Friday, June 2, 2017

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Travel Adventures in a Magical Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur



A trip is always a great emotion, something that remains inside. One of my crazy adventures was during a trip to Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. I was hoping to better understand this part of India that has long aroused in me an inexplicable charm. For a bit of my character and a bit of my spirit of adventure, I have always had a passion for travel, and I cannot deny the fact that travel experiences have definitely changed my way of thinking.

Before leaving I still remember that most of my bosom friends told me to be crazy. I admit I was a bit scared and did not know what I could expect, but I never thought I could be mad, indeed! It was a unique and unforgettable experience. I had the opportunity to visit amazing places and meet some very interesting people from India and the world, with some of whom I maintain contacts even today.

After getting down in the New Delhi airport, I met with Abhi, Rishav, and Ruchi, a group of unknown faces coming from different parts of India, and we all knew each other sparsely through our social interactions. I really liked that moment, as there was the excitement of the beginning.

We left the airport and reached our car and we immediately jumped for the sightseeing. We were slightly tired but the enthusiasm pushed us, as we headed to the Turkman Gate, one of the access points of Old Delhi. Shahjahanabad, so was its name when it was founded by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, in the first half of 1600.

As we saw through the gap that made us go beyond the walls, there was the soul of India of those times. If these walls could talk they would tell countless stories of old times, great nobles, palaces, bustling markets and the smell of spices. And here we met the first of the new buddies, Alex, a cheery guy from Mexico, who was busy taking pictures and being alone got friendly with us very quickly.

With him as a new associate, we entered into the heart of Chandni Chowk, one of the largest markets in the world. We sneaked through its narrow streets, with the smell of the first fruit banquets, and merchants intent on unloading the boxes of goods that soon will be exposed to thousands of everyday crowd. The roads were narrow and tangled, with the electricity cables that extend for the entire area, seemed to act as its roof like a huge spider web.

This was Chandni Chowk with a tangle of shops and stalls selling everything from books to clothing, shoes to electronics, gold to silver, leather to jewelry, tapestries to antiques, and in short, everything else that might come to mind. The walk continued and we were now entangled between smells and colors as much as those cables hanging over our heads. The place won me over by the flavors and scents of the food stalls to the bazaars.

The buzz of the people got stronger as they began to crowd the market, and we could feel the clicks of Alex even more. We reached the end of the road and sat down to drink chai and eat aloo tikki, samosas and the Kathi roll made with spicy chicken tikka, while the rhythm of Old Delhi kicked off and the flow of people, cars, tuk-tuks, and rickshaws was now that of a raging river.

From there we moved towards Chawri Bazar, the main street of Old Delhi, through to the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India and the Red Fort, one of the main monuments of Old Delhi. The entire complex was quite large and impressive. Finally, as the day finally draws to a close, we moved to Paharganj, and we chose this area not only for its strategic location but especially for the very affordable costs of the hotel. We have a heavy dinner with kebabs, makhanwala chicken and the Shahjhani Pulao, the saffron rice.

With Abhi and Rishav, I still recall the moments of laughter, the moments when we ate and shared our rooms together, to a little disturbed Ruchi. We woke her up in the middle of the night without purpose, while she was sleeping and we dressed in black pretending to be ghosts and you could guess her reaction. But then came the surprise as Abhi and Ruchi broke into an impromptu dance and each one of us laughed to our fullest.

Next day early in the morning began the real adventure and we leave the city by bus to watch a real evolving India, vehicles of all kinds including all the colored trucks, motorcycles and a flood of tuk-tuks. The road was beautiful and lively, as we crossed a succession of villages with fruit markets on the roadside, cows, pigs, motorcycles, people, carts and a crazy chaos that constantly alternated with the open countryside of endless space.

Our trip began with a stop at Abhaneri, where we arrived to see the famous Chand Baori, a stepwell that was just straight out of a painting and headed off to the Galtaji temple, otherwise known as the Monkey Temple. Some boys dressed in traditional clothes come to meet us and show us Sadhu Dubebaba, who leads us into the temple. We were alone as the sadhu leads the way towards a door locked with a huge padlock. He pulls out the key, opens its doors and invites us to enter a room.

We sit on the floor with him and to wish us good luck, he applies an orange tilak, and ties a red and yellow wrist bracelet while anointing the back of our hand with a scented oil and then reads an incomprehensible mantra while touching us with a peacock feather. In this temple, there are over 1000 monkeys and the place was quiet and surrounded by greenery.

Shortly, we get to Jaipur, the pink city filled with sandstone buildings, which was lively and at the height of its activity. We have lunch in a typical restaurant with tandoori chicken and lal maas. Later we walked through the shops on the main streets, with a few funny moments when a bull gets attracted by the red top of Ruchi, which tries to shove her near a quite busy intersection.

As always, our path was intertwined with that of guardian angels who joined us in every step, lifting our weight often in front of the barriers. This time we happened to come across Remy and Cassie, two new friends from Norway and France, who accompany us during our visit to the City Palace, situated in the center of the old town and the observatory of Jantar Mantar.

The City Palace had a courtyard called Pitam Niwas Chowk onto which four colorful doors represented the seasons. The most photographed was the Peacock Gate, with five bas-reliefs of peacocks with flamboyant plumage. Jantar Mantar, the astronomical observatory had the wacky installations that were perfectly aligned with the major planets and constellations.

After the exit, we continued our walking trail along the old city walls and then we departed for the Amber Fort just outside the town, after a brief stop at Hawa Mahal, the marvelous palace of the winds, located in one of the main streets of the city. The facade was wonderful with the honeycomb windows in all different shades.



The Amber fort was perched on a hill with a small lake at its foot. The whole structure looked like a single piece carved into the mountain. All around there were mighty fortifications that climbed the ridges to form an insurmountable defensive wall.



We had to trek up to the biblical Jaleb Chowk, the main courtyard. Once through the majestic entrance, we overcome the Ganesh Pol, the door which gave access to the apartments of the Maharaja and here it is worth mentioning about the gleaming Jai Mandir, the Hall of Victory, richly decorated with carvings and mirrors. Then we ventured into other corridors and courtyards, and literally, we got lost in the maze of tunnels and passages of the structure.



On the way back we stopped to take some pictures of the Jal Mahal on Man Sagar Lake. The building was literally immersed in water rich in fish and only the top floor and the balcony emerge.

We had dinner in an old palace of the Maharajas in the countryside. The place suddenly lit up and the music started in a scene from the Arabian Nights of the past. Our palate was filled with the naan, jeera rice, bharwan aloo tandoori, zeera murg tikka and murgh reshmi kebab. After dinner, we chew a little jhilmil supari, a mixture of digestive spices that freshen the mouth.

Finally, exhausted after the day, we reached the bus through a fun ride in a rickshaw, for our departure to Agra, as we enjoyed a sudden tropical storm that accompanied us for half of the night. That was a night trip with a crazy driver, where we met one of our latest acquaintances, Matt from Canada, who slept on the floor of the bus. This adventure was made of artificial giant spiders with which we scared Ruchi.

Next morning after a light breakfast, we leave for the Fatehpur Sikri, the old capital of the Mughal Empire, otherwise known as the ghost town. We walked for a long time inside. Inside there were many things to see and everything was very nice, from the ladies' garden to the Panch Mahal, the ornamental ponds and the Palace of Jodha Bai, home of the wife of Akbar. It was a perfect mix of styles reminding us that when cultures and people meet there arise extraordinary things.

We moved towards the Jama Masjid, a mosque built in 1571, equipped with a monumental front door, the Buland Darwaza. Inside the mosque was the splendid tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti, a white marble mausoleum. Here childless women tied the marble grate in front of the tomb with a red thread as a votive gesture to propitiate a pregnancy.

In mid-journey, as we were eating slices of cake and black tea, we combined with a group that came from Vienna and started our adventure with whom we walked maybe 6 hours together with the same desire to have fun as we moved to one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, the beautiful white monument surrounded by a beautiful garden, known throughout the world and of course the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We saw it in photos, on television, but the overall view of the complex was even more spectacular. The white marbles sparkled in the sun and contrasted with the green gardens, while the dome was silhouetted against the blue sky.

Finally, we took a tuk-tuk that leads us to the Agra Fort and with another trek in the sun, we passed the expectant guides through to the Amar Singh Gate, the majestic entrance and begin to discover the gardens of this complex built in 1565. It seemed an ornate royal palace with the best decorations and inlays of Mughal art. We removed our shoes to enter the Nagina Masjid. From here we moved towards the courtyard of the Diwan-i-Khas, the public hearing room, from where we could see in the distance the majestic Taj Mahal.

It was in this fort, inside the octagonal tower called Khas Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in 1666. We go through the Diwan-i-Am as we get out of the complex and take a tuk-tuk to the tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daula, Chini ka Rauza and then again towards the Mehtab Bagh, a park famous for its views of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna river. We go back on the tuk-tuk to Kinari Bazar.

We then get back by bus in the direction of Delhi, where we arrive late in the night. On the way, we have dinner at a restaurant with naan, hyderabadi dum biryani, and Kabab-E-Lajawab, spiced lamb kebabs.

Although we have ahead of us the whole day to spend in the city, we had to prepare our luggage. Luckily a terrible storm rages and keeps us at the hotel, so we had plenty of time to organize our day. As clocks synchronized with the weather when we finished the sun came out and the air was mild.



The first stop was the Humayun's Tomb, a funerary monument that inspired the Taj Mahal. After a while between the trees and squirrels, we met another new friend Suzy, who became the victim of a crazy squirrel, which won't stop following her and finally we had to shield her to the exit.



We took the tuk-tuk to Janpath Market where Ruchi unleashed herself during the last shopping, ranging from scarves to Buddha statues. In the end, we returned to the hotel and booked the taxi to the airport to reach our respective destinations.

Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra were fascinating where every day I had something new to learn. Traveling here undoubtedly changed my perspectives and the way of thinking. I would rather say, traveling broadened my horizons! These experiences helped me to see the world through a different lens and enriched me in every sense. I started with a bang with a crazy group, and half of the participants have become my best friends today. Who would have thought that traveling will make me learns so many new songs?

I still have in my mind the faces of the people I met along my way, their stories and (mis) adventures and realized that in this world we are all equal, but in a different way, to the night dance of Ruchi and Abhi, and then all the laughs and moments spent together that sometimes I forget but remembering them re-emerge those moments that make me smile.

In Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, I met new people and a new group of friends, who were different from the friends that I have at home, who had another point of view on the journey of life. I tasted a cuisine different than mine with some of the foods for the first time, listened to new experiences and learned new ways of thinking. I'm sure that helped made these experiences so special as they were the wonderful people I met, with whom I shared moments of leisure and with whom I have always felt at ease.

In short, it's just a tribute to one of my best trips, to the smiling groups and to new friends. Once I started the journey, I soon realized that it was hard to stop.
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2 comments:

Dr. Elise Cohen Ho said...

Thank you. I felt as if I was on the trip with you.

Sweetteepi Hill said...

Thank you for sharing. Sound like you had a great time.