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13 January 2013 @ 07:51 pm
Indian Adventures - Part IIIa - The Golden Triangle - Agra and Jaipur  
Indian Adventures - Part IIIa - The Golden Triangle

The bus ride from Manali to Delhi was long, but it was overnight, so most of it was spent asleep. However, I was seated next to a large Russian lady and by the time we got to Delhi, I was DONE with having other people in my personal space. Additionally, I had picked up a whole bag’s worth of woolens in the Himalayas, so I was somewhat less mobile and less capable of just hopping a buss with my rapidly expanding luggage. Therefore, I splurged and hired a car and driver for the next two days and got to tour in luxury – with seatbelts, even!

The region including Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur is called the Golden Triangle and is one of the standard tourist circuits in India. I had left this until last, anticipating that there would be good shopping in Delhi and Jaipur and I didn't want to be lugging around huge bags for the better part of my trip. I had acquired that bag of woolens in the Himalayas, but I had TWO full checked bags as part of my baggage allowance on the flight home, so I still intended to do some pretty quality shopping!

In order to meet up with Owen and Flori in Jaipur on the right day, I had to immediately left Delhi for Agra, planning to spend two days and one night there, then move on to Jaipur. I got off the bus, had a nice breakfast at an expensive hotel,
pretty much for the purposes of using their wifi, and as soon as the taxi office next door was open, I hired a taxi for the next few days and headed out to Agra.
We left Delhi pretty early in the day and had lunch on the road but arrived with several hours of daylight remaining.

The first stop was just outside of Agra – Akbar’s Tomb. Akbar was a fascinating historical figure – I had not known much about him before doing some research before my trip, but he was a late 16th century emperor who, in addition to military successes, was a great patron of the arts. He was a Mogul emperonr known for his religious tolerance and his three wives were Hindu, Christian, and Muslim. He had advisers of pretty much every faith in his kingdom and would discuss theology with them and eventually arrived at an essentially Unitarian point of view. He was well-known in his time and even corresponded with England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Neat guy and really pretty tomb. This was the first Mogul tomb I had been to, so I was fascinated by the inlay and the exquisite marble carving. And parrots! There were huge green parrots everywhere! :)

Then onward to the Agra fort, which was beautiful in its own right, but which also had stunning views of the Taj Mahal (which was built long after Akbar's time). It was pretty cool since parts of it I recognized from one of the Bollywood films I had seen while doing my "research." I had some difficulty in getting the cab driver to take me to the hotel I wanted to go to (a common enough problem – if they take you to one of “their” hotels, or restaurants, they get a kick-back – obnoxious, but that’s the system) and at first I humored him and looked at the hotel, but it was out of the question. Eventually, I had him drop me off in the neighborhood where I wanted to stay and settled on a pick up time and place and then I just walked around until I found an acceptable accommodation. It actually turned out to be a pretty good choice - there was a good rooftop restaurant with a view of the Taj Mahal and I met some fellow travelers who were also interested in getting up at dawn to see the Taj. There also was a wedding that went by while we were there, which was fascinating to see - weddings there involve very loud music, huge lamps carried through the streets, grooms on horseback, heavily veiled brides, and an amazing amount of noise put out by the bridal party and the generators that fuel the sound and light shows. I thought Wisconsin weddings with the kegs and DJs involved a lot of infrastructure! Other than running downstairs to watch the wedding procession go by, the evening was relatively quiet and I turned in early, knowing there was a long day ahead.

The Taj Mahal was as amazing and postcard-perfect as it is in pictures… You end up feeling like you are in a painting while looking at it. Unfortunately, while we got there for the “dawn” opening, they did not actually let up in until well after daybreak and it was pretty crowded even at that early hour. (By the time I left, though, it was even more crazy, so I can definitely recommend going very first thing in the morning, if you are ever there!) I don’t really know what to say, the Taj itself, the inlay inside, the gardens surrounding it… stunning, stunning, stunning. The only possible improvement would have been a sweetie and a picnic lunch in the gardens. Since neither of those were to hand, I instead summoned my driver and we were once again off!


Nameste from India!

This time thedestination was Fatehpur Sikri, a city Akbar built but which was abandoned shortly thereafter because of water shortages. But before we left Agra, I convinced the driver to stop at Itmad-ud-Daula's Tomb, also known as the Baby Taj. I think I liked that even more than the Taj proper, for the relative lack of people, if nothing else. The intricate inlay and marble screens were just lovely – I loved the way the light came through the screens, offering glimpses of the rooms or gardens beyond… Finally, we were on to Fatehpur Sikri. The city was in pretty good repair, considering it had been abandoned about 400 years ago. The mosque and surrounding buildings are still in use and there is a shrine to a sufi saint that supposedly grants wishes. I made my wishes, but we’ll have to see if anything comes of them… I think the highlight here for me was seeing the library (built-in shelving) and the hall where Akbar had his theological discussions. I had been eager to see the baoli (a step well – essentially an underground building that leads to a well, a cool and shady social place as well as a water source), but it was inaccessible. It was a scorching hot day, so I was particularly disappointed, but there it is. Soon it was on to Jaipur, where the driver dropped me off at the hotel where Owen and Flori had just checked in.

In Jaipur, we spent a few days wandering about, eating, shopping, and otherwise relaxing. We were there during Diwali, a festival of lights, so there were a lot of Christmas-type lights, oil lamps, and fried foods. We took a day trip up to the Amber fort, another fort I had seen in movies - and got to ride an elephant on the way up. My favorite feature of the fort was the medieval hot tub - an in-floor tub that had heated water pumped in from a giant tank over a fireplace in the next room. There also was a whole room that acted like a dryer with hot air forced through. Very cool. I could use one of those! We also visited Hawa Mahal (the Palace of the Winds), which was a city-center palace for the ladies where they could watch what was going on in the market without being observed, and City Palace, which was sort of underwhelming - the Peacock Gate was neat, but they did not let you take pictures of the very excellent textiles exhibit and did not really have adequate guidebooks on it either. The handwovens shopping was a geat success, though - I bought a really astounding amount of handwoven silk and cotton yardage and sarees! In particular, I have a handwoven silk saree in gold, emerald, and garnet that is just breathtaking. I have no idea where I'll wear it, but I'll figure out some excuse...

Probably my favorite "attraction" was Jantar Mantar - a Renaissance astrological observatory built by one of the emperors. He had five of them built, I think four of them are still in existence and I got to see the one in Jaipur as well as the one in Delhi. All of the astronomical observation instruments are HUGE, like I mean from 15 feet high to stories high! They still take really remarkably accurate measurements and it was really neat to be able to read the time on a sundial so big you could actually watch the time pass.

And then it was time to head onward to Delhi!