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India: Golden Triangle at the weekend

My employer was looking for volunteers for a two-week "fire-fighting mission" in India. At this point, my India experience was mostly Indian food and an ultra short trip to Delhi of 22 hours. Since I liked both the Indian food and Gurugram (formerly Gurgaon), I volunteered to spend two weeks in India.


An old pilot saying goes: "Proper planning prevents (piss) poor performance". So: Preparation is everything! That's why I got advice from friends and acquaintances beforehand, read blogs (here I say hello to my former colleague Tobi and his India Blog and asked myself several times after how many days in India I'd be knocked-out with a Gastrointestinal infection. My suitcase was correspondingly large, filled with business and leisure clothes, technical equipment and, above all, the first-aid kit including a large number of charcoal tablets, tablets against nausea, disinfectants, etc. pp. Better to be safe than sorry! ;-)


 

Off to India! Arrival and first impressions


March 4th, 2019, in Germany the winter is slowly coming to an end, but it is still cold. I look forward to reaching warm India in a few hours. After an 8 hours flight, I arrive where I was the year before: Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport. I vaguely remember the paths and the border control. However, the Indian authorities have now introduced the new e-Visa and so I have to queue in a different place than last time. Unfortunately, the line for the e-Visa is longer than the line without an e-Visa, which is why entry takes half an eternity. In addition, the Indian officials are not exactly the fastest, it is warm, stuffy and in the middle of the night. Oh yes, I almost forgot the large number of overtired, screaming children. Hallelujah, welcome to India!


I reach my hotel room early in the morning and I'm glad I don't have to go straight to the office. After a good night's sleep, I spend the day arriving and meeting my colleagues for dinner. Fortunately, I chose a hotel in the immediate vicinity of a shopping mall with a supermarket and restaurants attached. So there is no shortage of options.


I can't and don't want to write much about everyday work at this point, I just want to say this much: The food in the canteen is awesome! You pay half a fortune for such a delicious meal in an Indian restaurant in Germany - admittedly, the plates are a bit nicer then.



 

The golden triangle


Between the two weeks of work, I have a free weekend that I definitely don't want to spend in a hotel. For a moment I played with the idea of flying from Delhi to Goa and spending the days off at the beach. But the flight times are suboptimal and I'm tempted to learn more about Indian culture, especially since I'm very close to the famous Taj Mahal. For this reason, I decide to go on a weekend trip to Agra and Jaipur together with a colleague.



David, my colleague from Germany, booked the tour with driver and guide and luckily I can join in. In hindsight it was a good decision because we were able to talk to each other and it wasn't as tiring as touring alone.


Our plan for the golden triangle is as follows:

  • Friday: Pick up at work and driving to Agra

  • Saturday: Taj Mahal | Red Fort | Driving to Jaipur

  • Sunday: Hawa Mahal | Amber Fort | Jantar Mantar | Driving back to Gurugram

Our agency has reserved rooms for us in these hotels:

  • Agra: Atulyaa Taj (Link) - no recommendation

  • Jaipur: Laxmi Palace (Link) - I can recommend

Our guide and our driver pick us up at the office at the end of the day and drive with us to Agra in one go. Whereby, what do you mean in one go? From Gurugram in the south we first have to go north in the direction of Delhi. The roads are full and we need almost 1.5 hours for the first kilometers. From Delhi, head south again to Agra. Once there, we check into the hotel and have a short night, as we want to go to the TaI Mahal at sunrise. Unfortunately, the room in the basement is windowless, damn badly soundproofed and a wedding party was celebrating in the hotel. Correspondingly exhausted and wrinkled, I get up again at four o'clock in the morning.


 

Saturday: Taj Mahal for sunrise


Daily Program:

Taj Mahal | Red Fort | Drive to Jaipur


Arriving at the entrance of the Taj Mahal, we already meet a huge queue of people from all over the world. According to our guide, these are still "a few people and it is less crowded". Well then I don't want to know what he understands by many people. At this point we are very grateful to our guide, he grabs us and brazenly walks past the queue with us. A short chat with the security at the entrance and we're in (of course with an entrance ticket).

Erster Blick auf's Taj Mahal
First View to Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal awaits us at a fantastic sunrise. Our guide explains the background of the building to us.


Digression: Background of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. Knowing full well that she would not survive the birth, she formulated four wishes for her husband:
1) He should build her a tomb that is unique in the world
2) He should marry again
3) He should treat all children equally and, above all, well, regardless of whether they are male or female 
4) He shall visit her grave on the annual anniversary of her death

The Shah seems to have kept his promises. The Taj Mahal is one of the most impressive buildings in the world and apparently he treated his children well too. 

While it was common at the time for the son to one day murder his own father to take his place, Shah Jahan's son "merely" locked his father in jail. Even Shah Jahan's request that he be able to see the Taj Mahal and his wife's grave from his prison was not denied.

Know-it-all facts about the Taj Mahal:
Size: 57x57x68 meters (LxWxH)
Construction period: 1631-1648
Built by over 20,000 craftsmen with the help of over 1000 elephants


Links die Kau Ban Moschee, rechts das Taj Mahal zum Sonnenaufgang
Links die Kau Ban Moschee, rechts das Taj Mahal zum Sonnenaufgang
Das Taj Mahal von der Seite. Perfekte Symmetrie
The Taj Mahal from the side. Perfect symmetry

Das Taj Mahal von der Seite. Perfekte Symmetrie
Das Taj Mahal von der Seite. Perfekte Symmetrie

Rechts vom Taj Mahal steht das Gästehaus. Bauähnlich zur links davon gehgelegen Moschee.
The guest house is to the right of the Taj Mahal. Similar to the mosque on the left.

The later it gets, the more crowded the Taj Mahal gets and know I know what our guide meant by "it's not crowded early in the morning". So we decide to return to the hotel, have breakfast there and continue to the "Red Fort".


The Red Fort is a fortress and palace complex west of the Taj Mahal. Here Shah Jahan was placed under house arrest with a view of the Taj Mahal. The large marble rooms with inlaid glass and semi-precious stones are particularly impressive.



Das Rote Fort in Agra
The Red Fort in Agra
Das Gefängnis von Shah Jahan. Hinten mit Blick auf das Taj Mahal.
Shah Jahan's prison. Facing the Taj Mahal.
Der Innenhof vom Roten Fort, Agra.
The courtyard of the Red Fort, Agra.

We still have a five hour drive to Jaipur ahead of us. We are happy to be sitting in the air-conditioned car with the rising temperatures. Just in time for sunset we reach a Hindu temple "Birla Mandir". The Indian industrialist Birla family builds a large number of temples and schools in India through their foundation.


The Birla Mandir Temple in Jaipur is dedicated to the two Hindu gods "Lakshmi" (goddess of love, prosperity and health) and "Vishnu" (god of preservation). Our local guide tells us a few things about the Hindu gods, including his knowledge of the Trinity (see excursus).


Digression: The Hindu Trinity and God

In Hinduism one also finds a kind of trinity, consisting of three gods with three tasks for the world:

1) "Brama", god of creation (Generator)
2) "Vishnu", god of preservation (Operator)
3) "Shiva", god of destruction (Destroyer)

Who now puts together the first letters of the tasks comes to a word: God

You may or may not believe that, but our guide is obviously proud to tell us about it. :-)



At the end of the day our guide and driver take us to the hotel. On the way there, David and I only try to process the impressions of the day to some extent. We have seen impressive buildings but also great poverty along the roadside. On the last few meters to the hotel we experience loud, hectic and full India again. It's getting a bit too much for both of us at the moment and we decide to spend the evening comfortably with dinner in the hotel.


I can certainly recommend the "Laxmi Palace" hotel in Jaipur. The rooms are big and absolutely clean, the staff is nice and the food is delicious.


 

Sunday: Jaipur


Daily Program:

Hawa Mahal | Amber Fort | Jantar Mantar | Gurugram


The next day we will be picked up from the hotel by our guide and our driver. On the way to Amber Fort we drive past the Palace of Winds (Hawk Mahal). The palace was built in 1799, is five stories high and only eight meters deep. The building was used exclusively to allow the Maharajah's harem ladies to watch the hustle and bustle on the street undetected, especially during the parades on religious holidays. Unfortunately, the palace can only be viewed from the outside.


Palast der Winde in Jaipur
Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

Continue to Amber, a city 10 kilometers from Jaipur. Fort Amber or Amber Fort is located there. The fortress was built around 1590. We drive a jeep from the parking lot to the fort. We are happy to forego the optional ride on an elephant, in our opinion the animals belong in freedom.



Ausblick vom Amber Fort auf die umliegenden Wälle
View of the surrounding ramparts from Amber Fort
Schattenspiele auf dem Dach des Forts
Shadow plays on the roof of the fort
Gärten im Amber Fort
Gardens at Amber Fort

The last stop of our journey awaits us: Jantar Mantar, translated: Magical Device. The plural magic devices is much better. Jantar Mantar is one of five historical observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh II beginning between 1727 and 1733. The observatory in Jaipur is the largest of the five observatories and houses 14 devices for measuring time, planetary orbits and all sorts of other astronomical values. The tallest building is a 27 meter high sundial that can measure time to within two seconds.



Die 27 Meter hohe Sonnenuhr von ca. 1730 ist auf 2 Sekunden genau
The 27 meter high sundial from around 1730 is accurate to 2 seconds
Ein Überblick über die Messgeräte in Jantar Mantar
An overview of the gauges in Jantar Mantar

Then it's time to go back to Gurugram in 4.5 hours. We reach our hotel in the late afternoon and end the day at the hotel pool.


After another week in the office, I'm looking forward to the flight back to Germany. Above all, I'm looking forward to fresh air, because in Delhi you constantly have an unpleasant coating on your tongue due to the smog. After many interesting impressions, I end up back in Frankfurt without having had a gastrointestinal infection.


 

Conclusion


The weekend trip was peppered with great sights on the one hand, and very exhausting on the other. My brain needs time to process the stark contrasts between culture, UNESCO heritage sites and wealth to deep poverty, begging children and burning plastic waste on the side of the road. As a colleague once said of me: In India people are born and are dying on the streets. Still, I'm glad I did this tour. But above all, that I had such a nice travel companion with me. The journey is certainly less strenuous for two and you can share the impressions with each other.


However, I have two tips for the Golden Triangle:

1) Either do the tour in reverse order, first Jaipur then Agra

2) or do the tour without stopping in Jaipur


Why? Because, in my opinion, Jaipur is less worth seeing than Agra with the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. If, like us, you only have a weekend, I would rather use the Sunday to relax again.


 

A little tip at the end: Cyber Hub Gurugram


Anyone in Gurugram looking for a variety of restaurants should visit Cyber Hub.


The DLF Cyber Hub is a separate office complex (Boston Consulting, BMW, Hilti, etc. are located here) with various restaurants. Highly recommended is The Drunken Botanist. The food is sensational, the location very stylish.



Der Cyber Hub in Gurugram
Der Cyber Hub in Gurugram


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