In the final week of our trip, eight of us booked a Golden Triangle tour, perhaps one of the most famous short journeys in India. In a whirlwind 6 day tour, it visits the three cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur containing some of India’s most iconic monuments.
Our mini bus picked us up in Rishikesh and winding along mountain roads and past monkeys, we retraced our path back to Delhi where the many cars, people and tall buildings were a bit of a shock after largely car free Swargashram in Rishikesh. It was strange not to see cows milling about on the roads and the clogged Delhi traffic is astounding.
We get to our 4 star hotel in Delhi and the bed was like sleeping in a cloud. Heavenly!
We visited sites around Delhi including Gandhi’s ghat where he was cremated, a Hindu temple, the Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi and perhaps the most memorable was the pashmina shop. Pashminas are scarves handwoven from goat hair – an amazing work of art as many take years for the weaver to collect the fibres and weave the delicate, soft scarves. We got to see the art of selling as well. We were all a little grumpy and tired from a morning of being driven around from touristic site to site, the shock of how expensive a meal can be outside of our little local cafes in Rishikesh that we had gotten used to and the overall transition from life at a yoga school to the life of a walking wallet tourist. When our tour guide announced that we were going to a shop he was affiliated to, we were less than excited. We piled in, glum and the shopkeepers did their magic.
To this day, some in our group thinks there was something in the tea they served us. I suspect it was the caffeine and sugar in the sweet, milky strong tea after 6 weeks of basically no caffeine and sugar in our diets. Whatever it was, soon beautiful, soft, colourful pashminas were being unraveled before our eyes and wrapped against our skin. It was a seduction of the senses, the rich chai tea, the rich fabrics and the lavish individual attention and compliments of the salesmen. Ironically, though we were a bit shocked at the price of our lunch, many in our group dropped big bucks for the luscious pashminas scarves and other handicrafts. We walked out with our wallets lighter but also our hearts a bit lighter too.
The next day, we drove to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. 6 years ago when I went to India, I felt that the Taj was overrated and didn’t visit. This time, I gave it a chance. It is perhaps one of the most iconic images of India with its grand the four minarets crowning its perfectly symmetrical white marble domed centre. Built by a Mughal emperor, the white marble and semi-precious stone inlayed artwork of this magnificent tomb is said to be a testament of love for his wife. Though popular and iconic, the grandeur of the place is truly awe inspiring and impressed even slightly cynical me. The detail of the marble inlay is really impressive as each of the flowery scrolls, geometric shapes and Arabic scripts from the Quran comprised of flaked, shaped and carved semi-precious stones such as turquoise, onyx, tigers eye, coral vermillion and brilliant blue lapis lazuli, and then the white marble was also equally detailed carved and then the colourful pieces where glue in so it resembled a colourful painting. The quality of the stones were so fine that shining a light onto the marble and the semi-precious stones made them glow translucent with their soft colours. The Taj Mahal took 22 years to construct and at the end of the endeavor, the emperor was ousted by his son with support of the local population before more the kingdom’s funds on his tomb that was supposed to mirror the Taj in black marble.
Just outside of Agra is Fateupur Srikti, a well preserved first Mughal capital. It was built there because there is an old mosque with a Sufi saint who lived there in ancient times and was supposed to be able to grant wishes. The maharaja had three wives but no heirs so he went there and made a wish for sons. He got his wish for a son afterwards and he was so happy, he moved his capital there. The palace complex was designed with detailed art carving, meeting areas where the officials sat on pillars overlooking the petitioning population, many high columned pavilions where the royal ladies would rest and catch the breeze on a hot day, perfumed pools where musicians used to play and a giant game-board set into the courtyard where the maharaja used to play with his concubines as the game pieces.
We visited another palace, the Amber Palace in Jaipur. Jaipur is the gateway and capital city of Rajasastan, a province of India that has a very unique vibrant desert feel. The women here dress in even more colourful saris in highlighter green, oranges, and pinks and covered with jewelry. The roads are blocked at times, completely filled with sheep and/or cattle as herders walk them by. Jaipur is known as the pink city with the old walled city painted with vibrant colour. Though it’s called the “pink city” it is actually more like the “orange city” as the pink paint is made from clay. Jaipur is one of the first planned cities in India built in the 18th century. Previously, the royal family dwelled at the Amber Palace and surrounding town 11km away. Built on top of a hill and surrounded by a mini “Great-Wall-like” defense system that snaked along the tops of the surrounding hills, we rode on elephants up through the sun gate like the maharaja used to. The palace is divided into three inner areas after the entrance courtyard where the soldiers were barracked. The gate into the palace was covered in rich fresco paintings with paint made from gold and other natural pigments such as marigolds and from semiprecious stones such as lapis lazuli. In the outermost section was a high columned hall where the majaraja used to have public audiences from his royal swing situated in the centre. Overlooking the gate into the private audience area was delicate carved marble latticed screens where the royal ladies used to be able to look out without anyone being able to gaze on their faces. Inside the private audience area was a rich garden with pools and fountains with a beautiful hall off to one side covered in mirror work so that the ceilings looked like starry night skies. The final inner portion was the living quarters of the maharaja’s 12 wives. The royal ladies did not walk around the place complex but rather had chairs that their servants carried them around on. Even though we only see the architecture left today, it was easy imagine richly clad plump little princesses lounging on swings overlooking the perfumed pools in the garden.
After our tour, six of us spent a couple nights at our teacher’s house in Delhi. We did yoga and meditation, relaxed, learned to cook yummy Indian food, hung out and got to know each other even better. Using the analogy of a yoga class structure, our time at Deeptiji’s house in Delhi, getting to know her and her family more, was like the cooling down period at the end of a class. It’s like the important more relaxed stretches and final resting pose, savasana, where the whole session sinks into your muscle memory and into your very self. Going on this very packaged tour was truly a unique experience different from my usual backpacking wandering ways but it was a lot of fun to extend our Rishikesh experience hanging out with people from the group in basically our air-conditioned party bus that chauffeured us around sights and shops. I think it made it easier and less of a shock of completely leaving from our large family at Rishikesh Yog Peeth and I really got to know the other people in our travel group, the wonderful Marta, Dasa, Ling, Anson, Edmund, Jennie and Rebecca, and of-course, our truly inspiring teacher Deepti and her family.