India: Golden Triangle Road Trip
After leaving Delhi, we departed on our Golden Triangle road trip to Agra and Jaipur. During this road trip, we entrusted our lives to our driver, Raj, who we had a love/hate relationship with (more to come). Our road trip was a roller coaster ride… here are the highs and lows.
On the first day, we had a breakdown. (low)
Our driver, Raj, picked us up from Delhi in the morning and it quickly became apparent that he had resting bitch face (guy version) and that he spoke zero English. We immediately felt a bit stressed about how we were going to communicate with him for the next 5 days, but we took a deep breath and hoped for the best!
The drive to Agra was very exciting with small highways full of large transport trucks, and still, no rules of the road. We had many close call encounters with trucks, cars, motorbikes, and cows. AND. so. much. honking. (Raj LOVES the horn). Enter, raising anxiety levels.
As we pulled into Agra, my hopeful vision of a smaller, less chaotic city quickly disappeared. Agra was just as chaotic as Delhi, but dirtier. There was more trash, more stray dogs, more livestock roaming the streets, and pools of standing water on the sides of the road. I was ready for a break from the chaos and we weren’t going to get it here. Enter, more deep breaths.
Then, Raj pulled over and picked up a random man who claimed to be our “free” tour guide for the rest of the day. We were tired, stressed out, and had been warned a million times about scams in Agra. We had been instructed to trust no one so we did not feel good about this random, unplanned guide. It took us a solid 20 minutes to get the point across that we did NOT want a guide and to find out that Raj doesn’t know how to get anywhere in Agra and Jaipur. So, you’re saying the company sent us a driver who doesn’t speak English and doesn’t know how to get to any of the sights in either city we’re visiting?!?!?
Enter, the breakdown. The continuous touts, being surrounded by complete unfamiliarity, and the sensory overload of Delhi and Agra exhausted us. We didn’t want to namaSTAY, we wanted to NamasGO. We wanted a quiet park, deep-dish pizza, June (our dog, for those unfamiliar), and WINE. So, we ordered room service, and ate pizza and pasta in bed. #nextbestthing
On the second day, we saw the Taj Mahal! (high)
After a good night’s sleep, we felt much better the next day. We were excited to the see the Taj Mahal and Raj seemed to have turned over a new leaf. He still couldn’t speak English, but he was all smiles!!
Seeing the Taj Mahal was as surreal as you’d imagine. When you turn the corner through the entrance gate it is truly breathtaking. It looks exactly like the pictures you see online, but WAY more detailed and if possible, even more beautiful. It has extremely gorgeous marble designs with intricate flowers and ornate cutouts.
When we left on our trip, one of our goals was the see one of The Seven Wonders of the World and we did it! Definite high! Word of warning for those who venture to the Taj: the ticket counter at the east entrance of the Taj is about 1 km away from the actual entrance. We missed it on our way to the Taj and had to double back. We would also highly recommend going early in the morning to beat the crowds (and for that perfect camera lighting!).
On the third day, we saw the sights of Jaipur. (high)
On our first day in Jaipur we planned for a guide to help us (and Raj) see the sights of Jaipur. Our guide, Vikram (or as his friends, and us, call him – Vickie), was a godsend. He was really fun to tour around with and translated our plans for the next few days to Raj.
We started our day of sightseeing by cruising through the Pink City, which is the area of Jaipur enclosed by walls and painted a deep pink (more reddish) color. We got to stop in front of Hawa Mahal, one of the most famous buildings in The Pink City, for Vickie to snap lots of photos of us. In his words, “I am your guide and professional photographer today, sir!”
Then, we headed to the Amber Fort, one of the most famous forts in the Indian state of Rajasthan. One of the highlights of Amber Fort is the elephant ride to the top complete with amazing views of the surrounding hills and gardens. At the top, Vickie took us on a tour of the expansive fort. All four areas of the fort were extremely beautiful and interesting to learn about. Our favorites were the King’s summer and winter apartments. The winter apartment, known as the mirrored palace, was completely covered in elaborate mirrored mosaics. Across the courtyard was the summer palace, which had much lighter architecture with beautiful floral paintings and a man-made indoor waterfall “air conditioning” system.
After Amber Fort, we stopped by to see the Jal Mahal, or water palace. You can find palaces like these in various lakes in India. If I were a queen, I would definitely want a palace like this!
Then, we headed to City Palace, which is where the King (who is only 17!!!!) lives. This spot also had beautiful architecture with lots of great royal touches like crystal chandeliers, elaborate carpets, and red velvet chairs. The City Palace also has an art center where we were able to meet a local artist who specializes in painting miniatures, 10th century art form.
We also made a quick stop by RCI Jaipur indoor market, where they showed us the process of block printing and cutting, shaping, and polishing gems. These are both crafts that are famous in Jaipur so it was fun to see how it’s done! RCI is a great shopping experience. While we didn’t buy anything, everyone was extremely friendly and we were actually able to “look for free”!
On the fourth day, we met our Jaipur street max. (high/low)
The next day, we attempted our own walking tour of The Pink City. While we couldn’t find all of our landmarks, it was really fun to walk through the markets and see the city come to life throughout the morning. We got to see men making flower leis, food stands prepping their treats for the day, and a cow strolling through the market.
While the majority of our walk was wonderful, as the morning wore on the streets became more and more chaotic. The sidewalks became very crowded, we became targets for merchants, and a woman relentlessly poked me while begging for money. By the end of the walk, we were ready for another break in our hotel room for some A/C, quiet, and water.
Later on the fourth day, we learned how to cook Indian food. (high)
After our rest and rejuvenation at the hotel, we were pumped for our cooking class through Jaipur Cooking Classes with Lokesh! This was by far our favorite activity in Jaipur. The food in India is one of the best parts of the culture and learning how to cook Indian staples was the icing on the cake. Lokesh’s hands-on cooking class taught us how to make vegetable samosas, butter paneer masala, parathas, and rice pudding, among other delicious dishes. The only thing better than Lokesh’s cooking skills was his hospitality! Lokesh and his wife were beyond warm and welcoming. They invited us to enjoy our cooking at their dining room table, where we had a blast talking travels with them. They were wonderful, wonderful people!
On the fifth day, we made Raj one happy driver. (high)
Despite not speaking much English, the one thing that Raj learned how to communicate to us was that Jaipur was making him, “very, very bored, Sir”. Raj was not a fan of staying in Jaipur for 4 nights. After pleading his case to our exhausted ears we agreed to return to Delhi a day earlier than planned. We decided to finally throw our hands up to the chaos of India and use our hotel points to stay at the J.W. Marriott in Delhi where we have been happily laying by the pool with a cool towel and knocking out some planning on their killer Wi-Fi. This is a high because we got to see the biggest smile of the trip on Raj’s face and I am writing this blog from the comfiest bed on the planet.
Despite the ups and downs of India, here are some things we will definitely miss:
- The kindness of locals to share their culture with us
- The side to side head tilt that means “yes”, “no”, “I am acknowledging that you are speaking”, and “I don’t know” all at once
- Being greeted with “Namaste!” and a bow
- Being asked if Hillary Clinton is feeling better
- Fresh Garlic Naan
- Sanjeev, our driver from Delhi that we may need to fly to the U.S. some day
- Watching cows do whatever the hell they want
- The ornate architecture