February 2-6, 2017
GO TO INDIA AND SEE THE TAJ MAHAL!
If you read no further, just make sure you see the Taj. It’s really something special. We’ll come back to that and our day trip to Agra, I promise.
If you go to New Delhi, maybe don’t stay at Hotel Bright. I can’t recommend that hotel, but it’s location at Connaught Place is excellent. There are other accommodations nearby that are probably (must be) better. Delhi was quite the adventure, and the hotel was just a part of it. But really, guests have to walk through a hallway littered with garbage, tossed out furniture, and spray-painted walls saying “No trespassing” before entering the lobby. It’s awkward, albeit manageable. However, our room was full of mold and really noisy. So, do a bit of research and find yourself a better place to crash each night.
Connaught Place is a hub of eateries, shops, and modern bars. A magnet for locals and travelers, I guarantee you can find whatever you may be looking for here. The concentric circles of Connaught became our home base– each night we ended up back here to try a new spot. Among the high end and name brand stores, there are also shops selling traditional Indian clothes, street vendors showcasing jewelry and handbags, and an underground market with just about every good and service for sale.
Conceivably, when you picture India you may envision rural villages lacking modern infrastructure. While those places certainly exist throughout the massive nation, the vibe from Connaught Place brightly reveals the modern day promise of India’s future. Perhaps the best evidence of India’s freshness is Farzi Cafe.
A modern take on Indian and international fusion, the food here is just as beautiful to see as it is to taste. Don’t be intimidated by the “molecular gastronomy” description– the staff here is superbly friendly– their recommendations are right on the money. I mean, just look at that enchanting, iridescent blue of my fancy cocktail!
If you’re looking for a more traditional Indian food experience, find your way to the United Coffee House. Unassuming from the street, once you walk inside you are instantly transported into a fairy tale dining room.
Judging by the name, we thought it was just a coffee shop and we popped inside to buy some water. We had already eaten and weren’t the least bit hungry, but I was so mesmerized by the interior I insisted we stay.
“Just one drink,” I said to Chris, who is unknowingly now the center of my prince charming fantasies. Two dishes later, we’re too full to move, so we have a few more cocktails. The food matches the magical ambiance. My only regret is that we didn’t know about this place sooner– I would have dressed up a bit more (i.e. tiara) and not eaten a full meal an hour before.
Throughout Delhi, there are a plethora of funky and tasty places to eat and drink. The atmosphere everywhere is exciting and friendly. Locals are happy to make suggestions and point you in the right direction. The green and yellow motorized rickshaws will take you all over town for cheap.
To check out the older side of Delhi, you can start at the Red Fort, or Delhi Gate. The ancient entrance at the southern side of the city, the colossal complex is remarkable. Chris and I didn’t spend a lot of time here, but to imagine what the fortress and palace looked like in its heyday– replete with marble statues and works of art– is fantastic.
From here, it’s a short walk to the spice market of old Delhi. The walk through the spice market can be harrowing. You’ve been warned! Chris was nearly gored by a free roaming bull on the streets. Luckily he wasn’t, and we continued to move with and against the crowds past street vendors and tiny shops.
It was time to get back to Connaught Place for some well-deserved cocktails. We survived! It was a bit tricky to negotiate a rickshaw back. The language barrier was a bit more steep in this area, plus hard to hear over the incessant blaring of horns and bicycle bells. It took two different drivers to get us to where we wanted to go, but we made it back to home base.
Agra- Taj Mahal Day
Yes! We are REALLY going to see THE Taj. Located in Agra, it’s about a three hour drive from Delhi. Chris hired a driver to take us and the trip wasn’t bad at all. We left early in the morning and slept most of the way there. Once you’re out of the city the highways are virtually empty.
We also hired a guide once we arrived so we didn’t miss out on any details. I’m so glad we did, because the Taj Mahal is all about the details. Plus, it’s always nice to have a local’s perspective on the history of such monuments and what it means to them in the present.
In almost all of the pictures of the Taj, you see the big, white marble structure. What you don’t always get to see are the ornate walls, gates, and mosques and tombs surrounding the iconic ivory mausoleum.
Once inside the gates, dazzling gardens and reflection pond greet you, leading your eyes to the Taj Mahal. You start to get a sense of how huge the mausoleum is, with it’s minarets reaching for the sky.
Up close the intricate details of the Taj are nearly unbelievable. Until now, I thought the designs were painted. I couldn’t be more wrong. Thousands of workers took years to hand-carve the colorful stones which are perfectly inlaid into the marble.
This is really quite the tribute to a favorite wife. The white marble is almost blinding on a sunny day. We were fortunate enough to visit when the bulk of the restoration efforts had been completed. You can see the scaffolding around one of the minarets still in progress. Air pollution and insects take their toll on the pristine marble, turning it yellow, and every so often the structure is treated to a mud bath to restore its luster.
They do not allow pictures to be taken inside of the tomb, but the inside of the Taj is just as impressive as outside. Our guide was happy to take a lot of photos for us, take us to a great lunch spot, and then, of course, to the local artisans workshop so we could peruse the Indian gems, jewelry, and art for keepsakes. You can probably guess this is a bit of a tourist trap, but it is neat to see workers carving out the marble and stones with the same techniques that were used to create the ornate decorations of the Taj.
Back to Delhi
Now here we are– the whole reason we planned our trip to India– a wedding! A friend was so kind to invite us to join in celebrating her vows. What better way to experience the culture of India than to gather with friends and family for a wedding on the last night of our trip.
But first– shopping. I found a sari in a local shop relatively easy. I chose a beautiful blue color and the shop tailored the top for me in a day. Chris had a more difficult time finding something that would fit and wasn’t too over-the-top. I enjoyed watching him try on every type of suit in every type of color. Especially the shoes.
Finding the sari was easy. It seemed deceptively simple to put on when I was in the shop.
After several failed attempts at getting dressed on my own, I turned to YouTube videos for how to wear a sari. Still, no luck. Frantic and frustrated, we asked the guy at the hotel front desk if there was anyone on staff who could help. There wasn’t. BUT he did know a guy who could help.
A phone call later and a man dressed like an Indian pimp shows ups with two girls. They laugh at my pathetic attempts, shaking their heads and giggling in Hindi. Just what every half naked woman loves to endure. The two women forcibly wrap me up, pin me together, and tuck the fabric into my undergarments (which went from standard undies to yoga pants– the closest thing I could find when they kept yelling PETTICOAT at me and this was my best translation). So now my outfit is tucked into my pants and I realize this means no bathroom breaks for the evening. Never thought I’d be so happy to attend a dry wedding.
Admittedly, we are not comfortable in our new clothes. The pictures really don’t show how far out of our comfort zone we’ve strayed, but once we arrive at the wedding our embarrassment eases. The vibrant colors– reds, oranges, pinks, and golds– spark the atmosphere as everyone excitedly waits for the bride and groom.
The groom’s procession makes their way to the entrance, drummers gearing up the guests for the party with traditional wedding music. Everyone dances along, seemingly unending, until the bride makes her way to the ceremony.
Indian brides must be the most beautiful in the world. Adorned in reds and golds with intricate henna designs drawn from fingertips to elbows, my friend was exquisite, graceful, and glowing as she made her way to the final night of marital celebrations.
Chris and I danced and clapped as the party continued. Everyone was all smiles. The music played on, the drummers seeming to never tire. This was the perfect way to cap our visit to India. All the happiness, promise, and traditions of India celebrated in culmination on our final night in Delhi.
Keep exploring, happy travelers…