My First Wonder of the World : Exploring India

I never thought I would have been inspired by “An Idiot Abroad” and I really hope I don’t fall into that category when I travel! But having watched the episodes about the Seven Wonders of the World it really gave me the urge to start ticking them off my list! So in September, Ryan and I were lucky enough to start doing just that!

We had the pleasure of taking a weekend break to the mystical country that is India to visit the Taj Mahal! The flight from Dubai to New Delhi is only 3 hours so it’s perfect for a short weekend break. When we arrived in New Delhi however, the queues at customs took almost as long as the flight! We decided to stay at the Taj hotel in Delhi, and being an Indian branded hotel we felt it was perfect for our stay. The hotel was a beautiful rustic building hidden behind a gated wall and with security present 24 hours of the day, we felt very safe. The hotel was super clean and we had an unlimited supply of bottled water which is crucial for your stay in New Delhi. We arrived late at night so made sure to get straight to sleep to make the most of the weekend.

Day One – New Delhi

Ryan was up much earlier than I was and headed out for a day of golf. As Ryan is a member at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai he was able to play at DLF Golf and Country Club, one of the exclusive courses in Delhi which has a membership waiting list of 80 years! I however, decided to do some exploring of my own in this wonderful city. So I booked a private tour guide that I found highly recommended on Tripadvisor. I chose Drive India Private Tours because they were recommended for solo female travellers wishing to explore New Delhi.

I had my own driver and my own tour guide and we started the day by visiting Jama Masjid Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in India. One thing I had under-prepared for was the amount of extra money I would have to pay for tips here and there so I would say it’s best to take a lot of smaller notes with you.

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After Jama Masjid Mosque we walked to see the spice market but because we were quite early the stalls were only still being set up! I didn’t mind because I hadn’t planned on buying anything anyway but I just loved being in amongst the hustle and bustle of it all! Cows walking along the road, bags after bags of local produce being unloaded it really was a buzz!

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We walked around all the little side streets of the old part of town and yes, people stared but it’s only because this most definitely was not a tourist area but at no point did I feel uncomfortable.

We then drove to visit Ghandi’s tomb and burial place. My tour guide was so informative and told me all about the history of Ghandi’s teachings and the relevance that his teachings have today in modern life. After, we visited Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, this was my favourite part of the day. It was a beautiful Sikh temple and we sat inside listening to the Granthi reciting from the scriptures. We then went to the kitchen and I was astounded. The kitchen is run purely from donations from the worshipers and local community. The kitchen feeds over 25,000 people per day and is run purely from volunteers! This absolutely amazed me. What I didn’t know, was that for a Sikh worshiper to complete their prayer, they must make a charitable donation or a good deed. I walked around the kitchen to see all of the volunteers making bread, cooking curry in cauldrons, serving the food and washing up. I was amazed.

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My next stop was to a Hindu temple Akshardham and I learnt about the thousands of Hindu gods and the fortune they bring. This building was absolutely stunning but sadly no cameras or electronics were allowed inside the grounds, so I had to settle for a postcard!

Finally we visited the Lotus Temple, although as we arrived it started pouring down with rain! The lotus temple is a multi-faith temple which encourages worshippers of any religion to go and pray and spend some time there. The temple is shaped like a lotus flower and symbolises peace and harmony. I love the idea of a multi-faith temple that sees all religions and worshippers as equal and allows them to pray side by side.

I had an incredible day exploring New Delhi and was so lucky to have been able to cram so much in! That evening, we went for dinner at the Bukhara in the ICT hotel. The restaurant was lovely with a rustic vibe and Bedouin style seating, as well as stools and ordinary seating! We were given aprons and told it was customary to eat with our hands – that was fine but I ended up with kebab all down my wine glass! We really wanted to try the large naan bread but this is made for 8-10 people and although we were hungry, we couldn’t justify that amount of food!

Day Two – Agra, Taj Mahal

We booked our day trip to the Taj Mahal via our hotel, I know this was more expensive  but as this was the main reason we were visiting India, we booked through the hotel for ease. We left the hotel at 7am and the drive to Agra took around 2.5-3 hours. The roads felt like we were driving along a British motorway for the best part of the journey! When we arrived in Agra however, the vibe in the city was very different.

Our hotel had arranged for a tour guide to meet us in Agra, we purchased entrance tickets for foreigners which cost Rs. 1,000pp but drastically reduced our queuing time – I would highly recommend choosing this route in. The foreigners ticket includes shoe covers (which are required for entry inside the Taj Mahal) a water bottle and a tourist map of Agra; it also acts as a queue jump ticket ahead of the Indian ticket holders.

As we entered the gates, the view really was breath-taking. I don’t think it’s possible to take a bad photo of such a beautiful building! We slowly made our way around the grounds, and our guide also acted as our private photographer!

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I was astounded by how much thought has gone into the detail of each part of the building and how, even after all of this time, the outer building is still in pristine condition. We learnt about how the marble is inlayed with semi-precious gemstones and how they have remained that way since 1633 when the construction of the Taj Mahal first began. Our guide really brought the history of the building to life!

As beautiful as the Taj Mahal is, I was underwhelmed by the inside of building which is essentially a tomb, although the story of the history makes it much more romantic.

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Before leaving the grounds, I was so happy to be able to have my photo taken on the same chair as Princess Diana, although my photo is much more crowded than hers.

If you are planning a trip to the Taj Mahal, note that it does not open on Friday’s as it closed purely for worshippers. When entering the Taj Mahal your bag will be searched by security and each person is limited to taking in only one small bag containing essential items such as a camera, phone and water bottle. No other electrical items or food/drink is allowed to be taken inside the gates.

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