Ever covered an entire city in a jiffy? We did. And this tour describes it the best. We had just two days to cover New Delhi and Agra. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Actually it was. With a tight budget of just five days, we had to tour Agra on Day 1, gobble up Delhi on Day 2 and then rush off to Mussoorie for Day 3 and 4 to be back home on day 5. Now that’s crazy!
We arrived in Delhi on the 13th of March at 12.30 midnight. (Please don’t dare to. Ever. It’s totally unsafe to venture out so late in Delhi. Even the cops there concur).
Checked-in at 2. Hit the sacks at 2.45 and woke up at 4.30. We had a bus to catch at 6.15 that would take us to Agra to visit the one of the wonders of the world and the monument of my dreams… The Taj Mahal!
It was a cold Delhi morning. Very cold and foggy. I was super thrilled to puff that wintery smoke…something which is almost extinct in Mumbai these days…umm…winters. Flashes me back to my childhood. I used to take great pride in this activity while riding my bicycle to school early morning. I used to be a tomboy back then, a male soul trapped in a female body.
Well… back to the present and to Delhi…
Breakfast of butter-soaked parathas and steaming hot coffee later, we headed out to board the bus. I had pre-booked the seats for Delhi – Agra – Mathura – Vrindavan bus tour with Delhi Sightseeing. (www.delhisightseeing.com) .
It was 8.30 by the time the bus actually left for Agra. It’s a four hour journey. At 10.30 we broke for snacks.
Outside this small eatery, this pretty little Rajasthani girl danced while her grandpa played the sarangi. There was something really touchy about his voice! I loved their fiery traditional wear, and specially their spirit. Why? In that scorching where we sauntered in our expensive glasses, protecting our faces with scarves and stuff, these humble beings performed to make their living. Hats off!
Sun was blazing mercilessly. The windows had no sun-films to protect us from its wrath. Well, there was a reason. To get a clear view of the monuments or tourist attractions that would whizz by, while the bus drove at an incredible speed. We hardly did notice anything. All my weary eyes noticed were two strikingly handsome Afghani youths who shared the adjacent seat.
Four hours of menacing bus drive later, we finally reached Agra. A tourist guide hopped on to explain all the dos and don’ts. We were sold passes to the Red Fort before alighting. We were handed over to Mr. Dipu Sharma, an immensely knowledgeable septuagenarian with undying spirit and bonhomie. He lives in Fatehpur Sikri and travels to Agra daily, by bus, just to quench his thirst of teaching us tourists the history of the soil he belongs to. Gobsmacking!
It was difficult to catch up with the scurrying Dipu ji. But we had to. We couldn’t afford to miss out on the tales of the Emperor and his wives. Sunny, an effervescent young lad was his assistant. A chatter-box that I am, it didn’t take me much time to make friends with both, the old and new generations.
Lal Quila or The Red Fort: Built from Red Sandstones, this massive structure is a UNESCO World Heritage site located about 2.5 km northwest of its more famous sister, the Taj Mahal. Don’t mistake this one with the Red Fort of Delhi. They are two different entities altogether, with a different appearance and history.
With the Sheesh Mahal, Diwan-e-aam, Diwan-e-khaas, Angoori Baugh, Khas Mahal and some of its other exquisite structures, the Lal Quila is no less awe-inspiring.
Our revered Military occupies major part of its territory now.
I kept gawking at the jaw-droppingly beautiful motifs and intricate carvings. Thanks to the dexterity of those workmen, we are able to proudly flaunt them even today…centuries later…
After bidding Dipu ji goodbyes, we were driven to a Government owned shop at the western gate of the Taj Mahal, that sells beautiful replicas of the monument and other marble souvenirs.
They also sell exquisite sarees woven from bamboo fibres, banana fibres and silk. Some so fine that they easily pass the finger-ring test. No kidding!
Something more enchanting than the material of the sarees is that they are woven by the women inmates in the prison. Now that’s something worth a buy, isn’t it!
Also, don’t forget to parcel the famous sweet, the Petha, commonly known as Agra Ka Petha. Buy it packed in small boxes so you can gift it as a souvenir back home.
It was 4.30 by the time we reached Taj Mahal. Passes to the monument were sold in the bus itself (Rs. 20 for Indian tourists. Rs. 700 for foreign tourists) along with the make-do plastic shoes (Rs. 10).
I, as an Indian, take utmost pride in the fact that one of the wonders of the world belongs to My country. And I’ve been longing to bring myself here since the time I’ve known about it. Today was the day and this was the moment. My wait was finally over.
The atmosphere was grey, peppered by slight drizzles and cool breeze… perfect backdrop for romance! Separated by beautifully manicured and blooming gardens, picturesque landscape and a long stretch of azure blue waters stood the epitome of love, the marvel of an epic, the exuberance of grandeur and the personification of beauty… The Taj Mahal!
Aye dios mio! It’s breathtakingly divine!
One look at the magnificent mausoleum and you are catapulted centuries back, to the time it was born. Its history is equally fascinating as is its architecture. Plonked on the southern bank of river Yamuna, the Taj Mahal houses the tomb of Emperor Shah Jahan’s beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. You gotta take a plunge in its history to get to really know this manifestation of love and devotion. All I did in those 60 minutes was soak, soak and soak its divine beauty in my throbbing heart.
You GOTTA visit the Taj to watch this love saga come alive, right in front of your eyes!
It started pouring by the time we left. A small chat with Sunny over a steaming hot cuppa and we left for Mathura.
There’s something about Sunny that deserves a mention. The guy is sweet and friendly. Well, that’s not it. He never went to school but speaks six languages (although not fluently, but just doesn’t give up) and is deeply passionate about his work. He can engage anyone from any background with his knowledge and charm. (Sunny +91 9917222378)
Bus took a detour via Mathura and Vrindavan before reaching Delhi.
Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna, is one of the seven cities considered holy by the Hindus and has a mention in the revered epic, Mahabharata.
We were supposed to visit the Mathura temple and the bus did halt. But it was pouring too much to actually step out without umbrellas. None of us had them. Rains in the month of March? Totally unexpected!
Same was the case with Vrindavan, the place where Lord Krishna spend his childhood. Its was utterly heart-breaking to be there but not be in it. All we could see was darkness and downpours.
Since there was nothing we could do, we returned to Delhi. It was a mind-boggling 1.15 am when we reached our hotel.
“Rise and shine, honey. You have a long long day to go”, I told myself at the crack of dawn and scraped myself out of the cozy bed, looking forward to hit the streets of Delhi.
Booking a car for the day made things much easier. We checked-out at 11, dumped our luggage in the car and vroomed off to see the nation’s capital…
Connaught Place: The beating heart and microcosm of modern New Delhi. One of its largest financial, commercial and business centers. White-washed buildings and spotless streets give a feeling of being in a different country altogether. The place is lined with numerous shops, restaurants and cafes.
Not to miss the beautifully landscaped garden which houses a visibly huge flag that proudly undulates with breeze. Couples sneaking behind the bushes is another sweet sight to see.
Central Cottage Industries Emporium: Located on Janpath, this three storied massive showroom promotes handloom and handicrafts that showcase the creations of Indian craftsmen. It also boasts of catering to the VVIPs and other dignitaries from across the globe. You’ll find wooden artifacts, furniture, home decor and furnishing, garments, exquisite teas… all under one roof. We spent a good two hours just dawdling the place. You never know when we might feel the need to drop again for a buy 🙂
( www.thecottage.in; 011 23326790; 09899101053,)
A delicious lunch of Kebabs and Biryani at the legendary Khan Chacha later, we pushed off to gorge on more of the glorious city.
But before that, we found this hidden gem on the way. Well, not exactly on the way. It was discovered by Oniel on his last visit to Delhi. He was very keen on taking me there this time.
Mother Teresa Crescent:
Rashtrapati Bhawan: Official home to the President of India. Its baroque architecture and use of heavy classical motifs emphasize power and imperial authority. The landscaping is absolutely stunning.
India Gate: The 42 metre high archway originally known as the ‘All India War Memorial’ was built to commemorate the 82,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British army during the First World War.
I zoomed my lens and took a picture of the inscription which reads, “TO THE DEAD OF THE INDIAN ARMIES WHO FELL HONOURED IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS MESOPOTAMIA AND PERSIA EAST AFRICA GALLIPOLI AND ELSEWHERE IN THE NEAR AND THE FAR-EAST AND IN SACRED MEMORY ALSO OF THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE RECORDED AND WHO FELL IN INDIA OR THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER AND DURING THE THIRD AFGHAN WAR”.
We tourists, normally tend to ignore or avoid delving into such details. But I really want you to know how much we should value and respect our freedom. It costed thousands of our own men their lives after all! This is my purpose of typing the entire thing here.
Lotus Temple: or the Bahai House of Worship is open to everyone regardless of religion or any other distinction. This award-winning, pristine white, lotus-shaped architecture is one of the most prominent attractions of New Delhi.
This is called Pedalling for Bread – The Cycle Rickshaw. Cheapest mode of commute, to us. But a real painful one, for them. Sad!
The Red Fort: Do not mistake this one with its Agra sister, although both were constructed by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. They say, this one’s way better than the latter in terms of planning and architecture. Unravel the essence of the Mughal Empire, right here in this formidable red historical wonder. Its colossal size is sure to take your breath away.
Where To Stay:
We stayed at Hotekl Rupam which is tucked away in the bylanes of Karol Bagh. Although the area around the hotel is not that appealing, the location definitely is.
Five minutes walk from Karol Bagh Metro Station, great connectivity to all the major Business Centres and Tourist Attractions and easy access to Karol Bagh’s famous shopping streets.
What takes this hotel up a notch is the service. Mr. Manish Jha, the Manager, is tremendously helpful and so is his staff.
We booked the Executive Room which we liked. Spacious, bright and comfy. Don’t expect a great view.
(www.hotelrupam.com; +91 8587839661; +91-11- 25815448/49)
Where To Eat:
Go on a culinary journey in New Delhi and you realize its feasting time every single day of the year.
1. Bukhara – is considered to be the swankiest and the best restaurants of New Delhi.
2. Karim’s – on the Jama Masjid road is one the locals swear by. Recipes of their famous Biryanis and Curries are heritage of the Mughal Era.
3. Paranthewali Galli – A street in Chandni Chowk famous for Stuffed Paranthas.
These are just a few and the famous. There are more. You go here, you go there, there’s yummy food everywhere. So take your list, close your eyes, do the ini-meeni-mini-mo and set off to eat till your guts plead to stop.
4. Khan Chacha – in Connaught Place is a highly recommended one. Sink your teeth into their famous Kakori Kebabs, Mutton Tikka and Chicken Biryani and finish it off with their Kulfi Rabadi.
Where to Shop:
Spoiler Alert: You are gonna be drawn to these places like ants to a brownie. So get ready to be spoilt for choice…
1. Chandni Chowk – Its massive! Famous for imitation jewellery, spices, fabrics, bags and clothes. Crowds go berserk. There’s all possibility of you getting stripped off your precious shopping money. So beware!
2. Karol Bagh Market – Traditional dresses, princess-style shoes, spices, fruits and nuts packed in shiny paper and chrome motorcycle parts.
3. Baba Khadak Singh Marg – Handicraft emporiums, traditional arts, carpets, sculptures, paintings and more.
4. Kahril Baoili – oldest markets of Delhi and the starting point of Spice Trade Route. It leaves a huge impression of native India.
Careful planning helped us make the best of both the days. There was still a lot to do and discover, but our time in Delhi had come to an end.