BY TIASHA BHUIYAN ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR
The City Palace (all images courtesy of Tiasha Bhuiyan)
What we think of India ,we often picture violence, poverty, and exploitation which is a rather biased narrative erasing the true identity of the country and its people. When I think of India, I think back to history class and learning of maharajas and moguls. I also think of food. I finally got the chance to experience all sides of India this summer and this is how it all went down in my eight day visit.
We arrived in Delhi and spent about half an hour in the e-visa line at the airport, so plan accordingly. That said, don’t leave the airport before trying a Ferrero Rocher flavoured kulfi! Unreal. If you’re into Bollywood or movies in general, I’d recommend visiting Kingdom of Dreams which is basically a version of LA’s Hollywood Studios. Enjoy dining under a false sky and touring movie sets. They also perform an original musical every night to give a sense of culture (we all enjoyed seeing Zangoora; The Gypsy Prince!). The next day was all about historical sites. You haven’t seen intricate architecture until you see the carvings in Qutb Minar – each pillar has a different design made by hand over a thousand years ago. Humayun’s Tomb is also worth walking up a steep flight of stairs for.
Our next stop was Agra, a four hour drive away, to see the iconic Taj Mahal. We went early in the day, but the key is to visit at sunset to see the white marble glow pink. A quick tip about these large tourist spots, don’t stop for beggars or hire a guard on site – pick pockets operate when you’re distracted. Don’t be alarmed though, you won’t get jumped! Also, bring an extra shirt and lots of water – you’ll need it in the 40 degree weather.
The Taj Mahal
Our third destination, by plane, was Jaipur. This was my favourite stop, mostly because the city was painted entirely terracotta pink. A gated area called “pink city” holds City Palace, where the royal family still resides (keep your eye open for the 19 year old Rajkumar). The forum and the peacock gate are ideal photo spots and are usually pretty empty by the end of the day. The palace also has a “museum” which is more of a gift shop but you can watch artists work and the goods are fairly reasonably priced (if you bargain). Another amazing site is the Amer Fort built on a hill – the only way up is by foot, jeep, or elephant! I’d recommend the latter – it’s an experience you won’t forget. Professional photographers will even capture some shots and put together an album you can purchase for under $15. We ended our stay at Jaipur with Chokhi dhani, a culture festival, full of music and food and camel rides! If you’ve never rode a camel, my advice is to just hold on for dear life.
Our last stop was Calcutta, again by plane, mostly for shopping. However, we took a day to see the Victoria Memorial (make sure to walk to the back to get a picture next to the reflecting pool) and visit Mother Theresa’s house and museum.
Bhuiyan at the City Palace
The food throughout the trip was great and, thankfully, didn’t give us food poisoning. We had a guide in each city to direct us to authentic places. One restaurant had live performances and even convinced me to join in on the dancing! Vegetarian menus are endless since Hinduism is prominent but don’t expect beef any time soon. Calcutta has the best papri chaat – a street food similar to nachos but with a lot more spice. Masala (spice) tea is also a must. Honestly, don’t skip out on street food – it’s good to be careful, but every Indian will tell you it’s worth it.
India is also great for shopping- and you don’t have to break the bank to bring back some quality pieces. I bought handmade shoes from the museum in Jaipur for about $8 and traditional dresses in Calcutta for about $15. Also, know what to shop for in each location. Agra is famous for white marble products and glowing red stone. Jaipur has every gem you can name. The store we went to had a free (scary accurate) palm reading service to recommend which stone is best for you (I got aquamarine to control my energy). If you’re looking for traditional clothes, Calcutta has the most variety and good prices. If you’re as brave as the locals, you can stroll through New Market – a street market that’s very crowded and slightly sketchy but as authentic as it gets (hey, my purse and I both came out fine). Speaking of authentic, beware of your guide’s recommendations. If they take you to a place full of foreigners, you’re probably going to get ripped off so either start bargaining or ditch and follow the locals!
So, that was my short but packed trip to India. I learned more about royal families and empires, ate all the chicken tandoori I could and filled half my suitcase with new clothes. My India experience, although containing bad traffic and crowds, was colourful and grounding.