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Travel Experience – Incredible India
By Jaquey Turner
We are featuring extracts from the journal of my tour of Northern India a number of years ago, which I hope you will enjoy. I shall be escorting another tour of this fascinating country in November next year and encourage you to come along to our tour launch on Wednesday 5 December to learn more.
Varanasi: On our Sahara Airlines flight to Varanasi there was a Canadian family of Sri Lankan heritage whose father had died in Canada and his ashes were being brought to Varanasi to be scattered on the water after various rituals were performed.
To get to the Ganges River, we travelled by bus in the early morning dark, walking the last few hundred yards with other tourists, local people, pilgrims and Buddhist monks. Two young men rowed us up and down as our local guide described the buildings, culture, religion and activities around the cremation ghats.
After breakfast back at the hotel we went to a weavers' co-operative to see how hand weaving of silk was done. In the ground between the houses, silk threads were stretched out to dry and after the weaving demonstration, bedspreads, cushion covers, scarves and fabric lengths were purchased.
The Taj Mahal was wonderfully white in the early morning light and in beautiful condition, having recently undergone a mudpack to clean its surface. We could only imagine what it would have looked like with a black version on the other side of the river to house the body of Shar Jahan, had he been able to carry out his plans for his own tomb. Instead he was under house arrest because his son took over as ruler towards the end of his life and all he could do was look at his beloved wife's magnificent tomb from his bedroom window.
Jaipur: Next stop was Jaipur, capital of the famed state of Rajasthan. There are so many different horn sounds, when travelling by road, they seem to have a language of their own. Trucks have "HORN PLEASE" on the back to encourage other drivers to let them know what they are proposing to do. Some of the trucks we passed were so overloaded with chaff they look like giant mushrooms.
We saw preparations for a huge wedding at the City Palace where it looked as though they expected at least a thousand guests. City Palace had many rooms converted to a museum displaying fabrics, photos, weapons, etc. Earlier we visited the Observatory, which was built 150 years ago and possibly has the world's largest sundial.
Our guide in Jaipur, a 6' 5" member of the warrior class who was connected to the Maharaja, guided us through the Amber Fort and told us many stories about how the caste system came into being and about life at the fort. A Bollywood film was being shot at the Fort so we enjoyed seeing the 'on set' activities and the beautifully costumed dancers getting their instructions from jeans-wearing choreographers.
In the evening we had dinner at an outdoor Jaipur restaurant and were delighted by a wedding procession walking along the road beside our coach. Many of the party were carrying various types of lights which appeared to be powered by a generator on a truck bringing up the rear.
Jodhpur: After a city tour we went to the fabulous Mehrangarh Fort, where we used audio guides that were actually made in Sydney. The commentary was wonderful and told us so much about changes in life at the fort over time. It was particularly interesting to hear from the current Maharaja's family about the changes they have seen including the women coming out of purdah in the 1970s.
Udaipur: After breakfast we toured the City Palace, part of which is still used by the Maharana. We were very amused to learn that the smallest room in the palace was known as 'the temple of relief'. Part of the complex has been converted into a hotel and there is also a school where the art of miniature painting is taught. After making some purchases we walked across the road to the lovely Dovecote Terrace Restaurant overlooking the lake and had our last meal together – a lovely lunch served by charming staff.
It was a wonderful experience to visit such an amazing country in the care of an escort like Jacquey. In a secular country of a billion people with many different religions, we could not help but be impressed by their tolerance and positive approach to life. We all learnt a lot about this incredible part of the world.