I have to laugh…..this is what the post started with…”Christmas is looming and with that I need to get busy on my final post of 2015….this isn’t anything new. If you have followed me for a while you know I’m a little tardy in posting, especially as the end of the year approaches.”
Sigh….It is in fact January 2016 wait now almost FEBRUARY and I am finally getting to writing this post!
What to say? It seemed like a no brainer when we heard that e-visa was initiated for US citizens. The idea of getting a visa for India was a royal pain prior to implementing the e-visa. Their embassy is farther away than the other embassies in town. Reports from friends said it took much longer than promised with lines and frustration. Plus, fall break was in October and the perfect time to make a trip to The Golden Triangle. The only glitch was a work trip that D had to make….right at the very end of our trip. It cost us a few very needed days in India and we had to rearrange. But with a 5.5 hour direct flight – we soldiered on and booked our trip!
This was one trip where we made the executive decision to use a travel agency for everything – hotels, driver and guides. It was suggested by friends to be sure to stay in nicer hotels than we would during our other travels…
Aside from the scariest landing EVER (yes we realize those are the brakes….but did you really have to SLAM ON THEM LIKE THAT MR/MS.PILOT?)…..regardless, we arrived in New Delhi without incident. We also grabbed a few of these….Just in case!
I LOVED the art in the immigration area of the New Delhi airport. I didn’t snap a photo since I was being extra cautious….instead I give you a photo of the toilets….Our guide informed us that the man is wearing a traditional Rajasthani head dress (turban, safa….I worry I am not using the correct terminology for this specific one).
I finally broke down and looked for a picture on google of the art in the immigration area. See below -it really doesn’t do it justice….but you get the idea.
From everyone’s reports I expected New Delhi’s airport to be intense and over the top….it wasn’t. Granted, we arrived at night….but it was just fine. Our driver Tarsem picked us up right on time (he was a Punjabi guy) and drove us straight to the Shangri-la Eros. I wasn’t prepared for the metal detector, bomb detectors….and armed guards. I don’t know if it made me feel more safe or more scared.
The girls handled the very long night so well….like the travel rock stars they are!
We woke to an amazing buffet! wow. Amazing service, amazing food….fantastic Shangri-la Eros, Kudos! (I’d read so so reviews but this buffet was great).
We tried a North Indian breakfast…and loved how they explained all of the dishes to us….
Then it was time to find the concierge and pick up some coffee a friend had delivered….she’s from Delhi, loves this coffee….and knew we’d be heading there. We’d pick up the coffee, D would take it to the US and her husband would grab and take it with him to Calgary. Expat craziness! She was kind enough to let me choose a bag for myself. Yum!
I loved the art on the cover of the bags.. this was JUST the beginning of the truly amazing art of India!
Our first morning – our guide picked us up….and with that we headed to Jama Masjid (driving by the Red Fort in the process). Jama Masjid was built in 1656 by Shah Jahan. It took 6 years and 5,000 workers to complete.
Did you know that 15% of India is Muslim? Jama Masjid is in Old Delhi which we learned is the Muslim part of Delhi. Jama Masjid means Friday mosque. Friday is the beginning of the sabbath for Muslims and this mosque sees 20,000 people for Friday prayers!
We took the very touristy rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. We were warned that it was not as busy as usual because it was a Sunday.
Taking photos while riding in a rickshaw is next to impossible so the pictures above are as good as it gets. Honestly, I just took it all in and put my camera away. I loved seeing everyone out with their wares….people selling vegetables, barbers giving shaves and cows roaming the streets…
Then it happened….and let me tell you we were PISSED. Our guide did the unthinkable….he took us to a Kashmiri carpet store and the ‘hard sell’ began. It took about five to ten minutes to realize what was going on and we were stuck. I had to hold back my laughter….I felt like I was watching an informercial….I did like that we learned how they make the rugs so that was the positive. ‘A’ was hoping we’d buy a rug! I guess the tea, cookies and hard sell worked on her sweet heart. Yes, we had a discussion with the tour agency prior to us leaving for India that we wouldn’t tolerate this kind of crap but well…..it appears the guides have other agendas.
We got out of the situation as fast as we could but needless to say – there was no way in you know where I was spending $15,000 USD on a rug in an hour! To say I was disappointed with the guide was an understatement. I had attempted to get a SIM card the night before and it continued not to work (we would come to find out that my old iPhone 4S had made a turn for the worst during our trip, thus the reason it wouldn’t work) so the option to call the travel agency wasn’t there….plus we had places to see and things to do! We didn’t want to waste time. We got out of that cheesy situation and told the guide where we wanted to go….Tarsem’s English wasn’t great so we couldn’t just have him take us alone (and in retrospect I think I’d have preferred an English speaking driver and no guide). He took us so I think he got the message…..but again, I’m keeping it real – India tours are notorious for these kind of antics….stay strong fellow travelers!
But I do have to say we *still* laugh about that horrible hard sell from that carpet guy. When he touched his heart and said “this I will only tell you because you are a friend”….sometimes those bumps in the travel road that make the crazy memories. There is always a silver lining.
OUR next stop (read: WHERE WE WANTED TO GO) Khan Market…..and Good Earth….I can’t tell you how many people told me I had to come here. Yes, it is expensive compared to the bazaars but it was great.
Then we had a little snack and a local drink:
I hit a local bookstore to grab a few books for book club:
Yes the photos is blurry! But I had to document! India has so many bookstores! The prices and selection are fantastic! Five books later, we were ready to go….
I have to laugh in retrospect that the guide didn’t ‘suggest’ the bazaars and in fact said to my face that we “wouldn’t like them”….UGH, can you tell that was a sore point for me as I reflect on our trip? In all honesty we just didn’t have that much time in the first place so we just got on with it. As much as I had hoped this would be a shopping trip it couldn’t be….and for whatever agenda our guides had to take us to these goofy shops when it came to actually educating us on the history of the sites they did a fantastic job…
We headed to Humayun’s Tomb as our last tourist stop of the day…..
This is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. Humayun was the second Mughal Emperor (Babur his father was the first). His son Akbar commissioned it in 1569. This structure was just the beginning of our introduction to all things Mughal….
What is Mughal you ask? In the interest of time and fear of plagiarism….I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining:
Mughal architectureis an architectural style developed by the Mughals in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries throughout the ever changing extent of their empire in Medieval India. It was an amalgam of Islamic, Persian, and Indian architecture. Mughal buildings have a uniform pattern of structure and character, including large bulbous domes, slender minarets at the corners, massive halls, large vaulted gateways and delicate ornamentation.Examples of the style can be found in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Mughal dynasty was established after the victory of Babur at Panipat in 1526. During his five-year reign, Babur took considerable interest in erecting buildings, though few have survived. His grandson Akbar built widely, and the style developed vigorously during his reign. Among his accomplishments were Humayun’s Tomb (for his father), Agra Fort, the fort-city of Fatehpur Sikri, and the Buland Darwaza. Akbar’s son Jahangir commissioned the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir.
Mughal architecture reached its zenith during the reign of Shah Jahan, who constructed the Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, and the most famous Mughal monument, the Taj Mahal, as well as many other fine examples of the style.
While Shah Jahan’s son Aurangzeb commissioned buildings such as the Badshahi Masjid in Lahore, his reign corresponded with the decline of Mughal architecture and the Empire itself.
There you have it! Our trip was filled with amazing Mughal architecture…..
We ended our crazy busy day with some delicious Indian food!
We had the usual suspects…..butter chicken, aloo gobi, naan and a new addition: paneer makhani. It’s basically butter chicken without the chicken. It was divine but super duper rich. Then we took a drive by India Gate and The President’s Palace. It was pretty to witness at night. Sorry folks, no great photos to share but I have the memory and that is what counts.
The next morning it was up and ready to hit the road…..on the Yamuna Expressway and on to Agra…..4+ hour drive. Let’s just say….you haven’t experienced craziness until you’ve driven in India. Insanity…..and Tarsem was completely on top of it and got us to Agra in one safe piece. It was also nice that we had large SUV so that we were comfortable. We drove A LOT for six days.
We loved seeing all the colorful trucks….everything in India is colorful. There is nothing mousy about India and that is the part of it that is so captivating. It’s a visceral slap in the face. Color, sound….everything seems over the top.
They are not kidding when it says BLOW HORN. It is a safety thing, really….so other trucks know you are there. Tarsem honked that horn ALL.THE.TIME ….I didn’t want to hear another horn honk for months after returning to KL. Several friends had warned me about the horn honking – they weren’t exaggerating.
We shared the road with the teeny tiny auto rickshaws….and I was lucky enough to get a great smile from some of the passengers…
I loved seeing the processions on the freeway….groups of worshippers walking behind deities as they made their way to the temple; accompanied by huge loud speakers with music blaring …It was a sight to be seen and unfortunately I didn’t get a photo.
One thing I was not prepared for? Look at the picture above…..that’s nothing. It was the 60 people on top of the city bus. ON TOP OF THE BUS. They were RIDING on top of the bus with no rails….nothing….Tarsem thought my scream of fright was funny….and the small jeeps holding 20++ people….sigh….
We arrived in Agra around noon and waited to get in to our room. THAT was a funny story….and the local guide’s manager that met us at the hotel got a piece of our mind about how they dealt with telling us it would be FIVE minutes for check in (even offering to take our passports and check in for us) but the hotel had other ideas (that they didn’t relay to us)….Let’s just say, after waiting for an HOUR plus with no access to wifi we both had a chat with the hotel management and the guy who gave us incorrect information. We also wrote a nice comment card about his very condescending attitude towards Dave when we asked about getting help with our non-working SIM card 🙂 ITC AGRA needs to get with the program and offer wifi for the guests that are waiting to check in – be warned….not even a manager could give us a wifi password until we were checked in and that took over 2+ hours! Had we known check in would be that late (or the standard time it usually is….) we would have gone and had lunch…..Be warned travelers, it was a very very disappointing experience. We were comped some drinks but by then I was too angry to even imbibe. A little too late….in my opinion. Take your business where you are treated well….We are not uppity people and all we ask is for some basic things and basic respect. RANT OVER. 🙂
So……with checking in to our room – *finally* – we were ushered off with our driver and guide to the, what else? The Agra Fort…..
Below is the view that Shah Jahan had of his beloved Taj Mahal….his son Aurangzeb put him in the AGRA Fort as a prisoner (if you are reading this for a second time I realized my blunder and went back and changed it)…..and he spent his last days looking at the beautiful building he made for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal as her last resting place….If this is tragic and slightly ironic….I don’t know what is. You build an amazing building for the memory of your best loved wife (there were two other wives before her btw, I didn’t get this information until we arrived – I’ve always liked surprises) and the son she gives you (Aurangzeh was the third son and sixth child between them)…..This son grows up and decides he will put you on house arrest….with your punishment, the view of this amazing building. Talk about deep seated issues between a father and son! yikes.
See the archway? This is the entrance to the Agra Fort…and the archway is big enough to allow elephants to walk through….
Then it was time…..for the main attraction….The TAJ MAHAL….(it means ‘Crown Palace’)
The best story of all? running in to our neighbor’s husband from our apartment in KL. He was on the same tram as us! Talk about a very small world. Cars are not allowed close to the site because of pollution. They drive you in on trams….
You check your bags before you enter for added security.
As you walk up, this is the first thing you see through the arch…I still get chills at the memory of my first view….
It took my breath away. Words don’t do it justice. It’s fantastic. I didn’t expect to be so moved by it but I was.
Then the fun began….we manned up and had the photographer take all the goofy poses of us…
Not the best family photo….but by this time of day – we were WORKED.
Shoe covers are required to go in to the palace….
I was blown away by the jewels inside….inlaid and multi faceted…the jewels were collected from all over the world…
Pictures aren’t allowed inside the palace (the picture above is from the outside) and cell phones will be confiscated if you are caught taking photos. The lights are out to preserve the colors.
I loved that we saw the Taj at sundown…..and snapped this pic….
The Taj Mahal is considered the 7th wonder of the world and it is fitting; not an exaggeration by any stretch of the imagination….By the time we ended our visit it was pitch black outside and we took a rickshaw back to the car….
Once back at the ITC, we enjoyed a lovely North Indian dinner…
Well, some of us did…..it was sidelined when D took Alexis outside of the restaurant where she proceeded to vomit…(I wish I was lying). What is this vomit theme in all of our travel?!?
Our guilt was compounded because we honestly thought she was just being dramatic. Sigh, we are always in adventure mode, aren’t we? It was fine in the end….I think it was just a very long, crazy, hot day. A good night’s sleep was all she needed…..because, trust me, I was well equipped for any sickness that may arise with my bag full of medications!
Our morning breakfast consisted of a South Indian dosa….
We said goodbye to the Taj…..we could see if from our hotel (after we made sure the huge monkey that was looking at it had left) :
And it was time to get on the road and make our way to Jaipur!
Stay tuned, friends…..for the next installment of our Golden Triangle adventure…..