This post about Rajasthan with a quick jaunt in Mumbai is part of a larger two week journey through Northern India. This part of the trip was especially fun because up to the point where we flew to Mumbai, it was a road trip from Delhi with only a driver who barely spoke English, my friend and me! Good times!
Delhi – Darjeeling – Varanasi – Agra – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Jaiselmer – Mumbai
Read More: North Indian Adventure
We flew to Delhi from Varanasi and were met by a familiar face at the airport, Sameh our driver from our first day in Delhi. He is very tall and greeted us with a huge smile. We were thrilled to see him. No guide at this time. We drove 5 1/2 hours to Agra. We saw huge statues of Shiva and Vishnu along the way, villagers, and lots of cows.
After 5 hours of Jasmine and I chattering non-stop and likely driving Sameh to insanity, we arrived at the ITC Mughal hotel and it was gorgeous.
We got settled and hit the bar and stayed there a long time. We then discovered the restaurant in the hotel called Peshawri which was basically the same restaurant as Bukhara in Delhi. We were psyched to eat that phenomenal food again.
After our splashy entrance I think the entire hotel staff knew us.
We were greeted by our Agra guide, Harsh. We went first to the Agra Fort.
We learned about Shah Jahan, one of the most influential emperors in Indian history. He was a great builder and lover of the arts. He had several wives as was the tradition but his true great love, confidant, trusted advisor and friend was the wife he nicknamed Mumtaz Mahal. She died giving birth to their 14th child and she begged him to immortalize their love. He did so by building the most beautiful monument the world had ever seen.
Construction on the Taj Mahal began in 1631 and took 22 years with 22000 laborers. In 1657 Shah Jahan fell ill, one of his sons, Aurangzeb took over and declared his father incompetent to rule, placing him on house arrest here at Agra Fort. He pleaded for a residence with a view of his beloved and when he died, several men quietly placed him beside Mumtaz.
Next up…the Taj Mahal!
After hearing the beautiful story of Shah and Mumtaz, we were dying to finally see the Taj Mahal. We decided to see it at sunset. We waited in a long line and it was very hot. My first views of the Taj were through an arched entrance way and I literally froze with my mouth open; in awe that I was finally seeing this amazing creation. I had tears in my eyes as did Jasmine. It was a truly memorable moment.
The Mughals were obsessed with symmetry. Everything about this is perfectly symmetrical. The main building is the mausoleum. It originally housed the tomb of Mumtaz but Shah Jahan was placed here next to her…now the only thing asymmetrical about it. There is a mosque on the left and a matching building placed on the right for symmetry.
The detailed work on the facade is exquisite. Hard to believe the amount of detail carved into the marble. The flowers are typical in Islamic art. The Arabic script is larger at the top but when you look from below it seems uniform.
Mumtaz’s Tomb is even more spectacular. The marble carving is so delicate and precious stones are used for the color.
Harsh informed us that sunset is not the best time to view the Taj…too hot, too crowded and that sunrise was actually much nicer with completely different lighting. We were sort of burnt out from our previous early mornings but we decided to go for it. We had dinner at Peshawri again but no drunk shenanigans this time. The staff seemed disappointed.
430 am wake up and we were in line at the Taj Mahal before it opened at sunrise. We were the first people in line. Harsh timed it perfectly. When it opened we raced for a prime spot and got some amazing pictures.
I have to admit, it was totally worth getting up so early to see this again. Why not see the Taj Mahal at both sunset and sunrise?
On our way out of Agra we saw the Fatehpur Sikri. In 1569 the Mughal emperor Akbar commissioned the construction of this walled city which would have a series of royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, private quarters.
We arrived at our very special hotel…The Rambagh Palace. The former home of the Maharaja. At the gated entrance we were offered a drive in a classic car and were given a traditional greeting with flowers around our neck, a drink, a third eye and a showering of rose petals.
Not too shabby! We were upgraded to a huge suite. Just because.
The hotel was beautifully lit at night.
We went to see the Amber Fort.
This is where everybody rides elephants to the top. As did we. I regret this deeply. I later discovered the horrible abuse these elephants suffer their entire lives. This should be banned in my opinion. I saw a bullhook and tried to ask the mahout what it was for but he pretended not to understand. It wasn’t fun and I urge you not to do it.
The fort has a beautiful Hindu temple inside.
There’s also an impressive hall of mosaic glass.
Next we went into the pink city of Jaipur to visit the City Palace. The Hawa Mahal or Hall of Wind is pictured here from the street.
The intricate latticework was designed to let the royal ladies observe life in the streets without being seen. The lattice also kept them cool by creating a Venturi effect.
Inside is the famous Peacock Gate. Peacocks are a the national bird of India and symbolic in Hinduism.
Then we put on our saris (with help from a hotel employee) and had dinner in the famous gold room, where state dinners hosted by the Maharaja were held.
We felt like princesses so we basically paraded around the hotel and waved at people. The staff were delighted.
Long drive to Jodhpur…the Blue City. Once again we arrived at a hotel, drank by the pool, made an impression and convinced our 25 year old tour company representative to take us to a great place for dinner (hotel looked meh).
Oh boy did we have a fun night. We went to dinner at a place where we were literally the only guests. It was a gorgeous place with quite a history called Hanwant Mahal. On the rooftop we ate with a view of this amazing hotel, the Umaid Bhawan Palace.
Tour of Jodhpur including Mehrangarh Fort and the Sardar Market.
Then came…the blankets. We went to a warehouse where amazing blankets and scarves and other things are made locally then shipped to the fashion houses of Europe and sold at a premium. We are again dazzled by the high quality Indian craftsmanship.
Next stop…Jaiselmer. This is a city on the far west of the country on the border of the Great That Desert. We arrived at our phenomenal fort-like hotel The Suryagarh
The hotel at night was amazing. Fabulous dinner and a cultural show.
Off to the desert for a night in the under the stars…sort of.
We arrived at our camp and were taken to our camels for a sunset desert ride.
We didn’t sleep under the stars but in a permanent tent at the camp. We did get to enjoy the stars in the pitch black desert night from a stage the performers had used earlier. It was really cool for this city dweller who usually doesn’t see stars.
Early wake up and long drive back to Jodhpur where we flew to Mumbai. We somehow were miraculously upgraded to the famous Taj Palace hotel. It was a long travel day and we just arrived in time to have dinner and sleep.
Day 15 We woke up to an half day tour of Mumbai.
We saw the highlights of Mumbai including the Gandhi museum,
We ended the afternoon with High Tea at the Taj Palace which was fabulous. We had a nice view of the Gateway to India from the Tea Room.
This goes down as one of my most epic trips! Will be hard to top!
I’ll be back India!