Nadia El Ferdaoussi visits Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.
India was never on my bucket list, but for no particular reason – I’m fully aware that most of the bad stuff you hear about different destinations comes from people who’ve never been. I’m also clued in enough to know that heading into the unknown is smarter in a group and with a local guide. So, fast forward to boarding a plane to Delhi for a week long tour of India’s Golden Triangle with TDactive, the Irish small group tour company, and embarking on an adventure into this exotic landscape.
The aforementioned trio ticks off some of the major tourist attractions in northern India in a relatively easy bus tour between the three cities. Starting in Delhi then moving on to Agra, where the Taj Mahal can be found, and finally home of the ‘Pink City’ in Jaipur. I’d been told India is overwhelming, to expect a sensory overload and to beware of the food and personal safety. Almost things that would try to deter you from ever going in the first place. But after my first trip, I’d return in a heartbeat. What makes it so exhilarating?
Landing in a new country and a chaotic city is much easier when you have someone waiting at the other end with your name, ready to take you on a tour of a lifetime without having to worry about any of the logistics yourself. New Delhi is busy, sure. Car horns sound every couple of seconds, there’s traffic and rubbish around every corner and it can be smoggy at times. But there are also colourful sarees, beautiful faces, the smell of spices and stunning architecture to marvel at everywhere you look.
We visited a local market on day one which was a feast for the senses, vendors luring you into their shops and stalls, ornate fabrics covering every surface, street food from juices to pastries to Kulfi ice cream. Getting my head around the value of the rupees in my hand, I settled for dumplings that cost about 50c and a print scarf which wasn’t much more. I wiped the dust off my can of Pepsi and tucked into my steamed vegetarian momos, playing it safe to start the week.
That mentality didn’t last long, mind you. The very next morning, we were physically thrust into the thick of it and I finally felt like I was really in India. Spin Monkey’s four hour cycling tour of Old Delhi did the trick. Now, I can’t actually cycle, so the lads arranged a tuk tuk for me which weaved its way through the winding back alleys and market places of the once walled city. Starting the tour before sunrise is smart, you get to travel through Old Delhi as it wakes up, giving cyclists a chance to gain some confidence on the roads before rush hour. It’s much cooler at that time of the morning too, of course, and visiting one of India’s largest mosques as the sun rises over the city is a unique experience, not to be missed! Jama Masjid’s red sandstone and white marble facade comes to life with the early morning glow of the sun, it’s impossible not to feel incredibly grounded standing barefoot on the massive slabs of cold hard stone.
To pick a highlight of the tour would be unfair, it’s impressively curated. Our visit to the Sikh temple which is home to a community kitchen which feeds 20,000 locals a day was a humbling experience. Both peaceful and welcoming amid the chaos just outside its doors, Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib epitomises equality. Regardless of religion or status, anyone can come here to graciously accept a free meal while sitting on the ground beside the next person from the community. People donate their time and money to provide the service daily, we chipped in helping to roll dough to make chapatis in the kitchen. Men, women and even children can be seen playing their part in the well oiled group effort that runs day in day out.
View wise, the top of the spice market can’t be beaten. You’ll cough and splutter your way through the crowded street leading to the market, avoiding men with massive bags of spices balancing on their heads and animals towing barrows of the stuff. is is the assault on the senses you’ve heard about, inhaling the pungent aromas that fill the air as you make your way to the roof terrace. Here we stopped for chai tea and for our first play with Holi colours. The festival is the most playful I’ve ever seen, there’s no getting away from it, everyone gets involved and covered in colour.
It really kicked off when we reached our homestay in Jaipur, though. Fending off evil with the Holika bonfire, the rhythm of the drums and heat of the flames are intoxicating as you watch local families come together to celebrate. The real fun started the next morning, though, early! Forget about make-up and wear something you’re happy to never see again, because things get messy fast. No one is out of bounds, between coloured powders and water guns and in the case of our homestay, a dunk in the swimming pool, it’s a free for all. There’s no shortage when it comes to music or alcohol either.
The ‘Pink City’ is another highlight while in Rajasthan, as is a Bollywood movie in the most regal of cinemas in Jaipur. You’ll visit the Amber Fort and palace too with its famous glistening hall of mirrors.
Last, but not least, no trip to India’s Golden Triangle would be complete without setting your eyes on one of the most famous buildings in the world. The Taj Mahal is one of the New Seven Wonders and perhaps the most perfect example of symmetry on our planet. When you see photos and think they’re photoshopped, trust me that it really looks just as awe inspiring in real life. Again, sunrise provides the perfect backdrop to a magical encounter and a massive tick off my own bucket list.
Best for: Anyone looking for a holiday out of their comfort zone. If you fancy a change from your usual city break and are itching for a culture shock, India’s Golden Triangle is for you.
How much: TDactive Explore India’s Golden Triangle including the Holi Festival of Colours departs 16th March 2019 from €1529pps. TDactive Explore India’s Golden Triangle including the Diwali Festival of Light departs 2nd November 2018 from €1479 pps. See the full range of holidays at tdactiveholidays.ie or call 01 6371633.
Getting there: TDactive fly with Etihad via Abu Dhabi to Delhi. Flight duration is around 12-14 hours including connection.
Know before you go: You’ll need a tourist visa (which TDactive can arrange) to enter India and must have a printed hard copy to show at check in before departing Ireland and again when touching down in Delhi. You won’t find Indian rupees in your local money exchange place or at Dublin airport, but you can easily withdraw from an ATM once you land. You can take Euro or USD with you to change but expect to be charged up to 7% in commission. Depending on where you travel in India and the activities on your itinerary, you made need vaccinations before you travel. Contact the Tropical Medical Bureau for professional advice.
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