I am in Noida, India, which is a suburb of Delhi. I am 2 weeks into a trip which will include 3 weeks of business travel followed by 1 week of vacation. During the first two weekends, I have visited Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur, capital of the state or Rajasthan.
PhotosPhoto Album, Part I
Agra Day TripThe first weekend after a week of work, I arranged a day trip to Agra through ECO, the car rental company recommended by my office. They have a special arrangement with my company, so my colleges in India felt this would be least likely to have problems. This included an English speaking driver and a guide who we picked up in Agra. We left the hotel around 7:00am and arrived in Agra at 11:00. The highway was filled with trucks, many overloaded with agricultural cargo stacked two or three times the height of the truck. We passed three trucks overturned because they were overloaded. There were also a lot of large trailers pulled by camels. After picking up the guide we went to the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built in 1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his late wife who died while giving birth to their 14th child. Cars are not allowed within 1km of the Taj Mahal to protect the white exterior from pollution. We parked and hired a bicycle rickshaw to carry us to the entrance. Once there, for security everything electronic including cell phones but not cameras had to be checked.
Afterwards, we drove by for a quick look at the Agra Fort, and then we stopped by a inlaid marble table factory and a carpet factory where I was shown how those items were produced. So often on trips like this the guides shuttle tourists into the expensive craft factories like this hoping they will buy something expensive which gives the guide a hefty commission. I have seen a few too many carpet shops on previous trips. Then after the guide left, there was a stop at another mausoleum, (I think it was Sikandra) where there was a large garden area filled with antelope and monkeys.
Delhi City TourThe second day I had the same driver for a day tour of Delhi. We first went to the Qutb Minar where today’s guide met us. This guide was a college student, who was knowlegable but not too pushy towards the shops. The Qutb Minar is a mosque at the bottom of a 200 meter tall tower build between 1150 and 1250.
Then we drove past construction for sports facilities to host the world games in a few years before arriving at the Lotus temple which is open to all religions to come for a few minutes of prayer and meditation. Since it was Sunday, the place was packed. Then we went to Hymayun’s Tomb. Then the India Gate, which is a monument to India’s WWII dead. We drove by the Indian Parliament buildings and Prime Minister’s office buildings. Then we drove past the Red Fort, which was very similar to the Agra Fort in appearance.
We stopped at a Muslim temple. There was an extra charge to take pictures inside. A small mute man escorted me around and efficiently showed me all the places to take the best pictures. Using grunts and hand gestures, he explained where people prayed, bathed, and other things. Then for a donation, I was shown the relics of this temple, which included a strand of hair from the mustache of the prophet Mohamed (apparently one of 3 known to exist) and a casting of Mohamed’s actual footprint. After returning to the guide we finished up the day going through a Hindu temple.
Jaipur and PushkarOn the second weekend, Friday was a holiday so I took a two night trip to Jaipur, which is known as the pink city due to all the buildings painted pink in the old town section. This time I arranged the tour through RTS. The driver picked me up at 6:20am and we arrived in Jaipur around 11:00. After driving through several hours of flat land, the approach to Jaipur goes through a valley that includes the town of Amber which is the original capital of the area. It includes several forts on the hillside. The tops of the mountains in this approach have a wall build on top f the ridges which gave protection to the earlier inhabitants.
We stopped off at the travel agency office where I paid. The main guy there I talked to mentioned I could have the use of the driver in the evenings to get around. Then after a stop off to check into the hotel, I met the guide and we took a tour of the Jantar Mantar observatory which had quite a few sundials and other instruments built to track the sun’s progress through the zodiac calendar. This information was used for astrology. Then we took a tour of the city palace. After that the guide started me on the rounds through the overly expensive shops. I agreed to go to the gemstone factory since that was a major product of the region, but instead of the carpet shop I insisted they drop me off in the Bazaar to walk around on my own for awhile. Reluctantly they agreed. The shops were mainly for local market, and the street traffic was a wall-to-wall crowded mix of cars, mopeds, bicycles, auto-rickshaws and bicycle rickshaws with cattle and pedestrians. The traffic circles were crazy and what was even crazier was me trying to cross the street in the middle of it all.
The second day started with an early morning drive back to the Amber fort with the same guide but a different driver. The guide and I took an elephant ride up to the fort. Then we walked around through the different sections and the Hindu temple. Afterwords we dropped the guide off in town, and then just driver and I headed to Pushkar. This is a Hindu Pilgrimage a town a couple of hours drive from Jaipur. Once the guide was gone, the driver opened up and told me a lot about his life and family and other things of India. This guy was a lot nicer and it was a nice break from the guides who seem to be spending more time trying to get the tourists into some shop where they get a commission.
In Pushkar the driver picked up his friend (The driver’s family village was nearby) who guided me through the Brahma Temple and down to the waters edge for a prayer. At first, it was pleasant without being surrounded by touts trying to scam me, but then when they took me to the priest for the prayer, I realized that where the scam must be. The priest insisted on an a huge amount for a charity payment. Then the hostility given when I did not want to surrender 6000 rupees ($120) negated any feelings reverence. As I left I stopped in a shop to buy some gifts. My driver insisted later on knowing how much I paid. I did not want to say as I thought it was none of his business, but he kept insisting and eventually I gave in. Later I realized he only wanted to know so he could be sure to get his commission from the merchant.
On the way back to Jaipur, rather than dropping me off to spend the evening in the hotel restraint, the driver offered to show me some extra sights not on the itinerary for a little extra tip which was very reasonable. He took me to a shopping area with much more reasonable prices that what the other guides tried to show. We stopped by another beautiful Hindu temple right in the middle of services. Then I went to Chokhi Dhani which is a Rajasthan cultural theme park which included some exhibits and performers and also a buffet meal with traditional regional food, all for about $5. It was crowded with tourists, but very few were from outside India. The next day we left at 6:30 for the drive back to Delhi.
- Post on the rest of the trip to southern India