India – Amritsar, Golden Triangle & Varanasi

It’s been over a decade since our last visit to India so we were way overdue for a return trip. We didn’t cover too much new ground because we were traveling with family who were visiting India for the first time. But since we last visited the “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) back in 2003, we didn’t mind retracing our footsteps. However, we did manage to squeeze in a visit to a new destination which has been on our bucket list for way too long – the fabled city of Amritsar, the largest city in Punjab and home to the Golden Temple and Wagah Border Ceremony – a not to be missed spectacle between India and Pakistan!

Our 13 day itinerary was action packed – 6 cities, 3 train rides, 6 hotels, 1 boat ride and 1 domestic flight. Our group size ballooned up to 11 people, which was a bit challenging at times but we managed to keep our cool. Highlights were

1. Rickshaw ride through crazy Chandni Chowk, Delhi
2. Golden Temple in Amritsar
3. Wagah Border Ceremony in Amritsar
4. Amber Fort in Jaipur
5. Ruined city of Fatehpur Sikri
6. Taj Mahal – there’s a reason why its on every itinerary to India!
7. Naughty XXX rated carvings of Khajuraho’s temples
8. Evening aarti by the Ganges River in Varanasi
9. Shopping for fantastic bargains at Janpath Market, Delhi (be sure to haggle which is part of the fun)

Two weeks in India was enough to make us appreciate the serenity and calm of Saigon – we forgot how frenetic traffic in India can be! And the food…let’s just say Indian cuisine isn’t as varied or tasty as Vietnamese food. Overall, this was an adventure that no one will forget anytime soon. A fifth trip to India will definitely be in the works for us – perhaps Kerala, Goa, Kashmir or Ladakh?

Elephant statues flanking the entrance to Lahori Gate at the Red Fort; Delhi Posing with the elephants guarding the Red Fort; Delhi Delhi's most famous Jain temple, also serving as a bird hospital (Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir) Handsome old building near Chandni Chowk Cow transport; Chandni Chowk Street vendor; Chandni Chowk Rooftop view of the spice market; Chandni Chowk Sampling fruits and nuts at the spice market; Chandni Chowk Dried fruits and nuts display; Chandni Chowk Rickshaw transport in Old Delhi Transporting cargo on the streets of Old Delhi By mid-morning, traffic starts to pick up in Old Delhi Fresh pineapples for sale; Old Delhi Shoe seller; Old Delhi Lady wearing a colorful scarf; Old Delhi Zucchini vendor; Old Delhi Colorful reading spot tucked away in Old Delhi Tensions begin to mount in Old Delhi as the traffic becomes more unmanageable One of 30,000 unruly monkeys that calls Delhi its home Sari shop in Old Delhi Tailor shop; Old Delhi On the steps leading up to Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India Jama Masjid was completed in 1656, constructed of red sandstone and white marble. Up to 25,000 people can fit into the central courtyard View looking out to the central courtyard of Jama Masjid; Delhi Posing by the Delhi Gate of the Red Fort; Delhi Bob the rickshaw driver; Old Delhi India Gate, a 42 meter tall war memorial in Delhi The base of a second incomplete minaret at the Qutb Complex in Delhi Tomb of Iltutmish, famous for its ornate carvings; Qutb Minar Complex Di Phuong and Becky striking a pose with the carved columns of the Qutub Mosque Family photo in front of the impressive Qutb Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world Close up of the amazing detail at the base of the Qutb Minar - truly a sight to behold! Detail of the inscriptions of the main gateway (Alai Darwaza) to the Qutub Mosque Amritsar railway station Joining the crowd of over 20,000 spectators in the daily "Wagah-Attari Border Ceremony", a late afternoon spectacle between India and Pakistan A festival atmosphere pervades as the crowd gets excited for the flag lowering ceremony Indian pride! Smiling (despite the heat) as we wait for the Wagah Border Ceremony to start Indian school children look on in amusement at the Wagah Border Ceremony Two female border guards kick off the Wagah Border Ceremony to the crowd's delight The daily ceremony is a specatcular showmanship of the nationalistic pride between India and Pakistan. The spectators get whipped up to a patriotic frenzy in their support A young boy waving an "I Love India" flag; Wagah Border Ceremony Soldiers performing a series of choreographed kicks  and stomps; Wagah Border Ceremony After much pomp bravado, the flags of India and Pakistan are lowered; Wagah Border Ceremony A detail of soldiers marches the flag back to signal the end of the Wagah Border Ceremony Indian pride on full display at the Wagah Border Ceremony - a popular spot for both domestic and foreign visitors Sugarcane juice for sale; Attari A fabulous breakfast buffet at the Comfort Inn in Amritsar Gandhi mural; Amritsar Tandoori clay ovens for sale; Amritsar Melons for sale in colorful Amritsar The Maharaja Ranjit Singh Statue, a symbol of Sikh power during the 18th Century; Amritsar Bhangra Giddha Dance troupe statues near the Golden Temple in Amritsar Statue outside Jallianwala Bagh, commemorating martyrs of the 1919 massacre; Amritsar Bob meets a friendly Indian family visiting Jallianwala Bagh Family photo at Jallianwala Bagh, the memorial site of the 13 April 1919 massacre (Sikh pilgrims murdered by troops of the British Indian army) Robby showing off his mandatory head covering to visit the Golden Temple of Amritsar Visiting the beautiful Golden Temple of Amritsar The Golden Temple is one of the most revered spiritual sites of Sikhism; Amritsar Sikh pilgrims at the Golden Temple Robby taking countless selfies at the Golden Temple A rare moment of solitude; Golden Temple Thousands of pilgrims wait hours to enter the Golden Temple Even though the Golden Temple is open 24 hours a day, visitors still wait up to 6 hours to enter it during peak visiting hours Sikh visitors listen avidly to a religious address; Golden Temple We felt so bad for these pilgrims who were at the end of a very long line to visit the Golden Temple Dressed in their best to visit the Golden Temple Bob, Long and Ann posing with a Sikh guard at the Golden Temple Bob and Robby on the quest for gin; Amritsar Portrait of a bearded Sikh man; Amritsar Waiting to board the "Swarna Shatabdi Express" train linking Amritsar to Delhi Our comfortable 2AC seats on the Swarna Shatabdi Express (free water, juice, hot tea and meals served by train catering) Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal); Jaipur Elephants standing by to transport tourists up to Amber Fort; Jaipur Bob and Ann enjoying their elephant ride up to Amber Fort The first sight of UNESCO world heritage Amber (or Amer) Fort will take your breath away. Ambert Fort is Jaipur's most popular tourist drawcard Mini traffic jam as elephants squeeze through this portal in the Amber Fort's walls View overlooking Amer from the hill fortress Ganesh Pol Entrance; Amber Fort Colorful detail of Ganesh Pol (the Elephant God); Amber Fort Charbagh garden in the third courtyard of Amber Fort Amber's Fort's spectacular "Sheesh Mahal" or the Palace of Mirrors Window detail; Palace of Mirrors at Amber Fort Mirror portrait at the Palace of Mirrors; Amber Fort Intricate marble lattice work; Amber Fort View from Jas Mandir, a private audience hall for the Royal women of Amber Fort Sweeper taking a break; Amber Fort The oldest section of the Amber palace fort; Palace of Man Singh I Panoramic view of Man Singh I Palace and courtyard; Amber Fort Vendor selling Jhaal Muri, a mixture of nuts, puffed rice, tomatoes and onions; Amber Fort Hiking down from Amber Fort Amber Fort devoid of tourists in the mid-day heat Friendly Amer residents Jaipur's water palace (Jal Mahal) Indian tourists posing for photos near the water palace; Jaipur Clay pots by the roadside; Jaipur Ann, Anh Long and Robby trying to blend in; Jaipur Observatory (or Jantar Mantar), a series of 19 astronomical instruments built in 1734; Jaipur Another view of Jantar Mantar, designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye Colorful drink vendor; Jaipur Bhatura (or bhatoora), a fluffy deep fried bread, for sale in Jaipur Bangles! Stores selling souvenirs on Hawa Mahal road Colorful Pagri turbans for sale; Jaipur Handmade shoes in a variety of colors; Jaipur Bargain hard for souvenirs on Hawa Mahal Street; Jaipur One of Jaipur's many old city gates Central pillar from the Diwan-I-Khas; Fatehpur Sikri Posing at the House of the Turkish Sultana, one of the most ornate buildings of Fatehpur Sikri Interior detail of the House of the Turkish Sultana; Fatehpur Sikri Anup Talao, one of Fatehpur Sikri's water tanks Posing by the ground floor columns of "Panch Mahal", the wind-catcher tower of Fatehpur Sikri Gate to the courtyard of Jama Masjid; Fatehpur Sikri Group photo at Jama Masjid; Fatehpur Sikri Fatehpur Sikri dome detail Horseshoes on the door of Buland Darwaza (Victory Gate), Fatehpur Sikri Fruit vendor outside Jama Masjid; Fatehpur Sikri The massive Victory Gate (built in 1602 by Emperor Akbar) at the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri Posing in front of the Taj Mahal, the quintessential symbol of India Red sandstone mosque to the west of the Taj Mahal View looking back towards the main gate of the Taj Mahal Becky and Ann jumping in front of the Taj Mahal (a 22 year labor of love built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal) The main gate to the Taj Mahal (Darwaza-i rauza) has identical northern and southern facades Foreigner ticket booth for the Taj Mahal (tickets are a whopping 1000 Rupees!) Agressive monkeys accost visitors for food; Taj Mahal Entrance to the Agra Fort Palace inside Agra's Fort Faux window detail; Agra Fort Panorama of an interior courtyard; Agra Fort The level of intricate detail of Agra's Fort will blow your mind. It took 1.4 million workers over 8 years to build this massive military complex The Agra Fort served as the model for the Red Fort in Delhi when Emperor Shah Jahan decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi The Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audiences, was built to receive important guests; Agra Fort A hazy view of the Taj Mahal as seen from the Agra Fort The octagonal tower of Musamman Burj, where Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son for 8 years. Luckily, he had a view of the Taj Mahal from his marble balcony Interior of Musamman Burj (with a beautiful carved fountain in the center); Agra Fort Agra Fort is still a functional military base with the majority of it off limits to tourists. We were still able to explore a decent area of the fort The beautiful Pearl Mosque (Moti Masjid) of Agra Fort Throne alcove inside the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Audience); Agra Fort Another view of Diwan-i-Aam, the audience hall where members of the public could air their grievances to Emperor Shah Jahan The massive Delhi Gate of Agra Fort Robby and the security guard at our Pushp Villa hotel; Agra Cooling off from the relentless heat; Pushp Villa Waiting for the 2 hour train to Jhans; Agra Railway Stationi Playing cards on the short Bhopal Shtabdi train ride to Jhansi A mixture of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain temples make up the Khajuraho Temple Complex, which is a UNESCO world heritage site Lakshmana Temple, the most erotic of Khajuraho's temples. We were amazed to learn that only 25 of the original 85 temples built in the 11th Century remain today Sex scenes of Lakshmana Temple Check out the intricate detail on Khajuraho's one woman is getting felt up, another is applying eye shadow Erotic carvings of Khajuraho's Western Temples An example of bestiality while a woman in the background covers her eyes; Lakshmana Temple Sex acts galore in this section of XXX rated Lakshmana Temple A small sample of the thousands of carvings at Khajuraho's temple complex Exterior wall carvings; Khajuraho Temple Complex Group photo by the massive Lakshmana Temple Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, the largest and most ornate Hindu temple in the Khajuraho temple complex Family photo at Kandariya Mahadeva Temple; Khajuraho Lion sculpture; Khajuraho Temple Complex Ganesha statue in the lobby of our hotel; Khajuraho Temple View Morning Ganga aarti (prayer for the Ganges River); Varanasi Sadhu in yoga position Sunrise over the Ganges River A woman walks past a mural painted on one of Varanasi's many ghats Sunrise boat ride on the Ganges In holy places such as Varanasi, Hindu women shave off their hair as an offering to God One of Varanasi's 88 ghats (riverfront steps leading down to the River Ganges) Sadhu school Washing laundry in the Ganges River Camel rides on offer for early morning Varanasi visitors Catching fish in the Ganges A vendor rows over to sell us trinkets Another view of chaotic Varanasi from the peaceful Ganges One of the burning ghats (cremation site) of Varanasi Despite the high level of fecal coliform in the Ganges River, people still flock to bathe and drink it Varanasi view Cows galore in holy Varanasi Hindu temple scene; Varanasi Worshippers; Hindu temple in Varanasi Sadhus are a common sight in Varanasi Street scene; Varanasi Where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon; Sarnath Monks praying by the Dhamek Stupa; Sarnath Mulagandhakuti Vihara, Sri Lankan Buddhist temple at Sarnath Flower garlands for sale; Sarnath Lord Buddha Statue; Sarnath Domestic tourists; Sarnath Posing with a replica of the Ashoka pillar capital of Sarnath Gandhi looking over a vegetable seller; Varanasi Late afternoon traffic jam; Varanasi Wedding party; Varanasi Temple detail; Varanasi Bob making friends at the Ganga Aarti Preparing for the evening aarti, a spiritual and uplifting ceremony Signaling the beginning of the aarti ritual Sadhu at the aarti ceremony Priests preparing for the aarti Detail of one of the priests performing the nighly aarti ritual Priests performing incense puja; Dashashwamedh Ghat Spectators watch the aarti from the Ganges River Aarti ceremony performed at another Ghat along the Ganges No one bothers the cow spectator watching the evening aarti ritual Ann and Bob smile as we sit patiently in the after-aarti traffic jam; Varanasi A look at the chaotic scene in the opposite direction as traffic comes to a standstill Street vendors at Janpath Market; New Delhi Loads of amazing bargains to be had at Janpath Market, our favorite place to shop in Delhi Earrings under 100 Rupees each; Janpath Market in New Delhi Becky modeling a pink/green sari; New Delhi foto gallery lightboxby v6.1

Creating an India itinerary in Vietnamese helped Becky’s family prepare for their first visit to this magnificent country.

Our itinerary (booked through was supposed to be the following (but we ended up modifying it to suit our needs):

Day 01: Arrive Delhi. Check into Good Times Hotel (near Karol Bagh metro station)

Day 02: Delhi sightseeing tour. Visit Raj Ghat (the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi), Shanti Vana (the cremation site of Jawaharlal Nehru) and Jama Masjid. Afternnoon visit to Qutub Minar (built in 1199), Humayun’s Tomb, India Gate and Lakshminarayan Temple (a modern Hindu Temple). Overnight at Good Times Hotel.

Day 03: Delhi – Amritsar. Take train to Amritsar. In the afternoon visit Wagah Border to watch the flag ceremony between India and Pakistan. Stay overnight at Comfort Inn Alstonia.

Day 04: Amritsar – Delhi. Visit the Golden Temple – a “mecca” for Sikhs. Then visit Jallianwala Bagh, infamous site where British and Gurkha soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering on April 13, 1919. After lunch visit Maharaja Ranjit Singh Summer Palace Museum. Afternoon transfer to railway station for train back to Delhi. Overnight at Good Times Hotel.

Day 05: Delhi – Jaipur. Drive 260 km to Jaipur. Overnight at Park Ocean Hotel (swimming pool).

Day 06: Jaipur. Visit the Amber Fort, ascending by elephant. Afternoon sightseeing tour of Maharaja’s City Palace, the Observatory and Ram Niwas Gardens. Overnight at Park Ocean Hotel.

Day 07: Jaipur – Agra. Drive 240 km to Agra, stopping enroute to visit the ruined city of Fatehpur Sikri, a fine example of Mughal architecture dating from 1571 – 1585. Overnight at Pushp Villa Hotel.

Day 08: Agra. Visit the Taj Mahal, a magnificent marble building that took 22 years to construct. After breakfast, visit the Agra Fort. Overnight at Pushp Villa Hotel.

Day 09: Agra – Jhansi – Khajuraho. Take early morning train to Jhansi. Meet representative and drive 180 km to Khajuraho. Visit the famous temples of Khajuraho. Overnight at Khajuraho Temple View Hotel.

Day 10: Khajuraho – Satna – Varanasi. After breakfast drive 116 km to Satna railway station. Take train from Satna to Varanasi. Overnight at Zeeras Hotel.

Day 11: Varanasi. Early morning sunrise cruise at the river Ganges followed by Ghats temple tour. After breakfast, visit Sarnath Deer Park. Enjoy a river aarti in the evening by the Ghat. Overnight at Zeeras Hotel.

Day 12: Varanasi – Delhi. Midmorning flight back to Delhi. Free time in Delhi for sightseeing or shopping. Overnight at Good Times Hotel.

Day 13: Delhi. Free day for sightseeing or shopping. Evening flight back to Saigon.

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