In Kolkata, we were often not quite sure whether the haze that would sometimes obscure the streets was benign, foggy moisture, or smog.
Back in Malaysia and Singapore, the more omnipresent haze had a very distinct source: the horrible forest burnings in Indonesia. It often smelled like a giant campfire, and felt like someone had punched us in both eyes.
In Delhi, we’re pretty sure which kind of haze there is based on a few things: its smell ranges from “fire smoke” to “outhouse,” we feel like we got in a bar brawl again, and we’ve got red eyes, scratchy throats and coughs, and runny noses. The traffic actually makes us a little wistful for Kolkata’s chaos, and the horns seem more omnipresent and strident.
It’s a pretty rough city.
But we’ve been trying to make the best of it
Number one, we met our parents here! They’re doing a long tour through several Indian cities and were able to meet us for a few days before it started. We went on a shorter bicycle rickshaw food tour in Old Delhi with them through When In India to start. It was pretty fun to explore the famous spice market and tour a Sikh temple, but we were so full to bursting with food that we all promptly fell asleep for hours after.
There were a couple more days of touring, for which I was unfortunately laid up in bed…India finally caught up with me and my stomach – that’s the sickest I’ve been in a long, long time. Bonnie and our parents, however, got to explore some of Delhi’s landmarks, like the Jama Masjid, the India Gate (from a distance), the Red Fort, Qutub Minar, and the Gandhi Memorial and Museum. Those tours really don’t mess around…and neither do Indian bacteria, apparently, as I spent most of that time in bed.
The highlight of Delhi that I got to participate in was a visit to Indian Accent. It’s been rated as the 77th best restaurant in the world and the 22nd best restaurant in Asia. Bonnie and I had been inspired by watching Netflix’s Chef’s Table to want to visit restaurants that treat food as art, where the whole visit is an experience and it’s very worth it to put extra energy into appreciating with all of one’s senses – luckily, the currency conversion rate made that possible for us here!
And the Taj Mahal
Indian trains and train stations: I’m not sure what to say: it’s like the rest of what we’ve experienced, but more so? The thing where there are people constantly cutting in lines is definitely worse. I had a manspreading battle and Bonnie got a half-decent train breakfast; all in all, it was an alright way to get to Agra.
Agra is about like wikitravel and other sources describe it: not a place you’d want to stay or spend any extra time in if you can help it. The park around the Taj Mahal was nice and relatively quiet, if still filled with touts who seemed surprised by Bonnie’s gender despite her wearing a skirt. Apparently, they’ve never seen a woman with short hair before.
The Taj Mahal, though, was everything it was chalked up to be – and even bigger than we’d ever imagined. It is just a massive, gorgeous structure, and it’s flatly astonishing to ponder it being built back in the 1600s, the sheer cost of it (the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars), and the fact that nothing’s really happened to it in the intervening centuries. And, there are green parrots and funny squirrel-slash-chipmunk creatures that try to climb up your leg. We’ve heard that you don’t need more than a quick visit, but we enjoyed spending several hours enjoying the grounds and the view and the people watching – it’s a really nice place.
On the way back to Delhi, we had to thank our lucky stars and a guardian angel of a fellow (who’s only reaffirmed our already existing feeling that Sikhs are awesome) that we got on the correct train. We’re still not sure we understand, but there were two trains with the same number, one arriving shortly after the other – we got on the right one, but only after a confusing series of dashes back and forth and the gentleman’s help. If you’re ever in trouble, look for a turban!