Words and images © John Rees - October 28th, 2017.
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 5TH, DELHI
The Golden Triangle is a well troden tourist trail in Northern India. It consists of three cities, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. On our trip we started in Delhi and then travelled by car to Jaipur and Agra. From Agra we took the train back to Delhi.This is the story of that trip.
Delhi is one of the most densely populated cities on earth and chaos seems to be the norm, especially on the road. Cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles fight it out with the tuk-tuks, cyclists and pedestrians for space and position on the road.
Pedestrians ignore regular crossing points and weave between the traffic. It's a balletic performance of symmetry that just seems to work. And everyone seems to love honking their horns. We were told this wasn’t to be rude, just to let the other road users know you’re there!
After we checked into the hotel we had lunch and then hired a driver to take us on a quick tour around the city. ‘Quick’ is a relative term in Delhi because the traffic makes it hard to get around. You have to be patient and just enjoy the ride because there’s no point in getting angry. The traffic moves at it’s own pace and you’ll arrive eventually.
Delhi is a growing city that’s noisy, busy and vibrant. It is a growing city with affluent and wealthy people. It also has many people who live on the street and literally manage to scrape a living. The gulf between rich and poor is stark because people live literally on top of each other.
The people we met were mainly middle-class Indians who were all unfailingly polite. In fact, because I traveled with my 21 year old tall, attractive blond daughter and attractive, but not so tall wife, we got a lot of attention. We were stopped frequently and asked to pose for photographs with couples, families and even newlyweds!
There’s so much to see in this amazing city and we only visited 3 locations, India Gate, Humayanun’s Tomb and the magnificent Lotus Temple. You could literally spend weeks here and still not see everything.
My favourite was the magnificent Lotus Temple, also known as the Baha’i House of Worship. This amazing structure has 27 white marble lotus leaves and it sits in 27 acres of grounds and is surrounded by 9 pools. The interior is sparse and very light with huge windows showing the city, surrounding area and pools. It’s a place of tranquility where you can sit and pray or just take the time to relax and think.
Tomorrow we head for Jaipur which is a 3-4 hour car journey from Delhi. It promises to be quite an experience.
DELHI TO JAIPUR
WEDNESDAY 6TH SEPTEMBER 2017
We leave the hotel in time for Delhi rush hour although I don't really notice the difference. The traffic is still chaotic as far as I could see. The law of the jungle applies and people just seem to know how to survive.
The drive is 260 kilometres or 162 miles and it takes us around 4 hours, but it’s never boring. All along the highway we see strange sights; vehicles travelling the wrong way towards us; trucks and four wheel drives with people crammed in; open box trailers with water buffalo and people sharing a ride; and cows strolling down the middle of the road as everyone carefully drives around them. The cow, is, after all a sacred animal in India!
As we get closer to Jaipur we see camels pulling wagons and pigs roaming freely around the streets. There’s an odd mix of peasant lifestyle alongside the new cyber cities that are springing up. India has long been a favoured destination for outsourcing business processes such as software development and call centres.
When we hit Jaipur, our driver decides to take a short cut to avoid the traffic. I don't know the exact route we took and I'd have got lost if he'd left us there. But it’s like going back in time. Rubbish is everywhere. Cows, pigs and dogs roam the small crowded streets. People walk through and around the small lakes that form on all the streets following the earlier rain. Apparently the drainage is broken or non-existent so the water has nowhere to go. When it's mixed with the open sewers the results are disgusting.
Seeing pigs wallowing in the open sewer channels and eating and drinking whatever flows there way is disgusting. And as we turn into an even narrower street I glance to my left to see someone about to cut the head off a live chicken. As a vegan that’s a pretty bad thing to see!
When we leave the back streets our driver takes us to a gorgeous fabric and tailor shop which sells the finest cloths that they turn into hand made garments overnight. The owners put on a flamboyant personal demonstration of their finest fabrics. The way they handle and throw the rolls of brilliantly coloured cottons and silks around is pure showmanship. Then we visit a jewellers workshop/showroom admiring the craftsmanship of the gems and amazing pieces they've created. Jaipur is after all, known as the gem capital of India for good reason.
There were so many sights that to western eyes seemed bizarre. We've only been here 2 days but it seems longer because everything is so full-on. Our driver told us that to drive in India you need 4 things;
1. Good horn
2. Good brakes
3. Good heart
4. Good luck
The way he drives I’m glad he seems to have all four!
THURSDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER 2017
This morning our guide Raj Singh met us this morning at the hotel and we drove to the Palace of the Winds.
Singh is a surname that means Raj is a member of the Kshatriyas caste which includes warriors and rulers; this is the second highest caste. The highest is Brahmin which includes priests and teachers. The third caste is Vaishyas which includes farmers, traders and merchants. Then comes Shudras (labourers) and Dalites or outcastes who are street sweepers, latrine cleaners and generally seen as the lowest of the low. At the Palace of the
At the Palace of the Winds we took the obligatory photos of the facade and also met a few snake charmers who assured us we could touch the snakes because they were not poison. But I wasn’t keen to put this to the test!
We then visited the Amber Fort outside Jaipur which was again, amazing. I appear to be using this word a lot but that's what India seems to do to you. Everywhere you turn there’s another fort, palace or just ordinary life to see. But life if India is far from ordinary, at least to westerners like us. Elephants are still used to carry people up to the palace but this isn't a good thing. The elephant is revered in India but they are treated badly in some cases. This is changing slowly so don't support any activity that could exploit these wonderful, gentle giants.
There's a never-ending hustle and bustle as people go about their daily lives. There's also this mesmeric charm. This seems to me like an oxymoron. It's both frenetic and calm at the same time.
After lunch we visited the city palace and observatory. The city palace is behind the Palace of Winds. It's filled with artefacts, costumes and a history of the founders and rules of Jaipur. The founding king of Jaipur was Jai Singh in 1727. That surname again!
The observatory is something else. It's called Jantar Mantar and it was built between 1728 and 1734 and it has 16 stone structures which are astronomical instruments. Some are still used today to forecast the weather. This vast array of stone built structures is claimed to be the first ‘computer’ invented. It icombines astronomy with astrology. First there are sun dials, but like you've never seen before. Then there are 12 other dials, one for each sign of the zodiac. These were used as sun dials but the king consulted them to create horoscopes.
The whole thing is spread over an area of several acres and it includes the biggest sun dials on earth. The largest is called Samrat Yantra which is 90 feet (27 metres) high.
The following day we were heading to Agra and our visit to the majestic and iconic Taj Mahal.
JAIPUR TO AGRA
FRIDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER 2017
After breakfast the following day we were picked up by our driver Anil. He is a little crazy because he drives like, what we think of as crazy and unsafe. But in Indian terms he's regarded as a good driver. First stop of the day to Agra is Chand Baori in Abaneri, one of the oldest
First stop of the day to Agra is Chand Baori in Abaneri, one of the oldest baors (stepwell) in Rajasthan. This 20 metre deep well was built in 8th century. This is an impressive structure which also has a temple attached. From here we travelled to Fatehpur Sikri, a magnificent abandoned Moghul city which was built in 1571. The original city area is interesting because it draws on many different styles of architecture and religious influence. It encompasses Islam, Christianity, Hinduism,
From here we travelled to Fatehpur Sikri, a magnificent abandoned Moghul city which was built in 1571. The original city area is interesting because it draws on many different styles of architecture and religious influence. It encompasses Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Seikhism and Buddhism. This was impressive enough, but the adjoining grand mosque of Jami Masjid was, in my option,
This was impressive enough, but the adjoining grand mosque of Jami Masjid was, in my option, mind-blowing. The sheer scale and magnificence is hard to take in. There are ancient cloisters that cast tall shadows. It was very hot because we arrived around 2 pm. And we had to walk barefoot throughout the area. The central courtyard was so hot I'm sure you could fry an egg on it! This meant running or walking on the occasional carpets scattered around. I tried to think like a fire walker and calm my mind, but my feet told me to get the hell out of there as fast as possible!
The place also had many hawkers trying to sell you trinkets. Some were very stubborn and refused to take no for an answer. The best way to get rid of them is to just ignore them and keep walking. Making eye contact and talking to them just seemed to encourage them to keep trying even harder!
After this we had a very late lunch around 5pm followed by a one hour drive to Agra. It’s been a very busy, hot and tiring day and as we arrive at our wonderful, air-conditioned hotel, we all just want to shower and relax. We decide to get an early night because we have a 4.30am alarm call tomorrow for our visit to the Taj Mahal to watch the sun come up.
AGRA - TAJ MAHAL
SATURDAY 9TH SEPTEMBER 2017
We met our guide Raj at our hotel at 5.15am and he and Anil took us on the short drive to the Taj Mahal.
There were crowds of people waiting and as the gates opened we were let in. Access was controlled, men through one section and women through another. After the security scanner check and bag search we were inside the main grounds.
The sun was still below the horizon and the sky had a wonderful pink radiance. The air was humid and heavy with anticipation. After all, it's not every day that you get to visit one of the wonders of the world.
I'm not going to describe what the Taj Mahal is because countless words have been written about it. Countless photographs have also been taken so it's almost impossible to get a fresh view on this most iconic of buildings.
As we walk through the main gate the Taj comes into sight and it does literally take your breath away. The pure white of the marble structure against the hazy early morning light is hard to describe. It gives the Taj an almost ethereal quality. The central dome sits atop a perfect octagonal structure. The 4 pillars have been built to lean outwards slightly so that in the event of an earthquake, they will fall away from the main building. The foundations are built on 60 boreholes each filled with wood that expands to make a natural earthquake-proof structure.
The beauty of the Taj is the main reason for visiting. If you go you will not be disappointed.
After another shower and breakfast, we visited the Red Fort at Agra. This is partly a tourist destination and also is a base of the Indian army. It's built of red sandstone which gives it its name. From here we visited the ‘baby Taj’ built a few years before the Taj Mahal and said to have been the influence of many features. When we visited it had few visitors so we had plenty of room to move around and enjoy the scenery of this lovely place.
After lunch we took the train back to Delhi.
Agra station was an experience in itself. Beggars with limbs missing and various disfigurements tugged at your clothing. The worst were the children, some as young as 5 or 6 whose eyes just pierced right into your soul. Everyone tells you never to give to beggars otherwise you'll be surrounded and unable to move. That's probably good advice but it's a hard to just ignore them and walk away.
Arriving back in Delhi was like being thrust into a cauldron of humanity, all jostling to get out of the station. It made rush hour in London look like a quiet stroll in the park. It was hot, humid, smelly and the traffic was absolutely crazy. How anyone can drive in this city is beyond me. It took us an hour to get back to the hotel Siddarth where we arrived back at around 8.30. After dumping our bags we had dinner, showered and
It took us an hour to get back to the hotel Siddarth where we arrived back at around 8.30. After dumping our bags we had dinner, showered and organised our travel bag for the flight up to Ladakh. By the time this was all done, it was 11pm and we’d been up for close to 19 hours. Our flight leaves at 6.45 tomorrow morning and the alarm call is set for 3am. It's a short turn around after a very busy week and tonight we feel it. It's been great doing so much and seeing so many things. It's also been exhausting as well as exhilarating.
Tomorrow really will be different as we head to the Himalayas. It’s an adventure of a different kind that we are all looking forward to. We’ll be at between 12,000 to 14,000 feet so acclimatising to the altitude will be a factor for us. We have a few days to do that
We have a few days to do that, then we go trekking where we'll sleep under canvas. Can't wait!