Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Wedding in India - Agra and Delhi

Monday, February 29, 2016

After a wonderful night in our fancypants hotel, we met up with Emily and Karuna and set out for the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Once we arrived, they gave us bottled water and shoe covers for walking in the monument itself. Then, you take a free bus up to the monument and wait on line to go through security.

When you arrive, everyone must go through this gate, to force your perspective when looking at the monument. It's pretty amazing.

When we saw it for the first time, it looked smaller than I would have expected, and sadly, three of the towers were under construction. I suppose seeing anything as iconic as this, it's easy to have some disappointment. But, it was still majestic, and seeing the detail in person, which you never really get from the photos, was incredible. To think that all this work was done by hand, with only human and animal power, is stunning.

Also, we did a thing that we would never in a million years do: a mini photoshoot. At the "Princess Diana" bench, there were a few men offering to take photos. They'd pose you and then you could buy any of the photos you liked for 100 INR. We definitely would have said no, but Emily wanted to, so we got in on their action a little. The results were hilarious, and I was surprised to actually have a lot of fun while we were doing it. India Lesson #4: Just say "yes."

I'll scan in the ones we got, but they are not unlike this couple:

Photo credit to Emily!

And we also have a few group shots that are a little clearer than this one:

Photo credit to Emily!

There were a number of animals around the Taj Mahal, including parrots, stray dogs, and other interesting birds.

And we met a really interesting fellow as we were looking for the entrance. I don't think we ever got his name, but he works as a journalist for one of the biggest Hindi newspapers in the country, and it was interesting to chat with him about India and what makes something a monument. We're chatting with him in the background of this photo that Emily took:

And, as I said yesterday, we started agreeing to take photos with anyone who asked:

Photo by Emily!
It was a tremendously beautiful site, and I'm so glad we were able to take our time exploring it in the early morning light. The gardens are meant to mimic what we'll find in heaven, and honestly, they were truly spectacular.

After a few hours there, on the recommendation of our photographer, we headed to GMB Restaurant for a delicious breakfast. It looked like a bakery from the front, but there's a restaurant in the back and we all had a tasty, authentic India breakfast there. Definitely worth stopping by if you're in Agra. (Someone else recommended Spice Kitchen, but they don't open until 12pm, and it was still early.)

After breakfast, we stopped at the Agra Fort, a 16th-century Mughal monument. It was also really beautiful, and seemed to be a stop for lots of school tours. Again, I was just stunned that all of this was built by hand, although apparently much of this was plaster, which seems a bit easier.

The fort also had some incredible views of the Taj Mahal, which was really cool to see.

After that, we headed back to Delhi, where Roger and I were staying at a hotel in Old Delhi. Old Delhi is completely different than Connaught Place and South Delhi. It's a huge market, and much more crowded. Many of the roads are only accessible by foot or rickshaw, and so it was both incredible to see and also very overwhelming. We stayed at the Hotel Tara Palace, which was perfectly clean and serviceable (and had a nice breakfast). I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone but a seasoned traveler, but it was totally fine for our purposes.

When we arrived that evening, we saw that a restaurant we'd heard was amazing, Karim's, was only a six minute walk from our hotel. Two and a half hours of wandering around the market, we finally started asking for directions every 50 feet, and slowly made our way there. The walk back to the hotel? Six minutes. India Lesson #5: Google maps can't save you now.

The food was delicious, though, and our table had a card with an article written by a friend's brother-in-law, so I took that as a positive sign. It also reminded me of what a college friend once said, when I mentioned I'd randomly bumped into a friend on the street in Paris: The world is small for the young and privileged. So it is.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

In the morning, we decided to give the market one more go, and try to visit the nearby mosque and Red Fort. We saw the fronts of both of those, and bought a bag to carry our overnight gear in, but otherwise, I found the market just as overwhelming as I had the night before, and soon it was time to meet up with our friends Jess and Madhu.

Funny story: My friend Jess happened to be in Delhi at the same time as us! We've known each other since middle school, but it's really rare for us to get together any more, and the last time I saw her was at our high school reunion. But, when I saw she was going to be in India on facebook, I messaged her and it turned out our paths would cross.

We met up at Veda, a restaurant Madhu had suggested, which was one of the best meals of our trip. I fell in love with the creamy, comforting apricot malai kofta, and their Manchurian cauliflower was to die for. A really delicious meal, made even better by really wonderful conversation!

Madhu's father had hired a driver for them for the week, so he picked us up and brought us to the Janpath and Tibetan markets. We mostly just looked at the trinkets for sale, but I bought two pashminas for friends, and Jess and Madhu bought pants and shoes.

After that, we headed to the Raj Ghat, the Ghandi memorial, which was a lovely, serene monument to a great man. It's surrounded by a park, and we spent most of the afternoon sitting in the grass, chatting. It was wonderful to catch up and hear about what they're up to, and it was the perfect end to our day in Delhi!

They were kind enough to drive us to the train station, where we met up with Emily and Karuna again to catch the train up to Chandigarh. The train was very comfortable, and included what felt like a five-course meal. A few hours later, we were meeting Tej to take a cab to our hotel and start the wedding festivities!

Up next: shopping for wedding clothes in Tej's hometown of Chandigarh!

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