Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My December Trip, part 2 -- India's Golden Triangle: New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur

Continuing on about my trip... I was in South Korea the previous week (see previous post).

My second part of the December trip, as mentioned, was in India. Simply put, India was both insane and awesome.

New Delhi, India (Evening 1)

We got to New Delhi, India (about 7 hour flight from Incheon)  on Sunday night, right at Christmas.  The drive to our hotel was a fascinating one.  The streets had a surreal orange glow that did not make it look friendly at night, plus there was a perpetual fog.   We saw policemen with their AK-47's.  And, every car we drove by was a near-miss.  It became pretty obvious that the usual rules of the road did not apply in these streets.  The car lanes were more a "suggestion" than a rule here.

I felt a little safer once we got to the hotel, even if the surrounding neighborhood looked a bit sketchy.  Well, we wouldn't be staying here too long, as the following two days consisted of a tour to Agra (where Taj Mahal is) and Jaipur (where Amber Fort is).  It was a two-day overnight tour with the tour company Viator which I found out through Tripadvisor.

It's a good idea to have a good driver in India wherever you go.

A moment to talk about driving in India.

There's a lot of braking and honking.  Every car is about an inch away.  Our driver gave us three important rules one needs when one drives in India:  #1 You must have good brakes.  #2 You must have good horns. #3 You must have luck.

I remember experiencing this kind of driving back in the early 90's in Korea.  Things have gotten a lot better now, thankfully.

Agra, India (Day 2)

The next morning, we took a train to Agra from New Delhi, as assigned by the tour people.  Train stations can be a little confusing.  There are also different sections in the train, where you can pay more and get an assigned seat (this is recommended for foreigners) or ride along with others which may involve more pushing and pulling.  

Delhi Railway Station

En Route to Agra

In the train, we met a Japanese lady who was traveling with couple friends from Ukraine, who also spoke Japanese.  A man sitting in front of us was from Mumbai who had a daughter and wife with him.  It was his second time visiting the Taj Mahal.  I decided to make a little portrait drawing for him and his little daughter.  The Japanese lady made a paper crane for the kid.  An interesting reminder that art is a common language.

A little drawing for the man from Mumbai and his daughter. His wife is in the back.

Railway Station in Agra

A well-dressed gentleman named Sunny met us in Agra--he recognized us from the photo.  He introduced us to the driver and the tour guide. Throughout the day the tour guide would explain what is what at different locations, while the driver drove and got us to safety.  Given that it was Christmas vacation, the roads were particularly busy.

Like Delhi, there was a layer of haze wherever we went, but the tour guide told us that it's the norm here.  Admittedly, smog is an issue in India.  We were going to wear our masks, but decided not to so we could talk to the tour guide without muffling.

My sketches of the day

Reddish sandstone is a common motif of forts around here.

One of the Seven Wonders of the World -- Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal was breathtaking. This is probably the brightest building I've seeen in all of Agra, or India.  It is a marvel (and marble) of architecture with gorgeous details.  It is a mausoleum, which means it is a tomb, built by Mughal (Muslims who ruled parts of India at the time) emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth.  She had 14 kids.  Favorite wife, eh?  I guess that's pretty good proof.  

The lines to enter Taj Mahal was extremely long. However, if you get a foreigner pass (which costs a little more), it is shorter.  There is also a separate line for men and women.  Line for women tend to go on longer at the security points. They will take away certain hats and so forth.

Marble walls were embedded with semi-precious jewels to make it shine

Marble floors too

To get a better sense of the size

Interior of Taj Mahal, while beautiful, isn't as elaborate as the exterior, as the building served as a tomb, mainly.  The palace where the royalty lived  and did their daily tasks is Agra Fort, which is where we went next.

Agra Fort

Beyond the red walls is the palace itself.

Decoratively sculptured walls

Monkeys are common here

Red sandstone exterior

Palace entrace

The most interesting part of Agra Fort is probably the stories behind the walls--one of which is about a jealous son (of a different wife) who put emperor Shah Jahan under house arrest because of his elaborate spending on giant architecture like Taj Mahal.  While kept inside the palace, Shah Jahan only had a window to look at the Taj Mahal from afar.  More information about Shah Jahan can be found on Wikipedia here.

Some of the walls have been torn away by looting

This used to be a fountain. Princes lived here.

Where the king met with people

Some tasty curry buffet for lunch! 

For lunch, we ate Indian food at a restaurant, which was quite good.  Tasty buffet.  The difference between Indian food in LA and Indian food in India is probably the simpler flavor of India.  I found this also to be true in other countries.  The food tends to taste less "mixed" or overly seasoned at the respective home country.  You might even say more "pure."  If one had an American hot dog in India, one might expect it to have more seasoning, to "sell" the idea of this "exotic" country of America.  

The latter part of the day had the tour guide take us to specialty shops to buy things in India.  This is a common thing among tours, it seems.  They first try to sell you on the products by a demonstration of a product being hand-crafted.  Then they show you around the shop.  If you ask them what price something is, it is usually always the same phrase--"Not expensive!"  You can then try to barter your way with an offensive price--or they'll be offended by the offer and leave you alone.  A lot of the merchants know that you probably can afford it (compared to the regulars), but I suggest only get it if you really must have it.  You can't really barter with food products (teas, spices, etc), though, which I tend to think are better deals. 

Riding the train to Jaipur from Agra

My sketches of the day

Jaipur, India (Day 3)

The next morning was spent in the general area of Jaipur, a beautiful old city of pinkish color.  We saw many rustic, medieval villages in a mountainous area surrounded by a long stretch of walls called Amber Fort.  I was surprised by the massiveness of the walls that went up and down the mountain edges like the Great Wall of China. Driving through the old villages felt like something from a spy thriller.  Jackie Chan's "Kung Fu Yoga" was filmed at Amber Fort.  Not a good movie, though.

Stayed at KK Royal Hotel--very classic. Great breakfast

Note the walls going up the mountains in Amber Fort

Road across the rustic areas

View from Amber Fort

The city within the walls

You can see the villages below

Going up in Amber Fort

Amber Fort Interior

Amber Fort has an amber color

The elephant on the columns show Hindu influence

Garden area

I was impressed by the massiveness of Amber Fort (aka. Amer Fort).  Built by Raja Man Singh in 1592, this one had more of a Hindu influence, and a little bit of Mughal architecture. The appearance of elephants in the columns indicate the Hindu influence.  Apparently, the Hindu king had a love-hate relationship with the Mughals.

After Amber Fort, we drove around and  made several stops, mostly photo-stops.

Bazaar in Jaipar

Streets of Jaipur

Streets of Jaipur

Hawal Mahal, Palace of Winds, based on a honeycomb

Streets of Jaipur

We then went to Jantar Mantar monument, which has the world's biggest stone sun dial.  Hindus have a big interest in astrology. They use it for finding a marriage partner, life choices, and so forth.  There are nineteen architectural astronomical instruments in this area.

Jantar Mantar, the world's largest sun dial

Jantar Mantar, the world's largest sun dial

Some of these can be off by several minutes depending on the season

Chandra Mahal, or the City Palace, is a palace complex where Indian royalty have been residing since it was built around 1729.  It was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the head of the Kachwaha Rajput clan.  We've been told that the current young king is overseas getting an education in England.  Like the British royal family, he is more of a figurehead.

Chandra Mahal, aka.City Palace

City Palace is still a royal residence

Elaborate reddish-pink designs are common

Silver Gangajali (Ganges-water urn) which the king carried with him in England

A bit of music

Streets of Jaipur

Lunch Time! Good eats!

As we had some extra time before going back to New Delhi, our final part of the Jaipur trip was Galtaji aka. the Monkey Temple, series of temples built into a crevice of the mountains in Jaipur.  So, the tour guide tells us there are lots of monkeys that live there.

Galtaji aka. Monkey Temple

Hindus doing part of their rituals

Pool section of the Monkey Temple

As you climb up, you can get a good view of the temples below.

There is a person called "The Monkey Man" whom you pay 300 rupees (about $6) who will summon the monkeys from the mountains and as long as you are close to him, the monkeys won't attack you.  We agreed, thinking, "oh, it's just part of the tour." Pretty soon, the monkeys were all over us and eating out of our hands. Now, I'm very skittish about directly interacting with wild animals and dislike getting rabies, so this was quite a test of my threshold for acceptable contact with wild, unpredictable creatures.  Quite a surreal experience.  Here's a video of the monkeys.  The Monkey Man is holding the camera.

The Monkey Man held my iphone when he filmed this.

More of my sketches of the day

New Delhi, India (Day 4)

We got back to New Delhi, and set up a day tour with Viator.  This time, getting acquainted with this capital city of India. We visited the largest mosque in India, Jama Masjid.

Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in India

A good view of the structure

Interior halls

Afterwards, our tour guide took us to Chandni Chowk Bazaar in Old Delhi. Old Delhi is right next to New Delhi, but many old structures and ruins can be found here.  We rode on a bicycle rickshaw puled by this old man who surprisingly had a lot of energy.  He took us through the alleyways of the old-style bazaar.

Our rickshaw bicyclist

Chandni Chowk Bazaar

A street corner in Chandni Chowk 

Other places we visited were the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, India Gate, and the Presidential Palace.  This was where we got to see the more "modern" look of India.  These areas felt a lot like many of the monuments in the U.S.  Big parks, big parking lots, and people dressed in regular shirts and jeans. Standing around here, one would not think this was India.

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial

India Gate

Presidential Palace

Qutb Minar is probably one of the tallest pillars in New Delhi.  It is surrounded by the Qutab comlex, which is a whole series of ruins.  I wish I had more time to spend here, but the sun started to set.

You can see the tower from a good distance.

Qutb Minar

Qutb Minar, closeup

Old columns here with Hindu faces broken off by the conquerors

Close-up of the columns

A close-up of the elaborate designs

New Delhi, India (Day 5): Free Day

Today, we were on our own to explore New Delhi.  No tour guides.  Upon recommendation from yesterday's tour guide, we checked out a Sikh gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) called Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Visitors of all faiths were welcome and/or encouraged, so we checked it out.  I'm going in generally as a learner (as opposed to a worshiper), since I'm Christian and all.  

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib interios has a large pool

I learned a bit about Sikhism.  According to what I could tell: They believe in one God. They believe in a formless God. They don't believe in ritualism. They say they are secular.

I'm not quite sure that they are non-ritualistic as they claim, however. You are required to wash your feet and go inside the place barefoot. You also had to cover your head (they give you a scarf you can put on). I was holding my girlfriend's hand at one point, and one dude came and separated our hands. Alrighty, then.

The Sikh's "formless God" idea reminded me of the "Unknown God" that the Greeks worshiped in Athens back when St. Paul visited there (Acts 17:22-31).  Paul would then go on to say "Actually, God is quite knowable" and that anyone can actually get to know him, just by getting to know Christ a little better. Interesting stuff.

Afterwards, we checked out Connaught Place in New Delhi and ate lunch there.  Connaught Place is a bit modern version of a bazaar--sort of a swap meet.  It was mostly people pulling you over and selling things for a ridiculously cheap price.

Our next stop was Humayun's Tomb.

Humayun's Tomb

Sketching the Humayun's Tomb

Here, we relaxed a bit and took in the scenery. Humayun's Tomb is an older tomb and Taj Mahal was partly influenced by it.  Of course, Shah Jahan felt a need to outdo it, as it usually happens.

As the sun was slowly setting, we went to Lodi Gardens, a city park that contains several ancient tombs (free to get in), showing architectural works of the 15th century by Lodis, who used to rule parts of northern India.  We ate at a classy-looking restaurant here--Lodi the Garden Restaurant. Not too pricey by American standards, but not really Indian food.

Old structures at Lodi Gardens

Interior of one of the tombs

That was pretty much the end our India trip. My girlfriend, the Geologist, had to stay in India a few weeks longer as she had to do field work in the eastern part of India with her colleagues. I flew back to Incheon, South Korea, for a layover, then headed back to Los Angeles. 

I had some time to sketch during these long transfer flights:

Delhi International Airport. I guess sketching that guy.

Added more sketches while waiting for the flight. I had a beer.

Some tasty breakfast at Incheon Airport layover

Incheon Airport was probably the nicest airport.  It's like being inside a mall. Overall, this was a lovely trip.  Still recovering from jetlag, but I'm getting better.  I now wake up much earlier than I  used to, though. gives me time to write blogs like this and such. 

Until then....