Being in India a country which is home to one of the seven wonders of the world, it seemed silly not to visit the Taj Mahal during my time here. So we planned a trip to fly from Goa up to the North of India and also its Capital, Delhi. Little did I realise the change of surroundings I was about to witness, an experience that I will never forget and one that is defiantly hits home.
We decided to do what tourists call ‘The golden triangle’ Delhi to Agra to Jaipur, we didn’t see a great deal of Delhi just what we drove through to and from the airport, which was still very different to what we had seen from Goa and Hampi. Instantly you notice, taste and smell the thick layer of smog in the air which pollutes a great percentage of the capital. It is very concerning to see, some people choose to wear masks whenever they are outside – nothing like taking in that fresh air! It becomes difficult to see much of your surroundings even staggering buildings which would have been with clear visibility, not so far from us. It is one of the most polluted places in the world and that included Agra, driving through Delhi I started to notice some of the ways people where living, houses made from tin, boxes and materials hung from sticks and scaffolding creating small local villages where the bottom class people lived, worked and raised their children, in other words…. The slums.
After a 4 hour drive to Agra I was shocked to see that these sights were only going to get worse, I started to think that this wasn’t a ‘Golden triangle’ at all but actually a dark and brutal truth to the reality of people’s day to day life’s here. Tourists come and go, like ourselves to tick off the magnificent grounds of the Taj Mahal, it really was stunning! On entrance you queued in lines of separate gender and were security checked, though this was very brief and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the process at all. Once in the grounds the entrance gate stood very tall in the form of an arch way and looking through you could see the silhouette of the fountains and Taj Mahal in the background making a picturesque memory in my head. Again the smog made the visibility not as clear as I would have liked for this once in a life time but that didn’t take away from the ‘Wow!’ factor, walking towards the huge palace it almost seemed as if a big piece of canvas with a painting had been dropped from the sky as it all looked a little surreal. We sat on the Lady Diana chair which is where the princess posed decades ago and had our pictures taken, we was accompanied by a tour guide to tell us some information and history on the Taj Mahal, In my opinion, if in India, this is an experience not to be missed. Agra is also famous for its ‘Red fort’ which we visited in the morning before the Taj Mahal to give the smog time to clear bettering our chances of visibility. The Red fort was also very impressive and surprisingly big inside to what you would imagine.
We stayed in a hotel called ‘Tourists rest house’ which was just on the side of a main road and recommended in ‘The lonely planet’. Our stay here was very accommodating with spacious rooms including a king size bed, flat screen television, free Wi-Fi and hot water (toilet rolls and towels also included). The hotel lay out was in a square formation with the rooms around the outside and a courtyard area in the middle with hung fairy lights making it a nice area to relax in the evenings and order some food from their kitchen, however I did not find the service or food anything exceeding here and though the prices where reasonable the waiting staff were not so punctual and the food was very basic.
This is not a place as a young white tourist that I would ever dream of wondering around exploring on my own! Men will stare to a point it can make you feel very uncomfortable even with long sleeve baggy clothing, which I would highly recommend! Litter covers the streets in piles and mounds, public bins are a rare sighting to come across and once the piles of rubbish build up they simply set them of fire, adding to the smoke ridden air. Charcoal is an expensive resource so I noticed they were using cow pat which were moulded into disk shapes and laid out on the sides of the road to dry before they were sold on and used to start fires. The population is high and the traffic floods the roads making the noise of vehicle horns very intrusive. There is no organisation or road laws that seem applicable, people weave through each other, drive up the wrong sides of the roads, enter roundabouts on whichever side there nearest exit is, but there is something quite incredible to how the Indians do this and do not even scrape each other. The hustle and bustle between the trucks, cars, bikes and tuk tuks is utter madness, yet it seems to work and I am convinced these people must be some of the best drivers in the world. In Agra I noticed many weddings took place with beautiful venues and decorative areas set up with floral archways, banners and fairy lights. Horses were painted in florescent colours and people gather together in their very best sari’s. The parties would go on throughout the late hours of the evening making it hard to sleep if you were nearby as the sounds of the fireworks going off outside where as loud as what you would imagine of a bomb! But it brought the people joy and happiness, a time to celebrate!
People slept in the gutters, routed through the rubbish and some had nowhere to call home, the bottom class work all day for a minimum wage of 8 rupees a day! I don’t even know how that makes it possible for people to survive. Young children play on the sides of the roads, even some infants lay there whilst the mothers are working digging holes in the ground, frail elderly people who resembled the age of 90 but probably no older than there 60’s sat in the dirt looking skeletal, there is no support system to help these people or comfort them as their bodies slowly shut down. For some people it seemed when it all got too much they lost their minds, I saw a small handful of people who seemed to have just lost the plot! Screaming to themselves as they walked down the roads, I’d imagine they were homeless. I have seen disabled people with no special assistance or equipment just walking on all fours or those who have no use of their legs, wearing slippers on their hands and dragging themselves across the floor. I even witnessed the revolting sight of a fully grown man completely bottomless taking a dump on the side of the road without a care in the world… and nobody else seemed bothered either, like it wasn’t completely undignified. It felt as if the souls had been taken from some of these people and every day was just a matter of survival, they were living but not necessarily alive, I found this way of life very upsetting and a massive reality check to how materialistic the world can be but alongside the sugar coated idea of what this trip had once seemed was the raw reality of people just about existing.
After a shocking experience in Agra we made our way to Jaipur, another 4 hour journey by taxi. Entering Jaipur it seemed as if the smog levels where a lot better and refreshing to your lungs! It looked slightly tidier and more buildings stood instead of small shacks and tents, though this didn’t fool me from noticing the amount of homeless people still sleeping on doorsteps and road sides. We stayed at a place called ‘Krishna Palace’ which again was very accommodating, especially if you like the vintage feel! The Wi-Fi was very good and there was hot water and comfortable blankets, however like the place we had stayed in, in Agra the food and service at their rooftop restaurant was very poor, it took a long time to be served and for the food to come out, the waiters could barely understand a word we said and brought out the wrong orders and though the menu had a vast variety the food was again very basic, but all in all our stay there was comfortable.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and also known as ‘The Pink City’, this is what brings the tourists. The Pink City is a square trail you can follow made up of shops, market stalls and street food, you can also visit the Palace of the winds, the Astrology museum – Jantar mantar and the City Palace. On our first day we decided to get up at 10 am and browse the markets, so we asked a tuk tuk driver to drop us at New gate which was the Pink City entrance gate, so we could walk the square.
Little did we realise the markets stools were not open at this time, we weren’t entirely sure why but it was a Sunday and maybe this had an effect. This left us in a ghost town sticking out like a sore thumb amongst homeless people and beggars who did not seem so friendly here at all! As we were walking we were followed very closely by men eyeing up my rucksack and our pockets, holding back whenever we did and then walking as closely behind us as possible. A little girl came running up from behind me tugging my arm, she must have been no older than 10 years old, she made feeding gestures towards her mouth asking for money for food, as I asked her to let go of my arm as this was very forceful she then grabbed my rucksack tugging at the zippers, when I told her to stop she then pinched my friend Zoe’s inner arm very hard, pulled her hair and ran away back to two older ladies who were watching and waiting for her from a distance, we were so shocked by her behaviour and the way she had been egged on by elders to approach us in this way, it made us very weary by the people on the streets and what made them feel the need to be so aggressive. We made our way to the astrology museum where we found peace and quiet inside away from people for a moment to get our heads around the morning. Afterwards we decided to carry on the day in a tuk tuk where the driver could take us to the main attractions without being hassled, he took us to the water palace which was a very beautiful sight, a lovely traditional palace appearing from the water with lovely sculptures from the promenade.
Unfortunately the only thing that dampers the experience is the constant hassle around these cities, even in Agra we were constantly followed and swarmed by people asking for money, it’s a real guilt trip and you find yourself in a position where you cannot justifying giving money to everybody or you would have nothing left! I found it easier to keep walking and not stop to talk or you would end up pressured or pestered until you brought something from someone. Young girls carried babies to make a situation look worse than it was and one of the most horrific and upsetting things I saw was young children who had been deformed from a young age and put on the streets to sell items or beg, their deformity then makes people feel more sorry for them and enhances their chances of receiving money. But be very careful when giving to them as remember to think about where the money is actually going… back to the people they are working for and not their education or health, basics rights that a child that age should be receiving, if you want to do something personal for them, buy them and ice cream or a drink, something for them to enjoy personally.
But other than the ugly truth Jaipur has stunning architecture and the Pink City is quite impressive with its hundreds of shops all framed with a pinkish red stone which gains the city its famous name, you will also see elephants and camels making their way along the high ways! We also found a lovely hotel called Pearl palace where they also sold textiles and had quaint jewellery shops, but the best part was the rooftop restaurant ‘Peacock’ where the food was very reasonable and very nice! The rooftop had a lovely atmosphere with delicate collectives that complimented the outside area and the view from the top shows the city in lights. The ‘Golden triangle’ was defiantly not what I was expecting and far from Golden but certainly a trip I will never forget, it is an experience that I think for any westerner would be a huge eye opener and for that I am happy I experienced the insights of this 3rd world country and appreciate the struggles these people face every day – something we will never understand.
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