Love Affair with Everywhere--Delhi/Agra/Jaipur

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Thursday, November 25, 2010

purpose: fun

I went to India to attend a dear friend's wedding in Kolkata. The wedding was beautiful and the couple has begun their new life together. Following the festivities, I had a few days before I had to be in London on business, so decided to spend a couple days around India.

India is by far one of my favorite places in the world. When it comes to countries, Italy, India and Egypt are top 3 (so far:)). I could visit India every year, and still never see the true depth of her beauty. From north to south and east to west, the country is so vast and so different. Many see India as impoverished and dirty and uneducated, still a third world country. I agree, on the surface it is all of those things, but in reality, it is India that gave us the numeric system we use today, it is India that reigns as the world's largest democracy and now one of the fastest growing economies, and it is India that paints "a seamless picture of unity in diversity unparalleled anywhere else."

Mark Twain summed India up best when he said ""India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only."

Ok, no more ranting and raving about India...for now. I will save that for another post...

So, we headed off to Delhi from Kolkata. Until this trip, I hadn't been to Delhi since 1996. I knew things were changing at a fast pace in India, but to arrive at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International and see it so clean and so organized....ouf! You will only understand what I mean if you had seen it before! The hosting of the commonwealth games required Delhi to clean itself up, and from what I could tell, they had.

The next day, we left for Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. While it needs no explanation, and really, no words can describe the sight, it is India's (and one of the world's) most recognizable structure. It is a mausoleum built during the Mughal empire by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz, and is recognized as a symbol of 'eternal love'. 

Architecturally, it is perfect. It is symmetrical in every way, and it has the perfect blend of Persian, Islamic and Indian elements. It is said that during the time of British rule, it was disrespected and the original gemstones that embellished the structure were stolen.

All I know is that this incredible structure could be located no where else in the world. It is a structure built in Mughal times by a Muslim sultan/king and sits in a country with a Hindu majority. It sits on the banks of the Yamuna River, which has historical and religious significance in the Hindu scriptures in Agra which dates back to the time of the Mahabharata. Thankfully India did not react like many other countries and destroy anything resembling a different religion/culture. I wish I could say the same for some of history's other great structures....It is here in India that a mosque/masjid, a church and a temple/mandir can exist on the same street and all peacefully co-exist.

Other sites to see: Agra Fort (where Shah Jahan's son placed him under house arrest) and Fatehpur Sikri

Next we headed off to Jaipur, somewhere I have wanted to travel for years. I fell in love almost immediately. Referred to as the 'pink city', Jaipur is located in the state of Rajasthan, known for its royalty and maharaja's palaces. Jaipur is said to be the 1st planned city of India.

A quick note, I would highly recommend hiring a driver to take you from one place to another. They know the lay of the land, so to speak, and can advise what to see when and in what order. And I would recommend hiring a guide at each location once inside. There will be many offers to take you around, but if you go inside and find one, you will pay less and gain more information as they are experts of the given location they sit in. A guide should cost you no more than 250 rupees (around 6 dollars)--that is for an English guide. A Hindi guide will be less.

to see:
Hawa Mahal--literally means palace of air. The structure looks like windpipes. This is where the ranis, or palace women, could look out at the street without being seen. don't waste time or money going inside, there is really nothing to see, but do stop on the street outside to take in its beauty, and of course, some pictures.

City Palace--palace complex

Jantar Mantar--very cool, especially if you are in to astrology. Again, recommend you hire a guide inside here, so they can explain the structures to you.

Jal Mahal--in the middle of the water on the way from Jaipur city to Amber fort

Amber (or Amer) Fort--my favorite! and a must see. A fort in the old days, also incorporating Hindu and Islamic architectural elements. Incredibly beautiful. if you want to be a real tourist, you can even take an elephant ride to the entrance of the fort. I love elephants, so I was thrilled to see them all over the place, but preferred the walk up. If you like Bollywood movies, many film scenes have been shot here at amer including Jodhaa Akbhar and Veer.

Again, here I really recommend hiring a guide. There is so much that a guidebook and the audio guide just cant tell you. Our guide was great! He took us through the fort and in to some of the lesser known passages. He also stayed with us and took us to a temple less frequented by tourists, but well known and frequented by local Hindus--there was no one there when we arrived--but it is the only mandir dedicated to Krishna and Mirabai (sp?). Most Krishna temples are for Radha-Krishna. I think its real name is Jagat Shiromani Mandir

Shopping. Rajasthan is known for its jewelery and trinkets. Many westerns will recognize the beautiful handicrafts and colorful textiles that are signature to India, namely Rajasthan. Two markets close to each other are Johari bazaar (jewelery) and Bapu Bazaar.

Eat: LMB hotel restaurant in Johari Bazaar. Hard to find, but your driver will know it. It is recommended by everyone, so it will be packed! Go anyway, we went both days we were there and everything we tried was delicious!

That was all we had time for in Jaipur. We stayed at the om hotel in the city. Not a great luxury hotel, but served its purpose with a clean bed and clean bathroom. There is a revolving restaurant on top, which made for a nice view while dining one evening. Rate included breakfast.

We left Jaipur and headed on our 6 hour journey (by car) back to Delhi to our hotel in the center near Karol Bagh, a hot spot for shopping. If you are short on time, fly between all the cities.

Important here to mention some of the must-see sights in Delhi. One very important thing to note is that most of the attractions in Delhi are CLOSED on Mondays, so in order to avoid disappointment, plan your trip accordingly.

We didn't spend a lot of time sightseeing in Delhi as we had been here before and saw everything, but when I was here last time, one such sight did not exist. Akshardam (a swami narayan temple). It is incredibly beautiful and worth the visit.

To see:
Akshardam-now the largest hindu temple in the world
Red Fort
Jama Masjid--India's largest mosque
Raj Ghat--burial site and memorial of Mahatma Gandhi
India Gate and parliament buildings
Qutub Minar--sole standing minaret
bahai lotus temple--shape of a lotus

again, with the exception of raj ghat, all the above mentioned sights are CLOSED on Monday, so plan accordingly.

Hope you enjoy your trip to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. If you are lucky and have more time, maybe you will also get to add Jodhpur and Udaipur to this visit.

Feel free to add your comments, suggestions and own experiences....
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