In 2007, I made my first research trip. I’d had an enduring interest in Indian mythologies and architecture since I was a young teenager, so I decided it was finally time to head to India and see the culture and buildings for myself. I planned for a month-long backpacking trip around northern and central India, picking as many destinations as I felt I could reasonably reach by train. I can’t say thing went quite according to my every plan, but it turned into an amazing trip.
I first landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Incoming flights from Europe tend to arrive around midnight. I had arranged in advance for a hotel pickup, but the plane arrived later and, for whatever reason, baggage claim took way longer than normal. My driver was about ready to leave, I think, when I finally found him. I had, I think, two days in Delhi, so I asked my hotel to arrange a driver to take me to the major sites around the city. Among these, I saw Red Fort, a historic residence of the Mughal emperors from 1638 to 1771. Other stops included Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth checking out, and, of course, India Gate.
I took the train to Agra, the Mughal capital before Delhi and the site of the Taj Mahal. Since I had heard it best to visit the iconic site in the early morning, I spent the day of arrival touring Agra Fort. The next morning, I left before sunrise so that I could be inside the Taj as the sun came up, snaring some of the most incredible views imaginable.
Sitting on the Ganga (Ganges) River, Varanasi is considered a sacred city for many Hindus, who believe that bathing in the Ganga can wash away sin and help heal disease. Vast numbers of temples line river, and I got to see a cool evening fire ceremony.
From there I traveled to Jaipur, a city in Rajasthan famed for an area known as the Pink City. Jaipur also boasts several nearby forts worth checking out.
Next I headed to another Rajasthani city, Jaisalmer. The city is much smaller than Jaipur, but just as vibrant. My main reason for visiting, though, came in form of a camel desert safari I had booked. I went with a couple of guides who took me by jeep to the camels. We rode a while, an hour or so, then stopped. As the sun was setting, they built a fire and cooked fresh food for me over it. We headed back before it got truly dark.
Further south, but still in Rajasthan, lies the beautiful city of Udaipur, famed for the City Palace and Lake Palace. I wasn’t able to go out to that Lake Palace at that time, and the picture doesn’t really do it justice, but you can see the idea.
India’s largest city, Mumbai, lies in Maharashtra. Formerly known as Bombay, this island city did have some nice views … But became my least favorite spot on the trip. Traffic was nightmarish, and the hotel I had booked turned out pretty poor—among other issues, I awoke to find a mouse in my bag.
I had another tour booked, this one involving an overnight stay in Aurangabad, and trips to the cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora. These Buddhist temples are literally carved from rock faces, something you pretty much have to see to believe.
I took a train back from Aurangabad to Mumbai, then returned to Delhi for another tour—this one to Amritsar, a Punjabi city on the Pakistan border. The city is known for the horrific Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, and I visited the memorial. It is also known as the site of the stunning Golden Temple, a Sikh temple literally plated with gold.
I set off back to Delhi. On route, I met a local who spoke English well. She asked where I was headed next, and I told her Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). He kind of turned up his nose and told me, given all I had already seen, there was nothing new in Kolkata. I don’t know why I believed him. After three weeks of travel, maybe I just didn’t want to spend another twelve hours on a train. Either way, I cancelled those plans. And I’m glad I did … I didn’t have any particular plan to see much, as I’d already toured, so I just decided to take in the local ambience. That, of course, is when I met my future wife. After we hit it off, I wanted to change my flight, but the airline insisted I pay a change fee of 50 million dollars and my left kidney, so that was kind of out. My connection was, in fact, back through Mumbai again. Air India was so amazingly late (later I heard from locals that Air India is notorious for these things) I missed my Delta connection. Delta agreed to get me on a flight the next day (for a fee, as they said Air India is not their responsibility). It meant spending another night in Mumbai.
I have since returned numerous times to India and spent a great deal of time there, especially the year my wife and I married. We went together to the hill town of Manali to wonder at the Himalayas (we had an overnight stop over in Shimla but didn’t really see the city).
Together, my wife and I and her parents also visited the city of Ajmer (also in Rajasthan), and saw the famous sites there.
Since my marriage, I’ve also returned a few more times with the family, each time collecting new memories.