India's golden triangle
Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 2:35 p.m.
Delhi, Agra and Jaipur form India's "Golden Triangle," named for the shape made by the cities' locations.
Delhi, the capital, is divided into Old and New and features sights such as the Laxmi Narayan Hindu Temple, Rajghat (Memorial to Gandhi), the Lotus Temple, Red Fort, Humayun's Tomb, India Gate, Jama Masjid (India's largest mosque) and Qutab Minar (a 238-foot minaret made of fluted sandstone and intricate carvings).
A bicycle rickshaw tour through the bazaars of Old Delhi will immerse you in the cacophony of sights and smells: what an experience!
The 127-mile drive to Agra can take four hours by car (it took six hours on our bus with stops). The scenery presents some of the culture shock of this seventh largest country in the world: extreme poverty, shantytowns, garbage, polluted waterways, open sewers, people peeing and animals roaming.
At the same time you will marvel at how happy the population is, despite the conditions. The chaos seems almost orderly as you watch the thousands of scooters, motorbikes, auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks), cars, trucks and buses weave around pedestrians, cyclists, cows, water-buffalo, donkey carts, camels, etc., accompanied by the non-stop sound of horns.
The Taj Mahal at Agra does not disappoint. Its carved reliefs and precious and semi-precious stones inlaid into marble are exquisite. We saw it at sunrise — a good thing, because the weather was so hot. Built by Shah Jahan as an expression of his love for his wife, this image of paradise took 22 years and 20,000 men to build.
Agra Fort, Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb or "Baby Taj," and Sikandra (the sandstone and marble tomb of Akbar) are other sights.
On the way to Jaipur we visited Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar's abandoned city of well-preserved red sandstone buildings and incredible architecture. We stopped at a rural village to meet some local people living in a well-maintained environment.
Jaipur, known as the "Pink City" for the coloring of its walls and buildings, was a wonderful finale. The Amber Fort was stunning and our visit included riding an elephant up a zigzag road. We saw the "Hawa Mahal," or Palace of the Winds, that overlooks the main street before exploring one of the bazaars. Be prepared for the assault of vendors and haggling about prices.
The City Palace Museum and the Jantar Mantar Observatory were also on our itinerary.
The Indian people are friendly and easy-going. The most common form of greeting is the namaste ("namastey") — palms pressed together toward the face, with head bent slightly forward. Guests are treated with immense courtesy. Public demonstrations of affection such as kissing are frowned upon, and dress is conservative. Drink only bottled water, and avoid food from street vendors.
The aspects of the religions (Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and others) are fascinating.
The "Golden Triangle" is an introduction to this immense country of contrasts and extremes, wealth and poverty, religious freedom, self-sufficiency, technological and economic advancement, which still maintains its ancient and traditional lifestyle.
Claudine Dervaes' travel column is published the first Sunday of the month.>