Since Sicily we were planning our trip on the go. When we started this adventure we had planned everything up to Naples. From there on we based our destinations on interests and layovers becoming a place we would stay. This is how we also chose India. We had always wanted to visit the Taj Mahal so our main goal was to make it there and plan the rest around that. We chose to go first to New Delhi as this was a three hour drive from the Taj. We did not do a lot of research and did not know a lot about New Delhi other than it was a very busy and crowded city. Indeed it is busy and a lot to take in. Below are some suggestions from our experience on what to visit, how to do it and what we learned along the way:
- Oh traffic. New Delhi's traffic is real. Heavy traffic with cars, rickshaws, bikes, pedestrians, trucks, occasional cows and dogs across the road, etc. We hired a driver for the 4 days we were in Delhi and it was extremely helpful. It would have been quite difficult for us to navigate and move around as comfortably as we were able to. There are many affordable options to hire a driver to get you around the city. We used Taj Mahal Day Tour.
- What to see in Delhi: Visit Khan Market, Humayuns Tomb, Qutub Minar, Lotus Temple, Akshardham Temple, India Gate and Humayun's Tomb. Again we did this with a driver who dropped us off and picked us up at each location. This made it possible to visit most New Delhi sites in 24 hours.
- Taj Mahal: It is located in Agra which is about a 3-4 hour drive from New Delhi. We had our driver take us early in the am (left at 5 am-arrived around 9 am) and we returned the same day in the afternoon. Some people stay a night or two in Agra to visit other sites. We think one day trip is enough as you can also visit the other Agra sites in a few hours. The Taj Mahal is not easy to get to. This is something we learned as we experienced it. Cars are not allowed close to the Taj so our driver had to leave us outside one of the gates. Here we had to take a rickshaw closer to the gate. Agra is not exactly what we expected. It is a very polluted town. This is good to know so it doesn't surprise you. The rickshaw left us about 2 blocks from the gate. This was an intense and overwhelming walk. You will have many people offer tour guides, souvenirs, food, pictures, etc. They will follow you to the entrance…no matter how many times you say no. Unless you need any of these things just walk to the gate and get your tickets. Entrance tickets cost 1000 rupees each. Indian residents pay 40 rupees. Don't bring any food and just one camera and phone per person. Security is strict and your bags will be searched. Once you walk in you will see the amazing Taj behind the arches. It is breathtaking but…..you will still have a lot of people asking if you want a tour guide or your pictures taken. They will follow you and continue asking over and over. This can be very overwhelming and take away from the experience. So try to take a moment and enjoy the scene. Maybe plug in some headphones and take in the view. The Taj is very crowded and busy. So try to get there early in the am. We arrived around 9 am and it was packed. The Taj inside has a particular smell that is not the most pleasant. Wish we would have known ahead of time as it made us want to walk back outside quickly. We spent one hour touring around the Taj and that was enough for us. Sebastian got a lot of people asking to take a picture with him. This was the first of many and it was quite interesting. More on foreigners getting attention below!
- Food: As anywhere in India there is so much to explore when it comes to food. Indian food is quite amazing but for us foreigners it is wise to take a lot of precaution when exploring. Have you heard of Delhi Belly? Well this does happen. We both were very cautious of where we ate but still felt a little off here and there. We never got fully sick but did have some unusual stomach aches. So make sure to bring stomach meds and explore safely!
- Poverty and pollution: This is a reality that exists in India. This at times was hard for us to grasp. Why is there so much trash accumulated on streets? Why are so many families and children eating from it? At times it is very hard to see pass this. Its very present and you will see the contrasts over and over. Just be aware of this reality and try to help if you can.
- Attention/Stares: As a foreigner you will get attention. In no other country have we felt this much attention. You will get some intense looks and they will not look away. Sebastian got the most attention probably because of the lighter skin which seems to cause a lot of curiosity. They wanted to take pictures with him. Even though a lot of Indians thought I was Indian they still stared at me. This was probably due to my different clothing. As mentioned before locals will ask to take a picture with you and you will also see some people snapping pictures of you without your permission. This, at times was overwhelming for me in particular. As I am not used to these intense stares…that kind of go on forever. This was hard for me to get use to as sometimes it felt as an invasion of my personal space. Again this is part of the culture and probably no ill intention but hard to take in. Again….come with an open mind.