Though our team is based in Mumbai, we could not escape India without visiting the Taj Mahal. Once we land in Delhi, we immediately notice that the traffic in is a bit more organized than in Mumbai (think NYC x2 instead of NYC x4). After making it to the hotel, everyone’s reaction is pretty much the same — Wow! Kingshuk (our fearless leader) booked everything, but we had no idea it would be so fancy. After our car is checked for bombs at the hotel gate (typical) and our bags are scanned for weapons and explosives before we enter the building (it seems standard where we’ve been…even in the grocery stores in Mumbai), we enter “Vivanta by Taj”.
DAY 1 (aka Election Results Day): First stop, The Lotus Temple, which gave me a moment of peace and quiet (since you can’t talk inside) before our hectic day really began. Next stop, Delhi Gateway and the political center of Delhi. This was a very historic day to be visiting Delhi since, as my colleague, Ria, put it:
“Today is the day that the world’s largest democracy gets ready to vote in a brand new government.”
Everyone was checking the polls regularly that day to see who was winning. Also, as we headed to lunch, we started noticing “Dry Day” signs. When we inquired, the response was, “You don’t want all these people drinking when the results are announced.” Fair enough.
After lunch, I was able to practice my negotiation skills (courtesy of Professor Dumas) to convince the team to go to Akshardham Temple. Best. Decision. Ever. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the complex and by “not allowed” I mean they were serious about keeping the temple sacred. Phones and cameras were not even permitted inside the walls and I received the most thorough pat-down I’ve ever had in my life. Being ‘unplugged’ made the experience better somehow. You’ll have to experience it for yourself to understand how truly grand this place is. I’m already planning a trip back. [Below is an aerial image I found online]
After a couple of hours in the temple (yes, it takes that long), we headed to the markets for some shopping. In typical market style, each negotiation took much longer than I would ever care to wait in the U.S., but it was all part of the experience. The lady below was one of the toughest negotiators. She looks innocent enough, but it was definitely part of her strategy. We all lost a little money that night and were exhausted (even a bit frustrated) by the end, but I can honestly say we are a bit stronger in our negotiations now.
DAY 2 (aka Taj Day): We had to wake up early Saturday morning for our 5-hour journey to the Taj Mahal. As we neared the city, we picked up a tour guide provided by the hotel. He was a seasoned professional, so I was already a bit skeptical. He asked for Rs. 750 from all the foreigners and Rs. 20 from our Indian friends to enter the Taj. To his chagrin, I told him that I’ll accompany him to get the tickets 😉
The high price tag of our tickets allowed us to skip all the lines in the gates. We were also able to snag this great pic in our Indian clothes. It was great to have access to one of the 7 Wonders of the World and to hear the story of it’s construction from a local, but compared to Akshardham Temple, the Taj Mahal experience seemed…meh.
Afterwards, our tour guide took us to some shady location to buy some high-value gift items. We ended up with a few marble plates before hustling out of there!