An adventure in India

Steve Aldridge discovers the iconic tigers and temples of India on a journey across the north.

It was our first time in India and our tour of 25 days was expected to give us a flavour of India. Our varied itinerary consisted of cities, rural, safaris and much more.

A feast for the senses

Visiting the most populous country in the world can be an assault on your senses. In Delhi, with roughly half the population of the UK in one city, things seemed to be coming at us (initially) at an alarming rate. A ride on an auto rickshaw was accompanied by a cacophony of tooting horns and bells, be it cars, bicycles, buses etc. all letting us know they’re here. Our eyes were on a swivel as things came from all angles and two white lines in the road depicting three lanes really meant five abreast…right? Oh, and watch out for the cows in the road! In the old market the bewildering array of spices competed for the attention of our olfactory glands. With that many people in such a confined space, we couldn’t help but touch and be touched by others but in a gentle and politically correct manner. Time for a rest and to let our taste buds enjoy the spices, careful with the chilli please. How adaptable humans are though, in no time it all makes sense and even enjoyable, plus it’s much less frenetic outside the city.

Architectural wonders

Architectural magnificence abounds, with an incredible mixture of Indian, Islamic, British and other influences. We marvelled at the Taj Mahal in the glow of sunrise and learned about its love story. A literal bounty of mogul-built palaces, boasting the splendour of a bygone age e.g. in Bundi. Here we dined on a rooftop terrace admiring the illuminated palace facade, whilst monkeys shrieked behind the blackened windows and fruit bats poured from doorways. Even a train station was a place of beauty, with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus’ vaulted ceiling more reminiscent of a cathedral than a railway station.

Cultural learnings

Understanding more about another culture is part of our travel experience. Perhaps for India, Varanasi proved the most interesting. Sitting on the banks of the sacred mother Ganges, it was fascinating to learn about the process of cremation, scattering of the ashes in the river as part of the path to reincarnation. Witnessing the ceremony and the open pyres will be a privileged lifelong memory.

We were unprepared for our white skin to prove such a novelty, learning that most Indians only see a white skinned person on the TV. So, many polite requests for selfies later, we were flattered by being greeted by a multitude of smiling faces. That said, the teachers whose 50 children abandoned them to rush over and high five us probably weren’t smiling.

Magnificent wildlife

Our safaris in Ranthambore and Jawai brought us in relatively close proximity of tigers, leopards and other animals. In Ranthambore we were privileged to see a mother tiger and her three cubs, having seen the father the day before. In Jawai we had numerous leopard sighting, including two cubs playing boisterously in a tree. We also had the bonus of spotting leopard cubs in Deogarh.

Safaris aren’t necessary to see monkeys though, they are everywhere. Macaques are the most destructive and prevalent in the cities, whilst langurs seem gentler but had no problem jumping onto our train in the Aravali hills. They’d spotted someone with food and an open window, ever the opportunists.

Temples and mosques

Our educational visits took us to a huge variety, from the quietly contemplative and solemn to the vibrant and rumbustious. From the magnificently carved and decorated (like the 15th century white marble Jain Temple at Ranakpur, where 1,400 intricately carved pillars support impressive domes) to those in need of some serious TLC as devotees chant between the scaffolding. What is without doubt is the great work many of these places do in the community, like the vast kitchen at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi, serving free meals to anyone who has the need (estimated at between thirty and fifty thousand per day).

Contrasts and contradictions

This is a fast moving and rapidly changing country, with enormous progress and change happening in the last thirty to forty years. Old ways sit alongside the new, as new technologies are adopted, but care is taken in many areas to preserve the old ways/skills.  So, we saw a worker using a treadle powered sewing machine, whilst next door the shop utilised the latest pay technology, where you scan a QR code with your smartphone. With a polite toot, our Toyota with bluetooth and sat nav overtakes a heavily laden cart pulled by a camel. Some are sticking to old ways by choice – for example the fishing village in Mumbai, a happy and self-sufficient community which includes grocers, barbers and modest homes, a stone’s throw from high rise glass and steel.

Farewell to India

As this article only scratches the surface of our experiences during 25 days touring India, we acknowledge that we sampled just a tiny amount of what this vast country has to offer. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable and highly educational trip. It’s a country that just has to be experienced.

Next steps

To plan and book your touring holiday to India call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678. We can make recommendations and suggestions on where to visit, what to do and how to get around.


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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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