I had just arrived in New Delhi, after a comparatively short (a little over three hour) flight from Dubai. I slept for the whole journey as my long layover in Dubai had evidently worn me out.
It was around 5 am, but I was ready for a very lazy day once I reached my hotel. My India tour would be starting the following evening and it promised to be jam-packed, so I could afford to relax a bit first. I was delighted to see my bag on the conveyor belt (after it wasn’t there a month ago when I landed in New Zealand) and I lugged it out of the airport and took a transfer to my hotel. Even at this ungodly hour, I noticed a lot of beeping, swerving between lanes, ignoring red lights and general chaos on the roads of Delhi. Previously winning the accolade of “most dangerous roads in the world”, I was glad not to be driving in India myself, but my taxi driver seemed to handle it all very well!
I arrived at the hotel and went to sleep at 6:30 am, just as Delhi appeared to be waking up for the day. Aside from stirring when there was some very loud beeping outside, I eventually arose at 4 pm, and felt much more refreshed! I spoke to my family and was admittedly feeling a little homesick, but I think I was just apprehensive at the beginning of a new tour and I would hopefully be fine once I met my group and settled in. There seemed to be nobody else staying in the hotel yet, so I mostly remained in my room, even getting a whole room service meal for the equivalent of £4. This was my first taste of authentic Indian food, and it was absolutely delicious.
The next day I woke to an abundance of beeping again. I checked out of my room and was instead moved to a shared one with my new roommate. It was great to meet somebody who would be on the tour with me. We decided that together, we could brave going into the city. We wandered outside the hotel and were approached by a man on an auto rickshaw offering us a day tour of Delhi. He took us to a Sikh temple, and we were told that they incredibly feed 25,000 people for free each day. We had to remove our shoes to go inside and we were fortunate enough to watch some of the prayers and hear some music, which was being played on Tabla drums (a type of Indian hand drum) and accompanied by traditional singers.
We then saw a really spectacularly designed Buddhist Temple, as well as India Gate (built to pay homage to the 82,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Empire in World War One and the Third Anglo-Afghan War). We also visited Sansad Marg, which translates to “Parliament Street”. It contains the House of Parliament and other government buildings. Next, we drove past the largest spice market in Asia and stopped for lunch at a restaurant owned by our rickshaw driver’s family. Trying his luck, he even took us to two fabric and knickknack shops that his family members’ owned (very clever tactics from our driver, but we didn’t buy anything and just paid him generously for being our tour guide instead).
Delhi was so busy and sometimes riding in our rickshaw felt dangerous, because cars were swerving everywhere and seemed to have no concept of any road rules. But again, the driver seemed unfazed and must have been very much used to it. The main city also seemed extremely dirty and polluted, and is very densely populated, with 28 million people. My new tour friend also told me that spending one day in Delhi was the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes. Nonetheless, the culture was like nothing I had seen before, and so I would describe India’s capital city as a beautiful mess!
That evening, we met the rest of our group of 14 people and our tour leader, Ash. He was from Mumbai and was very friendly and knowledgeable about his country. I distinctly remember him telling us that not a single person in India goes to bed hungry, as there are many Temples that will feed people for free.
We went for dinner at a restaurant that our tour group, G Adventures helped set up. It was called Kitchen With A Cause and it provides internships and jobs to people living on the streets.
It was lovely getting to know my new tour friends over dinner, and tomorrow we would be heading to Agra to start our “Uncover India” adventure properly!
Interestingly, this was the first tour I had been on so far that didn’t use a tour coach. We would instead be travelling on various means of public transport, and I was intrigued to find out what this would be like in India.
As soon as we arrived in Agra we took taxis to the Agra Fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Taj Mahal’s less famous—but no less impressive—neighbouring monument. We caught our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal in the distance and our guide at the Agra Fort, Saif, told us some really interesting information about the lesser-known beauty.
The Agra Fort was commissioned in 1565 and took eight years to complete. It was built on an ancient site which was traditionally known as “Badalgarh”. It has been owned by various dynasties throughout history and these include the Lodhi Dynasty, the Mughal Empire and the British Empire.
It is distinguishable by its ravishing red sandstone exterior, and though it was originally commissioned by a Muslim King, a Hindu Temple was built inside for his wife. It was lovely to hear that the two religions existed harmoniously at the time.
The Agra Fort was beautiful and it was fascinating learning about its history. After a short break to check in and get some lunch, we were all really excited to see its sister monument, the Taj Mahal.
Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the magnificent Taj Mahal (meaning “Crown of the Palace”) was conceived in 1632 and took 22 years to complete by hand, all in order for the emperor to show the world how much he loved his wife. In actual fact, the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan (and grandson of the King who had commissioned the Agra Fort) had multiple wives, but when his favourite wife was dying, she asked him to prove that he loved her the most, so he had the Taj Mahal built as a mausoleum for her tomb. It now houses both his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and his own tomb as well. It is the centrepiece of a 42-acre site, which includes a Mosque and a guest house, and has 16 gardens and 53 fountains surrounding it.
At 72.5 metres high, the Taj Mahal is made from ivory-white marble and inlaid with semi-precious stones which make it look like it’s glowing in the right light, and it is supposedly transparent when there is a full moon! Whilst earlier Mughal buildings (like the Agra Fort) had been primarily constructed using red sandstone, this was the first of its kind, making it all the more spectacular.
I was truly blown away by the sheer splendour of the Taj Mahal (my photographs cannot possibly do it justice) and it was only day two of the tour! I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us next.
We ended the day with a really delicious meal at a rooftop bar and restaurant. I tried Thali, which is a platter of various dishes, and it included kadai paneer, roti flatbread, mushroom rice, mixed vegetables, dal makhani, raita and lachha paratha. Already a fan of Indian cuisine, I was absolutely loving the food here!
Tomorrow we would be departing Agra and heading to Jaipur, known as the “Pink City”. Watch this space for my next blog post!