India (1 of 3): Delhi and Agra

I’ll be posting my India trip in a series of three posts, one for each city. I’m trying to get caught up this weekend before I get back to work, but I don’t know if I can-I have over 1200 images to sort through! Here’s the first part-our arrival in Delhi and day trip to Agra.

What a trip! India is so many things-exotic and exhilarating, overwhelming, heartbreaking, beautiful. I can’t capture everything words but I’ll try. And, as promised, I have lots, and lots, of pictures.

When Jess and I booked our flights back in October we were going for super cheap since we also had to book our December trips around that time. Which meant we left Beijing around 11pm on a Saturday, arrived in Guangzhou, China around 2am, then had a five hour layover before our flight to Delhi, where we arrived around noon on Sunday. It took forever to get through immigration and get to our hotel but we got there around 3. Next issue: we knew we didn’t want to stay in Delhi, so I booked our trip to see the Taj Mahal in Agra the day after we arrived, then we were going to leave for Jodhpur. However, we really wanted to see the sunrise over the Taj Mahal. (Okay, I really wanted to see the sunrise over the Taj Mahal and didn’t really give Jess a choice.) However, Agra is a 3 hour drive from Delhi, so to ensure we arrived in time, the tour operator had to pick us up from our hotel at 2:30 am. Not fun. So we walked around a bit and got dinner across the street from the hotel, then came back and crashed so we could at least get a little sleep before leaving.

In hindsight, I would have booked another flight or train to Agra and spent a couple nights there instead of staying in Delhi and making a day trip. But we still enjoyed the tour a lot and our guides were great. Our driver, Prem, picked us up promptly at 2:30 am (did I mention A. M.?) and let us doze in the backseat most of the way. He stopped about halfway through at a small, lively roadside stand and introduced us to masala tea, to which I became instantly addicted. It’s similar to what we call chai, but so much better. When we reached Agra, we stopped to pick up our tour guide, Subhash, and then drove straight to the Taj Mahal. We got there at the perfect time. Subhash got us our tickets and showed us which line to wait in. There were several, including one specifically for foreign women. (There’s a security check at the entry and there’s always a separate line for women, even at the airport, for the body scanners.) We were the first in line, before the gates even opened at 6:30.

I can’t even describe how surreal it felt to be at the Taj Mahal. It’s been at the top of my list of places to go for years. It’s magnificent in its own right, but I’ve always been captivated by the story behind it as well. It was built as a grand mausoleum in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, by her husband Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor of India from 1628-1658. When Shah Jahan eventually grew ill, their son, Aurangzeb, declared himself emperor and imprisoned his father in Agra Fort until he died; he was then buried next to Mumtaz Mahal. Although they are buried beneath the structure, there are two sarcophagi representing them in the central chamber. Everything is carved of white marble in intricate designs and inlaid with semi-precious stones.

By the time we left, around 8:30, the whole place was packed with people. I’m so glad we got to see it early while it was still relatively quiet. After we left, we went to a local hotel for their breakfast buffet, then to Agra Fort.

After leaving we drove through Agra and stopped at a few local shops. The first was a workshop where they carve stone in the same style and patterns as the Taj Mahal. Everything is still done by hand. I wish I’d had more money-everything was gorgeous!

Driving through town, we saw cows and water buffalo everywhere, some roaming free, some tied near homes or shops. We kept snapping pictures, little knowing we would see them everywhere else we went this trip! Our guides told us the water buffalo milk was especially popular for its high fat content, and Jess wanted to try it, so they made a special stop to procure some fresh milk at a roadside shop.

 

We dropped of Subhash, then Prem drove us back to Delhi. He stopped on the way back (on his own time, not part of the tour, which we thought was really nice) so that we could walk around and see the India Gate memorial and the park surrounding it, then drove past the Parliament buildings before dropping us at the hotel. It was a fantastic day!

India, Here We Come!

What on earth have I gotten myself into? This may be the most stressful trip I’ve ever taken. I have spent hours researching India and still am not remotely prepared to leave tomorrow!

I know I’ve kind of disappeared lately. I’ve been super busy with teaching, my side job, and homework for AI. Here’s a link to the site I’ve been working on though; I had to create a portfolio for my photography class.¬†https://p531niki.myportfolio.com/work I’m taking a little break now-no classes until March 19th. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all that free time!

I’m sure I have more pictures but I can’t seem to get anything off my phone right now.We’ve been celebrating Chinese New Year’s with the kids; today we had a cooking class and made oodles of dumplings, and then watched a movie. Then I came home and started finalizing plans and I’m about to tear my hair out.

Jess and I got our Indian visas a couple weeks ago which involved completing a 5 page application and forking over $75 USD. They were approved within a couple days though and it’s an e-visa so all we had to do was print them off and carry them with us. Then after much deliberation we narrowed our itinerary down: 2 nights in Delhi, with a day trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra, 3 nights in Jodhpur, and 5 nights in Udaipur, then back to fly out of Delhi. The problem is that this is a busy season and everywhere is packed with Chinese tourists traveling for Spring Festival. So when I went to book train tickets tonight…they were gone. I ended up booking a private car to Agra for a sunrise tour. Which is going to be brutal because we’re basically sleeping in the Guangzhou airport during our layover tomorrow night, then the following night we’ll have to wake up at 2am to leave for our Agra tour, come back to Delhi around 3pm, then take a 9pm sleeper train to Jodhpur (the only one still available), arriving at 8am the next morning. Not looking forward to the jet lag… After that, I have no idea what we’re doing for the next two legs of the journey but we’ll just have to figure it out as we go because I’m to exhausted to deal with the world’s most frustrating railway website anymore tonight.

Since I’m not enrolled in a class for once, I’m leaving my computer behind. It will be the longest we’ve been apart in three years, sniff. The withdrawal is going to be bad. I’m trying to pack light so I’m just taking phone/camera/clothes in a backpack. I’m going to do some old-fashioned writing by hand but I’ll take notes and tons of pictures to blog when I get back. I’ll try to put some up on Facebook if I get a chance, so stay tuned!