Saturday, 31 March 2012

!ncredible !ndia - The Golden Triangle

Our January visit to India finished with a whistle-stop tour of the Golden Triangle in Rajashtan. We travelled by rail, air and road between the three points of the triangle - Delhi, Jaipur & Agra - and we did come away with a different view of India.  Frankly, we love it even more.  Our travels culminated with a visit to the majestic Taj Mahal, in Agra, and we have to start our story there....

The Taj Mahal

Waking just before dawn, we walked through the foggy back streets of Agra to the Western Entrance Gate of the Taj Mahal, among the first visitors to arrive, silently queuing for our tickets.  Men and women queued separately, quiet and subdued, waiting for the daybreak gate opening.  Security is tight, and all visitors were searched extensively before entry.  Still dark, we entered through a forecourt providing glimpses of the Taj through the arched entrance.  The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emporer, Shan Jahan,  and is a beautiful white marble mausoleum to the memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

We've all heard of this wonder, and sometimes you expect a lifetime of hype to over-shadow reality.  Here, this is not the case.  The Taj is sensational.


We flew from Delhi to Jaipur to visit the stunning heritage sites there.  It was wonderful to drive through Jaipur and see the Hawa Mahal, Palace of the Breeze surrounded by a vibrant, bustling, old world city.  This was built in 1799 as part of the rambling Pink City Palace for the royal ladies (concubines).  The red sandstone building has over 950 windows and the women, locked away from public life, could sit behind these windows and observe street life and passing parades while being cooled by a gentle breeze. 

Then to the Amber Fort, which was built in 1592 in a mix of Hindu and Muslim styles, by Raja Man Singh.  Built in delicate yellow stone, it was named after the town of Amber, in turn named after the goddess Amba.  We hired an audio guide and walked at our leisure, headphones perched on our heads, taking in all the beauty and smart (cooling) design features, utilising both water and wind. Our photos do not reflect how stunning the Amber Fort is.

The drive from Jaipur to Agra was through fields of brilliant golden mustard plants and lush green rice padi.  The road was mostly dual lane highway and everywhere we looked we wanted to stop and take photographs.

Indian rural life is full of colour, contrast and the unexpected.  The padi fields are filled with bright yellow saris worn by the women tending the land.  There are billowing ribbons and scarfs, ornate patterns cut into the camel's pelt, the over loaded tractors and the flamboyantly decorated trucks. Friendly smiles greeted us everywhere.  Tall brick chimney kilns towered over the flat plains, with thousands of hand made bricks being churned out by hard working families. Next time we visit this area we will rent a car and drive ourselves, allowing more time to stop and take all this in.

No "photoshop" required, it is difficult to take a bad photograph here!
Agra is most famous for the Taj Mahal, and there are many beautiful attractions, but the city itself is not one of them.  It is grimy and polluted, with ugly recent architecture.  If only they'd followed the beautiful example set by the Agra Fort and I'timad-Ud-Daulah (the Baby Taj).

The massive Agra Fort has had a very checkered history, built originally as a brick fort before the year 1080 AD.  Its was rebuilt in 1558-73 in thick red sandstone and then latter additions are in multiple thickness of red bricks.  It was the site of the Indian rebellion in 1857 which resulted in the fall of the British East India Company's rule over India, which in turn led to a century of rule by Britain.

I'timad-Ud-Daulah was built as a sign of love, not war, by the Empress Nur Jahan. It is a mausoleum for her father.  It is constructed out of white marble with intricate inlays of semi precious stones - cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx and topaz.  Natural light and breeze filters through the delicately carved white marble lattice work.  The symmetrical building style and spacious gardens all add to the rich splendor, resulting in its nick name - The Baby Taj.

Just in case you are wondering, Neil was working almost every day on this trip.  Cell phones and 3G data services make it all possible for us.

We traveled mid January and the weather was delightful, with sunny cool days and cold nights.  If you have to choose one area to travel in India the Golden Triangle would be our choice.

To see more of images of the Golden Triangle, click on this link here to our Picasa album.

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