India – A Country of Paradoxes
India is a shock, where reality really exceeds expectations. She is attractive and repulsive at the same time. Everyone is their own being, with the same things in different people causing opposite emotions. Travelling can be an unparalleled adventure, with buses moving with doors open and men hanging out of them because of crowding. Some may have to fight off the threat of nausea as they fend off a crowd of beggars or search for a way to clean faeces from their shoes left by wandering cows in this barely inhabitable metropolis. Walking in the area of main bazaar accurately conveys the flavour of the state for visitors; an experience that may be a difficult challenge for even the most experienced travellers.
There is a fantastic contrast to this place, with its unique architecture, history, culture and magnificent temples on one hand and endless streets with houses without windows, a symphony of papers and dry leaves that come to life with the wind and grey heap of rags on the sidewalks on the other hand. Almost 1.3 billion people call India home, sharing in the fate, religion, duty and drama of this eclectic country. Still, with divisions based upon ethnicity, faith, social status and even life choices, India demands perseverance and resilience from its members each day.
The people of Rajasthan believe in Shiva. It is Krishna in Bengal and Kashmir Muslims live in Punjab. From Sidhi to Europeanised Goa, you will find many Catholics.
This entire country can be historically amazing, with out of 50 UNESCO World Heritage sites located in South Asia, 31 are here. It is where history meets nature, making India infinitely interesting and exotic. In order to try to understand and feel it, perhaps a visit to the “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra would be helpful. If you have the power and desire, let us begin…
Delhi: The heart of the country
The capital, Delhi, is a bright, cosmopolitan city. Its contradictory nature is reflected in both its eclectic architecture and in the completely contrasting moods of the old town and the modern centre. Taking a walk through the winding streets of the old part, you can discover the traditional markets, adjacent to branded boutiques, and trendy restaurants, which are located nearby. For a quite different look, there is the district of New Delhi. Here, everything that is necessary in a metropolis can be found, with skyscrapers, business centres, museums and even a zoo. In our opinion, you should definitely consider these options when in the “heart of the country”:
1. Try the local spicy food, including fried cakes made from rice flour that are more like pancakes. They are known as chaat papdi (with potatoes, chick peas and chili). Wash it all down with the traditional masala chai, with milk and spices.
2. Be sure to take a ride on a rickshaw.
3. Lost in the streets of Old Delhi, I caught myself thinking that they were back in the Middle Ages. It is advisable not to do this alone.
4. Of course, you should visit the Main Bazaar! That is where the flavour of India is presented in all of its glory. You can look at it from a nearby cafe on the roof (there are several of them), located right at the intersection of the main commercial area. Any passer-by will tell you where the cafe on the roof is.
5. Ride on the city subway. They are surprisingly clean, tidy and quite democratic.
6. Of course, a visit to any place of interest from a guide is advisable. There are many to choose from, including the Red Fort, a historic site that, many centuries ago, was a stronghold of the Mughal Empire.
7. Climb to the top of the minaret of the Jama Masjid mosque. It is the main mosque in Delhi and allows visitors to enjoy views of the city. One of the relics kept in here is a copy of the Qur’an, written on deer skin.
8. Visit the magnificent Lotus Temple. It is built of pure white marble in the shape of a giant lotus flower. It is very popular with tourists and journalists, producing a lasting impression for them to cherish. In fact, the Lotus Temple has won several architectural awards.
9. See the tomb of Humayun, one of the Moghul emperors. This mausoleum was built at the end of the XVI century, at the behest of the widow of Humayun, Hamida Banu Begum.
10. Walk in the Gardens Lodi, named after the famous military leader and Sultan, Sikander Lodi. There is the garden and, also, his mausoleum.
Of course, there is the Imperial Hotel (New Delhi). A hundred years ago, in this magnificent building, many important decisions for India were made. There is also the house-museum of Indira Gandhi (Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum). Maybe, go shopping in one of the major shopping centres, if you wish. Be careful: There are many poor street beggars and barkers trying to sell you tickets that may be worthless. The same caution applies to hailing a taxi cab, especially if it is a taxi to the airport or train station.
Treasures of Agra
The city of Agra, which many people associate with fabulous splendour, is really big and a heavily polluted industrial town. Few visitors will say good words about it now because of the abundance of chemicals let free and enterprises poisoning the air. Its heyday was reached during the reign of Akbar the Great (1556- 1605), who built a fort here. Then, it was a centre of science, arts, commerce and religion. Since then, it has, in many ways, remained a civilisation pearl, attracting tourists from all over the world.
The most famous site in Agra is the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Perhaps the most impressive building in the world, it became a masterpiece of architecture that has awed visitors over the past 400 years. The mausoleum was built of white marble in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, one of the favourite wives of Shah Jahan. Grieving the loss of his beloved wife, the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, spent 22 years creating the world’s largest monument to love. Of course, this is an important monument, but not the only treasure of Agra. Worthy of attention as well is the Red Fort, spectacular as a deluxe city-fortress. More than 10 years ago, it even won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The Fort was also featured in the well-known stories of Sherlock Holmes, “The Sign of Four”. “We took refuge in an old castle Agrskoy. I do not know, gentlemen, if anyone heard of you about it. It’s a very strange construction. This I had never seen, and believe me, I’ve seen many strange things in my time”. The Fort was also the site of many battles. A defeat in 1857 was the beginning of the period of direct rule by Great Britain. After visiting Agra, it is worth a visit to Fatehpur Sikri, the tomb of Akbar the Great, the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah and many other historical monuments.
Jaipur: The pink city of temples and treacherous monkey
Jaipur is a very nice, clean city that is not often seen by visitors to India. The whole centre is designed in pleasant pink colours. The city does not have as many attractions as, for example, Delhi, but there are a few that should definitely be seen, including the City Palace and Hawa Mahal (palace for the royal ladies). The City Palace is definitely worth a visit and its uniqueness lies in the fact that it has a relatively modest appearance from the outside that does not match the grandeur of the interior. That is very unusual for India, where, generally, the splendour is evident from the outside as well.
No less interesting is the Hawa Mahal (palace of the royal ladies), which is a landmark building of Jaipur. It is indicated in all of the glossy guidebooks and photo albums of the city. Built in 1799 by Maharajas Pratarom Singh, it is the stunning building that was created specifically for royal women and concubines. Through the tiny windows, the ladies had the opportunity to contemplate the life of the city.
The city has much to offer lovers of the exotic. For example, in Galt, on the northern outskirts of Jaipur, on a fairly steep hill, is a small Hindu temple with monkeys. Monkey Palace is home to thousands of monkeys. There is hardly anywhere else in the world that you can find them in such numbers. Locals love it and come daily to feed them. As well, goats, pigs and cows can be found walking in the territory of the palace.
Mumbai the homeland of Bollywood
Perhaps worth a visit is Mumbai, the home of Bollywood. Previously, it was called Bombay. It is the largest city in the country, where many speak English as easily as their native tongue. The singing and dancing of Indian cinema is created right here, making the city is a great decoration for India. You can go on a tour of the studio itself, immerse yourself in the colourful backstage ambience or walk through the pavilions where well-known movies were shot.
The main tourist area of Mumbai is Colaba. Here, in an area of several square kilometres, is concentrated almost all of the tourist life, where Bollywood agents look for faces for crowd scenes. So, the chance to star in an Indian film may present itself during your visit. The city has many unique attractions: The Gateway of India, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Haji Ali Mosque, a boat to travel to the Water Palace in the middle of Man Sagar Lake (the beautiful Jal Mahal) and a walk along the famous Dadabhai Naoroji Road. Also, enjoy the Parsi Fire Temple, decorated in the art deco style. In fact, this is not all that you can see here, so plan to visit.
Not all people are drawn to this area offering exotic and extreme experiences. For many, India is only about the sea and sand. Indeed, India is famous for its spas. The most popular of them is in Goa, a state considered the richest region in India. Many people from around the world flock here to visit the various spas and wellness centres. The majestic Fort Aguada, by the way, is a working prison, divided into two parts (north and south). The north is often loud and pulsing because many youth appear here with meagre budgets and bold dreams. The south, instead, is a paradise for wealthy fans of beach recreation.
Another popular resort is Kerala, with its white sand, coconut palms and Ayurvedic treatments; everything that you need to relax your body and soul. Lovers of a relaxing holiday will appreciate Andaman and Nicobar Islands — a group of islands considered a national park. It is necessary to have a special permit to visit, easily secured through checked-in hotels, islands administration offices, on ferries or at the entrance.
India is so amazing and diverse that it is difficult to convey in words. It is a must see! “India is not a piece of land. It is not a political entity, not a chapter of historical facts. It is not the mad race for money, power and status. India is a longing, a thirst for the attainment of truth; the truth that resides in our every heartbeat, the truth that is sleeping in the very layers of our consciousness. For me, India is an eternal pilgrimage, a timeless path that is stretched from eternity to eternity. That’s why we have never written history in India. Is history something to be written? History is the name given to ordinary, insignificant, day-to-day happenings: Those happenings that arise like a storm today and of which there is not a trace to be found tomorrow. History is merely a passing dust storm”. (Osho Rajneesh) Perhaps with these words, I will finish the story.