Although I have been in India for several weeks at this point, I admittedly have not done many touristy things. Until this weekend, I had only been in Mumbai for the day of transfer and Aurangabad (adding in the short visit to Pune with the class trip). I had not seen any of the major sites and monuments that are famous around the world.
This weekend though, with the workshop completed and my time in India wrapping up, I flew to New Delhi for a too quick tour of the Gold Triangle: New Delhi, Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), and Jaipur (my new favorite city). I met two of my friends who had just finished their own internships in India and were sightseeing and also managed to meet with the gentleman who originally connected me with Dilasa: Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai, who visited Georgetown in the fall and spoke to the Innovation Studio.
So here are my impressions by city (and some more in general):
- New Delhi: literally the stereotype of India, Old Delhi (the old part of the city) was exactly what I imagined when I pictured the country. Crowded and dirty, but certainly lively, every nook of Old Delhi was cramped with restaurants, food stalls, and vendors. The parts which weren’t jam packed were incredible buildings like the Jama’a Mesjid (the main mosque), Red Fort, and India Gate plopped in the middle of the city. At these sites, I saw, for what felt like the first time, western tourists!
Delhi was the biggest example of the contrasts in India. We stayed with a Georgetown alumnus in South Delhi, and might as well have been in DC or NY. It was actually a really nice respite from the chaos of the city and a reminder that ex-pats can and do thrive around the world, even in such different realities. Lodhi Gardens, also in the south, is this beautiful public park with several large ruins, RUNNERS (people in shorts!!!), yoga practitioners, walkers, and an array of colorful birds and flowers. Even within the same 200 feet, you could walk through the grossest, dirtiest stretch of road (a mini garbage dump) and then descend into the nicest metro system I have ever seen (Russia’s was also wonderful, but this was newer): clean, air conditioned, efficient, and well-connected.
I will say this: I had the best side-stall-street food of my stay in the Delhi markets, and it was a city I will need to return to and explore more. **notes on Indian breads: bhatura is AMAZING. Reminds me of the bread used for musakhan in Jordan**
- Agra: home of the Taj Mahal, but otherwise sadly neglected. The Taj Mahal was, of course, phenomenal. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out there were even more things to see in Agra. A couple were like mini taj mahals, but with unique designs. I was almost more impressed with one of the other sites – the Tomb of Akbar – than the Taj just by virtue of my non-existing expectations (sort of why I preferred Wadi Rum to Petra in Jordan). Definitely recommend that though, because it has huge gardens which were populated with a type of antelope and peacocks. It’s another safe haven from the city.
The Taj Mahal was 1000% incredible; I know you can’t buy love, but if you could then having a tomb of this size built in your honor would probably do it. The walk to the Taj Mahal from our hostel was a lovely morning stroll along a gracious, and fairly maintained, road. And, getting up before sunrise to see the Taj in its morning glory was spectacular. There’s nothing like checking off an item from your bucket list at 5:40 AM. All this said, the city of Agra itself is in a sad state. Neglected is a kind adjective for a city that holds so much promise – it’s the home of the Taj!! Even with just the Taj it should be the tourism hub for India, and it also has an amazing fort and smaller monuments. Instead, it’s just a quick pit stop. Agra was the place I have felt the most unsafe – we had an incident with a taxi driver that drove us to the wrong place, insisting on dropping us off and demanding payment, and to top it off that wrong place was a crowded unfriendly locale. In Jaipur, up next, we had to literally push our way through crowds in a market and still felt safer than in this Agra bazaar.
- Jaipur: the “pink” city. I saw pink with quotes because I think salmon or orange city would be more appropriate monikers. Still, Jaipur was the first place where I felt expected and normal as a tourist, in the sense of not being constantly stared at or asked to take selfies (this is a serious thing. In New Delhi, a Portuguese acquaintance and I were asked to take 10 selfies in the course of 20 minutes). It was very well set-up for tourism, which I have been since told is a trend across Rajasthan.
Jaipur is home to the Palace of Winds, or the Hawa Mahal, as well as the Amber, or Amer, Fort. Both gorgeous structures, they are further complemented by an inner “pink” city which is full of stalls selling handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, and the like. The government has also sponsored cottage industry warehouses, where you can witness traditional techniques being used to make textiles, prints, jewelry, and more. We also had our horoscopes read (my horoscope person said I will not be in the same place for very long 😉 sorry John!), which was definitely captivating
This week, as I wrap up any loose ends with Dilasa, I’m also being a tourist in Aurangabad: the Ellora and Ajanta Caves are incredible, and there’s also a “baby Taj” (Bibi ka Maqbara) within city limits.
***second note: even in random places where no tourist has certainly set foot, you will find incredibly generous people. I went to a small streetside stall (Islami Hotel/Restaurant) to order a specialty dish only to find out it was only served until 9 am. I ordered a different dish in lieu and they ended up bringing me every single dish from their three item menu, along with extra roti. Instances like these will make me miss India 😊 ***