By Ravi Valluri
A group of Americans alighted from an Air France aircraft at the Indira Gandhi International airport in the wee hours of a chilly Delhi morning. After their passage through the rigmarole of customs check, they were received by officials of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation of India (IRCTC).
One of the overseas travellers remarked, “When I was a child, I used to read books voraciously. I would pore over passages and obsess over faraway lands. Only when I started travelling did I realize what the quote ‘it’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times’ is spot-on.”
They were a quartet, consisting of two couples. A prepossessing lady chipped in, “The gladdest moment in human life is a departure into unknown lands.” Her well-built and clean shaven partner added, this quote is by the celebrated trouper Richard Burton.
In response, the IRCTC official remarked, “This adventure crisscrossing the Golden Triangle will resonate in your minds forever.”
The couples were put up in an upmarket hotel in Luyten’s Delhi and the following morning they undertook a voyage across the capital city under the cover of salubrious weather conditions.
The romance of the city is as old as the classic colossus, The Mahabharata, when the town was known as Indraprastha. This is where the Pandavas are believed to have established their kingdom.
Over the centuries, eight more cities mushroomed adjacent to Indraprastha. These were Lal Kot, Siri, Dinpanah, Quila Rai Pithora, Ferozabad, Jahanpanah, Tughlaqabad and Shahjahanabad.
Singular among the dynasties that made Delhi their capital were the Tughlaqs, the Khiljis and the Mughals, each adding to make it a melting pot of diverse cultures and heritages. This city is a window to India, which helps to discover an entire new country, brimful of magical stories and wondrous experiences.
The Americans were enthralled visiting the Laxmi Narayan Temple, the fabled India Gate, the Parliament House, the Qutab Minar (where they tried to interlace themselves with the imposing and robust Ashokan Pillar), the ruins of Purana Qila, the majestic Humayun's Tomb with its neatly laid gardens, followed by the observatory of Jantar Mantar.
Jantar Mantar is situated in the modern city of New Delhi. It consists of 13 architectural astronomical instruments. The site is one of five built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, from 1723 onwards.
The excursionists were amazed at the history of several centuries; they soaked various contours, twists and turns at their resplendent hotel that evening over dinner.
The next pit stop, on the following day was the tour of the exalted Masjid-i Jahān-Numā, popularly known as the Jama Masjid of Delhi. This is one of the largest mosques in India.
It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, between 1644 and 1656 at a princely price of 1 million rupees, and was inaugurated by an Imam from Bukhara, present-day Uzbekistan.
This was followed by visiting the Red Fort which was the epicentre of Mughal dynasty, the mutiny and the famous Red Fort trials of INA prisoners and from whose ramparts the Prime Minister of India addresses the nation every 15th of August.
It is located in the centre of Delhi and houses a number of museums. As shadows lengthened and the weather turned cold the tippers spent time at the tranquil and sublime samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi. The evening was spent watching the son et lumiere at Red Fort before retiring to their opulent hotel.
At the crack of dawn, the globetrotters were escorted by the IRTC officials to traverse 309 kms by Shatabdi Express to the Pink City, Jaipur.
Jaipur is among the better planned cities of India, located in the semi-desert lands of Rajasthan. The city which was once the capital of the royalty is the capital city of Rajasthan. The very edifice of Jaipur resembles the taste of the Rajputs and the royal families.
The bag packers began the voyage of Jaipur by visiting the Amber Fort. Amber Fort is situated in Amer, a bijou town with an area of 4 square kilometres which is 11 kilometres from Jaipur. Perched high on a hillock it is the principal tourist attraction in Jaipur.
The capital of Rajasthan was coated pink a century ago in honour of a visiting Prince and ever since, it has retained this colour. It was assiduously built by Maharaja Jai Singh, the notable astronomer. This city is around 260 years old. The tourists visited the Jantar Mantar (and recollected the images of the one seen at Delhi) and Hawa Mahal. They were to spend the night at a grandiose hotel in Jaipur, streaming in the statuettes and nuggets of ancient, medieval and modern Indian history alongside the acclaimed architecture.
The sightseers travelled by Shatabdi Express covering 241 kms between Jaipur and Agra Fort where the globetrotters were housed at an estimable hotel and were soon to witness glorious history.
The name of the city is derived from the village called Sikri. This was the place where Sheikh Salim lived and spread the gospel of Sufism.
Emperor Akbar's son Jahangir was born at the village of Sikri in 1569 and the year Akbar began construction of Agra Fort and propagation of the religion and way of life called Din-i- Illahi (which borrowed ideas and thoughts from various faiths like Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity) to commemorate the Sheikh who had predicted the birth of his son.
Following Jahangir's second birthday, Akbar began the construction of a walled city and an imperial palace here. The city came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri or “The City of Victory", to commemorate conquest of `Gujarat in 1573.
The guests subsequently visited Agra and Taj Mahal. Agra is quintessentially mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, where it was called Agrevaṇa meaning "The Border of the Forest".
The peregrination dropped anchor at Taj Mahal, the mausoleum of Shah Jahan's favourite wife - Mumtaz Mahal and one of the New Seven Wonders of the world.
Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra. The monument was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. This mausoleum also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan, the builder.
“Indeed this is poetry carved in stone,” remarked the tourists as they retired for the day to the confines of their hotel and motored their way back to Delhi the next day to the airport to catch their flight back to Boston, with their minds subsumed with exotic Indian history.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta.
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