Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’ are exotic and amazing; its forts, palaces, natural wonders, culture and cuisine entice you at the same time that its poverty and pollution repulse you. All its contrasts create a vivid impression and an elixir for living vibrantly.
This area contains some of India’s greatest treasures—from the Taj Mahal to Jaipur’s fort to Udaipur’s city palace — the attractions are worth the entire journey, not to mention all the rest it has to offer: delicious cuisine, harmonious music, colorful folk dances, and friendly, welcoming people.
India is one of the most interesting places in the world for its unique cultural heritage of diversity and tolerance. India is the second largest Muslim country in the world, but the Muslims are still outnumbered by Hindu’s. There are also large Buddhist communities, as well as important influences from Jain’s, Parsi’s, and Christians (even though Christians are only 2.3% of the population – that is over 24 million people!). Ethnically, there is just as much diversity with 37 official languages and over 500 different languages and dialects spoken. Although there have been serious clashes between various ethnic and religious groups (most notably when the British plan to partition Pakistan away from India went into effect), in general there is an atmosphere of acceptance and pride in its great diversity.
If you visit the ‘Golden Triangle’ (Delhi, Agra & Jaipur) and Rajasthans’ main forts, you’ll see the symbols of each of the religions represented in carvings from the time of Akbar (an early Mughal emperor). Akbar in particular built a culture of acceptance in this part of India that is the foundation for today’s pluralistic attitudes. The exception would be marriage. In terms of marriage, India is one of the most traditional places I’ve seen. Though its fine to have friends of every religion, in order to marry, people must be of the same religion to gain the favor of their family and community (and in the case of Hindu’s they must also be of the same caste). That causes big problems if people were to fall in love with someone outside of their religion or caste as they may be shunned. Marriage for love is still very uncommon as most marriages are arranged by the families. Communities are close-knit here unlike in many western places where you may not even know your neighbors. In India many families have been friends for generations.
Our exploration of this area was 12 days, 11 nights and included four places in Rajasthan (Jaipur, Pushkar, Shahpura, and Udaipur) as well as Delhi and Agra.
We were greeted in Delhi by a SITA representative who introduced us to our driver, Nirmal, got us to our hotel, and helped us plan which sights to see out of the many choices for our two days here. After settling into our hotel, we went to some of Old Delhi’s most famous attractions: Jama Masjid Mosque – the largest Mosque in India which was built by Shah Jahan (who also commissioned the Taj Mahal), and then the Red Fort, where we hired a local guide to show us around. The fort has many buildings and museums inside—the elaborately carved old buildings are beautiful, but the British built their army barracks right next to the centuries old emperor’s palaces during the period of colonial rule. Across the street from the fort is Chandni Chowk – the famous, crowded marketplace where you can buy almost anything.
Old Delhi is a crush of humanity with street vendors, cars, animals and pedestrians surrounding you, as well as cycle rickshaws that almost run you over to appeal for your business. New Delhi is decidedly different with cleaner, more orderly streets. Here you’ll find businesspeople and expensive boutiques next to temples and snack stands. Despite its ‘new’ name, you’ll find some very old sights in New Delhi like Humayan’s Tomb, the Astronomical Observatory, and my favorite, Qutab Minar. Qutab Minar is one of the most fabulous places to take pictures in the late afternoon as the sun gives a warm glow to the elaborately carved columns that are in terrific condition. The minaret itself is 72.5 meters high and the tallest brick minaret in the world.