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Last updated : Nov 2009
A Visit to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Jodhpur by Phillip Cullen
Pros: Friendly, Kind, Honest and warm people
Cons: none

Delhi

They say 1st impressions are the best and nothing can prepare a first time visitor. Arrival in Delhi from Sydney is at midnight. The drudgery of 14 hours in the air disappears with the pure delight of the explosion of colour and life.

Places of Stay

My first experience of Delhi traffic is both frightening and exhilarating and I find myself not wanting this taxi ride to end. Even at 1 a.m. the roads are more chaotic than anything I have ever experienced.Yet all the drivers seem to know exactly what they are doing. The Master Paying Guest House at New Rajender Nagar is my destination and I am shown to a perfect room, simple yet charming, on the roof garden of the 3 story house. Sleep does not come easily, the sounds of the city are just too exciting and unfamiliar to encourage the atmosphere to relax.

Cannaught Circle

In daylight the guest house is even more charming than it appeared first up. Each room is named for a God (my room is the Ganesh room) and the owners are friendly interesting people. After a very good breakfast (omelette and chapatis and quite reasonable coffee) I decided to take a walk. I set out for Connaught Circle on foot, if only to get a feel of the geography of this city---I have no great desire to see Connaught but it seems like a good place to start. Two things occur to me after walking half an hour. What seemed like half an inch on the map turns out to be a hell of a lot longer than I had suspected. Secondly, Indians, or at least Delhites, have no concept of "just walking". You must be going somewhere so why walk? Good advice. The heat pounds me as I walk but I'm far too interested to care. I have no idea where I am nor does it really matter, I'm in India and every little thing is fascinating. Every shop, stall, hawker, policeman and vendor is an attraction money can't buy.

A Word of caution

Soon I give in and take an auto rickshaw. I probably have negotiated close to the right price and feel like I'm getting the hang of this most foreign (to me)and exotic city. Just be careful of the fabric sellers at Connaught Circle. The charisma and personality of the locals is overwhelming. I give in on my first day but will not be so easy again.(It seems to me that lots of stories about India centre on the "rip-off" factor. Firmness will avoid it, but really what other place in the world will getting ripped off cost so little and go to such a good cause generally).

Everyone in Delhi says "get out of Delhi as soon as you can". I think its a great town. It has so many layers of religion and architecture. It is a microcosm of all of India and exists on so many levels.

Agra

After spending longer in Delhi than I had intended, Avnish and Ushi from the guest house recommended a driver to take me to Agra. Suresh the driver turned out to be an excellent companion over the next three days and smoothed the way through Agra to Jaipur. The town of Agra looks remarkably interesting from Agra fort, when you look back up-river it seems picture book like. Suresh has no love for Agra though and there is no time to explore.

The Agra Fort

The Agra fort is excellent---I cannot tear myself away and when I meet Suresh 90 minutes later, he is red-faced and puffy from sleeping in the sun in the car.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is fantastic, though a bit wedding cake and full of hassley guides. One thing that travel brochures and books don't show is the Taj situated on the river. When I walked to the back of the building the sight of the magnificent wide and unusually swift flowing river (given the monsoon had failed) was sublime. The river puts the building in context, a remarkable architectural site. Nice to see also that construction workers are the same the world over. Workmen cleaning the domes from dizzying scaffolding catcalled pretty girls and dropped small buckets of water on tourists.

Fatehpur Sikri

Beware the guides who tell you they are not guides but would like to accompany you to practice their English. Otherwise it is a fascinating place. It is possible here (there were no other tourists) to actually find some peace, given you can shake off the guides. Outside the compound is different---hawkers and vendors are the most single minded I have ever seen.

Jaipur

The attractions of Jaipur have been well documented by others. They are all good. I bought a carpet in Jaipur, in some back alley. After the deal has been done I was invited to dinner with the workers. We ate on a carpet under the stars. There was a bird of some description cooking in a big iron pot over a flame. It took hours.

Meanwhile I drank copious amounts of beer---they drank even more whiskey. I had answer everybody's questions and listen to their philosophies on life. This was no hardship. Finally we ate our dinner---it was hot and delicious. We were all a little drunk and went to telephone someone sober to drive us up to the Tiger Fort from where I'll be able to catch a "really good view" of Jaipur. It was midnight. I wondered what I was doing here, amongst all this talk of more whiskey, deadly snakes and the possibility of a panther or two. This had been fun. We got each others jokes and the levels of humour were intricate.

Something about my blondness fascinates the people of Jaipur. I got mobbed in the back streets. There were little or no other tourists. I was reluctant to leave Jaipur, and Suresh, and head to Jodhpur by train.

Jodhpur

The "blue city" of Jodhpur is relaxing. The Ratanada Vilas guesthouse has alot to do with it. This is a great place to stay, an old "raj" style mansion in old local workshop road about 10 minutes from the clock tower. A great family runs it. They were very "üpper class" Indian and very proud. It has been in the family for years. The son runs it, and the father has a wealth of politically incorrect stories and reminiscences. It was simple and comfortable and had a great staff who cooked wonderful food. The back streets were fascinating, the Fort was wonderful. The people here were magnificent. The 2nd class no a/c train was a real journey, shared with the Indian army, the nose picking champions of the world.

Overnight Journey back to Delhi

2nd class sleeper to Delhi was a good trip. Slept fitfully but enough, and the non western company(about 30 in the carriage)was amenable, interesting and knowledgeable. The vast slums on the outskirts of Delhi as the train rolled through at 5 a.m. was sobering yet somehow also optimistic. It was great to see the "real" people of the city waking up to a new day of struggle and business.

I'm still not sure if I found what I was looking for in India, or in fact if I was looking for anything at all. I do know that the three weeks I spent were the most rewarding of any travel I have done anywhere in the world. I simply cannot wait to get back there. The Indian people are interesting and honest, and extremely warm. The food is the biggest surprise, light and refined and mostly perfectly cooked. Despite many setbacks and discomforts I never once felt like I could not cope, and I felt extremely safe.

Written By : Phillip Cullen, A 52 year old Australian living in Sydney. A father of three girls, he has always been interested in Indian culture, but never had a chance to visit it. Grasping a three week break between jobs he decided to take up a solo trip to India, after a friend who has written several books on Indian cricket talked him to visit Delhi and Rajasthan.