On day 2 of my Indian adventure, we were instructed to meet at 6:30am in the hotel lobby. They sent us on our way with a box lunch, from which I nibbled only a small portion of the pastries. I was still too scared to attempt the sandwich with meat and fruit. I secretly hoped someone would steal my apple and provide it to someone in need. No such luck. TIP: If you don’t plan to stay in the nicest hotels where food is always available, bring some granola bars and snacks from home.
From the hotel, we were shuttled through the busy and confusing city of Dehli, into the rural pastures just south of the city. The ride took about 3.5 hours. Half finished apartment complexes abound before you meet the flat pastures. The crops are tended by cows and camels towing wooden carts. Throughout the pastures you see tall spires and straw huts. Still, there is not a landscape without people in the field of view. TIP: Take a guided tour of the Taj and arrange the cost before you leave.
Upon arrival in Agra, you must wind you way through the city, which has a ramshackle feel to it. Small shops built of sheet metal, plywood and tarps line the road, which sell all manner of street food, groceries, and spices. You must dodge TukTuks, scooters, people, cows, donkeys, goats, and monkeys as you wind you way through the city. Off to the left, you will see your first glance of the Taj. It’s the back side, where a black version was supposed to mirror the shining white on the opposite side of the river.
We were taken to the Oberoi Taj Majal which overlooked the Taj. When you walk into the hotel lobby, you are greeted by an arched window which perfectly frames the Taj. From there we took a golf cart (no gas engines are permitted) to the Taj Complex.
At first, you arrive at the gateway to the Taj, which is a red sandstone and inlaid marble gate with 11 domes atop the gate. Standing in the center of the courtyard, you can look through the gate and see the entrance arch to the Taj framed by the entrance arch. As you walkthrough the gate the Taj will come into view, and at the entrance, you will see the dome of the Taj framed by the gate. On the other side of the gate, you will emerge from the darkness and see the glowing white marble of the Taj at the end of a reflecting pool. Perfect symmetry. By now, you will be very very hot. TIP: Drink lots of water.
If you buy the right ticket, you will be able to enter the mausoleum and see the tomb. The only non-symmetrical item is the King’s tomb which sits to the left of the centered tomb of the Mum Taj (Beautiful Queen). Our tour guide held a flashlight up to the inlaid marble and the red stones glowed like fire. To think all this was done by hand is quite amazing.
After the tour of the Taj, we returned to the Oberoi. We were greeted with ice cold scented towels, and then taken to the restaurant for lunch. I had stewed lamb and lentils which were truly wonderful… and an ice cold beer. It took about 2 hours for face, which was beet red from the heat, to return to a normal shade.
We then jumped back on the bus, stopped for a bit of retail therapy, and then headed back to Delhi. This took about 6 hours due to traffic, which is pure gridlock. Los Angeles has NOTHING on Delhi when it comes to traffic. TIP: If you can, stay in Agra one night to avoid the evening traffic back to Delhi.
About an hour before we reached the hotel, we stopped at the ITC Hotel and had dinner at Bukhara. For a moment I considered taking an early car back to the hotel. Thank god I didn’t. This is a world renowned restaurant which feels like you are in an underground cave. Your drinks and dishes are served in copper, and you eat with your hands using their homemade naan as a utensil. The restaurant has been named one of the best in the world by numerous magazines. I concur. This was by far the best food we ate on the trip. TIP: You must eat at Bukhara at least once in your life.
At about 11pm, I finally got back to the hotel. I was tired, stuffed, and overwhelmed, but so glad I didn’t miss a moment of this day.
Bukhara Inspired Leg of Lamb
If you can’t make it to Delhi or India (or if you’ve been and want to revisit your experience), please do try this at home. Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients. This is a very easy dish. While you will have to buy some unique spices for the seasoned salt, you can get them in small quantities from stores like Sprouts that sell spices in bulk. You can do without the seasoned salt, but you’ll be missing some of the experience.
- 1 leg of lamb
- 4 Tbsp salt
- 2 Tbsp California (mild) chili powder
- 1/2 cup ginger/garlic paste (*)
- 1/2 cup malt vinegar
- 5 c water
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 sticks cinnamon, broken into pieces
- 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- Indian seasoned salt (***)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub salt and red chili powder on the leg, then rub on ginger and garlic paste. Arrange in a roasting tray; pour over malt vinegar and water over the lamb leg. Add bay leaves and cinnamon sticks; sprinkle cumin on top. Heat the liquid to a boil, then cover and braise in the pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 2 ½ to 3 hours. Turn off the oven, and let the lamb leg cool in the oven at 300 degrees. This can be done several hours ahead.
When ready to serve, remove leg from the liquid and let them air-dry for 10 minutes. Place the lamb on a roasting pan, and roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Roast until the meat gets a nice brown color. Lightly shred the meat and sprinkle with Indian seasoned salt. Serve with Mint Sauce and Naan.
(*) In a food processor, combine equal parts fresh ginger root and garlic until finely minced. It doesn’t have to be exact measurements. Roughly 1/4 c of each.
(**) Available at Indian stores. If you can’t find this, use more lemon juice
(***) Indian Seasoned Salt
- 2 tsp ground dried lemons (**)
- 1 tsp garam masala (****)
- ¼ tsp cumin
- 2 tsp fenugreek powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp California (mild) chili powder
- 1 tsp sugar
Indian Mint Sauce
- 2 bunches mint
- 1 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste (*)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp ground dried lemons (**)
- 3 Thai chili peppers
- ½ c plain yogurt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
Put all ingredients in a blender (Vitamix preferred) and blend until all lumps are gone. If the mix is too thick, add up to ¼ c water, if needed.
(****) Garam Masala is an Indian spice mix. You can find it at most grocery stores and you can buy in bulk at well stocked grocery stores that sell bulk spices. You can also make your own in a spice grinder, but you’re already doing so much, I say go easy on yourself and go with the premade.