India has always been on my bucket list ever since I met this globetrotting couple in Philippines via Couchsurfing six months back. Having stayed in India for three months, they had a wealth of stories to share and their experiences tempted me to see India for myself.
Tempted as I am, I must admit I was a little afraid of travelling to India as I heard it can be a little “rough”. However, I must say that this trip to Lucknow and Agra organised by Tigerair completely put me at ease for future travels.
If you’re travelling to India for the first time, I would recommend joining a tour (like I did) or at least travel with a local for these reasons:
- Navigating the streets can be confusing for first timers
- Having someone local helps you understand the culture better, especially if you can’t speak Hindi
- It’s safer for women to travel in groups, especially foreigners
I did my tour with Sheeraz Tour, who did a great job in ensuring everyone’s safe and taking care of our needs.
Here are the highlights from my 4-day trip in Lucknow and Agra!
Crashing an Indian Wedding
This is certainly one of my more memorable travel experiences. I mean, how many of us can say that we’ve crashed a wedding before? Weddings are lavish events in India. A traditional Indian wedding lasts an average of three days and can cost up to 500,000 USD! That’s 10 times the price of a pretty high class wedding in Singapore.
According to our local guide, the Indians spend so much time, effort and money on weddings, their British colonial masters used to call them “sentimental fools”. If you ever pass by a wedding procession, bug your driver to stop and join in the festivities. It’s an experience you will not regret.
Seeing the Taj Mahal in real life
I’ve been to many parts of the world and seen many famous monuments but nothing comes close to experiencing the Taj Mahal in real life. The Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 16th century as a mausoleum in the city of Agra to mourn his loving wife Mumtaz Mahal and it remains a testimony to their romance till today.
First step into the Taj Mahal, I instantly understand why the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World – The Taj Mahal is perfect right down to every single detail. Entering the mausoleum grounds, I was greeted by a perfectly symmetrical garden with the Taj Mahal lying magnificently in the background. The symmetry runs right through the Taj Mahal itself, until the empress’s tomb.
However, what struck me most was the amount of effort that goes behind the Taj Mahal. Our guide told us that the entire mausoleum is constructed purely with white marble transported from 400km away and built by no less than 20,000 men.
A lot of thoughts went into the interior, the exterior to the fine details. I was totally blown way when I learnt that the scriptures written on high panels are slightly bigger to prevent skewing effect when an observer views them from bottom up. The amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into the construction of the Taj Mahal alone is a valid reason to make the monument a must-see in India.
Roaming around the Bara Imambara
The Bara Imambara in Lucknow, is my favourite building after the Taj Mahal. The Shia Muslims built it as a shrine in the 17th century. The interesting fact is I found out there was rumour that the building was constructed to provide employment for starving citizens when a famine struck four centuries ago. The workers would build up the shrine in the day only to have the nobles knock down portions of it at night.
The Bara Imambara mainly comprisesof the Asafi Mosque and Bhulbhulaya (labyrinth). While the bulk of the attractions lies within the mosque, I found greater pleasure exploring the vicinity. I spent two to three hours roaming the shrine grounds and was caught by surprise at the photo opportunities the shrine threw at me. In fact, I was so distracted I missed the chance to visit the labyrinth and I really want to kick myself for this! I heard from the others in the tour group that it was really worth visiting. If you have a chance, don’t make the same mistake as I did!
Interacting with the locals
As the saying goes, “People make the place” has never been truer here in India. The main reason I enjoyed this trip was the kind-hearted locals whom we met along the way. Although I faced a language barrier (oh, how I wish I understood Hindi!), they were more than willing and always friendly enough to let me take a photo of them or point me to a good photo spot.
There were many times the locals came up to me to ask for a picture and I had to reject them for fear of being left behind by the tour group. Such heart warming gestures made me feel more that home.
Savouring authentic North Indian food
Wherever I go, I always make it a point to try out the authentic cuisine. It means eating where the locals eat and not hotel food.
I feel that trying out the authentic Indian food is a little like a roller coaster ride – you are afraid to try it at first but once you have tried it, you will keep coming back for more. Trust me when I say I have had some of the best curries I have ever eaten there. Although the curries here are spicier, they are also more flavourful than the ones we get back in Singapore.
Another of my favourite local Indian food is the Chicken Tikka. The chicken tikka here is so well marinated the taste of the spices permeates every corner of your mouth when you bite into it, leaving you in a blissful state of foodgasm. Neutralise the spiciness in your mouth with some chutney and you’re good to go for another round.
Going Sari Shopping
As a guy, I must admit I am not really interested in shopping. However, I had great fun observing the ladies selecting their Sari fabric and bargaining with the shop assistants for the best price.
Bhagwat Das & Sons in Lucknow, offers a huge selection of fabric to choose from, so be prepared to spend at least 2 to 3 hours flipping through their entire collection. They also offer instant altering services so you don’t need to come back another time to collect your order. Many of our tour group members bought Saris to wear on the trip so they could get the perfect #OOTD shot.
Other things to try:
1. Sample local Indian snacks such as Petha and Dalmot from roadside snack stores.
2. Try Tunde Ke Kebabs (Minced Meat Kebabs) from Tunday Kebabs, one of the most established Kebab restaurants in Lucknow.
3. Spend an afternoon admiring the beauty of the red-stoned UNESCO world heritage site, Agra Fort.
4. Buy gorgeous marble tablets at the Kalakriti in Agra.
Where to stay?
Vivanta by Taj in Lucknow and Four Points by Sheraton in Agra were really comfortable and had all the amenities a modern-day traveller needs. Vivanta by Taj was my favourite of the two because of its traditional architecture, I felt like I was stepping into a palace when I entered the hotel.
How to get there?
Tigerair now flies direct to Lucknow three times a week. To visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, take an inter-city bus or the train from Lucknow.
Click here to book your flight to Lucknow.
Click HERE to see more pictures.