1.4 billion people. 3,287 million square kilometres. The world’s largest democracy. A land of contrasts. A land of contradictions. Relaxing yet frustrating, uplifting at the same time as despairing, vibrant but also lacking lustre in many ways. This is a traveller’s India.
Despite the many opportunities to do so, I’ve resisted travelling to India until now, at 58 years old. A socially-left disposition and a feminist orientation didn’t bode well for an enjoyable time in a country that, at first glance, treats its people poorly and its women worse, has an appalling approach to the environment and no sense of equity or fairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth and resources.
However, when I was recently given the opportunity to travel with Scott McGregor’s Railway Adventures to scope out a potential tour encompassing the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, I said ‘yes’ with gusto, girded my loins and set off.
What a fool I’ve been to deny myself the delights and wonders of India for so long.
One of the joys of travelling is to step outside your comfort zone and immerse yourself in wherever you are – the place, the people, the culture. But the real trick of travel is to resist judgement and the need to imprint one’s own values and experience on others.
While Scott has been to India many times, I got the chance to do both, in spades, on this, my first trip. And thanks to our wonderful host, Secrets of India, I got to see the best of what the region had to offer, while not being protected from how life really is for millions of people.
From the moment we arrived, I was captivated by the sights and smells, the warmth and industriousness of the people and the sheer magnitude of the history, political and socio-cultural journey this country has been on for hundreds of years.
Our adventure started in Delhi, the nation’s capital territory and home to almost 19 million people. Imagine three-quarters of Australia’s population in one city! Happily ensconced in the marvellous Imperial Hotel, a luxurious homage to times past, we set about exploring the city, including being introduced to some wonderful Chai street vendors located on every corner.
A special treat, which other travellers will experience if they book a Railway Adventures tour to this part of India, was to ride on the lovely little Fairy Queen, the world’s oldest working steam locomotive. Built in 1855, it has been fully restored and is now housed at the Rewari Railway Heritage Museum, located some 96 km south of Delhi. For just a few weeks every year, it runs between New Delhi and Rewari, and we were on it’s first run for 2017! What a ceremonious occasion it was, complete with a full Hindu blessing, local media and numerous Indian Railway luminaries in attendance.
The Fairy Queen Steam Train
From Rewari, we ventured by car a further 185km south to stunning Jaipur. Founded in 1727, it was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in 1876 and has been known as “the pink city” ever since. Our hotel, The Taj Rambagh, was an experience I will always remember, not just for its royal and significantly political origins but for it’s wonderful hospitality and sense of occasion. I celebrated my birthday while there and our resplendent breakfast, taken on the lawns and completed with being serenaded by musicians and the wonderful staff was something very special!
Celebrating my birthday in Jaipur
A visit to the incredible Amer Fort, a rickshaw ride through the streets of this wonderful city and a bit of time with wonderful artisans in their shops topped off a great visit.
The Amer Fort
But then, it was on to Agra and The Taj Mahal, the jewel in the very large crown of India. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, it took 22 years and 20,000 artisans to complete.
We ventured out early for sunrise and our guide was perhaps the most adept story teller I’ve encountered. He made the beautiful love story and its tragic end come to life in a way that reduced us to tears. The beauty of this place leaves you truly breathless.
Scott McGregor and I at the Taj Mahal
But then it was back to Delhi and The Imperial, this time riding the Gatimaan Express, India’s first semi high-speed train. How else would we travel, being a company built on railway adventures!
So, my first trip to India will certainly not be my last! The Golden Triangle is just a very small part of this wondrous country, one that Railway Adventures will be exploring in much more detail over the next couple of years.
Visit our partners, Secrets of India here- http://secretsofindia.in/