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Trading Metallica For India’s Golden Triangle

April 25, 2012

The ‘Golden Triangle’ is a popular tourist route encompassing three of the most visited cities in North West India: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. You’d think a tour of the three big hitters would be top of anyone’s list when visiting North India for the first time, but for us it was more of a plan B… 

I’ve been to India only once so far and have talked about my maiden voyage in a previous post, but having done so much whilst I was there one mention seemed barely sufficient. So I thought it might be useful to talk a little more about some of the places worth visiting. I know when I was first planning my trip, sat on my bedroom floor with maps and guide books spread out all around me, I felt slightly overwhelmed as I read about the countless temples, museums and markets all of which came highly recommended. In an attempt to narrow down my options I started writing a shortlist (complete with addresses, map references and all colour coded). This out of character organisation seemed like a great idea at the time, but five minutes in and I had already filled up a good ten pages of my notebook. My priority list had become a guidebook of it’s own and was no smaller than the one I was referring to. So in the end I decided to leave it up to the gods and the friends I was travelling with, to make the decisions when we got there and we could use my notebook as a back up.

So naturally, the decision to tour the Golden Triangle was actually a very last minute one. We had originally journeyed to India not just because it was somewhere we’d all wanted to visit, but also because there happened to be a Metallica concert taking place there (the first ever Metallica gig in India). As lovers of rock music, it was an opportunity we weren’t going to miss and I could only imagine what a rock concert in India would be like. In all honesty when I first booked the tickets I wasn’t a huge Metallica fan. In fact I’d only heard a few of their songs and couldn’t even name the members of the band, but after dedicating my ipod to Metallica for a whole week on the lead up to our trip, I knew it was going to be an epic concert and I couldn’t wait to see them perform live.

But we never did get to see Metallica play. We got to the venue in Gurgaon early in the day to pick up our tickets and were armed with our confirmation emails and not much else (we were in gig mode and didn’t want to burden ourselves with lots of bags). We got into the already heaving queue and waited for approximately four hours under the intense midday sun, as a couple of concert officials sat at laptops checking bookings whilst a small team of helpers united concert tickets with their owners. You’d think that anyone who’d booked their tickets online and received a confirmation email would be guaranteed a ticket, not so. Lots of people were turned away, being told their booking couldn’t be found. As a result the four hour queue was more than a long wait for us, it was two hundred and forty minutes of agonising uncertainty, as we didn’t know if we would actually get what we were queuing for.

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Standing amongst hundreds of sweaty rockers, who were getting very impatient and probably quite badly sunburnt, it dawned on me that we should probably assume the worst to avoid major disappointment. As if to reinforce the hopelessness of our situation, a roar would erupt from the crowd every so often to signify that someone had actually managed to get their hands on a ticket. You may think this was a positive sign but when I say every so often, I mean very occasionally – it’s as if they were the lucky ‘chosen ones’ as they walked back through the crowd to high fives and back slaps from the other hopefuls who were still waiting.

Much to our surprise we were successful in getting our tickets, emerging from the crowd to a roar of our own as we clutched the precious brown envelope and headed straight for the arena. When we got inside we were greeted with a near empty stadium, which we quickly surmised was because the majority of the audience were still trying to get in! We spared a thought for our fellow Metallica fans waiting outside before congratulating ourselves, as we realised we could now get a spot right at the front.

I’m aware that this post is meant to be about the Golden Triangle and not a doomed Metallica concert, so to cut a long story short the gig never went ahead. The news was broken by a poor soul recruited as spokesman, who took to the stage clearly nervous, as he addressed a raging crowd of metal heads – us included (I wouldn’t call us metal heads but we were certainly amongst the raging crowd.) The organisers of the concert had breached some major safety regulations and had subsequently been arrested. Promptly after being told the gig was cancelled a riot kicked off and people started surging forwards, setting fire to banners and  attempting to storm the stage. Needless to say we didn’t stick around.

The whole point of telling you this was to put our trip to North India’s big hitters into context – we were bitterly disappointed that the gig had been cancelled and felt that we deserved something special to go in it’s place, thus the Golden Triangle road trip was born. I want to mention here that our hotel did a great job of organising everything for us, it was actually the hotel staff  that suggested the trip when they heard what had happened. They arranged for a driver to pick us up at six in the morning and drive the five hours to Agra where we would see the iconic Taj Mahal, before driving a further four hours to Jaipur where we would check in to a hotel for the night. The next day would be ours to explore ‘The Pink City’, as Jaipur is also known. I believe many of the hotels in Delhi offer variations of this trip and all roughly within the same price bracket, but our deal was made all the better by our driver, who added an extra special something to our tour.

Johny, who was more of a driver and a tour guide rolled into one, was a very interesting character. He had an impressive cultural and historical knowledge of his country, which I tested to the limit by asking countless questions which he seemed happy to oblige with enthusiastic and detailed answers. But my education didn’t stop there, I was also treated to a lesson in Indian music for which I’ll be forever in Johny’s debt, as I can now say that I am a big fan of Bollywood remixes. We spent most of our journey listening to what I can only describe as the best home made compilation CD I have ever heard. It contained a whole variety of bangra music from club tunes to love ballads, which when combined with the amazing scenery rushing past my window, made for the best possible theme music to accompany our drive. I’ll never forget one particular high energy, effusive song called ‘Lucky’ which fitted perfectly with the sight of precarious motorists zipping by, whose vehicles were piled high with people hanging on for dear life from all angles.

To document our tour in a logical order I’ll start with our first stop off – a dusty, run down roadside cafe. We’d been on the road since 6am and were getting quite hungry so when Johnny asked us if we’d like some breakfast we eagerly agreed, we also eagerly agreed to go for the ‘cheap’ option when asked if we’d prefer to eat in a ‘luxury’ or ‘basic’ establishment. At the time I very much regretted making this hasty decision, but on reflection it was worth it for the comedy value. I can still remember the dread I felt as I saw the same roti bread we’d just eaten being beaten down on a dirty and fly ridden surface, before being tossed onto a plate and served up to the the table opposite us. Immediately I was certain our luck had run out on the ‘Delhi Belly’ front and that we’d be subjected to some awkward and embarrassing emergency stops on the motorway. However to our credit and my never-ending gratitude, our stomachs must have been made of stronger stuff than I’d thought and I can happily say that no emergency stops were made!

As we finally neared Agra and the legendary Taj Mahal we started to get fidgety, partly because we’d been squashed up in the car for quite a while but mainly because we couldn’t wait to see one of the seven wonders of the world. But before we got out of the car we were heavily cautioned by Johny. He insisted that we should be extremely wary of pick pockets and rogue souvenir sellers, that we keep our heads down and keep walking until we got safely through the gates and into the main grounds. This was a trait we learned to love about Johny – every time we got close to doing something exciting he would scare us with a story…all with good intentions I’m sure and I believed what he was saying, but I also took it with a slight pinch of salt.

Anyway, cautions aside we were itching to get our first glimpse of the mausoleum. As we approached, I parted from my three friends to join the female queue as they headed for the male line, this is something I had become accustomed to since first encountering gender queuing at the various security points in the metro station. I was especially happy with this queuing system as I always seemed to sail through mine, while the boys would be kept waiting behind a backlog of other male queuers.

Once we were inside I was surprised by my own reaction. I’m not sure if I should be ashamed of what I’m about to say, but I will be completely honest. The sight of the Taj Mahal was magnificent and it was a real privilege to be able to see it first hand, but after that initial feeling wore off and we headed closer, I have to admit that I found myself feeling like I’d missed something. Don’t get me wrong the way the brilliant white marble dominated the landscape was impressive, enhanced even more by the romantic story behind it’s construction, but I think perhaps I had built it up too much in my head. Maybe I can liken it to the feeling of finally getting to meet your idol and although they are still brilliant, the encounter reminds you that they are not gods and are in fact still only human.

I can’t have been the only one with this thought because as we were wandering around the grounds, countless people were asking us for photographs and turning their lenses away from the main attraction to take our picture. I’m not for one minute suggesting that we were a better sight than the Taj Mahal, but it was amazing to see the extent to which people (mostly school children) would go to get a  good shot of us. Some even planned it all out, waiting in the wings until we got level with them before jumping out and signalling to their friend to take the photo. At one stage we were so used to posing for other people’s photos that when a couple called us over and pointed to their camera, we laughed and headed over for yet another shoot only to realise that they wanted us to take the photo of them and not to be in it ourselves. Highly embarrassed and quite rightly reminded that not everyone wanted an everlasting image of us on their cameras, we took the photo for them and walked away rather sheepishly.

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After strolling around the gardens and looking at the little museum that was open to visitors we decided to head back to the car, where we knew Johny would be waiting to whisk us off to the second point on our triangular tour – Jaipur.

Jaipur was an unexpected gem that I would recommend to anyone wanting a bit of everything. After a nights stay in a lovely hotel we got up at 8am to be the first in line to ride one of the kings elephants, all of which were decorated in brightly coloured paints. We rode the elephants at a steady pace up a reasonably steep hill atop of which stood one of my favourite buildings to date – ‘The Amber Fort’. I could have got lost for hours within it’s ever winding and ornately decorated walls, each twist and turn revealing yet another chamber to explore and every room I entered had some unique quirk or feature. It was easy to leave the other tourists behind as you wandered from one rampart to another and a glance out one of the many windows or over the fort’s walls would grant you a view that you will never forget.

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Personally, I think the Amber Fort puts the Golden into Golden Triangle; gorgeous elephants – check, historical and architectural magnificence – check, spectacular views –  check, what more could one of the oldest forts in Rajasthan possibly offer us? Well, there was live music being played in the main square, whose heavy drumbeat and Indian pan pipes could be heard from anywhere within the fort. There was also plenty of shopping opportunities with lots of souvenirs to haggle for. One particularly persistent seller actually followed me all the way down to the very bottom of the hill, in the hope that I would agree to buy a hand carved ornament from him. Of course I ended up buying the item, not least because I was very impressed with his determination to secure a sale.

Before we left the fort for good, there was one more treat in store – snake charming and we’d be the ones doing the charming. This was all very entertaining as we took it in turns to put on a  hat and attempt to play an instrument we’d never seen before, whilst eyeing a dangerous looking cobra. That is until I crouched, camera poised, in front of my friend and the snake he was attempting to charm, only to see through my view finder that the cobra was making a beeline straight for me! I have attached a photo as I happened to catch the moment perfectly before fleeing to the other side of the square.

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After visiting the Amber Fort we had the chance to shop to our hearts content as we perused the many family run stores that sold teas, spices and musical instruments. However the real highlight of our retail therapy was the silk shop that Johny took us to. It sold everything from scarves and quilts to tailor made suits – all of which we bought and all of which had been made on the premises. I think it’s enough to say that even the boys were excited, even more so than me, as they spent nearly everything they had before getting out their cards to spend even more. I think we got a little caught up in the moment but it was worth it to be able go back to England and sleep wrapped up in an enormous, deep blue, silken duvet, adorned with hand stitched golden elephants.

Once we’d bought enough gifts for loved ones back home we bundled into our faithful car and hit the road for a final time. We were headed for Delhi with music blaring out of the  car speakers and us attempting to sing along, as by now we’d got the hang of how each song went. At one point our merry sing along was cut abruptly short; we were driving at speed through the night when a white figure shot out into the road and collided with our car. We had hit one of the many stray dogs that stalked the motorway and it was killed instantly by the impact. We observed a long and solemn silence for the animal as we slowly recovered from the shock. After a while Johny attempted to lighten the mood by turning the volume up once again and filling the car with the now familiar songs we’d grown to love.

My friends will lay testament to how well the music went down (collision aside) as we listened to our favourite tracks on repeat for a good remainder of the drive home…in fact at the end of our journey Johny gave me the CD as a gift and it was the best souvenir I could ever have asked for. I can remember thinking at the time that I was happy to trade in a live set from Metallica for the songs on this homemade CD, which held so many wonderful memories.

…I still want to see Metallica play live though!

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From → 2011 Travels

2 Comments
  1. I love your spirit…you made the best of the worst situation and enjoyed yourself with an open mind.

    • Thank you 🙂 it really was a wonderful trip. I always try to keep an open mind when travelling and visiting new places…now I just need to try and be more carefree during everyday life, when things aren’t always as exciting!

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