India is the type of place that you could describe with so many different words. And yet, the right words are still elusive.
It’s hard to explain.
Any time I arrive in a new place, whether it is a city, a state, or a country, I find myself in this surreal world where I wonder if I’m really, finally here. Have I arrived? Is this all real?
If there was ever a surreal place to arrive, it is India. It’s this Old World place with the richest and longest history of any place I’ve ever been. There’s so much beauty, and yet it’s juxtaposed with so much that is not beautiful. Sure, there are a lot of places like that all around the world. But it just felt so in-your-face sometimes that it really was hard to avoid.
Our first three cities were Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. These three comprise The Golden Triangle. I had never heard of that term until we met up with a super nice Indian traveler in China and he told us that’s what it’s called. And then, once we arrived, we started hearing the term all over the place.
Delhi is an ancient city. The airport is in New Delhi, which led to many questions of “Where’s OLD Delhi?” And there IS an Old Delhi, right next to New Delhi. Our guide, Abhi, said that most people just refer to the whole area as Delhi.
We started our first full day by visiting Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in all of India. It dates back to the mid-1600s and is used daily for prayer and as a place to just relax and hang out. In a spiritual sense.
One thing I LOVED about India was just all the color everywhere. It was so incredible.
We went to the mosque during Ramadan, but missed Eid by seriously just days. I was sad about that. Because apparently this place gets super crowded for prayers at the end of Ramadan and that would have been so cool to see.
I may be mixing up the order here, I’m not sure. But after the mosque, we left and went to the following two places. One was Raj Ghat, the place where Mohandas Gandhi was laid to rest. He is also referred to as Mahatma, which was a title given to him in South Africa where he did a lot of Civil Rights work.
Anyway, he was cremated in India and there is a gorgeous memorial to him.
I have a couple of funny little stories about this part of the day, but I’ll have to save those for a different post because this one is going to be kind of long.
(Remind me to tell you about the monks and the gecko!)
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
The other place we went that day is one of the most prominent Sikh temples in the world.
(Again with the color!! Heart-eyed emojis!)
This temple was so beautiful. You have to take your shoes off to go inside because it’s a holy place.
One of the things that made Abhi such an amazing tour guide was something I noticed when we were at this place. We went into a room to take off our shoes and leave them. We also had to put on head scarves, which they had available for anyone who was unprepared, like myself.
Sitting there, in a cool room, Abhi talked about the Sikh religion. There were two Sikhs sitting at a desk behind him while he explained their religion to us. They just nodded along like, “Yup, he’s exactly right.” I mean, the guy knows his stuff.
So we walked through the temple, and then we went into the back to the kitchens. You see, the Sikh religion is very communal and the temples provide lunch for a lot of people every day. Not necessarily homeless or poor. Just anyone who wants to come for lunch.
We got to see the kitchens and some of the folks on our tour also got to help roll out naan. I declined because it involved sitting on benches that were so low to the ground they were practically underneath it and I knew I’d never get back on my feet.
And that basically concluded Delhi.
I cannot even tell you how much I loved Jaipur. Such a gorgeous city. Old and full of amazing things to see. But it also, weirdly, had kind of a smaller town feel. Probably because it only has about 3 million people compared to the 23 million in Delhi.
The first night, we went on a walking tour through the market. So many spices of every kind. Turmeric! Chilis! Cloves and and…I can’t even remember it all.
That night, Abhi wanted to take us to a Bollywood movie, but the only thing playing at the theater was “The Mummy.” He said, “You didn’t come all the way to India to see ‘The Mummy.'” So, instead, we went to a yummy dinner and watched folk dancers and it was super fun. And then we went to the movie the next night.
Amer Fort/The Amber Fort
The Amber Fort is, in fact, a palace located just a few miles from Jaipur. It was built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh, who did it with permission by the Mughuls.
It gets its name from the red sandstone with which it was constructed. Red sandstone comes from the area, so it made sense to build it out of local materials.
It also made for a VERY HOT DAY because red sandstone totally holds in the heat like whoa.
But it’s such a gorgeous place.
This, for example, was used for government offices. Need to see a lawyer? Pay a tax? Go to the fort and find the right office. They were small and I can’t imagine how they kept everything organized, but it’s so pretty empty, right?
This is the entrance to the royal family’s private residence. The front is decorated with frescoes using a style they adopted from the Italians. Or maybe the French. Now I can’t totally remember and I’m too lazy to look it up. No, no, it’s the Italians. But basically frescoes are a type of mural painting. Oh, here, this is just easier.
There is also a hall of mirrors of sorts. This represents thousands of tiny mirrors. Beautiful, yeah?
That guard in the front corner though…Ugh. I got up closer to take a picture and she stood in the middle. Little did she know, I had the zoom on and she wasn’t in my photo. That didn’t stop her from trying to demand money. Which happened A LOT in India.
The Amber Fort was just gorgeous. As was the village and surrounding area.
Other Quick Stuff
After we left the Amber Fort, we took a quick stop at the Water Palace.
But first, Camel Parking!
The Water Palace. I don’t really know much about it. We just stopped by long enough to snap a picture or two.
Oh, and there’s also the Wind Palace, which was a place for all of the king’s wives to watch the streets below without being seen by anyone.
And then, that night, we went to a Bollywood movie! But more on that another time. Gotta move on!
Other stuff for future posts:
- Rickshaw ride through town
- Bollywood movie
- Snake Charmers
- Textile factory and hand stamping
The next day, we got back into our tour bus and headed to the place I had been SUPER looking forward to. You’ll see why in just a sec if you haven’t already guessed.
The Agra Fort was built in the 1500s by Shah Jahan, the 5th Emperor. It’s another palace. I kept getting confused because I always think of a fort as a military installation. And that’s partly true. But it’s also where the royal family lived.
But first, monkeys.
I took approximately 65984651385 photos of monkeys on this trip and approximately 70% of them were taken at Agra Fort. Seriously, I could do an entire post just on the monkeys. Something tells me more than two of you would not object if I did.
Next, this is a view of the courtyard outside of all the bedrooms. The bedrooms looks out onto this courtyard area.
This is where things get sad.
So the 5th emperor was considered a good man. In fact, he had the Taj Mahal built for his late wife, but we’ll get to that in a minute. His son was not such a good man. Aurangzeb became the 6th (and final) Mughal emperor after, you know, killing his older brothers and imprisoning his father. He kept his father here:
I mean, there are worse places, right?
But, it’s super sad. They say Shah Jahan would do nothing but look out at the stars each night and cry. For eight years until his death. And then he was laid to rest beside his wife.
And then…we went to the place I was DYING to see.
I never knew the history of the Taj. Honestly, I never really understood what it was. Thinking it was some kind of religious monument, it turns out the real story is even more beautiful than I imagined.
You see, Shah Jahan (the 5th emperor) loved his wife. Like, actually, truly loved her. And when she died, he was heart broken. So he commissioned the Taj Mahal as a place to memorialize her.
Shah Jahan was obsessed with symmetry, so the building is perfectly symmetrical. Right down to the two mosques built on either side. And her tomb is in the exact center.
(We weren’t allowed to take photos inside.)
and Mosque 2
(They actually are symmetrical, I just shot them from different angles.)
There’s just one problem.
After Shah Jahan died, his people figured the best place to lay him to rest was beside his wife.
So…the Shah himself makes the Taj Mahal asymmetrical. Pretty sure he’d be a little bit mad about that. But, what’s done is done, right?
All right, so that’s the Golden Triangle. So gorgeous. Colors and people and amazing places. It’s incredible.
If only it hadn’t been so amazingly hot.
(Not mentioned about Agra: heat exhaustion. Cuz, yeah, that happened.)