An assault on all the senses, some people love India and others prefer to leave as soon as possible. I enjoyed my time in India. The colors and smells (spices not sewage), the beauty in just everyday things were so alluring to me. Others had trouble seeing past the filth and the men, woman and children that want to take advantage of you. The fact is not everyone is going to like India but everyone should experience it to help you grow and learn.
Day 1: Travel around Chennai and fly to New Delhi
Day 2: Early train to Agra. Drive to Jaipur stopping at Fatehpur Sikri
Day 3: Jaipur
Day 4: Train from Jaipur to New Delhi. Fly to Chennai.
Day 5: Kanchipuram and Mammalapuram
*Note: I traveled around Northern India in a tour group. All activities were part of the tour.
I didn’t get much time in the city and therefore can only report on two locations.
The Gandhi Museum: This place was incredible to see. Placed in Gandhis real home you truly get a peek into his life. Pictures are on display in each room of events that really happened there. Gandhi’s iconic wire rimmed glasses were also on display. Around the grounds several of Gandhis quotes are placed on large plaques. You can also follow his footsteps on the path Gandhi walked to give his speech the day he died. They have a small gazebo and memorial erected on the spot where he was assassinated.
The Bahai House of Worship: Bahai is an all-encompassing religion. In 1986 leaders decided to erect a primary temple here in New Delhi. Built in the shape of an enormous white lotus flower it is quite beautiful. We were not able to go inside due to lack of time.
home to the fabled Taj Mahal you find yourself looking for even just a pire or a glimpse of it’s rooftop the second you step off the train. We were dropped off on the side of the road and had to walk a pedestrian walkway for about 10 minutes before we reached the outer gate to the Taj. Along the way we were accosted the entire time by hawkers. Be aware of the monkeys here. They are aggressive and they bite. The children will make sure you know this.
The Taj Mahal: One of the most beautiful sights on earth. Your fist view is framed in a historic archway. Stretching before the Taj are two reflecting pools and numerous lawns whose grass is still cut but cow drawn cart. When you reach the Taj Mahal itself you must either go shoeless or put “surgical booties” over your shoes before continuing onto the marble. While from far away the Taj Mahal looks majestically white when you get close you notice intricate black Arabic script decorating the walls and fine brightly colored tile flowers lacing upwards. The interior of the Taj Mahal is surprisingly small. There are ornamental tombs in the middle for Sha Jahan and Mum Taj but in reality their tombs are located before the floors of the Taj. Light trickles in through lattice work on the sides. There will probably be men there that offer to give you a tour. This service doesn’t come for free so be wary.
Agra Fort: Located just down river from the Taj is Agra Fort aka the Red Fort . this is where Sha Jahan and his family lived during his reign and after. After Sha Jahans son stole power from him and placed him under house arrest he was only able to see his beloved Taj from the balcony here. Intricate lattice work decorates the walls of this area and colorful birds fly around freely.
Fatehpur Sikri: I wish I had been able to see more of this place. Our tour guides were a bit rigid and wouldn’t let us go off on our own, confining us to one area. Built out of red sandstone this was built to be the royal residence of the Mugal Emperor Akbar. It only played this role from 1571 to 1585 and why it was abandoned is still uncertain but, having been built on the top of a hill it was difficult to get water and therefore not very conducive to living. Today It is a wonder to see in it’s deserted form. I particularly like the “throne room” building where the Emporer would sit high atop a sandstone platform suspended from the level above. There is also another building where the walls are intricately carved with thousands of stars. It is quite a sight to see.
Ok, I have to admit part of the reason I loved Jaipur so much was because of the place we stayed. The hotel Choki Dhani was billed as a “Cultural Village Resort” ( I looked it up before I went). Rooms were separate huts which had the appearance of being primitive but the luxury of not actually being primitive. After beginning to explore the compound we found the “Cultural Village” part. You could play games, get henna tattoos or ride an elephant or camel all for free. There were snake charmers and dancers and swarms of Indian people just out to enjoy the night. The first night we were at the hotel there was also an Indian wedding. The groom rode in on an elephant and they had a huge display of fireworks.
The Amber Fort: Just a short bus ride from Jaipur and high atop a hill stands the Amber Fort. You can pay $13 to ride an elephant to the top (It came part of the tour package) or you can walk. Each way had it’s pros and cons. Obviously if you walk it’s all up hill and it’s hot out, not ideal walking conditions. If you ride the elephants (which are grossly mistreated) you will have men taking pictures of you for most the ride then later as you walk down they will try to sell them to you (now, they’ve already printed them off so even though they start at a ridiculously high price and can get them pretty cheap, otherwise they are loosing money). The elephants drop you off in a large courtyard and from there you must climb up to all of the fort buildings. You can explore different passageways and even climb up onto the roof where you get an amazing view of the Rajasthanie hills. Be wary the monkeys here are crazy as well. I actually saw them attack a woman.
The Palace of the Winds: The Palace of the winds is a unique building front from where the Maharajas courtesans used to watch activities on the street, hidden behind veils. It’s quite beautiful and worth pictures.
Shopping: Jaipur is known around the world for it’s textiles, especially block stamped prints. Tour groups will generally take you to shops where they are paid a commission for all sales and in conjunction these shops are pretty pricey. However we were able to talk our tour guides into allowing us to go shopping on the street near the Palace. You can find many good deals here on all the Indian things you could want. I got a block stamped comforter for about $5. I saw the same thing when I got home at world market for $100 (it even said Made in Jaipur).
Trains– Trains in Indian can be an educational mode of transportation. I rode on trains twice. Once from Delhi to Agra and again from Jaipur back to Delhi. I highly recommend riding on a train and just observing the world outside your window. It lets you get a glimpse into a way of life that in tourist cities you can never experience.
In the South
Ancient Hindu ruins on/near the beach all parts are worth a visit and photography friendly. The Tsunami actually did this area a favor by uncovering some lost ruins as well. Just beware peddlers here are a little more aggressive than other areas of India.