“There’s not just one India, there are many; if anyone tries to generalise and say that something is always this or that way, it’s false”. This was one of the first things our guide told us as soon as we arrived in India. And it’s true: it’s impossible to describe this great country without going into detail. Each one of its cities and regions are unique, and as the trip unfolds, everything changes around you.
Also, the subcontinent is so vast that it’s impossible to visit everything in only two weeks. That’s why on this trip we focused on the north of the country, visiting Delhi, Varanasi, Agra and some of the most important cities of the state of Rajasthan.
We started in New Delhi, where we met Ana and her family, who stopped there on their way to the Maldives after their stay in the Himalayas. We spent one day together, discovering the capital of the country, and the second largest city in India.
For those visiting India for the first time, it’s a good idea to start the trip in Delhi. Maybe it doesn’t attract as much attention as other areas of the country, but it has some interesting places to visit, and it allows you to adjust to the cultural differences.
During our stay in Delhi we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city, starting with the imposing Jama Masjid mosque.
Then we visited the Sikh temple of Gurudwara Bangla Sahib to learn about the customs of this interesting religion born in the 15th century.
The funniest moment was when we entered Old Delhi in tuctuc, riding through narrow alleys full of small shops, vendors, carts, hanging cables…
We rode in tuctuc until we reached the spice market, and then we walked for a while among their stores. We were also able to admire the views from the height of a rooftop.
After the hustle and bustle of Old Delhi, nothing better than relaxing in our private pool at The Lodhi hotel.
The next day we headed towards Varanasi, the most sacred city in India. Varanasi is a place that awakens intense emotions and feelings. A maze full of people, cows, dogs, carts, motorcycles… A never-ending bustle that leads to the ghats, at the bank of River Ganges.
One of the most interesting experiences in Varanasi is attending the Ganga aarti ceremony, at sunset. The Hindus congregate in the ghats for this fire ceremony, in which the light is offered to the gods accompanied by songs.
In August it’s usually impossible to navigate the Ganges in small boats, due to the flooding of the river during the rainy season. Luckily during our stay the river was low enough to navigate. This way we were able to watch the aarti ceremony from the river. It was one of the most special moments of our trip.
After the aarti ceremony, we sailed calmly along the edge of the city for a while and then walked around some of the busiest streets in Varanasi. After the hustle and bustle we appreciated the peace and tranquility of Nadesar Palace, a former palace turned into an elegant boutique hotel, a haven offering excellent service.
Near Varanasi there’s a city called Sarnath, a very important place for Buddhism. There, we visited the stupa of Dhamek, which stands in the place where Buddha is believed to have preached his first sermon to his five disciples. Next to the stupa there’s the Buddhist temple of Mulagandhakuti Vihara, as well as a Jain temple.
After our visit to Varanasi we flew to Agra, the former capital of the Mughal Empire.
In Agra we visited its famous fort, an imposing vestige of the Mughal dynasty and a place full of history. This is where Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, was locked up by his son for 8 years. From this location, the emperor observed the Taj Mahal – the mausoleum he had erected for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal – until the day he died.
We also visited the mausoleum of Itimad-Ud-Daulah, known as the Baby Taj because of the influence it had on this famous monument, especially regarding the use of white marble and inlays of semi-precious stones.
Our last visit was the most important one: the Taj Mahal, undoubtedly the most iconic place in India.
The Taj Mahal is a unique monument in the world, and thanks to the knowledge of our guide – and to waking up really early! – we were the first ones to enter, and we were able to enjoy the view of this amazing building completely by ourselves. It was a truly magical experience.
On the way to Jaipur, we stopped to visit Fatehpur Sikri, the City of Victory, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an impressive complex built by Emperor Akbar in the 16th century and abandoned shortly thereafter due to lack of water.
We left the state of Uttar Pradesh and entered Rajasthan, the land of the kings who resisted the Muslim incursions over the centuries. We started our visits in Jaipur, the capital of the state.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City; the main streets of the old town were painted the color of terracotta to receive Prince Albert of England in 1876. Since then, this is a characteristic feature of the city.
It’s interesting to go for a walk around the historic city center to admire the color of its façades.
In Jaipur, the most interesting places to visit are the astrological observatory and the City Palace, the seat of the Maharaja and current royal residence. Thanks to our contacts, we were granted access to private areas of the palace, a very special visit.
We also visited the Amer Fort, located a few kilometres from Jaipur; it’s a surprising place that can be reached by elephant, a very original means of transportation!
During our stay in Jaipur we stayed at the Rambagh Palace, former residence of the Maharaja. It’s worth visiting it together with the palace’s historian, to learn all about its history.
Our next stop in Rajasthan was Udaipur, the City of Lakes.
Udaipur is a quiet and peaceful place. Lake Pichola is the center of this city, also known as the Venice of the East.
In Udaipur, Taj Lake Palace is the place to be. This 18th century palace located in the center of the lake is a very special and charming hotel which can only be reached by boat.
We stayed in the historical Sajjan Niwas suite, built by the Maharana Sajjan Singh at the end of the 19th century.
This palace is full of history; it’s a quiet accommodation with excellent service, where we felt very special thanks to the warm welcome and thoughtful details that we received.
At night we were surprised by a private dinner on one of the palace’s terraces; it was an unforgettable experience.
The next day, in addition to visiting the City Palace, the current residence of the Maharana of Udaipur, we also went for a walk around the market.
We bid goodbye to Udaipur and headed to a rural area, in the Aravalli mountains. On the way to the RAAS Devigarh hotel we stopped at the temples of Sas and Bahu, a very interesting site dating back to the 11th century.
At RAAS Devigarh we were able to enjoy the peaceful and picturesque surroundings. The accommodation combines traditional architecture with sober and charming interiors. It’s an ideal place to relax away from the bustle of the cities.
The follwing day, on the way to Mihir Garh, we visited the Jain temple of Ranakpur, famous for its 1444 columns, each one different and unique.
Mihir Garh is an exclusive boutique hotel featuring only 9 suites. It’s inspired by the architecture of ancient forts, with a design based on the style of Jodhpur. It’s an intimate, quiet and cozy accommodation.
Mihir Garh is located in a very remote rural area, offering easy access to the local Bishnoi communities, an extremely peaceful religious group of people characterised by their great respect towards animals and the environment.
Large groups of Indian antelopes, as well as wild peacocks, also live in the area.
From rural Rajasthan we headed towards Jodhpur, the Blue City, last stop on our trip.
Upon our arrival in the city we visited the market, walked around the old town and did some shopping.
The next day we visited the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, which offers beautiful views over the city and its characteristic blue houses. Afterwards, we visited the Jaswant Thada mausoleum.
In Jodhpur we stayed at the Umaid Bhawan Palace hotel, current residence of the Maharaja and undoubtedly one of the most iconic places in the city. An exceptional finishing touch for our trip.
India is undoubtedly a unique and surprising country that will never cease to amaze you, a destination to visit at least once in your lifetime!