Delhi, Agra, Amritsar… monuments everywhere!

17 10 2012

On my flight back to Delhi I met two Israelian women I already knew from the rafting. They were also heading to Delhi and someone back in Leh recommended to stay in the neighborhood of Majiu Ka Tila. It was the Tibetian district of Delhi, with many stalls and shops selling the same stuff as in Leh. The buildings are built so close to each other only allowing very small and dark passages between them. Although it felt quite touristy it was almost laidback in comparison to the main bazaar region where most of the other travellers seek for cheap accomodation. The girls told me that hey have just finished military service back in Israel and filling the gap until uni starts with travelling around India… in Israel everyone has to serve at least for two years, three years if you didn’t want to be on the lowest step of the ladder… crazy people over there 🙂 Delhi itself is better than it’s reputation. If you tell a fellow traveller that your next destination is Delhi he or she will most certainly ask you something like „one or two days? There’s really nothing to do…“. In my opinion, it’s a bit like Mumbai but without the colonial architecture. Still, two days are really enough to see the hustle of the main bazaar and the other sights which are relatively close to each other… what reminded me most of Mumbai were the rickshaw drivers telling you some stories to rip you off… Ony my first day I went to India Gate and Babur’s tomb. The latter is really nice but with 250 rupees admission a little bit overpriced… I arrived very late and wanted to go to the Red Fort of Delhi afterwards. Because I had my share of walking that day (from main bazaar via Conough Place and India Gate to Babur’s tomb; where is a rickshaw when you really need it???) I approached a random rickshaw and asked for the price. I was suprised to hear a reasonable price, slightly above 10 rupees per kilometer. But then he started to tell me that the Red Fort is closed this and the next day because of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday the next day… I checked that fact and it turned out to be true… it was his birthday and also a national holiday so it could be true. Majinu Ka Tilla was, in his opinion, too far to go by rickshaw… strange to hear that from a rickshaw driver but most certainly true. So he offered me to drop me at a Metro station… for only 100 rupees!! Hmm… at first, he wanted a reasonable price to go to the Red Fort that is quite a distance and now he wants even more to drop me after the next traffic light?? In the end I had to give him 50 rupees because I had no smaller change and it turned out, that the Red Fort wasn’t closed at all. Screw you, you bloody tout!! Fortunately I went there by chance and spend there almost the whole afternoon and evening of my last day in Delhi. Inside the Red Fort several groups of male Indians approached me to take a photo with me… I really don’t know why they do it. It happend at some other places as well. I could understand it if I was female with blonde hair and whatelse could be special… but even for an European I just don’t look that special, do I??

Delhi: Badur's tomb

Delhi: Badur’s tomb

The next day I had to get to New Delhi railway station really early in the morning so I booked a taxi at my hotel and they ensured me to call me as soon as my taxi arrives. 10 minutes after the fixed time I went to the reception only to see several men sleeping on the couches. At least it turned out, that my „taxi“ driver was amongst them… I guess a friend of some of the hotel’s employees. On our way to the railway station I could hardly read the traffic signs that stated a maximum speed of 60 km/h… but on the city’s highway and streets we were speeding with at least double of it, not even braking for cows crossing the highway… It was my first train ride on Indian trains to Agra. I booked 3AC class which is best value for overnight journeys. If you are travelling over day try to avoid upper side berths because I had exactly this berth and some fat stinky Indian asshole was occupying the whole lower berth which should have served as two normal seats during day time: my seat!! But he pretended not to speak English although he was speaking to me in the beginning… so I had to search an empty seat.

Delhi: Inside the Red Fort

Delhi: Inside the Red Fort

In Agra I went to some guest house just 2 minutes from the south gate of the Taj Mahal. The roof top terrace had excellent views of it but so have other guest houses in the proximity, most of them really cheap. There, on the roof top terrace, I met Matthew from UK, which looked as lost and frustrated as me after my first days in Mumbai. So I started to chat with him and it turned out that he really felt this way and was reliefed to finally talk to someone after spending 2 days in Delhi not meeting any fellow travellers. We arranged to meet early the next day for the Taj Mahal.

Agra: Views of Taj Mahal from my rooftop terrace

Agra: Views of Taj Mahal from my rooftop terrace

Early in the morning, only the western and eastern gate is open, the southern gate, which was only 2 minutes from our guest house, is closed until 8AM. We have chosen the eastern gate to enter the complex which was a huge mistake because the ticket booth is more than 1.5km apart from the entrance. Within the complex you will most probably see the biggest crowd of foreign tourist you will ever see in India (maybe except from Goa). Even in the Golden Temple complex it was hard to spot another foreign tourist but not at the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal itself is really impressive: the whole building is made of white marble and beautifully carved and painted… one could not imagine what it would have cost to build something like that. And all this as a mausoleum for the (obviously) beloved wife of the emperor Shah Jahan. No wonder he was imprisoned by his own son when he came up with the idea to build another Taj made of black marble just on the other side of the river… his son was more practical and spent the money to support the ordinary people and he imprisoned his father in Agra’s Red Fort so that he could enjoy „his“ Taj Mahal. Eventhough he hadn’t Pay-TV like prisoners nowadays, the complex wasn’t the worst to be locked-in. It’s even more impressive than the Red Fort in Delhi and consists of no less than 16 palaces.

Agra: Taj Mahal in the morning sun

From mid-day to the early evening Matthew and I hired a rickshaw that took us to all the other sights of Agra: the „Baby Taj“, an earlier mausoleum that stood model for the actual Taj Mahal, the site where Shah Jahan started to build the black Taj and the Red Fort. It is definitely worth to see the other places but every site charges admission as well so it will be an expensive day. You get discount if you have been to the Taj Mahal on the same day and show the ticket at each counter.

Agra: Baby Taj

Agra: Baby Taj

The next destination was Amritsar to see the Golden Temple. Because I wanted to see all the different classes of Indian trains, I booked first class (1AC) for this trip. My ticket didn’t state my seat so I had to ask the train conductor. He seemed so enthusiastic to have a foreigner in his carriage that he dislodged a Sikh couple from their compartment for two to make room for me. The Sikh man and the train conductor started a serious agrument and I feared that they would get rough every moment. After 10 minutes the Sikh man came to my (formerly his) compartment and asked me if I paid a bribe to the train conductor. After I negated this he turned out to be very chatty and curious. He asked the usual questions about my marital status, children, job, and what else seems to be primary to Indians… but he was also very interested in what I was earning when I worked during my studies and other very personal questions. He also seemed to have travelled a lot in Europe, especially Germany, and turned out that he had relatives living in Rostock and Frankfurt/Main. The Sikh man was so excited to talk to a guy from Germay that after another 5 minutes I was talking on his mobile to the nephew living in Frankfurt. We both didn’t really know what to talk about so it was only a short conversation 🙂 The Sikh was a retired commander of the Indian army and after we talked a bit about our travels he just asked me about Hitler and Rommel and adored their tactics: „If Hitler hadn’t gone to Russia he would have conquered the world“!! What are you supposed to answer to such a statement?? As German?? I suddenly knew why he travelled so much around Europe: he was visiting famous site of WWII. Apparently, Hitler and the tactics of the Germans during WWII are studied nowadays by commanders of the Indian army. Very strange… To come back to the topic: the 1AC class isn’t really worth the money. You pay a lot more than in 2AC or 3AC. I couldn’t see any obvious differences between 1AC and 2AC and even in 3AC you will have enough space and the interieur is almost the same.

Train: AC1 compartment

Train: AC1 compartment

The main attractions of Amritsar are the Golden Temple and the border ceremony at the Indian-Pakistani border in Attari. The latter was recommended to me by the Dutch guy with whom I was at Pangong Lake and the Nubra Valley. He told me to book a tour with the Grand Hotel Amritsar, which will take me to the border ceremony and the Golden Temple as well. This indeed was a very good tip. For 580 rupees they take you to some famous labyrinth temple, the border ceremony and afterwards to the Golden Temple complex.

Attari: Indians celebrating at border ceremony

Attari: Indians celebrating at border ceremony (incl. group dance)

I didn’t knew what to expect from the ceremony. I thought of something really strict and cold as these two countries aren’t the best friends… but it turned out to be more of a fair or festival. They have built big tribunes on both sides of the border so that a lot of people can attend the ceremony. Snacks and drinks (but no alcohol) are available and the Indians (suprisingly mostly females) queued up along the road that led to the border gate to grab an Indian flag and run with it towards the gates and back again. Later they played popular songs from the Indian music charts and, again mostly/only women, they started a huge group dance. It seemed that the older unmarried women were dancing the most explicit 🙂 During the ceremony some soldiers with funny hats and an ugly way of marching (when they stopped or turned direction they always kicked their feet so high they could probably touch their heads with their tiptoe). There was a short shake-hands between a Pakistani and an Indian soldier, the flags were secured and the show was over. Really funny though and surely not what I expected.

Attari: border ceremony

Attari: border ceremony

The Golden Temple was, like so many other monuments in India, simply breathtaking. I think it doesn’t matter which time you are going, there will be a huge crowd in there. You must cover your head but many Indians sell simple headscarfs for only 10 rupees. In front of the temple some rags of headcloth are provided but you’ll never know who else was wearing it before you. We reached the complex at around 8PM and it was impressive to see the golden building nicely illuminated in the middle of this pool, with hundrets or thousands of people wandering around it. The next day I went there in the late morning to see even more people on the streets leading to and in the complex. Never go to an Indian monument on a weekend 🙂 In my opinion the Golden Temple is more spectecular during day time with all the glimmering gold shining in the sunlight.

Amritsar: Golden Temple

Amritsar: Golden Temple

I even managed to get into the communal kitchen, the Guru Ka Langar, to have a free meal. The Sikhs seem to have an all-inclusive philosophy and the free meal is part of it. One is encouraged to donate a small amount of money though. I was positively suprised by the meal. It consits of chapati and rice, two curries and a sweet dessert. Everything is served out of big buckets though 🙂 everyone sits in long rows on the floor of the building in the typical cross-legged style. It took the supervisor a while to realize that I am too immobile to sit in this position for more that 30 seconds so I was generously allowed a more comfortable position 🙂 one has 15 minutes to finish the meal and should make room for others then. I read that the communal kitchen provides meals for 80000 people… every day!! On weekends even more!

Amritsar: friendly Gandalf offering me a plate for the Guru Ka Langar (communal kitchen) of the Golden Temple

Amritsar: friendly Gandalf offering me a plate for the Guru Ka Langar (communal kitchen) of the Golden Temple

Guru Ka Langar: Today in the bucket... err... on the menu!

Guru Ka Langar: Today in the bucket… err… on the menu!

The same evening I took the next train to Jaipur. This time 2Ac class. As I said, I cloudn’t determine big differences to 1AC, so if you preferr less (max. 4 in 2AC, up to 6 in 3AC) company in your (open, in comparison to 1AC having doors) compartment you should go for this class.

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One response

10 04 2013
Hotel in Amritsar Near Railway Station

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