I recently had the privilege of interviewing the journalist, author and broadcaster, John McCarthy. A man of warmth, generosity of spirit and understanding I felt, comfortable in his own skin and with no discernible trace of having been a hostage in Lebanon for almost 2000 days. Remarkable in every way.
He’d recently returned from a trip on the luxurious train, the Deccan Odyssey through Rajasthan, with his wife and young daughter. Was my romantic view of the railways in India foolish I asked and he certainly felt not, commenting on the clockwork precision of trains moving many thousands of commuters around, some hanging off the carriages and the endless, hugely long freight trains doing the same for cargo. We agreed that this legacy of the Raj undoubtedly changed the face of India and indeed, much is being done to improve the railways today.
The Deccan Odyssey was, John said, a truly wonderful experience, rather like being on an exclusive, overland cruise, where traditional bands greeted the train at every station they stopped at. The food on board was fabulous, a choice of both Indian and international fare being offered. The McCarthy’s steward and indeed, all the staff looked after everyone superbly with a friendly, rather than obsequious manner.
Leaving Delhi, travelling through the night on this magical train, John’s first stop was Ranthambore National Park, where sadly, tigers were not seen although crocodiles, snakes, many birds and deer were. He described the roads and vehicles as rackety, with unbelievable potholes. Leaving the exclusive train at 6am for the safari, the air still cold, all wrapped in blankets in an open top lorry sounded near mystical.
A visit to Jodhpur gave John’s young daughter her first experience of an auto rickshaw, where squeezed thigh to thigh with someone in another vehicle, she could not believe the traffic, the cows and the numbers of people. At sunset, the family ate on the terrace of the Mehrangarh Fort, overlooking the Blue City, with braziers burning, the sun setting which is, surely, as good as life gets! That and stroking a cobra, enticed to dance by snake charmers, which had been done earlier in the day. One of the other great successes, scientific in nature, was the huge, 17th century working sundial, over 60 feet tall at the ancient observatory in the Amber Fort.
The many palaces in Rajasthan are being put to good use, John told me, they are magnificent buildings being hired for ‘top end’ weddings and quite literally dressed as film sets to accommodate the happy couple’s expensive whims. The maharajas’ business sense has never been disputed! By contrast, there is grinding, disturbing poverty which John and his family could not ignore or make sense of. More positively, he remarked on the increase in Indian tourists exploring their own country and greater accessibility for the disabled since his last visit 15 years earlier.
However, the wonders of India, the Taj Mahal, have not diminished and the landscapes are vibrant, stunning and endless. Needless to say, it’s a country where there is always more to explore and John is keen to return.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Cox & Kings for journeys to India.
John McCarthy talked to the Silver Travel Show about his journey on the Deccan Odyssey around Rajasthan.
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