My dream holiday exploring India’s Golden Triangle exceeded all expectations and left a lasting impression upon me.
Descriptions of the magical Taj Mahal at Agra and Jaipur’s majestic Amber Fort have been well documented but nothing could have prepared me for the visceral experience of everyday life in India.
Upon setting foot in Delhi, be ready for an assault on the senses: the startling colours of the textiles, the vividly coloured lorries festooned with garlands of vibrant flowers, the gorgeous pink city of Jaipur; everywhere is a riot of colour and sound.
It’s hard not to be fazed by the throbbing pulse of Indian street life. Elephants, camels, cows, pigs, dogs, donkeys and humans all co-exist among the plethora of transport. Buses laden with travellers, many of whom ride on the roof; tuk-tuks weaving through the melee; motorbikes carrying whole families: fathers, mothers, toddlers and babies; pushbikes; cars; taxis and lorries all dodging animals and pedestrians. The noise of the hooters and horns is overwhelming but completely justified, especially when lorries hurtle headlong towards you from all directions!
The train journey from Bharatpur Junction, Agra, to Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve was unforgettable: people jam-packed inside the carriages, hanging from the sides of the train and then, as the train pulled into the station, disgorging and spilling out across the tracks to continue their journeys. What a contrast to the calm haven at Ranthambhore!
The anticipation of coming face to face with a Bengal tiger was realised when a large solitary male tiger strolled nonchalantly in front of our jeep. The sinewy muscular power of this amazing creature was stunning and the way he moved with elegance, fluidity and grace was truly awe-inspiring.
His beautiful coat seemed to shimmer and shine in the early morning sunlight. It was a privilege to have experienced this rare opportunity especially as there are, at present, only 60 tigers within the 800 square miles of the reserve.
For me, arriving in Pushkar was one of the highlights of our visit to Rajasthan. This small town, a holy place of pilgrimage, offers an overwhelming number of Hindu temples. The chanting, drumming, praying, incense, flowers, spices, stalls, sellers and animals were an intoxicatingly heady mix and the Hindu icons inside the temples were mesmerising. This overpowering sensual experience was tempered by our visit to the sanctuary of the Sikh Gurdwara: an oasis of calm.
What is it about this incredible country that will stay with me forever? The superb mausoleums, the intricately carved temples, forts, marble palaces and lush gardens of the wealthy Maharajas; the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the street life — all have made a lasting impression.
However, despite the contrast between the opulent bejewelled Moghul monuments and the prevalent abject poverty, I will never forget the pervasive spirit, warmth and optimism of the people. Everywhere I went people voiced hope that the newly elected President, Narendra Modi, will create a society where all Indian citizens have access to health care, education and a decent standard of living.
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