By: Sarahanne Beegle

First official day in India! To be honest, today felt a bit more like 3 days rolled into one. There are two teams in India this July, one stationed in Chandigarh, mine, and one stationed in Bangalore. All 17 of us arrived in Delhi on Saturday morning, around 130am local time. It took awhile for us to get through customs, collect checked baggage, exchange money, and etc., so it was around 3 when we started looking for our driver, Mahindra. It turns out that airports are confusing, especially ones in foreign countries. Shocking, I know. By the time we had our luggage loaded and everything it was maybe 4 in the morning. That’s when the fun started!

 Hast-Mudra at Indira Gandhi International Airport. 

Each team rode in a sprinter style van to our hotel, Hotel Aeroporto, in New Delhi. So, guess it turns out that New Delhi is kinda huge, and has several very similarly named hotels. Which means (insert exciting game show music here) we get a tour of New Delhi at 4am! Guys, when I say New Delhi is huge, what I really mean is that at 4am there are still thousands of people out and about, tons of cars and THOUSANDS of tiny little winding streets crammed with hotels and shops. It’s magnificent. If you’ve traveled in a taxi on van in Rome or Lisbon, or someplace similar, it’s like that times a thousand. Here’s a pic prom Google maps that kinda shows just how many tiny streets there are. 

(For the record: every time I try to search for Hotel Aeroporto, Google maps moves the pin
around like 5 times. So even Google isn’t sure where this place is, okay?)

So, what maybe should have been a 10 minute drive turns into I guess 30+ minutes, but I didn’t really notice. I was so fascinated by everything going on around me, and honestly wouldn’t have known any better anyway if it wasn’t clear we were a bit lost. Even that only became evident to me after our driver got out of the van a second, and then a third time, to get some help. Our “early morning tour of New Delhi”, gave me an introduction to the beautiful hustle and bustle of this awesome place. FYI: turn signals may or maybe be a thing here, and most drivers just prefer to use horns to tell you one of the following: 

a.) “I’m coming over there” 

b.) “Heads up I’m coming around this blind corner of this tiny street a 40mph” c.) “No you’re not/no, I’m coming over there/ no way because I’m coming around this blind corner of this tiny street at 40mph too so good luck” d.) “Hey friend! What’s up?” 

When we finally got to the hotel we were all a mix of excitement, nerves and exhaustion. So, cue Sarah’s first official India blunder and tip for future India travelers: Don’t step on the temple area with your shoes on you ninny head! Annnyway… We are all hopeful for maybe 2 hours of sleep before we have to be awake for our trek to Agra in the morning. A quick shower in the all in one bathroom and it’s bedtime. Have you ever been too tired to sleep? Yeah… that’s a thing apparently 

The next morning we were up and at breakfast by 730. Masala roti, a chilled gazpacho like yogurt based curry thing whose name I forgot to get (I’m terrible at this) and a simple plain egg omelet. I failed at getting a picture, because of course I did, but: The food was SO GOOD! Given the state of things, we weren’t really expecting that. 

We were piled in the van and on our way to Agra a little after 8am. Cue more attempts at roadside pictures from a moving car and napping. At one point I dozed off but managed to wake up just in time to notice some strange cows oh wait, those aren’t cows… they’re… camels! 

Around 4 hours drive and we’ve arrived in Agra, where we pic up our tour guide, Alankar, and we’re off to… The Taj Mahal! 

Let’s sound cliche and say that calling The Taj Mahal amazing is an understatement. This place is unreal. It’s shockingly beautiful. The pictures, which are always amazing because you don’t have to work too hard to make this place look good, don’t do it justice. It’s truly a work of art. 

Taj Mahal from the eastern angle 
North gate 
vestibul to north gate 

Alankar told us the history of this beautiful structure, and made it really come alive. The building was ordered in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (yes, I did have to look that up again) to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (gotta love Google). The building was completed in 1653. After his death Shah Jahan, was also entombed there as well. Mumtaz was one of Shah Jahan’s 5 wives, not counting his harem of an estimated 500 women I suppose. She died in childbirth delivering her and Shah Jahanโ€™s 14th child. Apparently Mumtaz, made Shah Jahan promise on her death bed that he would not forget her, and that he would build for her a beautiful place of rest. Shah Jahan wasn’t lying… Taj Mahal apparently translates to Crown of the palaces, but it also translates to the Crown of (Mumtaz) Mahal… oh true love… 

Alankar insists that you stay in th sha for his story telling. 
When we entered the tomb itself we were forbidden from taking pictures. Alankar warned us that lots of locals break this rule, “but don’t let them trick you into doing the same.” Immediately following his warning, a woman of Indian descent wearing a sari tried to take a picture and was 
instantly verbally reprimanded, quite forcefully, by the guards. The true tombs of Shah and Mumtaz are below a very ornate replica, with Mumtaz’s resting place being central and larger than her husband’s. 
In addition to beautiful artwork decorating the tombs, the mausoleum also has several verses of the Qur’an etched into the walls in Arabic. Some of this repeats on the outer walls of the building as well. The entire building is symmetrical, down to the lattice work carved into the marvel surrounding the tombs, as are the buildings and grounds surrounding the mausoleum. 

After we finished our tour of the Taj, we went to a shop where they work all day doing the same marble art/stone work as the Taj. We watched artist creating these intricate designs carved into marvel. We learned that it’s approximately a three step process, starting with creating a stencil, and then carving an outline of the pattern. Then the artist carves out the remainder of the pattern using chisels and drummels. The artists then uses specialized glue and ground gemstones to create the imagery they want. The result is so similar to a painting that at first you’d assume it was, but due to the clarity and shine of the gemstones it’s much more vivid. 

After this we were on our way to the city of Agra to check into our hotel and get dinner. We are at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. We ordered a variety of Indian, Chinese, and Thai items. Agar is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is located along the border of Nepal. So, there are lots of food influences going on. I decided to pick something random and hope that it would work out. I selected the Murgh Makani, which apparently is apparently sImply butter chicken but butter chicken is amazing so thereโ€™s that. 

Overall, “today” (still not convinced it wasn’t actually 3 days in one), was a very welcoming introduction to this beautiful country. I know that not every day here will be “exploring the Taj Mahal”, but I’m pretty sure the best is yet to come. 

Later friends! 

Animal count: so far we have seen oxen, cows, camels, monkeys, goats, horses and dogs! ๐Ÿฎ ๐Ÿ„ ๐Ÿช ๐Ÿ’ ๐Ÿ ๐ŸŽ ๐Ÿ• still no elephants though… 

Okay, fine, one more picture of the Taj Mahal because itโ€™s just too beautiful