(a Snapshot Editorial March 2010)
In the past two years I have visited India three times and the sub-continent is increasingly fascinating me. Last month (Feb 2010) I attended SATTE (the South Asian Tourist & Travel Expo) in Delhi in my desire to broaden my knowledge and become an Indian travel expert. Two days of face-to-face discussions with up to 40 Indian wholesalers followed and I learned much about Indian hotels, tours, railway travel, river cruises, hiking trips, national parks and adventure travel. Knowledge I hope that will be useful for my clients upon my return to the Southern Highlands.
After SATTE I was able to undertake a familiarisation trip south of Delhi, hosted by Mysteries of India, visiting hotels and famous, and not so, famous sights (that are off the regular tourist routes). First on my itinerary was another visit to the beautiful Taj Mahal at Agra which always impresses me with its alluring charm. From there we travelled south to the awesome Batashwar Temples, somewhere not visited by many foreigners. On my trip I stayed overnight in an interesting range of different accommodation including the beautiful Chambai Safari Lodge (where my memories are of a misty game-viewing boat ride early in the morning) and the stunning Ramathra Fort (where my verandah and shower were right on top of the walls of the fortress).
One destination I was especially keen to visit was the Ranthambore National Park, home of one of the last surviving tiger populations. To my delight, I was able to see two of these magnificent but solitary beasts – the icing on the cake of my visit to India! I also saw elephant, jackal, rhesus macaque, sambar and spotted deer, antelope and many other animals and birds, and realise now that Indian National Parks have much to offer those who are interested in wildlife viewing.
Other memories of my recent trip are typical of any visit to India – colourful and varied. In Jaipur (a wonderful old city) I stayed in the K Country Villas on the outskirts and my lovely hosts were related to the King of Nepal. In Jaipur city, one morning, my friendly/knowledgeable escourts ‘DK’ Kumar and Satish and I went to a Bollywood movie, “The Three Idiots”, at the iconic Raj Mandir Cinema, which I thoroughly enjoyed. For my last night in Jaipur we stayed in the gorgeous Chomu Palace and I felt like a princess.
I was extremely well-looked after by my hosts who did everything possible to make my visit to India trouble-free and special. Everybody I met was welcoming and friendly, delighted that I was visiting their country from Australia. All of the hundreds of people I met on my recent trip were courteous and convivial. Indians are proud of their beautiful country and their tourist industry is keen to show more Australians how much they have to offer. Fear not when you visit – because India will make you her own too.
A visit to Rajasthan, the Land of the Kings
- an editorial
The night sky was clear and the darkened fortress towered above us. Floodlights reflected on the fountains in the lake below and the colours on the clock tower behind us added to the aura. Down at street level, 3 storeys below, a camel-pulled cart made its way among the dozing Brahmin cattle scattered along the road. These are the images I remember of a rooftop restaurant meal that I shared during a recent visit to the Indian city of Jodhpur. Something I will never forget.
What a fascinating part of the world this, the largest of the Indian states, is! Rajasthan – the land of the kings – lived up to its name. Hillsides dotted with fortress/palaces became increasingly larger and more impressive the further we ventured into the semi-desert state. Jaipur, Jaiselmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur – the names roll majestically off the tongue – became familiar cities that now bring back memories to me of ancient bazaars, narrow shop-lined streets and alleys, wealthy merchant houses (called havelis) with their intricate carvings and numerous storeys, hooting motor cycles, smoke –belching ‘tuk-tuks’ (3-wheeler taxis) and a cacophony of sounds, all dominated by their fortresses perched on the crags high above.
My recent visit to India focussed on the Taj Mahal, something I had always wanted to see. So we had to visit Agra, the impressive Red Fort and the Taj. Beautiful but not the highlight of my recent visit to India. What I had not expected was the diversity of Rajasthan – the intricately carved Jain temples (one with 1440 pillars all different), the city palaces of the Maharajas, the religious importance of lakeside towns such as Pushkar, the visits to rural villages and handicraft workshops, the beautiful art work.
In Jaipur, one of the Maharajas in the 1700s had built an astrological observatory filled with an amazing array of instruments, all in an outdoor setting that would have covered at least a hectare. The world’s largest sundial (2 storeys high) could be accurately read to within seconds. Other instruments provided detailed information for astrologers and those who placed importance on horoscopes. What a fascinating place for the casual observer to browse in!
I will always remember the brightly coloured saris of the peasant women working in the fields; the interesting menus in the restaurants; the smells; the indifference to the rules of the road by all drivers; the colours of the cities (blue in Jodhpur, pink in Jaipur, yellowy gold in Jaisalmer, white in Udaipur); the daily observance of religious beliefs (Hindu, Moslem or Sikh) and the haggling in the bazaars for clothing, weaving or handicraft bargains. I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to western India and am looking forward to my return one day.
’Owarch! Owarch!’ The booming sound travelled along the dry river bed. Silence … and then ’Owarch! Owarch!’ echoed back from way down the river. This is the warning call of the Indian jungle – ‘Beware, the tiger is coming’! In this case, however, the sound was human-made by my guide calling his friend in another 4-wheel drive to come quickly. We had spotted a large tigress! I am in Ranthambore National Park, tiger country, and once the private reserve of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
The tiger is a magnificent creature, especially in the wild. I was lucky enough to have two tiger sightings on different days. Tigers live solitary lives unless mating or raising cubs so I was extremely fortunate. On the first occasion I was in such awe of the beautiful animal that I fumbled in opening my camera and missed out on some great photographic shots. I shall, however, always remember the majestic walk and the awareness it felt with us in such close proximity.
The wild life of India is something of a surprise. Many people don’t realise that India abounds with wild animals and a wildlife safari is becoming a popular way to experience India. The animals that one can spot include tiger, elephant, rhino, jackal, hyena, rhesus macaque, Asiatic lion, sambar and spotted deer, antelope and many others. The bird life is prolific and well worth pursuing if one is a keen birder or photographer.
To experience India is to experience a diverse culture that has absorbed numerous invasions over the centuries. The treasures of India have tempted the Aryans, Afghans, Persians, Mughals, Greeks and the British as people from far off lands have sought its fabled wealth. It was the ‘jewel’ in many a monarch’s crown. But the interesting thing is how India has absorbed all these foreign ways and ideas and woven them part of the fabric of India today. India has united philosophies, cultures and races into a rich melting pot and to experience travel in India is to share in the dreams, sorrows, and tribulations of over a billion colourful people.
Viv’s Travel Bug is now specialising in India. India no longer has the stigma of “Delhi-belly” and squalor. It has grown into a fine destination for travellers who like to enrich themselves in a vibrant culture; learn about different religions and visit historical palaces and forts; and photograph wildlife while staying in luxurious tented accommodation or wildlife lodges. And, of course, there is the trekking in the Himalayas.
India has some of the finest hotels in the world. One can visit India and experience life as a Rajasthani prince or princess in historical 5 star Forts and Palaces or one can choose to experience local life and stay in charming and comfortable homestays with truly ethnic food. An excellent way to explore India is by travelling on the many luxury rail journeys available. India, and especially the beautiful state of Kerala, is famous for its ancient healing techniques such as Yoga and Ayurveda “the knowledge of life”, where one can learn to achieve harmony between mind, body and spirit.
Cruise by house-boat through the tranquil lagoons visiting villages and passing through lush fields and coconut palms. Perhaps take a cruise on the Brahmaputra River, taking in the wild life along the way, or the Hoogly River, experiencing the historical battle sites and terracotta temples. Maybe the starkly beautiful desert landscapes of Ladakh, with monasteries and prayer flags dotted along the higher peaks, will appeal to you. Hikers love this part of the world for the amazing scenery and opportunity to bring them closer to nature and meet rural peoples.
I am in awe of India - it is a feast for one’s senses with its beautiful peoples, its history and religion, its colours, the cuisine of the different areas, the forts and the palaces, and the array wildlife. Come in to Viv’s Travel Bug and we will send you on the discovery of a lifetime.
Fear not when you visit – because India will make you her own too.