By Sara Strachan
Travelling friend at Travel Nation
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The Golden Triangle hosts many of India's great cultural gems, and this was my first trip to this crazy country of amazing food, millions of people, and fascinating culture. I flew from Gatwick with Emirates, (my first time flying with them) and I would definitely recommend their service. Great inflight entertainment, touch screen TVs, excellent food and stars on the ceiling at night! I arrived in Delhi at about 4am and had decided to make my own way to the joining hotel of the Intrepid Trip which was to start in about 8 hours’ time.
I would definitely recommend pre-arranging your arrival transfer if arriving at this time of night. When I arrived, there were no shortage of taxis at 4am, however as I was whisked off by a taxi driver (who looked about 12 years old and seemed to be falling asleep at the wheel) I suddenly felt a bit lost and justifiably so; after 30 minutes, the driver told me he didn't know where my hotel was! I gave him the address and he still proclaimed no knowledge as to where it was but offered to take me to another hotel (obviously where he would get a cut of the commission!). He insisted that if I looked for the hotel on my own I would get attacked by the dogs wandering around, so I managed to get him to take me to a numbered metro pillar (which was included in the address) and set off on my own at 5am to find my elusive hotel. After dodging people sleeping in the streets and stray dogs I quickly found my hotel round the corner from where the driver had parked. I was glad to be setting off on a group tour (a first for me) as it’s a good way to be introduced to a new county if travelling alone.
Day 1: Delhi First there was a welcome meeting with our local guide, Chandra where he summarised the craziness of India and gave us a traditional welcome by giving us an Indian tikka on the forehead, made of vermillion and a flower garland. I also met the rest of the group: two Canadians, a German, an Aussi and a Kiwi who were all lovely and it was the first time for all of us in India!
After the meeting, Chandra took us off to the local metro station, which was heaving with people so I was glad to have someone who knew where they were going. It felt quite strict with bag scans and metal detectors but once we'd got through the gates it was a smooth ride to Old Delhi where we dismounted at Chandni Chowk. We were taken on a walking tour of Old Delhi through winding, chaotic streets, where cycle rickshaws pushed their way through people out shopping for saris and spices. It was hard work dodging the rickshaws, the people carrying 50 kilos of rice on their heads and also avoiding people spitting their paan in the streets (at which I was unsuccessful!)
En route, we made a visit to the Jama Masjid, Delhi's oldest mosque and one of Delhi’s most impressive buildings, where we had to wear beautiful flowery gowns. Then we headed to the Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) to learn about the Sikh religion and where I also saw the biggest turban of my life (a highlight of my trip!)
Day 2: Agra We had an early start on the famous Indian Railway, where we took one of India's fastest air-conditioned trains to the Mughal city of Agra (approx 3 hrs). On board we were spoilt with newspapers, breakfast and bottled water. We arrived at our hotel - The 'Raj Mahal' which was amazing, much more than I had expected and it even had its own swimming pool! In the morning we visited Agra Fort on the banks of the Yamuna River. From the Fort we had amazing views of the Taj Mahal, then in the afternoon we finally visited the world famous Taj Mahal - a masterpiece of shimmering white marble which was much bigger than I had imagined it would be. We arrived for sunset and I was surprised by the amount of Indian tourists who chose to remember their visit to this monument with pictures of me in their holiday snaps!
Day 3: Rural Heritage Stay The next morning we travelled by air-conditioned mini bus to Karauli in the state of Rajasthan. We stopped en route at the deserted Mughal kingdom of Fatehpur Sikri, a deserted city, abandoned after 15 years due to the scarcity of water. After seeing the abandoned city we went on to see Jama Masjid, a striking mosque where drums were playing and we got to make wishes by tying red strings to the mosque. We then travelled on to stay at a palace which was built as a royal residence for the ruler of Karauli. As we were wandering through the grounds of the palace we bumped into the King and the Prince for a quick chat, whilst he was tending to his sick cow!
Days 4-5 Jaipur In the morning we took a tuk tuk to the rural village and opted to see another palace. On the way to the capital of Rajasthan - the 'Pink City' of Jaipur - we saw camels pulling carts, women carrying more than their weight on top of their heads whilst wearing beautiful saris and children herding water buffaloes - a beautiful glimpse of rural life. Arriving in Jaipur, we found it to be a busy town crammed with palaces and bazaars full of jewellery, textiles and folk-based arts. We stopped at India's most photographed building after the Taj Mahal, the Hawa Mahal or 'Palace of the Winds' and then journeyed on to the old capital of Amber to explore the hilltop fort complex known as the Amber Fort.
In the evening we went to a screening of Bollywood Blockbuster 'Oh My God' which was great, despite the lack of subtitles! It was great to see all the locals being a lot more vocal in the audience than back home. The next day we had a free day to explore the busy town, streets and bazaars, and tried haggling for bargains. Then after a busy morning we went back to our hotel (another palace!) and chilled out by the pool until we boarded a late afternoon train bound for Delhi.
Days 6-7: Delhi There were no activities planned for our final day, so I stayed on to discover Delhi a little more. I took a tuk tuk to the backpacker central of Paharganj where the shopping was amazing and I bought lots of Indian gifts and drank from coconuts. My return to the airport was less eventful than my arrival (thankfully) and I headed home with a 3 hour stop in Dubai. Just one week in Delhi was a crazy assault on the senses and I hope to discover the south and some more rural areas next time!
If it's your first time in Asia or India I would definitely recommend taking a tour like this from Intrepid. The guide gives you invaluable information about the people and their culture, can advise you on local customs and takes the stress out of the travelling so you can sit back and enjoy the sights. We can arrange any flight itinerary you're interested in - here's one of my favourites: London – Delhi // Thiruvananthapuram – Hanoi // Singapore – Manila – Lombok // Bali – Auckland – London From £1,550 per person. If you're interested in including India on your round the world trip, contact Sara.
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