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Four weeks in India and JUDY WILLIAMS can’t wait to be back
India, its people, history, colour, serenity, food and culture have long held a fascination for me and two other like-minded mature age Australian women.
In November 2016, we decided to make a trip and discover India for ourselves. Planning began in December and we headed on 25 February 2017 for nearly four weeks.
At first, we wanted to do the whole of India but suggestions and advice from a friend who has travelled there six times and an Indian work colleague changed our thoughts. After all, India is such a big country and you can’t cram everything in four weeks.
We booked our driver, Gaurav Gahlot, online were able to speak to him via the internet. We had some clear ideas of what we wanted to experience and Gaurav had clear ideas of what we should see. Wherever possible, we wanted to stay in heritage properties and they were all booked by Gaurav.
Our first stop was Delhi where we enjoyed high tea at an imperial hotel, two hours of belly dancing, and beautiful gardens and temples, the most impressive being the Sikh temple.
We had been told that Delhi was oppressive with its traffic and pollution. We loved it. Yes, there was heavy traffic, but what big city doesn’t have traffic issues? The abundance of peaceful temples and gardens were a haven from the chaos. The colours, sounds, smiling people and the food were exciting and we were looking forward to the next three-and-a-half weeks.
From Delhi, we drove to Agra, where the majestic Taj Mahal left us spellbound. Gaurav suggested that we visit just as the sun was about to set and take it all in, and then visit the inside early the next morning. This was great advice. We were leaving the Taj as the hoards were arriving and it was getting warmer.
Gaurav had then suggested a safari from Ranthambore, which we did, and were fortunate to capture photos of a tiger and cub.
The drive from Agra and then onto Jaipur gave us a wonderful look at rural life in these areas. From overloaded trucks carrying feed and grass, to local market stalls, and beautiful sari-clad women, each sight was beautiful.
Accommodation in Jaipur was our first heritage experience. We loved it; it was just what we wanted to experience. Jaipur was exciting for shopping, the Amber fort, wind palace (Hawa Mahal) and water palace (Jal Mahal). On reflection, we could have spent more than two nights there.
Two single nights followed at Mandawa and Bikaner where we visited heritage havelis and the famed rat temple. A few deep breaths and we entered the temple barefoot, as is the custom, and got a great photo shoot to prove we were brave. On exiting, we noticed a tour group putting on feet covers or leaving socks on. Hey, come on! When in India…!
From Bikaner, a long drive to Jaisalmer again gave us an amazing insight into rural and desert life. We came across what is best described as a pilgrimage to a temple. Groups of people could walk four to five days to reach their destination, carrying a bag on their heads. Along the journey, local communities had marquees erected with free food, drinks, music and rest areas. It was the most amazing insight into the strong culture and beliefs of the Indian people.
From Jaisalmer, we ventured into the Thar desert for stargazing and a camel safari. Because of a hailstorm, the first in six years, we spent the night back at the camp in tents, but were able to experience the camel ride both in the evening and morning. There was plenty of entertainment with locals encouraging us to join in dancing. Knew the Bollywood dancing lessons would come in handy! A colourful photo shoot for us was the local women carrying their water pots to the local well in their beautiful saris.
Next day from Jaisalmer, a young man took us to his village. We were able to experience pottery being made in a very labour-intensive way. We were invited into a grass hut where an elderly lady shared bread with us and we could take photos with the local children. We enjoyed lunch with our guide’s family, where they displayed their dhurries, hand-made by the local women’s cooperative. In Jaisalmer itself , the fort and the mausoleum on the lake are wonderful sights, and a foot massage at the end of our stay was most enjoyable.
From here, it was another long drive to Jodhpur, which is a pretty city sitting at the base of the stunning Mehrangarh fort, especially at night. It towers over what is called the blue city, with architecture which could be described as half solid fortress and half delicate palace. There are lovely views of the blue city from the fort.
Udaipur was our next stop. Just one word: Wow. The accommodation was stunning. On the lake, heritage, just gorgeous. They were gearing up for the colour festival (Holi), so we indulged and purchased white clothing, ready to get smashed with colour. Locally, a pre-event was underway with a local talent quest and foreigners being invited to dance on stage. We didn’t get to show our style again, but were given fire crackers when let off sent streamers over the crowds. What a lot of fun. Great shopping and time for a henna tattoo each. Sunset over the lake left us wanting more of this city.
We then flew south to Kerala where Gaurav had arranged another driver for three days. We stayed overnight in Kochi in a home stay, watching the local fishermen with their unique nets. Then it was a drive up to the tea plantations of Munnar. We had chosen to stay in a tree house one night and tent on the other. Both nights we shared with mice and rats, but hey, when you have the views from the mountain tops like that, we were happy to share.
Elephant riding and a tour of a tea company was most interesting, and the sari colours against the green tea plantations were gorgeous. Again, so many photo opportunities!
Coming down from the hills, we stopped overnight in Thekkady for a backwater cruise, hot oil massage and two cultural shows.
Last three days we spent in Varkala by the beach for some R&R before we got home. We did walks on the beach, shopping, pedicures, swimming and joined the local holy men on the beach for blessings.
All three of us are well travelled, but India for us, has left a lasting impression not experienced before. We loved every minute of every day. We fell in love with the handsome men, stunning women, their values, their food, just everything really. Can’t wait to return and visit another area of India.