Flight Centre's Stefan Schultzky has recently returned from India. Describing India as a country that stimulates the senses, he has fallen in love with it! From the wonders the Taj Mahal, exploring the streets of India, visiting a Sikh Temple and a very humbling experience at Ladli, Jaipur. Stefan shares with us his passion for this colourful country.
India is a country that stimulates the senses - sights, smells, and tastes. The noise and commotion of everyday life is at first an assault that slowly becomes the norm.
Kicking off with a walking tour of Delhi with a local tour leader was the best way to get an introduction to Delhi. We were able to visit a Sikh Temple in the middle of a religious ceremony. As Dinesh, our tour leader, explained the Sikh religion is about reaching out and talking about what they do - so visiting a ceremony is encouraged.
Delhi's metro system is of a standard that you would expect in any world class city. Travelling by train at rush hour though means that your personal space virtually ends with your clothes. Travelling as a group meant that it was somewhat easier to push onto a full metro although one of us lost her sandal in the crush to get on. Our tour leader then shouted out in Hindi and, after a short exchange of sentences, the sandal began moving through the crowd until it was safely back on the owners foot.
Longer distance train travel in India is a definite must. The "air-conditioned" carriage from Delhi to Agra proved warmer than expected as the air-con was switched off. At 21 degrees it was too cold for the local travellers. Leaving Delhi in the early morning meant that we passed by the slums about the time the residents awoke and went about their morning ablutions - right next to the train track!
The highlights of India for me were the visit to the Taj Mahal, staying at a Maharaja’s Palace, visiting a place where orphans come to learn a trade in Jaipur, and having dinner with a local family.
Seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time - it is just one of those iconic sights that tell you are in India. The symmetry of the Taj Mahal leaves you wondering how this monumental structure was built without the help of modern technology or machinery. When visiting the Taj Mahal you will be checked in an airport style security check point, so you are not allowed to take in any bottles of drink, lipsticks creams or other liquids or gels. Luckily your entrance ticket includes a bottle of water.
Our guide was not allowed to come along with us as the local “guides” have a monopoly on showing you around. We were warned that most of these “guides” are sales men for the local souvenir shops and enticing you into one of these afterwards to buy marble carvings and the like
When you visit the actual marble structure of the Taj, you must choose between putting paper galoshes over your shoes or you can go bare feet. Shoes get stored in supervised racks. Either will cost you a couple of rupees so go with what you feel most comfortable.
The best time of the day to visit the Taj Mahal is either at sunrise or sunset - as the marble then takes on a pink hue and the whole atmosphere changes from spectacular to magical.
If you are happy to go do a little exploring by yourself you should hop in a TukTuk and go over to the other side of the river to see the Taj Mahal. If you are a photo enthusiast this is the spot to get some really amazing pictures.
Another not to be missed experience is a stay at the Maharaja’s palace. The Maharajas were the rulers of the kingdoms in India before independence from Great Britain. Once the rulers home and not open to commoners, nowadays Maharajas all over India have opened their palaces to travellers. The Maharaja joined us for a pre-dinner drink and talked about the changes that had occurred in the area over the past few decades.
The next morning we had the chance to have a look around the grounds and admire the historic car collection. Unfortunately the daylight also showed that the palace, like many palaces and historic buildings across India, needed quite a bit of attention to restore it to its former grandeur.
The most emotionally moving experience of this trip was a visit to “Ladli” a place in Jaipur, where orphaned girls come to first get a formal education and then also learn a trade so that they stand a chance in their future. I spoke with a girl who had escaped an arranged marriage in her native village. She talked about her experience and told us how she learned English and is now helping the team at Ladli with the girls that come through now.
The final night of the trip we joined a local family for dinner in their home on the outskirts of Delhi. Squeezing into their two bedroom apartment we enjoyed an authentic Indian dinner. Intrepid Tours offer this experience as a day trip that can be booked from New Zealand before you go, even if you do not book one of their longer tours.
The most memorable thing about this dinner was that the kitchen that Anu, the mother, cooked for 20 people was hardly big enough to hold 6 people. We all lent a hand making roti bread, onion bhaji and also helped out preparing the potato and cauliflower dish - aloo gobi. As is quite common in India the meal was vegetarian. Also on the menu was pilau rice and dhal (a spicy lentil dish), radishes, cucumber and onion as a salad garnish.
In challenging myself to come up with a single word to describe India I settled on “alive”. This seems the best fit for the colours, the smells, the sounds and the tastes of India.
I have officially fallen in love with India and I am sure to return in the not so distant future.
Looking for more information on India, travel to India or cheap flights to India? Contact Flight Centre travel expert Stefan Schulzky, Flight Centre Blockhouse Bay, or one of Flight Centre's 135 stores nationwide. Phone 0800 38 44 38.