Two cities that are basically required when one travels to India, the first for need & the latter for want. Neither city is one we’d suggest with any eagerness but more the shrugged “yeah you have to do it”. Luckily, neither require your attention for very long & it’s incredibly easy to bounce back & forth between the two.
Delhi book ended our trip in India as well as Nepal. Almost any flight to & from India routes you through the city as do many domestic flights. It’s the key city for flying around middle Asia & allows (cheap) quick one stop routes to any number of locations (also how we discovered the hidden Andamans). I’m happy to report that since my first trip to Delhi almost 5 years ago the airport is much nicer, having recently been redone. If you’re going to spend a solid amount of time waiting around it’s not a bad place to be stuck.
In many countries, it’s rare people gush over their largest cities & Delhi is no different. Ask almost anyone who is local or travels through & almost no one actually likes Delhi. It is what it is – a loud, crowded, hazy & exhausting capital city but it’s worth a visit for the sheer amusement of its controlled chaos. A trip to India isn’t complete without seeing the dichotomy of the new, modern world bustling around what you’d expect of a nation’s capital & the ancient ruins & antiquated ways of doing things. People watching is site-seeing enough. You can spend the evening dining on rooftop terraces & bars in Connaught Place, an up & coming young & vibrant part of town after you’ve spent the day watching snake charmers, farm animal delivery “trucks” & shopping in old fashioned bazars for an infinite number of trinkets.
After a much-needed nap from our 24-hour travel extravaganza to arrive in India we spent our roughly 1 ½ days in the city exploring a few of the “must see” historical sites.
If you’re going to travel all the way to India then you must make a stop at Raj Ghat, the memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. It is a beautiful & peaceful outdoor memorial; nowhere in Delhi feels as calm & serene as this spot.
Few places exist where you could leave an upscale designer shop & then pop into an almost 500-year-old tomb but in Delhi that’s just on the normal sightseeing agenda.
We didn’t really know places like this could still even be built today. Swaminarayan Akshardham is a massive complex built in 2005 & a temple dedicated to the arts. It’s worth a look around if only to marvel at the dedication & time it took to complete.
Without sounding harsh, I’m not sure this place would exist if not for the Taj Mahal. There’s almost nothing to do here besides sightsee & there aren’t even that many decent places to stay. Its proximity to Delhi allows for many tourists to make a day trip out of it. But if you want our advice, it’s a long exhausting 12+ hour day to make it down, tour the sites & schlep all the way home. Though Agra is no treasure its worth staying one night & doing the sites right.
A note about getting there, if you want to travel to Agra outside of a day-tour there are several options including taxis, buses & trains. We opted for the train ride down & back the next day; all this time in India wasn’t going to be complete unless we tested out the famed train system. In consistent fashion, purchasing tickets wasn’t easy & made almost no sense.
Pro tip: you have to sign up with/for blah blah prior to be able to purchase a ticket. Often trains will state sold out & you’ll end up waitlisted, you will almost always be able to get off the waitlist though so be patient!
The train stations are (again) loud, crowded, hot & a bit stressful but, overall, it’s a quick & cheap way to make the 3-hour trip & as a bonus you get to see more of the country side watching out the windows!
The thing to do in India. Who doesn’t go to the Taj while visiting? If you skip it you are crazy; as I’m sure you’ve all heard many times before it is simply spectacular. Whether truly a testament to true love or an emperor playing “who can build the biggest tomb”, its majesty cannot be overstated. The immaculate white marble, both soft & commanding at the same time, stretches before you as if it has a power all unto itself. From afar, the intricate designs almost appear painted on, which would have been far easier to do, but once you’ve approached you’ll see they are tiny stones of amethyst, turquoise, jade etc. painstakingly carved & placed into the design. It’s rare a building should command such strong feelings - it demands you pay it respect within its peaceful gardens. If a truer love exists beyond this display of dedication you’ll be hard pressed to find it.
If you’re planning a trip or are lucky enough to have a flexible schedule, go during a full moon - no, we are not crazy, it’s a legit thing & it’s worth a little extra planning. Rules are strict & visitors are limited but if you can snag an entrance, the Taj is almost more dramatic at night behind the moonlight. On a clear night, the marble will actually glow beneath the moon (if its ever not hazy from pollution…). If it is even possible to feel more at peace gazing across the water ponds towards the Taj, watching it under the moonlight is spectacular.
Pro tip: If you’re staying overnight for the full moon contact your hotel & ask them to purchase the tickets for you. Its virtually the only way you’ll be able to obtain them & you don’t want to be disappointed!
Beyond a doubt the best time to view the Taj is sunrise, which you can easily do after a nighttime viewing & why we recommend spending one night in town. The crowds (& oppressive heat) are far fewer & the soft rays of the day’s first light only enhance the magic that seems to surround the Taj. You’ll find yourself lucky enough to have so few people in your pictures you can (almost) pretend you had it all to yourself.
Always the bridesmaid & never the bride. Agra Fort is a red sandstone fortresses housing numerous palaces &, obviously, secondary to the Taj Mahal. But hanging around Agra what else are you going to do? It’s a massive structure with a long history, including serving as the prison home of Shah Jahan, commissioner of the Taj Mahal. Its height lends to beautiful sights of the river & an overtop view of the Taj off in the distance. Certainly worth your time & attention.
Our time in India began with a trip through Delhi & ended with the blessing of the Taj Mahal in Agra. Though either city may seem forgettable on paper we wouldn’t have had it any other way. While I can’t promise it, & certainly I didn’t feel this way after my first trip to India, I have a funny feeling this won’t be our last visit either