Lingering memories of India’s ‘Golden Triangle’

After all, it is the dream destination of backpackers all over the world

By SOON LI WEI / Pic BERNAMA

Agra Fort was where Shah Jahan spent the reminder part of his life looking at Taj Mahal  (pic: Bernama)

A GOOD three years have passed since three of my colleagues and I went on a tour of the famed “Golden Triangle” — New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur — in North India. I keep reflecting on the wonderful memories of that tour, more so now during the Covid-19 pandemic when overseas leisure trips are a definite no-no.

The idea for the trip came about sometime in late 2016 while my colleagues Yasmin, Fatin and Cecilia and I were having lunch at a stall. Yasmin asked if we were game for a holiday in India. Being a seasoned backpacker, the thought of touring India excited me. After all, it is the dream destination of backpackers all over the world.

Yasmin, who had participated in a humanitarian mission to India several years back, shared her experiences of the places she had visited such as Kolkata in West Bengal, and Kashmir and Punjab.

The girls and I wasted little time in planning our trip, but Yasmin had to opt-out due to personal reasons. Finally, on April 11, 2017, we — Fatin, Cecilia, another colleague Shafiah and me — found ourselves all set to take the flight to Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi for our 12-day holiday in North India.

We arrived at our destination at about 11pm local time (there is a two-and-a-half-hour difference between the time zones of India and Malaysia) and from the airport, we took a metered taxi to our hotel in Paharganj in New Delhi located close to the city’s central railway station as we were taking the train to Agra the next morning.

Taj Mahal

Snow accumulates on top of vehicles in Kashmir, one of the must-visit destinations in North India (pic: Bernama)

Learning that trains are a popular mode of transport for Indians, we knew our trip would not be complete if we did not take a ride in one. As we made our way to the crowded railway station lugging our heavy backpacks, we were swarmed by touts who offered us tickets to various destinations.

Having been warned of scammers who prey on unsuspecting tourists, we walked past them and went to the International Tourist Bureau section on the first floor of the station where we purchased tickets for our three-and-a-half train journey to Agra, which is synonymous with one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, Taj Mahal.

At 1pm, our train pulled up at the Agra Cantonment Railway Station, from there we took a taxi to the Taj Mahal site. Visitors have to pay an entrance fee of 1,000 rupees (about RM60); they also get a bottle of mineral water free and a pair of socks which they have to wear when they go inside the monument as footwear is not allowed.

The weather was a sweltering 40oC that afternoon when we set foot on the resplendent ivory-white mausoleum, which was built in 1631 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a symbol of his love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died just after giving birth to their 14th child. Both Shah Jahan and his beloved wife’s bodies were believed to have been buried in a crypt inside the Taj Mahal.

The most memorable part of our visit to the Taj Mahal was witnessing the sun setting as dusk fell and a heavenly golden orange glow enveloped the sky. We were told that the sunset colours in the immediate surroundings of the monument change in accordance with the weather and temperature because, being made of pure white marble, it can reflect the sunlight.

Agra has other attractions such as the Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and Baby Taj, but we did not have enough time to visit them as we had to leave for Jaipur at 8am the next day.

Diarrhoea


The 356-year-old Jama Masjid in New Delhi is the largest mosque in India

Jaipur, capital of India’s largest state of Rajasthan, is also known as the Pink City as most of its buildings are painted in pink. This ancient city is a magnet for tourists as it houses elaborate palaces and buildings such as Hawa Mahal, Jai Mahal, City Palace and Amber Fort.

Unfortunately, our tour plans suffered a temporary setback when my travel mate Fatin suffered a bout of food poisoning. Earlier, after touring and snapping photos of the magnificent Hawa Mahal, we stopped at a nearby restaurant to have cold drinks as it was so hot.

Throughout our trip, we had been drinking only bottled drinking or mineral water as we had been warned in advance of the danger of drinking unfiltered piped water in India.

At the restaurant, Fatin ordered Coca-Cola, but made the mistake of drinking it with ice — which was obviously made from piped water, but at that moment, this fact did not occur to any of us. On our way back to our hotel in Jaipur, Fatin already started feeling queasy and vomited several times later that night.

Her condition remained the same the next morning, but still, we went ahead with our plan to visit Amber Fort. But we had to cancel our plan to visit City Palace in the afternoon as Fatin was not getting better.

We decided to take her to a clinic, but all the clinics in that area were closed that afternoon and would only reopen after 7pm. We took turns to look after Fatin while waiting for a nearby clinic to reopen. As soon as its door opened, we rushed Fatin to the doctor who put her on drips immediately. After the treatment, we hurried to the railway station to return to New Delhi.

Roller Coaster Ride


(From left) The author and her travel mates taking a photo against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains on their way to Kashmir

In short, our 12-day tour of India was like a roller coaster ride with some twists and turns but, most importantly, we returned home with our minds chock-full of pleasant memories.

We were amused by the antics of the local men who would think nothing of urinating by the roadside in full view of the public.

We were also stared at often. And, we had our share of interactions with fraudsters who were actually rather aggressive, including taxi drivers, who were rude to us when we turned down their “tour packages”.

During our visits to several old mosques in Agra and New Delhi, I observed that their azan or call to prayer, as well as the way the local Muslims prayed, differed from that of Malaysian. I was told that the Muslims in India belonged to a different mazhab or school of thought and that the majority of Muslims in Malaysia follow the mazhab Shafie.

From whatever I had observed and savoured during our short trip to India, I found the local peoples’ culture and traditions colourful and interesting. I would love to return to India. — Bernama