We are starting our journey in Delhi and will travel through Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. We are touring with Inspiring Vacations on their 18 Day Idyllic India tour. We arrived a day early, were met by our tour guide Avdhesh Avasthi who not only transferred us to our hotel but came back to meet us the next morning to help us with our free day.
We had a great first day in India. We walked around the local area before heading off with a guide and driver to Akshardham temple, Ghandi’s home and a Step Well.
Akshardham temple is magnificent. Such craftsmanship in the carving on the marble on the outside and inside of the building and the grounds are amazing. Unfortunately, you are not able to take cameras or phones to the site so I can only show you a far off picture from the outer grounds. However, I highly recommend going onto google for good photos. Or better still, coming to Delhi yourself!
After spending some hours at the temple, we then went to the house where Ghandi lived just before his death in 1948. Very interesting to hear about this influential man and to see photos, paintings, memorabilia and presentations about him. I think I would like to read more about his life when I get back home.
We then went to the Agrasen ki Baoli, an ornate stepwell. It was once a water reservoir with water filling it up to the second row of arches in the photos. It is 60 metres long and 15 metres wide and, although the water is gone, it is a heritage site (built in the 14th century) and is very popular to visit.
Idyllic India Tour
Delhi to Mandawa
8am start today. Long drive to Mandawa filled with fantastic sights and sounds. We shared the road with motorbikes, cars, tuk tuks, trucks, cows, camels and busses. We drove through fields of wheat, mustard seed plants and chick peas. A desert landscape except the farms that had a water supply. Visual overload.
Our accommodation is at Mandawa Derert Resort. Beautiful oasis with village atmosphere.
Mandawa is famous for its havelis, these are rich merchant houses from the Silk Road period, fresco walls inside and out depicting old stories, the gods and historical events. The houses have a courtyard (for the men) with reception rooms on either side in which business could be conducted and entertainment given. Behind the first courtyard was a courtyard for the women, behind a wall so that no strangers could see them. The kitchen area and other rooms were around the women’s courtyard and the bedrooms above both courtyards.
Today we learned a few words:
- To show respect – add Ji to name, so Rod Ji, Janice Ji,
- Uncle – chacha Ji
- Ganges – Ganga Ji
- Numbers one to five – ek, do, teen, char, panch
- OK – theek hai
- Let’s go – chellow
- Thank you – dhanyavaad
Mandawa to Bikaner
Today we arrived in Bikaner just in time for a light lunch and then did a tour of Junagarh Fort which was built by Raja Rai Singh in 1588. This fort is not built on a hill but it had great defences – a moat with crocodiles, doors with spikes, high defence walls that could be used by the soldiers, etc. the fort itself is decorated with all sorts of carvings, walls and ceilings painted with intricate designs and inlaid gold features. We spent a long time in there because there was so much to see and hear about.
After the fort we wandered through the market before being taken to our accommodation – a former palace, Narendra Bhagwan. A place of great beauty and very posh!
Today we learned about the Caste system:
You are born into a caste and you don’t change from it regardless of your circumstances. You can better your circumstances through education and work but you remain in your caste. One exception to this is for a women who marries into a higher caste (rare) she will become that caste.
The four castes are:
- The priest caste – those whose ancestors were teachers, doctors, priests
- The warrior caste – those whose ancestors were soldiers
- The merchant caste – those whose ancestors were merchants
- The lower caste – those whose ancestors were labourers, cleaners
The Indian government is providing incentives for people of the lower caste to better their circumstances. They supply uniforms and books and free eduction for the children to attend school. They are supplied with a bike if they live more than 3km from the school. There is a quota system for government jobs so 33% of the jobs must be given to lower caste people. They have representation in parliament – the present President is lower caste.
About 6 hours travel had us arriving at Jaisalmer, known as the ‘golden city’ due to the colour of its buildings. We stayed at the Gorbandh Palace. We had plenty of time to relax before going into town for an anniversary dinner at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Junagarh Fort. Our guide had organised a surprise for us – beautiful wedding garlands and a cake.
Next morning we visited the fort which was built in the 1100s. A solid structure with great defence strategies and ways to keep cool in the desert sun. It is regarded as a living fort as people still live there. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Lots of the locals are cashing in on the tourist trade within the fort. climbing up some steep stairs to the top of the fort rewarded us with a great view of the city.
In the afternoon we travelled into the Thar Desert on an optional tour to ride a camel amongst the sand dunes followed by entertainment and a meal in the desert. To say this was enjoyable is an understatement, it was amazing!
The camel ride itself went very well and so peaceful loping along and listening to the chatter between the guides.
When we came back to the camp we freshened up and were then driven out to the desert where there were beautiful charpais (jute beds) set up for us to relax and take in the entertainment. As the sun was setting, musicians, singers and a dancer entertained us with folk songs. When the sun set, a campfire was lit as were candles and we were treated to a feast under the stars all the while enjoying the music.
Jaisalmer to Jodhpur
Another 6 hour drive today to the city of Jodhpur (the blue city).
We toured Mehrangarh Fort. This fort is one of the largest in India and is still run by the Jodhpur royal family. It was built in the 15th century and is 400 meters above the city offering spectacular views.
Today we learned that:
All medical facilities are free to all, even in hospitals.
Jodhpur to Udaipur
Today’s journey was very interesting as we stopped at quite a few places along the road. The first The Past Art – the people of the village have formed a co-op making and selling rugs made from cotton, camel and sheep wool or silk. They are made on hand looms and can take 2 weeks to four months to make depending on the size and complexity of the pattern.
Next we stopped at a shrine that has an interesting story. One night a man on bike was riding home had an accident and was killed. His body taken back to his home and the bike to police station. Next morning the bike was gone. The police looked everywhere and eventually found it at the crash site and took it back to the police station. That night the same thing happened. This time when they brought it back to the police station they took all the petrol out and chained it up. Next morning it was back at the crash site. Now it was regarded as a miracle. From then on all bus drivers and truck drivers have a picture of the dead man on their truck as good luck and there is a shine at the site.
We then stopped to admire the intricately carved Ranakpur Jain Temple before climbing (well the bus did the climbing) over the Avavalli Range and into Udaipur.
Udaipur is known as the lake city. Our hotel overlooks the city so we have great views of one of the lakes. This morning we toured the City Palace in which the royal family still resides. There is three sections to the palace now – the museum section which we toured, the royal residence and a part that has been converted to a 7 star hotel.
We also visited an artist’s cooperative specialising in miniature painting. This is not painting of small paintings, it refers to the tiny detailed work involved in the paintings. Exquisitely fine squirrel hair brushes are used to apply the paint. The paint made by wetting the coloured stone from this area, all natural and vibrant colours. The artists take years to perfect their art.
At sunset we had a boat ride on the lake.
Udaipur to Jaipur
This was a big travel day – about 8 hours on the bus with a couple of breaks. Before dinner tonight we went to a textile place that did block printing on fabric. Lots of things to tempt you – doona covers, scarves and pashminas, opportunity to get some clothes made etc.
Today we had the opportunity to tour the city known as the pink city, due to the colour of the buildings in the old town. We started with a photo stop at the Hawa Mahal – Palace of the Winds. This is really a facade of a palace. It was made so that the ladies could come from the real palace and view the activity in the street without being seen.
We then went to tour the Amber Fort. It would have been quite a steep walk up to the fort so travelling up be Jeep was a welcome (although bumpy) event. Some other tourists went up by elephant.
Made from sandstone and white marble, this fort was built in the 17th century. Very attractive fort and we loved the Sheesh Mahal or Hall of Mirrors. The walls and ceilings were covered in mirrors so that a single lantern could light up the whole room. Very impressive.
We then took photos of the Water Palace which is in the middle of a man-made lake.
After lunch we toured the Chandra Mahal or City Palace. This is made up a number of courtyards and galleries.
Then we wandered through the markets.
We flew to Varanasi from Jaipur this morning and had an easy afternoon.
Late afternoon we went into downtown Varanasi. Sunday markets were on so it was teeming with people. We took a walk along the ghats – stairs leading down to Ganga (we call it The Ganges). Ganga is the holy river to the Indian people. People come there to worship, to bathe in the holy waters, to meditate, to meet with priests who help with their horoscopes, to cremate their dead, and even to wash their clothes. We were able to see people doing all these things as we walked along.
After our walk we boarded a boat at sunset and viewed the shores of Ganga. After sunset the boat took us to one of the main ghats (along with scores of other boats) where we watched the worship with its chanting and bells all led by priests with hundreds of people participating.
Next morning we took a boat again on the Ganga to see the sunrise and to view the shoreline bathed in the early morning light.
Today we learned about what happens when some dies
When one dies in India, the family, if possible, brings the body for cremation to the Ganga (or, if that’s not possible, to one of the other holy rivers). For 12 days the eldest son shaves his head and puts on simple traditional white clothes and eats very simple food. The body is taken to the river where the son bathes the body. It is then put on the funeral pyre and the cremation occurs. The son and the family then go home for another 12 days and live simply, receiving guests and mourning the deceased.
Later on we went to a Buddhist temple in Sarnath on the site where Buddha gave his first sermon to 5 followers. Those five followers each then spread the word to five more and so on. This was all about 500bc. We also saw a 2000 year old stupa.
From Varanasi to Lucknow was a long day – 7 hours in the bus plus a stop for lunch. Through many county towns, a bit of a hairy journey but arrived safe and sound.
Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh Provence. We stayed in a nice hotel but in a poorer section of the city. We went with the tour guide for a walk around the local area in the evening – well what an adventure, I’m glad he was with us!
Next morning we had a tour of the Bara Imambara which was built in 1784 by the grandson of the Mughal ruler who built the Taj Mahal. The complex contains a mosque, several courtyards and gateways and a grand bawali or stepwell that was once used as a summer palace. There is a labyrinth above the main hall which is said to have 1000 entrances and only 2 exits.
Just outside this area we went through the gateway to Lucknow called Rumi Darwaza which is in Indian style on one side and the other side looks like a gateway in Turkey.
We left Lucknow at about 10.30 and travelled on the expressway to Agra. About a 6 hour journey. Before dinner we sampled some snacks that are typical street food then we went on to a rooftop restaurant.
At sunrise the next morning we visited the exquisite Taj Mahal. Wow, ‘a pinch me, am I really here‘ moment. The story behind the Taj Mahal is one of love.
The Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan, loved his wife Mumtaz Mahal completely from the first sight of her. He married her when she was 19. In their 19th year of marriage when she was pregnant with their 14th child, he had to go into battle and she insisted on coming. He made arrangements that she would be looked after in the camp and had messengers come out to the battlefront each day with news of her.
The time came for her to give birth and there were complications. The messenger reported that everything was ok so as not to distract Shah Jahan But, when it was obvious that she was going to die, they sent for him. By then she was so weak that she could not sit up. He picked her up and held her in his arms. She said she wanted 3 promises from him – first to look after their children, the second to never marry again and the third to build a monument to their love.
Upon her death he went into deep mourning and shut himself away. When he came out he looked like a broken man. He called for architects to draw up plans for a mausoleum for his beloved wife. The Taj Mahal took 20,000 men 22 years to build. It is made from white marble sourced from 350 klms away in Rajasthan.
Shortly after it was completed, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son. While he lived his final days in captivity his consolation was that he could see the Taj Mahal and remember his wife. When he died he was buried next to her and this is the only non-symmetrical part of the Taj Mahal.
In the afternoon we travelled back to Delhi.
Next morning we toured Old Delhi. We started with the Jama Masid, one of India’s largest mosques. This mosque was commissioned by Shah Jahan, who also commissioned the Taj Mahal.
Then we went to the Chandni Chowk – the busy market area of Old Delhi. It has a number of sections – Katra Neel (fabrics and ready made outfits), Dariba Kaplan (the silver market), Paranthe Walli Galli (food market) and the Khari Baoli (spice market). Sensory overload. Fabulous.
We visited a Sikh worship centre. The Sikh religion has a scripture called Guru Granth Sahib and believe in one creator and equality of all mankind. Sikhs strive for justice and engage in service to all people. The centre we visited had a worship hall and then to the side a kitchen that feeds over 10,000 people a day. Anyone can come for 2 meals a day whether you are beggar on the street or a wealthy person. No one is turned away. All the workers are volunteers and they seemed very happy as they prepared vegetables, cooked bread, prepared the dining area or washed up.
So this day was the last of the Idyllic India Tour. Of the 6 of us on the tour, two went on to Singapore the next morning. Four of us stayed on for an extra day, then two departed for Dubai and we went on to Nepal.
On the extra day in Delhi we tackled the local trains to go to Connaught Place. We found the trains to be clean and efficient with staff being helpful by showing us the correct platforms to use.
Connaught Place is known as a business and financial hub with lovely white colonial buildings. Plenty of food outlets and restaurants are around as well as curb side market stalls.