India is like no other placeĀ on earth. ItĀ cannot be defined withĀ a couple of words and we are still trying to understand this massive countryĀ and its cultural diversity. We have long idealised and dreamed about this trip, which lasted twenty-five days, and we must say: it was aĀ rollercoaster ride of experiences and emotions.

Our journey through this complex country started in Ladakh with a breathtaking trekĀ in theĀ Himalayas. TheĀ landscape is beautiful, the air is freshĀ and we could experience a relaxed side of India – or better said theĀ harassment-free one. After this awe-inspiring start, we were confident that we would be on 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 inĀ 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 makesĀ you wonder how so many people can live in such an environment.Ā But, somehow, India has the magnificent power to conquerĀ your love back with the otherĀ fascinating side, with its flash and colourful clothing, impressive monuments, vibrant festivals and delicious food.

Varanasi

We continuedĀ our journeyĀ withĀ our feelings swinging betweenĀ the loveĀ 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! Together with Ladakh, this was our favourite place. Here we loved India again! We enjoyed beautiful sunsets near Lake Pichola and delicious dinners at the Ambrai Restaurant. We marvelled at the very well maintained City Palace, the largest in Rajasthan, which is definitely worth a visit withĀ a local guide telling you about the life ofĀ Maharanas. And, of course, we couldn’t leave the city without watching the classic James Bond filmĀ Octopussy,Ā recorded here.Ā Many rooftop restaurants are proud to featureĀ this movie at 7 pm, which they have been doing for the last 33 years šŸ˜‰

Udaipur

The Blue City of Jodhpur was our nextĀ stop. WhenĀ 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 funĀ to explore its narrow streets to findĀ 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.

JodhpurĀ 

After soaking up theĀ cultureĀ inĀ Jodhpur,Ā we went to the holy city of Pushkar to find the spirituality that we couldn’t experienceĀ 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 hereĀ we didn’t have any spiritual encounter. Maybe we were just not open toĀ that. But, no hard feelings, we learned to treasure the tranquillity ofĀ this sacred city and we had joyful moments, likeĀ watching the sunset from the Sunset Cafe or eating great and healthy food at Honey and Spice.

PushkarĀ 

After “loving” India so much, we arrived at Jaipur, crowded and loud. (Not) surprisingly, we were rejected twice by Uber drivers once we got intoĀ their car, simply because “they didn’t feel like takingĀ that ride”. Ok, we moved forward andĀ negotiatedĀ with a rickshaw driver to take us to the Amber FortĀ for a fair price. We were very excited about our visit toĀ thisĀ Fort. It is magnificent from the outside…but as we trudged up, we sawĀ 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.

Jaipur

In Jaipur, we hired a private driver toĀ take us from Jaipur to AgraĀ 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 overĀ a thousand years ago in the Abhaneri village of Rajasthan, it’sĀ one of the largest and oldest step wells in the world. Simply stunning! We love the movie The Fall,Ā directed by Tarsem Singh, and some scenes were recorded here.

Chand Baori AbaneriĀ 

After theĀ Chand Baori, we continued to Fatehpur Sikri. Impressive red sandstone buildings form this fortified ancient city, founded in the 16th century. Be aware that theĀ entrance to the first part of the complex is free, as many locals will try to charge you someĀ rupeesĀ to guideĀ you through the main gate.

Fatehpur SikriĀ 

Our final stop was Agra, where we visited the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The Taj MahalĀ may be full of tourists and touts, butĀ 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.Ā Travel shouldn’t be only about visiting landmarks butĀ Agra doesn’t offer much more than theseĀ famous sights. The city, that receives thousands of tourists a year, is also one of the ten most dirties cities in India.

Agra

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