India had been on my travel wish list for a number of years. We’ve all seen the iconic images of the Taj Mahal and the bustling streets of Delhi, and it’s hard not to want to see such sights for yourself. As I began planning where to go and what to see I thought long and hard about the best way to travel.
You see, I’m a seasoned solo traveller. I have taken many a trip on my own from exploring Italy, to flashpacking (a tad more glamorous than backpacking!) across the USA, and even relaxing beach breaks in the sun. But when it came to India, I’ll be honest, I was a little apprehensive. Somehow the idea of trying to get from A to B on my own and navigating public transport in the world’s second most populated country made me nervous.
After a lot of research and reading, I decided to join an organised small group tour. Knowing the itinerary was planned to perfection, all transport was ready and waiting, accommodation vetted, and that there would be an expert local guide on hand to share insight and information was a big draw. With the reassurance this afforded, all I had to do was sit back, relax and enjoy every moment.
And I certainly did! I joined the group of 12 in Delhi, India’s capital city. Nothing prepared me for the sense-assaulting barrage of noise, smells and colour – Delhi is crazy, bonkers and brilliant all at the same time. The sound of car horns will stay with you as you sleep, and don’t worry, it’s completely normal to see a cow in the middle of a motorway. Our stay in the capital included a city tour taking in Jama Masjid, one of Delhi’s most iconic mosques, and the ancient Sikh temple of Gurdwara SisGanji. The beauty of such holy buildings is evident everywhere you look. But the best was yet to come, as the next stop was Agra.
I’m not normally a morning person, but a 4am wakeup call didn’t faze me at all when the agenda for the day was a sunrise visit to one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Taj Mahal. Arriving really early and being one of the first into the complex provided a peaceful atmosphere to watch as the sunlight emerged behind the famous dome and reflected off the marble and precious stones giving a glorious glow. It really was a magical moment I won’t forget. And no matter how many photos I took (and I took a lot!) they just didn’t do justice to the sight before my eyes. You may know the origin story of the Taj Mahal, but indulge me a moment. It was built in 1631 by the fifth Mughal emperor in memory of his third and most beloved wife who died during a campaign to end an uprising rebellion. So devastated was the emperor by his wife’s death he ordered a resting place ‘designed by giants and finished by jewellers’. His own casket was added as an afterthought leading to the only asymmetrical feature of the Taj. After spending time exploring the complex and buildings it was time to leave and head to I’timad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj) and the Agra Fort, both of which are well worth a visit and brimming with history and tales of the past.
The final destination to complete the ‘Golden Triangle’ was Jaipur – also known as the Pink City thanks to the hues and shades of the buildings – the most recognisable of which is surely Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This beautiful, intricate building boasts 953 windows which, at the time of building in 1799, allowed royal ladies to observe purdah yet still enjoy watching the goings on in the streets below. Further sightseeing in Jaipur included Amber Fort, perched high on a hill overlooking the waters of Maota Lake, and City Palace. I found myself mesmerised by the architecture and décor of City Palace, ornate pavilions, temples and gardens weaved together with a splash of colour and sparkle. My favourite area within the palace was Sarvato Bhadra, a stunning open hall with a chess board style floor, intricate decoration on the walls and glistening chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Looking back on what really was the trip of a lifetime, I am so pleased I chose to experience India with a small group tour. Not only did I learn so much from our amazing guide about the stories and history of every place we visited, but I shared the experience with a great group of fellow travellers who made it all the more enjoyable. I will cherish our evenings spent eating the most amazing Indian food and enjoying a Tiger beer (or two) while we recounted the day’s adventures. I travelled to India on my own, but I was most certainly never alone.