No matter what I say about India, it will seem like a cliché. One thing is true, a visit to India will change your life and your perspective forever.
It’s a continent of over one billion people, scrambling to live, to survive, from the rubbish dumps of Mumbai to the Moghul Palaces of Jaipur.
Ruined temples and forts, beautiful and finely preserved monuments like the Taj Mahal. Contrasts? It’s been said before …
From this seething mass of ordered confusion, rises a culture, and a history to be proud of – a mixture of religions and languages, and they don’t always see eye to eye.
As a tourist, I felt special, welcome – I was shown genuine friendship from the people, happy to show me their country, try their food, and make my experience one to remember. I can even forgive the sharp little traders, children selling souvenirs, for over inflating their prices …. ready for me to bargain down to a third of their asking price!
Arriving in India is a culture shock – the dust, the crowds, the noise and the humidity! So I broke in gently with a few days at the beach – in Goa, in a hotel that would rival anywhere in the world’s “luxury” market. I acclimatised and relaxed by the pool, took long sunset walks and unwound at the spa. So, feeling refreshed and relaxed I was eager to go forth to discover the mysteries of India ….!
In such a huge country, it’s hard to decide what to do or where to go – India has wildlife, jungle safaris and beaches that are unique experiences, but I headed to the North – Delhi, Agra and the Golden Triangle. The area here is a mind blowing punch of history and battles, facts and figures – lots of walking, and listening to stories told by the guide while I sat in a shady spot.
You can do it as a back packer, you can do it on an escorted coach tour – but I did it in style (and it wasn’t overly expensive!) – there is nothing like a smiling turbaned welcome, opening your car door and saying a hearty “Namaste!” when you arrive. The hotel receptions are grand, chandeliered and gaudy, cool marble floors – light and airy.
Amidst the heat and dust I enjoyed cool water in the air-conditioned car while the private guide answered all my questions, changed the itinerary to my likes, and allowed me the time I needed to visit places that were of special interest to me.
So, for the highlight of my tour, visiting the Taj Mahal, I was able to see it in peace and quiet at dawn, in dazzling white splendour at noon, and again at sunset as an (almost) full moon rose behind it. I am exasperated, as I cannot find words enough to describe the Taj Mahal – the setting, the love story, the symmetry, the artistry, the architecture, the 22 years to build it, the design – everything, everything about it hits you, all at once, in the first moment that it appears in your sight as you pass through the arched entrance gate ….. and then you just sit, sit, and look, while all those single things appear in your mind, one by one, as you wonder and drown in its total magnificence.
Take the time to sit and gaze, the crowds around you will fade, as you look at the shadows, the reflections, and watch it’s colours change from soft grey to dazzling white. This is the presence of Allah – who is not represented in any physical form, statue or painting at the Taj Mahal.
It’s hard to tear yourself away, but all India was waiting – so much more to see and do – the abandoned city of Fatepur Sikri, Agra Fort, The Palace of the Winds at Jaipur – and back to Delhi – Old and New, Jama Mosque the Q’tab Minar and a hundred other experiences to make you laugh and to make you cry.
India touches your soul.
Just nine hours away, back in England, green, gentle, cool – can I really believe it’s all happening still – that chaos! Car horns and cows in the road – I scratched the surface, and I long to go back and be a part of it all again!