Cannot believe that we had the amazing good fortune to be in India for Diwali (the “festival of lights”). It is one of the largest festivals in India and signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals extend over a five day period, but the main festival night coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika which happened to be November 11th this year (the night we arrived in Agra).
Here are my highlights:
Agra Fort – actually more like a walled city. I had not originally included it in my plans but am so glad I did. It totally blows the Taj Mahal out of the water as far as I’m concerned. This is also the site of the battle that ended the rule of the British East India Company in India and is magnificent in every way. A must-see if you’re heading this way. Cannot recommend highly enough!! Note: I am not suggesting you NOT see the Taj but in terms of impact, Agra Fort has much more to offer and feels more important historically.
Diwali – driving to our hotel from the nearby military airport, it was sheer, over-the-top amazeballs chaos as people did their last minute shopping for fireworks, sweets and flowers for that night’s Diwali celebrations. I loved it! The streets were crazy with motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicycles, pedestrians, cows (they always have right of way!). Our hotel hosted a special celebration with fireworks, anar balloons that are sent aloft with a burning fire inside (fountain of fire). Coming from risk-averse and litigious America, we were all shocked but one of the guys explained that anars were created “for the children to give them something safe ” (vs. fireworks!!).
Taj Mahal at sunrise – beautiful views as the sun comes up but I must say it did not take my breathe away as I had expected. I was, however, totally smitten by the mosque on the Taj grounds. Fabulous architecture (and very photogenic). If you do go, expect LONG lines and even if you’re there for the sunrise, don’t assume you will be let in until 6:30 AND make sure you go with a reputable guide. There are lots of hustles going on there.
The Oberoi Armavilas Hotel – each of our rooms overlooked the Taj (not lit at night so you won’t notice until the morning). Beyond this phenomenal view, the hotel offers exceptional dining (breakfast, lunch and dinner), wonderful service, laundry, spa and a hairdresser. The gardens are spectacular. Totally VIP – NatGeo killing it on this one!!
More monkeys!! Also, chipmunks, parakeets, predatory large birds like hawks and kites and, of course, lots of cows and street dogs.
Pics below. And we’re off to Tanzania tomorrow.
MOSQUE AT THE TAJ MAHAL
THE OBEROI HOTEL
MONKEYS AND COWS GALORE!!