I’ve just returned from an abridged version of the golden triangle tour with Riviera travel – this is the classic Delhi, Agra & Jaipur tour.
We flew out from Heathrow direct to Delhi with Virgin Airways. This took around eight & half hours, a night flight out and day flight back.
We were welcomed at the airport by our guide from Riviera Travel, as well as a local Indian guide, driver and mate. First, we were presented with the traditional Hindu welcome of a garland of bright orange marigolds, then cold drinks from our driver’s mate, before starting the 40-minute drive to our hotel.
Straight away you feel the buzz of India, a total assault on the senses. With horns blaring, cars weave in and out, and sometimes you wonder how they never seem to hit each other! But the traffic keeps moving, albeit slowly at times. You’ll see brand new cars in the same lanes as tuk-tuks, donkey and carts, and even men pushing carts loaded with drinks or food to sell.
After a quick freshen up and our first delicious Indian-inspired lunch, we headed off to explore. We ascended the 379 steps to the Qutab-Minar Tower, itself standing at 72.5 metres, built by the Mamluk Dynasty at the end of the 12th century. After a good night’s sleep we started the day with a drive around New Delhi, taking in the parliament buildings, many of the embassies in the area, and finally a stop at India Gate. This was built in 1931, to a design by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It commemorates India’s war dead, is said to be inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and houses a burning eternal flame.
Jama Masjid Mosque
From here we continued to Old Delhi, where we visited Jama Masjid Mosque, constructed on the instruction of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Finished in 1656, this is largest mosque in Delhi. Both men and women are required to wear long cover up garments, though these can be borrowed if need be.
Next we did a must in Old Delhi – a rickshaw ride around the old town. I won’t spoil the surprises on this one, however, it really is good fun! We also visited Raj Ghat – a black marble platform with an eternal flame glowing - the site of the cremation of the body of Mahatma Gandhi after his 1948 assassination.
We said farewell to Delhi for a day or two and headed to Agra, taking the new highway. This was opened in 2012 at a cost of over 2 billion dollars and was funded by the Tata Steel group. It has cut at least 4 hours driving time off this journey and was almost like driving at home again… apart from the odd scooter, cart or push bike!
The Red Fort
On arrival in Agra you get the real feel of being in India. You’ll see cows laying or walking in the road and cars just driving around them or waiting! The cow is sacred and there is a penalty of up to seven years in prison for killing a cow. Needless to say, you wait for it to move.
First we visited the Agra Fort also know as the Red Fort because of its red sandstone colour. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site and was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, when the capital moved from Agra to Delhi.
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum built to house the tomb of Shah Jahan’s favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal. We woke at 4:30am to see it at sunrise, and it was well worth the early start to avoid some of the crowds. Meaning ‘Crown of the Palace’, is was commissioned in 1632 and completed in 1643, at an estimated cost of 32 million rupees. It is simply breath-taking.
Leaving Agra, we head for Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. No new roads for this trip! The journey is an experience in itself, as there is always something to see. Street markets, cows in roads, buses with passengers hanging on the back or sitting on the roof, people in beautiful brightly coloured dress heading to temples for festivals and, oh yes - look out for the pot holes!
We had several comfort stops along the way, so no need to worry about these longer drives on this type of tour. And, of course, our driver’s mate made sure we had plenty of drinks while onboard the bus.
Jaipur is famous for the sandstone and marble Amber Fort, a hill top fort build in 1592 and famous for the elephants that carry people up the narrow cobbles streets to reach the UNESCO site. However, nowadays most people ascend to the fort by jeep, even though there are now strict rules in place regarding the welfare of the elephants.
The views from the fort are stunning and from its large ramparts you can see nearby Maota Lake. It’s laid out over four levels, each with a courtyard. The Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) really is a must see. It’s said that because of the way the mirror tiles are placed throughout, you only need a single candle to light the vast space.
Jaipur is also known as the ‘Pink City’ as this is the dominant colour of the buildings. In 1876 the ruler, Sawai Ram Singh I, painted the city pink to welcome the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, and the city has remained painted pink since.
Leaving Jaipur, we headed on through rural roads, heading to Alsisar, where we were to spend the night in the Alsisar Mahal, a 17th century heritage property. It truly was a step back in time to the days of the grand Raj. We did a walking tour of this small village, with its hand painted havelis and beautiful temple, and got a real taste of a rural India. It was fascinating watching the locals go about their daily routines.
After our walk, we were treated to a jeep safari across sandy dunes along the boundaries of the village, where locals tend their animals or work in the fields. We arrived at a stunning spot to sip a beer, coffee or even champagne and to watch to sun go down. A truly amazing experience. We returned to the palace to enjoy our dinner by candlelight on the ramparts of the building.
Return to Delhi
Our last day was a long drive back to Delhi, but yet again there was so much to see and take in. On our arrival back in Delhi, we all decided to go for a tuk-tuk ride to a local market. Both were memorable experiences. The market was made up of stalls with local people selling their wares, be it food, clothes, jewellery or crafts. Plenty of opportunity for those last-minute gifts.
I did have pre-conceived ideas of India, as do most people, however, I can honestly say everything far exceeded my expectations. India is vibrant, alive! It’s full of happy, smiley faces, amazing food, tastes and smells. A truly memorable experience.