(Old blog) Post Congress Tour: The Golden Triangle

To be honest, before the trip, I didn't have much expectation about the remaining three days in India after the congress. The online research I had done indicated that there wasn't much one could do in three days. As the Taj Mahal, the amazing "monument of love", is a place I must visit in my lifetime, I had planned the three days around the Taj, and I expected to spend the other two days in Delhi, a place I didn't think much of, not least because my golden rule of traveling is that you can always skip the capital city. But I didn't think I had much choice, so I had through the Internet made the booking of a 3-night stay at a guesthouse in Delhi and a round trip train ticket to Agra. Hardly an exciting itinerary, but it was matter-of-fact.

I never knew that my itinerary was to be dramatically changed, thanks to an Indian guy I met at the congress.

It so happened that the American lady I visited Goa with on Day Four had a similar post-congress itinerary as mine, and she told me that this Indian guy from Delhi had offered to show her around and she suggested that we travel together. So I went to talk to him. He said that we could actually do the Golden Triangle of Delhi-Jaipur-Agra in three days by hiring a car. He would travel with us and make arrangements for everything, including accommodation. He suggested that I cancel the train tickets and two of the three nights of stay, both because I wouldn't need them and because the rate quoted by the guesthouse was about three times the market value. It was too good to be true. My research had suggested that it would take at least five days to do the Golden Triangle. Now not only would I be able to do it, I could also travel with a local guide!

That was how the last three days of my Indian trip evolved into a most wonderful experience, and it wasn't just because of the sceneries I was able to see, although these were absolutely stunning. The sublime beauty of the Taj was simply out of this world. (As if this white mausoleum was not stunning enough, it was rumoured that Shan Jahan was in the mind to build a black one right across River Jamuna. Fancy what a sight it would have been with the black and white ones together!) Rajasthan was as exotic, colourful and culturally rich as it was renowned to be, with camels, elephants and mules on the road, women in brightly coloured sari working in the fields, a palace in amber and an old city in pink (Remember that quote "Pink is the navy blue of India" by former Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland?). I couldn't imagine how fascinating the annual Camal Festival, Elephant Festival and Desert Festival in this Indian state must be!
But it was also the people I met that I was most impressed with, many of whom were the relatives of the Indian guy. The night when I was in Jaipur I was invited to stay in a room of the school run by his in-laws for the poor children there. The old couple were the kind of people you would have an immediate liking of - so kind, o graceful. They went to great lengths to make sure that this total stranger was comfortable in the room. Then, on our way to Agra we met his brother-in-law's wife. She had been asked by her in-laws (the old couples in Jaipur) to join us for lunch and to give us some books about Jainism, the religion that the family followed. Like many Indian women I had met during the trip, this woman not only looked beautiful but also very young for her age. She told me she was forty, but she could easily have passed for thirty. All the yoga, meditation and vegetarian diets must have done wonders to the health, the looks and the shapes of the Indian women. Eventually, back in Delhi, I was invited by the Indian guy to stay the night in his home, which was where I met his wife. Just as I had guessed, she was as kind and graceful as her parents. I was deeply touched when, in our conversation about the Jain doctrine of non-violence and reverence for life, she said that they won't even kill an ant. Her kindness was simply coming out of her words but also radiating from her face.

And of course my ultimate gratitude went to the Indian guy. I couldn't thank him enough for spending three days of his own time with us, planning the trip so meticulously, taking care of all our needs and introducing us to his friends and family members. There was even an incident in which he almost got himself into trouble because of me. It happened outside the Amber Palace. He was trying to fend off that extremely tenacious tout who had been harrassing me for almost an hour trying to sell some wooden elephants to me at ridiculously inflated prices, to the point that they began to exchange very heated words and shove at each other. His non-violence principle must haved been tested to the limit. Without his help, the trip simply wouldn't have been possible. And it was very humbling that he and many Indian people I had met were showing kindness and giving help that I simply had no right to expect. When I tried to thank him for all he had done, he said: "All I ask is for you to spread the message about vegetarianism, non-violence and reverence for life when you get back to Hong Kong."

That is definitely what I will do. It is the best and only way to repay him and the many remarkable people I've had the honour and good fortune to meet during the trip.

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