The classic route of the Golden Triangle in northern India includes New Dehli, Agra and Jaipur. However, I should admit that I only have time for sights in Agra and Jaipur and will have to save New Dehli for the next time I visit!
After an overnight flight, my taxi picked me up from Indira Ghandi airport and we started out on the 4 hour drive to Agra. I love being in India and getting thrown into a world so different from home – the continuous buzz of the streets where every nook and corner contains some small enterprise; the colours and smells – not always pleasant but always a feast for the senses!
Agra doesn’t look far on the map but I forget how big India is and the roads between cities can turn from 5 lane highways to pot-hole filled, on track roads with the ubiquitous tuk-tuks and motorbikes coming from every angle. After an hour of driving, google maps informed me we were still trying to get out of the capital! Eventually, I gave in to the effects of only 3 hours sleep and drifted in and out as we slowly trundled south.
Agra is blessed with three UNESCO world heritage sights within a short distance and it is no surprise that tourism is a major contributor to the economy. But outside of the tourist sights, I saw very few non-locals which made it feel more of an adventure.
Our first stop was the estranged city of Fetehpur Sikri – capital to the mighty Murghal Empire between 1571 and 1610. Made almost entirely of local red sandstone, and with the heat of the afternoon sun – it was like being in a piece of raw chicken tikka in terracotta oven. I was still in my aeroplane clothes so was soon suffering as we explored this eerily deserted once fabulous city.
After a couple of hours exploring the many buildings and views – we drove back into Agra where I insisted on quick stop at the hotel to wear something more suited to the climate and then we headed to the second world heritage site.
More of a walled city than a fort but home to many of the rulers of the Murghal Empire including Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal just a short distance away and eventually died here after imprisonment by his son.
The fort is a mix of red sandstone and white marble favoured by Shah Jahan and is a stunning myriad of buildings; intricate carving and inlaid semi-precious stones with beautiful views to the Taj Mahal.
We set out at 5:30 for the short drive to the Taj. This seemed to involve jumping out at a roundabout and snaking our way through the traffic before jumping through a hole in a fence. I was pretty sure this wasn’t the usual tourist route but we seemed to end up in the right place as we paid for our tickets. A good tip is to not take any bags since the queue for them to be searched was already building up.
The early morning sun and the thick haze provided a soft glow as we approached through the Great Gate. In a recent storm, one of the large stone turrets had been blown off to come crashing down on the place where everyone takes pictures – luckily at night so no one was hurt.
The Taj Mahal was mostly completed in 1643 as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal who was the favourite wife of Shah Jahan and died giving birth to his 14th child.
Going through the gate, we were immediately presented with the stunning view of the Taj Mahal itself, reflected in the blue pond. It is a staggering site and pictures don’t do it justice. Surrounded on each side by huge mosques which are glorious in their own right.
We didn’t head straight to the main building and instead took a walk around the edge of the grounds which allowed us to explore the surrounds and be rewarded with less usual angles to see the Taj.
No photography is allowed inside the main building of the Taj which is probably to keep people moving through the narrow walkways. The tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are placed side by side surrounded by intricate carved white marble inlaid with intricate precious stones. I had seen a local craftsmen making something similar the night before and the workmanship and efforts are astonishing.
After a refresh at the hotel, we then set out on the 4 hour drive to Jaipur. The roads were generally fast so it was a comfortable ride. After a quick drop off at the hotel, I headed over to dinner at Chakhi Dhani. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but people kept recommending it. I turned up to a slightly strange mock Rajesthani village with various amusements from dancers to puppet shows and camel rides. I felt rather ashamed that I really just wanted to find a place that was showing the England vs Sweden football world cup semi-final. I had no joy but instead found a table for dinner at an air conditioned (big fan pointing in my direction) restaurant which had an India buffet. I don’t know what I ate but it was pretty spicy and tasted good. I somehow managed to hook my mobile up so I could watch the game to which the man on the table next to me got very excited so I shared my small phone and we watched it together.
The following day, we set out at 8am for the Amber palace. I loved this place – a mix of beautiful decorated rooms plus tunnels, baths, balconies and other places to get lost in for a couple of hours.
After the Amber Fort, I felt a bit ‘forted out’ so decided on a little driving tour of some of the other sites around Jaipur. We stopped off to take some quick snaps but avoided the entrance fees to some of the more extortionate palaces (I felt £30 entrance fee for the New Palace was asking a bit too much!).
Finally, I headed back to the hotel to get refreshed before heading back to New Dehli by plane. A lovely couple of days which feels like it has been far longer!