INDIA – A COUNTRY TO STIR THE SENSES
I have always wanted to go to India. Ever since as a child I read Rudyard Kipling’s ‘THE JUNGLE BOOK’ and KIM’, never dreaming I would go there when I got the books from the local library.
And so we designed a tailor-made itinerary with ‘On the Go Tours’ in Australia to include the Golden Triangle 3 cities of New Delhi, Jaipur capital of Rajasthan, and Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Of course to see the Taj Mahal which certainly was sheer magic and has to be seen to take in its intrinsic beauty, photos do not do it justice and is very special and a real privilege to actually be there.
It was unbelievable that I and my travelling companion Michelle visited first New Delhi on an adventure to seek out many, many facets of India’s way or life, of India’s history, of interesting people along the way, and taste the spices and foods India has to offer.
I had to pinch myself on day one, sitting in the breakfast room and watching the early morning sun shine through the Eastern window of The Imperial Hotel New Delhi, just as it had done for glorious years before on many tourists to India, heralding a new dawn on a new day, our first in this magic country India.
Our booking was done by an Australian company ‘On the Go Tours’ who put together a tailor made itinerary to see the best of India in 8 days, as it was necessary that we could only, this time, do a short trip. It would have been nice to go to see places like Jodhpur and Udaipur but alas all could not have been included.
FIRST WE HAD A SINGAPORE STOPOVER ON THE WAY
It was our first flight on a Singapore airlines A380-800 series which was great and we can thoroughly recommend sitting upstairs economy on the window side two seats as you have ample storage room for your bags in an enclosed locker at the side of your seat saves getting things out of an overhead locker. It is virtually as good as business class as the seats are quite a lot bigger.
Our Singapore Stopover holiday deal gave us a great rate to stop at the RITZ CARLTON SINGAPORE one of the nicest hotels I have had the privilege of staying at anywhere in the world.
Service was second to none. Views great. Excellent position, and of course we took advantage of the HOP ON, HOP OFF bus to do the full circuit of Singapore CBD
On arrival the first evening we dined in the delightful restaurant on ground floor with our mandatory glass of red.Then a soak in the bath with the best view in the world! We had an early night as next day caught the Hop on Hop off bus right around the loop from Raffles Hotel first stop of course.
We then went past Little India, China town, Marina, Clark Quay, Botanical Gardens and Singapore Zoo (which we did not visit as we were zooed and gardened out after Cairns) we saw the famous mythical Merlion head of a lion, body of a fish
We did full circle back to Raffles Hotel for a pizza lunch, and as was very hot decided only to try the non alcoholic version of the famous Singapore Sling called a ‘Virgin Sling’
Then off by cab down beautiful Orchard Road, my favourite for shopping to Harbour front to catch the scenic cable car to Sentosa Island. Michelle is not that fond of heights so I think she held her breath the whole journey!
Whilst on Sentosa Island we visited Underwater World which was quite amazing. Unfortunately the World War II Museum at Fort Siloso was closed which I had seen before and was hoping to revisit.
When we got back to the hotel, I noticed a large black limo pull up and who should get out but none other than singer Tony Bennett. Of course ‘you know who’ had to shake his hand and say hello and what are you doing in Singapore? To which he replied a concert (of course) and when I asked him the venue, he did not know and had to ask and it was Star Vista concert hall. He picked my Ozzie accent, fancy that! I inquired about tickets but concert did not finish till 10.30pm and by that time we had to be heading back to the airport. So I did not get to hear Tony Bennett sing live. But at least I met him and “Left my heart in San Francisco”.
I then caught a taxi and ventured off to Marina Bay Sands Hotel, up the lift to the 56th floor. Mission to swim in the swimming pool at the top. And it was so worth the effort.
Who would stay napping in their hotel when you can swim on top of the world? This has to be in my top 10 things to do along with Great Wall of China and camel ride at Giza pyramids
Are you seasick yet? Just a few more photos for living proof!
That evening we had dinner in room – brought in on a huge covered tray mobile, we ordered ‘Kids meals’ just for fun as all we wanted was a burger and chips so we made like the kids were in the bathroom getting ready for their burgers! But we could not stop giggling when we tipped the lady, she probably thought we were nutty!
Then off to the airport for our exciting and memorable visit to India.
INDIA – A TALE OF THREE CITIES
We flew into New Delhi with Singapore Airlines just before dawn on Thursday 12 September and were delighted to see such a beautiful, modern, clean terminal. On arrival the ‘On the Go Tours’ representative Raj was awaiting us with a broad smile and a placard with our name, always very comforting to see at any airport in the world on arriving. We met our personal driver for the next 8 days Parmod Singh, a delightful young man from a small Himalayan village in northern India.
My biggest surprise on the way from our airport to the Hotel just as the sun was rising on a new day, was how wide and clean the streets were and then what a huge green belt of very well manicured parks and gardens all throughout the city of New Delhi. I loved the Neem trees (to clean your teeth) and Ashoka trees (like bushy poplar trees now popular in Australia sometimes called a Mast tree, or Sorrowless Tree.
New Delhi is quite a city. It really packs a punch right from the first moment you arrive.
It’s welcoming wide streets, and miles and miles of manicured parks and gardens with the most beautiful trees is just simply overwhelming, and belie all the tales you hear from people when you say you are going to India like the smells and crowds and rubbish, this is a complete untruth about this beautiful city. So to all those pundits who said “you are very brave”,” put a peg on your nose”, and all the other derogatory things, like you will get Delhi Belly, all I can say is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Quite the opposite indeed, the air is fine, washed by a sudden monsoonal flush of rain. There is just a minor pollution haze not overwhelming or unsimilar to most other big cities, this one with a population of 18 million people.
THE IMPERIAL HOTEL NEW DELHI – 5 STAR IN EVERY WAY
You are treated like royalty from the moment you drive into the reception area of The Imperial Hotel New Delhi. Right from the first Namaste you feel at home and there must be three staff to each hotel guest as you are so well taken care of.
I had to pinch myself on day one, sitting in the breakfast room and watching the early morning sun shine through the Eastern window of The Imperial Hotel New Delhi, just as it had done for glorious years before on many happy tourists to India, heralding a new dawn on a new day, our first in this magic country India.
There were historical photographs and memorabilia along the ornate corridors with polished marble floors mirroring the splendor of times gone by.
We were briefed by Anurag Anand from Travel Inn representing ‘On the Go Tours’ very adequately about what we were to experience in New Delhi and the hotel. We were staying at the very lovely THE IMPERIAL HOTEL NEW DELHI one of the top hotels of the world with such magnificent ambiance you feel like a Maharani.
Or around its tranquil garden setting. The huge swimming pool is very inviting on a hot day especially after a full day sightseeing
Breakfasts were just so abundant with delights for this sweet tooth, such as cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants, pancakes by the stack, donuts, walnut bread (to die for, melted in the mouth) banana bread, muffins galore, all the naughtiness this young lady could get up to. Along with the omelettes and pancake stacks that Chef Joseph cheerfully made.
NEW DELHI SIGHTSEEING WITH VIKAS
We met our New Delhi guide for the next two days Vikas who was an extremely informative local guide representing ‘On the Go Tours’ from Travel India company He was extremely informative telling us there are 29 states in India and 7 union cities. The population of 1,237 billion people made up of 80% Hindus, 12% Muslim, 3% Sikhs, 3% Christian, 2% rest.
He told us about Pancha Mahabhutas, that in Hinduism’s sacred literature the great or gross elements are air, fire, earth, water, and five fold space or ether. First there was earth, and then sky for air needed for fire and water to put out fire. Or from space came into being, air; from air, fire; from fire, the waters, from the waters, the earth.
The actual names of these five elements are Akasha (ether), Vayu(aeriality), Agni(fire), Apas(liquidity) and Prithvi(compaction). The descriptions of these five constituents are quite similar across also Sankhya, Tantra and Buddhist philosophy and even Greek literature.
It was very hot sightseeing around 33 degrees, but a dry heat, so was quite a surprise to get a sudden downpour, a late monsoonal flush to turn the gutters and lane ways to rivers in a matter of minute. Everyone was drenched to the skin.
Michelle Demetra (my travelling companion and friend has comments also on her Facebook group page and soon to be on her website as Michelle has researched in depth the particulars of places of interest visited. See on www.michelstravelsandxstitchplace.com
NEW DELHI SIGHTSEEING WITH VIKAS
One of the most impressive sites we visited was the Red Fort at New Delhi. But our first place of visit on our day of arrival was to the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site Qutab Minar, which covers a huge area
The buildings in the complex 15km south of Delhi dates back to Muslim rule in India. Qutb-ud-din began the original tower in 1209 and completed after his death The tower is 73m high and tapers to the top.
In days gone by cloisters linked the mosques to the tower. We were taken to the Ethiopian Consulate compound for a lovely Indian luncheon including Tandoori chicken, and Chicken with Fenugreek and Roti bread. We did enjoy the after dinner treat of sugar cubes and aniseed to cleanse the pallet.
Next day our first place of visitation was the Red Fort (also known as Lal Qila) complex built of red sandstone, and constructed by Shah Jehan It covers a huge area and is still housing the Indian Army.
We entered the Red Fort through the Lahore gate through security. It faces Lahore now in Pakistan.
We then walked through a covered bazaar where Michelle bought a purse for her camera. This was originally built so the concubines and wives could go shopping. From the bazaar to the Naubat Khana or Drum House, beautifully decorated with frescoes. This building sitting in a garden surrounded by vast lawns and gardens with hedges.
Then through the Hall of Public Audience Diwan-i-Khas built of white marble where the emperor would sit in on disputes.This looked toward the Summer Palace residence, quite small in relation to the rest of The Red Fort. There are still army barracks functioning here.
I climbed up the steps of JAMA MASJID the great Mosque of Old Delhi the largest in India also built by Emperor Shar Jahan the (fifth Mughal emperor of India,) who built the Red Fort and commissioned the mosque in 1644, it remains the largest mosque in India. – he must have been a very busy man.
There was a group of Aussie tourists there with Wendy Wu travel.
The mosque is built in the middle of some of the narrowest and busiest dirt streets of New Delhi, thronging with merchants and shoppers selling everything from fireworks to gas to milk
Now I knew New Delhi was the political capital of India but I did not realize there were so many huge beautiful buildings attached to the Presidential Palace and Government buildings
Along with the House of Parliament a circular building, then drive on down through Impressive INDIA GATE, through which was seen King George V Memorial without his statue which is somewhere else.
Oh my goodness me, I nearly forgot our very important visit to the Mahatma Gandhi memorial….. how could I, I nearly flaked it in the heat there and Michelle had to just about push me up the steep incline to see the very stirring peaceful sight of this country’s most important memorial. So glad she did as would have been sorry to have missed it. I thought at one stage I might have ended up there with him! Thanks Mish.
The very stirring monument with beautiful yellow marigold flowers floating on the water dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi who was cremated after his assassination in 1948 so is just a memorial. A commemorative ceremony takes place each Friday on the day he was killed.
JAIPUR – THE PINK CITY IN RAJESTHAN
We were met on arrival at the beautiful Rambagh Palace Hotel in splendid fashion by a sprinkling of rose petals as we walked up the steps, making us feel like royalty.
We met our fabulous local tour guide for our sightseeing in Jaipur DILIP SINGH a very informative and knowledgeable young man. He was very helpful assisting the two of us everywhere up steps and down hills, and an excellent photographer as well. See some of Dilip’s fancy camera work below.
I loved the Pink City, it really had atmosphere, and I think was one of my favorite places.
Jaipur is called the Pink citry because when Edward Prince of Wales visited the city in 1876 all the buildings were ordered to be painted pink in his honour. This is a very atmospheric place to visit with many vendors in the area and also houses the famous five storied Palace of the Winds, or Hawa Mahal is found built in 1798 by the Maharaja Sawai. It was designed like the crown of Krishna the Hindu God. It had 953 small latticed windows where the Royal ladies sat behind watching the people in the street without being seen themselves. It was part of the city palace.
Our guide Dilip then took us to see the Amer Fort pronounced Amber Fort just a short distance, 10 minutes from Jaipur, the Amber Fort complex stands high in the hills overlooking the Delhi-Jaipur highway, with its forbidding ramparts reflected in the still waters of the Maota Lake below. Right at the top is Amber Palace where power was later shifted to City Palace
Now for one of the highlights of the whole trip, the Elephant ride at the Amber Fort. The best and funniest part was boarding the elephant with its red turbaned driver up to the top to the Palace.
Has to be equal in enjoyment and achievement to climbing the Great Wall of China. The driver kept telling us to sit in the middle of the elephant or risk falling off by slipping down the side of it. Can you imagine.
AMBER PALACE AT TOP OF AMBER FORT
Amber (pronounced Amer) is situated about 11 kilometres from Jaipur and was the ancient citadel of the ruling Kachwahas of Amber, before the capital was shifted to the plains, the present day Jaipur. The Amber Fort set in picturesque and rugged hills is a fascinating blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture. Constructed by Raja Man Singh I in 1592 and completed by Mirja Raja Jai Singh the fort was made in red sand stone and white marble. It is very beautiful and well worth the walk to the top.
Within the palace are the Diwan-e-Aam or the “Hall of Public Audience”.
the Diwan-e-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience” and the Sukh Niws where a cool breeze blows across channels of water for the purpose of air-conditioning.
The structure has four different parts, each with a separate entrance. The main entry to the fort is through the ‘Suraj Pol’ or Sun Gate which opens up into the main courtyard. This east-facing gate is also the main entrance to the palace and its position with respect to the rising sun is the source of its name.
The ‘Jaleb Chowk’ is one of the four courtyards of the Amer Palace. The ‘Sila Devi’ Temple is right at the entrance to the main palace grounds. The second courtyard is famous for its ‘Diwan-i-Aam’ (Public Audience Hall), the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ and the ‘Sukh Mahal’.
Then out past Jal Mahal the Lake Palace sitting serenely mystical in the water, below
Before going to visit one of the most amazingly historical places in terms of the measuring of time and study of the moon, sun and stars Jantar mantar. It is unbelievable in as much the brilliance of invention and put there by Maharaja Jai Singh II during the 1720’s There are plenty of observatories all over the world, but the Jantar Mantar is considered to be one of the largest observatories ever built. Combining religion, science and art, the Jantar Mantar is the name given to a series of five, magnificent structures built in Jaipur.
Maharaja Jai Singh II, an amazing man, the founder of the ‘Pink city’, was a great scholar and an avid Astrologer. He studied philosophy, astrology, architecture and religion in various schools, and was also well versed with universal mathematical concepts such as Euclid’s Clements, Ptolemy’s Syntaxes (try teaching that to our kids today) and the Master works of Aryabhatta. In the year 1718, he wanted to construct an observatory of renown. For this, he studied the subject of astronomy and then built five different observatories around North India. At these places, he would sit with other scholarly astronomers, such as Pt. Kedarnath, for astronomical observations.
The ‘Jantar Mantar’ at Jaipur, being the biggest conservatory in the country, was renovated time and again and houses various instruments that offer precise measurements of time, the azimuth, declination of the sun and the positions of constellations, along with several other astronomical phenomena. The Jaipur observatory was functional for seven years only, as the Maharaja was not very successful in deriving accurate, astronomical observations.
CITY PALACE NEXT VISIT
Located in the heart of the walled city, the City Palace Complex gives you an idea about the farsightedness of the founder of Jaipur Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. He left behind a legacy of some of the most imposing and magnificent architecture in the city. It has a real feeling of living royalty in India.
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh built many buildings but some of the structures were also built by later rulers. The palace is a blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture and the ex-royal family still lives in a part of the palace.
We toured the very extensive museum textile collection dating back hundreds of years, the royal robes were extremely impressive and grand, gold embroidery was lavish and not spared on any garments.
Then we had a delightful Indian cuisine lunch at the City Palace Cafe which the Royal Family opened on request from tour guides.
Whilst we were there the young Royal Prince was chauffered past us from Chandra Mahal – (His Highness Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh was born on 2nd July1998 as son of Princess Diya Kumari and Maharaj Narendra Singh. His Late Highness Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Singhji adopted him as his crown prince on 22nd November 2002 and enthroned on Jaipur Gaddi on 27th April 2011. At that time, he was studying at Mayo College, Ajmer.)
THE RAMBAGH PALACE HOTEL JAIPUR- WHERE WE STAYED
I never thought I would get to sleep in a real Palace, but we did. We spent two nights in extreme luxury at the Taj Rambagh Palace Jaipur the home of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and his beautiful wife Rajmata Gayatri Devi.
When you drive in the front entrance you know you are somewhere different when you are offered a lift in an old Pontiac with a turbaned driver. We chose to stay with our Parmod driver extraordinaire from On the Go Tours in our own Toyota.
The jewel of Jaipur has been a royal guest house and hunting lodge to the Maharaja of Jaipur reflecting the finest marbled corridors and majestic gardens. It featured in Peter Coats “Most beautiful Gardens of the World’.
Sir Swinton Jacob the British Engineer who built the Albert Hall Museum Jaipur designed the vast open hall, and two rooms and courtyards with traditional Rajput architecture. This is when the estate was renamed Rambagh the garden on Ram Singh
In 1933 the Maharaja returned to India from England with his family and took up residence with his wife Gayatri Devi where they graciously entertained royalty and the cream of society, Viceroys, including the Mountbattens, Lords and Ladies, polo players at their own polo field and it had an international reputation of elegant entertainment.
In1947 India declared independence and the princely states were merged with the Union of India and Maharaja of Jaipur was appointed the Rajpramukh of the state of Rajasthan. Rambagh Palace became the Raj Bhavan or Governor’s House.
In 1956 the family decided that the city needed a luxury hotel and hence Rambagh Palace was converted to a world class one run by the family itself until in 1972 Taj Hotels and Resorts took over the management maintaining it as the epitome of glorious Rajput hospitality.
The swmming pool areas and gardens were very relaxing after a long hot day of touring.
And it was a sheer delight to take a relaxing swim in the indoor pool and take an hour long massage in the spa tents at the bottom of the garden near the steam train.
The total elegance is rejuvenating to the soul and there is such a calming, relaxing air to the place as you stroll through its shiny marble floored hallways.
You can take me back to stay at this Palace any day.
AND ADDING THE BEST IS YET TO COME – AGRA AND THE TAJ MAHAL
THE UNBELIEVABLE TAJ MAHAL
You have to see it to believe it! It is a subliminal moment in your life to see this apparition in front of you.
It is just so much more magic than any picture can do justice to.
From every angle it is pure magic
There are so many different angles to photograph
You simply cannot withdraw your eyes from it when you are there, and even as you leave you keep turning back for another last look
We played peek-aboo in the cloisters as we left the Taj Mahal
The Yamuna river bathed in ethereal light which adds to its mystique runs at the rear of the Taj Mahal and across from it the Moon gardens
ON THE ROAD – TO AND FROM JAIPUR – AGRA
We sat enthralled in our chauffeur driven vehicle by Parmod the driver as we went from New Delhi to Jaipur, about a 5 hour journey with one pit stop on the way at a nice clean restaurant-cum-souvenir salesroom where we both wanted to buy the one copy of the book “A Princess Remembers” hence both dived at it from 10 paces, to end up in a giggling heap!
The livestock we saw along the way and their tenders were an eye opener.
I was particularly interested to see so many Massey Ferguson tractors on the road as my father was a Massey Ferguson salesman, he could have made his fortune selling MF65’s in India!
I was enthralled by the hay stacks because as a child my Grandfather had the Kapunda Chaff Mill and I earned money sewing up chaff bags with ears made from hay.
These haystacks reminded me very much of Monet’s famous painting ‘Haystacks’
The sales along the way were fascinating for goats especially. There were interesting things to see all along the way
KOHINOOR JEWELLERS SHOWROOM AGRA – NOT TO BE MISSED
A place not to be missed on an itinerary to India is after being to the Taj Mahal visit the KOHINOOR JEWELERS FOR THE BEST DISPLAY OF FINE JEWELRY AND FANTASTIC EXHIBITION OF 3 DIMENSIONAL EMBROIDERY BY AMAZING PADMASHRI SHAMS – really and eighth wonder of the modern world.
Michelle and I were offered the chance to try on some of Mumtaz Mahal’s priceless jewelry, we just felt too insignificant and daunted by the prospect of such an occurrence but could just look upon them with awe.
AGRA FORT VERY IMPRESSIVE
A visit to Agra would not be complete without a visit to the very lovely Agra Fort built by Emperor Akbar in 1565. The red sandstone Fort was renovated and converted into a Palace during Shar Jahan’s time and redone completely with marble and pietra dura inlay.
Mugal Emperor Shah Jihan spent his last 6 years here confined in Khaas Mahal where he could see the Taj Mahal in the distance he had built for his wife
Shah Jahin was kept under house arrest by his son Aurangzeb for six years.
see and marvel at the AMAZING WEBSITE OF KOHINOOR JEWELLERS ON
I recommend a visit to their showroom just to see “The Good Shepherd’ embroidery by Padmashri Shams, it brought tears to our eyes and goose bumps as the curtain was raised on this magnificent piece of work.
We could not believe the extravagance of these embroideries and the amount of work that must go into them
The craftsmanship is undeniable
After this we had one more evening at our Gateway Hotel overlooking the Taj. From a distance it looks like a dream and when I woke up on our last morning before dawn I sat in the chaise lounge strategically placed for tourists by the Hotel, and we had the best room on the top floor facing the Taj and watched ‘her’ appear out of a ghostly emptiness into an ethereal vision of loveliness and beauty like no other, and no, it wasn’t my room-mate! I was speechless watching (for a change.) A perfect dawning to our last day in India.
I did time our visit to the Taj at nearly full moon for optimum photography as you see some moonlit shots over the Taj are something to behold, but you have to buy tickets two days prior to your visit to go to the Taj for moonlight rising shots, which I was not aware of.
The drive from Agra back to New Delhi takes a good 5 hours with one stop on the way. I think next time I would maybe fly out of the last city of visit in our case Agra back to New Delhi to fly home, although the scenery was interesting on the way I must say.
Our last night we stayed near the airport as had a very early departure, like 4.45am but the Radisson Plaza Blu was very recommendable, one of the best business/airport hotels I have ever stayed in around the world. The lounges and eateries were quite luxurious as were the rooms, interestingly for a business hotel to have glass walled partition between the bathroom and the bedroom. Could make business people and board room meetings interesting. Don;t panic there is a drop down push button blind!
End of our fabulous trip to India, huge thanks to my travelling companion Michelle
and thanks to ON THE GO TOURS
ON THE GO TOURS WEBSITE LISTED Wonders of the World (quote from their www)
There have been many Wonders of the World lists that have been compiled over the years, since the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, of which there is only one sole survivor, the legendary Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
New lists include the Seven Natural Wonders of the World which features Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain and the thundering Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe and Zambia border. The Underwater Wonders of the World features the wildlife rich Galapagos Islands, the world’s deepest lake, Baikal in Siberia and the Northern Red Sea. The natural phenomenon of the Serengeti Wildebeest Migration and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Turkey’s beautiful Cappadocia and the mighty Amazon Rainforest in South America all made the shortlist for the Travel Wonders of the World and in 2007 an official New Seven Wonders of the World list was compiled in an attempt to revive the concept of the Ancient Wonders. Jordan’s incredible Rose City of Petra, the white marble Taj Mahal in India, The Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu Inca ruins in Peru, all deservedly made the grade.
And author’s footnote….
I think Abu Simbel, and Glacier Bay Alaska, and Niagara and Iguazu Falls should be on this list too, and I give heartfelt thanks to God that I have been so lucky to have seen and marveled at all these God made and man made wonders of the World now that I too, have seen the magnificent Taj Mahal perhaps the most beautiful of all, thanks to On the Go Tours.