As I’ve just been on leave for two weeks and my original plans fell through I decided to go home for a lovely 10 days before popping to India for a little visit to see my friend who I lived with at university, Sapheena. Saph had been studying in India as part of a study abroad programme in Chandigrah at The University of Punjab (she’s a bit of a clever clogs) and we arranged to meet up in Delhi, for a bit of sight seeing and to go and visit the famous Taj Mahal! Emirates fly into Delhi (The Taj Mahal’s closest airport) however as the flight is only 3 and a half hours there we don’t get a layover so I was overly keen to visit this destination and tick off a new country from the list!
I flew from Manchester on the 9pm flight landing into Dubai at 6:45am the following morning. I then quickly exited the airport after grabbing my luggage and went straight to the standby lounge to see if there was a seat left for me on the flight as I had used one of my 90% discount tickets. After a while of waiting around constantly checking the screen to see if my name was given the green light for the flight, it finally changed 50 minutes before departure and I rushed through the airport to catch the flight!
My friend Jodie was working the flight over to Delhi which was nice to see, I’ve not had someone I know on the flight before! So she made sure I was well looked after with eyeshades, socks and drinks and I managed to sleep the whole way through the flight feeling refreshed as we landed into India.
Saph was waiting for me in arrivals and we found our driver before making our way over to the hotel chatting away as we’d not seen each other in months. The hotel was amazing, I’d kind of left all the arranging for Saph as she loves that sort of thing and agreed to whatever she suggested and wow did she do good. The hotel was around a 25 minute drive from the airport and we pulled into the most stunning drive way. Upon walking into the lobby we were greeted by numerous hotel staff, one lady placed red powder in the centre of our forehead which Saph explained was a blessing when you enter a new place in India and another placed flower garlands around our necks.
The hotel was absolutely beautiful. Very decadent and felt incredibly luxurious. We were taken up to our room and told our luggage would be following shortly. Although, after waiting for an almost an hour for our suitcases so that we could change and go up to the pool, we rang down to see where they where. Seems there had been a bit of a mix up and our cases sent elsewhere. After tracking them down on CCTV, they were finally delivered to our room and we changed and headed up to the pool, to see that it was now absolutely throwing it down with rain… So we headed down to the spa to use the steam and sauna rooms.
After a relaxing hour in the spa we were beginning to feel pretty hungry so we went back to the room to get changed and eat at the Japanese restaurant in the hotel. We decided not to head out of the hotel for food as we didn’t have a driver until the next day and we were up at 5am the next morning to drive over to the Taj Mahal.
The restaurant was amazing and we ordered a selection of dishes washed down with a jug of sangria. Who would of thought that on my first night in India I would be in a Japanese restaurant eating sushi along with Spanish sangria? But for those who know me, they know that I love love love sushi.
Feeling pretty full after all the food we wandered back up to bed tired after our day of travelling and excited for the following day which we’d be waking up for in under 5 hours time for…
At 5am the alarm went off and I was feeling unbelievably sleepy however I jumped out of bed and changed ready to face the day. I went downstairs to grab breakfast to go from the concierge for our 3 and half hour drive from Delhi to Agra. I actually slept the whole way there and before I knew it, we were driving through the small town with signs of the Taj Mahal getting closer.
Agra is much more underdeveloped than Delhi and this was the India that I had expected to see. It was incredibly busy with cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles and people everywhere. Everyone was beeping their horn and everyone seemed incredibly impatient on the road. Along the sides of the roads were stalls under tarpaulin selling different goods, children and animals running around and home made shelters made out of corrugated iron in between different bricked housing. Although this was what I had learnt of India from studying Geography it was still a shock from Delhi which was much more developed with tarmac roads, built up tower blocks and a slightly less chaotic atmosphere.
We drove through the small town and stopped at a hotel to pick up our tour guide Sheela who was going to show us round Agra for the day. First stop was the Taj Mahal and we caught a glimpse of the famous white temple driving towards the Eastern Gate. The driver dropped us off at the ticket office where we purchased our tickets and jumped onto a sort of extended golf buggy which drove us up to the entrance of the Taj Mahal.
The weather forecast had said it was going to be cloudy with a chance of rain however it was now 34 degrees celsius and the clouds were beginning to part and I hadn’t packed my suncream – oops! After going through security we were finally in the grounds of the Taj Mahal and I didn’t realise how big and impressive the whole place is. Sheela was informing us all of the history and how the story of the Taj began saying that it took 22 years to build with 20,000 workers on it!
The Taj Mahal (and I didn’t know this) was built by a king for his favourite wife who suddenly died and her last dying wish as she was by her husbands side was to have a building constructed in memory of her. And he stuck to his word managing to build what is now deemed one of the seven wonders of the world. Even the forecourt to the entrance of the Taj Mahal is impressive and beautifully designed with lots of greenery surrounding the red sandstone brick work.
Walking through the entrance you finally got to see the impressive Taj Mahal and it is absolutely breath taking. Sheela explained that everything in the grounds is perfectly symmetrical except for one thing. And that is the fact that in his designs the king had not taken into consideration where his tomb would be placed when he died and as he was next to his wife who was laid directly in the centre of the Taj Mahal, it slightly ruined the perfect symmetry of the entire place. I still thought it looked pretty spectacular though!!
Sadly whilst I was there they were doing the once every 8 year clean of the marble (typical whilst I’m there ey?) so that is why there is scaffolding on the two pillars! Inside the mausoleum was just as incredible as the outside and the intricate detailing to the marbling was unreal. Before we went in though we had to place covers over shoes before entering the holy place. We were also shown that if you were to place a torch up to the precious stones in the Taj Mahal they would light up as the light could pass through. I reckon if the Taj Mahal was a recent build they would have incorporated electricity into the design allowing the room to light up and sparkle on an evening. Unfortunately you weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the mausoleum so I can’t actually show you the inside, just means you’ll all have to go and visit this impressive place.
We began walking away from the temple and back through the grounds with our stomachs rumbling and ready for lunch. Not before stopping for a quick photoshoot in the arches of the walk ways though.
Sheela had recommended a barbecue restaurant that was served in a buffet style but offered lots of traditional indian cuisine dishes for a good price. I was happy to go wherever she suggested as I’d had many people tell me before I went to India not to get “Delhi Belly” (food poisoning) so was keen for her suggestion knowing she knew the area well.
The food was lovely however there was just far too much of it. They brought starters out one by one to the table and placed a barbecue in the centre of the table for a selection of different skewers for us to sample along with around maybe 10-12 other dishes? After starters I was already feeling incredibly full but then it was time for the main dishes which I only managed a small selection of. After all that there was then a selection of deserts and I had the most amazing rice pudding I have ever tasted (sorry Mum/Grandma yours are fab too but this was made with condensed milk and was so sweet).
I now felt as full as you do on Christmas Day after your Christmas dinner and when we got back into the car and Sheela had asked if we’d like to go for a short visit to the marbling factory to see how they made the intricate detailing on the Taj Mahal. They showed us a small marble plate that they were currently working on which they also had a finished design of, and for a design this small would take 2-3 months of solid work every day. So you can imagine the time and work that went into the sheer size of the Taj Mahal.
And after this we had decided to also visit the Agra Fort seeing as though we were there. We paid our 500 rupees entry (it was only 35 rupees for nationals which I didn’t think was fair) and we entered the fort. The sun was really shining down now and it was actually becoming too warm to walk anywhere other than the shade, but we wandered around with Sheela as she told us about the history of the fort and of how the King who built the Taj Mahal was actually imprisoned here until he died.
At one point a couple of local women stopped and asked if they could have their photo taken with me which I agreed to and before I knew it I had around 12 different people with their cameras in my face also asking for pictures. It was a really bizarre feeling and I thought to myself this is how a celebrity must feel haha. All because of my blonde hair and pale skin.
Around 2pm we had finished our tour of Agra and decided to make our way back to Delhi to try and avoid as much of the rush hour traffic as possible. We said our goodbyes and thanked Sheela for her fantastic tour, she was so informative and really engaging throughout the day, I couldn’t recommend her enough. If you’re ever visiting and want a tour of the Taj Mahal/Agra here’s her details:
She speaks English, Russian and Hindi!
The drive home took well over 4 hours due to the crazy busy traffic arriving into Delhi. But we got back to the hotel around 18:45 and went for a quick sauna and steam before heading up to the rooftop infinity pool which had a back drop over the city and a gorgeous sunset. After our exhausting day and early morning we couldn’t really face getting ready to go out of the hotel again and find somewhere for dinner so we ordered room service before collapsing into bed before another day of exploring began.
A slightly later wake up the next day of 8:30am and this time we were able to actually have breakfast in the hotel which was wonderful. The restaurant was lovely, overlooking the grounds to the hotel with such a wide selection to choose from. Of course I opted for a full english breakfast like the typical Brit on holiday I am, but how can you deny it when its all so yummy and its both pork sausages and pork bacon?!
The driver collected us at 9:30 and we went out to explore the city of Delhi. We began by heading towards Parliament House which is a really extravagant building surrounded by impressive grounds. Sadly we weren’t able to go inside the building or even wander around the grounds like you can at the Houses of Parliament in London, so we had a quick drive round before going to India Gate.
From India Gate we went to visit the Lotus Temple of the Bahai Religion. I’d never heard of this religion before and we visited the information centre to find out more about it before entering the temple. It kind of reminded me of Sydney Opera house in its design with the water around it. We were also told that it had 8 doors around the circumference to allow visitors from all backgrounds, religions and corners of the world.
Another very hot day and also another day I forgot my suncream (what’s wrong with me?!) so we asked the driver to take us to some of the markets around the city to get out of the sun for a little while. However, we were quite disappointed as there wasn’t much to buy and every single shop was selling the same things. So I bought a fridge magnet to add to the collection in my apartment in Dubai and we then went over to Saph’s Auntie and Uncles house who lived in Delhi and she could also meet her baby cousin for the first time!
Her family were incredibly welcoming and made us both some vegetable pakoras to try which were so yummy! I definitely want to try making these myself at some point. After food and cuddles with her cousin we went back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool again before going for dinner on our final night together.
All dressed up and ready to go we opted for an Italian restaurant called Le Cirque where we had some incredible pasta dishes. And then called in for a night cap at the hotel bar before going to bed before another early rise to go back to the airport the next day.
It was a really fantastic trip and I’m so glad I went over to meet Saph and we ticked the Taj Mahal off my bucket list together! Thanks for the best time Saphy, can’t wait to catch you back in London whenever that next may be!!
I’m now back in Dubai before I head back to the UK but this time to Newcastle for the weekend. Can’t wait to get back up in those skies with the famous red hat, I feel like I’ve been away forever, but had a wonderful two weeks off work that went ridiculously quickly seeing my friends and family and doing lots of my favourite things.
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