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Going East - Etain McGuckian's India diary (4)

written by EtainMcGuckian1
04.11.09 Posted in Travel 0 0

Eight, respectively peaceful, sleeping hours later, but slightly frozen from our air-conditioned cabin, we arrived in Jaipur. Our hotel (www.umaidbhawan.com) offered to pick us up from the train station and we were thankful for the relative luxury that awaited us. After a dip in the pool, we took on the 'Pink City'

The Taj Mahal is well worth the visitThe Taj Mahal is well worth the visit

 

It's nicknamed as all the buildings were painted orangey-pink (a colour associated with hospitality) in 1853 to welcome the Prince of Wales.

 

The city is surrounded by a wall and laid out in rectangular blocks, according to an ancient Hindu architectural design called Shilpa Shastra. We entered the metropolis through the Eastern Suraj (sun) gate. The colour of activity within blew us away: red-turbaned men in white overalls, sari-dressed women selling spices, pink-turreted buildings towering overhead, thousands of cyclists and pedestrians scrambling along the crumbling streets, retail merchants enticing us into their shack-style stores as we strolled the avenues. I spent half an hour bartering with a tradesman for an orange bag, only to find the shopkeeper down the road offering it for half the price. Haggling in India can be fun, but a bit of a nuisance at times. I never really knew whether or not I was getting a good deal. The best approach to take is to decide what you think the item is worth and offer half that again. You are bound to be overcharged either way, but generally by only a few euros.

 A peaceful break

We stopped for lunch at the roof-top Ganesh restaurant, which offers fantastic views of the city, a peaceful break from all the street chaos, not to mention great food. The chef can be seen cooking your meal on the balcony over a little stove while you wait. Jaipur is famous for its silver, so after our delicious tikka masalas, we tried on jewels at Nehru Bazaar. A little templed out of it, we decided to visit the City Palace gardens instead. The next morning, we scrummed for two hours at the train reservation office to book our tickets to Agra. Later, we headed for Jaipur's Amber Palace, but I got punched in the arm by a passerby, which sent me over the edge. Hectic India was beginning to take its toll at this stage, so we decided to break from rushing around and while away the afternoon at our hotel's rooftop hideaway with some chai. Don't feel guilty if you spend a day chilling out somewhere reading a book. Believe me, your head needs rest like this to recuperate from the everyday madness.

Taj Mahal

I was going to bypass the Taj Mahal tourist trap altogether, but I'm glad I didn't. The beauty and tranquility of the white shrine is jaw-droppingly spectacular. It honestly sent tingles down my spine. I was even more moved when I found out that the king Shah Jahan had built it in loving memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in child birth. Hawkers are not allowed into the heritage site, so the sacred sense of peace was overwhelming. The best time to visit is sunrise - to avoid the midday heat and crowds. Agra itself is a small, pretty town of narrow streets winding around the seventh wonder. It seemed to be a wealthy place and one of the cleanest we'd been to. The negative was the persistent peddlers. They would literally follow us to our hotel and wait for us outside until we agreed to buy something from them.

Delhi

Our final destination was Delhi, where we arrived in the dead of night. Already feeling uptight from a six-hour delay on board our train from Agra, the dark, dank alleyways didn't help matters, as we searched for our hotel with a clueless tuk tuk driver. The air of danger sent us hunting for the sharpest thing in our bags. Luckily, a group of dodgy-looking, but friendly men knew where our hotel (Star Paradise) was, so our fears were in vain.

 

The Pahar Ganj neighbourhood of Delhi is where most travellers stay. I would recommend it for the general ease of things. There is a great selection of restaurants and excellent choice of shops to buy the last few presents, plus the ever-familiar holy cows roam the streets. For our last days, we curiously visited the more well-to-do Connaught Place and hung out with the upper echelons of society, supping iced coffees and eating cake in one of the western-style cafés; we bought some garam masala at the centuries-old Spice Market; we persuaded a fearful Hindu taxi driver to take us to the Muslim Jama Masjid mosque, where we were outnumbered by hundreds of worshipping men (one of which made us pay to get inside, but it's free); we wandered round Shah Jahan's stunning Red Fort, where Indian men affectionately held hands. (Apparently, this is more common than a man and a woman strolling around arm in arm.) Then there was only time for one last chai before home.

 

I honestly have to say I was looking forward to getting my space back, but so glad I'd braved this exhilarating new world. I seriously recommend you do too.

 

 

 

 

 

EtainMcGuckian1

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EtainMcGuckian1
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