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Published March 27th 2020
Tigers, the Taj Mahal and so much more on India tour
When global travel gets back to normal, hopefully in the next few months, there is one destination that should be very high on people's lists. India, with the second-largest population in the world behind China, is very much a country of contrasts. But there were only two things on the mind of my wife and I when we embarked on India's much publicised Golden Triangle tour in February this year - Tigers and the Taj. The Taj was clearly the spectacular Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, while it was hoped that tigers would make an appearance during our included early morning safaris in the vast Ranthambore National Park. Fortunately, we weren't disappointed in either regard following our 10-day holiday with travel company Cosmos that included return flights to Delhi, the capital of India since 1911. Our tour of Delhi, which is divided into old and new, included Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in all Asia, an ancient stepwell complete with 103 steps, and Raj Ghat, the site where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. We also went on a cycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi, but be warned - the roads are in a poor state, and also don't expect sanitised views throughout India.
After two nights in Delhi, we took to the road in our air-conditioned coach for the second point of our triangle, Agra. The city is clearly synonymous with the Taj Mahal, built in the 17th century out of gleaming white marble as a memorial to the then emperor's wife. No amount of photos can truly prepare you for seeing the Taj Mahal, which took 22 years to complete, in the flesh. And, if you pay a little extra for your ticket, you can get to look inside the mausoleum, which is beautifully decorated with floral designs. It was well worth the wait while the Taj Mahal underwent an extensive and lengthy cleaning, comprising all four minarets and the stunning dome in the centre. But as undoubtedly impressive as the Taj Mahal is, Agra also boasts a second impressive destination. Agra Fort is a huge UNESCO World Heritage Site made out of red sandstone, which also gives it the name of the Red Fort. It was built around the same time as the nearby Taj Mahal, which can be seen across the fields from the fort.
After a visit to the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri, it was time to leave the Triangle by going on a train ride to Ranthambore National Park for a welcome two-night diversion. All thoughts of a 5.30am wake up call, and the resulting very cold weather - even the fact that our safari vehicle broke down - were all forgotten when an elusive tiger casually emerged out of the undergrowth just a few yards to our left. So, both my personal boxes - tigers and the Taj - were ticked, but there was another special sight in store after booking an optional afternoon safari later that day. Up in a tree, just a little way into the park, was a leopard clearly visible from the side of the road. Not only that, but it was still there, and this time facing our direction, when we went back at the end of our safari three hours later.
We had the option of a further morning safari the following day but chose to have a lie-in instead before we resumed our Golden Triangle tour with a coach trip to the 'Pink City' of Jaipur. The highlights of this fabulous city include the colourful City Palace Museum with its collection of paintings, weapons and costumes, an elephant village where I took the opportunity to ride one of these magnificent creatures, and the stunning Amber Fort which includes a collection of royal apartments and a dazzling Chamber of Mirrors. From Jaipur, where we also spent two nights, it was back to Delhi for our final night in India at an airport hotel.