Taj Mahal Trippin In The Other Golden Triangle – India Part 1

You’ve heard all about the time I joined a biker gang in Thailand, battered and bruised myself on a mountain road approaching the Golden Triangle and then invaded Myanmar with my fellow gang members. If you haven’t read about it, what are you waiting for?? Click here and then hit back when you are done.

So that was one Golden Triangle. And it’s pretty infamous. 

But there’s another Golden Triangle that’s less notorious but has a sight that’s even more famous. 

Yeah, that’s right. The Taj Mahal is also part of a Golden Triangle. And if you haven’t been to India, you probably didn’t know that.

In this first part of my first ever adventure in India, you get to check out the country’s Islamic jewel or jewels, as well as its Islamic heritage from the once-powerful Mughal Empire that controlled much of South Asia between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Ready? Let’s go!

Getting reacquainted with the region

This was my first trip to India, but not to South Asia.

When previously in the region, I had visited Nepal and Bhutan. And when arriving in India, I was coming from the country of bengals, Bangladesh.

As you already know, to start my Indian adventure, I would be visiting the Golden Triangle. This Golden Triangle is a tourist circuit that connects the Indian cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.

I would not be using a tour company for this trip, partially because I wanted to stay in nice hotels while I was there. Marriott’s luxury collection brand has an extensive presence in India under the name ITC, so luckily I’d be able to stay in 5-star accommodations for relatively cheap prices.

Visa Fun

My first India-related adventure was trying to procure a visa for the world’s second most populous country. There is some obnoxious government form you have to fill out before you get the visa, which includes questions about every country you’ve visited in the last five years and what physical markings you have on your body like scars and tattoos.

After you finish the questions, you find out the website doesn’t accept certain credit cards, which they fail to mention. If your credit card fails three times you have to fill out the application all over again, which takes another hour.

In the end, I just paid an agency to complete the visa payment for me and had no issues after that. My 9 days in India would begin on the 1st of March, 2020.

Delhi

I landed in Delhi at around 2 pm and was picked up by a local guide I had hired to drive me around. The day was still young so we decided to visit some sights before heading to the hotel.

The first of which was the India Gate.

Triumphal Arch

This is a monument dedicated to the 70,000 Indian British Army soldiers who died in the First World War. As you can see it is built in the triumphal arch style which you can find all over the world, but probably most famously in Paris.

Afterward, we visited the tomb of the second Mughal emperor Humayun. 

Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb started a tradition in Mughal architecture to have emperors buried in “paradise garden tombs.” The idea was that the tombs should reflect the Charbagh, which is a quadrilateral garden layout based on the four gardens of paradise mentioned in the Quran.

This was the first tomb of this sort on the Indian subcontinent.

After visiting the tomb, my guide took me to my hotel. I was staying at Le Meridien, which was a really excellent hotel and another example of the Marriott luxury collection being worth every dollar. 

The hotel layout… Are you ready to jump?

I was on the top floor of the hotel and had a great view of the entire city. I was surprised at how green it is. I was expecting more of a concrete jungle atmosphere, but the Meridien is near the presidential palace, so there was a decent amount of nature around.

Delhi is commonly known as one of the most polluted cities in the world, but due to the coronavirus, the smog was four times lower than usual. Now at the time that I’m writing this I believe it’s 20 times lower than usual. So all the environmentalists are happy that Covid-1984 is turning the world to shit.

Nice and green from here

The next day I had arranged for a city tour of Delhi. My driver picked me up and took me first to see some sites in Old Delhi.

Old Delhi

First we visited the Jama Masjid of Delhi.

Jama Masjid

It was a Monday so many of the sites and museums were closed to the public. I would only get to see most of the day’s destinations from the outside, but they were impressive nonetheless. 

Jama Masjid is one of the largest mosques in all of India, which is appropriate because it was built by Shah Jahan who is considered by many to be the greatest Mughal emperor.

He was the fifth Mughal Emperor and was the emperor who commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal for his favorite dead wife, which I will go into more details about later…

The famous Bahai Lotus Temple was our next destination.

Lotus Temple in its flowerlike shape

By the way, there is another very beautiful Bahai shrine in Israel, a country I’ve visited but never told you about.

Here in Delhi, I was unfortunately only allowed to take pictures of the Lotus Temple from the outside. The inside was equally as impressive.

The temple is designed to look like its namesake and surrounded by 9 huge pools of water. As recently as 2001, 15 years after it was opened, it was considered one of the most visited buildings in the world.

After the temple, we stopped by this minaret known as the Qutb Minar.

A stand-alone minaret

The minaret is the tallest single minaret in the world at 73 meters. There is a spiral staircase inside, but it has been shut down to the public since 1981 when 47 people were killed in a stampede due to a lighting failure and the rush to the exit that followed. In its thousand-year history it has been struck by lightning, partially destroyed by earthquakes and a favorite location for suicide attempts, so eventually the Indian government decided restricting access altogether is safer.

We went from the minaret to a nice Indian restaurant for lunch. As the cow is a sacred creature in India, I wouldn’t get to have any steak during my stay. But the Indian food was still quite tasty. 

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’d be in Brazil soon and enjoying some of the best steak in the world anyway.

After lunch, I had an interesting experience being driven around the streets of Old Delhi in a rickshaw. For those who don’t know, a rickshaw is basically like a bike taxi and is very popular in India.

Some young guy basically peddled me all around the narrow streets of this part of town giving me nice impressions of the area.

Rickshaws

A monkey in the midst of a battle with a banana salesman

Streets of Old Delhi

Narrow streets

It is a very poor country and that is sort of reflected in the attitude of people who know you’re a tourist. Basically every Indian I came across tried to manipulate me into buying something. 

Even my guide kept bringing me to shops of people he knew and tried to get me to spend money there. This was pretty annoying and uncomfortable. Not my favorite part about India, but I was able to resist buying anything I didn’t need that day.

Eventually, it started getting late so we made our way back to my hotel where I had dinner and enjoyed my temporary ban from Facebook. 😉

Banned for “hate-speech” 😛

Agra and the Taj Mahal

The next day I was going overland to the city of Agra where the famous Taj Mahal is located. 

My driver picked me up in the morning and we drove about 200 kilometers to my second stop in the golden triangle.

Coincidentally my hero Donald Trump was making his big visit to India just a few days prior. Part of his trip was seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time, which I would be doing as well.

I wouldn’t get the red carpet treatment the God Emperor got, where the entire place was shut down to the public. But due to the virus, I’d still get a relatively uncrowded experience there.

Prior to the Taj Mahal, we had one stop at the red fort of Agra.

Agra Fort

This fort was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty during the time when Agra was the capital of India. Its size makes it seem like more of a walled city than a fort.

And we’re inside…

The fort often gets overlooked due to visitors being able to see the Taj Mahal in the distance. But it is also really a spectacular achievement of Indian architecture.

Looming

The Taj Mahal was looming in the distance and I was getting antsy to see it so after an hour at the fort we made our way over.

It really is as incredible as advertised. They call it one of the jewels of Muslim art and it doesn’t even take seeing it in person to know why.

In all its grandeur

As I mentioned, the Taj Mahal was commissioned by Shah Jahan for his favorite dead wife in the year 1632. It took about 21 years to complete construction.

Apparently Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahai gave birth to 14 of his children and died in doing so. So I suppose it’s an appropriately sized mausoleum for a feat like that. Both the Shah and his wife are buried in this massive tomb.

And the views continue…

The building is made almost entirely of white marble and red sandstone and of course lots of gold and precious stones. It is estimated that over 1,000 elephants and 20,000 laborers were required to build the tomb.

Full view

I walked around the grounds and garden, which were constructed in that Charbagh style I mentioned earlier. After exploring them for an hour or so, I went inside.

And then the photos stopped…

Pictures from inside aren’t allowed of course, but trust me when I say it… it was as impressive inside as it was outside. 

After my visit to the Taj Mahal was complete, I wanted to go to my hotel. But my guide insisted we visit the marble factory where they produced a lot of the marble used for the famous tomb.

It was interesting to see how they carve and produce the marble, but then of course afterward it just turned into a sales pitch.

I’m sure they had a lot of practice because they were quite good at using psychology and sort of tricked me into buying stuff that I’ll probably never end up needing. I left the shop having spent almost 1000 euros on a marble table and a marble chessboard with marble figures. 

My dad has presided over the chess club in my hometown for over 30 years and is a big collector of chess boards and figures, so I could justify the chessboard as a nice gift for him. The table I’m not really sure what to do with. Hopefully when I have a flat in Europe at some point when I finish my perpetual travels, it will serve as a nice memory from India.

The tricks didn’t end there, unfortunately. By the time my mother in Germany received the table and chessboard, it came with a letter saying I had to pay customs fees, which was not mentioned to me when I bought them. Altogether it was about another 300 euros which I could’ve spent on over 300 rickshaw rides instead.

I finally made it to my hotel after that pretty tired from a long day of walking. I was staying at another Marriott ITC hotel which was even nicer than the first one in Delhi. It was built with Moghul architecture and style in mind, so it fits in very well so close to the Taj Mahal.

I had a nice dinner at an Indian restaurant in the hotel before heading to bed for the night.

The following morning I had the chance to meet up with an Indian entrepreneur I know through Facebook. Normally he is based in Hong Kong, but he basically had to flee when the corona panic started to consume mainland China. He’s staying in his hometown until things blow over. 

We had a nice breakfast together and he asked me how I was enjoying India before my guide and I headed out for my final stop along the Golden Triangle, Jaipur.  

Speaking of…

Speaking of Covid-1984 and how I was enjoying India, I have to say I was getting slightly concerned that I might get stuck there for a long quarantine. My trip to Kuwait, which was supposed to be after India, had just gotten canceled and some countries in Europe were beginning to shut down at this point. 

India can be very beautiful, but it is not somewhere I would want to be locked down for a long period of time. I was starting to feel a little uneasy at the idea of this and started very actively monitoring situations and travel restrictions around the world.

Also while I was in India, there were some huge protests in the northern part of Delhi, apparently with dozens of people dead. So turmoil and unrest were in the air and I wasn’t very interested in being around for it. 

It was also extremely off-putting how aggressively everyone was trying to sell you things and just people’s attitudes in general towards a tourist. It is a culture that I don’t fit into very well and so far not one of my favorite countries I have been to.

That being said the Taj Mahal is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen and I was most excited to see Jaipur of all the cities in the golden triangle.

I will take you along with me to see why in the second part of my India adventure… 🙂