Taj Mahal in Agra…a few hours on road from Delhi

RECIPE FOCUS FOR KIDS?…AT END – BANANAS!…you’ll see why when you read our cheeky monkey story…

My last post was a quick summary of our 3 main stops around the Golden Triangle.

If you are visiting the 3 cities in the Golden Triangle, there are so many fascinating historic sites to see not far from the city centres. Here’s an Australian women I briefly chatted with at the Taj Mahal complex – she’s from Orange, NSW and was on “a small group tour with her girlfriends”.

Wearing colourful clothes for selfies seems to be part and parcel of the Indian experience!…as can be seen below at the mini Taj in Agra…we went to see that (and the gorgeous gardens on our 3rd day)…

As well as our visits to forts and palaces in Delhi…

I’m sure these women must be researching the history on their phones not checking if makeup is applied correctly or a hair out of place?!

As the title suggests, this post focuses more on food related experiences + a little information (above and below mostly in photos) about the journey from Delhi to Agra – some people do a day trip just to see the Taj Mahal (a long day!). However, if possible, it’s really worth staying at least one night in Agra (with my bothersome back, we stayed 5) especially if you’re interested in Indian food…

Beetroot stuffed paneer (a special cheese)…mildly spiced and absolutely scrumptious!

I have quite a few Indian cookbooks on my shelves at home so once home (next Thursday), I’ll include a few paneer recipes at the end of this post. It’s a very common vegetarian meal in this region and they cook it in various ways. Paneer is a type of milk curd cheese – it has a firm (not hard) texture so is easily sliced and filled with a variety of ingredients. The dish in above photo was filled with a beetroot and onion blend…

There are many good/great restaurants in Agra – we loved the ones at the Oberoi but very expensive compared to other good local restaurants (not pricy compared to home/UK etc).

Now for the monkey story before I continue on with a focus on food...

The monkey thief on our hotel balcony in Agra…view of Taj Mahal better next day

Children might find this of interest…

The monkey in the picture above stole our bananas and a mandarin on our first day in Agra! We observed that it wasn’t interested in the apples over a few days…it left a lonely apple in our bowl! He was so fast as our door was only slightly ajar!

Fortunately, Tony saw him enter our room and chased him away but this large monkey wasn’t frightened of humans and was determined to get “his” fruit! Once he stole our fruit he sat on another verandah near us, defiantly staring at us while eating, as if too say “I’m quicker and smarter than you!”.

On subsequent days, we noticed him stealing from other rooms near us, and eyed us off from a distance – probably to check out any thieving opportunities should we be momentarily distracted again! We quickly learned our lesson and thwarted another attempt at entry on our 2nd and 3rd day!

Here’s a photo above and below from our photos taken in the city…above one shows the monkey (above cart/man) casing out her opportunity for a quick banana snatch. He was successful!…and found a comfortable seat on which to munch her lunch!…

I say “her” because the noticeable breasts look like this female has been recently feeding her babies. Monkeys are so clever and dexterous with their hands – we watched them quickly peel both bananas and mandarins…just like us humans!

On a more serious but delicious note…we loved all the tropical fruits!

I love bananas as much as any monkey (might say something about me!) but Tony’s favourite tropical fruits are pineapple, mango and papaya. Papaya (sometimes known as Paw Paw) is a little like mango but a darker orange colour + a slightly different flavour. It can be seen at the front (LHS) of photo below.

Tropical fruits can make a wonderful fruit salad for breakfast or a dessert. They were beautifully presented in many restaurants where we stayed during our time in India (and now Sri Lanka) – some just sliced in larger pieces and attractively arranged on plates…

The round fruit at the back is called Mangosteen…a sweet grape like taste
Mangosteen…Tony thought it tasted more like a lychee – common in tropics as well

I also love the plain yoghurts that are made all over India (and now in Sri Lanka) and as can be seen in photo above, often accompany fruit platters and desserts…

I loved the natural yoghurt served at the Indian hotels and restaurants…quite mild ie. not too tart and quite creamy. The only tropical fruit in the photo above is the white fruit with black seeds often known as Dragon Fruit

We’ve had this fruit quite often during our travels in Sth East Asia too

Wikipedia tells me it’s more correct name is “Pitaya blanca or white-fleshed pitaya…has pink-skinned fruit with white flesh.” I’m not sure if that’s the botanic name? A question to look up another day perhaps! We like it but it’s not one of our favourite tropical fruits but does remind me to keep a look out for it at our fruit and vegetable market (closest one to us is Fyshwick in Canberra).

Back to India…

As we travelled further inland (especially North) in India to Jaipur, we were served less tropical fruit and more often dried and/or poached fruits such as dried apricots (as can be seen in photo above) as well as those gorgeous pink pomegranate pearls!…top of plate. We also loved the larger variety of nuts from that region…now back in the tropics (Sri Lanka) and the only nuts served are peanuts so I am starting to miss my almonds, walnuts etc. Of course I can’t complain as Sri Lanka is wonderful + by this time next week we’ll be home and having whatever nuts we like on our meals!

As you travel closer to the Nth and Middle East the offerings change – eg. Loved the beautiful nuts on offer

Photo above…was at the hotel breakfast on the stop after Agra (Jaipur…see previous post if interested); however, the Agra hotel also served similar pot set yoghurt and plenty of pomegranate pearls (well that’s what I call them…I’ll check out correct term later).

Within India, the Oberoi hotels are in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (summarised in last post) so they’re able to easily transport different produce between hotels, although we did notice a slight variation depending on the climate/growing conditions of the region. However, the western style breakfast we often had didn’t change so much (photo below). In the evening we were more adventurous with spices/new foods and flavours as can be seen from my first food photo on this post – grilled paneer.

On the subject of breakfast…

At the Oberoi hotels (where we stayed in each of our 3 Indian destinations…see last post), it’s possible to have any type of breakfast you prefer. They have guests staying from all parts of the world but of course the Indian breakfast is the largest table.

I did try an Indian breakfast a few times, including some local breads with lentils (sometimes called Daal). At home, Tony and I often served Daal as a side dish to an Indian curry (recipes in a future post). However, many Indians have Daal for breakfast and sometimes for other meals during the day as well. Here’s a photo of some baked eggs I enjoyed for breakfast one day – in a mildly spiced curry sauce…

Mildly spiced baked eggs
Legumes etc often seen being sold along the roadways like this

You often see carts and stalls (like the simple one above on a footpath) selling lentils, and various forms of legumes eg. Chick peas – particularly as you travel north into the drier landscapes of Northern India eg. Rajasthan where Jaipur is located (our stop after Agra). Many of the stall owners take a great deal of pride in attractively arranging their produce.

The divide between rich and poor is huge all over India it seems??…we’ve only been to these regions. However, that love of attractive presentation is evident at all income levels. Here’s a photo from the Jaipur Oberoi bar – again, simple yet very attractive presentation. I loved their book collections as well here…

The Rajasthan coffee table book was gorgeous (photo above)…beautiful photos of the people and the landscape eg. The desert. With our evening drinks we were served a dried legume (similar to oven roasted chick peas but a little different) + some homemade flatbread with a mildly spiced tomato spread. I can’t remember the cocktails – something pink and another with pineapple juice! Not many children at Oberoi hotels (they’re more expensive than our usual stays!) but they do serve “Mocktails” as well with no alcohol.

The photo below shows an image from some of the hotels in Delhi; Agra and Jaipur – organised through Luxury Escapes…a much better price compared to some upmarket tour companies eg. Scenic, but Luxury Escapes does suggest a very similar (but more flexible) route.

Bonus is that you can travel how you like it (with a group of friends or even solo…although more costly of course), rather than being restrained by a sometimes fast paced itinerary, plus often large numbers of people – even with some $$$$ group tour companies. Rarely did we have a very early morning start which I was happy about! We had time to linger over the magnificent breakfasts – part of the pleasure of this trip!

We might not have covered as many miles as some, but that didn’t matter to us – if our interest is sparked by travels in other parts of India (a few people we met up with gave us ideas for visits to Southern India), we’ll try to return again if budget allows – probably just a few stops again as Indian traffic can be intense and very noisy!…

Camel is a bit of a blur but quickly taken through car window

In some parts of India – particularly between Agra and Jaipur, the forms of transport are fascinating (horses/carts…sometimes buffalo; bicycle & auto rickshaws…everywhere!; motorbikes…4+ people quite common; and even occasional elephant…see last post if interested). However, the stopping/starting/overtaking etc. was hard on my body at times…

So in the future, with my bionic body’s aversion to long drives, we might even consider flights (even quite short ones) between places. Our flight from Jaipur back to Delhi was quick/smooth. There’s also quite often “an airport highway” so the traffic isn’t as intense on those roads – although in our opinion it’s worth organising a good car/driver before you leave home. We were very happy with our drivers – in Sri Lanka we haven’t needed a guide as our driver’s English is good and he also has a good grasp of local history/customs etc. What he can’t tell us we look up on the Net along the way!

So good thing is that if we return to the South of India, it’s a then a very short flight to Sri Lanka. We’ve really been enjoying the coast line here after having a few days in the central region (a tea plantation) – a post for another day soon! One photo at end from Sri Lanka but before I end this post I’ll add some photos of the Oberoi hotels in India…my Australian/Indian Dr suggested we say “at a very good hotel in India” but Tony really spoilt me this time! These hotels really surpassed my expectations of “very good”! In fact did feel like a weird/privileged bubble for me at times – think I wrote about that in a previous post.

Our starting point in India – New Delhi…more photos etc of Delhi in last post
Room in Agra with views of Taj Mahal…where monkey invaded our room!

Oberoi in New Delhi was a very glamorous place!…loved the artwork/room divider…in background
Another corner of New Delhi room
Near the lobby of Jaipur hotel (Oberoi)
Indian restaurant at the Jaipur Hotel…we were first there at 7 pm!

Our very last Oberoi hotel at the end of our Indian adventure (near Delhi airport) – was amazing! Just 1 night but we arrived early via a short flight from Jaipur…

This was the largest room on Indian trip…actually a suite and almost the size of our small Canberra apartment

So the last Delhi hotel was in a very different part of Delhi…on our arrival (via Bangkok) we stayed at the Oberoi New Delhi as can be seen from earlier photos (above).

Considering the level of luxury etc. the price arranged by Luxury Escapes was excellent and we would use their services again. I’m not getting any commission from them to write this!…in fact this blog is just a hobby/journal for us; our family (maybe one day they’re probably saying…like we did too years ago!!) and anyone else who may be interested?!

Happy travels everyone…whether it be to the local park/lake or to the other side of the world!

NOW FOR THE RECIPE FOCUS AGAIN…one more for older children to learn/make?

After our monkey story I’ve decided to put banana pancakes on menu as soon as I see our grandchildren again! Missing both the big and little kids!

https://m.recipes.timesofindia.com/recipes/banana-pancakes/rs52602370.cms

Of course there are lots of different banana recipes on Net but kids always love helping to make and eat pancakes. If they’re a little adventurous try adding some ground cardamom (I love cardamom!) or even a little turmeric – good for brain health my Indian/Australian Dr tells me! I also noticed a recipe for oat/banana pancakes…oats are great for heart health of course.

As expected from our experience of Indian cuisine in Australia (our home), Britain, Mauritius and elsewhere, we found the food of India mostly so delicious and at many places, a feast for all the senses – whether you’re about to tuck into a delicious plate at an upmarket restaurant (1st photo below)…

We had these “Prawns with Arabic Flavours” in Jaipur…they bring the seafood in via helicopter – there’s a landing pad at the hotel!

or you’re watching locals eat freshly cooked street food (samosa photo below)…

Samosas cooking everywhere!

We had not long earlier had a large breakfast so we didn’t have a samosa on this occasion (mid morning) – our guide did and they looked great (filled with potato and peas). Indians often have savoury breakfast food like this as well as other dishes that in the West and at home we’re more likely to have as an evening meal. We don’t have them often at home as they are high fat with the deep frying but I am sometimes tempted to order them at restaurants.

I’ll include a samosa recipe link for anyone wanting to make them at home. They’re typically cooked with vegetables and/or meat…the type we saw in Northern India were mostly vegetarian – many Indians of Hindu religion are vegetarian. There are lots of recipes using the deep frying method (the crispiest😋) but here’s a healthier version baked to try…

https://www.connoisseurusveg.com/baked-vegan-samosas/

Of course, it’s wise to be cautious with street food – particularly if you’re unaccustomed to spicy food; we mainly chose freshly cooked/hot food (recommended by guide) and asked for “mildly spice”. It was then generally milder than we cook at home…but better to err on side of caution a bit when doing a few long trips!

We had very healthy appetites all the way around the Golden Triangle and had no problems over 2+ weeks although we did eat quite a few meals in the hotels where they had excellent chefs serving the best of Indian produce (photo of 1 restaurant above), including fresh salad etc…which from our other travels in Asia we know is often important to avoid (depending on where you’re eating of course). However, back in the 80s, we ventured out to many local restaurants…generally we were fine and only had mild cases of Bali belly! Wise to travel with a good first aid kit too as we did in India!

We didn’t need that kit until we arrived in Sri Lanka…I think I was affected by the curries served at the Delhi airport lounge (a co-share with Qantas), as I ate from the buffet (Tony didn’t and he was fine). Fortunately, we had a 2 day rest stop at a beachside hotel (photo below) before we started our tour around Sri Lanka (a post for another day). Plenty of time to rest and recover + with very light meals (felt ok on 2nd day), I lost some extra Kgs I put on in India!

View from our room – 1st stop in Sri Lanka
1st stop in Sri Lanka – 15 min from Colombo airport…will note details later