Vivid India – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, Part 1

Qutb Minar, Delhi
Qutb Minar, Delhi

How time flies – it’s 2014 already and I have yet to update the blog with the many cities we visited in 2013! We visited the south of India in 2012 and I wanted to see how different the middle of India would be from the south.

Well, it’s vastly different – weather, people, traffic and scenery!  With the kind help of Country Holidays, Singapore, they developed an itinerary for me that included Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.  I didn’t want an itinerary that was a rush through of the cities but one that would afford us time to take pictures, to absorb the history but most of all, to experience India. So it was a couple of days in Delhi, a couple of days in Agra and four days in Jaipur.

Of all the three cities, I found Jaipur to be the loveliest (although not necessary the less chaotic!)  We were advised that the best times to visit the three cities is October – February, when the weather is cooler but we thought we’d try an off-season visit by going in the third week of September.  The weather is still bearable but it can be humid and sweaty (and a tad dusty) at times.

We started our day in Delhi at the largest Great Mosque in India – Jamal Masjid.  It was completed in 1644 and has a courtyard that can hold 25,000 devotees.

Jamal Masjid
Jamal Masjid
Along the corridors of the Jamal Masjid
Along the corridors of the Jamal Masjid
Deep in understanding the scriptures
Deep in understanding the scriptures

It is truly breathtaking for we’d never seen a courtyard that massive. Before entering the mosque, women are handed a long robe to wear as a mark of respect.  Both locals and tourists mingled together – families taking the day off, devotees and the curious all descended into the cavernous halls of this holy institution.

After the mosque, we made our way into the small bylanes of Chandni Chowk, bustling with traditional businesses.  We wound our way through the little nooks, exploring centuries old arts and crafts with businessmen belonging to the 6th or 7th generation of the men who first started them.

Side Street Stall
Side Street Stall

Be warned – Chandni Chowk is not for the faint hearted.  The streets, smells and colour can overwhelm you if you aren’t used to crowds!

Beware the Speeding Rickshaw!
Beware the Speeding Rickshaw!

But I’m a masochist and I like markets so I endured both the heat and the crowds.  And what marvelous food – carts everywhere filled with all kinds of snacks and hot food.

Wide array of Sweets & Street Food
Wide array of Sweets & Street Food
Ready-snack Crackers
Ready-snack Crackers

We saw little shops with dazzling displays of bridal wear, a street filled with bookshops and then we stepped off into The Khari Baoli, a section of Chandni Chowk that was all about spices – here, rice and dal, dry fruits, nuts and saffron dealers were going about their day and we were told that they’ve been trading here for more than 150 years.

Every day life in the market
Every day life in the market

The second day of our stay in Delhi saw us waking early to visit the  12th century Qutab Minar with its imposing victory tower. Making our way out by 7.30am was the right thing to do for we beat the crowd and had an hour and a half to explore before tour buses started offloading their visitors.

Rich carvings on the sides of the Qutb Minar
Rich carvings on the sides of the Qutb Minar
Lattice Work in the outer buildings of the Qutb Minar
Lattice Work in the outer buildings of the Qutb Minar

We also took in the sights of some stately architecture of government buildings.

Government Buildings in Delhi
Government Buildings in Delhi

We missed out on a visit to the Humayun Tomb (said to serve as a model for the Taj Mahal) because it was still undergoing restoration.  Perhaps it was a sign to visit Delhi again to take in what was missed! Our guide then took us to the Nizamuddin area, where we were introduced to the mystical world of Sufism.  To get to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga, we walked through narrow, crowded lanes filled with the scent of incense. I thought we were lost but suddenly we came to a stop outside a stall selling flowers.

Can I participate?
Can I participate?

There, we were told to take off our shoes and then stepped through a doorway that revealed the Darga.  While men and women mingled outside the shrine, it was only the men who were allowed in and their heads had to be covered.  The grounds also house the tombs of some famous historical characters namely, Amir Khusro, Shah Jahan’s daughter.

My Dear Boy
My Dear Boy

Even the area in which our hotel was situated had a historical backdrop.  The Rose, a lovely little boutique establishment, is smack in the middle of Hauz Khaus Village, an oasis of a green spot in bustling Delhi.  Great staff, a good in-house cafe and free wi-fi added to our experience 🙂

The village itself is home to some of the most creative businesses in Delhi – designers, chic boutiques, artists and restaurateurs make their home in Hauz Khaus.

On the periphery of the village is a centuries old park that also houses the tombs of minor Muslim royalty. ‘Hauz Khaus’ means ‘Royal Tank’ and it is in reference to the artificial lake that can be seen from the late Sultan Firoz Shah’s tomb.

Hauz Khaus
Hauz Khaus
Parking Sign
Parking Sign

My next post will be of our time in Agra – the home of the Taj Mahal.  Ah…indeed a beautiful monument.  The colours and vivid scenes continue…

Dusk descends on the Taj Mahal
Dusk descends on the Taj Mahal

The how, where and who:

1. Return trip on Thai Airways, using Delhi as the gateway.

2. Hotel Stay – The Rose, Hauz Khaus Village.

3. Trip developed by Country Holidays, Singapore.

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