India’s Golden Triangle

India’s Golden Triangle

Charlie and I joined 3 other couples (Bill & Bobbi, Carol & Paul, and Steve & Marcy) from our Viking Neptune World Cruise and went on a private small group tour of India’s Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is a tourist circuit that takes in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. These cities, when connected on a map, form a triangle. It is named “Golden” due to the abundance of cultural and historical sights that can be found in each of these cities. We also added a stop at the Ranthambore National Park so that we could participate in a Tiger Safari.

Our 6-night excursion began with a 4:00 am pickup from Viking Neptune’s “parking” spot in the port of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

I was amazed by the sight from the plane’s window as we flew over Delhi.

When we arrived in Delhi we were met by our guide, Dilip, and driver, Singh. Dilip welcomed each of us with a garland of flowers.

He also put a little chalk paint on our faces. This was to celebrate the Holi Holiday. Holi is a Hindu holiday, celebrated as the Festival of Colors, Love, and Spring. It was entertaining seeing so many colorful people out and about.

After an afternoon rest at our hotel (Hotel Eros New Delhi – which I cannot recommend), we headed to Qutub Minar. Qutub Minar is a towering symbol of India’s rich architectural and cultural heritage. It was built in the early 13th century. The minaret (tall slender tower) stands at a height of 240 ft, making it one of the tallest brick minarets in the world. It is constructed primarily of red sandstone and marble and is adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions from the Quran. I am fascinated that it is still standing. The historic ruins of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque surround the minaret, and are fascinating in their own right.

Our first stop the following day was at Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tomb stands as a symbol of the grandeur and cultural synthesis of the Mughal Empire. It was built in the 16th century as a poignant tribute to the Mughal ruler, Emperor Humayun. Its construction marked a significant departure from previous Islamic mausoleum designs. The monument blends Persian and Indian architectural styles, setting the precedent for later Mughal architectural wonders like the Taj Mahal. The tomb serves as the final resting place of Emperor Humayun, the second Mughal ruler. Emperor Humayun’s reign set the stage for the era of Mughal splendor and expansion under his son, Akbar the Great.

Humayun’s Tomb stands within a complex of other 16th-century Mughal garden tombs.

Our next stop was at ‘Swaminarayan Akshardham at New Delhi’. Swaminarayan Akshardham is a Mandir – an abode of God, a Hindu house of worship, and a spiritual and cultural campus dedicated to devotion, learning and harmony. The mandir is a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781 – 1830 CE) – a torchbearer of Indian culture and spirituality.

This grand complex was built in the short span of 5 years; from November 2000 to November 2005. The focal point of the entire complex is the grand Akshardham Mandir, built of pink sandstone and white marble. It is 141 ft high, 316 ft wide, and 356 ft long, and has 234 intricately carved pillars, 9 magnificent domes, 20 pinnacles, and over 20,000 sculpted figures. An 11-ft high golden (yes, covered in real gold) murti of Bhagwan Swaminarayan sits in the center of the monument.

We were not allowed to take any cameras into this fascinating complex. The best I can do is share a couple of photos from a tour book we picked up at the exit, and one photo I took from the road. As a side note, we got the tour book and 10 postcards for $0.85. Unreal.

Our next stop on this VERY HOT (about 100-102 degrees F) day was Jama Masjid, in Old Delhi. Jama Masjid is one of India’s largest and most significant mosques. It was commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in 1656. It epitomizes the grandeur of Mughal architecture, showcasing red sandstone and white marble, adorned with intricate carvings and calligraphy. This mosque can accommodate over 25,000 worshipers. It is a hub of religious and cultural activity.

Women must wear a robe to enter and everyone must remove their shoes.

We then enjoyed an adventurous bicycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi.

We made a stop at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. This Sikh temple serves as a spiritual and communal hub. Its purpose is to provide a sanctuary to all, irrespective of faith. The temple features a sacred pool, known as Sarovar, believed to possess healing properties. The Gurudwara serves free meals to thousands daily, embodying the Sikh principle of seva, selfless service to others, and fostering a sense of unity and equality among all who partake. We had to don head coverings and remove our shoes before entering.

Our second to last stop for the day was at the Gandhi Smriti Museum. This museum stands as a tribute to the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation of India. Gandhi had a philosophy of nonviolence. He played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence and global peace movements.

Our final stop was a quick one, at the India Gate. We tried to stop the other day, but they were celebrating the Holi Holiday and it was jam-packed.

We found everyone to be very friendly in Delhi, and throughout India. I was often asked to stand in a photo with a local. I guess I, like the others in our group, stood out as non-Indian. The bright white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes must have been a giveaway. Anyway, many of the locals now have my photograph. I hope they don’t throw darts at it! I also felt special as we passed buses of men. I caught them smiling at me numerous times. I felt like a movie star :-)!

Here are a few photos that I snapped as we traveled around Delhi.

In the morning we headed South, to Agra. We had a few interesting sightings on the long drive. Most notable was this one.

And like many other countries we have recently visited, we spotted bicycles transporting all sorts of things.

We also spotted large piles of dried cow dung. I was curious as to why so I googled it. Here is what I found: Caked and dried cow dung is used as fuel in India. The cake-like shapes are called upla or kanda and are used as a replacement for firewood for cooking in chulah (traditional kitchen stove). You learn something new every day.

After a long drive we checked into the Jaypee Palace Hotel (better than our hotel in Delhi, but not great) before heading off to learn about rug manufacturing.

I had no idea that we would be visiting a rug manufacturer, or that I would learn how amazing Indian rugs are! Skilled artisans in Agra employ traditional techniques passed down through generations. These techniques include hand-knotting, hand-tufting, and hand-weaving, each requiring precision and expertise. While modern technology has influenced some aspects of rug production, Agra’s artisans remain committed to preserving traditional methods and techniques. Many women in the community create the rugs at home, over many months, and then the rugs are sold as part of a larger co-op.

Long story short, we bought a couple of rugs. Most of us did :-). They are going to be shipped to our house after our cruise. I can’t wait to get them.

Our next stop was the Agra Fort, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Agra Fort is a testament to the grandeur of Mughal architecture and power. Construction began in 1565 under the leadership of Emperor Akbar. Subsequent rulers added additional structures. The fort was built primarily of red sandstone and white marble (do you see a Mughal architectural theme here?). The fort served as the main residence of the Mughal emperors until 1638 when the capital was shifted to Delhi.

Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who commissioned the Taj Mahal, spent the last decade of his life in captivity at this fort. It was his third son, Aurangzeb, who ordered him to be held captive. Aurangzeb considered him a threat and had him confined to the Agra Fort until his death, in 1666. This was after he had executed his brothers and seized the throne in 1658.

Despite his captivity, Shah Jahan’s legacy as a patron of art and architecture endures through monuments like the Taj Mahal, which he commissioned in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan had a nice view of the Taj Mahal from his living quarters in the Agra Fort. This was his view.

Shortly before sunset, we made our way to the Taj View Point on the bank of River Yamuna near Mehtab Bagh. We had beautiful views of the Taj Mahal from this viewpoint.

This is our travel group.

And these are fellow Viking Neptuners who we ran into at the viewpoint.

And of course, I need to post the obligatory selfie.

The next morning we were blessed with beautiful clear skies for sunrise at the Taj Mahal. What an amazing structure! I never thought we would be at the Taj Mahal, but here we are.

The Taj Mahal, one of the most iconic symbols of love and architectural mastery, has a storied history. As mentioned earlier, it was commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal ruler of India, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz Mahal passed away in 1632 while giving birth to their 14th child!

Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 and took approximately 20 years to complete. The Taj Mahal serves as the final resting place for both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan himself. The Taj Mahal’s exquisite beauty, symmetrical layout, and intricate detailing, including its delicate marble inlay work and calligraphy, have earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It remains a timeless testament to love, loss, and the enduring power of architectural brilliance.

One of the allures of the Taj Mahal is its constantly changing hue. Sunlight transforms the mausoleum between colors of pearly gray and pale pink at sunrise, bright white at high noon, and translucent blue and orange-bronze at sunset. It is truly amazing.

The details of the structure and marble work are stunning.

Marble has a rich history in India, dating back thousands of years to ancient civilizations such as the Maurya, Gupta, and Mughal empires. The use of marble in architecture and sculpture flourished during the Mughal era, as shown throughout this blog post. The tradition of marble craftsmanship has continued to evolve over the centuries. India is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of marble.

We visited a marble shop where we learned a little about the traditional art form of marble inlay. Marble Inlay is a delicate process that involves carefully cutting and engraving marble shapes by hand.

By early afternoon we were on the road heading towards Jaipur. We made a stop at the Fatehpur Sikri Fort on the way. Fatehpur Sikri, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fortified city that served as the capital of the Mughal Empire for a brief period during the late 16th century. It was commissioned by Emporer Akbar in 1569. Fatehpur Sikri is renowned for its stunning architecture, blending Persian, Indian, and Islamic styles. The fort complex houses numerous palaces, mosques, and courtyards. If you recall from earlier in this post, Emporer Akbar also commissioned the Agra Fort around this same timeframe. His grand vision was to consolidate and expand the Mughal Empire. Agra Fort served as a strategic military stronghold and imperial residence, while Fatehpur Sikri was intended to be a new capital city, symbolizing Akbar’s aspirations for political, cultural, and religious harmony. However, Fatehpur Sikri’s fate as the capital was short-lived due to water scarcity and logistical challenges, leading Akbar to move the capital back to Agra.

After our short visit to the fort, and nearly dying from the heat (over 100 degrees!), we continued our long journey to Jaipur.

Here are a few photos from our drive.

I was thrilled to find ourselves at a modern Hilton for our 2 nights in Jaipur!

Jaipur is referred to as ‘The Pink City’, characterized by distinctive pink-hued buildings and structures. These structures were painted pink in 1876 to welcome Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. The color pink was chosen as it symbolized hospitality during that timeframe. It is said that Prince Albert nicknamed Jaipur ‘The Pink City’ and the name stuck.

We visited the Amber Fort, a majestic fortress that stands as a testament to the opulence and grandeur of India’s royal past. It was built in the 16th century by Raja Man Singh I. The fort served as the capital of the Kachwaha Rajput dynasty until Jaipur was established as the new capital in 1727. The fort has an impressive Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors), a Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure), and a Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience). The fort is perched atop a hill overlooking Maota Lake. The fort blends Rajput and Mughal architectural styles, featuring intricately carved marble and sandstone palaces, courtyards, and temples.

The fort is clearly a wedding couple’s dream location for photographs. We came across these two couples in the middle of their photo shoots.

We stopped by the Stepwell for a quick photograph. The stepwell, known as the Panna Meena ka Kund, is a historical marvel that serves both practical and aesthetic purposes. Built in the 16th or 17th century, the stepwell was designed to provide a reliable source of water for the community. The stepwell served as a reservoir for rainwater, as well as, a gathering place for social interaction and religious rituals.

Our next stop was the Maharaja’s City Palace. This palace was built in the early 18th century by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the founder of Jaipur. The City Palace served as the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur and continues to be the residence of the royal family.

By the end of this tour, we were exhausted. Temps were over 100 degrees F. We had one more tour though, right next door, at the Jantar Mantar Observatory. I was so exhausted and hot though, I couldn’t focus on the tour. I bowed out after a few minutes and found some shade.

I will mention that this impressive observatory was built in the early 18th century. It served as a center for scientific inquiry and astronomical observations, aiding in the development of accurate calendars and the study of celestial phenomena. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our final stop of the day was at a textile shop. A few individuals in our group picked out some fabric and designs and had clothes made for them overnight. I picked out a couple of shirts that were already made. We had a lot of fun, and laughs, through the process of picking out designs and getting measured.

Here are a few misc photos from Jaipur.

I have to tell you a story about the next photo. We were driving down this 2-lane road when a car ahead of us stopped. Everyone started honking their horns, as he was blocking one lane. After a brief moment, the driver exited the vehicle (right side of the car), leaned back in to talk to his passenger, and then walked to the other side of the car. By now we had passed him. I picked up my camera and took a quick picture out of the back of the van. I couldn’t believe it when I looked back at the photo. The guy had held up traffic so he could pee, right there for all to see. We all got quite a laugh out of that photo. The photo has been edited to hide certain features, if you get my drift.

Our final destination in India was Rajasthan, for the Tiger Safari in Ranthambore National Park. We stayed at The Tigress Ranthambore hotel. It was nice, except when we wanted to go to bed around 10 or 11 pm. We started searching for the light switch that would turn off the ceiling light. We tried every single switch we could find. None of them worked. Charlie wanted to call the front desk. I didn’t want them to have to send anyone down, as I was already tucked in bed. So, I grabbed my eye cover and went to sleep. Charlie didn’t have one, but he also fell asleep. In the morning we discovered that everyone had the same issue. Bill, the smart one in our group, did call the front desk and found out that the switch was behind the bed’s headboard. Yes, BEHIND the headboard. OMG.

It was about a 20-30 minute drive from the hotel to the national park, and it was an adventurous drive. The traffic was insane. The road seemed large enough for one vehicle, yet it was 2-way traffic. People were seen riding on top of buses. I guess they were full inside??? Cows roamed the streets. Amongst all of this, all we saw were smiles on people. Everybody seemed happy and friendly. We were recipients of many waves.

We did an evening and morning safari. The evening safari was tough, as it started out hot and the sun was intense. On the positive side, we enjoyed the safari and did find a male tiger.

On the morning safari, we spotted a mom tiger. She walked right by us. Shortly thereafter we spotted 2 of her cubs off in the distance. As we drove away we spotted the last one, sleeping further off in the distance. We also spotted many monkeys, birds, peacocks, and crocodiles.

We also had a rare Sloth Bear sighting.

The national park itself is very picturesque, and includes a fort.

We were in an uncomforable, roofless, 20-seater bus for the safari. When the tigers and/or bear were spotted, these large vehicles, up to 5 of them, all started vying for a viewing position. People on the busses were yelling and screaming. It was crazy. Thank goodness the animals were not fazed by the hysterics. Overall though, the safari was better than I had expected.

We are so happy that we took the opportuntity to tour India. Charlie and I had never considered visiting there but when the opportunity presented itself we jumped on board. We learned a lot about India’s culture and history. Oh, and I discovered that I like Indian food. That was a surprise.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. I know it was long, but it was a long journey 🙂

2 thoughts on “India’s Golden Triangle

  1. Definitely a worthwhile excursion. Beautiful photos and interesting background on these stunning places. No matter how many pics I see of the Taj Mahal, I am always astonished. It might be the most beautiful structure in the world. Glad you guys enjoyed it – hidden light switches notwithstanding. 🙂

  2. Excellent blog brings great joy and memories to my heart.
    Thank you for sharing this amazing journey

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