Other photos of India


ITINERARY:  New Delhi, Old Delhi, Jaipur, Agra

October 2000


India was a mistake - or at least a surprise. The Silk Road tour was supposed to end in Lahore, Pakistan but Uzbekistan Airways changed its schedule and our group was re-routed to Delhi. We had to scramble to get visas to India, which cost U.S. citizens a whopping $75 apiece. We hadn't planned to visit India because several friends had returned from there sick and/or overwhelmed by the heat, crowded conditions, poverty and disease. Since we'd paid to enter the country, we decided to stay six days and see if we wanted to return another year. With less than a week, we could visit only a small part of such a mammoth country. Our choice: the nearby "Golden Triangle" of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.


The last night of the Silk Road tour was spent in the elegant Oberoi Maidens Hotel, a four-star historic building set in a garden in a sedate part of New Delhi. We were amazed at our room - a large, two-room suite that would easily have held three or four of the  rooms we usually stay in. The group had a whirlwind tour of Old Delhi - including the huge Jama Masjid mosque, the Red Fort, Raj Ghat where Gandhi was cremated (he was assassinated in his garden in 1948) and Hamayun's Tomb from the 2nd Moghul Empire. Isakhan Tomb adjacent to Hamayun's was particularly impressive. We waved goodbye to our fellow travelers as they left for the airport and home the next day. Since the hotel rate was several times what our budget allowed, we located another place near the Main Bazaar. The hotel driver seemed shocked when we told him where we wanted to go. No wonder - the contrast in hotels was great. The closer we came to the middle of the bazaar, the more narrow the streets and the more crowded with people, cars, rickshaws, vendors and wandering cows! Eventually, the car could go no farther, so we got out and walked the rest of the way to Major Den's -  a small, walk-up hotel on a side street. Our clean, simple room was up three flights of stairs and had its own tiny bath. (The shower head was fixed into the center of the wall, and sprayed the entire room randomly!) It was a far cry from the Oberoi Maidens, but we finally felt we'd arrived in India. The next morning, we KNEW we were in India.

Joan looked out the window, and saw four large Brahma bulls in the street below... down the street, we could see a red-turbaned man sitting cross-legged in his shop doorway, sewing at an old Singer... around the corner we came across a narrow alley filled with fruit and vegetable stalls.... and a street-front Hindu temple nearby was filled with lights and colorfully painted religious statues.

Lou had to stand in a queue for almost two hours to get tickets for the train from Delhi to Jaipur. On one side of him was a dread-locked Dutchman, who related his travels across Central Asia. On the other side was a professor of economics from Sudan who had been accused of attempting to overthrow its corrupt government. He told of his experiences as one of 25 Sudanese evacuated to Canada under the United Nations protection program. Lou was so intrigued, he actually wanted the queue to last longer! The next morning we stored most of our luggage at Major Den's and caught a train for the six-hour trip to Jaipur. Our $10 seats in the second class, air-conditioned sleeper car made into bunks and we took turns napping along the way - when we weren't talking with some friendly Indians who shared our compartment. They were proud of their culture but ashamed of the way their fellow Indians were trashing the environment. The scenery as we clickity-clacked along was indeed polluted but quite fascinating - shanties on the squatters' land next to the train tracks, ponds of green algae with pigs rooting around, lots of grazing animals (cattle, goats, even camels), golden-brown newly-harvested fields and women colorfully clad in red, blue, orange and purple saris carrying bricks or loads of grain on their head. Men and boys urinated and defecated along the tracks, women stooped in the fields to harvest corn stalks, and packed buses passed with people and piles of packages on top.


Once in Jaipur, "The Pink City", we caught an auto rickshaw (similar to the Indonesian tuk tuk) to the Alsisar Haveli Hotel - an interesting 19th century mansion. The next day we rode out to Amber, the ancient capital of Jaipur State, to see the fort palace built around 1600. It was day four in an important 9-day Hindu festival and very crowded; we snaked in a long line through a shrine to Shiva, emerging with red wax tikkas daubed on our foreheads.

The next day we caught a "deluxe, air-conditioned tourist bus" to Agra. What a joke. It was rusty, the foam stuffing was coming out of our headrests, there was no air conditioning and we had to assert ourselves with the other passengers to keep the dirty window open and air flowing in! It was another six-hour ride, this time costing only $2.50 but the comfort level was lower, too. We had to wonder what a non-deluxe bus would be like. Probably jammed with twice the passengers, plus pigs and chickens.


They say that some travelers are disappointed when they see the pyramids, but that no one is disappointed by the Taj Mahal. We certainly weren't. The Taj Mahal is beautiful beyond description and the closer you approach it, the more perfect it appears. We arrived in the late afternoon, and spent several hours watching its luminous surface change from pearly white to glowing pink as the sun set. After sunset, most of the crowds were gone, and we lingered on to enjoy the magic of a lavender dusk.

We returned to our deserted and rather shabby hotel - which must have been in much better condition when Queen Elizabeth II stayed there 40 years before. Three toothless old men in rumpled maroon uniforms attended to us; they probably were in their prime when the Queen visited. After breakfast by the hotel's (cracked, peeling, empty) swimming pool, we returned to Delhi on the train - but only after Lou stood in another long queue, while Joan stood at the window and chastised the queue-crashers. We ran to buy bottled water, cookies and fruit, climbed aboard and enjoyed the four-hour trip back to the city. They say that it's impossible to like India; you either love it or hate it. We found it one of the most exciting, exotic and exasperating places we've ever visited.

Other photos of India

The next day, vowing to return to India for a much longer stay, we flew to NEPAL



GUIDEBOOKIndia (Lonely Planet)

BACKGROUND READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

FILMS: A Passage to India; Gandhi; Monsoon Wedding

(2000 Prices)

NEW DELHI: Oberoi Maidens Hotel. Four stars. $110-135/ double with bath. Quiet garden setting with swimming pool, but not centrally-located. Ph: 291-4841; Fax: 398-0771 Amusing hotel background: www.travelwithattitude.com/oberoimaidens.htm

OLD DEHLI: Major Den's, $10/double with tiny bath. We loved this clean, well-located, eccentric place! But it's pretty basic, and only for the young - or young at heart. Ph: 362-9599

JAIPUR:  Alisar Haveli Hotel, $45/double with bath, including breakfast on patio. Charming 19th century villa in quiet garden setting.  (141) 368 290 

AGRALauries Hotel - faded, but clean & spacious.  $20/double with bath.  (91) (562) 236-4536  laurieshotel@hotmail.com




Joan and Lou Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net