Finding the real India with Explore – Part 1


Golconda Fort This was a trip billed as an adventure beyond the Golden Triangle, a chance to see the real India and its people away from the standard tourist sites. Did it live up to its claims? Of course it did! Although the full package ‘Treasures of Central India’ starts at Mumbai, our 10 day trip was a bit shorter so started at Hyderabad but followed the same itinerary from there. One of the attractions of an Explore trip is the built-in flexibility to spot something interesting en-route and leap out to experience a real event not put on just for tourists.

So, will it appeal to our Silver Travellers? If you generally only stay in 4-star or 5-star hotels, you might struggle with the level of accommodation in some areas, especially if you are used to a tranquil, quiet sleeping environment! If you have difficulty with walking or climbing steps, you should consider one of their other tours of India as most of the cultural sites will include steps and uneven ground. The tour guide is responsible for a group of up to 18 people so would not be able to help an individual climb steps, for instance, and of course you cannot rely on other people in the group to take on this responsibility. You must be mobile and pretty nifty on your feet just to cross the road!

Indira, our guide But, if you have fond memories of your earlier days backpacking and are up for a bit more of an adventure to find the real India, this tour is ideal. From the start, you get to experience the colours, noise and inherent character of the people, so varied across this substantial land mass. You are instantly surrounded by incredible rich colours in the markets, street stalls with fresh fruits, exotic spices and, of course, wonderful silk fabrics.

Even as we arrived in Hyderabad, greeted by our very enthusiastic guide Indira, there was a buzz of excitement. Along the highway from the airport, lots of men and women were weeding, watering, tidying the carefully planted borders, a dainty white egret enjoying a free shower under a hose pipe. Late afternoon, we soon hit the traffic jams as we approached the city – ‘crunchy’ vehicles, little yellow tuk-tuk taxis, motorbikes or scooters weaving in and out carrying the whole family (no crash helmets in sight), and groups of men standing around looking at bits of cars/ bikes/ an old tyre. The same everywhere then!

Tuk-tuk taxi This journey into town seemed to meet our pre-conceptions of what we would find in India, so many people in the streets, living and working in tiny workshops, a mix of very old flimsy stone buildings and shacks held together with rope and corrugated board. Cows sat nonchalantly on the roadside, ignoring traffic, little black pigs snuffled about here and there, and two black goats were eating the leaves from a council-planted tree. But then a great, modern, shiny fish-shaped building came into view, the outside faced with tiles and completely out of character with the rest of the buildings! This is the National Fisheries offices as part of the agricultural university.

Hindu New Year celebrations Overall, this is a fascinating view of the real India outside the standard tourist trails. January is ideal time to visit, warm and sunny – you do need sun screen – and getting warmer as we moved closer to Goa on the coast. This is Hindu New Year so there are celebrations on a massive scale as each city or village holds its own special events, everyone in their best clothes flocking to visit the markets and Temples. It is clearly not a regular tourist location as we caused a bit of a sensation!

People stared at our group, lots of people wanted their photographs taken with us, either as selfies or being included in their family photographs. Darryl and Andy were particularly popular both being over six foot tall. Everyone was extremely friendly, especially children who wanted to know our names then laughed hysterically when we told them. At the temples, tombs and forts we visited, Indira told us that many of the Indian people here were also tourists coming in from the countryside to see the sights.

Tourist family The trip is full on, something every day, and we travelled many miles in the mini-bus then 6 hours by train to Goa. The roads are hazardous, full of deep potholes, and you have to be prepared to bounce about a lot – though we did master the art of bus-napping despite this. It involves a lot of walking (not long distances) over uneven ground, climbing lots of steps at monuments, and crossing the road is like playing chicken on the M4. Forget the notion of teaching your children the green cross code!

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful tombs and temples, fascinating cuisine typical of each individual region, and plenty of new and exciting experiences. Later reports give a more detailed picture of the places we visited during our stay.

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