Amusing Landmarks of New Delhi

For two days, our tour jump off in New Delhi was always started at 9:30am and ended at 5:30pm. It was considerably the best time to escape peak hours of jammed and impenetrable streets. There were so many tourist sites in Delhi but sad to say that times didn’t permit us to visit all of them.

Location: New Delhi, India

Where I stayed: Hotel Clarks Inn

Buddies: Group (3+)

Day One – First Taste of New Delhi

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Jama Masjid. Reaching this site shows the real situation of India. The narrow street was filled with all kinds of vendors and poverty existed normally. There is no entrance fee but INR300 was collected from us for each camera and mobile which are to be used for taking photos. It’s a mosque so removal of foot wears and wearing rented long dresses for women are required.

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Red Fort Delhi. The first site in Delhi which we were almost knocking on its front door but was refrained by an Indian local whose offering to us a different tour. “They (gate guards) will ask you to pay INR500 but there is nothing inside…only a park!”. His word of discouragement opted us to choose none of the given options.

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Akshardham Temple. The entrance security was so strict as there was metal detector and scanner in the entrance. No big bags, cameras, and mobiles are allowed. It is a Hindu temple complex consecrated in 2005 with a magnificent landscaped gardens. In the middle is the impressive temple built from marbles and decorated with gold, precious gems and stones. Entering the temples on barefoot enlightened us the cooling effect of a marble-made floor against the surging noontime temperature.

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Lotus Temple. The queue to this site was blockbuster. Crowds was unstoppable and patiently waiting for chances to enter the flower shaped temple. Like any other temples, everyone needs to remove foot wears and mobiles to switch off.  The temple is open for all religions as it looks more like an empty cathedral. Once inside, a few minutes of solemn prayer conveyed on different languages and beliefs.

DAY TWO – New Delhi’s Landmarks

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Qutub Minar. Another site which has an entrance fee but was said not worth for sightseeing. Looking at the inaccessible tower from the main gate was the only memory I captured after we decided to skip this UNESCO site.

Rashtrapati Bhavan. The current residence of the Indian government. Most buildings inside the complex has classical architectures. There was no parking space available for public or tourist car so our time upon dropping elapsed so quickly.

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India Gate. It is an open space landmark and supposedly free but was asked for INR100 by the old woman who pinned a tiny Indian flag on my shirt. India Gate is the monument built in memory of all Indian armies died from the previous battles since the First World War.

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Birla Mandir. A Hindu temple with splendid architectural design. Cameras and bags are strictly not allowed and must be kept in the provided locker. There was no entrance fee but a small offering was collected.

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Tourist sites hopping in New Delhi was indeed time consuming. Aside from moderate to heavy traffic, each site requires a minimum of one hour to enjoy its charming beauty and absorb its visible information. Hiring a local guide will surely guarantee an extended hours. However, it will be assured to give satisfaction and receive a bouquet of knowledge about the visited historical spot upon leaving. Taking lunch break was also another time draining as we required to stop in a restaurant to order meals and dining. Fast foods location from sites are not so convenient.

( Day 5 and 6 of my customized tour to the Golden Triangle of India last August 25 to 30, 2017. )

The Pink City and the Gayest Structures of Jaipur

While waiting for the pre-ordered complimentary breakfast at the hotel’s garden, an Indian guy wearing a turban showed up. My observant eye focused on him because he didn’t look like one of the staffs. He was heading to the portable music bass amplifier positioned in the middle of the garden. He slowly switched it on and sat beside the bushes. He took out his musical instrument, a flute and started playing. I was expecting of a frightening snake show. His music seems taming a wild beast from the forest but my perception was wrong! He was serenading all guests which was normally an ordinary morning show in the hotel.

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The Pink City

Location: Jaipur City, Rajasthan, India

Where I Stayed: Anuraag Villa

Buddies: Group (3+)

Our tour in Jaipur started at 9:30am exploring first the city center. A joyride to the old walled town of Jaipur which was called the Pink City. “It’s an Indian pink”, as explained by our new local guide. The vibrant color has different shade when comparing it with the bright pigment of commercially bought pink crayon. The stores, offices, flats, temples, and all the buildings inside the city were painted with the same color.

We passed by at Hawa Mahal, a distinctive landmark inside the Pink City. It’s a five-storied high wall with windows designed for conservative women of the royal family. It looks weird especially if obsessed to things which has so many holes. Parking was not allowed so we didn’t have time to drop by.

We entered the City Palace which was the residence of the emperors in the 17th century. For a fee of INR500 each, we explored the domain of the complex. The complex is home for old palaces with halls and alleys. Some was converted into museums and I personally saw galleries of old and antique personal belongings owned by previous leaders of Jaipur. Some old collections of textiles, armories and jars were also on displays. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed so the great collections were up to memory keeping only.

Beside the City Palace, we visited the Jantar Mantar. It is like a village with invisible houses and the stairs are remnants for the naked eye. It is actually an observatory and an open physics laboratory which has huge instrument for studying stars and constellations. There is also an instrument which provide accurate timing using the sun shadow. An entrance fee of INR200 per head gave us access to the old but proven technology of the 18th century.

After the city, our guide brought us to the Shopping Paradise to see locally made handicrafts. One guy met us at the entrance and voluntarily demonstrated on how they put dyes and design their own made textiles. We didn’t stay long time in the store for our stomachs were shouting because of hunger.

At 2pm, we moved out from Jaipur City and visited the Amber Palace and Fort with a fee of INR500 per person. The palace is magnificent as it was situated on the hilltop with a lake that nourishes its beauty. A rain poured heavily when we reached the rear entrance gate. The rain paused all the movements of tourists and stacked us at the gate. But when the nimbus cloud cleared out the sky, everyone advanced to explore the grandeur palace. The site has with magnificent view of the Amer town and spectacular surrounding walls on the mountain which securing the entire palace. It is haven for a dreamed like royalty living. The most impressive building for me was the Mirror Palace where walls and ceiling is ornamented with mirrors.

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We wanted to see and ride an elephant so we headed to EleJungle for the elephant activity.  We availed a 30 minutes elephant ride within the village which costs INR1,100 for two persons. The elephants were scary big and domesticated animals but its slow swaying movement massaged my son to sleep while I felt boredom. The simple living of the villagers was seen as the route of the elephant ride covered it.

Before going back to our hotel at 4:30pm, we stopped by at the lake side park sighting Jal Mahal. A small palace in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. The shining palace was under renovation and by looking at it from the distance left my thought uncovered. I didn’t have personal evidence if the palace is really floating or just surrounded by water. Our local guide said that there is no natural bodies of water in Jaipur and lakes were man-made.

At 7:30pm, we were invited by our buddy for a dinner at Raddisson Hotel. A sumptuous Indian cuisines were attempted to love and enjoy. We felt special as the head chef visited our table to check the served menu. The foods offered on our table were prepared distinctively as they adjusted spices to suit our sensitive tongues. Though majority of the menus were served spicy, our rendezvous on the restaurant with unusual food on my plate was remarkably astounding!

We’re back to the hotel at 10pm and prepared for moving to Delhi in the morning.

We checked out from Anuraag Villa at 9:30am. Our two buddies were already left the hotel earlier and on their way to Agra for a day tour.

I took a last glance at the Pink City and visited Madhavendra Bhawan Central Museum or famously known as Albert Hall.  Unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance which was scheduled on every Monday. The architectural beauty of the building was furnished with noticeable numbers of pigeons which dominating the picturesque hall. Such assemblage of feathered friends was visually romantic to the camera but undeniably unhygienic to the actual scene.

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Pigeons Hall or Albert Hall

Before leaving the city, we dropped by at Blue Pottery and discovered the displays of handmade porcelains on sale. The travel to Delhi took us five hours because the road was consistently lane for slower big trucks. Industrial site is along Jaipur-Delhi route. We arrived in Delhi at 4:30pm and we checked-in at Hotel Clarks Inn.

( Day 3 and 4 of my customized tour to the Golden Triangle of India last August 25 to 30, 2017. )

Steamy Moments at Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri

We woke up early at 5am to visit Taj Mahal, the India’s most famous site which is listed in the Seven Wonders of the World. Sunrise is said to be the best time to visit for less crowd and colder temperature. We left the hotel at 5:30am and arrived at the Nature Park in less than 10 minutes. We walked on the park’s walkway leading to the entrance ticket booths. An entrance fee was paid for 1,000 rupees per adult. Included in the fee was a bottle of water and a plastic foot cover which has to be used once inside the Taj Mahal.

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Snapshot of Taj Mahal from the Great Gate

TAJ MAHAL

The entrance gate was still closed. We blended ourselves in a long queue of tourists whose also availing the sunrise scene of the famous site. The gate opened at almost 6am and everyone passed through security scanners and strict individual inspection. The inspection took time especially in women’s lane because majority of them were carrying bags. Foods are totally not allowed. Even us didn’t escape because my wife brought cookies and bread for my son who we pulled out from bed few minutes before leaving. Our tour guide rescued us by giving my son chances to eat or else those hunger reliever food will destine into trash. We’re not alone on such scenario. Small children were busy chewing food beside the inspecting guards while parents took most of the portion.

The sun was already up but we’re still at the entrance gate. After we cleared from inspection, we followed the flow of the crowd up to the Great Gate. We belonged to the first wave of visitors, so the place was so crowded and humid. Sharing and having long patience must be considered by everyone to have a personal space of a dreamed backdrop of the majestic marble monument and its symmetrical garden.

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After the Entrance Gate of Taj Mahal Complex
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Tourists on Early Morning Scene
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The Majestic Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum built by Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife who died on giving birth to their 14th child in the 16th century. The architectural design was the living monument of his love and grief which inspired everyone. Agra claimed as the City of Love because of it.

We wore the foot cover and stepped on the marble flooring of the mausoleum. I was amazed on the artistic carvings before my eyes. In the center of the mausoleum lies the replica of where the original tomb was situated. Photography was not allowed in that particular area. The entire marble mausoleum was uniquely carved and decorated with gems and precious stones. According to our guide, it is best to see during full moon as the gems shine on moonlight beam.

We left the site at 7:30am with a sweaty experience and took our buffet breakfast in the hotel.

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The monkey family greeted us in the park.

At 9:30am, we left the hotel going to Jaipur. We did a side trip at Fatehpur Sikri which has the biggest gate in the history. It was a former palace of Mughal Emperor Akbar before moving to Lahore and Agra Fort because of unavailability of water supply in the 15th century. The history of this landmark was important in the construction of Agra Fort and Taj Mahal. The father of Shah Jahan, named Jahangir, was predicted and born in Fatehpur Sikri. The connections of Agra’s architectural sites were rooted to the civilization which started from this great site.

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The Entrance Gate – Fatehpur Sikri

FATEHPUR SIKRI

We arrived in Fatehpur Sikri at 10:30am and met our site tour guide. The architectural form of the fort brought our curiosities. Both human and goats carefully climbed up on the inclined stairs to reach the huge gate. Yes, number of goats were present at the entrance gate.

We removed our shoes as it was required and left them at the gate for a fee. The guide explained to us the site, some part of its history, mosque, tombs, palace ruins, and the escape underground tunnel which led to fort in Agra. Aside from a mosque, the place as a whole is now a wide mausoleum.

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Watching the Modern Town Fatehpur Sikri from the Gate

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Visiting the fort at Fatehpur Sikri has no entrance fee but it was consider unstable because of those annoying guys who sell items inside the tourist site. They were still following though I declined their offered products so many times. Every time that the site guards came, those guys pulled out and ran nowhere playing hide and seek. We didn’t know if we fell on the scam trap because the needed materials for the ritual at the Tomb of Salim Chishti was bought at the back side and hidden from authorities. The area was clear with vendor when the guards routinely rove but again they occupied it back. The ritual had done by buying first the required materials; a cloth, yarn, and red flower petals for 1,200 rupees. We went inside the white marbled mausoleum by placing the cloth on top of the tomb, scattering the petals, and tying the yarn at the wall with our individual wishes.

We left the site at 1pm for it was too hot to walk on the fort barefooted. Our guide led us to a local store where they crafted materials and exhibited their local products. The store owner convinced us to buy stuffs which we are not interested. We were irritated especially when forcing a belief and insisting that we should have it. The stuffs were overpriced! He offered an item worth 1,500 rupees and dropped to only 300 rupees when we walked away from the store. At such descended price, I will never accept it even he will give it free. A souvenir from a cheating attempt is not worth to bring. I was so upset realizing that the historical tour ended with a hot confrontation. I rather advise not to visit Fatehpur Sikri unless you’re a believer of Salim Chishti.

We left Sikri finally at 1:30pm going to Jaipur. The beautiful scenery and heavy rainfall cooled off my mind from before steamy conversation. Jaipur City is hiding from the mountain as we entered a tunnel passing through it. We arrived in the hotel, the Anuraag Villas at 4:30pm.

 

Meanwhile, our trip buddies in Dubai successfully complied the travel requirements and waiting for their flight to Delhi. They will directly go to Jaipur to meet and join us on the remaining tours.

( Day 2 of my customized tour to the Golden Triangle of India last August 25 to 30, 2017. )

Conquered Agra and its Fort

We woke up early and received messages that the morning flight of our trip buddies from Dubai to Delhi was cancelled. Added to the tension was a problem with the tourist visa which can be solved for a couple of days.

We followed the original plan as suggested by the travel agent. All hotels and travel guides were booked already as plan. We should continue the confirmed group tour without them.

Location: Agra, India

Where I Stayed: Hotel The Taj Vilas

Buddies: Family

At 10am, we left Taurus Hotel and traveled down to Agra. The heavy traffic in Delhi confronted us. The wide road occupied by different types of land transportation, from a simple pushed cart to heavy loaded trucks, competing to each other. Blowing of horns was just normal. The driver said, “on this road, some cars are following no rules.”

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The road to Agra was wide and spacious. The vast agricultural plain decorating the province was the source of livelihood of locals. The fields are planted with rice, sugar canes, corns, and millet. Animal raising was also abundant like buffalo, cows, sheep, and goats. The bright and colorful cloth seen at the distance was an Indian woman taking care of all the animals on her traditional dress called sari.

At 12pm, we stopped in a restaurant. The smell of spices evaporated in everywhere. The aroma of curries were so tempting but the surprising spicy taste which we couldn’t handle refrained us on ordering.

At 2pm, we reached the territory of Agra. It just like a village with so many strayed cows resting on the road. There were buffaloes too even within the city. We directed to our hotel and checked in at the Hotel The Taj Vilas. Our driver contacted our local travel guide who will lead us in visiting Agra Fort at 3:30pm.

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After an hour of freshen up, we headed to the fort. We were paying the individual entrance fee of 500 rupees when the rain started to fall. An umbrella was a helpful tool to keep us dry.

The local travel guides are necessary to point the exact location and explain the brief history of a certain place. They knew well the site so learning unfamiliar stories were so interesting with them. The Agra Fort was constructed primarily by Emperor Akbar in 15th century. Additions on the fort were made until the time of his grandson Shah Jahan, the successor leader behind building Taj Mahal.

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The fort was new to my eyes. The thick red colored walls had shown me how the civilization look like at the old ages. It was like dreaming a fairy tale where I was the bravest warrior entering the fort aggressively. We entered the great gate which hid the beauty of the capital in the 16th century. The original gate padlock was still hanging at the door. There were three gates towards the inner part, so the conquerors at that time succeeded three levels of defense to penetrate. Currently, all gates are still functional for security inspection. I imagined how many warriors died on the location. Besides, the fort was believably surrounded by water with crocodiles in it. However, gun powder was already invented during the war so crocodiles failed to safeguard the fort’s exterior.

A hidden paradise was seen personally. We were introduced to the different buildings inside the fort. Each palaces and building mark their history as well. The curved and the designs were detailed and really astonished us. We saw the gathering halls, the royal family rooms, the old walls, wells, the terrace facing the majestic Taj Mahal, the communication wall, the mosque, gardens, and the most was the small and cute squirrels who were still occupying the place.

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Jahangiri Palace

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The rain was heavily dropping but the bulk of tourists visiting the site was unstoppable. I didn’t absorb all of the details that our travel guide was explaining but he left me something to search on.

We left the site joyfully with our eyes full of beautiful scenes of Agra Fort. Before dropping us back to our hotel, our guide led us to a gem and textile shop. He also led us to a shop which shows how they manually crafted gems on marbles. The shop owner explained their crafts were similar on how Taj Mahal was created. Each shop has items to offer with corresponding price. Souvenir items are quite expensive but the thought of their authenticity was respected.

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Gem cutting to perfection
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Lights off! Gem on marble

At 7pm, across the road of Hotel Taj Vilas was a shopping mall which has McDonald outlet. Hoping to find a tasty beef burger I visited it. I stayed for few minutes watching the meal offered on the screen. I left disappointed that there was no beef burger but there were burgers with purely vegetables, chicken masala and chicken tandoori patties. India was indeed so interesting!

( Day 1 of my customized tour to the Golden Triangle of India last August 25 – 30, 2017. )

The Golden Triangle of India

I disbanded from the culture I newly known and started to love. This is what I felt after the Golden Triangle trip in India.

The Golden Triangle is the most preferred tour as most of the tourists I met were with the same route. It refers to the triangular shape formed in the map of the three cities of India; New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Tourists preferably choose this tour to see the marvelous Taj Mahal of Agra, archaeological sites within Jaipur, and historical landmarks in New Delhi for a certain duration.

The six-day tour price ranges between 12 to 15 thousand Indian rupees per head including 3-star accommodations, transportation, tour guides, taxes, rides and other services as agreed with the tour agency. The more people to join the tour reduces the marked price. Budget tour packages for cheaper option was also offered by the tour agents.

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Our customized itinerary prepared by Map My Tours was so hectic but I personally enjoyed it. I traveled with a small kid so we didn’t follow the normal tour program. The continuous communication of the tour agent was necessary to well discuss the arrangements and lay out the certain possibilities of changes to the tour. The role of Mr. Shrawan of Map My Tours was very important and his replies to our messages timely attracted us. His tour package was grabbed which urged us to apply tourist E-visa online to enter India. Besides, he agreed that the whole amount of the tour package will be paid upon arrival. His presence on our arrival and meeting on us on the last day of the tour was deeply appreciated.

I’m very thankful to Sanjay for driving us safely to the tourist sites of the Golden Triangle. He was neat and kept the car clean. He was consistently on time and always offering a cold bottled water to drink after we came back from every tour. He talked less but his working attitude gave us comfortable ride from traffic jam of New Delhi towards cows dominated road of Agra and mountainous highway of Jaipur. I felt sad when he finally brought us back to the airport on the last day. His personality marked on our hearts and I highly recommend him to be my tour driver if ever I visit New Delhi again.

Hotel Reviews

All the hotel bookings during my Golden Triangle trip were arranged by the travel agent. It is my part to give feedback, both positive and negative, on things I encountered. This is my personal assessment and I hope it will be accepted positively.

Taurus
Comfortable Bed of Taurus Hotel

Taurus Hotel is a few minutes drive from New Delhi Airport. This hotel was our tour starting point. The building is under renovation so the vicinity I’ve seen on arrival was not safe and convenient. The receptionists were so accommodating and helpful.

The room was in ordinary size but the bedding was so comfortable. The AC was working nicely and so cold that we need to adjust its setting.

The hotel has two operating restaurants but we chose Alpha 63 for our early dinner. The restaurant was untidy to look especially the utensils and the table. Flies was also spotted even we were inside the building. The restaurant staffs were so busy at that time, but they managed to entertain us. The “biryani” was served very spicy though I requested to make it non-spicy. The assigned waiter offered to replace it but I declined. I knew, the waiter will be charged when the food was returned. However, the vegetable pizza was delicious and cheesy. This restaurant introduced the levels of spiciness to us.

The complimentary breakfast was mostly Indian cuisines. The attitudes of some guests during our stay were noticeable for they were standing and eating near the buffet table.

Heart Rate: Room ♥♥♥♥Staffs♥♥♥Foods♥♥♥Restaurant♥♥

Taj Vila
Comfortable bed of Hotel Taj Vila

Hotel The Taj Vila was our luxury hotel in Agra located near the mall. The receptionists were already expected our arrival. A welcome drink was served while relaxing comfortably at the reception hall.

We had a nice executive room with a coffee table and modern amenities. The bedding was very comfortable which gave us a peaceful night. Unfortunately, the internet was slow so I didn’t enjoy much of my social media life for a night.

The restaurant’s non-veg pasta was the first food we ordered through room service. As expected, it has a little spicy taste. Some menu can’t be served without hot savor. The complimentary breakfast in the restaurant was superb for selection of Indian and Intercontinental cuisines as buffet. Eggs can be cooked according to  desire as the standby cook was available. The restaurant has stylish decors and relaxing fined dining atmosphere.

Heart Rate: Room♥♥♥♥Staffs♥♥♥Foods♥♥♥♥Restaurant♥♥♥♥♥

The Anuraag Villas was our next accommodation situated in the middle of residential village in Jaipur for two days. This hotel gave us the feelings that we were just at home. The receptionist was approachable and comfortable to communicate. We were so touched that he offered a complimentary cake for our trip buddy who was celebrating a birthday. The staffs are mostly young and humbly shy on talking just like me. Speaking English language is not our comfort zone.

The room was wide and bedding was basic but that old wood cabinet massages our eyes. Simplicity is beauty as what we called it. The window’s location of the bathroom was so challenging. There was nice view from the window while sitting on the porcelain throne. At night was my greatest concern, my silhouette might be seen from the outside when taking a shower .

The restaurant is purely vegetarian so expected that there is no meat found on the menu aside from eggs. The complimentary breakfast was prepared upon ordering and can be served either in the room, restaurant or in the garden. Breakfast at the garden must be tried to experience dining while a flute musician is serenading.

Heart rate: Room♥♥♥Staffs♥♥♥♥♥Foods♥♥♥Restaurant♥♥♥

Clarks Inn
Comfortable Room of Clarks Inn Hotel

Lastly, the Clarks Inn Hotel was our hotel in South Delhi for two nights. Its location is excellent because it’s near to metro station. There is also a good restaurant named Storm Bar and Grill which is few minutes away by walk.

The room was big with an old sofa. The bedding was so nice and soft. However, the bed’s headboard was with bad odor so we were avoiding to be near it. The plastic water dipper and bucket in the toilet were dirty.

The restaurant rid us from spicy food. The unknown chef was very appreciated for granting our request of zero spicy taste on our ordered food. It was important for us as we are traveling with a kid and I also have low tolerance on spiciness. We preferred the menu served in the hotel than dining out.

Room♥♥♥♥Staffs♥♥♥Foods♥♥♥♥Restaurant♥♥♥

Conclusions

I was surprised that most of the hotel bellboys are always expecting a tip from guests. They didn’t ask verbally but their gestures are showing that they were asking of it.

Majority of the foods served in India are spicy. My sense of taste was crippled due to spiciness. We always relied on the flatbread, “paratha or nan” every time that we can’t survive on the ordered Indian food.

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The level of cleanliness in India specifically for toilets and bathrooms were so different compared to previous hotels where I stayed. The toilet bowls were not properly cleaned. Black stains were visible in the toilet bowls of all hotels where we stayed even at the restaurants and Delhi’s modernized airport.

Overall, my trip in India ended with a smile and satisfied feeling. The Indian greetings, the daily transfer, the hot and spicy foods which has burning sensation in my ass, the squirrels, cows, crows, monkeys, and pigeons… I am missing them all.

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