India is a very large country, and knowing we did not want to be on the road constantly, we chose to do the classis tourist tour of northern India known as “The Golden Triangle”. Thus, our itinerary landed us in Delhi where we were picked up by a driver who took us straight to Jaipur. We spent three nights in Jaipur, three nights in Agra and three in Delhi. While we would change this itinerary if we were to do it again, it was a good introduction to northern India and it allowed us to relax as well as beat the pavement touring.
Jaipur, or the “Pink City”, is a relatively new city built in the 17thcentury a few km from the Amer Fort. We could have spent more time in this area, as there is much to see. The fort, our elephant ride, the Wind Palace, and the remarkable observatory were all great sites and experiences. It was quite hot during this part of our trip, but our hotel, the Jas Vilas, was a wonderful spot to retreat to after a day of touring in the heat of India. Riding the streets of Jaipur, particularly in a tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) was great fun, as it gave us a sense of the density, noise and regrettably, the filth of much of the city.
Our ride to Agra, home to The Taj Mahal, was interspersed with several stops that made the day’s journey memorable. The Abhaneri Step Well, built in the 9th century for ceremonial purposes, is a unique and fascinating place to visit. We visited a Hindu temple from the same time period next to the step well. We stopped in a more recent and very gaudy temple and were struck by the simplicity of its interior. The picture of us sitting with the man who sold us a cheap tweed rug will be more valuable to us than the rug he talked us into buying. This whole side trek allowed us to ride through a bit of the countryside where we saw local women harvesting wheat by hand, a local school, and couple of small villages. The ride was fascinating.
The city of Agra is an incredibly smelly, dirty and altogether nasty place. That fact that one of the most stunning buildings on Earth is located here is disappointing. Three nights in Agra are unnecessary, but the stay did allow us to take one day to purely relax by the pool. Not a bad thing.
The Taj Mahal is a study in symmetry. It is an octagonal building that looks identical from front, back, side to side. Two mosques sit beside the Taj; one was built for the 22,000 workers who worked 22 years to build the Taj, the second one was built for the sake of symmetry only. The Taj Mahal is a stunning place that deserves the accolades it receives. Being there in the off season was great as the crowds were small.
Our train ride to Delhi was interesting. We did get an air conditioned car, but it was anything but luxurious. Unfortunately, we did not get a picture of the Delhi train station and the sea of humanity found there.
Can you name a tourist site in Delhi? Well, we couldn’t, and while there are sites to see, we spent most of our time shopping, walking the streets, and riding around in tuk tuks. The best part of our stay in Delhi was the food at our restaurant, which sits atop the roof and was a very pleasant place to eat breakfast and dinner. Most food was cooked in a Tandoori oven, with meat, fish and veggies put on skewers and place inside the round, pot-like oven. Nan bread was slapped onto the inside wall of the oven. Everything we had was perfectly seasoned, tasty and cheap.
The other fun part of our stay at Shanti Home was the walk to the metro station. The walk takes you through a VERY crowded, vegetable and fruit market that doubles as a bus loading area. The area is full of people, noise, flies, and garbage….and men pissing against walls. We learned to keep our mouths closed as we walked through to avoid eating a fly or two. Sharon comments that our cameras needed smell-a-vision in order to fully grasp the aura of the place. But again, this is India and part of why we chose to visit urban areas.