The Golden Triangle
Travelled and enjoyed by many including us 5th-18th February.
Exchange rate £1 = 90 rupees
Monday 5th February
Depart London Heathrow to Delhi on Virgin. Depart 21.50 and arrive Delhi at 10.25am local time (+5.5hrs)
Tuesday 6th February
Lackshay greeted us at the airport and swiftly escorted us via the ATM to the car.
The three things required for driving in Delhi are
1. A good horn
2. Good side mirrors
3. Good luck
It soon became clear that this information was correct. With a population of 20 million, Delhi is inevitably very very busy.
Our driver was very adept at weaving his way through the traffic and over and around the road markings. Another thing that was pointed out to us is that the lane markings are purely for decoration. We arrived in one piece at the Hotel Suraya where we were presented with our charadu bracelet and our itinerary and we were left to settle into our room.
After a cuppa and a cat nap we ventured out into the real world and immediately found ourselves caught up in a wedding celebration. The Uncle of the groom was very keen to introduce us to his family and quite a few wanted their pictures taken with us. Weird but true!
We left the groom to go and find his bride whilst we went to explore the market and the shops. We found an eclectic selection of shops, restaurants and stalls with a mixture of clientele from well dressed to folks with no shoes and the child who wouldn’t let go of Marks sleeve whilst begging for money.
A supermarket was what we wanted and we eventually found a tardis of a shop with about 3 staff per customer and stocking everything you could want. We settled on naan bread and hummus with olives washed down with Kingfisher beer.
We watched the sun go down and collapsed into bed.
Wednesday 7th February
City tour of Delhi which is divided into 2 parts – Old and New Delhi.
The British shifted their capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911 and Edward Lutyens drew up plans for a new city of wide boulevards and stately administrative buildings to accommodate the colonial government – New Delhi was born.
We started the tour in Old Delhi starting at the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque built by Shah Jahan (1644-1658). It can hold 25,000 worshippers.
The Red Fort was also built by Shah Johan (1638-1648). Photo stop and a brief introduction to say that the Emperor that built it never lived in it and the British used its courtyards to house military barracks. The Lahore Gate, the main entrance is used by the Prime Minister to make an annual speech on Independence Day.
We took a hair raising rickshaw ride along Chandni Chowk which is the main market streets selling everything!
Next stop was the Rajghat, the cremation place of Mahatma Ghandi. The site is on the banks of the Yamuna River (a tributary of the Ganges) and his ashes were scattered on the Ganges.
Crossing back into New Delhi we drove past the Viceroys House and the Parliament of India via the India Gate.
Then onto the Humayun’s Tomb, which is thought to have inspired the Taj Mahal built from red sandstone and marble and was constructed by his wife in the mid 16C.
We stopped by the Lotus Temple (which we had seen from our bedroom window). The temple belongs to the Bahai faith and is a site for contemplation rather than worship.
Our last stop was the magnificent Qutub Minar which is the home of the tallest minaret in the world (allegedly). Built in 1193 to proclaim supremacy of the Muslim rule over Hindu.
A pretty exhausting day which ended with a bath and picnic and setting the alarm for 4.20am!!!!
THURSDAY 8th FEBRUARY
See above! In a daze we collected our breakfast picnic and climbed aboard the bus to take us to Delhi station. One advantage of being on the road at this time of the morning was slightly less traffic. Not quieter because the incessant horns were still going but within half an hour we were dropped of on another world.
The station (platform pictured above) and its surrounds were humming with activity and we were only thankful that we were escorted to the platform to board the train Coach C4.
All aboard the Shatabdi express.
Everything for the journey was loaded onto the train as soon as it arrived onto the station. The train departed on time much to our amazement. It was all very civilised and our 7 hour journey (7 hours to travel 275 miles) included a large bottle of water each, tea and biscuits, followed by a cooked breakfast of vegetable fritters with a few fries and peas, a carton of juice and finally some of the traditional mouth freshening sweets.
That was a long time to spend on a train. In fact it was about as long as our flight to get to India!! However the seats were reasonably comfortable and we slept, read and watched the people and the scenery. When we arrived in Ajmer at the end of the line and were instantly launched back into the mayhem of the Indian roads. We knew we were to be met by the same driver as yesterday but didn’t expect him to be standing right where our coach pulled in. Once we recognised him we were soon on our way to Pushkar an 11km drive over Snake Mountain.
Our accommodation was right out of town and a pleasant spot to relax for the afternoon in the sunshine (or shade for Mark)
The sky looks weird in this picture but it was a lovely afternoon and I sat on the balcony reading watching a couple of people hopping about in the pool because the water was so cold!
We dined in the hotel restaurant – biryani, daal and roti washed down with Kingfisher beer.
FRIDAY 9TH FEBRUARY
Today was the village of Pushkar, the home of one of India’s most sacred lakes.
I haven’t introduced our travelling companions Gladys, known as Glad, and Terence, known as Terry.
We were met by our guide for the day who accompanied us through the market explaining that this was a relaxed place to shop because the owners of the stalls and shops do not hassle browsers. It was true and we ambled along happily checking out a few things and eventually buying our souvenir of an modern take on Ganesh i.e an elephant, carved from black stone.
The Hindu temple Jagatpita Brahma Mandir attracts pilgrims all year round as the only remaining temple to Brahma.
We deposited our shoes at the bottom of the steps and ascended clutching our rose petals to offer to the monks. At the top of the steps we had to make a photo stop
Despite the sign Mr Harmer was welcome and we followed the rituals of all the pilgrims. Touch the steps (shows humility by bowing down), ring the bell to announce your arrival, offer your flowers so by giving you will receive (karma), walk clockwise around the figure of the god so that his power reaches you from all around and finally allow 2 minutes for contemplation.
Are you sitting comfortably then I will begin. The story of Brahma and Pushkar starts with Brahma dropping a lotus flower and where the flower landed the lake was created. Brahma was to bless the lake and this had to be done at a certain time according to the moon and the season. His wife was in a palace atop the mountain overlooking the lake and she was spending much time preparing herself to look beautiful for the ceremony. She took so long but by the time she arrived at the lake Brahma had taken his second wife to be by his side. His first wife was so aggrieved that she placed three curses upon her husband. The first curse said that his Temple in Pushkar would be his one and only temple. The second curse said that this one and only temple could not be used to worship Brahma. The third curse said that the only place for worshipping Brahma would be the lake. Here we are having completed our pilgrimage to the lake and having asked Brahma to bless our family all for the princely sum of a fiver each. We sat on the edge of the lake with our petals to offer to Brahma and recited the blessings after our priest. He then asked each of us in turn how much we were going to offer. The donations go to keep up the temples around the lake and to feed the poor. I was asked first and so offered £5 and Mark nearly choked but then also offered £5. Meanwhile Terry was whispering to Glad “Have we got £10?” , because they were running short of cash and hadn’t been able to get the ATM to give them any money. We hoped our families were blessed and we hope some folks get fed. Who knows, but we had a giggle about the whole affair. We had a great coffee and cake in a local cafe that was geared up to provide European coffeee to drink with homemade cakes. I had a rose lava cake and Mark had an apple crumble cake.The finale to the day for Terry and Glad was a ride back to the hotel on a camel and cart. We took a ride back in the bus and bumped into Sue who was also on a Lumle tour with her husband Roger. Same tour as us minus Ranthambore. We all got together for a chat after dinner at the hotel that night to discover that Roger and Terry knew one another. They had been to the same university studying English. Small world! Before dinner one of the hotel staff took us to see a small working farm behind the hotel. He took us into the home of one of the farm workers that could only be described as very basic. The whole idea of the invite was to offer money. We then wandered through to the fields growing peas and marigolds and saw the cow with her calf and a few goats plus the well supplying water to the farm and house. Glad was tickled by the hotel staff member wanting to be in our pictures. He also wants me to send him a copy. A happy and spiritual day.
SATURDAY 10TH FEBRUARY
Leisurely breakfast and departure from Pukshar at 10.00 to drive 145kms to Jaipur.
The roads were amazingly easy going despite the normal cows, bikes and tuk tuks. Lots more lorries but there was room for everybody and after a coffee stop we arrived in Jaipur for 2.00 pm.
Our lovely hotel ITC Rajputana gave us a very warm welcome and our room was more than acceptable. The hotel is a tribute to traditional Rajputana architecture- the Haveli.
After a nice cup of tea we decided to venture out armed with our map.
Oh my word! Walking the roads is a completely different scenario to being driven. I guess that’s stating the obvious. The speed might be similarish but the danger levels are definitely higher. There are few if any pavements and people stroll precariously along the roadside. Then we needed to cross the road. I nearly had a fit of the screaming abdabs. The traffic was just a constant stream of moving machines and waiting for a gap to cross required patience and a belief that this wasn’t a mission impossible.
We eventually made it to the restaurant we had scoped out.
We were able to order the Thali, even though it said served between 8.00-10.00pm and it was only 5.30.
We ate everything up and were full to the brim and although to walk it off would have been good there was no way it was going to happen. We fought off the pesky man and climbed aboard a tuk tuk of a steady older gentleman who sat waiting for business rather than touting for it. So we arrived back at the hotel in one piece and in time to see the dance show down by the pool.
Bath, relax and bedtime.
SUNDAY 11TH FEBRUARY
Today was Jaipur, the Pink City. Why pink? The king chose this colour as it represents warmth and hospitality in preparation for a visit from Prince Albert in 1876. It stayed that colour because the Queen loved it so much and persuaded the king to pass a law that every building should be maintained in the terracotta pink. This law still stands today.
We set off at 8.30 with our 2nd Caste guide aboard the sharabang and the first stop Palace of Winds 1799 built by 4th King of Jaipur for the ladies to watch the activities of the city below.
The Amber Fort was next and we were dropped of st the bottom of the hill and transported to the top by jeep.
Some folks arrived by elephant.
Our guide didn’t believe in the use of elephants saying that they have been introduced from S India and they are not comfortable on the cobbled stones and their existence is causing problems for the farmers because they are protected and thus increasing in number and causing havoc with the sugar cane crops.
The palace is called Amber Palace not because of the colour but because it sits above the village of Amer (English is Amber).
The Fort is divided into 4 main parts
The main courtyard or parade ground where the army could display their war booty and the women could watch from behind screens (like the Palace of Winds)
The second courtyard contains the Hall of Public Audience
The marahajah’s apartments are located around the third courtyard. The famous hall of mirrors is located here also known as the Hall of Victory.
The women’s quarters surround the fourth courtyard.
Here the King could visit one of his 12 wives or his many concubines.
An amazing venue full of intricate carvings and beautiful frescoes and steeped in stories of bygone Kings.
Next stop not quite so historical and never an opportunity missed to sell to tourists at the jewellery workshop. It was quite interesting to see the variety of gems that are collected locally such as ruby, amethyst and lapis lazuli. The collection of jewellery was phenomenal. This retail opportunity was followed by lunch.
After lunch we were presented with another retail opportunity. This time it was carpets and fabrics. Then onto the Observatory built by the first king.
This was like no other observatory I’ve ever seen. It looked more like a modern sculpture park. The sun dial pictured above tells the time to within 30 seconds of accuracy. It certainly held out today.
We also found our zodiac signs. Scorpio for me (and Glad)
Piscies for Mark (and Terry)
The horoscopes are of major importance in the Hindu culture and is always the starting point for a marriage. No more random than Tinder I guess! ￼
Our last stop today was the City Palace built 1729 – 1732 by the ruler of Amer. Part of the palace now houses a museum. The museum houses a fantastic collection of costumes from the Kings and a collection of weapons and armour.
The palace of the current royal family overlooks the museum
The king was not in residence so the Queens flag flies in its place.
We admired the courtyard of dance and the Hall of Public Audience and the Hall of Private Audience. In the former are the two enormous silver pitchers (featured in the Guinness book of records) that carried water from the Ganges for the King when he visited England in 1901 for King Edward VII’s coronation.
MONDAY 13TH FEBRUARY
Today we are traveling to Ranthambhore in our trusty little bus.
It is a reasonably comfortable jalopy with room to spread out and air con that works once our driver has tweaked the fuse.
It was the usual whacky races leaving Jaipur and once we were on the toll road things were a little calmer.
Although we had said our goodbyes to Sue and Roger this morning (they were off to Agra) we kept seeing them in their car along the way. A final wave as we turned off for Ranthambhore and here the road deteriorated somewhat. There seems to be a new road under construction and a good job too. The existing one was narrow and uneven and full of potholes. Was this a wacky race diversion. There was no sign of Dick Dastardly and Mutley however.
It was great watching the local life out of the window. There were the normal amounts of cattle crossing the road. We didn’t like the dead dog on the verge. Amazingly despite the traffic and the unorthodox style of driving we have only seen 2 casualties on our travels. We saw an injured cow as we left Pushkar and then the dog today.
As we passed through villages we saw the usual hairdressing shops
Always busy. Hair and beards are very important to the men folk it would seem.
I have never seen so many shops selling cement but there are everywhere.
The local farms featured these circular buildings- home or storage? It was possible to see the women at work in the fields and in the home and their washing made a colourful addition to the fences and the farmyards with the brightly coloured saris hung out to dry.
We had a coffee and loo break where the shop staff were ever hopeful of selling us something from the shop. We bought a packet of biscuits which didn’t impress them much.
Our travels continued and we passed a crowd gathered to watch a wrestling match (we think). Mud wrestling is popular sport in Rajasthan.
We saw overloaded lorries and a camel train which went through the toll booth ahead of us and it was free of charge!
As we approached Ranthambore the traffic started to increase again and there was a great presence of jeeps and safari looking vehicles. We reached our hotel about 3.00 pm
We were given the lowdown on our safari for tomorrow morning and we ￼booked another ride for the afternoon.
Relaxing afternoon and evening.
TUESDAY 13TH FEBRUARY
6.30 am start with tea and biscuits served in reception whilst we awaited the arrival of our jeep.
Wrapped up warm and Mark looking like a refugee we set off on a tiger search. We explored zone 6.
We spotted 2 tigers up in the hillside but you needed binoculars to see them so I cannot share our view through the lens. The Tigers are in this photo but you will not be able to see them.
We carried on through the park being bumped up and down and loving it. We saw lots of deery creatures
We arrived back at the hotel for 10.00ish and breakfast was being served and was very welcome. I was booked for an Indian Head Massage at 12.30 so after a short rest I pottered down to the ‘spa’. Not a spa as we would know it but a couple of treatment rooms with beds set up ready for clients. I sat on one of the beds and the therapist set to work on my head. I had oil applied and received a ￼vigorous head scratching and my head wobbled about like a ping pong ball on a spring. It was very invigorating and then reverted to relaxing as the metal head scratcher was introduced. My temples were massaged and then the knots around my neck and shoulders. I looked terrible but felt great. I also smelt slightly strange as the oil had a smell that was a mixture of menthol and vegetable oil.
Our afternoon safari left at 2.30. The weather was a little warmer
We had an amazing drive this time in zone 7. The roads were steep and really bumpy and not far off a fairground ride! White knuckles appeared on the lady sitting next to me.
We all look very happy here and we were soon to be even happier. After taking in the views
and seeing some more ‘deery’ things
we eventually found the hidden treasure…….
Our guides had heard the warning call of a ‘deery thing’. We hung around and waited and waited, along with a few other trucks (also known as Gypsy trucks). Time was running out because the park gates close at 6.00pm the tension was rising. Then there she was. The tiger appeared from in the trees and the Gypsies surged forward. Those tiger feet kept moving and much to our delight rather than disappearing it carried on walking up the track so that we could all follow in a convoy.
What a finale but the excitement didn’t end there. We had about 5 minutes to exit the park otherwise the rangers would be fined. Foot to the floor and all of us bouncing around in the back, we made it through the gate with two minutes to spare. Ta dah.
WEDNESDAY 14TH FEBRUARY
Happy Valentines Day. ♥️
Chocolates and a card on my pillow and a Valentines wish on Marks. We had both remembered. ￼
A travelling day today as we left Ranthambhore for Agra. Glad was not feeling tip top which wasn’t ideal for a long travelling day. We knew we were in for at least at 6 hours driving. We settled down to enjoy the road back from Ranthambhore to the main Delhi-Agra road. It hadn’t improved since we had driven along it on Monday. The main difference was that we were a little earlier so we passed lots of children on their way to school.
Morning washing takes place at the water pumps. That is washing bodies, clothes, bikes- anything goes. I still wonder how they get their whites so white!
We saw brickworks with their chimneys smoking.
We passed a funeral procession.
We passed the normal variety of transport and particularly loved the trucks cushioned by their massive loads of wheat (we think)
At about 3.00 pm we picked up a guide and visited the Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri.
This is a red sandstone city built by Emperor Akbar in 1568 to celebrate the birth of his son. Within the city are 4 palaces – the King’s place and one each for his wives. A Christian wife,
a Muslim wife
and a Hindu wife. He was a king of diplomacy so kept a foot (or a wife) in each camp. His Hindu wife was favoured as the mother of his son and heir. This was reflected in the size of her palace.
The city was the home to half a million people and covered an area of 9 square kilometres.
We finished our journey into Agra and saw much evidence of the towns connection with shoes. There were delivery bikes coming from all directions.
We checked into our massive and pleasant hotel and decided to take the easy option and eat in their restaurant and celebrate Valentines Day.
Dodgy table decoration but very good food.
THURSDAY 15TH FEBRUARY
We opted for the sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal so were picked up at 6.15am. The traffic was relatively calm and the queue to get into the site was relatively short. Good result. Security was quite strict as this place is sacred both from a spiritual and an income point of view. 40% of the 1.7 million people living in Agra rely on the Taj Mahal for their income. As it has come from all around the world and from all cultures and religions. We particularly liked the three monks who were clearly up with the times and the technology taking photos like everybody else with their iPads.
This was a truly breathtaking vision. Seeing is believing and it truly brought tears to my eyes. There was lots of posing for photographs but it is a very photogenic place.
Agra was once the capital of the Mughal empire.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shahjahan, the 5th Mughal king for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died at the age of 38 giving birth to her 14th child. Building commenced in 1632-1653. Her 3 wishes had been that her husband never remarried, that he looked after the children and that he build her a mausoleum. He carried out all of her wishes and the sadness of her second wish was that their eldest son who was greedy for power and money ended up imprisoning his own father for his final years. Shahjahan died in 1666 and he was buried next to his wife.
The Taj Mahal is a vision of beauty from a distance and the marvel does not stop there. On closer inspection the inlaid carving in the marble is exquisite. The inner sanctuary containing the bodies of Sharjahan and his wife is dimly lit by one lamp adding to the atmosphere of peace and reverence.
The construction of the Taj Mahal is such that it looks identical on each its four sides. The four pillars are deliberately built to lean out slightly so that in the event of collapse they would fall away from the mausoleum rather than towards it.
1983 Taj Mahal became a World Heritage site. It is the most visited site in India attracting at least 3 million visitors a year.
It was great to return to have breakfast with a head full of beautiful visions of the Taj Mahal. We were fortified (pardon the pun) for our visit to Agra Fort.
Agra Fort was built by the 3rd Mughal Emperor, Akbar (who built Fatepur Sikri). It was later converted to a palace by Shahjahan (who built the Taj Mahal) and it was to become his gilded cage when his son imprisoned him there until his death. It was house arrest rather than being locked in a room or cell and from the fort he could look back at the mausoleum he had built for his beloved wife.
You can just see the Taj over my shoulder.
On the way to the fort we had been taken to a marble outlet where we had a demonstration of the craftsmanship used to inlay the gemstones into the marble.
Apparently the craftsmen work out in the local villages and the pieces are decorated by hand. The marble is carved out, the gems are polished and shaped and then set in the marble with a special glue. The result is stunning and like mini Taj Mahal patterns on tables, vases, dishes and my favourites a jewellery box. I became the proud owner of my favourite box. Mark bartered hard but still needed a sit down after paying for it.
We decided to venture out for dinner and the walk was so much easier than Jaipur because there were pavements! Here is something we take for granted but here they are a rarity. The pedestrians along with the dogs, cows and pigs take their chances walking along the edge of the road. The pavement here was cobbled and dusty with holes and hazards but it was safer. Mind you it would be no surprised to find vehicles parked or taking a short cut along it as well. We had spotted two restaurants in the Lonely Planet and we scoped them both out. We plumped for
The food was tasty, the service was good and the price was cheap! The toilets were not the best but OK. The waiter recommended a starter of Dahi Idly/Vada, then Mark had the Thali and I had the Kerala Special. The chef was from S India so that cuisine was their specialty. We even dared to walk on the shopping street which was more like a high street as we know it with shoes being the main attraction. A walk home bought us nicely to the end of an amazing day.
FRIDAY 16TH FEBRUARY
I found Idly on the breakfast buffet this morning. It was little mounds of semolina and tasted pretty bland on its own, unlike my starter last night which was doused in yoghurt and cumin. The waiter questioned our choice of bacon and eggs and presented us with a plate of curry and puri. We declined his kind offer because not only did we not fancy curry but we were also full up having already eaten our cooked breakfast of the English variety. Meanwhile, unbeknown to us, Terry and Glad had been given a little picnic of cakes to take on the bus. We were not so lucky. We were given a questionnaire to complete.
We set off at 9.30 and travelled on the Agra Outer Ring road which was new, smooth and a pricey toll road.
Due to the comparatively high toll the road was empty by Indian standards. It was very much like travelling along a British motorway and whilst the advantage was speed the disadvantage was the distance from the activities of everyday life.
We passed acres of mustard crops and a massive area of brickworks. Along the roadside we saw a few pedestrians, a couple of dogs, a few hitchhikers but no cows or pigs!
As we drew nearer to Delhi there was extensive building occurring in what appeared to be the equivalent of ‘new towns’. There were block upon block of high rise apartments and offices.
The traffic started to become denser and the driving more erratic. We reached the Suryaa hotel from where our journey had begun. We were greeted with the typical warmth and hustle of the Indian hotels. Our rooms were sorted and we were whisked up in the lift to see the panoramic bar and restaurant in the hope that we would visit it during our stay.
A relaxing afternoon ensued. I managed to fit in a manicure which was very thorough, including nail shape, cuticle tidy, exfoliation, massage, mask, moisturiser then nail polish applied. All this was carried out by a very polite young man.
Paying the bill was slightly fraught because the price list in the spa had been altered with tippex to an inflated price. After a bit of negotiation and explanation I was charged the lower price then felt duty bound to let reception know that the spa had introduced a new price and therefore all of the lists in all of the rooms were potentially incorrect.
Dinner tonight was on the panoramic floor, which we had visited earlier. We indulged in happy hour in the bar then ate in the Sampan restaurant overlooking the city.
The food was delicious and all freshly cooked and our meal was accompanied by gentle instrumental music from Black Slade. The singer arrived and she was an excellent addition to the entertainment.
Rubbish tv at this hotel after having been spoilt with some really easy watching bedtime films for the last few nights. Plenty of Bollywood but 10 minutes at a time is more than enough.
SATURDAY 17TH FEBRUARY
Today we are on our own. No minibus and no guide. We had arranged with Terry and Glad to visit the Red Fort. We planned to share a taxi and this was arranged by the hotel for 10.00 am and the four intrepid travellers were off. 300 rupees for a 10km ride was quite a bargain by our standards. The taxi was compact and bijou but got us there safe and sound and neither the traffic nor the queue to get into the Fort was that bad.
We had audio guides and off we went through the Lahore Gate, into the bazaar under the drum tower and into the gardens.
The Fort is a World Heritage site and is currently under quite extensive renovations.
Whilst not as well preserved as the Agra Fort it followed a similar layout with features such as the Hall of Public Audience and a Hall of Private Audiences whose marble dias was said to have supported the famous Peacock Throne.
During the role of the English army barracks were built inside the grounds of the Red Fort.
Our next venture was to walk down the Chandni Chowk at least a hundred times busier than Oxford Street on a Saturday morning. We ventured in to a coffee shop but it was so busy we decided to go to the one in the Lodhi gardens, the next venue on our list. ￼Our taxi was a little dilapidated but got us there in one piece much to Glad’s amazement.
The gardens were originally named Lady Willington Park after the British resident arranged to two villages cleared in order to landscape a park to remind her of home. After independence in 1947 the gardens were named after their Lodi era tombs.
The coffee shop was being renovated and we couldn’t find anywhere else nearby so we contended ourselves with a walk around the lovely park.
We travelled back to the hotel in this Ambassador classic and enjoyed a coffee there. We arranged to meet Glad and Terry for pre dinner drinks in the bar with a view. It was Happy Hour too!