It had always been my dream to go to India. I did not know when and how would I be prepared to go on this trip (because had already read a lot about India and knew it would be a heavier ride with a mixture of wonder and sorrow) but it was a really wanted to make a trip. And when the opportunity arose, soon after the change of a chapter in my life. I wanted to get to know the Golden Triangle and visit Varanasi to get to know India’s religious traditions better.
Making the Golden Triangle in India is the most classic trip we can make in this country – and the most practical too! In just nine days we can explore the wonders of New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and get to know some of the most stunning monuments in India and the world.
A trip to India can be made in many different ways, but there is always a moment that is common to all: cultural shock. Because the way of living in India is even completely different than anywhere else in the world. From the deeper issues such as the caste system that places each person in a very limited social stratum, to more mundane issues such as the fact that to say “yes” we should not nod, but shake it aside, India is a world apart. And only by visiting this wonderful country can you see how this culture shock is so challenging yet so interesting at the same time.
New Delhi is a cosmopolitan capital like many others around the world – breathtaking government buildings, wide, immaculate avenues (but always full of traffic) and all the comforts of the modern world. It is in Old Delhi, in the old part of the city, that we can feel the spirit of India in its purest form: street food, crowds of people and restless shopkeepers. A vision to leave us with our mouths open and eyes to shine.
There are many tributes to Gandhi scattered throughout New Delhi and India, but if you only have time to visit one of them, then let it be this. It is here that we can get to know a little more about the life of this great peace activist, as well as, visit some of his rooms, preserved as he left them, and the place where he was assassinated in January of 1948 when he was on his way to the garden to do the prayers in the morning.
Located on the banks of the Ganges River, the city of Varanasi is one of the oldest in the world and has a population of 3 million. The city is typically Indian, with traders, animals, chaotic transit and has a large religious manifestation, in the Ganges River it is possible to witness some of the religious rituals of the population.
Varanasi is the holiest city in India. Legends of the Hindus say that the city was founded by Shiva, the god of destruction and transformation. Known by the Indians as Benares or Kashi, Varanasi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. There are about 3,200 years of the same civilization in the same place. It must be because they have been there for millennia that they do not get lost in the narrow, winding streets that make any stranger feel in an endless labyrinth.
Viewed as the heart of the Hindu universe, Varanasi is the meeting of the physical and spiritual world, and all religiosity converges to the Ganges River, called by the Ganga. The Ganges is born in the Himalayas, Indian territory, clean and pure, but as the water moves along the route of more than 2,500 kilometres to the Bay of Bengal, among densely populated cities, is increasingly polluted. Years ago, a number of faecal coliforms in Ganges water it was more than a thousand times greater than that considered appropriate (500 for every 100 ml of water), but nowadays it is only 120 times greater.
Many Indians go to the city to die. That’s right, they believe that whoever dies in Varanasi is freed from Moksha, which is the endless cycle of death and rebirth. And the best place in town to die for is the Ganges River, the sacred river, so on the bank, there are several Ghats, some exclusive for cremation of bodies. Walking along the shore is easy to witness a cremation ceremony. The price of cremation is calculated by the weight and type of wood used, with sandal being the most expensive. The ashes of the cremate and the bodies of those who did not have enough money for the ceremony are thrown into the river.
Varanasi is definitely a must destination for all trips to India. The city is not beautiful, but the culture and customs you can see there are fascinating, completely different. On the bank, huge and detailed buildings that now serve as hotels were palaces of Maharajas centuries ago. One of the highlights is to observe the holy men (Sadhus), who have abdicated the material world and live to pray and to meditate. There are also a few false sadhus, who have ‘abdicated’ material possessions to solicit donations from tourists. Among them, there are also workers, who use the Ganges as a laundry room and then extend the sáris and sheets (of the hotels!) On the steps of the bank. At a ‘private’ moment (among hundreds of people) the pilgrims bathe in the river to purify themselves. Children play in the water, students draw the landscape, some fish. The Ganges River is the most polluted river in the world, but you can still see beauty in it.
The region of Sarnath has several temples, and also the monument where Buddha made his first speech. Here one can observe the greatness of Buddhism, how much it has spread throughout the world, with several temples built, from countless countries of the world.
Khajuraho is a small Indian town in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, famous for the Hindu and Jain temples, true works of art known for erotic stone sculptures. As a backdrop, the Vindhya mountain range, a beautiful landscape that does not go unnoticed.
In Khajuraho, artistic manifestations are the essence of Indian philosophy. The erotic sculptures embody the Kama Sutra and are unique in the world, representing Indo-Aryan architecture frozen in stone.
Orchha means “hidden place” and certainly lives up to its name because of very few tourists, who travel to India, are worried about visiting places as small as Orchha. But whoever dares to come to the place experiences its melodic calm where it seems that time has stopped and we are transported to the time of its majesty.
The city, the ancient capital of the Bundela dynasty, is an archaeological legacy of Medieval India and is situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh, about 16 kilometres south of Jhansi, the birthplace of the Maharani Laxmibai, the Joan of Arc of India. The city, surrounded by closed forest, which had long made it impregnable to visit certain places, was founded in 1531 and served until 1783 as the capital of the ancient principality Orchha state. In the early 17th century was systematically devastated by the forces of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan after the rebellion of Bundela chief Jujhar Singh.
The city is known as “pink city,” and the station is painted with that colour. Jhansi is the gateway to Bundelkhand. Another must visit place in Jhansi is the Government Museum. You can find there the Weapons, statues, dresses and photographs of the Chandela dynasty and a picture gallery of the Gupta period.
Known by the Taj Mahal, the city of Agra is situated on the banks of the Yamuna River and has more than one million inhabitants. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built in honour of Emperor Shah Jahan‘s favourite wife. She died after giving birth to her 14th child and the sumptuous building was erected on her grave. A product of the love of an emperor and the strength of more than 20 thousand men, the wonder of the world dates from 1632 and charms tourists with its approximately 40 tons of gold.
The ancestral city of Fatehpur Sikri was built by Emperor Akbar and was the capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585. The building is regarded as an Indo-Islamic masterpiece but was abandoned shortly after it was built because the region had no water enough for a city of that magnitude.
Although it was abandoned almost 500 years ago, the city is very well preserved, and it is not for nothing that it is a UNESCO world heritage site. As the once capital Mughal is only 40km from Agra it is super easy to visit on a day trip.
Poverty is a strong feature in this city. However, the difficulties marked in the population two characteristics: simplicity and hospitality. They find in the faith of their religions and in selling handicrafts and food the means to survive. Every day, at the end of the afternoon, religious prayers are given in the streets of the city and in the temples. If you want to get smiles from the Indian people, start a greeting or talk with a Namaste.