India is the most colorful and joyful country I’ve visited. It’s also the most heartbreaking and haunting country I’ve visited. It’s been a while since I was there, but I wanted to share my impressions with you.
I did the golden triangle tour, which consists of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. These three cities form an almost equilateral triangle, and this triangle is considered “golden” because of their extraordinary cultural and historical sights. I highly recommend this for a first time trip to India!
Delhi is a city of over 18 million people. Yes, 18 million! Just driving around is a huge adventure in itself. Imagine trying to make your way though streets filled with weaving cars, tuk-tuks, cows, bikes, dogs, monkeys and even a camel or elephant! All of this is accompanied by incessant horns and no sense of right of way. It’s truly a sensory overload. And then there are the people walking in the road, sleeping beside it, or just sitting there begging. It’s an easy place to hate at first sight. However, underneath the traffic, pollution and poverty is a fascinating and captivating country.
One of my favorite places in Delhi is the Red Fort. This UNESCO complex dates from 1648 and was the residence of the royal family when the capital moved from Agra to Delhi. Its impressive architecture is built of red sandstone and marble once inlaid with precious gems. You can walk around the grounds and visit various areas like the Mumtaz Mahal, formerly the women’s quarters but now an archeological museum. The historic ruins and grounds are colorful and fascinating!
And to me, no trip to Delhi is complete without a visit to the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi. It’s in a beautifully maintained garden on the banks of the Yamuna River in the spot where he was cremated. It’s a simple but serene spot with good views. As you walk around there are tablets with his quotes on them. It’s very moving!
The real highlight is wandering the streets of old Delhi. This labyrinth of alleyways has lots of hidden treasures. The Old Delhi Bazaar Walk and Haveli Visit by Masterji Kee Haveli is an incredible way to immerse yourself in the colors and vivacity of the area. Their tours include walking and cycle rickshaw as well as a traditional meal in a Haveli (private mansion). This is not just a tour but also an authentic Indian experience that’s not to be missed! http://www.masterjikeehaveli.com/
The main attraction in Agra is the fabled Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was built in 1652 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22,000 craftsmen 22 years to complete this spectacular white marble mausoleum. This beautiful place changes colors with the light, and it’s worth being there at sunrise or sunset. Even though it’s an image you’ve seen in pictures many times, it’s one of those places you can’t appreciate until you see it in person. Inside the smooth marble is intricately inlaid with semi precious stones culminating in an incredible dome under which lays the tombs of the Shah and his wife. These are actually false tombs as their real graves are at a lower level.
The other place not to be missed is the Agra Fort. This palatial fortress is made out of red sandstone and marble and dates from the 1500s when it was home to the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. It houses a huge maze of buildings that are like a city within a city. It takes a few hours to wind your way through all of the buildings, so wear good walking shoes. Among the many palaces inside, my favorite was the Shish Mahal or mirrored palace. The entire inside sparkles with tiny inlaid mirrors and is breathtaking!
This incredible place is the capital of Rajasthan and is known as the “Pink City” due to the distinct color of its buildings.
Wait to shop until you get here! The bazaars are full of jewelry inlaid with gemstones, richly embroidered fabrics, bright handicrafts, colorful bangles, interesting statues, traditional joothis shoes and camel leather bags and wallets. Johari and Nehru Bazaars are my two favorites.
The most distinctive landmark in Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds. It’s right at the edge of the City Palace and was built with 953 small windows made with intricate latticework. It was designed so that the women of the royal household could look out and watch life pass by in the streets below without being seen. You can visit it as part of a tour to the City Palace. The City Palace, with various historical museums, vast courtyards and gardens, is in the very center of the old city. The grandeur is really impressive, and the royal family still lives in part of it!
One of the highlights of my trip was riding an elephant at the Amber Fort. Riding one of these brightly painted elephants from the bottom of the hill to the main entrance takes about 30 minutes. The government limits the number of rides they can take in a day, so arrive early!
This was also the place where I watched a snake charmer. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was really interesting and entertaining!
The fort itself is beautiful, but to me not that much different from the other forts I’d seen. The thing that keeps it memorable is the views and the monkeys. There are monkeys all over India, but these were the most fun to watch. There were whole families everywhere, and it was a treat to watch their interactions!
India is not for everyone. You have to have the right attitude and also a lot of resourcefulness. You have to be ready to see extreme poverty, get sick from their poor hygiene, endure stressful travel situations and experience pollution.
Yet, I can honestly say that no other country has left such an impression on me. India has a very rich history and there are interesting things to see – everywhere! It’s a beautiful country, and in every direction colorful buildings and even more colorful people surround you. The people are incredibly open and friendly even if they have next to nothing. It certainly helps you put your life into perspective and become a more grateful person.
I highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing the most unique place on earth – India!