India was always on my bucket list and I guess it was only a matter of time before I visited. Its vast size dictates that one must take bite-sizes to start at least so we chose the North’s ‘Golden Triangle’ of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.
Flying from Shannon to Dehli via Heathrow our first stay was at the landmark Claridges Hotel, India’s first ever 5* hotel, built in 1952 and located in the planned New Delhi area. The hotel was in a good location and have great facilities and service.
On our first full day we visited the massive Red Fort and mosque in the searing heat. We then walked through narrow winding streets of Old Delhi and took a rickety rickshaw ride through the ancient labyrinth market area of Chandni Chowk. Absolutely chaotic, but the history of the place is fascinating. The wholesale traders have been doing business here literally for centuries, supplying a vast range of spices, food stuff and a multitude of products far and wide, mostly operating from tiny shops in run-down markets. Many are extremely wealthy despite the drab and incredibly littered surroundings.
We visited Raj Ghat where the great Mahatma Ghandi was cremated after his assassination in 1948 and where a simple memorial stands in his name - constantly adorned with fresh flowers and candles. An eternal flame burns at one end, symbolising the ever-lasting legacy of this truly inspiring man. The memorial is located within a vast garden area with visiting school groups from all over India and tourists from around the world.
We visited the mausoleum complex of Humayun's Tomb - India’s 2nd Mughal Emperor. Humayun had travelled widely in Persia and Central Asia during his lifetime and many of the architectural principles he brought back from these journeys were incorporated into the building. Double domes, decorative inlaid marble and a vast garden with pools connected by channels, this edifice set the stage for the style that culminated in the majestic Taj Mahal over 100 years later.
We finished the day at the Lutyens Area of New Delhi where the vast architectural wonder of the Presidents Palace sits on a hill overlooking Rajpath, Delhi’s ceremonial street leading down to India Gate – for all the world like the Arc de Triomphe!
The next day, we departed Delhi and headed west on the long drive to the heritage rich Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. From here it was on to the rural town of Churu, which is home to a large number of lavish Havelis - Hindu merchant mansions from the late 1800's. Many of these have been abandoned and sadly crumbling. We stayed in the immaculately restored Hotel Malji Ka Kamara, a 1920's Haveli and one of the finest in the region. This imposing and beautiful building is a fantasy of slender pillars and exuberantly frescoed walls – a crazy mixture of architectural styles which feels older than its years. It was as unique a place as you could imagine staying. We were the only guests - yet had the full complement of staff - and our huge room was the best in the house, originally that of the merchant Prince owner. Our balcony was ginormous and Mrinal and her team made us feel so at home - nothing was too much trouble. Along with our passionate local guide Lal Singh Shekhawat we visited the local Golden Temple and were granted access to three privately owned Havelis. Here we also met local artists and crafts people and spent time in the bustling market. We had some incredibly memorable experiences - a jeep safari into the desert to watch the sun go down over a picnic, and an unforgettable candle-light dinner on our own balcony on our last night. It was one part of our journey and will live long in our memories.
We travelled 200km south to Jaipur the capital of Rajasthan and India’s first planned city. It's known as 'The Pink City' - turns out it's really terracotta which is the Hindu colour for welcome. In the centre is the opulent City Palace, an impressive collection of palatial buildings, sprawling gardens and courtyards. The adjacent Hawa Mahal was built in the form of Krishna’s crown and the top three floors are just a single room thick. This iconic façade of Jaipur is the tallest building in the world built without a foundation. Its all about the curves baby!
In Jaipur we stayed in Samode Haveli, a lavish stately mansion set within the historic city and complete with courtyards, swimming pool, gardens and beautifully ornate reception rooms. We visited the awe-inspiring Amer Fort and Palace in the hills on the outskirts of the walled city. This 16th century hillside fort and residence is well preserved, boasting grand pavilions and mirrored halls that open onto gardens and courtyards.
The finale of our Indian Adventure - seeing Taj Mahal - was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. We were there early, to watch the sun rise and it was an extraordinary experience. This iconic mausoleum was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years and 20,000 workers to build it, working 7 days a week. The pure white marble was quarried some 200 miles away and transported by a long train of elephants and camels. It was completed in the mid 1600's. Up to 70,000 people can visit on a busy day, mostly weekends and holidays. Its closed to the public on Fridays when its only accessible to Muslims to attend prayers in the adjacent mosque. So, schedule your visit for mid-week if possible. It's open sunrise to sunset (6am to 6.30pm) and from October to March is coolest. I recommend being there for sunrise!
Agra Fort (Red Fort) is just 3km from Taj Mahal so you can take a rickshaw or a cab and easily go from one to the other. The fort comprises a cluster of sandstone and marble palaces all inside one massive fortress. Overshadowed by the beauty and fame of the nearby Taj Mahal - the Fort is still a must-see while in Agra.
India is a culture apart. A truly fascinating place, steeped in a rich history dominated by its religions Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jainism and more. It appears over-crowded and untidy, yet its people are friendliest you will meet, and its ancient architecture is stunning to behold. One must visit at least once! If my adventures in India sound like something on your bucket list, why not give me a call. It’s never too early to start thinking of your next trip!