Where did we leave off? New Delhi, I believe?
It’s been just a few days since my previous post and yet, I feel like I’ve gone from outsider and observer to guest, participant in this crazy whirlwind of activity – sights, smells, textures, tastes. If you let it, this other side of the world will wrap its arms around you and immerse you in its vibrant, chaotic ways.
Thursday morning at the Taj Mahal was every bit as amazing as I’d expected, and then some. A wonder of the world, indeed. I’m afraid I can’t do it more justice than that – it is breathtaking and impressive and so beautiful. I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower, just staring at it staring back at me. This was much the same, a silent conversation simply being in its presence.
The rest of the day (we were at the Taj Mahal by 7am!) was spent en route to Jaipur, third in the “Golden Triangle” that is Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The drive is about four hours, and the combination of our dedicated, air-conditioned Tata SUV and a smooth, traffic-free toll road made for an easy trip. We stopped at Fatehpur Sikri to see the sprawling palace Akbar the Great built only to abandon 16 years later, then pulled in to a roadside Rajasthani restaurant where we were the only customers and the young waiter was so pleased to see us he insisted on having our picture together.
The drive lasted into the waning hours of the afternoon, and as we passed the countryside – pop-up cricket matches, brick ovens firing their wares, roadside markets and petrol stations – the sun cast a bewitching glow across it all. Where Delhi had me impressed if overwhelmed, I found myself impressed and humbled by the stretch of the country zipping by us.
Like Delhi, Jaipur is bustling and busy, a city of either 4.5M or 7M, depending on who you ask. Here we’ve been lucky enough to stay at a stunningly luxurious hotel (budgets are easily kept to when you’re splitting the cost four ways) and rely on a demurring driver who carts us from here to there and back to satiate our ever-changing tourist whims. I likely won’t eat this well again this trip – the chicken korma, the lal maas, the fresh-baked naan and everything we’ve found around town have my taste buds waking up in ways they certainly don’t for Indian food back in the Midwest. Pizza is really only pizza in Naples, and gatta curry here is gatta curry.
Our days in Jaipur, though not many at all, have been as defined by sightseeing and shopping as they have the amazing food. The Pink City, and within it sights like the City Palace and Jantar Mantar, are bastions of a multifaceted history rich with pageantry and purpose. The bazaars and shops lining the streets insist on drawing you in to see their goods, and in fact a few of those reading this may have Jaipur to thank for their India souvenirs. We stopped at FabIndia to allow for a wardrobe update that puts me a bit more in sync with my surroundings, and we perused the gems and baubles on display at Gem Palace, jeweler to royalty near and far.
Tomorrow we set out on another drive, this time north to New Delhi where I’ll next catch a plane to Varanasi (which will, I’m sure, be no small shift from the urban sprawl of Jaipur). On the way, we’ll stop for lunch. And perhaps an impromptu game of cricket.