Namaste! I can’t quite believe it’s only been a bit more than a week since I arrived in India. It feels like much longer because I’ve already seen and done so much in the last ten days. As you might have seen on my instagram profile or on Facebook, I wasn’t able to go to Leh as the weather in Leh has been really bad. All flights had to be cancelled as a consequence thereof. I was already sitting in the plane when they announced that they cannot fly, so I called the tour operator immediately and he sent Subhash back to the airport to pick me up again. Since the chance for a weather improvement and a flight to Leh on another day was minimal, I decided to change my itinerary. Thus, instead of going to Leh, I went to Agra, which I was supposed to visit after the Himalayas. In order to compensate for the four days in Leh, I added Jodhpur, Chandelao and Ranakpur to my itinerary. I was really sad that I wasn’t able to go to the Himalayas as I had been looking forward to this trip for so long. However, I quickly accepted the situation as I knew there was nothing else I could do. I already told my boyfriend that he would have to come with me another time. Next time, I want to plan a longer stay in the Himalayas anyway as I would like to go higher up and do some treks as well.
So, Subhash and I drove to Agra after running some last errands in Delhi. I felt really sorry for Subhash because he was supposed to see his family during the time I was in Leh. Even though I didn’t mean to cross his plans, the cancellation of my flight has changed his plans as well, for which I felt really bad.
Agra was an amazing experience; first of all because of the majestic Taj Mahal, and second of all because of the lovely B&B I stayed at and the people I met there. I stayed at the Coral Tree, which I can highly recommend. I arrived in time from Delhi to visit Agra Fort in the afternoon and then get a glimpse of the Taj Mahal from the Moon Garden, which is located on the other side of the Yamuna. The atmosphere was magical. The sun was starting to set and the Taj Mahal sparkled beautifully.
When I checked into Coral Tree afterwards, I was given a very warm welcome and felt like home immediately. The Coral Tree feels like an oasis in the middle of the urban jungle of Agra. I also highly recommend to eat there. Dinner as well as breakfast were absolutely delicious! The colourful furnishment and the beautiful garden just added to the peaceful atmosphere. During dinner I met Shanti and her husband, Gham, as well as a couple from Austria. We started chatting and I really enjoyed the interaction with other travellers and the exchange of our experiences. So far, I had pretty much been on my own since there were no other people in the B&B in Delhi. Shanti had already been to the Taj Mahal but decided to go again for the sunrise the next morning. I happily accepted her invitation to go with her. So we met at 5am the next morning to be the first ones at the ticket counter. We were too busy chatting that we walked too far, but it was very nice to go for a walk as I had missed that so much. Anyway, we got our tickets and were among the first ones to enter the complex. I would recommend going early to everyone as you don’t want to miss the play of colours during and after the sunrise, which reflects on the marble of the Taj Mahal. It was an absolutely incredible experience!
Subhash had said that the Taj Mahal is much more beautiful “when you go with your boyfriend”, but I nevertheless enjoyed it a lot! In terms of other visitors, I was actually quite impressed as it was not too busy. After visiting the Taj Mahal, Shanti and I met up with her husband, Gham, and did part of the Taj Nature Walk. When we came back at 8:15am, we were really excited for breakfast! And I can tell you, it was delicious! My favourites were the omelets that the female chef did. At breakfast, we met Eliane and her daughter. Eliane is Swiss but has been living in Bali for the last 20 years. I told her about my trip and that I am going to Bali in September. Thereupon, she gave me her number so that I can get in touch with her once the trip to Bali is getting closer. At 9:30am, I met Subhash again and we continued our journey to Jaipur, the first of many destinations in Rajasthan. On the way, we stopped in Fatehpur Sikri, a Unesco World Heritage Site, where I met two English couples. I guess they kind of felt sorry for me being on my own because they immediately asked me to join them for their tour in the complex. It’s funny how people react to me when I tell them that I travel on my own. Most of them say that I’m so brave. One woman even said that I must be made out of steel. This made me laugh! I don’t experience it as such an unusual thing, but maybe because I’m so used to travel on my own. Anyways, the two English couples seemed all very nice and so I was happy to join them and get some company. It turned out to be a very nice and interesting tour. My personal highlight was the ceremonial knotting of some thread in the mosque. For each of the three knots, you could make a wish. Other people also gave flowers to the gods and sang. It was a really nice atmosphere and an unforgettable experience. By coincidence, I also met Shanti and Gham again.
Because of the heat (up to 40 degrees in the shade) you become much more aware of the importance of water. I would say I drink up to 4 litres of water a day just because it is so hot and dry. Subhash is great, he always has water bottles for me in his car. Yet, even though I drink a lot of water, I’m still struggling with the heat and its effects, so after a long journey from Fatehpur Sikri to Jaipur, I was very exhausted. In Jaipur, I stayed at the homestay, Rawla Rawatsar, a very nice and quiet place. After a nice dinner, I did my first laundry and went to bed soon after. The next morning, I met Rannvijay, my guide for the first tour of the day.
Together, we visited Albert Hall and then walked towards the Pink City, which is the Old City of Jaipur. On the way, we stopped at the Flower Market, where women and men prepared flowers to be given to the gods in the temple, and at a local food stall where they prepared fresh Jalebi, a deep-fried pretzel in circular shape. It was very sweet but delicious! Rannvijay said that men who love their wives also call them jalebi, which I guess would translate to “sweetheart” in English. Thereafter, he added that Indian men generally love their mothers more than their wives. This made me laugh! Yet, I guess since the majority of marriages in India are arranged, I can understand his statement to a certain extent. We continued our walk towards the Observatory, which was completed in the 18th century. Back then, every bigger city in India had its own local time. The Observatory has several astronomical instruments that were used by the common people as well as by the Maharaja to discern the time. After the Observatory, Rannvijay and I went to the City Palace, the Maharaja’s residence. The courtyard in front of the palace was my personal favourite. Very beautiful arches, each decorated according to the four seasons of India.
A very interesting part of the City Palace is the so-called “Friends of the Museum”. The Maharaja dedicated this space to artists so that they can maintain their art and sell their artworks. A man demonstrated how he draws his paintings. He used rice paper as a base to paint on and stones to mix the colours. Another man showed me the art of making beautiful boxes. He hammered a small piece of metall into the wooden box and then filled it up with gold plates. The visit of the “Friends of the Museum” was a very interesting encounter with Indian art that I can highly recommend. Our next stop was Ratnavali, a jewellery factory. The works are all done in the owner’s house as he said that he can save taxes and further expenses this way. It was very interesting to watch the handiwork. Of course, I had to buy something. I decided to go for a ring with a small rose quartz in the middle and pearl earrings. Since I wanted silver instead of gold, they prepared everything for me and brought it to the hotel in the evening. I thought I’d made a bargain but the hotel manager later said that I paid too much. So much for my bargaining skills! After the Jewellery factory, I needed a lunch break. Subhash and Rannvijay brought me to the Peacock Restaurant, which is very popular with backpackers. The food was good and I was lucky enough to meet Shanti and Gham again. The second time we ran into each other by coincidence! We had a nice chat before I continued my tour to the Ganesham textiles factory, where the workers showed me the mastery of woodblock printing. I could even do my own block printing! I wanted to buy a pashmina because the scarf that I brought along has proven to be very handy in India, especially to cover your head in the mosques and temples. It’s also a good sun protection. The myriad of scarves made it hard for me to decide on one. According to the manager, I should have bought a dozen scarves because “a woman can never have too many scarves”. I agree with him, but the limited space in my backpack doesn’t allow me to buy too much. I do want to support the locals by buying their artwork, but I simply cannot buy something in every shop. To explain this to the guides and the shop managers has been a big challenge for me so far because I don’t always feel understood. And I don’t want to ship things home from every city, even if it might not be too expensive. Saying “no” is not one of my strengths, but I think I start to learn it here the hard way.
After a few hours of rest in the hotel, I was picked up again by Subhash so that I could meet up with Nidhi, my guide for the ‘Taste of Jaipur’ tour. Nidhi had been recommended to me by a friend and I was very happy to have her as my guide. We started the tour with the vegetable market. I was absolutely amazed by the variety of vegetables. Nothing compared to Switzerland! There were so many vegetables that I’ve never seen in my life!
On our way to an organic spice shop, Nidhi told me about the different food types of India. Indians differentiate between pure vegetarians (no meat, fish, eggs, garlic or onions), vegetarians (no meat, fish and eggs), eggetarians (only eggs & veggies), non-vegetarian (eat everything) and pescetarian (no meat but fish). It was interesting for me to know that I am not regarded as a vegetarian in India since I eat eggs, garlic and onion. Subhash dropped us off at the organic spice shop where I was introduced to the myriad of spices and teas used in the Indian cuisine. They use the teas and spices not only for cooking though but also for medical reasons. According to Nidhi, “everyone in India is a doctor”. I was offered some Masala Chai Tea, which I enjoyed very much. Here again, I felt very bad that I didn’t buy anything, but I knew that I wouldn’t use it for the next eight months and that, if I bought some curry, in the worst case, all the things in my backpack would smell like curry. So I ended up buying the smallest product he had in the store, a casket of safran, just to make me feel less bad. Afterwards, Nidhi and I went to the house of a local family for a cooking session. It was very interesting to see how they live and how they prepare their meals. I was the helping hand of the house lady, which means that I added the spices according to her instructions and stirred the dishes. I also made a chapati, the typcial Indian bread, which I love so much. It was all in all a very good and interesting experience. Yet, I came to realise once again that the Indian people have a different understanding of “spicy” than most Europeans have. “Not so spicy” is usually pretty spicy for me. I don’t even want to try “spicy” as I know that my mouth would burn. Anyways, even though it was rather spicy, I enjoyed the evening a lot. It was great to see with how many different spices they cook. Whereas at my home, my mum usually uses a lot of salt and pepper, Indians don’t use that much salt and pepper. Instead, they use a lot of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, coriander powder and chili powder. I’m quite proud of myself that I’m starting to get used to the coriander leaves, which I didn’t really like before.
Since I’m already talking about food, I would like to add a few more comments. In general, I’ve really enjoyed every meal so far. Yet, I really miss light meals like salad, for instance. Those who know me will confirm that I usually eat light lunches, especially in summer time. Yet, due to hygienic reasons, I shouldn’t eat salad here. So the warm dishes for lunch are still a challenge for me. In the restaurant, I tend to still feel fine, but as soon as I go outdoors, my stomach feels strange. I would say the food in the North is generally heavy from my point of view. Locals probably wouldn’t agree because they tend to say how light their cuisine is. I noticed that during the cooking session. I guess what makes their dishes heavy in my view is the amount of oil or butter (they call it Gi) they use. Also, most dishes come in a kind of gravy. So, yesterday, for instance, it was so hot that I just wanted some mixed vegetables. However, they came in a kind of gravy, which made it heavy again. Yet, even though Indian food might be spicy and heavy at times, I wouldn’t want to go to any European or American restaurants that can also be found in India. One couple I met told me that they’re going to McDonalds for every meal. That’s a shame because they miss out on such a big part of Indian culture! What I also noticed is that the meals always come in very big portions. I have never been able to eat everything and I eat pretty much. Since so many people don’t have enough food and beg for it on the streets, I always feel very bad to not eat everything. I don’t want to generalise or judge, it’s just the experience I’ve had so far.
The morning after the cooking session, Subhash and Rannvijay picked me up early so that I could enjoy Amer Fort before it gets too hot during daytime. I decided to not do the elephant ride as I don’t support elephant rides and the way the elephants are prepared for the tourists each day. Even though the locals say that the elephants have a good life, I don’t really buy into it. No offense against anyone, but I just didn’t want to support it. So Subhash took me and my guide, Rannvijay, up to the entrance of the Fort by car. On the way, we stopped by a very nice stepwell and the Jagat Shiromani temple. I can highly recommend both of the sights! I also very much enjoyed Amer Fort and the historical tour that Rannvijay gave me.
It seems hard to believe that the Maharaja used to live with 12 wives and a dozen concubines in one and the same fort. Yet, it seemed to have worked a few centuries ago. Rannvijay told me that the Maharaja had a secret tunnel to all of his wives so that the others didn’t notice. That might have been the trick! After Amer Fort, we passed by the Water Palace to take a quick picture before going back into the hustle and bustle of Jaipur and taking a riksha tour. For lunch, we stopped by a local stall and had a samosa and a lassi. When you go to India, you will hardly ever find samosas in the menu of a restaurant because they are too cheap and wouldn’t bring the restaurant any profit. In order to have some real Indian samosas, you will have to stop by a local stall that seems clean and hygienic (not one that is exposed to the dust of the motorbikes, cars and tuktuks). The samosa as well as the lassi were really delicious and I enjoyed it a lot. I returned to the hotel to relax a bit before I was picked up again a few hours later to drive to the monkey temple, also called Galtaji Monkey Temple. On the way, Subhash picked up some grapes to feed them to the monkeys. The visit of the monkey temple has been one of my highlights so far.
It was amazing to be so close to them, feed them and goof around with them. I will never forget that! I had a great “monkey ranger” who supervised me during the visit. I’d highly recommend the 200-300 extra Rupees to have someone by your side who gives you the opportunity to fully enjoy it! This day was rounded off by a delicious meal on the terrace in front of my room. It was beautiful to sit outside, enjoy the stars above me and the nice food! A wonderful end to the exploration of the so-called Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra & Jaipur)!
I hope you enjoyed this blog post! Until I have a better solution for inserting the pictures, I will use my instagram pictures. I will get back to you soon with another blog post about the upcoming places in the state of Rajasthan, namely Chandelao, Jodhpur, Ranakpur and Udaipur! Please find below a summary of all the places I’ve visited, the restaurants I’ve been to and the homestays I stayed at.
Homestay: Coral Tree
Sights: Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Moon Garden
Homestay: Rawla Rawatsar
Sights: Albert Hall, Pink City, Observatory, City Palace, Ratnavali jewellery factory, Ganesham textiles factory, Amer Fort, Water Palace, Monkey Temple XXX
Restaurant: Peacock Restaurant