Monthly Archives: October 2016

Authentic Experiences

Travel is about those moments that you can’t plan, but just happen.  In India recently, there were memorable moments that remain with me.

In Delhi it is the billboard signs that made me laugh – advertising rhinoplasty and thoughtfully telling everyone that meant a nose job!

In the Little Taj in Agra it was trying to get a photo of an elusive monkey and failing!

It was coming across a wedding procession as we entered Jaipur and were invited to join in for a few moments with the groom and his brother and mother and guests on the way to meet the bride.

In Jaipur it was not the elephant ride up to the Amber Fort (and they are well looked after and only permitted to work short hours) it was feeding Nouri our elephant her two bananas carefully purloined from the breakfast buffet.

On our visit to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (in the middle of nowhere but only 45 minutes from Udaipur) it was going for a walk in the town the hotel is next to, and seeing the people going about their business – a woman bringing grass on her head,  the elders discussing business,  chatting to a lady as she cooked and seeing people come back from a funeral.  And three little kids!
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But the best experience was the early morning visit to Dhar a village about 10 minutes from our hotel in Udaipur.  Six of us visited, seeing camels on the side of the road, and kids on school buses heading into the city.  I had the privilege of rolling out chapatis for breakfast with a local lady – and mine at least made it onto the pile that would be cooked and eaten!  We encountered goats and cows with varying degrees of territorialness, and then visited the local village school.
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We were there for morning prayers, and it was great to see they were led by three girls.  We then finished our visit with a trip to the local Hindu temple high on a hilltop and carved out of a cave formation.

 

 

Travel is about experiencing life as the locals do.  Sometimes you can stumble across those experiences, some you can plan for but you need to allow what will happen to happen.

Those are the memories that remain long after you have forgotten where you stayed and how much you paid.  It is those moments that are the reason I travel.

 

 

 

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Never let the itinerary rule you…

I must be a nightmare to travel with at times!  When I want to see something – especially something I have come back for, and I am told that we would not be seeing it, I do not stay silent.

That was the case when we were told we would not be visiting Fatehpur Sikri.  I was not about to have that and said so.  To their credit Total Holiday Options organised a private tour for me.  Fatehpur Sikri, about 45 minutes drive from Agra,  is a world Heritage UNESCO site dating to the 16th century and absolutely worth the visit.  It is, however, a place to do one on one or one on two with a guide not in a larger group as the hawkers are insistent and persistent in the mosque grounds.

The mosque is both a place of worship and of pilgrimage.  There is a shrine to the holy man of Sikri whose pleas for a son from the Shah at the time were answered.  All in plain white marble and beautifully carved it is where people go to make a wish and to return to if that wish is fulfilled.  A string is added to the web at the time of the request and a string cut when fulfilled.   It does not have to be the same string if you can’t remember which one you hung.

The Palace is much more peaceful and there is so much to see.  The Queen’s quarters where she spent her entire pregnancy, the 5 tiered pagoda influenced by the Chinese, a pavillion overlooking a deep water moated musicians gallery where the royal family would be entertained and the stunningly carved Treasury and Audience chambers are all beautifully preserved.

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The Shah was so grateful to the holy man that he asked what he wanted.  The holy man replied that he did not need anything because God had provided all he needed, but the village could use a permanent water supply.  The Shah duly provided a huge reservoir for the town and this continues to supply water to the town, fed only by the winter rains.

I am very pleased I insisted on seeing this fascinating site.  When you travel make sure that you see what you went for .

India Revisited

I have recently returned from a frantic week in India.  I was last there two years ago for the first time, and whilst the itinerary was very similar there was one new destination and the trip was done in reverse.  The other really important thing was that this time around I was not going to succumb to the illness that often besets travellers to India.

So why return only two years later to somewhere I have already been?

For a start, India never stops changing, and even if you have been to a city before there are always new things to experience.  Seeing a couple of electricians attempt to fix the underground wires on the street in Delhi was a revelation.  How they make sense of the spaghetti of wires is beyond comprehension.

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Seeing Agra well made all the difference.  Visiting what is affectionately known as the Little Taj was worth coming back for – 9 different kinds of decoration in the building complex, and a precursor to the techniques so magnificently realised in the Taj Mahal.  The Agra Fort – magnificent in red sandstone and still a touch too warm to be comfortable, dominates everything and offers a distant view to the Taj Mahal.  This is made more poignant by the fact that Shah Jahan could see but not visit his wife for the last nine years of his life because his third son with aspirations to the throne kept him prisoner.

The Taj Mahal, even second time around, does not fail to impress.  Even with one tower under scaffolding, the beauty of the place is overwhelming.  In the early dawn light, it sparkles and glows.  Our guide, Ash, told the story of the building of the Taj Mahal so well we were at the point of tears.  It truly is a love story for the ages.

And sharing a home cooked meal with Sana and her sister Eben on a full moon night was a unique experience.

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More on the rest of the trip later.