India's Golden Triangle: Delhi, Jaipur and Agra
Newbies to India should start their Indian odyssey with a tour the Golden Triangle, Delhi, Jaipur and Agra says Sharron Livingston
I was seated on a rickshaw watching with bated breath, the awesome agility of my driver as he picked his way through the hubhub of traffic, goats and self-absorbed people milling around. I must admit to feeling conflicted about whether to hold on for dear life or to hold on to my hat.
Happily I found myself distracted from the bustle by the dusky incense and spicy scents that perfumed the hot morning air in this teeming region of the Indian Subcontinent.
I had already spent three days in Delhi, made India’s capital by 1911 by George V while he was emperor, and had by now become acclimatised to the extraordinary noise, the pounding heat and indeed the complete loss of personal space that you can only experience here. Indian culture, I found, is so friendly, that it is almost in your face.
So far, we had enjoyed the elegance of colonial India – an extravagance of the British Raj that tasked Sir Edwin Lutyens with creating an area called New Delhi, its viceregal. Today it is a clutch of elegant government buildings, broad tree-lined avenues and roundabouts heralding an imposing India Gate and the substantial President’s palace atop Raisina Hill. While at New Delhi there is a hint of familiarity, a sense of the UK. Old Delhi, holds no such respite from cultural disorientation.
There are monuments galore such as the 12th century Qutub Minar that was built for no particular reason, the immense Red Fort that served as the resident of various Mughals, the Jama Masjid mosque with its perfectly proportioned domes and minarets is the largest in India, emperor Humayun's Tomb – the Taj Mahal of Delhi and resplendent in red sandstone, and Rajghat (the site of Gandhi's cremation and memorial). All these must-sees bring to light centuries-old stories of those that travelled the oceans to have a piece of India.
From the elevated viewpoint on the rickshaw I was able to enjoy the vivid red and orange tuk-tuks, the women in gorgeous, flowing saris of luminous pinks, yellows, greens and lilacs that offer cheerful relief to the dusty, dirt walkways that straddled the tarmac. As conspicuous are the brightly decorated eunuchs and children that beg by the roadside or pull at the tails of any passer-by.
Exquisite Indian textile markets, especially by night, are compelling while women in flowing, glittering cloth, hold on for dear life as they ride pillion on scooters. Street food is available at every corner, dentists and barbers ply their trade in the shade of trees while goats, cows and even elephants are commonly seen sauntering or loitering along the dusty streets and road.
From Delhi it is around 100 miles along the Delhi-Jaipur highway to Amber in Jaipur. The buildings in the city were pink-washed, the colour that denotes “welcome”, for Prince Albert’s visit in 1856.
Nearby is the ancient palace of Amber Fort. Built in white marble and red sandstone it glistens in the bright sunlight and offers a magical reflection n the crystal bright waters of the Maotha Lake in front of it.
To reach its top I hopped up on to an elephant behind a mahout and for a gentle, plodding journey along a steep incline to the palace. Once there, it’s a matter of discovering the ramparts and simply taking in the view of dusty tors of Rajasthan. Just as interesting to look at is a shimmering room covered from floor to ceiling in tiny pieces of mirror that have been laid into plaster in appealing floral shapes. Elephant ride at Amber Fort start at US$42.50, including an English-speaking guide.
I had read, with some regret, that India has a dwindling population of tigers, just 1,411 at the last count, and I wanted to see one. So I made my way south east of Rajasthan heading for the Sawai Madhopur district to visit the Ranthambore National Park. The area was a former hunting ground of the Maharajas of Jaipur but was declared at a Project Tiger reserve in 1973.
It was a bumpy jeep ride through the rocky paths and the Langur monkeys seemed to be scampering everywhere and a lonesome leopard popped up every now and again. And although there are 36 tigers living here, I only got a sneak sighting of just one as its lithe striped body slinked beyond some undergrowth beyond the trees, nonchalantly took in the view, before sauntering right back into the woods. I was visibly disappointed but I was told to return in November when the ground is less lush and sightings are easier.
Every newbie to India would be remiss not to visit Agra. I made my way to the iconic Taj Mahal, symbol of love, on the banks of River Yamuna. I got there early one morning because I was tipped-off by a Sufi about the amazing light that pervades the place at that time, and of course the crowds are more manageable then too.
My excitement wasn’t dimmed at all by the persistent vendors proffering postcards, trinkets and guidebook and even the scores of security guards. But the view of the ornamental pool and the white marble walls and minarets as they reflected in the sun-lit waters was simply sensational.
Dispensing with my shoes to enter, it was a joy to see the inlaid precious gemstones seemingly as one with the marble. The mausoleum’s provenance is just as compelling. The name Taj Mahal means Crown Palace and was built by Shah Jahan’s as the burial place of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died while giving birth to their 12th child.
The seat that Diana, Princess of Wales is poignantly pictured sitting on alone in 1992 is still there. It has been widely interpreted as a statement of her solitude and no doubt many a love-lorn heart has struck a similar pose emulating this unforgettable image. No doubt Shah Jahan would have understood completely.
Find a flight to Delhi and then either get a hotel (you can get a decent 3* hotel in Delhi for about US$50 per room/per night, but prices range from US$10 for a guest house to US$200 for 5* luxury) and explore on your own or pre-book a 6 day Private Golden Triangle Tour from US$640 per person, which includes many of the attractions described above. The price includes:
More information about the tour here.
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