Our visit to India started on a cool but sunny Sunday morning. Greeted by a TransIndus representative at Delhi Airport we were driven to our hotel, The Taj Mahal, located in the government and diplomatic quarter of New Delhi. The roads were relatively quiet – it was a Sunday – and the hotel was quite luxurious. A rapid exploration of the premises led us to the gardens where a marquee, bar, tables and chairs were being laid out for a reception. The hotel General Manager, Mr.Digvijay Singh, approached us. He was about to leave to take up a position within the Taj group in London. This was his farewell party. Would we care to enjoy his hospitality and take some champagne and canapés? We would; and felt this was a fine way to commence our two week adventure.
The calm and affluence of our hotel did not prepare us for what lay ahead when the following day saw us on a tour of Old Delhi. This included a rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of Chandni Chowk where shops, bazaars and temples jumble side by side in a crowded mass of variety, colour and humanity.
Our decision, along with our friends Colin and Clair, to holiday in India had been taken many months before and had been meticulously planned by Journeys a la Carte and TransIndus in conjunction with ourselves. Possible to get only a flavour of this vast sub-continent in the space of two weeks we opted to see some of the landmarks for which the Country is renowned but at the same time to explore places that were not quite so familiar. Thus in addition to the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur we were to venture into the western region of Rajasthan and the Thar Desert.
The entire journey was to be by road and so it was on Monday morning that our minibus awaited us driven by Hanuman who was to be our driver throughout our holiday. At this point it must be said that driving in India is not for the faint hearted. It requires 360 degree concentration as ones’ vehicle is liable to be attacked from any direction by a disparate array of vehicular transport. The rule seems to be to point your vehicle in the general direction in which you wish to travel, look for a gap and go for it, regardless of which side of the road it may be! Outside the main towns a variety of animals are also a familiar obstacle. Cows, water buffalo, sheep, dogs, camels are all capable of taking to the road and are seemingly unmoved by the man made machines dodging around them. Our Hanuman however was man enough for the task and ably transported us to our destinations on time and in one piece and deserved a medal in the process.
At each of our destinations we were met by a guide arranged by TransIndus. So the jovial Soresh who had looked after us in Delhi gave way to the diminutive Monica at Agra who was to take us to the Taj Mahal. Although the day was sadly misty this magnificent monument of devotion more than lived up to the magic of its physical beauty.
We sat on The Bench for photos! From Agra on to Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan. It has been called the Pink City since 1876 when its buildings were painted pink – the colour of welcome – in honour of a visit by the then Prince of Wales. Amber Fort just outside the City is a must to see. Perched high above a gorge it can be accessed in the mornings on elephant back, up a long ramp that winds up the hillside. Nothing like arriving in style.
Our second evening in Jaipur was arranged by TransIndus to be spent at the home of an Indian family. We were welcomed by mother Joghi, a military widow and primary school teacher, and son Hanuveer, a graduate at an Indian university hoping to take his Masters at Cardiff University, and joined as the evening progressed by Joghi’s 14 year old daughter and by her aged mother. Conversation flowed easily as we were shown around their simple but tasteful home and during dinner in their courtyard, warmed by the glow of braziers of wood. We learned a lot about their life and culture. A fascinating evening.
From Jaipur we progressed further into Rajasthan to the desert towns of Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. Since Agra the weather had been glorious and we were looking forward to our two nights of tented accommodation in the desert near Jaisalmer to unwind from the sightseeing and travelling we had experienced so far. We were not to be disappointed. Relaxing by an infinity pool as the sun went down in the late afternoon and pre-dinner drinks before a blazing log fire in the sand helped us unwind, until eventually retreating to our warm 5 star tents and the surprise hot water bottles that awaited us. Hadn’t had one of those for years. Lovely!
We journeyed on. Jaisalmer was a golden treasure set in the sands of the Thar desert, its buildings of carved ochre sandstone housing the ancient havelis or warehouses that prospered on the caravan routes that crossed the desert from China to the west. Jodhpur next, home to Meherangarh Fort perhaps the most impressive of Rajasthan’s citadels as it looms over the blue dwellings of the city below. It was here we visited a nearby village where the local ladies dressed us in the vibrant coloured clothes that epitomise the style of the region.
As we progressed to our final destination of Udaipur we moved out of the flat and arid west into more lush conditions of arable land irrigated by ox powered water wheels. We tried our hand at steering these beasts much to the amusement of their owner. Udaipur is the location of the Lake Palace Hotel of James Bond fame and is noted for its gardens and lakes. It also gave us the opportunity for a final shopping expedition in the teeming bazaars of the town centre. Shopping had been a feature of the holiday taking advantage of the beautiful handmade garments and souvenirs on offer at bargain prices.
And so after a fabulous holiday wintry weather awaited us back in the UK.
We almost wished we had not gone – then we could go again! I am sure we will at some stage.