Our Indigo flight landed at the huge, modern Indira Gandhi International airport and we took a prepaid taxi to our hotel, Bloomrooms at Jangupura. The hotel was a small bright yellow and white block. It had a modern, efficient feel; like Easyhotel but a bit nicer. We checked in and got something to eat at the pleasant Bloomrooms cafe. We wondered around the corner to try to find a supermarket but all we found was McDonald’s and a few food kiosks.
Next day we went down to the cafe for our complimentary breakfast of cereal, eggs and toast. Then we walked to the metro station to have a look at it and see whether I would feel comfortable to get the train. I felt fine, there were many ladies around and women only carriages. We went to Chawri Bazar station in order to go and see the Mama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi. After getting of the train we met two French couples who told us about the famous Karim’s restaurant, which was just a few minutes from the mosque so we tried it out. I had the best nan ever! The curry was delicious too. The mosque and restaurant were about 10min walk from the station, we asked the locals for directions. At the mosque I took my shoes off and was allowed in but Mark was stopped as he was wearing shorts which weren’t long enough to cover his knees. Entrance was free (certain times only) and Mark could have walked round to the gate on the other side to borrow something to wrap round his legs but he didn’t bother. It was a quite nice, red-brick building, but you could see almost all of it without having to enter the courtyard.
Next we walked down a long road to the famous Red Fort. We turned the corner and had another long trek alongside the walls to find the entrance (about 30min walk in total). It was a nice walk. On the way there was a big and very cheap street market where Mark got some colourful t-shirts for £1.50 each, which he was very pleased with. The fort was unimaginably vast with dozens of small shops lining the thoroughfare after the gatehouse. Inside we saw red sandstone temples and white marble palaces laid out amongst large lawns. It was quite a sight!
Despite our full day we pressed on with the sightseeing and took a tuk-tuk to the south of the city to see the beautiful Lotus Temple (free entry). There was an enormous queue to enter but it moved pretty quickly and we were inside the grounds before long. The approach allows you to enjoy the modern, flower-shaped masterpiece. We stowed our shoes and were taken inside in groups to enjoy the multi-faith hall and learn a little about the structure. What another amazing site! I absolutely loved it!
The day after we took the Bloomrooms free shuttle to the Khan Market shopping centre, but the driver stopped in a couple of large tourist shops for us. I bought a small picture and some hand bags for gifts ( for myself too). The driver even stopped at a pharmacist for us. The shopping centre was not what we were expecting. It was outdoors and there wasn’t a food court or restaurants nearby. We found a caffe which was very good though.
We then got a tuk-tuk to Connaught Place, a large circular colonial set of buildings in order to find our Golden Triangle tour office. We had previously booked the bus tour online so we wanted to confirm the booking and find out where we should get the bus. After a couple of tries we eventually found it. They told us that as it was just us going they would put us in a private car with air con, for no extra charge, which was a boon. Nearby I found a street-seller with some good cushion covers, so I snapped them up. We then found a nice restaurant for lunch, where I had a chicken tikka masala, but the nans weren’t up to Karim’s standard. After eating we made our way to an open-air street market full of tiny narrow stalls just south of Connaught place where I was able o find many more trousers, tops and more cushion covers. We then got a tuk-tuk to Hanuman’s tomb. This was an older, red sandstone version of the Taj Mahal with an exquisite gate leading you to the raised, glorious mauseleum and the marble tombs. As agreed our driver then took us back to our hotel.
The following morning we rose early to get an unofficial taxi ride from the hotel security staff to the Golden Triangle tour office, as the official taxi booked through Bloomrooms was too expensive that early in the morning. We arrived at the office and were picked up by our friendly driver, MK Choudry in a air-conditioned estate and we embarked on our drive to the city of Agra (see Agra page).
After an hour or two we stopped at a roadside cafe for breakfast, while our driver had something for free in another room, in fact this happened everywhere we ate. Drivers normally arrange with the restaurants that they will eat for free if they bring customers in. We then got back on the modern road towards our destination. We arrived at Agra a few hours later and we parked at the tomb of the third Moghul Emperor, Akbar the Great, where we met our guide. He showed us round and explained some of the history of the Moghul king who built it, and his three wives (one Muslim, one Hindu and one Christian).
We were then taken to a restaurant for lunch, before heading to the star attraction, the Taj Mahal. We entered from a beautiful red-brick courtyard on the west and our first view of the marble masterpiece was through a stunning pointed archway. We were encouraged to hire a local photographer, and we obliged. He got us posing in numerous positions, both romantic and more lighthearted, and even sat us on Diana’s bench, which she used in her famous visit in 1992. As we climbed the steps up to the mausoleum the cameraman had to wait behind and our guide took over. He explained about the inlayed precious stones, that the Emperor Shah Jahan built it for his wife and the cancellation of the Black Taj. The site is grand and magnificent. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip!
We were then taken to Agra fort, but as we had seen the Red fort in Delhi we decided to leave it. Afterwards we went to a workshop/shop where we saw how they cut, polish and inlay the stones. We were then taken to a carpet showroom and jewelers selling star of India jewels that shine different colours, but again we decided to save our money and not buy anything. Our guide then left us and wanted a tip, but we didn’t give him much, which annoyed him a little. Sometimes guids and other people can be quite rude when it comes to tips, we just ignore them and leave. Some of them will always want more money. Later we were driven to a hotel (chosen by our tour operator) which was simple, but the room was large with an ensuite, and high ceilings.
We slept well and woke early for the drive to Jaipur and soon stopped on at another service station for breakfast. Before we got to Jaipur we stopped at a palace/tomb called Fatehpur Sikri. We were met by a teenage boy who was to be our guide. He said we could walk to the palace but suggested we pay a small fee for the bus, as it was blisteringly hot. We alighted with a bus load of Asians. We were led into the courtyard of the palace with a manicured lawn before entering the main square and removing our shoes. We were then shown the entrance to an implausibly long, secret tunnel and into the main temple we were encouraged to buy cloth and food as offerings for the poor. We just bought some ribbons though. There was a great view over the countryside from one of the gates!
Back at the car we continued on the road towards Jaipur and it wasn’t long before we stopped to pick up our guide, Krishna, upon entering the city. He explained that Prince Albert had remarked that all the buildings were pink, so since then strict laws are in place to keep them that way. First stop was Jantar Mantar, the Rajastani prince’s astrological park. Inside were dozens of sun dials and other means of measuring the times and planets. We also got our first glimpse of the famous Palace of the Winds. Once we had finished admiring the celestial instruments we exited the park. Krishna then took us to a small temple, which was lavishly carved. Just next to it was an artificial lake with the Lake Palace built in the middle, that gave the impression of floating.
We then were taken on a short drive out-of-town to the Royal Palace, and the older Palace next door. We stopped on the way to get a picture and MK Choudry chatted to a local man so he could pose in his hat and with his pipe. Next, we drove up to the entrance of the newer palace, turning down the opportunity to take an elephant ride as we would be doing that in Chiang Mai. Krishna explained the history of the place and showed us the garden in the lake, the courtyards and carved splender of the pillars and screens. We too some pictures of
the procession of elephants weaving their way up to the courtyard carrying the tourist on platforms on their backs. Krishna then showed us the bed chambers of the King’s eight wives and the secret passages he had built so that he could visit each one without the others knowing.
Next we were taken to a place they called the ‘elephant garage’ as they kept elephants there. Mark and I got to meet a mahout and watch him scale the elephant up its trunk by pulling on its ears! We posed for some pictures with the jumbos and it was nice to see their beautifully painted trunks. However, they had their ankles shackled to the ground to control them. The space the elephants have to stay when they are not working is very small, as small a parking space. I felt sorry for them.
We then got dropped off at our hotel for the night. I remember commenting that it looked nice and modern from the outside, but inside we saw cockroaches coming out from behind the light switch in the bathroom! I then saw another on the pillow as I lay in bed. That was too much and Mark went and complained to the front desk. They showed him four other rooms on various floors in the hotel but each one had at least one roach in it! The whole hotel must have been infested. Mark told the manager we wanted to change hotel, I spoke to him too, as you can imagine it was hard work to be refunded but we managed to get it in the end. Mark went to the modern place across the road called the Peppermint hotel, and checked us in. The room was clean and modern, a million times better, much nicer than we needed actually.
Next morning we explained the situation to MK Choudry who was very understanding and helped us get a refund from the hotel, which paid the majority of the Peppermint bill, so we were happy. We were then driven to a place for breakfast before the car took us to our lunch stop on the way back to Delhi. We asked to be dropped off by the cheap market near Connaught Place before getting a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. What a trip!