The Golden Triangle…

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Of all the amazing sights India has to offer, seeing the Taj Mahal in all its glory has to be right at the top of the list but this was the last stop on our tour so let me rewind…

We booked a 7 day tour starting in Delhi and ending in Agra with  Indian World Wide Travel.  We asked the owner Soni for some ideas and he came up with a tour that covered everything we wanted to see.  These tours are amazing – they organised our return flights from Cochin, met us at the airport, private car/driver for the whole week, lovely hotels, Internet in the car, and personalised service the whole way.  We had never done sightseeing this way before and can only say that it is the way to go.  We probably saved hours waiting around bus stations, checking out hotels etc and all we had to do was just relax and enjoy ourselves.

Our driver Biju met us at the airport mid afternoon and we went straight to the Qutb Minar. This is the tallest brick minaret in the world at 73 metres.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was incredible.  How did they get up to the top storeys?  The next couple of days were spent exploring Delhi.  We visited Ghandi’s tomb at Rajghat which was very peaceful and simple – just a black marble square – Befitting the way Ghandi lived his life.  Behind his tomb is an eternal flame representing the fact that his ideas will endure. It was a moving experience.

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We visited India Gate – the first war memorial.  It is surrounded by lawns and there were many traders all wanting a piece of the tourist dollar, in fact you could buy anything here from balloons to guide books.  We also visited the Presidents House – The Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is the official home of the president and is another beautiful building – there were armed guards in their towers watching everyone as India take security very seriously.

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India Gate – the War Memorial

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The President’s House

We also visited Humayun’s Tomb built in 1565 AD for Emperor Humayun by his widow.  Again the architecture was incredible and not only the memorial but the gardens around it were magnificent.

The Lodhi gardens were next which we enjoyed because it was cooler and a break from the jaw dropping beauty of the architectural wonders.  We spotted some squirrels running around and eagles above us.

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Locals doing yoga in the Lodh
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The Lodhi Gardens

The final visit of the day was to the Lotus temple.  This is a modern temple for the Baha’i house of worship.  It is made of white marble and is a unique place of worship as it is for all religions. It is known for its beautiful flower-like architecture and is devoid of anything inside – just a place where people of all faiths can come for peace,  meditation, prayers and study. It was packed and with over 10,000 visitors a day, it is one of the most popular tourist spots in Delhi.

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The Lotus Temple

One of the highlights of the day was a visit to Gandhi’s final steps.  Ghandi spent The last four months of his life at Birla House in New Delhi which has now been turned into a very good museum dedicated to his life and work.  All the walls are covered with an overview of his life and the challenges he faced.  At the side of the house is the room where he spent his last 144 days and remains exactly as it was on 30th January 1948.  Stone footsteps mark the route from the house to the place he was assassinated.  The gardens are superbly kept and again there is a real aura of peace of tranquility here.

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Ghandi’s room
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Birla House
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Stone footsteps mark Ghandi’s final walk
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Ghandi’s only possessions
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His simple glasses

We spent a few hours here mesmerised by this museum. We were surprised how few tourists were here, so many more at the temples, but we thought this was one of the highlights of our trip.

We spent our last night in Delhi and the next day headed off for Mandawa.  This small town of 25,000 people is famous for its ‘havelli’s’ which are old highly decorated houses. Many of them have fallen into disrepair but there is a real effort to renovate them and bring tourists to the region.  It was an old fashioned type town and with so few tourists we felt quite conspicuous.  Our hotel was a renovated Haveli and from the second we arrived we just walked around staring at the hotel in awe. Every bit of walls and ceilings were decorated, the stairs were very old worn stone and it was built around a central open courtyard that was two storeys high.

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The internal courtyard of our hotel
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External view of a Haveli
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Mandawa taken from the roof of a Haveli
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Ian & I in the doorway of our Haveli
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The ceiling of our hotel

We decided to have a wander round the town and had many young guys come up and offer to be our guide. One in particular seemed very sweet so we accepted his proposal and he showed us round.  We visited some of the backstreets, all very dusty as they were not covered in bitumen. We went inside a couple of Haveli’s and climbed up to the roof to see the town from up high.  It was a fun afternoon and Raj told us that he was married to an English girl and would we like to meet her.  We jumped at the chance and so went back for some tea.  Raj and his new wife Gina live with his mother, sisters and their kids- in fact about 8 of them all share a house.  Gina told me they had some land and wanted to build their own hotel soon.  She told me she was the only westerner in the town which was challenging.  She flew back to England for the stifling hot weather of July and August but other than that she spent her days working on the documentaries she was writing and being an Indian housewife.  We wish them the best of luck with their hotel –  we are sure it will be a great success.

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Gina and Raj

The next day we headed for Jaipur which I have been pronouncing wrong all these years – it is Jay-poor not Jy-poor…  this region is very dry and was reminiscent of Arabia rather than India.  Camels trotting down the road, sandstone flat roofed buildings and mosques everywhere.  We called into a small village and had to walk through as the roads were so narrow – everyday seems to be market day in these small towns with people everywhere and produce spilling out onto the road.  This town also had a few Haveli’s but none of them renovated – the doors were original though and so exquisitely carved.

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The family farm
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Local transportation
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His balance is superb
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Roads far too narrow for cars
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The market square

The doors on the older buildings are fabulous – and still used daily

We arrived in Jaipur in Rajasthan about 4pm and crossed the old city to get to our hotel.  Jaipur is known as ‘The Pink City’ because there is an enclosed walled city which is completely pink.  Originally it was the pink sandstone. It now they are all painted pink and have the same architecture.  All two storey buildings with verandah’s underneath for the shops.  This means that the houses don’t have front doors only entrances through the shops – similar to shopping in Australia really…  The old city is gorgeous but very crowded with tourists, hawkers, workers etc.  They had the snake charmers on the footpath, the beggars with sleeping children, the guide books thrown in your face sellers, the clothes, bangles and fridge magnet sellers – you name it they sold it and the noise was deafening. Everybody seemed to be yelling, cars were honking their horns and music was coming from the shops. It was alive and colourful and we got separated a couple of times but Biju was there to save the day and get us back into the car without too much trouble.

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The famous Pink City
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Stunning architecture
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Tourist paraphernalia

We stayed at a gorgeous hotel in Jaipur.  It was renovated to a very high standard and we were again treated like royalty. We had chicken tandoori for room service and decided it was our new favourite dish – just like the dish before and the dish before that.  Definitely going to gain weight during my visit to India.

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Reception
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The dining room is somewhere down there

The next morning Biju picked us up and we headed off for the Amber Fort.  This fort sit next to Maota Lake and is made from the local red sandstone and marble took over two centuries to build.

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Amber Fort
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The intricate marble carving on the pillars

The next place we visited was the City Palace. Another jaw dropping beautiful piece of architecture with exquisite carvings and decorations. It is a palace that consists of gardens, courtyards and other buildings and covers one seventh of of the old city. It is huge and would take hours to go through every section.

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City Palace
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So well preserved and lovingly looked after.
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The silver cauldron

There are two of these silver cauldrons and they are the largest silver objects in the world made from 14,000 Jaipur silver coins. They took two years to complete and amazingly Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh filled them with Ganges water and took them to England to attend the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

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The guard has seen it all before….

We were exhausted by the end of the day – Jaipur is a lovely city with so much history. We were feeling a bit overloaded with culture but still had the jewel  in the crown to yet see in Agra – The Taj Mahal……

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