Recently, my sister, cousin and myself journeyed across the Golden Triangle Region of North India – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Despite being of East Indian descent, we all spoke rudimentary Hindi and felt like foreigners in our own land.
Agra is home to the absolutely stunning Taj Mahal. A wonder of the world, a monument of lost love and a completely surreal experience. It seems as if it was floating on air and despite the heavy pollution, the marble was still shimmering white at sunset. The best part of the visit was paying the dirt-cheap Indian fee of INR 20 versus the outrageous foreigner fee of INR 750. The three of us played up our Indian accents and bobbled our heads in order to avoid being fleeced!
Pretty in Pink:
Jaipur is in the dry, arid state of Rajasthan and the very first planned city in India. Its pink stucco buildings has rendered it the nickname of the Pink City. You can find every form of transportation in Jaipur from camel carts to a family of five on single-seat scooters to Mercedes SUVs. On side streets, you can find donkey carts and monkeys swinging & climbing from one pink wall to another.
The Walled City embodies the architectural beauty of the Rajputs (the local Royal dynasty) and contains the residence of the present Royal family of Rajasthan. We also took a bumpy, but fun elephant ride to Amber Fort, a massive, ancient citadel which combines intricate designs of Hindu and Muslim architecture.
Jaipur is a shopaholic’s dream come true- colourful textiles, vibrant gems, sacks of spices and silk scarves are sold galore and bargaining is key. Hawkers “heart” tourists and everyone wants to take you to their uncle/brother/cousin’s textile factory.
The face of Modern India:
Delhi is phenomenally modern with its wide, clean streets, advanced metro system along with underground cell phone coverage and environmentally-friendly green auto-rickshaws. Construction was in full boom, in eager preparation for the Commonwealth Games in October.
We visited the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i place of worship with a swanky European-style museum dedicated to this faith with some of the cleanest gardens in India.
A cycle rickshaw ride through the bazaars of Old Delhi gave us a taste of old, authentic India with narrow streets laden with heavily-embroidered sarees, silver jewellery, greasy street food and wedding cards. If you are planning an Indian wedding on a budget, this would be the place to check out!
We sadly missed Gandhi’s memorial (Mahatma’s) and Indira Gandhi’s (not the same family!) memorial museum, but all the more reason to visit Delhi again.
Here a few observations of India and advice to fellow female globe-trotters:
Nobody stands in a queue. Lining up is a novel concept. It is traditional to push and shove your way through markets, airport check-in desks and post offices.
Books, cell phone plans, rickshaw rides and eating out are all dirt cheap.
Negotiate on the price of everything – from bangles to scarves to taxi rides! Start at half the price that they are selling and work your way SLIGHTLY up from there.
Cosmetics are extremely popular, especially face and body whitening creams from Neutrogena and Vaseline. Salon services such as waxing, threading and facials are dirt-cheap and of great quality. Ask a female guide to take you or try to pair up with a female college student to introduce you to one.
I was overly impressed with the ultra-chic Indian magazine, Femina. It can easily give Vogue and Elle a run for its money.
There are many hawkers just outside the main monuments in Agra and Jaipur. Politely say no, don’t make eye contact and keep walking.
Staring is the national past-time and quite harmless. Keep in mind to dress conservatively i.e. no strappy tank-tops and above-the-knee shorts. Long-sleeved shirts and cotton pants do the trick.
On a guided tour, insist on being taken to a clean toilet facility where other tourists frequent and carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper with you at all times.
Tipping is big business in India, so the average is Rupees 50 to porters, Rupees 100/day to the driver and Rupees 400 to guides depending on their knowledge and helpfulness. Always tip with your right hand as tipping with the left hand is considered offensive.
Below are recommendations on movies and literature on the region to provide a clearer understanding of Indian culture and customs. Overall, India can be an endless source of amusement, but remember to stay open-minded and embrace the differences!
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen
India: From Midnight to the Millenium and Beyond by Shashi Tharoor
Tiger, Elephant and Cell Phone: The Emerging 21st -Century Power by Shashi Tharoor
Where the Rain is Born: Writings about Kerala. Edited by Anita Nair
Fire, Water & Earth by Deepa Mehta
Gandhi by Richard Attenborough
Bandit Queen by Shekhar Kapur
Before the Rains by Santosh Sivan
The Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray
Salaam Bombay by Mira Nair
Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair