It had always been a dream of mine to explore India, but for many years and for rather insignificant reasons this dream was postponed. Until one Christmas, when, out of the blue, I decided to offer myself this gift. I literally had no plans to buy tickets for India but ten minutes later I was going there in April. No vaccines, no worries, little money ( you don t need it anyway, everything is really cheap) and huge enthusiasm.
My Indian adventure started with a flight to New Delhi, via Doha which is quite short and convenient if you are flying from Europe. New Delhi is the actual capital of India, replacing Calcutta, with a population of over 20 million people and a really bad reputation of pollution, ranking in some statistics even as the most polluted city in the world. I have lived through the traffic in New Delhi and felt as if time collapsed along with my patience and hope of ever reaching any destination. I would advise you to choose accomodation as close to your points of interests as possible, since rather short distances can be difficult to overcome.
In New Delhi, we visited the Old City, built by the emperor Shah Jahan on the bank of river Yamuna, at the end of the 17th century. I had a look at The Red Fort and visited the Jama Masjid Mosque ( the Friday Mosque), curently the largest mosque in India. Also, I traveled in a very traditional manner through the commercial neighborhood Chandni Chowk, by the use of a rickshaw. They are still very popular and it is amazing how they can drive through the crowded streets at a rather high speed and without incidents. Following with my visit, I reached The India Gate, a monument built in honor of the fallen Indian Soldiers during World War I and afterwards headed towards Humayun s tomb, the first garden tomb of an Indian emperor, built in 1570.
Leaving New Delhi, we spent half day driving to Mandawa (280 km, aprox. 8 hours), a small town to the South East, where you can admire some amazing old houses of Rajastan leaders, true architectural masterpieces but perhaps the most impressive experience, spend the night at the local castle, turned into a luxury hotel. I was indeed surprised to be given a big iron key to open the door to a traditionally furnished bedroom, with wooden carved beds and marble columns. Old India was standing right in front of me, with beautiful handcraft, relaxing flower gardens and the personel dressed in traditional gowns.
The next day, the road led us to Jaipur, known as the Pink City for its trademark building color, capital of Rajastan, with a rich history and some amazing places to visit. There, you must got to the Amer Fort ( known also as the Amber Fort), built in 1592 upon a mountain and used during centuries both as a palace and a strategic military building. If you arrive early in the morning and perhaps in the afternoon, you can even enjoy an elephant ride to the top of the mountain, otherwise, it gets rather hot and elephants rest during these hours. Apart from the Amber Palace, where you can spend even half a day exploring the gardens and many specific buildings, the city of Jaipur holds a very important Astronomic Observatory – Jantar Mantar, built during the 18th century and a beautiful Palace of the Winds – Hawa Mahal, with more than 1000 windows. I should mention the fact that the Hindi culture finds extremely important the Astrological compatibility between husband and wife, therefore, before any marriage is established, they need to have a certain level of astrological match, and intense calculations were made at the Astronomic Observatory.
From Jaipur, we headed towards Agra, with a stop at Fatehpur Sikri, the ghost town. Fatehpur Sikri was built by the emperor Akbar during the second half of the 16th century, in order to become the new capital of the Mughal Empire, but the town had this function for only 12 years, between 1573-1585, and afterwards was completely abandoned for centuries. There, I met two incredibly talented Indian girls and one of them drew a beautiful henna tattoo on my right hand, while we were sitting in main outdoor pavilion. I believe the entire drawing, which had a rather complex pattern, took her less than 5 minutes, but I was extremely proud of it for the next 5 days.
Early in the morning, in Agra, I started my visit of the world famous Taj Mahal, the funeral monument built by Shah Jahan between 1631 -1648 in loving memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz. The legend says the two of them met while they were both teenagers when the prince decided to go to the market, dressed as an ordinary man. There, he met Mumtaz, whose father was selling jewelry. Wanting to spend more time with the girl and also to impress her, he bought a large amount of jewelry from her father s shop. However, her father was not an entirely honest merchant and some of the merchandise was fake. The girl was so much impressed with the young prince, that she ran after him to warn him about this. Later, she became his wife and had 14 children together but sadly passed away during childbirth when she was only 38 years old. The marble dome which holds the royal tomb is set in the center of a 17 ha complex, which has also a mosque, beautiful gardens and a water tank with a reflecting pool. Beyond the cultural and historical significance of the monument, I saw this as a place of high importance in the Indian society, with Indian families from all over the country, wearing elegant gowns, coming for a visit. Indeed, the number of foreign visitors is very low and the locals are showing their respect for the place by dressing up and taking rather formal family photos there. In the afternoon, we visited Fort Agra, the place where Shah Jahan spent his last years, after being exiled by his son Aurangzeb. The construction is set on a hill by the river and has a great view over the Taj Mahal.
Back to New Delhi for the flight back home, we spent the last day in India visiting a Sikh temple during celebration – Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – and afterwards the QUTB Archeological Complex, a beautiful parc with pieces of architecture dating up to the 12th century, including an old mosque with the highest brick minaret in the world – 72,5 m. Also, had the chance to learn more about a rather new religion called bahai and visited their Lotus Temple in the city. At the end of the trip, I only wished I had more time to spend in India and that I did more shopping in Jaipur.