Being just a third of the size of the United States, India is amazingly the second most populous country in the world. India is also the largest democracy in the world. Its history and heritage go back thousands of years and there is no shortage of awe and fascination that surround the country of India. Before we get started, here are few interesting facts about India:
1. The Indian flag has three horizontal bands of color:
- saffron for courage and sacrifice
- white for truth and peace
- green for faith, fertility, and chivalry
While under British rule, India’s flag incorporated a wheel spinning in the center of the white band. Once the country gained independence, a Buddhist dharma chakra (wheel of life) replaced the spinning wheel.
2. India is the world’s largest producer of dried beans, such as kidney beans and chickpeas.
3. India has the largest postal network in the world with 150,000 post offices.
4. The Bengal tiger is India’s national animal.
5. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism all originated in India.
6. India has the world’s largest movie industry, based in Mumbai.
7. The national fruit of India is the mango.
8. It is traditional to wear white, not black, to a funeral in India.
9. India is the world’s largest tea producer.
10. Indians made significant contributions to algebra, calculus and trigonometry. The decimal system was invented in India in 100 B.C. Another mathematical contribution of India was the concept of zero as a number.
It would be difficult to showcase India’s amazing sights in one post, so let’s start with Delhi and Agra, two of India’s biggest and most famous cities.
Delhi (although referred by many as New Delhi) is the capital of India. New Delhi is only one part of a massive city. Old Delhi is a part of the city that dates back to the 1600s. It is home to the impressive Red Fort built in 1576, which served as the residence of the Mughal emperor for nearly 200 years until 1857.
The intricate details of the Red Fort interior are nothing short of incredible. The architectural style is a fusion of Persian, Timurid and Hindu building traditions and the result is beautiful.
The intricate details of the walls, ceilings, doors and just about anything on site are extraordinary. We just could not get enough of this beautiful architectural site. The more we saw, the more captivated we became by the sheer volume of details.
Being accepting of all religions of the world, Delhi is also home to the largest mosque in India, known as Jama Masjid. Completed in 1656 AD, the mosque’s impressive courtyard can hold upwards of 25,000 people for worship.
Walking the streets of Delhi is like entering a world that is unlike anything you have ever experienced before. The colors, the aromas, the rickshaws, the street-side merchants, the people, the monkeys and other animals that share the street with you…all of that converges in the large cities of India. There is so much happening at any given moment that it is difficult to keep up. You just have to give up and go with the flow. Enjoy the euphoria and excitement of the city. You cannot escape!
The beauty of India is not always luxurious but more often it is humble, colorful and simply different. If you have an expectation of what you think you will see and experience, leave that at home. The reality of India will be a hundred times more colorful, more aromatic, more surreal and more fascinating than what you could possibly imagine.
India’s colors (and believe us there are many of them) are a representation of its vibrant multitude of outlooks, lifestyles, traditions, religions and cultures. Color is present in every aspect of one’s life in India, from food to clothing to home decor…the more colorful, the better, and we loved that!
Of course India would not be the same without its street food. There are street vendors everywhere, selling local specialties…pani puri, samosas, aloo tikki, roti etc…Always be cautious when buying food street side…water quality and cleanliness requirements are often questionable. Being on an adventure however, calls for stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something wild…like eating street food!
While in India, you must take a rickshaw ride. It is an exhilarating experience to say the least. Rickshaws are a light two or three-wheeled hooded vehicles drawn by one or more people. They are abundant, easy to take and cheap. Sometimes you may see hundreds of them in the same area. Try this, stand around on a street in Delhi and look lost (like a typical tourist)…within seconds there will be 20 rickshaw drivers offering to take you places. We found ourselves in a rickshaw on a highway sharing the road with giant trucks, cars, camels, buffalo, cows, bikers, pedestrians and of course a few monkeys.Unbelievable!
We were also fortunate to visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the largest Sikh place of worship in Delhi. We had to take off our shoes and socks and cover our heads in order to enter the premises.
Initially a little bit stunned to walk around barefoot on the streets of Delhi, we got over it quickly and went on to explore this fascinating place of worship.
One of most remarkable things we learned it that the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib has a kitchen that operates daily and serves warm food to more than a 1000 people a day. What a wonderful thing to do in a city where so much of the population lives below the poverty level.
There were hundreds of people working tirelessly every day to prepare and cook the food for anyone hungry. What an amazing operation!
On our way to Humayun’s Tomb we stopped to take a quick look at this amazing work of art, The Laxminarayan Temple, also known as the Birla Mandir. This Hindu temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. Though not as ancient as some of the other temples in Delhi, it is quite a fascinating architectural wonder to see.
Our next destination was Humayun’s Tomb, the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. Commissioned by Humayun’s son Akbar in 1569-70 it was the first ever structure to use red sandstone in such massive amounts. This complex contains traces of Central Asian and Persian styles of Islamic architecture true to the origins of the designer, Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect.
We could not leave Delhi without visiting the Lotus Temple. This flower shaped temple has become a prominent landmark in Delhi. It is an arrangement of 27 free-standing marble-clad “petals” that form the shape of the lotus flower. In Indian culture the lotus flower is a symbol of purity and resurrection, reason being that it rises from unclean water to blossom as a pure and uncontaminated flower.
And then it was time to head south to Agra. Located about 131 miles (211 km) south of Delhi, Agra is where you will find the ivory-white marble mausoleum situated on the south bank of the Yamuna river…the Taj Mahal! Accessible by both car or train, we opted for the train ride. We purchased our tickets and that was easy…finding where our seats were on the train, not so easy. We held first class tickets and those offered a comfortable seat as well as food and water on the train. This was by far the most memorable train ride we have ever been on. We passed by villages where people lived in straw huts and the one and only bathroom area for the village was the train tracks themselves. Absolutely fascinating! No one using the “bathroom” appeared bothered by the passing train and passengers staring out the window. What a site!
Finally we arrived in Agra and we once again had to share the street with alternative transportation methods…
One of the most famous landmarks not just in Agra but in all of India and possibly the world is of course, the Taj Mahal. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj houses the tomb of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal (yes, you read this correctly…favorite wife, because he had a few).
To this day considered one of the architectural marvels of the world. It took 22,000 workers 22 years to complete it. The marble masterpiece is inconceivable. The amount of detail that went into carving the intricate designs on all walls, ceilings, floors, etc. is mind-blowing. Do you notice the colorful details on the walls? This is not paint! The builders used as many as 28 different varieties of semi-precious and precious stones to adorn the Taj Mahal with the exquisite inlay work.
The Taj Mahal is by far one the most elegant and awe-inspiring architectural wonders we have ever seen. It is magical!
Looking to the right of the Taj Mahal there is the Jawab, which is an exact mirror image of the mosque located on the left side of the Taj. They were constructed to be exactly the same and as a mirror image to balance the bilateral symmetry of the composition.
Another impressive site in Agra is the 16th century Agra Fort or maybe better referred to as a walled city. This 94-acre (380,000-square-meter) complex is extraordinary with its size and detailed craftsmanship. It is a collection of palaces, audience halls and two mosques.
One of the most common animals that we encountered not just in the forts and temples, but also in the middle of every city, were the monkeys. They just live everywhere. You can feed them, but be careful not to get scratched. They also like to steal small items, so watch out for anything that is not attached to you (sunglasses, cell phone, water bottle, etc). They are cute but they can be viscous!
If you can, definitely visit a Bollywood dance show. It is really that amazing! The colors, the music, the dances…truly one of a kind! Being the largest producer of movies in the world, India has perfected the art of synchronized dancing and hypnotizing dance choreography.
The perfect ending to any day is to leave the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan city streets and to just sit back and relax by the pool…
Though largely an impoverished country, India has some wonderful hotels allowing you the opportunity to recoup from your sensory overload experiencing the city. This country is an invigorating fusion for all five of our senses. We cannot wait to go back…there is something about India that stole our hearts…its mystery and intrigue are unsurpassed!