Our trip to India was fascinating, yet an assault to the senses. We took in so much in such a short amount of time, it took us a few days after leaving India to be a able to process the things we had seen.
The experience started before we even landed in New Delhi. As our plane started to descend, we began entering the very thick, brown pollution layer that rests over the city. Like most large cities, it is not uncommon to have a smog layer that you drop through when landing, but usually it clears up once you pass through the layer. Not in India. The pollution was like a heavy blanket of filthy air that never cleared up when we landed.
As the pilot announced to prepare for landing, an announcement came on stating that a disinfectant spray would be dispersed through the air in the cabin and all people sensitive to the inhalation of the spray should cover their faces. This was definitely a first for us.
After we landed, getting through immigration and baggage claim was fairly routine and our hotel had arranged for a driver to transfer us to the hotel. As we pulled out of the airport onto the main road, we were shocked at what we saw on the sides of the road. We were prepared to see some poverty in India, and having grown up so close to the Mexican border, we figured it couldn't be that much worse than what we have seen before. However, it was much worse than what either of us had expected to see. There were lots of very thin, barefoot people (including children) sitting among heaps of trash on the sides of the dusty roads.
We arrived at the Imperial Hotel, which was more like a compound. There were huge walls and gates that surrounded the entire property which was heavily guarded by security. Our car was even fully searched before we were allowed into the parking lot. When we pulled up to the hotel lobby entrance two men with extremely impressive beards and mustaches opened our doors for us and welcomed us to the hotel. They both had fancy uniforms and turbines that coordinated.
We would stay the night in New Delhi and then head to Agra first thing in the morning. After the full day of traveling we decided to stay in and have dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. We were so warmly greeted at the restaurant and were the only people in the entire place. At first we were wondering why, and the waiter finally explained that most people don't eat until much later in the evening in India. It actually turned out to be awesome for us. It was kind of romantic and we had the entire restaurant staff catering to us alone. Our waiter was super friendly and was insistent on stuffing us with as much food as possible.
Enjoying some delicious roti
The most delicious dinner!
The next morning we met our driver who would be driving us three hours South to Agra. We had a nice chat with the driver for part of the drive. He talked with us about different types of produce that was being grown in all the fields we were passing, the wild monkeys we saw on the streets, and statistics of population/religion in India.
Passing a camel on our drive to Agra
On our way to Agra
Indian school bus
When we got to Agra, the poverty was much worse than what we had seen in Delhi. We pulled out the camera and tried to capture some of it as we drove through the streets. (A lot of these pictures were taken from our moving vehicle so they may not be the best quality, but we really wanted people to be able to see what we saw.)
We saw up to fifteen people piled into some of the rickshaws
The driver took us straight to the hotel we'd be staying at to get checked in and also so we could meet up with our guide who was going to take us on a tour of the Taj Mahal. The Oberoi Amarvilas was also heavily guarded, but once we passed through the gates, it was an oasis within the chaos. Every room in the entire hotel had a magnificent view of the Taj. We were upgraded to a beautiful suite.
Cows in the middle of the streets
Elephant at the entry of the Oberoi
The bell man carrying my daypack
Showing off our welcome dots
View of the pool at the Oberoi
After we got settled in, we went down to meet up with our guide who took us on a golf cart to the entrance of the Taj. We had to walk the last few minutes since carts were only allowed to a certain point. The second we got off the cart, we were bombarded by locals trying to sell us things and little kids trying to grab our arms. It was a little heartbreaking because we were told to completely ignore them because supporting that kind of activity only makes it worse.
On the cart going to the Taj
A goat walking on the street on the way to the Taj
The Taj was beautiful and from far looked like it was straight from a postcard. The smog made for beautiful pictures at sunset.
At the entrance to the Taj
We had to wear booties in order to go inside
The colorful line of people waiting to go in to the Taj
After our tour at the Taj our guide stopped us by a local marble shop where all of the marble is hand carved by local artists.
That evening we had another wonderful meal where we met some new friends (a father and daughter) who were traveling through India. We had a nice chat with them while we enjoyed another Indian feast accompanied by live Indian music being played in the background.
Sporting my bindi for dinner
A guy playing live music at dinner
The next morning we headed back to New Delhi with our same driver. Only this time the trip took twice as long due to really bad traffic because of the Diwali Festival that was starting the next day. We barely made it back in time to meet up with a guide that would be taking us on a walking tour of Old Delhi.
We got photo bombed while walking the streets of Old Delhi
Colorful decorations for Diwali festivities
This was the most chaotic yet fascinating part of our time in India yet. We started our walk at the Red Fort. The architecture was beautiful and we got an in depth history lesson from our guide. From the Red Fort we walked out into the busy streets of Old Delhi. It was sheer chaos! We were dodging motor bikes and rickshaws left and right, bobbing and weaving to avoid being bonked on the head by the men carrying huge miscellaneous objects on their heads, and also trying to keep a tight grip on our belongings, to each other, and not lose our guide in the crowds. Scott was walking closely behind me fending off unwelcome stares from the local men. We had previously been warned that the men in India can be quite in appropriate towards foreign women, especially in crowded areas. It was a little uncomfortable to be receiving the unwanted attention, but luckily I escaped unscathed.
A really cool tree at the Red Fort
A lot of people carry things on their heads in the busy streets
Trying to keep up with our guide
The narrow streets of Old Delhi reminded us a little of our time in Marrakech, but more chaotic, if that's possible to fathom. We walked among the wondering cows, street monkeys, goats, people buying lots of festival items, and many beggars.
Being an electrical engineer, the sight of this made me cringe
Our guide also stopped us by a little shop where a local man makes hand embroidered cashmere products. Scott got to be pretty good buddies with the guy and took some fun pictures together.
Beautiful beaded sari in the market
On our way back out of Old Delhi we opted to ride a cycle-rickshaw out of the chaos instead of trying to navigate back through it in the dark. The ride in the rickshaw was one of our favorite things, although we did feel bad for our driver who had to cycle us and our guide uphill in the traffic.
Crazy traffic in Old Delhi
The fellow who drove our rickshaw
A building decorated for Diwali
With our tour guide
After our walking tour we were pooped. We headed back to the hotel and called it a night. The next morning we would be catching a flight out of India. Our time in India was too short. It is definitely a place we will return to. The food was amazing, most of the people we met were so kind, and despite the poverty, India was beautiful in its own unique way.