Tigers, Temples and Ancient Cities
This was one of the most exciting tours that I’ve done because there is so much to see and to do. India challenged all the senses and surpassed all my expectations.
We began in Delhi with a day’s sightseeing visiting Old and New Delhi including the ruins of the oldest mosque, and Gandhi’s cremation site. So began the endless fascination of India’s streets and markets teeming with life, shops piled high with goods selling everything you could imagine and many things you’d never thought of. Traffic including bicycles, motorbikes, mopeds, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, camel drawn carts, hand pulled carts loaded high, all mixed in together and missing each other by inches.
Ranthambore and the Nature Reserve
The following day after a visit to the beautiful Sikh temple the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, having braved the streets in auto rickshaws we went to the railway station for the train to Ranthambore. We spent the next four hours on the station as the train was delayed due to fog but it was an opportunity to become aware of the station life. Homeless people were living on every platform, children were searching along the railway lines for plastic bottles to recycle and beggars, shoeshine boys and padlock sellers wandered round the huge packages that were piled up everywhere.
After a long slow journey to Ranthambore we found ourselves being whisked into the darkness riding in a Nature Reserve viewing truck to arrive at a hotel strongly reminiscent of the Arabian Nights complete with fountains and burning braziers.
During the following two days we had three wonderful game drives in the Reserve at dawn and in the afternoon searching for tigers. We didn’t see a tiger but the bird life was stunning and for a little while we waited on a hill just as the sun was coming up and the silence of the forest was all around us. It was a golden moment.
Bharatpur and Agra
Our next stop was Bharatpur where we were really lost in the mist. We went for an eerie rickshaw ride through the Keoladeo National Park and our hotel was only visible from the inside!
Next stop Agra, for the deserted city of Fatephur Sikri. This was a place to stir the imagination with its tales of Court life and finally to the Taj Mahal in all its beauty. It lives up to all the photos and documentaries and is even more beautiful in the detail of its tracery and carving. We found the seat that Diana Princess of Wales used in that iconic photo too.
The next highlight was revealed when we reached Khajuraho and visited the intricately carved temples restored from the jungle. (Yes, the “naughty” carvings are two percent of the total) A lovely extra was a Son et Lumiere one evening. As it was Independence Day we were lucky to witness the local celebrations complete with decorated floats symbolising local history and accompanied by marching bands.
Varanasi and Sarnath
At last we arrived in Varanasi, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth. Just before dawn we arrived on the Ghats and went by boat along the waterfront watching people doing their early morning puja. We each had a floating candle to carry a prayer on the Ganges as the sun rose. Our local guide led us through a labyrinth of ancient streets past shops and temples, shrines and beautiful houses.
Evening brought a fantastic experience. We took bicycle rickshaws through the whirling, hooting traffic back to the Ghats to witness the Aarti ceremony, when seven priests offer prayers to the river Ganges accompanied by bells, gongs, chanting and fire whilst floating lamps sail down the river. It was breathtaking.
The next visit was to Sarnath where the Buddha preached his first sermon. In the temple huge crowds of Buddhist monks, nuns and visitors come to pay their respects and do homage.
Back to Delhi… and Home
We flew back to Delhi where there was time for a visit to the Red Fort, a fascinating walk along Chandni Chowk and a wander through the labyrinth of bustling streets towards the Great Mosque..
The day ended with a moving visit to Gandhi’s house and also to Indira Gandhi’s house. Both houses are oases of peace in a busy city and offer insight and reflection on India’s history.
All in all, a great tour with many thanks to our Ramblers Leader Annette who can solve any problem without turning a hair.