Travel has been in my blood for most of my life and while I have had the opportunity to visit so many amazing places whether for business or pleasure, never have I had the chance to experience the most amazing country filled with so many contrasts, exotic flavours, gentle, generous people and astounding sights…..Incredible India.
I was terribly excited, like a school kid, as we arrived into the Delhi Airport, newly renovated for the Commonwealth Games. It was modern, clean and organized. Honestly, it has been a very long time, since I have felt this way. Once in our mini-van for the transfer to the Hyatt Regency, my home for the next 2 nights, the real journey began. I just couldn’t wait to get India under my skin.
The great thing is that I was able to change my Australian dollars into Rupees (approximately 50 to the $) right on the way out.
The driving etiquette in India is so chaotic, all they do is honk and don’t use mirrors and lanes, although they are marked on the streets, they are rarely used correctly. However once you get over the shock and craziness, you realise that this is organised chaos and everything works. You could be all facing one direction and the next minute a motorbike comes the other way!
The Hyatt Regency was beautiful, the amenities terrific and the breakfast buffet was delicious….even had curry my first morning in India and from that moment on, I dined on the most amazing Indian cuisine, day and night! As you will notice, food takes precedence over most things for me!
After an amazing breakfast including spicy chick-pea curry, we boarded our comfortable coach for our sightseeing excursion of Old and New Delhi. Delhi stands as the capital of modern India and it is here that you can experience the mingling of Old and New India, the ancient and the modern. Delhi has seen the rise and fall of many Emperors, which have left behind a plethora of monuments that commemorate the grandeur and glory of bygone ages. Very few cities in the world can express such a profusion of architectural styles.
When we met our funny, knowledgeable Tour Director Vikar, he nicely summed up India.
“No worry, no hurry & lots of curry!”
He explained that we must be patient and expect the unexpected. We had to delay our sightseeing of Ghandi’s memorial due to perhaps a visiting dignitary or someone else just as important being escorted by a high level of security.
The rickshaw ride through Old Delhi, despite thinking I was going to get hit by a bus at one point, was so much fun and it is amazing at how well the men dart through traffic effortlessly. We visited the Chandni Chowk, which is a bustling and colourful market in the old city. People were shopping everywhere, buying all types of clothes and shoes, sort of like an open-air Target! Travelling in a rickshaw also allowed us to travel down the back alleys and see what the locals sell and show how they live. We saw headless chickens and lots of other unmentionables! This sightseeing experience takes place on Sundays as this is when it is not as crowded. I can’t imagine mid-week and I thought working in NYC was chaotic!
After this exhilarating experience, we saw the Red Fort, which contained the power of the Mughals, built by Shah Jehan, who also built the Taj Mahal.
A visit to Raj Ghat, the memorial site of the Mahatma Gandhi and Gandhi Smriti, the house where he spent his last 144 days before being assassinated were so very special. You could still feel Gandhi’s presence and saw how simply he lived and how few worldly possessions he had.
We had lunch at a restaurant called Dhabas located in the Claridges hotel. We were served the most amazing local cuisine and the name Dhabas is derived from the restaurants dotted along the Indian highways which are often stops for interstate truck drivers! This was my first experience with Nan bread filled with cheese! Yummy.
Our final stop of the day was the Gurudward Bangla Sahib, the most prominent Sikh house of worship. In 1664, there was a smallpox and cholera epidemic and the Sikh guru, who resided there, helped the suffering by giving aid and fresh water from the well at his house. Still today, no matter what race or religion you are, you may eat in the kitchen hall, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As you walked around the buildings and witness people praying and eating, an amazing peaceful feeling came over me.
We continued our journey into Agra, with hearts pounding with anticipation of what awaits tomorrow – the tantalizing Taj Mahal. Tonight we had an amazing dinner at the Peshawari restaurant located in our home for the night. The ITC Mughal – the luxury collection. We were given red or green bibs depending if you were a vegetarian or not. What a feast…we ate with our hands and used our right hand only to eat and break bread! Not an easy feat!
Usually our tours start out very early to see the Taj Mahal, but today we left a bit later. After we got as close as we could by mini-van, we walked through the streets and came upon a building with an archway giving us the opportunity to experience our first glimpse of the monument of love! Local people, for 100 rupees (about 2 AUD) gave us photography lessons on how to capture the Taj in all her beauty. He even took the photo! Wow, only in India!
After our visit, we went to the Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site located about 2.5 km northwest of its much more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as a walled palatial city and the great Mughals Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb lived here. India was governed from here and contained the largest state treasury and mint.
It was visited by foreign ambassadors, travellers and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of history in India. You could almost feel their presence.
Before dinner this evening, we attended a spectacular stage musical production supported by cutting edge audio-visual effects; Mohabbat the Taj, the-80 minute presentation perfectly complements a pilgrimage to the Monument of Love. People from all over the world attended and while they sang and spoke in the Indian language, we were provided with headsets containing translations of languages from all over the world! Quite a unique spectacle and better understood how the love of a woman could inspire this man to build a monument of this scope just for her.
After another amazing dinner at our hotel that evening and early to bed we awoke to another huge buffet breakfast and then hit the road for Jaipur. Enroute we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri – the imperial city of the Mughal dynasty between 1571 and 184 and built by Mughal Emperor Akbar.
The architectural grandeur of this deserted city cannot be described in words and one can only experience the aura of its magnificent edifices by seeing them. It is a huge rectangular walled-in courtyard where petitions were heard, proclamations made, ambassadors received and entertainment programmes held. Ponder the mysterious desertion of this capital city that was dramatically abandoned a few years after it was built. It was a veritable fairy tale city and its ‘ruins’ are still in a pristine condition. It is not hard to imagine what the court life must have been like in the days of its grandeur. The ladies lounged around in beautiful colourful dresses on lovely carpets….I wished I could go back in time at this very moment!
After visiting Fatehpur Sikri, continue the drive to Jaipur. Enroute we stopped for lunch at Laxmi Vilas Palace, a heritage hotel in Bharatpur which signifies the fusion of Rajasthani & Mughal architect. Relive the royal legacy of this 100 year old palace with the presence of present generation still residing in the palace. We ate more curry and marvelled at the beauty of this amazing palace. Even met a native New Yorker, who was there with a group of bird watchers! Go figure in India!
After the lunch, we continued our drive to Jaipur, known as the “Pink City” and the capital of the colourful state of Rajasthan. It has the distinction of being a well-planned and organized city. As you drive through the old part of town, you will witness a life most unlike others. Witness how the city blooms during the day in a kaleidoscope of colour and sound. The people wear amazing colourful outfits. We stayed at the beautiful ITC Rajputana – The Luxury Collection….lovely and had the best Spa I have ever seen. Next time, will make sure I book in an Ayurvedic treatment!
After another breakfast full of Indian curries, eggs, fruit and toast, we headed towards the awe-inspiring Amber Fort, a marvellous example of Rajput architecture with its terraces and ramparts reflected in the Maota Lake below. We piled into jeeps and headed up the steep hill to the fort. Other groups went on Elephant so it was truly a sight to behold. The interior of the fort has various royal halls decorated with intricate ivory, mirror and glass work complemented by exquisite wall paintings. As you move between the rooms of this magnificent structure, you can feel the history and visualise the pomp and grandeur of a kingdom never conquered.
After wards drive to the city & visit the City Palace of Jaipur .The City Palace Complex gives you an idea about the farsightedness of the founder of Jaipur Sawai Jai Singh. He left behind a legacy of some of the most imposing and magnificent architecture, art and craft structure in the city. Sawai Jai Singh built its many buildings but some of some of the structures were also built by later rulers and some of them are even dated in the twentieth century too. The palace is a blend of Mughal and Rajasthan architecture and the royal family still lives in a part of the palace.
On entering the complex and before the palace proper lies the Mubarak Mahal, the palace of welcome or reception. Sawai Madho Singh built the palace in the nineteenth century. It was used as a reception centre for the visiting personage. The building now forms the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum and on display here are a wide array of royal costumes, some very exquisite and precious Pashmina (Kashmiri) Shawls, Benaras silk saris, Sanganeri prints and folk embroidery. An unusual display is that of voluminous clothes worn by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I (ruled 1750-68).
Back in our comfortable coach, continued our journey stopping for a photo at the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) – a five storied wonder with a spectacular pyramidal facade and overhanging windows with latticed screens, domes and spires situated right on the main road. All the ladies used to sit in the windows and watch the world go by….not a care in the world.
On our way back to our hotel, we visited the Jantar Mantar, the Royal Observatory constructed between 1727 and 1734 by Maharajah Jai Singh II. Here we are standing before the Aires display…we didn’t know so many of us were born under the same sign! Quite an amazing place!
In the evening we departed for “Samode Palace” which is approximately 1 hour drive from Jaipur. On our trip, we didn’t stay in Samode but our guests usually stay in the beautiful hotel called Samode Bagh and have shown you a photo. This hotel is set in pristine gardens and is so quiet and peaceful. We then travelled to the quaint town of Samode and our journey to the Samode Palace.
Tonight we had the experience of a lifetime. In olden days when kings or their special guests would arrive at Samode Palace, they were welcomed at the palace through a procession in a royal way. At the base of the Samode village, we climbed on board camel carts & the procession will took us up to the palace through the beautiful village of Samode. Alongside the camel cart we were entertained by a live local band accompanied by escorts holding fire torches. An experience I will never forget.
On arrival at the Palace a royal welcome awaits. Samode Palace is a living example which shows the best of Indian & Mughal style of architecture. This 475 year old palace brings back the memories of the past and unfolds the magic of the royal lifestyle.
It was lit up especially for us! We were honoured guests at this restored ancestral residence of the royal family which is now an exclusive heritage hotel. We explored this splendid Palace, while sipping wine and nibbling canapés. The highlight of the Palace is the absolutely brilliant Diwan-I-Khas, which is covered with original painting and mirror work. Before dinner we were entertained by the folk dances of Rajasthan and we even had the opportunity to get up and show them how to dance! We then sat down to an exquisite Celebration dinner of Indian cuisine in the amazing dining room. I didn’t think I could eat another 3 course meal, but managed to do so with ease!
After the dinner, we drove back to our hotel with beautiful memories of this amazing experience and sad knowing that our journey was coming to an end.
Farewell to India…this won’t be my last trip as there are so many other places to visit. Next itinerary Imperial Rajasthan – a Heritage Journey.
If there is a concern about drinking water, bottled water was supplied free of charge at every one of our hotels as well as on the coach. There was never a time we were without water or pepsi…even Indian rum was provided as an afternoon treat on the coach.
They didn’t serve him at McDonalds…..only had veggie burgers there!