The “golden triangle” in India is the area made up of the three cities of Jaipur, Agra and New Delhi. This is arguably the most touristic area of India as the Taj Mahal sits in Agra and most people fly in through New Delhi just a few hours away. We decided to tackle these by flying from Mumbai to Jaipur, then by bus to Agra, then by car to the airport in New Delhi. While we didn’t have a ton of time in Jaipur or Agra, we really enjoyed our stays in each and got much more of a local experience as we stayed in homestays. This put us right in the middle of a local homes which have more or less turned into B&Bs. Both experiences were fantastic.
In Jaipur, the local family has been running the homestay for more than a decade and are a well-oiled machine. You get breakfast and dinner each night with them and they make amazing Indian dishes. At one point the wife was literally feeding me by hand to show me how to eat the food correctly which gave everyone a good laugh. In addition to the great home and food, it was in a solid location putting us short Uber rides away from all we wanted to see such as the Pink City, City Palace and Amber Fort. After all we’ve seen this year, the city wasn’t much to write home about but still a cool experience and coming for the food was worth it alone.
Our homestay in Agra was run by a local couple who mainly cater to German tourists as the gentleman was a German tour guide for years. The home was nice and had all we could have wanted and their meals were unreal. We even showed up late the first night after a long bus ride from Jaipur and the wife made me a HUGE plate of food at 10pm to make sure I didn’t go to bed hungry. It came with at least 4-5 different dishes. I couldn’t believe it but happily scarfed it all down while Katie just chose to go to bed early (sucker!).
The whole reason to go to Agra was to see the Taj Mahal, but we were a bit nervous as air quality in this area had been insanely bad in the months prior. The index rating for air quality goes from zero to 500 with 500 being the worst and anything over 300 being extremely bad for your health. Air in New Delhi and Agra had been between 500 and 999 (double the scales max…I seriously don’t know how). It was so bad people taking pictures at the Taj couldn’t even see the Taj because there was so much pollution in the air. Schools in the whole city were closed because the air was so bad children couldn’t go to class. We connected with a few travelers who were there before we went and assured us it was better. We just crossed our fingers and hoped we hit a good day with visibility (aka winds blowing through to move the smog) and luckily we did. While it still wasn’t crystal clear blue sky, we easily had enough visibility to get some shots. It helped that we showed up before it opened and were one of the first 50 through the gates, so we got some awesome and uninterrupted photos (below) before the hordes of travelers came through.
A little bit about the Taj Mahal. It’s an ivory white marble mausoleum on the Yamuna river which was commissioned by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in 1631 as a memorial tomb for his favorite wife, Mumta Mahal. She died giving birth to their 14th child and he was so saddened by the death of his Persian princess he spent nearly 20 years and the equivalent of 827 million USD to honor her. The work was completed by more than 20,000 artisans and is now visited by almost eight million tourists a year.
After our day of pictures, we had some more delicious local food then went back to relax and get ready for our flight the next morning out of New Delhi. We were happy we decided to drive to New Delhi and fly on the same day instead of staying in there at all because the air was so bad. From our taxi you couldn’t make out buildings if they were more than 300 feet away. It was insane and felt like you were in a dense fog but it was all pollution. Even from within the car you could feel it sting your nose and throat as you breathed. Katie even felt sick for a few days after and we can almost pinpoint it to the air she was breathing there.
Let’s just say we are glad we traveled through India as the people, the food and so much of the culture is amazing, but we couldn’t have been more excited to leave simply due to the air quality and sanitary conditions of everything. It also helped we were going to Thailand where we would spend Christmas with friends in Bangkok.