Even as a Londoner, used to a busy city, the intense sights and sounds of Delhi take a little getting used to. Our tour began in Old Delhi at the largest mosque in Asia, Jamal Masjid a massive sandstone and marble construction, before our wild ride on a rickshaw round the narrow market streets. After lunch at Waves, a new restaurant in Delhi, where had a very enjoyable meal, we saw the palaces, war memorials, embassies and tidy gardens of the British colonial era in New Delhi. The contrast between Old and New Delhi is like seeing two completely different cities. In the afternoon we went to Qutab Minar the tallest red brick building in the world and the attraction we enjoyed most in Delhi
Day 2 involved a long drive to Jaipur, In the evening we watched Full House, a Bollywood comedy at the Raj Mandir cinema. In the morning Amber Fort with it’s mirrored and bejewelled halls and fabulous views for miles around. In the afternoon we saw the very beautiful Maharajah’s Palace. We also had a short stop at Palace of the Winds before visiting Jantar Mantar, the Astronomical museum, built in the 16th century, but amazingly it looks futuristic even today and the huge sundial is accurate to 2 seconds. We enjoyed Jaipur, nicknamed the pink city, named thus as almost every building is pink or a light terracotta.
Day 3, another busy and full day with a lunch stop at The Bagh, a boutique hotel with a bird sanctuary in peaceful Bharatpur, before visiting the abandoned multi ethnic city of Fatephur Sikri. The sandstone buildings are beautifully preserved with lovely carvings and frescoes and finally the ultimate wonder of India and the world, the magnificent Taj Mahal which is not as I had always thought, a true palace.This immense white marble structure which took 22 years to build is in fact a mausoleum.
Day 4 Agra Fort and I’timad-ud-Daulah or Baby Taj which is smaller and the original inspiration for the Taj Mahal and also magnificent with different coloured inlaid marble. After getting the train from Agra to Jhansi we stopped at Orchha for lunch. Orchha Palace was incredible and we got the chance to walk round the market before going to Khajuraho. In the evening was saw a Sound and Light Show explaining the history of the Western temples
In the morning Day 5 we saw the Western, Eastern and Jain temples. The carvings were absolutely incredible, such intricate and detailed individual characters. I really liked Khajuraho but we had to leave to catch our flight to Varanasi. Varanasi, the city of learning and burning is the Indian heart of spirituality for both Hindus and Buddhists. It is the Lourdes and Vatican of India where sick people bathe in the healing waters of the Ganges. Hindus believe that if you die in Varanasi you will go straight to heaven so many old and sick people end their days there, consequently many cremations take place day and night. We participated in an open air Aarti ceremony on the banks of Ganges which consists of chants, flowers and fire but so beautiful to experience and in the morning at sunrise we had a boat ride along the Ganges past the holy men, the launderers and the cremation pyres on the riverbank,. This sounds morbid but whatever your beliefs are, it was actually very peaceful and spiritual. Varanasi itself is an incredibly busy city of 3 million people, as well as mad traffic and various animals, but it is so vibrant and colourful as well as thought provoking. Later we went to Sarnath where Buddha preached his first ceremony and our guide told us the story of Buddha which was really fascinating.
Finally we took a flight back from the brand new Varanasi airport back to Delhi for our overnight stay before heading back to London with our heads spinning from all the sights we had seen, not just the ancient forts and palaces, the magnificent artwork and all the different influences of a multi cultural society, but also the everyday sights, sounds and smells of everyday life, little people carrying half the world on their heads, delicate women wearing saris sitting side saddle on the back of mopeds, the busy and relentless traffic, animals in the road, hand painted lorries and shops, colourful markets and finally the warmth, politeness and friendliness of the Indian people.
An unforgettable experience