Exploring… India’s Golden Triangle
My husband had always wanted to travel to India but I had never wanted to go for fear of the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’! It wasn’t until we were in Uzbekistan and talking to some fellow travellers about India that I started to come round to the idea. They recommended the Golden Triangle to us – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur – so upon our return, I put my fears aside and started researching tours to India, and found what seemed to be the perfect tour with Cox & Kings: The Golden Triangle & Shimla.
I don’t think we really knew what to expect beforehand and were suddenly immersed in the sights and smells of Delhi when we arrived a day early, so that we could recover from any jet lag before the tour started. I read in the guidebook that there was a stationery bazaar (I was thinking of Paperchase) in Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi, so after reviewing how the metro system worked, on our first morning we took ourselves off to Nehru Place, bought tickets and headed to Chawri Bazar metro station. Arriving there, we were greeted with a choice of six roads radiating from the station, thick smog, all manner of life with people on bikes, with handcarts, motorbikes going down the narrow streets with electricity cables hanging in great swathes just above your head. After some false moves and help from local people, we found the right street only to discover masses of tiny shops selling intricate wedding stationery, so not really matching my idea of Paperchase at all. Looking back on this now, it was quite an adventure and a swift immersion into Old Delhi life. After some more exploring on our own we headed back to the Eros Hotel in south Delhi, ready to meet our group and guide in the afternoon.
Delhi was such an eye opener; the traffic was so busy, auto-rickshaws were everywhere, traffic was held up by the cows wandering the streets, people crossed the road anywhere and the smog was unbelievable. It seemed that we had picked the worst time to come to Delhi in 2017, with the city trying various methods to disperse the smog. Anyway, we were off sightseeing with our amazing guide Aarti, who took great care of us throughout the trip and although being very slight herself, she was fearless when it came to stopping the traffic for us to cross roads. First up was the Qutb Minar complex, with its towering minaret, followed by(Friday Mosque), the largest mosque in India. The Red Fort, created for Shah Jahan in 1638, was beautiful and we were enthralled by the pavilions, apartments and gardens. At Raj Ghat we were impressed by the tranquility of the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi who was cremated here in 1948. Humayun’s tomb was an amazing sight.
After a lot of sightseeing in Delhi, we headed off on our coach to Agra, arriving early evening, ready for the visit to the Taj Mahal the following day. Sadly, because of weather conditions, we could not visit at sunrise, but when we did visit in the morning we were literally blown away by the beauty of the building. We had plenty of time here to wander through the gardens and go inside the Taj Mahal to the tomb of Mumtaz, Shah Jahan’s wife. It was truly magical and was all we expected and more! The Agra Fort was also beautiful and later in the day we visited the mini Taj and then went back to the Mehtab Bagh gardens to see the Taj Mahal at sunset – again breathtaking. It was a memorable day and topped off by the opportunity to wear a sari. Four of us were dressed in stunning saris by a local Agra family and wore them for dinner in the hotel in the evening.
Entrance to Mumtaz’s tomb
We were privileged to visit Fatehpur Sikri on Children’s Day, where we saw lots of school parties visiting the site, looking so immaculate in their school uniforms. Before long we were off to Jaipur, staying in a former maharajah’s hunting lodge. The hotel was very peaceful and really interesting with all the rooms being totally different. In Jaipur, we had a photo opportunity at the Palace of the Winds (it’s only a frontage, but a stunning one at that). We found the blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture in the City Palace fascinating, but the highlight for us was the Amber Fort, just outside Jaipur. With streets too steep and narrow for the coach, we were transported to the fort in Jeeps. It is a huge palace complex built in sandstones and marble – it was stunning.
City Palace, Jaipur
The following day was an opportunity to have a rest. We thoroughly enjoyed the cookery demonstration our guide organised with the hotel, taken out in the gardens, we were shown how to make curry, side dishes and flatbreads. It has inspired us to make curry since returning home! Talking of food, I think by this point in the trip we had eaten about eight or nine curries and I was still feeling fine, having mostly chosen vegetable or paneer cheese curries.
After Jaipur, it was a long day travelling back to Delhi in readiness for our train ride to Shimla. The next day, Delhi station was teeming with people and when our train to Kalka arrived we were helped to get onto the train with our luggage by porters, which was an absolute godsend. We travelled first class and were served a three-course breakfast at our seats, which included cornflakes with hot milk, just like being a child again! The Toy Train from Kalka to Shimla was more challenging, with us all being very squashed, but nevertheless, it was a fantastic ride up into the foothills of the Himalaya.
Toy train to Shimla
Shimla was fascinating, with its legacy of British history. We stayed in the Oberoi Cecil, a lovely hotel at one end of the ‘mall’ with fabulous views over the mountains. We enjoyed the visit to the Viceregal Lodge. At the Jakhu (monkey) Temple it was like the blind leading the blind, having been advised that monkeys steal glasses and to leave them in the taxis, as well as renting sticks to keep the monkeys at bay by tapping the ground. There was plenty of free time to explore the bazaars built below the mall on the steep hillside and then, of course, to spend time rearranging the cases to get all our purchases home again. Time went very quickly and before long it was time to leave Shimla, taking a long car journey back to Chandigarh for another great train ride back to Delhi and, after another night in the Hotel Eros, our flight home.
We had a fantastic holiday with a great group of fellow travellers, very good driver and assistant but, best of all, a fantastic guide who looked after us so well. We left India with so many memories – the frenetic pace on the roads in Delhi, the beautifully decorated lorries we saw on the highways, the colours of the buildings, the architecture, the beautiful saris, our train travel, the Taj Mahal and lots more – too many to list!
I guess my final words should be about food. I loved all the food throughout the trip and after about twenty curries I was still feeling fine so should not have worried! It certainly whetted our appetite to see more of India so no doubt we will return, and also cook more curries at home!
Cox & Kings offer group tours to The Golden Triangle & Shimla or you can speak to one of our India experts to organise a tailor-made trip.
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