Trip to India's Golden Triangle - Dehli, Agra and Jaipur
07.09.2014 - 12.09.2014 27 °C
India – taking about it always reminds me of the Taj Mahal. I have always been fascinated by it and it has always been my dream to see it first-hand myself one day. After my recent trip to Hyderabad and learning more about this incredible country, its people and culture (India is really not as bad as some people perceived it to be, really), it gave me the confidence to finally strike out and visit one of my dream destinations.
I had learnt from my colleagues that people usually cover the ‘Golden Triangle’ regions of Dehli, Agra (where Taj is located) and Jaipur. 3 cities offering visitors different insights of India – learning about the history of the great man Mahatma Gandhi in Dehli, finally seeing first-hand the majestic Taj Mahal in Agra and the beauty and splendour of Ambre fort in Jaipur, Having found a friend who was willing to go India (always good to have a friend to look out for each other on such trips), I tried to find a local tour but ended up disappointed as most local tour agencies still do not cover India as it is still not considered a popular travel destination. I ended up searching online and after some comparisons I picked a local Indian tour agent (there are actually plenty online) providing land tours. Hence I paid the deposit and hoped everything turns our fine!
This trip would also encompass visiting 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites at one go. Incredible India!
International flights usually end up in Delhi so this was where we started our adventure. We were met by a local representative and our designated driver who would bring us around for the rest of our journey.
In Delhi we covered the destinations listed below:
Parliament House District
This is where you get to see some impressive buildings, with a touch of both Indian culture and British colonial influence. This is where the Government operates so understandably security is tight, cars are allowed limited access. However, visitors are given a free reign to roam around and taking pictures. The guards, who are used to seeing curious visitors, do not really bother you unless you try to do something funny or try to enter restricted access area
This is also where Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President's residence) is located. However, the place is heavily guarded and locked down by an iron gate and visitors can only see it from far and take pictures.
This monument has been built as a memorial for the Indian soldiers who died in World War I. There is also a fire ("eternal flame") burning for all fallen Indian soldiers and guarded in arms by soldiers. This reminds me of the guards stationed at Taiwan’s Marthy’s Shrine, although they did not stand as still as their Taiwanese counterparts. Our local guide told us names of fallen soldiers were also inscribed on the memorial.
Red Fort (UNESCO)
This was the first of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. On our first visit, we did not go into the fort – having been told ‘all forts look the same so don’t waste your time’. Instead we were cajoled to go for an expensive trishaw ride around the area which would cover the outer reaches of the Fort as well as the famed Jama Masjid. This ride gave us a different insight into the everyday life of people in Delhi as we weaved through a weekend market and several back alleys, a place I most definitely would not explore on foot.
We made our return to Red Fort on the last day of our journey, having shaken off our guide and accepting the grumblings of our driver for making this return trip. Red Fort is an icon of Dehli and is one of the most magnificent ancient buildings of Delhi which was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1638 as his ruling palace. Once you visit it, it is easy to understand why it is one of Dehli’s top attractions. In a way the fort does looks similar to the other forts we visited but it also has its own uniqueness. A place most definitely worth stopping by.
Gandhi Smriti and Raj Ghat
Gandhi Smriti is the site of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom and literally traces the final moments of his life, with wooden footprints placed along the path showing the final moments where Gandi left for his evening prayers to the moment he was assassinated. It has been converted into a mini museum, with newspaper reports and artefacts celebrating the life of the great man as well as covering India’s fight for independence. After visiting, it gave me a greater understanding of Gandhi and I decided to read more of him upon my return home
Raj Ghat is a peaceful garden where the remains of this great man is located
Huyamun’s Tomb (UNESCO)
Built in the mid 16th century by Haji Begum, senior wife of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, to house his remains. If this was a precursor to Taj Mahaj, then I was certainly very excited after this visit. The structure and shape looked shades similar to Taj Mahal. The highlight of this site was the main tomb itself – awesome. When see from an angle, one can see the symmetrical balance of this building – almost like seeing a mirror image itself. An incredible piece of ancient architecture
Qutub Minar (UNESCO)
The third of Dehli’s UNESCO world Heritage sites, this site houses structures dating from the Slave Dynasty (1206-1290) with the 72.5 m high Victory Pillar as it standout point. It was built as a victory stand of a Muslim King Kutub-ud-din-Aibak. The site reminds me of the ancient ruins I have seen at Ayutthaya and my friend also said they were similar to those in Turkey. Not surprising since Indian influence was stong in many of these areas which certainly helped in influencing ancient building designs
This is as close as you can get to a decent shopping experience. These are white, British style 2-storey building divided by blocks and sell everything from food to fashion. It was a nice place to unwind and take in the sights of office people making their way around after work. We spotted shoe shiners too, a trade that has since died off in Singapore. There was even a boy who grabbed my mango drink! That’s India for you.
Next stop is Agra, the home to the star of this entire trip
Agra Fort (UNESCO)
Situated on the banks of Yamuna river, north west of the Taj Mahal, this majestic fort was started by the Emperor Akbar and it developed as a stronghold of the Mughal Empire. From a vantage point, we also got a glimpse of the great Taj. We later learnt this was the spot where the great Shah Jahan spent the last years of his life staring across at the great Taj. What a privilege! As this is still an important fort, only about 20% is open to the public, with the rest being controlled by the Indian army. It would have been great if we can explore the whole fort.
Taj Mahal (UNESCO)
This has to be the hightlight of the tour, Meaning “Crown Palace” Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal,.
I have to say no matter how many pictures or videos you have seen before, it is a a totally different experience to see it firsthand yourself. Once you enter the complex you will be star struck and would be mesmerized by its white stupendous beauty. I was at a total loss for words and could only stare at it in amazement and mumbling “magnificent beauty”. Like Hymayun’s tomb earlier, this was also a symmetrical structure with all 4 sides looking equal, built from the finest materials and best craftsman one could find at that time. I don’t think I have ever taken so many pictures of one single structure. Even though this is only one main structure, its beauty is legendary and one could just stand there and admire it for hours.
Of course this was also the chance to get up close and personal with the Taj. A chance most defiantly not to be missed. We were finally on the Taj itself! We explored the carvings closer and even caressed the beauty itself.
We then waited for evening hoping to catch another view of the Taj in sunset but the sunlight did not cast enough light for a beauty evening shot. Never the less I did manage to snap some photos with silhouette background
Also known as the Baby Taj, it was built by Empress Nur Jehan for her father, Ghias-ud-Din Beg, the Chief Minister of Emperor Jahangir. It was a similar design to Taj Mahai but of a smaller scale. There was less crowd here and we spent some time taking some nice pictures.
This was a garden situated at the backside of the Taj. This was another great angle to get a different view of Taj, away from the crowd. Even though we were quite a distance from the Taj, it was still captivating to see the grand old dame and you just don’t get tired of it, even from a distance. Due to a rush of time and the intense heat, we did not spend time exploring the garden, which consisted quite a number of flora and fauna.
Fatehpur Sikri (UNESCO)
En route to Jaipur, we dropped by yet another fort. This was the Imperial city of the Mughal dynasty. Here, with the help of our guide we had a greater understanding of how the ancient royalty lived. We caught of glimpse of their court room, bedroom, sauna, toilet tec. It was interesting and we spent a few hours exploring but once again the intense heat was a killer.
Next stop, Jaipur
This has to be the highlight of Jaipur. Like previous forts that we visited, this was a Fort-palace of the Kachchwaha clan from 1600-1727. The fort was located on a hill top and we took an elephant ride up. Actually it didn’t feel like an elephant ride since we sat on a seat placed on the back of the elephant instead of directly on the elephant. It is quite similar to Fatehpur Sikri except that the scenery was nicer since we were perched on top of the hill and we got to see a lake and a bird’s eye view of the surrounding structures below. I have to say the top view scenery was worth a thousand pictures.
Further up Ambre fort lie Jaigarh Fort. Said to be undefeated in battles, this fort has considerable less visitors as compared to Ambre fort. The big selling point is the giant cannon named Jaivana. Legend said that it was only fired once, during a test and was so powerful that is not used again! On a higher elevation than Ambre fort, the view below was also spectacular. However the weather was once again a killer as we struggled to keep cool and hydrated.
Jantar Mantar (UNESCO)
This was the largest of five astronomical observatories build by Maharaja Jai Singh during the period 1727-1734 in north India. For astronomy buffs, this would be a must visit places. It was amazing how the ancients had the know-how and knowledge to build such devices and some of the geometric equipment are still useable and accurate.
Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds)
Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Singh as part of City Palace. It was an extension of the Zenana (women) chamber. It's purpose was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. There are five stories which visitors can ascend to the top to get a street view of Jaipur.
A museum with quite a lot of artefacts to see and explore, for those interested in ancient India.
Galwh Bagh (aka The Monkey Temple)
On the outskirts of Jaipur, this was a temple filled with monkeys and a special detour has to be made. Just be on your guard should the monkeys decide to turn aggressive and take away your stuff. It was very interesting to see so many monkeys roaming freely in the compound. We even saw baby monkeys but we steered clear of them and took pictures from a distance just in case the mother decided we were a threat and decided to attack us. We were mindful not to bring food in the event we were being harassed
Lakshmi Narayan Temple
With some spare time, we dropped by this Hindu temple. It was a beautiful white marble structure with considerable number of devotees since it was after work. There were also some shops at the base of the temple selling souvenirs.
Observations about india
Tipping is quite predominant. Since salary is not high, everywhere we went we would be asked for tips from the shoe keeper at temples to hotels and guides and especially in restaurants. So just get ready lots of small change for distribution.
Driving is not for the faint hearted. Basically on the road there is no right or wrong, it is a matter of who is the more aggressive driver to be able to force your way to get what you want. Honking is constant and can be a menace. Sometimes it genuinely serves as a warning; most times it is to assert one’s aggressiveness to get what you want. Surprisingly the locals are cool about it and will not react with aggression towards the honking and lane cutting. For me to drive in this manner back who would definitely invite challenges,, shouting matches and fistfights. Traffic light are not reliable as drivers tend to beat red lights. Drivers, however do not speed at intersections so it is up to the pedestrian to aggressively cross the road; surprisingly most will slow down and give way. Interestingly, I noted lots of lorries having this sign at the back of their vehicle – “Please honk me”. On second thoughts, this was a sign of safety since lorries are big have bigger blind spots so honking would serve to warn them of impending dangers . Another interesting note is licence plate numbers being written on pieces of paper and pasted on the plate location. There were even cases where there was no licence plate numbers! That’s India for you. In a nutshell, the mighty is always right
The staple diet is roti and curry. I noted the roti is harder and drier than similar versions back home and the curry not as spicy as South India. I don’t really enjoy the food there and craved for rice. Vegetarian meals are common in India. For meat eaters, you can hardly find beef, fish and pork and more of chicken and mutton. Food may not be very hygienic or your body may suffer reactions so anti diarrhoea medicine is a must
It’s an urban zoo out there. Animals are revered in India and are commonly found by the roadside everywhere we go. More often you can see docile cows, buffalos, birds, goats, dogs and the occasional camel, donkey and horse. But I can’t remember seeing any cats! And in certain temples and attractions, you can also see monkeys. And of course, elephants (and lots of elephant shit), on Jaipur. Interesting observations for animal lovers
Just 3 words – forget about it. You will be better off going to Bangkok to satisfy your shopping craving. Malls are not common and those we found sell stuff we can easily find back home. Unless you are interested to buy silk and gemstones (beware of getting scammed). So just enjoy the sight and sound and do your shopping back home.
It was an incredible and certainly memorable journey. And who can forget about the memorable Taj Mahal!