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New Delhi and Agra
We woke up early after our late night flight into New Delhi. We were excited to begin our first day of India sights and sounds and after a leisurely breakfast as we set off with our Guide to visit the Jamma Mosque a beautiful building which was built in 1650.
Following the visit to the Mosque we took a trishaw (touristy I know but a lot of fun) through the narrow winding streets, which held shops and stalls selling beautiful fresh fruit, saris, trinkets, flowers and street food to name a few. Amid the hustle and bustle we were rewarded with such sites as oxen pulling heavily laden carts and monkeys climbing the power lines.
Surrounded by tranquil gardens our next stop was the Raj Ghat which is the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes, an eternal flame and black marble memorial honours this great man. Other notables who have their ashes laid to rest here are Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi.
Our next port of call was the beautiful Humayun’s Tomb which is a world heritage listed site. This red sandstone and marble structure sits within a symmetrical square garden divided into four parts and is dotted with small pools. Humayun’s Tomb is said to be the inspiration for Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal.
We continued our drive through New Delhi’s embassy area, with its wide streets with large Government buildings left over from the British occupation and onto the shopping district of Connaught Road before visiting Qutub Minar.
The centrepiece of Qutub Minar is the red sandstone tower stands which 72 metres high and is one of the most perfect towers in the Persian world. The complex also holds many beautifully carved buildings and a tour of this site should be high on the list of anyone visiting New Delhi.
It was a full day of India sights and sounds and as well as learning a lot about the attractions we saw, we had conversations with our guide on topics ranging from life in Delhi, Bollywood movie stars, Hindu Gods and politics. For lunch we were taken to a restaurant where the menu ranged from English, Italian, Chinese and of course local Indian cuisine. For an extra cost we had the option to have an authentic Indian dinner with our Guide.
It was on the way to Hotel Jaypee Palace that I caught my first glimpse of the magnificent Taj Mahal.
Hotel Jaypee Palace was a luxurious hotel and we were welcomed with necklaces of marigolds and jasmine, our room had a patio that looked out onto a majestic garden. We relaxed with high tea in The Tea Lounge at the hotel where we sampled the different teas and cakes, which were delicious.
In the evening we were picked up by our driver Mukesh and our Guide and taken to Mahtab Bagh. The moonlight garden was an extension of the Taj Mahal garden and is located across the river from the Taj Mahal. It was peaceful walking through the garden, shady and cool. Families gathered and watched their children playing, while squirrels scampered up trees. As we walked closer to the river the back of the Taj Mahal came into view and even from a distance you could see that it was crowded with people. I remember thinking that the Taj Mahal was nice but I didn’t really get any special feeling on seeing it.
From the Mahtab Bagh we proceeded to the massive Agra Fort made of red sandstone and marble the Red fort was built by Emperor Akbar and I cannot describe how opulent this Fort would have been in its heyday. At one time there were precious and semi-precious stones inlayed into the marble carvings and you can still see where the stones have been gouged out by souvenir hunters and robbers that occupied the grand buildings over the centuries. Magnificent gardens and an excellent view of the Taj Mahal can be had from many of the vantage points within the fort.
The next day we woke before dawn and with our Guide drove to The Taj Mahal complex, I was very surprised to see that there were only a handful of people present. We walked through the beautiful stone gate and there was the Taj Mahal what can I say, it’s beauty took my breath away and the tears just flowed down my face and I couldn’t stop them, it took me almost 10 minutes to pull myself together. We walked around the Taj Mahal for almost an hour, we had our picture taken on “Diana’s seat” and were still amazed that there wasn’t a huge crowd. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
We went back to the hotel for breakfast and checked out of the Hotel and made our way to the abandoned capital city Fatehpur Sikri before continuing our 6 hour journey with our driver Mukesh for the next part of our India sights and sounds to the city of Jaipur.