It’s true. India’s Golden Triangle is a place unlike any other in the world. You’ll either love it or hate it. I wasn’t sure which side I’d end up on when my Emirates flight went wheels up from Dubai to Delhi. The 3.5-hour flight gave me time to reflect on what my experience would be like. I’d heard the rumors… Delhi belly… women aren’t safe… don’t go out at night. I’d been bombarded with fear and negative thoughts compliments of family and friends who were concerned about my safety. Despite the warnings, this was a wander lust I had to fulfill.
It’s the first time I’d traveled completely alone. My dad was most nervous. He’s a Vietnam Veteran and quite honestly, he’s seen more bad things than most. I assured him I would take every precaution. As any father would, he kept a watchful eye while I traveled.
Overwhelm is really the best word to describe Delhi. Noisy, cars honking, bustling streets full of people, tuk tuks, motor bikes, rickshaws, cars and animals. Driving or crossing the street is a death defying act that required skill! I wondered why my airport pickup driver never seemed to stay in her lane, often driving between two. It didn’t take long to realize this is how you drive in Delhi. Two lanes somehow magically turn into four.
It’s really hard to explain this incredible place. I’ve often said every photo has a story. Through photos, let me share my experience in Incredible India.
Photo credit: Margie Jordan
Jama Masjid Mosque – Old Delhi
Known as the great mosque of Delhi, it is the largest in India. It’s open air courtyard is capable of holding 25,000 people. Made of red sandstone and marble, there are three gates, four towers and two minarets. To enter the mosque you’ll need to be barefoot and adorned with a robe. Just in case you didn’t bring your own, robes are provided at the entrance for a fee.
The Streets of Old Delhi
Right outside of the Jama Masjid Mosque, lies Old Delhi. couldn’t believe it. Chaos. overwhelm, fear, and confusion. I felt all of those in an instant. Cars honking, noisy streets, and the smells! What was going on outside of the mosque? Why in the world had I come here? At that moment, I was thankful for our local guide. One thing I knew for sure, Old Delhi was begging to be explored.
The Sikh holy site of Gurdwara SisGanj – Old Delhi
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with thirty million followers worldwide. We stopped here for a very respectful look inside this holy site. Before entering we removed our shoes and step into a little pool of water to cleanse our feet. It doesn’t get anymore authentic than this as we walked down the street in Old Delhi BAREFOOT to reach the entrance of this holy site.
The Sikh Community Kitchen – Old Delhi
Next to the Sikh holy site of Gurdwara SisGanj was a community kitchen. Volunteers show up each day to cook two hot meals for the homeless. As visitors, we were able to go in and cook alongside the local men and women. Our assignment for the day was to roll out the naan.
Eating Street Food in Old Delhi
One of the highlights of this trip was enjoying some of the amazing street food in Old Delhi. I know, I know. You’ve heard the stories about people getting sick from eating the street food. Yes… that happens. It matters who you travel with. The right guide can lead you to things that are not only safe to eat but delicious like the vegetable samosa we enjoyed here. The best place to experience Masala Chai is with the gentleman in the photo below. It was exceptional! We never found another cup quite as delicious as his in Old Delhi.
The Chaos of Old Delhi
The sights and sounds of Old Delhi can overwhelm you quickly. From tuk tuks and cars, to rickshaws, animals, and people; you might feel a bit assaulted by it all. It’s as accurate of a description as I can give. Old Delhi just throws you in to chaos, smells and sounds without any regret. My greatest accomplishment that day was learning how to cross the street. It’s a bit like a game of frogger!
Chandni Chowk Market – Old Delhi
Fresh and aromatic, the spice market in Chandni Chowk was an array of color! The aroma was intense. From nuts and grains, coffee and spices, Chandni Chowk is a Chef’s dream!
The Taj Mahal – Agra
We stood in line in early pre-dawn hours. Ladies in one line and men in the other. A few stray dogs were there to greet us. Anxious and a bit sleepy eyed, we waited for the sun to rise and the doors to open for our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. This was a wander list moment for me. As the doors opened and we walked through the courtyard, I could see it off in the distance. It looked exactly like all the stock photos I’d purchased over the years. Feeling a bit underwhelmed, it wasn’t until I graced her marble platform, that I was breathless.
Constructed between 1631 and 1654, the Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, better known as Mumtz Mahal. She died while giving birth to her fourteenth child.
Agra Fort – Agra
Truly one of my favorite places in Agra. Led by Akbar the Great, the city was taken over by the Moghuls in the late 16th century. Akbar had a thing for red sandstone inlaid with white marble. The Agra Fort reflects his style. Exploring this fort was nothing short of amazing. I think I was channeling my inner “Dora the Explorer” as I walked through sandstone hallways and rooms learning the story of Akbar and his son Shah Jahan who transformed it into a palace.
In one room in the Fort, the system of communication is interesting. Stand in one corner while someone whispers into an adjacent one and you can hear what’s being said.
Baby Taj – Agra
In the center of a beautiful garden stands the Baby Taj. It’s the tomb of Itimad ud Daulah. It was used as a model for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
This red sandstone, fortified city was the capital of the Moghal Empire. It’s a great reflection of the diversity of religion in the region. Inside we found monuments like the Diwan- E-Khas, Panch Mahal, the astrologers seat, palaces of the Queens and the Holy Shrine of Sufi Saint with its massive entrance – Buland Darwaza.
Village of Abhaneri (Step Wells)
India’s deepest and largest step wells (tank gardens). Step wells are fairly unique to India and they were used as cool places to rest, as pools for ritual cleansing prior to a temple visit and as a water supply. The depth of the stairs is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Amber Fort – Jaipur
Overlooking the artificial lake south of Amber town is the Amber Fort/Palace complex, famous for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. You can ride an elephant to the top but consider taking a jeep as a humane choice. Our guide shared the story of life in the palace. The Maharaja had 12 wives and many mistresses. Each wife had their own room with a staircase that lead to the courtyard. A kama sutra painting stands above the staircase that leads to a secret passage allowing the Maharaja to visit each wife’s room in privacy.
Village of Sawarda
We spent the night is a 17th century restored rural fort in the Village of Sawarada. Family run, the owner’s provide drinking water to the village at a nominal cost. The children of the village greeted us and loved to have their photo taken. Most didn’t speak English but could understand it very well. Inside the village, life is simple. The only place that had running water was the bed and breakfast we stayed in.