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Friday, 22 January 2010

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’

Written by Christina Kay Bolton
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Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonRajasthan 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.

Delhi

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonWe 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 Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonAstronomical 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.

 

 

 

 


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Gandi Raj is another attraction— it is the resting place for Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes and a popular pilgrimage spot surrounded by a large park. Drive by the parliament and the president’s house and make a stop at India Gate—a memorial to Indian soldiers who died in WWI and Afghanistan. You can also visit the large new temple complex Akshardham, but don’t bring anything; you’ll be turned back for anything larger than a tiny change purse. There is a place to check your bags, but if you’re like me and you like to keep your cameras and valuables with you, you’ll have to skip it.

We stayed at the Metropolitan downtown, so the logical choice for restaurants was Connaught Place which has many choices. Our favorite was Banana Leaf which has tasty, inexpensive South Indian food and quick service. If you like masala dosa’s (large crepes with curried potato filling) this is the place for you. There are about 20 varieties and almost as many uttapam (savory pancakes).

Our hotel was very comfortable and had an elegant lobby and a fabulous buffet breakfast. There was an omelet and pancake station where chefs would make everything to order and a huge buffet serving North and South Indian specialties as well as continental choices, pastries and fruit. Fresh squeezed juice, coffee, and tea completed the meal and readied us for our day. After two nights we headed to Agra, but not without one more stop in Delhi at the National Museum — another one of Delhi’s treasures which houses some of India’s greatest sculptures and many ancient relics. The country’s history is laid out chronologically and you learn about its culture as you walk through the exhibits. This is a place where you could spend a lot of time, we spent almost two hours and just scratched the surface.

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonOur driver was patiently waiting for us when we returned and then we got on the road. The trip was long and after we left Delhi the roads became more chaotic. Sometimes trucks would be headed the wrong way on the highway, so the drivers for tourists all go pretty slowly and carefully. Unfortunately, we stopped at a real tourist trap restaurant for lunch, the kind of place with all foreigners that has mediocre, overpriced food. There was also a souvenir shop selling all kinds of things with huge markups including t-shirts for $20! That’s more than you would pay in the US!

Agra

Upon arrival in Agra we had trouble finding our guesthouse in Agra’s busy streets, but persevered and found Dayal Lodge, a small family-run guesthouse that once catered to only hostellers, but now is in the process of renovating the rooms to attract other clientele. The rooms were clean and had marble floors, yet were still quite basic. The family was nice and offered good service, and we didn’t spend much time in the room as we left very early in the morning to get to the Taj Mahal by sunrise. The main issue was the location, which was far from the Taj and Fort.

At the suggestion of the owner, Amol, we ended up eating a couple blocks away at Bikaner Mela. This was a funny place as it looked like a fast food restaurant inside yet had a security guard out front and clearly middle-class customers. Upon appearances, I wasn’t sure how the food would be but it ended up being cooked to order and quite tasty. We both had the tandoori plate with roasted vegetables, paneer, tandoori aloo, dahl, and naan. We ended up coming back the next night as well.

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonAgra is blessed with some of India’s best attractions—mainly the Taj Mahal which everyone comes for, but also Agra Fort which is spectacular as well. Agra is also cursed with the worst air and water pollution, noise, and trash problem that I saw anywhere on my two month trip. It is the dirtiest city that you’re likely to go to, but it is still worth the trip because the Taj really is so majestic: a magnificent work of art with incredible carvings in its marble and inlay work of stones such as lapis, jade, jasper, malachite, mother-of-pearl, and carnelian that glows at sunset.

 


The guesthouse brought us paratha (stuffed bread) and tea before our early departure, and we made our way to the parking lot close to the Taj with our driver. From there we took a horse and cart the rest of the way to the Taj; in this zone within one km to the Taj gas vehicles are not allowed as they are trying to improve the horrendous pollution problem. The real problem is that just up the road are companies, including oil refineries, spewing black smoke into the air. Also, all over India, people burn their garbage (including toxic plastics) and those particles are also in the air. Then there is the water pollution—the river that flows by the Taj is one of the most polluted in India with chemicals being dumped from factories upstream. The fish from this river are inedible and people have become violently ill and have died from eating them.

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonThe pollution issue means that from many places with a ‘Taj view’ you can see just a faint outline of the Taj as the haze is so thick. Even from the famous viewing platform inside the Taj complex at the end of the reflecting pool the view is dimmed by the smoke. This was the major difference I saw from being in this same spot 12 years earlier when the sky was relatively clear and the sun actually shone. Archaeologists say that the pollution is slowly deteriorating the Taj’s marble and famous inlaid stones. Despite this disturbing development, the Taj Mahal is gorgeous and magical. Plan to spend some time gazing at the marble work and soaking up its ambiance.

 

 

 

 

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonWe had a pleasant local guide who we found at the entrance who showed us around, but didn’t rush us out. When we said we wanted to explore on our own and relax there a while, he graciously offered to meet us at the gate later. Later, I found out that he wanted to meet us at the gate instead of just being paid earlier so that he could bring us to one of the many inlay shops just outside the gate (which is a big business – if a guide or driver brings you to a shop they typically get a 40% cut of whatever you buy). Typically, we refused going in shops with guides or drivers, but in this case we went in for a couple minutes and looked around before leaving empty-handed.

We walked through the Oberoi on our way out, which is beautiful but expensive at about $600/night. However, you can go just for a drink or a meal. All the rooms have a Taj view, but the restaurant is on the lower level and doesn’t have the same view. We ended up having lunch at Taj Plaza Hotel because they had a rooftop ‘Taj view’ seating area which was a relaxing spot. Though the food was not very good and didn’t taste fresh.

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Fatepur Sikri

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The guide we had tried to get us to go around the gate where the guards rip your tickets (probably to re-sell our tickets later) and security was calling us. I stopped to wait and see what the security guard wanted while the guide urged us away from him. Eventually, we went in the right gate and had our tickets ripped, but our guide was definatly more interested in talking on his cell phone and showing us the shops back at the parking lot than telling us anything about the history. By prodding the guide for information, we Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay Boltonmanaged to learn that Akbar had three wives: a Muslim, a Christian, and a Hindu, and that it was the Hindu who gave Akbar his one child. She had a huge house inside the fort, while the Christian’s was about one-third the size. The Muslim’s house was tiny—just enough space for a bed, but it was covered with magnificent carvings and diamonds (which had been removed by invaders). Continuing our drive, we quickly crossed into Rajasthan (neither Delhi nor Agra is in the state of Rajasthan – though both are right on its border).

On each of our drives we entertained ourselves and our driver by asking him the names of things in Hindi, mostly animals we’d see roadside and telling him the funny correlations in English. For example, in Hindi the word for cow is ‘guy’, but of course, in English, we use that as another word for man. Our driver was indispensible and made the trip so much easier, and some places we wouldn’t have been able to get to at all without a car.


Jaipur

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonWe arrived at Jaipur, ‘The Pink City’, in early evening to find a clean, modern, well-kept city. There was not the typical trash strewn on the sides of the road here and the air was relatively clear and clean. We felt optimistic just at being in a clean place after Agra. We checked into Hotel Pearl Palace and it was very nicely decorated with all kinds of Rajasthani art like textiles & puppets, intricately painted ceilings, and nice furniture. It was also very clean, had a friendly staff, and a silver shop with fair prices and no haggling. Our favorite part was its rooftop restaurant filled with plants that had very good fresh food. It took a little while to get each order, but the smell of ginger being grated and onions simmering wafted out of the kitchen and made the wait worthwhile. We ate here both nights of our stay as well as our breakfasts. The problem we had here was sleeping, not because of street noise, but because the AC unit in our room was so loud, so maybe test the AC units before you choose your room.

 

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In the morning, we stopped at Jaipur’s famous Hawa Mahal—the ultimate pink sandstone landmark on the way to Amer Fort, which is really spectacular. Most people ride elephants up the hill to the fort, but the line was over an hour long, so we just walked up. This fort is of a different style than the one at Agra—it’s more focused on elaborate paintings than Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay Boltoninlaid stones and it also has a large area of mosaic with inlaid mirrors. It was the best restored fort we saw and like all the forts we went to, goes on endlessly. Beware of the hackers that surround you as you leave, they sell things for many times the actual cost. If you are interested in buying anything, it’s safe to offer them about 1/10th the price they initially ask for, but you’re better off just waiting until you’re in town to avoid the hassle.

 

We made a quick stop at the Astronomical Observatory, which was preserved much better than Delhi’s and then went to The City Palace Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay Boltonwhich was incredible. It has a tapestry museum, an armory, and a beautiful palace in the center with a huge chandelier and two immense silver pots which were used to carry water from the Ganges River for the Maharaja. They are still the largest silver objects in the world. There is much to see here so you should devote at least three hours to explore.

 

 

 

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Pushkar

We drove to Pushkar the next morning to see its famous camel fair for one night. The road was good to begin with and then turned into a crowded one lane road as we got closer. We stayed at Hotel Kishan Palace which was run by brothers Kuldeep and Gajendra Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonSingh who were helpful and friendly. The room was clean and well decorated and the restaurant has nice round seating areas that offered a view over the city. The downsides were the smell of mothballs in the bathroom and tiny rolls of toilet paper, but the hospitality of these brothers made up for that.

 

 

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonPushkar was a mixed bag. It is a great place to take pictures during the camel fair. It’s also a pilgrimage site because it contains the lone Brahma temple in India and the small town surrounds a lake that is considered holy. Unfortunately, when we were there the lake was empty due to a fairly dry rainy season, so there was only a little water in the ghats (baths) surrounding it. We walked around the lake area and there were many sadhu’s (holy men) in their white or saffron robes from all over India and shopkeepers that kept trying to give us marigolds to put in the ghats as a blessing. We decided to try it after they assured us there was no money involved and were taught an elaborate yet quick ritual which ended in them tying a blessing cord around our wrists and asking for a donation for charity. We did go over and give our ‘donation’ (though it’s unclear if it actually made it to said charity) and started to leave when they came and asked my fiancé for another ‘donation’. We said that mine was for both of us and their demeanor changed from ‘spiritual’ to angry pretty quickly as they shouted after us, “Karma is not shared.”

We got to the dusty fairgrounds where the camels, horses, and tents were and people approached us about camel rides and camel carts to take us all over the large fairgrounds. While speaking to one owner, my fiancé was standing too close to a camel and it suddenly swiped down and tried to bite the top of his head! Fortunately, all it got was his ugly tourist sunhat we’d picked up in Jaipur the previous day. Still, the day didn’t seem Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay Boltonto be going too well so we skipped our walk around the fairgrounds and just went to the main stadium to watch some camel races then slowly headed back to our hotel, stopping at a number of shops along the way.


We dined on lentil soup, eggplant with spinach, jeera rice and naan which was all quite good. Our hotel’s restaurant also shows Bollywood movies at night if you like those. Though it was not as noisy as downtown, during the camel fair there is drumming and activity all night long in Pushkar, so don’t expect to sleep too soundly.


Shahpura

Our next destination was Shahpura Bagh. After a very long drive down a bumpy road through an unpromising looking area we were greeted by Sat, our genteel, intellectual host and shown around Shahpura Bagh, an oasis of calmness and refined taste. Our room was Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay Boltonhuge with 15-foot high ceilings, a four poster bed, sitting area, and bathroom with a claw foot tub and walk-in shower. One of the nicest spots on the property was the large infinity pool with curtained daybeds loaded with pillows. Guests meet there in the evening at the bar for pre-dinner drinks and finger foods are served by the kind waiters. We talked to Sat for quite a while as he mingled with his guests and found out that the property had been in his family for generations and it was just recently that he and his wife Maya had decided to come back from the cities and open the guesthouse.

At dinnertime, we were invited into the dining room for an excellent meal served by the gracious staff. We started with a tomato soup and then were treated to a buffet of Indian dishes that were delightfully tasty and well spiced without being hot. Also, dessert was one of the few I had on the trip that I actually liked, it was flavorful and not overly sweet. After dinner, we retreated to our room and it was absolutely silent and perfect for sleeping.

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonThe next morning after a large breakfast, we went with many of the other guests to the village that Shahpura Bagh helps support through its community outreach program. As soon as we got out of the car, we were surrounded by kids who wanted their pictures taken. They were so cute—they would be very serious looking when posing and then break out into grins and laughter when you show them the photos. We visited a typical village house: one or two rooms with a shaded outdoor kitchen area and the animals living in the small backyard. Afterwards we went to ‘the farm’ where we had tea before returning to the hotel for the afternoon.

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonWe relaxed by the pool on the daybed which was thoroughly blissful and at some point got up for lunch before heading back for more rest and swimming. You can also go bird-watching and hiking if you want something a little more active. When we returned to our room we were surprised at how cool it was without the AC on given the scorching desert sun. It must be the very high ceilings and the small high windows. This was my birthday and a perfect way to spend it away from the busyness outside and eating three great meals. Also, since there are not many rooms, you get to know your fellow travelers quite well and that fosters a sense of community.

Shahpura Bagh was everything we’d hoped for and a lovely place to spend a couple days well off the tourist track. It has what the Golden Triangle lacks: relaxation, ease, and quiet. It also has no attractions to speak of, which may not sound that great while you’re sitting at home planning your trip, but after rushing from fort to museum to palace all day with touts following you around trying to sell you everything under the sun, it may start to seem like the antidote to all that.

Udaipur

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonOur next stop was Udaipur, which is a beautiful city surrounding Lake Pichola that is popular with tourists. In the center of the lake are some of the best hotels in India and the world. We tried to go to one for dinner, Taj Lake Palace Hotel, but found out that their restaurant is only open to residents and their private water taxi service only takes guests. Nevertheless, there were so many good choices nearby with a view of the lake palace so it didn’t matter. Unlike the other places we’d been there were many bars and a relaxed nightclub atmosphere in the air with piped music coming from each of the rooftop restaurants and bars attracting clientele with a mix of jazz, urban, and classical Indian.

We stayed at Jaiwana Haveli which had small rooms with even smaller bathrooms, but it was very clean and had a great location and view overlooking the Lake Palace. It was also Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay Boltonjust a short walk to the main attraction, the City Palace Museum, which was really interesting. It was more relaxed than the other places we’d been to and had lots of nice mosaics, miniature paintings (a specialty of Udaipur artists), and lots of mirrors and velvet. It was also one of the only places that had rooms set up with period furniture to get an idea of how people lived.

 

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay Bolton

 


Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonWe also went on the boat ride to Jag Mandir Palace. I actually liked the boat ride better than the palace, because we passed women in colorful sari’s doing laundry on the waterfront and got to see the City Palace from the lake which is worth it. Jag Mandir itself though isn’t a place to spend a lot of time since most areas are off limits to non guests (there is another very expensive hotel here) and there’s only so long you can wander around the courtyard or the garden, after 15 minutes we were itching to get the next boat back. You could choose to skip this and just take a joy boat ride around the lake from many docks (sometimes at sunset).

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonNext, we went to an artist village on the outskirts of the city called Shilpgram. While not a place many people go, it was recommended to us by another traveler who really liked it and we left feeling the same. Shilpgram is basically a representation of what houses and culture are like in four different Indian states: Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, and Maharashtra. They have typical houses built that farmers, fisherman, businessmen, etc would live in with the usual materials of the area whether it is wood, mud, or thatch. They also have folk dances, puppet shows, or music from each of the areas by very good performers.

 

 

 

Rajasthan and the ‘Golden Triangle’, travel Golden Triangle, travel Rajasthan, SITA India, travel india, Shapura Bagh, Jaipur, Pushkar, Shapura, Udaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, New Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb, Astronomical Observatory, Qutab Minar, Baha’i Lotus Temple, ISKON, Gandi Raj, Akshardham, Banana Leaf, Taj Mahal, Dayal Lodge, Bikaner Mela, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri, Hotel Pearl Palace, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Hotel Kishan Palace, Pushkar fair, Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur City Palace Museum, Jag Mandir Palace, Shilpgram, Jagat Niwas Palace, Christina Kay BoltonWe took a camel ride around the place and the Rajasthani camel driver was very kind and explained about each house to us in his limited English. Riding the camel around was fun; we sashayed easily back and forth as it walked. We got off many times to see the various things; you really have to hold on when the camel sits down, though, as it brings its front legs down you catapult forward and then as its rear comes down you swing back, but by the end we’d got the hang of it. There are many artists here and some are quite good. We ended up buying some miniature paintings. Also, the prices they initially ask for are not extravagant, though there still is room for bargaining.

 

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We went back to town in time for our massages— there are many places offering Ayurvedic massage in town and we’d booked at Ayurvedic Body Care. As usual, my partner’s massage therapist was pretty good while mine wasn’t that great, but at least I got a good facial out of it and found some new skin care products that I like: Biotique.

We’d made reservations for the best table at Jagat Niwas Palace for our last dinner. We sat in a window seat cross-legged at a low romantic table with a gorgeous lake view and magical classical Indian live musicians next to us. They played the Tamboura (string instrument) and Tabla (drums) as we ate delicious mutton in cashew nut sauce, vegetable curry, biriyani and naan. It was such a special night.

On our final morning we had a traditional Rajasthani breakfast (rice flakes with peas, onions, and pomegranate seeds) at our hotel and did a little shopping before Nirmal picked us up to drive us to the airport just outside Udaipur.

We left feeling we’d seen some of the best sights in the world, experienced an incredible culture, made some new friends, and even had time to relax. We’ll be back.

©Christina Kay Bolton


Details:

Tours and drivers: SITA: www.sita.in , email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Exchange Rate is approx. 46 Indian Rs per US dollar at press time, please check current rates.

Hotels:

Delhi: Metropolitan http://hotelmetdelhi.com/ , Room rates are quite high, but you can find specials on their website for around 7,000 Rs, or check skyauction.com where you can sometimes find rooms for around $100 US.

Agra: Dayal Lodge http://www.dayallodge.com/index.htm, 600-750 Rs per room.

Jaipur: Hotel Pearl Palace http://www.hotelpearlpalace.com/ , 300-1100 Rs per room.

Pushkar: Hotel Kishan Palace http://www.kishanpalacepushkar.com/ , $50-150 US depending if during camel fair or not.

Shahpura Bagh: http://www.shahpurabagh.com/, 5,000 -10,000 Rs per room inclusive of breakfast and activities.

Udaipur: http://jaiwanahaveli.com/ , 1,000 – 1,750 Rs per room.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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