Racing through India in less than 4 weeks was frustrating, trying to do too much in a short time. …
My Lonely Planet tells me that India is a litmus test for travellers. I was excited arriving — but it wasn’t easy.
I bussed from Nepal via the unpleasant border town of Sunauli. Crossing can be a drama, but I was lucky this time.
Towns in the north of India are generally dusty and polluted.
Travellers come here to visit the Holy city of Varanasi (Benares).
I did too. And had a surreal experience, a good introduction to the sub-continent.
The famous temple city Khajuraho though, is lovely. A hot, dry, flat, peaceful little town.
It survived the Muslim invasions by being smack in the middle of nowhere.
I had a luxury room with tub at Yogi Lodge for $4 / night. Free yoga lessons from a master on the roof every morning. Breathing and stretching with a view of the temples.
I was here like most other visitors to see erotic carvings. Actually they are carvings of daily life including loads of sex.
Unfortunately it is difficult to see the details of the Kama Sutra from below.
Entrance to the park cost me C$.02. Postcards were $.04 or less.
Prices have gone up in India. But it was cheap in 1996.
The craftsmanship (950 – 1050 AD) is amazing.
A desert climate preserved the works.
Already rushed, I decided to fly as much as I could to save time.
India is not the country to see in a short visit.
Highest priority was the Taj Mahal.
And it did not disappoint. 🙂
Even the most jaded traveller comes away impressed.
The detail is gorgeous; finely cut marble screens, astounding pietra dura, semi-precious stone inlaid in marble.
Experts from Iran, France, Venice and the rest of the world collaborated on construction.
The Taj looks great from any distance, in any light. I sat on the Taj Khema restaurant with a rooftop view, listening to a sitar player, and drinking (illegal) beer sold in teapots.
Shah Jahan built the Taj as tribute to his wife of 17-years, Mumtaz. She bore him 14 children but died in childbirth.
The Shah is supposed to have considered building a black marble Taj for himself!
One of the great love stories of all time.
My favourite view of the Taj was from across the Yamuna river. The flood plain on that side was astonishingly undeveloped.
The Agra Red Fort, built by Akbar, greatest of the Islamic Moghul rulers, is much less visited than the Taj, but I was very impressed with it too.
I played with monkeys for much of the time I was there.
The Taj seen from Agra Fort.
Shah Jahan was eventually deposed by his son, and spent the next 8 years, until his death, in the Red Fort prison. Jahan had the consolation of a view of the Taj Mahal from his window, which would comfort him until he joined his late wife.
A short distance away is another astonishing site built by Shah Jahan, Fatehpur Sikri, a perfectly preserved abandoned city. Fantastic.
He housed his harem here, using slave girls as pieces on a giant parchisi board.
It’s a popular spot for weddings.
I bypassed Delhi to Rajasthan which I knew to be the place to be in India in 1996.
I arrived in Jaipur at 4 AM but was a bit disappointed with the famous Palace of Winds. It’s just a facade.
Much better was Jantar mantar (observatory) one of 5 such installations built by Jai Singh.
He was an inventor and an astronomy nut who built his own giant equipment for studying the sky. These devises were remarkably accurate.
I moved on to Udaipur to see the luxurious Lake Palace Hotel in the middle of Pichola Lake, formerly the residence of the rulers of Udaipur.
Best of all was Pushkar, a dreamy little pilgrimage town famed for it’s Camel Fair.
The colors and energy are wonderful. The air resonates with music from exotic rural instruments, melodious music, folk drama and dance. Villagers arrive in their most colourful garb. Sadhus meditate on the lakeside.
Pushkar has perhaps the only Brahma temple in the world today too.
The Rajputs are an indigenous warrier class with a strict code of chivalry and honour. They fought to the death. When all was lost the female children were burned in a pyre.
They reminded me of the proud Bedu of Arabia.
The Rajputs are the most visually impressive people I have ever seen. Men have pastel-coloured turbans and soup-strainer moustaches.
The women’s festival costumes are stunning.
I was embarrased to tell fellow travellers how long I had to travel India. (It was two and a half weeks, I believe)
I vowed to return to the Gates of India with more time. (Four months in 1999 as it eventually turned out.)
To the tourist, Bombay (Mumbai) is a modern, affluent, clean world city. I liked it staying at the Salvation Army close to the Taj Hotel.
The highlight of my stay was being offered an extra’s role in a Bollywood film. I was keen to go but, alas, I had a flight to catch.
Don’t go to India unless you have lots of time. It will just frustrate you.
And be sure to bring your Lonely Planet guidebook. It’s indispensable.