A guest post by Carol Charman
India was everything I’d read about beforehand, and so much more. Each day the itinerary came to life in the places we visited. Awe-inspiring temples; some cool and calming, others colourful and incense-filled as we witnessed religious teachings and offerings to the poor. Spectacular and imposing forts too, perched on top of mountains, their walls snaking across the surrounding hills.
Seven of us met up, just before midnight, at Mumbai airport, amid the traffic noise and dust of the 24 hour renovations to the airport site. We got on well immediately and were a mini family over the next few weeks, watching out for each other and for those important, not to be missed, photo opportunities. Our Trip was with Bunnik Tours, who run tours all year round to India. There were six women and one man on the trip
Many of our destinations had UNESCO World Heritage listings or were buildings preserved by India government decree. The ‘step well’ at Abhaneri was one such place, totally unexpected when we drove into the small village. The colours of the sandcastle-like fort of Jaisalmer and the Mughal Commander’s Observatory at Jaipur burnt orange at sunrise and sunset.
But it wasn’t just buildings. Some of the most memorable sights were everyday things: white clothed farmers wearing intricately twisted red turbans, herding their goats along the road; emerald green fields dotted with women in the brightest saris tending their crops.
Decorated tuk-tuks (3 wheeled taxis) carrying impossible numbers of people; bright roadside fruit and vegetable stalls; smiling and waving school children, dressed in spotless uniforms; and men covered in dust from working stone in roadside factories. Just when we thought we’d reached the high point of the tour the next day would provide an even more memorable experience, like our unplanned picnic by a lake filled with herons, spoonbills and kingfishers.
As for the Taj Mahal…well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
Our tour guide, being a Rajasthan local, gave us a personal take on the history, places and people of the country we passed through. With him we saw a ‘latest release’ Bollywood movie, experienced amid calling and whistling from locals as the story unfolded – it’s funny how you can follow a simple plot, even if it is in Hindi.
We felt privileged to witness his and our driver’s devotions one sunset at a dusty roadside shrine on a busy road where truck drivers make offerings for a safe journey across the roads of Rajasthan. Of course, we then partook of the now sacred offerings (whiskey, mixed with coke) which took us safely to Jodhpur and protected us on the rest of our journey.
One bit of India we didn’t experience though was the inevitable delays you hear about mainly due, I suspect, to our guide’s planning and negotiation skills.
Winter was a great time to go, with fewer crowds, cooler temperatures and clear blue skies each day. However, the winter smog in Mumbai and Delhi was an experience none of us will ever forget. Poverty is not something any tour to India can shield you from and we certainly saw examples of how people live that we will never forget. I came to appreciate that there are different standards in India because it is a very different country and having my values challenged was an integral part of what India was about for me.
I emigrated to Australia from Wales and have made the most of travel opportunities within and around Australia. I feel so alive when I encounter new places, and the planning and research is half the pleasure for me; which is why I love Womentravelblog. I was apprehensive about India for many years, but was continually drawn by the colour, variety and sheer difference to the West. None of it disappointed me.
My next travel is back to Wales to see family, with a detour to wintery Florence and its Renaissance history, and an out of the ordinary Mekong Cruise with my husband in January 2014. India again early next year with Tiger Tours’s Threads Through India tour . I live in the Blue Mountains and, after a career in Human Resources, am studying to teach English as a Second Language with a dream of teaching overseas, where even more travel opportunities await.