We very quickly realise that the road markings are just there for effect. Assuming it’s one of the busiest times of the day, we cringe and try to ‘breathe in’ on behalf of our bus as five vehicles try to share a road designed for the width of three. Barely any vehicle has been left unscathed, the vast majority with bumps and scrapes along their sides, casualties of the eternal squeeze. Almost every hue is on view – from the glossy black of the official government vehicles to the bling of the multi-coloured tuk-tuks and the faded tassels of the rickshaws. A cow ventures into the traffic and receives a barrage of horn-blowing as mopeds swerve around it. People stroll amongst the vehicles selling poppadoms, window shades, tomatoes, ice creams… The pavements are used simultaneously as mattresses, bars, washing machines, shops, kitchens, mechanics’ workshops… and this is just the drive from the airport! I already know that ‘!ncredible !ndia’ is going to live up to its name.
To combat the jetlag and get our sensory levels up to overload status, we embark on a walking food tour of New Delhi and get our tastebuds popping. I am instantly in love with this tour as we’re taken down a tiny alleyway off a small side street, somewhere you’d never think of investigating as a tourist. I also love that we have to wait amongst the bicycles, hanging wires and peeling posters to get in; the place is so small we need to wait for some students (our first stop is a trendy student hangout) to leave before we pile in for our first taste of shawarma and mango lassi. The little stuffed wraps barely touch the sides as we haven’t eaten since the plane but we soon discover with glee there’ll be no fewer than 12 stops. We slurp down our creamy lassis and move on in excitement.
alsoThe next stop, involving fiery dumplings served on orange plastic plates, is the last sit-down affair, then as the late afternoon becomes early evening we walk the streets stopping at various stalls, tasting their delicious wares whilst listening to our guide’s descriptions. One highlight was a kind of open donut filled with pomegranate seeds, cream cheese, mint and spices which we had to eat all in one go and feel everything burst out from the middle in a literal taste explosion. The man whose sole job it was to constantly turn the handle of a cylindrical ice cream churn the size of a hog roast at another stop was also fascinating… I wonder what the job description read!
Not only do we over-indulge on food, we also partake in Mahal gluttony! Mahal means ‘stopping place, abode, palace’ and on a Golden Triangle tour you’ll be treated to Mahals aplenty… from the imposing red sandstone that is Agra Fort, to the floating yellow wonder on Man Sagar Lake and up to the marbles and frescoes of Amber Fort surrounded by a rising and falling snaking wall, reminiscent of the more well-known one in China. And of course a trip to India wouldn’t be complete without the Mahal to end all Mahals… The Taj.
A 22-year labour of shimmering marble love for his wife Mumtaz, who died during childbirth (child number 14), Emperor Shah Jahan promised not to remarry and as a sign of his ever-lasting love to her that he’d make an incomparable mausoleum in her memory. And boy am I glad he did! He may well have trumped every man before or since in the demonstration of love stakes, but I’m sure no-one would ever complain at coming in second to this true masterpiece. I just want to sit and gaze at it for hours. Highly recommended and definitely worth the early-morning alarm call, we visit the serene dome for a second time at sunrise the day after our official trip, this time from the other side of the Yumana river. Far from the crowds and hubbub of the day before, with only a handful of people around, we sit on a wall and take it all in with happy sighs as the sun rises and the colours gradually change across the symmetrical dome and turrets.
The most symmetrical building ever to be constructed we are told. And interestingly the four towers surrounding the main building are built at a five degree angle pointing outwards, so that if there were ever an earthquake they wouldn’t fall inwards and destroy the dome and mausoleum, such foresight! One sad legend is that the Emperor wanted to build an exact replica of his wife’s grave for himself, in black marble across the river. These plans were scuppered though when his son overthrew his reign, claimed the throne and put his own father under house arrest. In the end he was buried next to his wife, the only thing unsymmetrical in the entire construction.
“It’s about the journey, not just the destination” is one of my favourite quotes, and in India this rings so true. As a country of 1.31 billion people, the second largest population in the world and the seventh largest in size, it’s no wonder that there are some long journeys to expect. These are far from arduous however. Whether you’re on a luxury train (which I really enjoyed, being served a breakfast of pea omelette and your own hot flask for tea) or in an air-conditioned mini-coach, the sights to behold through the glass are ever-changing and often jaw-dropping. If you have a camera with a quick shutter you can snap some amazing ‘in transit’ pics.
Our journey only scratched the surface of India’s offerings and that serves as a great excuse to go back. I wonder if next time I’ll be wandering the foothills of the Himalayas, strolling the beaches of Goa, meandering the rivers of Kerala or spotting tigers in Bengal! Wherever my next travels in India take me, I know I will be welcomed with big smiles and enthusiasm. The lack of tourists and the desire of the locals to engage with us was so refreshing in comparison to many over-touristed countries.
If this has whet your appetite then please do get in touch and I’ll gladly help you put together your own Incredible India tour.
Here is a short video of our trip, created by our Intrepid Travel leader to give you a more 3D angle of India. You can book this exact Intrepid tour through Infinite Travel, contact us for prices and more information.
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