If you fancy yourself as a real world traveler, then a trip to India is a must!
My wife Lydia and I and a few friends happily found ourselves in Jaipur, Rajhasthan a charming, quaint and ancient city near Delhi in the northern part of India a few years ago. We were there to attend a conference and see some sights during our free time. It was around October and the weather was just right, not hot and not cold. A light shirt was all I wore while we explored a few places in this ancient land.
When one steps out of the plane and into India, be ready to leave behind most of your western concepts and attitudes about a lot of thing from food, smells, hygiene, accents, sense of order, clothing styles, etc. India is India, an ancient country and one of the cradles of humankind. And the sooner you can adapt to the fact that this strange land and its customs and traditions have existed and flourished way before you or even western civilization were even born, the sooner you can dive into its rich, vibrant and fascinating culture.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City because its palaces and buildings are all in the shade of pink as it has been for centuries. There are numerous tours and excursions within the city that one can sign up to. I remember visiting the different palaces—the City Palace, Galitore, the Amber Fort, and many more—each one a must see! The Jaigahr Fort was a real standout perched on top of a mountain. We needed to ride elephants to go up the long, winding entrance. The royal fort had rooms of palatial grandeur and opulence, some studded with jewels on its walls.
Our tourist guide explained that centuries ago, the royalty in India were so obscenely rich that visitors were offered bowls filled with jewels for the picking when they entered their palaces, no different from the way one would pick peanuts from a bowl! And if that weren’t enough, the same palace had a saffron garden as big as a football field and it was there because the king wanted the sweet smell of saffron wafting into his chambers with the tunes played by musicians throughout the day.
We also had a great time exploring Sariska National Park, a wildlife sanctuary 107 km outside of Jaipur. We stayed at the Sariska Heritage hotel, former palace built for English royalty who loved to hunt in the colonial days. In the morning, we woke up early and rode an open jeep to drive through the forest in the hope of seeing tigers. To our surprise, we were invaded by a host of wild white monkeys whose idea of fun was grabbing our bags and things as we sped away!
India is a land of contrast, or at least in seems so to western eyes. While the palaces are opulent, there is a lot of poverty almost everywhere. Beggars, lepers, street people can be seen sleeping all over the sidewalks at night. And yet, in some strange sense, I got the feeling that in a real way, things were exactly as they should be. As I gazed everywhere, I saw a placid people who seemed resigned to their karmic place and at peace in what would normally be a depressing existence, at least through an outsider’s eyes.
Shopping in Rajahasthan is cheap and a lot of fun. One can buy carpets, brass, crafts of all types that are unique and beautiful. Books and medicines, due to government lifting of copyright restrictions are also dirt cheap in India.
If you are into gastronomic pleasures, Indian food has a lot to offer as well. I remember bringing a lot of ‘emergency food’ with me when I got there just in case I did not like the local fare, only to discover 5 days later that I had actually gained weight eating all that great cuisine. Just make sure you bring bottled water at all times when exploring outside your hotel. People are generally very friendly and even helpful. Oh, and make sure you always bring a camera.
Per square meter, there is more life in India than one can find in most places anywhere in the world. I remember standing by the sidewalk and together with about 100 commuters waiting for the bus. I also saw vendors selling vegetables unmindful of the cows that were eating their produce. I also gazed at a snake charmer, a monkey trainer by the side, a few beggars, hawkers selling textiles, brass, a Saddhu (religious renunciate) in some sort of trance, and doves on top of a pole, and so many more. Quite simply put, India is just exploding with life.
If you want a destination that you will not forget, Rajastahan in India is it. By the way, we were not able to visit the Taj Mahal for lack of time. But despite that, we experienced and saw more than what we ever bargained for.