I have been nominated to tell about the India portion of our trip through today, so here goes.
In Delhi the only real tourist site that we made it to was the Red Fort. It was built in in the 1600’s by Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) as a residence. It was impressive but there are no furnishings inside so it is difficult to really understand how splendid it would have been. The furnishings of all of the palaces in this area would have consisted mainly of pillows carpets and wall hangings which have been either pillaged, destroyed or otherwise removed over the years.
From the front of the Red Fort stretches a street called Chadni Chowk. It has always been a bazaar. In historical times it was apparently beautiful, lined with trees and a canal running down the center. Now days it is crowded, dirty and a little more like running the gauntlet than shopping! If you stop you will be accosted by at least three shopkeepers and probably at least two or three other dodgy people as well. To get back to the area of our hotel (Connaught Place) we took the metro; it was unreal, far removed from the chaos above, it was clean, efficient and very cheap (about 12 cents), it is however very new and not much of the line has been completed, so it doesn’t cover much of the city.
We took an auto rickshaw (a three wheeled motorized vehicle also known as a tuck-tuck) from the prepaid stand in the center of town to a market (Dilli Haat) I had read about in the guide book that charges about 25 cents to get in. This was great because the entry fee keeps out all of the beggars and touts. It was exactly how I want a market experience to be. It wasn’t very authentic, but who cares! When we left we had to bargain with a tuck-tuck driver to get home. Our trip there was 45 rupees. To come back he charged us 80 rupees and when we wouldn’t agree to stop at any craft shops with him he tried to increase the price even more (drivers get commission from certain shops).
We went to dinner one night at a revolving restaurant which was fun, and surprizingly not too tacky. The food was good and inexpensive and the doorman had a huge mustache which pleased Andy to no end. It was dark outside and we could see Delhi sprawl endlessly in all directions. We also went out to dinner with Ashish’s brother Amreesh. We had drinks at the Imperial hotel. It is the fanciest hotel in Delhi and has a definite feel of old British India. Then we went to dinner at a place called The Great Kebab Factory. Imagine Andy’s excitement!
In Agra we saw a few different sights, with the obvious one being the Taj Mahal! It is very beautiful in person and we had a guide who explained all of the symbolism to us. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem that all “big ticket” sites (Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, etc) suffer from. Four million other people are there at the same time as you are. It is however huge, much taller than either of us had realized, no matter the number of people it still dwarfs them. Our guide seemed to enjoy Andy’s camera. He offered to take a picture of us in front of the Taj Mahal and then he ran around taking other random pictures with it for a full ten minutes! Our hotel was very nice(thankfully) and located right next door to a Costa Coffee and a Pizza Hut. Although, since this is India the pizzas have no pepperoni and no sausage, but you can get chicken or vegetable toppings. Andy had the chicken tikka pizza so he could pretend he was eating like a local.
Our next stop was Ranthambore National Park. This is one of the few places where you can spot tigers in the wild. The tigers here are famous for being friendly and are not afraid of humans. Unfortunately, due to poaching the number of tigers in the park has been reduced to only about 30. In 2005 the other famous tiger reserve in Rajastahan, Sariska Tiger Reserve, was proven to have no remaining tigers at all! Anyway, the road to get to Ranthambore is horrible. It is under heavy construction most of the way. In many places it is not paved and when it is the pavement is full of potholes. In addition it passes through many small towns and villages, each one unleashing a cacophony of traffic chaos (mainly in the form of animals, and pedestrians). It is 109 miles from Jaipur and it took us four hours! To go into the park you enter in either a six passenger jeep or a twenty passenger safari vehicle called a cantor. We were on a cantor. Each vehicle is allowed in for three hours at a time. We bounced and rattled over dirt tracks that whole time and only saw deer! I am not kidding when I say that my eyes actually were excreting dirt for the rest of the day. My face and hair were covered in it as well. I had to take a shower before we could start our super-fun return trip to Jaipur. Several other groups who went out at the same time did see tigers, so we were just unlucky. If I had known we were only going to see deer I would have preferred to just stand with a cup of tea in my parents living room and wait for some to come to the apple tree in the front yard!