India is like no other place on earth. It cannot be defined with a couple of words and we are still trying to understand this massive country and its cultural diversity. We have long idealised and dreamed about this trip, which lasted twenty-five days, and we must say: it was a rollercoaster ride of experiences and emotions.
Our journey through this complex country started in Ladakh with a breathtaking trek in the Himalayas. The landscape is beautiful, the air is fresh and we could experience a relaxed side of India – or better said, the harassment free one. After this awe-inspiring start, we were confident that we would be in the love side of the well-known statement: “India: you either love it or you hate it”. But this confidence was threatened as we arrived in Varanasi, or the “holy City of Light”. There we were directly confronted with the other side of India. The dirty streets, the invasive touts, the starving cows and the polluted Ganges makes you wonder how so many people can live in such environment. But, somehow, India has the magnificent power to conquer your love back with the other fascinating side, with its flash and colorful clothing, impressive monuments, vibrant festivals and delicious food.
We continued our journey with our feelings swinging between the love and the hate side. We headed for Udaipur “The City of Lakes”, a city that is known as the “Venice of the East”, the “Kashmir of Rajasthan” and “The Most Romantic City of India”. We were not disappointed! Next to Ladakh, this was our favorite place. Here we loved India again! We enjoyed beautiful sunsets near Lake Pichola and delicious dinners at the Ambrai Restaurant. We marveled at the very well maintained City Palace, the largest in Rajasthan, which is definitely worth a visit with a local guide telling you about the life of Maharanas. And, of course, we couldn’t leave the city without watching the classic James Bond film Octopussy, recorded here. Many rooftop restaurants are proud to feature this movie at 7pm, which they have been doing for the last 33 years 😉
The Blue City of Jodhpur was our next stop. When we arrived, the Mehrangarh Fort towering over the skyline, impressed us directly. From the rooftop terrace of our hotel, the Bhavyam Heritage, we had spectacular views of both the blue city itself and the fort – a photographer’s paradise! There is something intriguing about this city and it’s fun to explore its narrow streets to find the blue houses. It’s also cool to climb to as many rooftop terraces as possible to have different views of the fort and its other two must-see buildings: the Jaswant Thada (the present day tombs for the royal family) and the Umaid Bhawan palace.
After soaking up the culture in Jodhpur, we went to the holy city of Pushkar to find the spirituality that we couldn’t experience in Varanasi. Pushkar is one of the most ancient cities of India and has a sacred lake where locals carry out their bathing rituals. But even here we didn’t have any spiritual encounter. Maybe we were just not open to that. But, no hard feelings, we learned to treasure the tranquility of this sacred city and we had joyful moments, like watching the sunset from the Sunset Cafe or eating great and healthy food at Honey and Spice.
After “loving” India so much, we arrived at Jaipur, crowded and loud. (Not) surprisingly, we were rejected twice by Uber drivers once we got into their car, simply because “they didn’t feel like taking that ride”. Ok, we moved forward and negotiated with a rickshaw driver to take us to the Amber Fort for a fair price. We were very excited about our visit to this Fort. It is magnificent from the outside…but as we trudged up, we saw elephants being abused riding tourists. They looked unhealthy and exhausted. Tourists should take the welfare of those animals in consideration and think twice before getting a ride – just saying. Many parts of the Fort seemed to be neglected by the authorities, but nevertheless it’s impressive and a must visit.
In Jaipur, we hired a private driver to take us from Jaipur to Agra with two stops on the way: Chand Baori Stepwell and Fatehpur Sikri.
Although it’s not in the Lonely Planet, Chand Baori is worth the trip. Built over a thousand years ago in the Abhaneri village of Rajasthan, it’s one of the largest and oldest step wells in the world. Simply stunning! We love the movie The Fall, directed by Tarsem Singh, and some scenes were recorded here.
Chand Baori Abaneri
After the Chand Baori we continued to Fatehpur Sikri. Impressive red sandstone buildings form this fortified ancient city, founded in the 16th century. Be aware that the entrance to the first part of the complex is free, as many locals will try to charge you some rupees to guide you through the main gate.
Our final stop was Agra, where we visited the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal may be full of tourists and touts, but once you see the impressive tomb, you understand why it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After visiting this monument to love, we visited the marvellous Agra Fort. One day is enough for both sights. Travel shouldn’t be only about visiting landmarks but Agra doesn’t offer much more that these famous sights. The city, that receives thousands of tourists a year, is also one of the ten most dirties cities in India.
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