Even though I have written that a trip to India should start in Kolkata, for my dad it started – as most holidays in India, I dare to assume – in Delhi. After the trimester in Bhubaneswar ended, I left the capital city of Orissa behind and headed for Delhi to start a round trip in India.
Delhi often appears in the press with negative stories: there are huge smog and general traffic problems, there is a high crime rate, and the worst rape case ever reported in India also took place here. And still, from all over the world people are heading to Delhi.
My batch mate Nipun lives in Noida, a neighborhood to the south of Delhi. It was with his brother that my dad and I stayed the first few days. We were picked up at the airport by the family’s personal driver and were welcomed at the house by Nipun’s brother, sister-in-law and staff. Later, I would discover what an advantage it was that my dad – who still had to get his first real taste of India – and I were getting so much help from my friends.
In my previous stories about India, you may have read that I never traveled solo in India (yet). Every time, one or more Indian friends had been by my side to help me when needed – even if it was just to translate some words here and there, or to bargain about the price for a tuktuk. It doesn’t even seem that easy to get around in Delhi without some help. The traffic is terrible indeed, the tuktuk drivers are (supposed to be) the worst cheaters, and generally everyone seems to try to rip you off.
But of course I also have a lot of positive stuff to say about Delhi! Over and done with the few complaints I have. I mean, there must be a reason why people come from all over to visit this city right? Delhi has an enormous amount of sightseeing you can do. India Gate, for starters, is a popular place to have a picnic and it’s always incredibly crowded around this area. India Gate is a memorial to remember the 82,000 Indian soldiers that died during the first world war. Then there is the Red Fort, which was built in the 17th century and which was called home by the Mogol Empire for 200 years. Now it houses a few museums. Across from the Red Fort, you’ll find the biggest mosque in India, called Jarna Mashid. And if you’re wondering about the famous Lotus Temple, well, it’s a bit out of the way from the other must-sees, which prevented us from visiting because the detour would take too much time (which we didn’t have).
What else did we do in Delhi? We ventured into the old part of Delhi and looked around in Chandni Chowk which is one of the oldest and busiest markets of India. The Red Fort is actually within walking distance from here. We also paid a short visit to Janpath, a Tibetan market. And do I have to remind you to keep an eye on your stuff at all times when visiting market places?
I really liked the Khan Market area. You’ll find a lot of cute little shops and boutiques. I also got my first Western meal since my last visit to Kolkata. Although my hamburger at Smokehouse Deli – a modern burger joint in French style – was actually a buffalo burger, it was absolutely delicious. What a relief to finally eat something different than chicken!
One of our evenings we spent in Hauz Khas. This area is like a village filled with nothing but restaurants and bars. I can imagine it is always lively and busy here at night. Another night we went to Gurgaon, a city just outside of Delhi which is called home by another batchmate of mine, Aman. He took us to one of his favorite bars, Downtown, which is known for its self-brewed Wheat beer.
The last day we drove over to Agra to visit one of the World Wonders. You simply cannot skip the Taj Mahal on a trip to India. It took the driver two hours to take us via the expressway from Delhi to Agra. He parked (I think) on the East parking. After I convinced my dad to try his first real chai and bought our entry tickets (remember to collect your free bottle of water and shoe protectors to enter the Taj!), we got into the van that would take us to the actual entrance to the Taj.
The Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum that was built by order of Shah Jahan after his wife Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth (it was her fourteenth child!). It took 22 years to build the tomb and surrounding gardens. The Taj Mahal is completely made up of marble and it is almost impossible to imagine how the engravers succeeded in getting such detailed decorations in the stone. The color of the marble is really being done justice in during sunrise and sunset (although there is often a lot of mist in the morning).
It was very crowded. Actually, the amount of people present also made me realize just how little the Taj really is. Yes, you read that correctly! I was constantly looking through the lens of my camera, where the tomb looks giant, and back to the real version right in front of me, which seemed almost disappointingly small (even though the Taj could never ever disappoint of course). It certainly didn’t stop me from taking about 50 pictures! The Taj is very photo genetic.
After this visit, we had lunch at a family restaurant on the way to the Agra Fort. The restaurant was very ‘tourist friendly’ in the sense that the food didn’t taste 100% Indian and was not too spicy. It was still good, though. Adapted to our western taste buds.
In the meantime, it had gotten super-hot outside, too! Inside the Agra Fort, we kept looking for rays of shadow to hide in, but there were very few. So, about this Fort. After Shah Jahan finished the construction of the Taj Mahal, he was “scammed” by his son and imprisoned… in the Agra Fort. From here, the Shah could admire his masterpiece, the Taj, from afar until his own death.
Just like the Red Fort, the Agra Fort consists of several parts. The outside walls are a rusty red color, but on the inside it looks completely different! That’s because Shah Jahan loved marble, so he remodeled the Fort to his tastes.
It was a bit less crowded here. Agra Fort is definitely worth the visit if you are making the trip down anyway. After visiting the Agra Fort, we headed back to Delhi.
After a small dinner, we said our goodbyes to Nipun’s brother and sister-in-law, and I also asked to send our regards and thanks to his parents. We also thanked the staff for taking such good care of us and, of course, the driver for taking us around everywhere for three days despite the language barrier. I think we wouldn’t have been able to do all we did if it weren’t for that driver!
At ten in the evening we were at the train station, waiting for the night train to take us to Rajasthan. Since every state is like a different country, I was very curious to discover yet another part of India! I was ready for the state of princes and real-life scenes from Arabian Nights!