Ahead of our two-week (insane) adventure driving a rickshaw across India with The Adventurists, my two girlfriends and myself explored India’s Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) by rail in just four days. Read along for some great itinerary tips, travel hacks and, of course, hilarious tales from our journey!
24 hours in Delhi: Butter Chicken, Paparazzi and WrestleMania
The first order of business after a long flight from London was food. On a recommendation, we headed straight to Moti Mahal for lunch; apparently it is the home of Butter Chicken...count me in! Meals are often family-style in India, and the three of us shared what felt like half of the menu. Our waiter was quick to brag that Gordon Ramsey had eaten there and they have a picture of his visit framed on the wall – which he promptly took off of the wall and brought to our table. Annie, being the opportunist that she is, tasked our waiter for a kitchen tour. They were more than happy to oblige and proudly showed off their kitchen, even giving us chef hats and letting us stir the butter chicken! This was our first taste of Indian hospitality, but certainly not our last.
Butter chicken "chefs" in Delhi – our first taste of incredible Indian hospitality.
After properly stuffing ourselves, we walked down to the Red Fort, which proved to be quite the adventure. It should be noted that there is no adequate way to describe driving in India; you truly have to experience it to understand. No one is obeying the lanes or which side of the road you should be on. There are motorcycles with families of four weaving in and out of traffic. I kid you not…dad driving, one small kid and a baby…I repeat, A BABY, wedged between with mom on the back riding side-saddle. People walking in the streets, in between the cars, because the sidewalks are for street vendors and naps for the local homeless population – and, of course, the stray dogs…oh, the stray dogs. Throw in a thousand rickshaws and a few dozen cows, and there you have it!
So again, us walking to the Red Fort was more like a serious game of Paperboy or dodge ball.
One of my snapshots from the Red Fort in Delhi.
We finally arrived at the fort and paid our 250 rupies ("foreigner rate") to get in, while locals are charged a mere 10 rupees. Inside was a collection of dilapidated buildings and some nice gardens. Everyone was sitting out in the grass enjoying the sun and each other’s company. It was mostly Indian families and groups of friends. We were soaking up some spectacular people watching...but quickly became the spectacle. It all started with one guy asking if he could take a picture of us. We obliged, and next thing you know, there was a crowd of about 20 men standing around us with their camera phones out, all taking pictures of us. This went on for about 10 minutes. This is a trend we would see repeated throughout our trip.
We could see a mosque in the distance, so we took a short cut through a park, which reaped great rewards as we stumbled across some sort of half-naked mudwrestling exhibition. We were the only women in a sea of hundreds of Indian male spectators; we were actually pretty sure we weren’t really "welcome". It was quite a show! There was a drummer thumping out primal beats and boys, aged about 6-18, were wearing tiny underpants and wrestling each other in a giant sand pit. Cheeky little kids kept inching closer to us…the only Westerners, let alone women, in sight. To this day, I’m still not quite sure exactly what I witnessed.
The evening ended with an impromptu night tour of Dehli by rickshaw, mainly because our driver couldn’t figure out where we were asking to go…but hey (!), we embraced it as we were only in town for one day. The best way to get around is by rickshaw!
48 hours in Jaipur: Hello, My Name is Khan
It’s 5:45 am and I'm sitting in "executive AC chair class" on a train to Jaipur. That might sound fancy, but it just means there are old-school, oscillating fans attached to the ceiling and the chairs are a bit wider. Trains in India are chaotic, to say the least. They post a paper list on the outside of each carriage of all the passengers’ names for that car and you have to look for you name on the list. Yet, somehow, it is efficient.
By train, is the best way to travel in India, in my opinion. I had hoped to finish my night’s sleep, but had a hard time peeling my eyes off of the windows. As soon as we hit the outskirts of Delhi, it was slums for miles. I've read a bit about Indian slums in the novel Shantaram (a MUST read before any trip to India), but it was still a huge dose of reality. They were vast, seemingly endless, slums built of scraps and trash, one on top of another. There is no privacy and consequentially, no need for it. Dotted along the railways for miles were men, backsides facing us, doing their "morning business". Others were out having a bucket bath, washing clothes, shaving their beards…all along the railway.
Upon arriving in Jaipur, we headed towards the exit to find a ride to our hotel. The competition is stiff for drivers; before we even reached the exit we were greeted by a small Indian man with a big smile. “Hello, my name is Khan.”
He convinced us with a rock-bottom price of 100 rupies ($1.50) for the transfer. Little did we know we had just met a new friend. On the short drive to the hotel, he sold us his driving services for the rest of day for only 300 more rupies (less than $5).
So, off we went with Khan to see the sights. We all three instantly loved Jaipur. It wasn't as crazy as Delhi, the people seemed friendlier and we had our new friend Khan. Having a driver to show us around really made all the difference in the world. We would have never covered as much ground without him and would have definitely missed some great experiences.
Me, Kate and Annie at the Royal Gatore, a royal crematorium (above) and the Water Palace (below).
Khan took us to some local factories for some incredible shopping opportunities. These were the factories that supply the shops and markets, so we got rock-bottom prices. We visited a jewelry shop that handmakes all of its jewelry and we were shown how they hand cut and polish semi-precious stones, and we stopped at a textiles factory where we watched a man handweaving a rug on a loom. We watched as they hand-dyed elaborate patterns on blank cotton canvases at the dying factory and while we were there, we were treated to a little impromptu street parade along the way…it was loud and raucous and everyone joined in!
Day two in Jaipur started with Sameer (Khan’s son-in-law) picking us up in the morning and heading straight to the Pink City, which is the old walled part of Jaipur. There, we spent the morning exploring the City Palace, which is still the official residence of the Maharajah of Rajasthan.
Pictured: THE DOORS that first made me want to travel to India...there are four sets of beautiful doorways in the palace that represent each season and are dedicated to a different god. This gate is the Leheriya Gate; it represents spring and is dedicated to Lord Ganesha.
Before leaving the Pink City, the three of us had some henna done. The women squeeze it out a tube like an icing bag. We were amazed at how quickly they were able to draw the designs. Henna is all-natural, made from leaves and dyed with saffron.
Next, we headed to the outlying hills to see Amber Fort. It is high up in the hills surrounding Jaipur and has incredible views of the city. There is a Hall of Mirrors, which doesn’t quite rival Versailles in Paris, but was still pretty impressive. On the way out, we heard some music and turned around to see a couple of snake charmers...eeeek! I wouldn't get any closer to them than about 20 feet, but Kate was brave and petted one of them on the head! Sidenote: before coming to India, I was a bit worried about the snake charmers; I had this idea that they would be on every street corner. However, apparently, it is now illegal to own a snake as a pet in India…so fear not snake haters!
For dinner, we headed out to Chakadali, a little man-made village outside of the city set up to show the tradional food, customs and dance. There were small rides, dancing, boat rides, elephant and camel rides and a meal with traditional foods. We were a bit disappointed as the guidebook made it out to be a little more cultural than it actually was. It reminded me a bit a theme park attraction; it was overly cheesy. Oddly, it was full of Indian tourists from other cities. We were the only Western tourists there!
On the way home, Sameer took us to Tiger Fort, his favorite place in the city after dark. It was about an hour drive on dark, deserted mountain roads with no one else in sight. (I only had terrible abduction thoughts once or twice). But, we really had no reason to doubt Sameer, and he came through with an amazing mountain top view of Jaipur by night. It was a million twinkling lights, but you could still hear the madness of the city below: the honking...the never ending Indian honking!
Sameer dropped us off around midnight promising to pick us up at 5:15am to take us to the train station for our trip to Agra. He was there right on time and hadn't slept the whole night. After a full day of driving us from 9:00am to midnight, he spent the rest of the night trying to get more jobs to earn more money. Khan and Sameer were some of the kindest and most trustworthy people I have ever met while traveling.
12 Hours in Agra: A Family Portrait
On Thursday morning, we took a 7-hour train ride to Agra from Jaipur, with the main attraction being the Taj Mahal. We did make some time to first stop and see Agra Fort, which was really just another Fort with a view. We were a bit "forted" out by this time, but we did meet the sweetest Indian family. It all started when their young son wanted a picture with me (do you see a trend developing here??), but he was so shy and adorable. I took a pic with him and then every member of his family wanted a portrait, followed by a big group shot. Little did we know this also would be the theme at the Taj…
When we got to the Taj, it was so surreal. It really is every bit as magnificent as you would imagine! Along with our own photographs, we were also taking starring roles in SO many Indian family photos. They have professional photographers on the grounds that you could pay to take your photo, and these families were paying photographers for US TO BE IN THEIR FAMILY PORTRAITS!!! I often wonder how many mantles we are on across India?!
The Taj was swarming with tourists and it was impossible to get a shot without a thousand people in it, but all of a sudden there was the most intense thunderstorm and everyone cleared out. We stuck it out under some cover and I’m so glad we did. The storm passed quickly and we got about 10 precious minutes almost to ourselves with the Taj before the swarms descended again.
And thus concluded our speed tour of the Golden Triangle...phew! Come back soon for my posts on what happened next: driving a rickshaw across India in a two-week challenge with The Adventurists.