After a month in Nepal, it was time for our final (and most nervously anticipated) stop on our vagabonding adventure – India, a country known for its overwhelming chaos.
After escaping the tidy, modern Delhi airport, it quickly became apparent that the Indian summer heat would prove to be our biggest obstacle. Before arriving in Delhi, we kept hoping that the heat wave that had been tormenting the country since May would pass, but sure enough June managed to maintain its title as the “Hottest Month in India” and we arrived in Delhi on a sweltering one hundred-and-fifteen degree day.
After months of FaceTiming our adventures home, we finally convinced Alie’s adventurous mom to visit us for our first ten days in India (conveniently forgetting about the unbearable heat of Indian summers… Sorry Mom!). So, we kicked off our visit to the country alternating between touring under the one hundred-and-twenty degree sun (albeit a sun somewhat blocked by India’s major pollution-induced haze) and relaxing in luxurious air-conditioned hotel rooms and pools (a welcome change from hostel living!).
Under a constant stream of sweat, we explored Delhi and Agra. The iconic cities are dominated by historic Muslim art & architecture – though Muslims represent less than 15% of India’s population (albeit, with a population over a billion, that’s still almost equivalent to the entire population of Brazil, the world’s 5th most populous country), Muslim Mogul Emperors (think Aladdin) ruled over the country from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Highlights include:
- Delhi’s massive Red Fort, one of Delhi’s seven ancient cities built by Mogul Emperors, and Humayun’s Tomb, a massive tomb for one Emperor, his wife and children.
- A thrilling/terrifying (depending who you ask) rickshaw ride through the crowded and enthralling Old Delhi markets.
- Agra’s less-tourist-traversed Ram Bagh Gardens and the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, believed to have inspired the Taj Mahal.
- Agra’s Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, once the center of the Rajisthani government.
- And the majestic Taj Mahal, where we woke up at 5AM to be amongst the first visitors to the Taj – a tomb built by the Fifth Mogul Emperor for his wife which took over 20 years and 20,000 laborers to build. The time & effort certainly paid off, and we spent ample time gawking at the massive structure.
India is a country that fills the senses. We had anticipated the range of spices & symphony of wild noises, but the designs & colors of India proved to be an unexpected delight unlike anything else we have come across during our 7 months of travel.
We were surprised to find India to be somehow less overwhelming than Nepal – despite countless warnings to the contrary. While a complete sensory overload – from the spicy curries, to the smells of incense, to the musical car horns, to the countless cows in the road, to the overwhelming heat – it is also an organized chaos which reflects the progress of the world’s largest democracy.
Things To Do:
- Delhi is a surprisingly spread out city. Combine that with plenty of the sites to see, and we found that having a tour guide & driver in the city was extremely helpful. Any tour guide you hire is likely to know the best spots. We enjoyed the Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb the best. The Hindu temples are interesting too, but by the time we got there our interest had waned in the afternoon heat.
- Which reminds us – we probably don’t suggest visiting central India in summer…
- Agra’s main attraction is the Taj. We loved the visiting at sunrise and having the place to ourselves for the first hour. We also really enjoyed the Heritage Walk which gave a glimpse into the lives of people currently living in the villages in and around Agra.
Accommodations: Most people stay around Connaught Place (backpackers) and New Delhi (modern luxury hotels).
Local Food: Delhi is full of delicious food options. Near our hotel a local joint called Saravana Bhavan was highly recommended. We made our way there but didn’t end up eating there due to the MASSIVE lines. Clearly a top spot.
Getting There & Away: The Delhi airport is modern and massive and connects to nearly everywhere. Around Delhi we found Uber to be fantastic and fantastically cheap. Agra is a 3 hour drive from Delhi on a major highway.
Michael’s Sustainable Fun Fact: Delhi is surprisingly green despite the blinding haze. It is illegal to chop down trees in the city – a product of the government’s attempt to control pollution. All of the city’s trees are numbered and counted each year.