Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey:
- Out of my travels to 68 countries, India was one of the most intriguing places I have been.
- The Aug rains may not be for all since humidity comes with it but make for few other real problems.
- As a solo woman traveler, I joined a small group of twelve for 16 days.
- There were lots of adventures in our monsoon journey focused mainly on Rajasthan.
- Here are a few highlights.
Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey: Intro to India:
- India was one of the very friendliest places I have ever been. All along the way there were warm hellos and the greeting “Namaste”. Even babies wanted to “shake” hands!
- The landscape ranges from tall hills and mountains to lush green fields and even desert. The border in the west has its own active camel patrol!
- At the high end of the market, fashionistas would love the bright silks and custom made clothes as well as stylish jewelry.
- There were also real deals to be made in our daily “bus bazaars”. I found great gifts to take home but did return with a puzzling item. I bought a small pink stone elephant “with baby”. I looked and looked but could not find the baby. After a closer inspection, I discovered it was visible by peering through the mother elephant’s rib cage! I did pass up on “cobras” in a box. Those two gyrating serpents would pop up from the box to welcome the unwary. Not recommended for toting in your carry-on bag!
Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey: India’s History from 1947:
- I did not jump right into the trip’s reading list. I did though do some “homework”. The Travel Channel’s Globe Trekker had a one hour program that took me from Delhi to Luchnow.
- That led me to my first day’s goal. Upon learning of the Imperial Hotel’s role in the 1947 history, I had to start there.
- After I arrived from the US at 2 AM, I was up early to hatch my plan before the tour began. I was set on a taste of high tea and history at the Imperial.
- As luck would have it, at breakfast I met two women to join me on my first adventure in India. One was from Tehran and the other from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Our international “delegation” took an hour’s taxi ride through Delhi’s challenging traffic. We were serenaded by non-stop horns as cars, motor bikes and tuk tuks sped by. At last, we arrived at an elegant sea of calm and found high tea awaiting us. After one too many scones, we toured the hotel. I was pleased to see that the dining room where Gandhi, Nehru and others met was unchanged from old photos. Even the camera shots from Globe Trekker were easy to duplicate.
Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey: the “Pink City of Jaipur”:
Although the Taj Mahal is of worldwide renown, my favorite day was spent in the “Pink City” of Jaipur with four palaces/forts to visit. (One of our hardy crew led us up an endless trail to a hill top fort. He dubbed it “a fort too far”, and the name stuck once we caught our breath!)
- The day began with the Palace of the Winds. Two tips: 1. Your guide book may dismiss it as “just a façade”. As a result, I had thought a quick photo in the rain was enough. As luck would have it, an hour’s tour later let me see what was one of my favorite stops while in India. So be sure not to miss it! 2. There are two ways in and out. Take the long way in and the alley out for a better view.
- This 18th century palace was special both because of its use and style. 1. Its small slit windows gave royal women a glimpse of life outside. They could see all go by in the streets but not be seen. You can still forge up to the top floor for a city scape. The style was like the rest of Jaipur, a pink sandstone, but shaped to resemble the crown of the Hindu god Krishna.
- A leading tourist site is outside the walled Old City of Jaipur. The Amber Fort (say am-mer) does not disappoint. We went on foot. However, brightly bedecked elephants were one alternate option. Like most of the the “forts”, they were also a home to the royals. Most photographed was the Sheesh Mahal. That room of mirrors was like a small version of Versailles’s Salle des Glaces. If you stood in the right spot, you could become part of its history by having a selfie with your reflection in one of the mirrors.
- In time for the noon day heat, six of our group of 13 were off to the “fort too far”. I must confess the fort is a blur in my mind. What is not forgotten? The trip up and back. I should have known that any “short” hike seldom goes as billed! Worse yet? If it starts in a dark tunnel and no sunlight, you will be in for a long, long “walk”. When we were at last out in the sun, the fort was still but a speck overhead. At each turn, our leader would say: “It’s just ahead”. Of course, it never was! Our trusty guide book told of catching a ride on available golf carts that would whisk us to the top. Apparently, they were out for a leisurely lunch or on holiday. As we trudged up the hill top, relief was in sight! A motor cycle dashed in to give rides for tips. I was not thrilled to have my first (and last) such motorcycle ride. I hung on for dear life as we sped along the unpaved path. As we swerved along the edge, I could see the deep chasm ending in the valley below. I softly murmured “slow”, “slow” all the way to the top. I arrived at the mountain top to find, aha, the golf cart had now arrived with the rest of our crew. I fast found out that unfortunately my pleas to slow down had been heard all the way down the hillside!
- The next and last fort of the day had an outside café perched on the hill top with better views still. Of course, lunch was followed by, yes, a tour of this 4th palace/fort of the day. I was intrigued to see how much European influence there had been. Many of these palaces had stain glass windows in bright colors acting as prisms to reflect the afternoon’s sunlight.
- What I still think of though was the ride back to Jaipur. Six of us sat, lurked and held on tight in a 4 foot wide tuk tuk. What added to the fun? We dodged cars, tuk tuk’s and motorcycles sans seat belts while clammering horns serenaded us.
Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey: A New Look at the Taj Mahal:
What is the challenge with touring the Taj Mahal? In our electronic age, it can be “seen” in so many photos, videos and films, it is easy to feel that you have already “seen” it. It is the same problem with Paris’s Arc de Triomphe and Egypt’s pyramids at Giza!
- A popular approach was ours: Navigating dark streets to arrive before sunrise. As you may have noted, this means yet one more wake up call at 4:30 AM but totally worth it.
- Tip 1: Bring a flashlight. Walking through the still dark streets, I almost stepped on several slumbering dogs.
- Tip 2: Wear walking shoes but avoid oversized boots. You will be given “booties” to wear for entering the “white building”. (The grounds have several other buildings to explore.) The booties did not fit well over my high top sneakers. I risked being sent to the back of the line to start over with a new set.
- Tip 3: The Taj is one way traffic so don’t plan to loop back through the crowd. It is situated on the river’s edge providing a perfect spot to relax and take more photos.
- Tip 4: There are some special photo angles in front of the mosque. You can capture a picture of the Taj Mahal bordered on the top by a Moghul arch.
- And yes, the bench where Princess Diana posed alone is still there. It will be waiting for you to snap your own selfie! Local photographers can also take your photo for a fee.
- Sadly, the love story memorialized in the Taj, like many less famous ones, did not have a happy ending. Shah Jahan’s beloved Mumtaz died in child birth. His son later ousted him from his throne. Shah Jahan was under “house” arrest at the Agra Fort for the rest of his life. From there, he could catch just a glimpse of the Taj from a small arched window. He was later reunited with Mumtaz as he was interred by her side at the Taj.
Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey: Safari Time:
As I discovered Up River in the Amazon, it is hard to find wild life in their natural habitat.
- What is the main reason other than their dwindling number?
- Animals don’t always relish a visit from tourists invading their turf.
- In addition, in Aug., the 50+ tigers at the Sawai Masingh preserve had gone in search of “romance”, or at least the perfect mate.
- Unlike lions, tigers tend to go it alone making it harder to spot them.
- I was pleased to find brightly colored birds and wild monkeys galore. The peacocks though seldom cooperated for their photo shoots. Unfortunately, the males tend to reserve fanning their tails when courting to entice a comely female peacock.
- We did see quite quickly that monsoons and a leisurely drive might not always mix. Forging rivers in an open vehicle may require a push to get to the other side! (Although an adventure if this item is not on your bucket list, you may want to lounge by the pool or catch up on your emails.)
- Despite the remote spot, we had two great lodgings to experience. My favorite was the palatial Nahargarh Hotel. It had chic guest rooms and even an “elephant pool” surrounded by gleaming white statues. It was hard to leave.
- The second was a private camp. I must confess I had some misgivings about “camping” although having done so successfully in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Luckily, it proved to be “glamping” in style while retaining a wilderness flavor with an incomparable sunrise.
Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey: A rich weave of 3 faiths:
On our tour’s first full day, we had the chance to be part of a Hindu Festival.
- We arrived just as a huge crowd was in place to honor Krishna.
- We left our shoes behind with a local vendor and made the climb up endless steps.
- Once in, there was no way out until the end. Despite the heat and climb up, we were well rewarded by getting our first glimpse of India’s rich culture.
- Everywhere there were greetings of “Hare Krishna” and a real sense of warm community. It was a great way to start our trip and learn more about the deep role of faith in India.
- As we road on in subsequent days, we saw streams of pilgrims on their way to other festivals. Our final stop led us to India’s most famous spiritual city, Varanasi, on the Ganges River.
- Two great memories took place at the Ganges. The first was the colorful flower filled evening ceremony as the sun set. Although in North America we pause only once each year to have a formal “Thanksgiving”, this observance of thanks was done each and every day next to the Ganges.
- The second is from the next day. We were up again at 4:30 AM to make our way yet again in the dark. It was well worth it. We arrived at the Ganges in time to see pilgrims take a ritual bath as the sun rose. We had planned to travel by boat, but the monsoons made that too dangerous in light of the river’s height.
- India has richly incorporated in its culture Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. In Old Delhi, we visited the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. We also saw other ancient mosques throughout the country and at the Taj Mahal. Some dated to the Moghul period while others were modern houses of worship. Each was adorned in graceful calligraphy.
- Buddhism began in India. As the tour came close to its end, we visited the renowned Buddhist center at Sarnath. That was the site of the first sermon by Buddha. The museum there houses fabled statues. The leading one is the Lion Capital which is a national emblem seen on India’s flag. A short walk outside are ancient Buddhist stupas discovered in the 19th century by archaeologists.
- Christianity also impacted India as seen best in the work of Mother Teresa. Our trip coincided with her Sept. 4 canonization as Saint Teresa of Calcutta/Kolkata. By the roadside, we found a colorful billboard celebrating the event. We jumped out of the bus for more selfies to join in celebration of her selfless work with the poor.
As I think back, I am especially struck by two more insights as to modern India. 1. Their strong extended family network. As a result, in good times from birth of a baby to hard times of illness or death, there is a ready family support system. (I learned of one intriguing legal difference from life in the US. In India unlike America, parents can sue their children for support!)
2. Their unquenchable spirit. This was not only true of pilgrims on foot. At the SHEroes Hangout, we met local women who were survivors of brutal acid attacks. Their motto displayed on tee shirts said it all: “My smile is my beauty.”
For more Adventure Travel through India-Highlights of a Monsoon Journey, email us your questions and comments via the website. As you plan your own trip, do also see http://solotrekker4u.com/35-new-tips-how-to-make-adventure-travel-easier-now/. Check out our tips from how to: (i) pack to save fees, (ii) avoid visa glitches and (iii) get cash fast in an emergency.