This month, I spent a week exploring some of the most popular cities in India – Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur – that, when combined, are called India’s Golden Triangle. Getting to India is no easy task, but I was fortunate to spend the majority of the long haul (JFK-Dubai-Delhi) sleeping in comfort on a business class reclining/flat bed seat on an Emirates Airbus A380, complete with personal in-seat drink bar and social lounge in the rear of the plane. I splurged on this flight because I knew I needed to be physically healthy not only for India but for what I had planned for the week after, trekking in Nepal. Spending 14+ hours in economy seating was just too risky for my prone-to-injury back, which I needed in tip top shape for carrying my backpack and climbing to up near 12,000 feet in the Himalayas. As an unintended bonus of flying what ended up being an around-the-world route, I logged enough miles to qualify for a free domestic flight in the U.S. and get myself close to premium status on my preferred airline. Yea!
Since I was traveling through India on my own, I wanted the comfort and convenience that an organized group tour can provide; however, after searching the internet for the perfect itinerary, I was not able to find one that both included all that I wanted to see and was within the timeframe I needed the trip to conform. Abandoning the group tour option, I started to look for companies that provided custom private tours and found Easy Tours of India. The first thing I liked about this company is that they have a U.S. office staffed with very knowledgable (and friendly) travel planners that are responsive to your needs and desires. I had a lengthy phone discussion with one planner, in particular, who had spent a few years living in India and could tell me about her experiences as a young female on her own in the country, assuaging some of my safety concerns brought on by recent news reports. The itinerary they proposed was perfect, reasonably priced, and incorporated a stop at a stepwell outside of Jaipur I had specifically requested. Like my travels in SE Asia, this company provides you with a driver that stays with you for the entire trip, an appreciated bit of consistency, then the guides were all local. In addition, I had a travel coordinator in each city that met me at the airport when I arrived at the horrible hour of 2:45am and at each of the hotels to ensure smooth check-ins. On top of that, a local company representative called me after a few days to check in and to also inform me of a slight change in my itinerary – the elephants were not “working” the day of my scheduled ride to the Amber Fort in Jaipur because of a holiday. This is how detailed this company was….elephants on holiday!
Anyway, enough of the talk about getting there, let’s move on to the sights! Delhi is a huge Asian city, and as such it is your typical chaotic, congested, polluted mess that somehow just works. The traffic is like nowhere else I’ve been in this part of the world because not only are there the cars, mopeds, and buses, but there are three-wheelers/tuk-tuks, rickshaws, bicyclists, tricycles with flatbeds, foot traffic, and ONE CAMEL on a major road artery in the city that I saw during rush hour. Where does the guy park his camel at work, is what I want to know! Fortunately, the number of holy cows that wander/take over the streets were minimal in Delhi compared to other cities on our tour. One would think witnessing an accident was inevitable, but like other metropolitan areas in Asia, there’s a strange rhythmic flow to the traffic, a natural heightened awareness that we are not used to in the U.S. because we are more accustomed to traffic management and restrictions (e.g. stop signs/lights, designated lanes, etc.) and have greater adherence to, or fear of perhaps, accepted road rules and laws. Delhi traffic is actually a quite beautiful scene in a strange way.
For historical tourist sights, Delhi has several surviving Mughal Empire structures, including the Red Fort built by Shah Jahan and the seat of the Mughal empire for more than 250 years, and the tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun. Near the Red Fort is Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India built in 1650AD, another reminder of the powerful Mughal rulers. The Masjid remains a popular place of worship and is yet another contribution from Shah Jahan to the city.
The rest of our two days of Delhi highlights included a trip to Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi via rickshaw to observe the preparation of traditional street food, including bread soaked in ghee (paranthewallah). Unfortunately, the day we were there, most of the colorful spice shops were closed. Another favorite spot, among tourists, is the 239 foot medieval tower of Qutab Minar, built in 1193 and located in the ruins of the Qutab complex. More “current” attractions, located in the New Delhi side of town, are the India Gate, the government complex including Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Prime Minister’s house, the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi, and a large Sikh Temple (Bangla Sahib Gurudwara). While Delhi was fascinating, I was very excited to move on to the next stop on the tour…Agra, home of the Taj Mahal! (Part 2 of the Golden Triangle Series)