Jaipur & Agra, One half of the Golden Triangle
10.11.2010 - 12.11.2010 74 °F
We left the wonderful care of the Kumars for a whirlwind tour of Rajasthan. At our guesthouse in Delhi, per recommendation of a couple of friends who had traveled in these parts, we employed a driver to take us around this huge provience. With a cheap price and a lovely ease of time, we shed our independent travelrs wariness of anything that smelt of guided tours and set course for the former land of the maharajas....
Our first stop on the Rajastan roadtrip was actually in nearby Uttar pradesh - the ancient capital of the Mughals: Agra. Whiel Agra boasts a litany of mosques, ruined cities, and fabulous palaces it is best known for the iconic ode to love: the Taj Mahal. The Taj was built by a Mughal emporer as a tomb to immortalize his most beloved wife Mumtaz. The Taj was much as I had expected - crowds, tourists, aggressive street salesmen, and absolutely astounding beauty.
There is definately a reason why some things are world landmarks.
Beyond the tomb we saw the amazing Jama'a Mosque in the old abandoned capital of Fatepur Sikri and snapped photos of the old palace of Agra Fort. All in all Agra was one of those "you gotta see because you're in India" but for me felt more of an annoying detour on a much more interesting journey into the old cities of Rajasthan.
All in all the trip was a grand but our driver needed a bit of hard talking to. Thinking us his typical "luxury" traveler he did not hesitate to recommend us midrange or luxury hotels and tourist trap shops. Typical of India is the "commission seeking guide" who only takes you to places that are his families or who will pay him a sum to guide you there. They delight in scaring travelers and misleading tour groups. Our seemed much of the same breed. However, he improved slightly after a few days when he questioned our professions. Exasperated by his (possibly?) well intentioned follies we both announced our current unemployment (much to his wide-eyed dismay)! From there things returned, with a few frustrating hiccups, to the much more rough and tumble routines of budget guesthouses and street side paranthas.
Budget roadtrip Rajasthan now duly established we headed to Jaipur, the Pink City..............
Jaipur has the unfortunate curse of georgraphic proximity to Agra combined with the extreme poverty of Rajasthan (one of the poorest states in India). The result is a clausterphobic blend of tourism and too many people wanting to "help" tourists. What I mean is... Jaipur, in many respects, represents the India people find difficult to travel in. We definitely saw (and thoroughly enjoyed) the must see of monuments - the mazelike Amber Fort. One of the most amazing sights we had seen all of our months, the palace/fort was a massive strucutre with tall sweeping walls, fantastic gardens, and interlocking labyrinthine coordinators. While not as stunning as the Taj, the place rivaled it in all manners of fun. Taking narrow stairs to who-knows-where, loosing the crowds in the shadowy hammams (baths).... The place certainly had a powerful appeal that made the hassle of the Golden Triangle worthwhile.
Our next stop in the Wind Palace had us thrown into the nexus of unhelpful street hawkers in a tourist market to rival any we've seen... However, jump of the well trodden main avenue... Slip into a chai-wallahs cafe and you get a bit of relief from the awesome toil of the city. Our long aimless walk thoroughly revived us and gave us a new found respect for the city. Pair our strolls through side-street Jaipur with the mazelike palace and suddenly the trip to this tourist maze started to seem worthwhile.....