the city's eastern edge.

It's possible to visit on a day-trip from Delhi, but a fleeting visit won't do the city justice, so plan to spend a couple of days here. Most tourist itineraries include Agra as one part of India's classic 'Golden Triangle,' alongside Delhi to the north and Jaipur to the west.

Jaipur city palace in Jaipur city

Jaipur

Rajasthan's capital is the doorway into India's most flamboyant state. Juxtaposing centuries-old institutions and bazaars with its modern charms, the 'Pink City' (named for the color of the buildings in its historic center) is a tumultuous but utterly intoxicating city that dizzies the head but enriches the soul. Head for the heart of the city for a trio of must-visit attractions: the opulent City Palace, still home to India's royal family, the 18th century Jantar Mantar observatory, and the honeycomb Hawa Mahal palace.

The jewel in the city's crown lies further out, however. The 400-year-old Amber Fort is a shimmering complex of palaces and fortifications 8 miles north on the Delhi Jaipur Highway. It's home to countless treasures, artworks and the dazzling Sheesh Mahal hall of mirrors.

No trip to Rajasthan is complete without traveling to Udaipur. If you have a few extra days, head southwest from Jaipur to Udaipur, or the “City of Lakes," known for its lavish royal residences and opulence. While you're there, stay at the magnificent Taj Lake Palace located on the island of Jag Niwas in Lake Pichola. It's recognized as one of the most romantic hotels in the world — you'll feel like you're staying in a palace where luxury abounds.

Mumbai

After exploring the classic Golden Triangle, add Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) to your itinerary. India's most westernized city is packed onto a narrow spit of land curling out into the Arabian Sea. Mumbai is technically an island, connected to mainland India by a series of bridges and causeways. Expect heat, humidity and an almost overwhelming number of human beings — the Maharashtra capital draws comparisons with New York City, but there's far more hustle and bustle because this city never sleeps.

Relatively young, the city was transformed from a fishing settlement into a trading hub in the 17th century, then slowly turned into the megalopolis it is today. India's largest city and financial hub, glass and concrete superstructures dominate the skyline, particularly in the city's center and along the opulent waterfront, yet historic treasures are there to be uncovered. From the gothic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to the city's most celebrated landmark, the Gateway of India, to Elephanta Caves, Mumbai has enough landmarks to sate your thirst and fill your phone with photos.

But to immerse yourself fully in the city and its people, consider taking a bike tour at dawn, or gazing in awe on a Bollywood studio tour.

Palolem beach in Goa

Goa

Tucked into the south-west coast of the sub-continent, India's smallest state is among its richest, in large part thanks to the tourists who flock here each year. With over 80 miles of coastline and a famously relaxed beach vibe, it's easy to understand why. While overcrowding has blighted the likes of Anjuna, Calangute and Vagator beaches, the alternatives further south still offer a taste of paradise.

For five-star resorts, long, empty beaches and the most obvious evidence of more than four centuries of Portuguese rule, head for Central Goa and the capital Panaji.

The north offers the best boutique properties, a beautiful crowd, India's most inventive food scene and a strong emphasis on yoga and wellness. Aim for the beaches of Mandrem, Ashvem and Arambol.

But, to escape the crowds as much as possible, head to the South Goa coast, from the Sal River to Canacona. There you'll find palm-fringed beaches, temples, coconut groves, fishing villages and an inner peace you never knew existed.

The basics

When to go

As a general rule, avoid the monsoon season and punishing heat from May to September and aim instead for the cooler and, dry season that runs from October to March.

The logistics

A vast country with huge distances to cover, where possible, take internal flights that will minimize your travel time. The largest distance of these five cities – from Delhi to Goa – takes 35 hours to drive, or around two-and-a-half hours to fly. Happily, all of the cities listed here can be reached through direct or connecting flights. If time isn't an issue, take a train at least part of the way. India's national rail network reaches every city listed above and is an experience not to be missed.

To first get over to India, United Airlines flies to both Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM) from New York/Newark (EWR). For further details and to book, visitunited.com or download our convenient United app.

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Marvelous sites to local hideaways: The expert’s guide to Toronto

By Nick Harper

Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.

Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.

Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.

What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.

However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…

City Hall, Toronto City Hall, Toronto

The checklist sites

No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.

The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.

Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.

Ripleys Aquarium Ripleys Aquarium

Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.

In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.

Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Gallery of Ontario

Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.

Casa Loma Casa Loma

Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.

St. Lawrence Market St. Lawrence Market

Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States[9] . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.

Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.

The bucket list

You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.

Explore like a local

Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.

The essentials

When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.

Toronto skyline view Toronto skyline view

Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.

Toronto Blue Jay stadium Toronto Blue Jay stadium

Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.

Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.

For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).

The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.

How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.

How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.

United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.


Taking action to make a global impact

By The Hub team , January 17, 2020

Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes

Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.

These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.

Australian wildfire relief efforts

Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.

Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.

These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.

By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives

Help us (and Ellen DeGeneres) support wildfire relief efforts in Australia

By The Hub team , January 08, 2020

Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.

Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund

We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.

Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.

In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.

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