INDIA is a mind-boggling potpourri of sights, sounds, colours and experiences as well as a country of astonishing contrasts.
The sheer vastness of the country and the variety it offers to a tourist is simply unparalleled.
Having watched innumerable Bollywood films, and read about the countless monuments, churches, mosques, temples, palaces, villages and forts since childhood, I have always been fascinated by India’s charm and diversity.
I have been to the country several times and yet, haven’t been able to explore even a third of its attractions, flavourful cuisines and mysteries. So when I was offered a chance to visit New Delhi and Bangalore this month as part of a Bahraini media delegation, I had no second thoughts and packed my bags. The tour was organised by the Indian External Affairs Ministry.
We landed in New Delhi and were quickly taken to the Taj Hotel, where the stay was truly memorable. We had meetings with government agencies after which we were taken to some of the historic attractions.
Our first visit was to the Taj Mahal in Agra, one of the seven wonders of the world, a four-hour drive from New Delhi. I had always wanted to visit this place after seeing photographs of Bahrain’s leadership during their tour of the monument.
Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628–58) to immortalise his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth in 1631. In its harmonious proportions and fluid incorporation of decorative elements, the Taj Mahal is distinguished as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. It also features twin mosque buildings (placed symmetrically on either side of the mausoleum), lovely gardens and a museum.
While the monument bedazzled us, we were taken to the Qutb Minar, which lies at the site of Delhi’s oldest fortified city Lal Kot, the next day. The minar is surrounded by historically significant monuments of the Qutb complex. Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, to the northeast of the Minar, was built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak in 1198 AD.
We were told that there were more attractions to explore in and around New Delhi. However, unfortunately, time was limited.
New Delhi is a place where modernity nestles against history. Domes and minarets of Mughal relics share the skyline with sleek new flyovers while dusty, crowded pavement markets neighbour squeaky-clean shopping malls.
We visited a few shops and grabbed souvenirs and tasty snacks for our journey ahead as we got to the airport after four days, for a 210-minute flight to our next destination – Bangalore, which has evolved from the Garden City to the Silicon Valley of India.
The hi-tech, high-energy city is known for its beautiful weather, parks, lakes, street food corners and cafes.
We went to the magnificent Vidhana Soudha, the largest legislative building in India that’s home to Karnataka’s legislators. The building measures 213.36 by 106.68 metres (700.0 by 350.0 ft) on the ground and is 53.34m (175.0 ft) tall. The architecture includes elements of styles from the mediaeval Chalukya, Hoysala and Vijayanagara empires of Karnataka.
An ardent fan of Bollywood, I wasted no time and went scouting for posters, VCDs and DVDs, which I stumbled upon on Bangalore’s Commercial Street. We feasted on food from restaurants and streetside stalls and the varieties were astounding. I relished the subtle use of herbs and spices.
The eight-day visit ended like a breeze! I am looking forward to exploring more parts of India – especially Mumbai, Kerala, Kashmir, Goa and Hyderabad – that have a different feel than what I have seen.