Waiting for the Plane, Doha, 22nd January, 2014
The ‘spring break’ for schools was announced right at the heels of a long winter break and we decided to make a short week-long trip to India. The plan was to cover the top destination of India – the Golden Triangle. I don’t know why they call it the golden triangle. The gold is all gone, and the diamonds and the pearls. It’s just the gild that remains, and a bit of needless pride.
The flight to Delhi through Manama was one of the worst we have endured. A flight delay of an hour at 9:00 PM is going to trigger a series of problems – timing of dinner, changing flights when you want to sleep badly, your host having to delay plans to pick you up by an hour through some of the worst traffic in the world etc. To add insult to injury, the connecting flight was delayed as well.
Luckily we found a great host in Romano’s Grill, Manama airport, to tide away the time having dinner.
Foggy morning in Delhi Airport, January, 2014
Delhi was completely blanketed in fog but we were lucky it was not thick enough to delay landing of the flight. The city was still sleepy in the morning and we had a short drive to Haryana before starting our trip to Jaipur the next day.
Delhi to Jaipur, January, 2014
The drive from Delhi to Jaipur is along a picturesque road dotted with mustard fields in full bloom on the sides. The yellow and green of the fields contrasted nicely with the cold blue of the early morning sky. The fog was hanging all the way to Jaipur. The highway through Gurgaon is yet to be completed and we had intermittent delays in the journey. At least the highway had some good restaurants all along. Haldirams was a blast serving good vegetarian fare. Please try the Moong Dal Halwa!
The Lone Shepherd, Jaipur, January, 2014
Jaipur is a city that is bound to evoke extreme reactions to travelers, Indian or foreign. I come from Chennai and my previous travels around the country include visits to Delhi and Calcutta many years ago. Recent visits to the north of India have been always to Haryana and Himachal, blitzing through Delhi. The level of poverty on display in Jaipur and its surroundings, made aware by the enormous number of hawkers and people living on the streets, is eye watering. We may celebrate the color and vibrancy of the city, but what is wiped under the carpet is bucket loads of extreme poverty. The cities outside the metros are a different world in themselves.
Jal Mahal, Jaipur, January, 2014
Everything must fade, eventually.
The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) is a beautiful palace built in the center of a large lake. Four floors are underwater when the lake is full and the fifth stays above the line, as is the case now. The palace is under renovation and would soon open as a hotel.
Two women having a chat, Amber Fort, Jaipur, January, 2014
A visit to Amber fort is one of those visits that can define the much clichéd visit to India. An India that was home to the Maharajas and all types of excesses that came with that. You can take a ride on the back of an elephant adorned in royal colors and amble leisurely to the inside of the fort, treading the same dung-riddled path.
Cleaning up a Fort, Jaipur, January, 2014
The elephant ride also offers a fantastic view of the artificial water reservoir, designed to provide water to the royal folks in the fort. The attempt to grow saffron in the boxed gardens, to provide fragrant breeze to the royals, failed as the crop wouldn’t thrive in Jaipur’s semi-arid climate. The saffron would find its home in Kashmir and thrive.
Seated Women, Amber Fort, Jaipur, January, 2014
The Amber fort is well maintained with just a bit of debris here and there. Keeping public property clean in India would need a cultural change in a billion+ people. Something of this scale has never been tried before. And the countless levels of social strata created and left over by a heady mix of feudalism, religion, and later colonialism continue to ensure that a common social fabric across the country will always remain a pipe dream. I read in the Guardian some time ago that England has seven social strata and you can classify yourself using an online quiz. I would like to challenge the Guardian team to classify the levels of social strata operating in India!
The musicians of Amber Fort, Jaipur, January, 2014
The folk music played in the popular tourist spots was something to stop by. Although not to the dizzying heights of Salzburg or other European cities, it wasn’t too bad.
For food in Jaipur, just stick to the local fare! It’s just awesome.
My nails are better than yours, Jaipur, January, 2014
If you would like to sum up Jaipur in a single word, ‘color’ wouldn’t be too far off. The melee of vibrant colors found everywhere somehow melds well together without getting too garish or out of place. Everyone were proudly wearing their colors including these horses that were dressed up for a wedding in the palace. You can rent the City Palace for a wedding, when the gates are closed for public, and feel like a king for an evening.
Shopkeepers of Jaipur, Jaipur, January, 2014
The ‘pink city’ is the part of the city that is walled and colored orange-pink these days. Legend has it that to welcome Prince Albert of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II, in 1876, the city was painted completely in pink. Red sandstone and the orangey pink shade is used ever since within the walled old city that now gives a unique identity to the place.
Radha, Krishna, a cow, and a few Gopikas in Jaipur market, Jaipur, January, 2014
The old city is small and very geometric in structure with wide avenues and shops lining every inch of the streets. The whole city can be scaled easily by foot. I wish Jaipur could make the old city free of all traffic like some of the heritage sites in the world.
New age signals, Jaipur, January, 2014
You got to pay close attention to which side of the road the pigeon’s head is aligned. Traffic lights are used merely to milk the innocent of bribe. My cab driver had to pay a fine because I was photographing people from the front seat!!
Block Printing, Jaipur, January, 2014
Jaipur is a great place to go shopping for handicrafts and other small trinkets. The women will go berserk with the variety of bangles and earrings available. Just a tip, never go to a place suggested by your guide. The price never comes down and there is a commission for the guide.
It takes Radha and Krishna to keep all the filth away, Jaipur, January, 2014
If you are traveling to India you better get ready to see, smell, and accept filth in your surroundings. There is no escape. It took Radha and Krishna, the supreme deities, to keep the filth at bay. Looking at the state of the framed pictures, it won’t be too long before the tree is enshrined.
Reflections, Jaipur-Agra Road, January, 2014
Next stop was Agra. The road to Agra has many potholes and an important police beat. Keep all your papers handy; what starts as a routine check will soon descend into a negotiation for bribe if something is amiss.
The Royal Guards, Agra, January, 2014
The main entrance to the Taj is guarded by two tombs, enshrining two of the wives of Shah Jahan. The Taj, of course, is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, his favored wife.
Final proof that ultimate beauty lies in Geometry, Agra, January, 2014
Everything about the Taj is geometry. It is perfectly symmetrical on both sides. As a true measure of the emperor’s love for his wife, Mumtaz’s tomb is centrally located and the emperor’s tomb is placed to the side, off center.
A moment of rest, Agra, January, 2014
India – Past and the Present, Agra, January, 2014
A visit to the Taj is only complete when you cross the river Jamuna and get a view of the Taj from across the river, preferably early in the morning or late in the evening when the light is golden and magical and there is no one to obstruct the view. You will be tempted to extend the stay and enjoy the view of the Taj lit by the moon.
The woods of Agra, January, 2014
The rear view of the Taj is dotted by a few woods and fields where crops are still grown.
The vanishing arch, Qutub Minar, January, 2014
Another arduous road trip and we ended in Delhi. The aim was just to cover the three UNESCO heritage sites viz. Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, and the Red Fort. All three of them are impressive monuments. The Brits tried their hand in leaving their own in the Red Fort in the form of the army barracks and failed miserably. The barracks are positively, monumentally ugly, sitting next to some of the most beautiful pavilions designed in Persian style. While the Brits might have failed in leaving a monument in the Red Fort, they don’t seem to have met the same fate in the more grandiose project called New Delhi.
The lone cyclist of Gurgaon, January, 2014
The choice to stay in Gurgaon was the wrong one as we had to battle through an hour of traffic just to get to the city.
Child playing in a car, Delhi, January, 2014
Photographically speaking, the times spent in traffic did have their good moments though. People in Delhi should be spending half their lives waiting in traffic.
Connaught Place, Delhi, January, 2014
One of the two other highlights of the trip was the shopping in Connaught Place and lunch at Karim’s! A good part of the evening in Connaught place and the surrounding markets will keep the women folk happy. And for a change, if you feel like tasting what the south of India has to offer in culinary terms, Sharavana Bhavan is just close by!
Market near Jama Masjid, Delhi, January, 2014
The visit to Karim’s, a Mughal restaurant made popular by Time magazine’s declaration that it is one of the top 500 places to eat in Asia, is like crossing the seven seas to reach the palace where the princess resides. Do not be put off by the chaos, it will be one of the highlights of a trip to Delhi. The cooks trace their ancestry to the kitchens of the Mughal emperors. Don’t waste your time analyzing the blood lines. The food is just great.
By-lanes of Jama Masjid, Delhi, January, 2014
The fastest route to Karim’s is by foot, as you have to cross one of the densest lanes in India. No, the densest lane I have seen is one Ranganathan Street in Chennai, particularly during Diwali where you have to rub shoulders and almost your whole body during every second of your shopping. Imagine a million people descending on a street at the same time. Or just imagine a jelly bean can. The lane next to the Jama Masjid, where Karim’s is located, is simply a lane with dense traffic, horns blaring from all sides and a busy meat market on one side. If you have a very delicate enteral system prone to spontaneous emesis on the slightest provocation, be forewarned.
Bakers of Karim’s, Delhi, January, 2014
The food at Karim’s was exceptional, especially the bread and the grilled meat. It is definitely a must-visit during any trip to Delhi. So much of a change from the boring four-star restaurant stuff. When it comes to dining In India, only the local fare is five star.