28 Feb A Taste of India – the romance & euphoria

A journey in India is always unforgettable, but no other destination on earth can capture the romance, euphoria, rise and fall of human kind with such celebration as Northern India.

Above: The Taj Mahal; some of the group headed out to India a few days early to marvel at this shimmering mausoleum and the guide ensured the group were the first visitors to set foot inside the Taj Mahal the day of their visit which was a unique and incredibly special experience.

Above: The first experience of Delhi holds an undeniable allure and there is no better way to soak it all in than on a guided walking tour. (For more photos visit our facebook page).

Arriving in Delhi gripped us with a captivated fascination as we plummeted head-on into the swirling energy, intense colours and exuberance of India’s largest city of over 20 million people.

Above: ‘Girls on Tour’ our walking tour of Old Delhi with our guide Asif from The Salaam Baalak Trust.

The experience of our walking tour is beautifully summed up by one of our group:  “Just the most amazing first day in this colourful, vibrant city & so humbling to meet former “street kid” Asif (a lovely, intelligent 18 year old boy, homeless & orphaned from the age of 8 years old). Listening to him explain & teach us about the struggles and adversity of the homeless children in Delhi, living as “Street Children” but who are now being saved from a life of abuse, drugs, begging, extreme poverty & child trafficking, by this amazing organisation, The Salaam Baalak Trust. Such an eye opener and reality check for us all coming from the privileged lives we live back home.  Delhi … how we love your energy & happiness! Even in extreme hardship, the warmth, positively and hospitality extended to our foreign faces and our giddy, British pomposity is remarkable. Thankyou 🙏🏼 World Odyssey … epic itinerary, service & chaperones! Feeling blessed” Victoria Hindmarch’s Day 1 diary entry.

Above: We stayed at the fabulous Lodhi Hotel – plush and decadent, with a contemporary flair it provided the perfect sanctuary from the bustling streets – this is our beautiful room.  Watching the sun rise above Delhi from the day bed besides our private pool with a cup of tea – a perfect way to start the day.

Above: Sightseeing without the trip hazzards! … a thrilling and relaxing way to absorb the essence of Old Delhi … the cacophony of sound & medley of chaos on the streets of New Delhi from the ‘safety’ of our cyclo we explored the narrow lanes around the Chandni Chowk, Red Fort and Jama Masjid areas.

Above: Exploring Jamar Mosque.

Above: Meeting local people and exploring Jamar Mosque at sunset – the centre of cross culture with views of the Sikh Temple, The Red Fort, The Holygate & The Baptist Church.

Next up the Himalayan Foothills! We escaped the daily hustle and bustle of Delhi and headed to Shimla with views of the snowy peaks of the Eastern Himalayas from the plane and chauffeured by daper drivers with white gloves! … the way to travel a spectacular drive through winding mountain roads with spectacular panoramic views.

Above: Photos and Vickie’s diary entry “Next stop 💛Shimla🧡 … with Tour Guide Barbie @lucygarbie, 7 fiesty Fillies, 3 chivalrous Chauffeurs and a popadom in a Pear Tree!❤️”

Above: Breakfast with a view at The Wildflower Hall (see more photos of Wildflower Hall on our facebook page).

Above: Our view from The Wildflower Hall.

Above: Arriving at The Wildflower Hall in time for explosive Diwali celebrations.

Above: Riding on Shimla’s narrow guage ‘toy train’ which is India’s most beautiful hill railways & is in the Guinness Book of World Records for offering the steepest rise in altitude in the space of 96kms. (visit our facebook page for more photos of this wonderful experience with stunning views).

Above: This morning we set off on a seriously fabulous hike through an outstandingly beautiful part of the Eastern Himalayas.

Our guided tour took us through beautiful scenery with far-reaching views of the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas in the far distance.  We trekked to 2,100 mtrs above sea level to the 250 year old Tara Devi Temple where the views from the top were delightful.  We took part in a traditional puja (worship) ceremony with local worshipers which was an enchanting experience.  Following this we headed to The Viceregal Lodge on Observatory Hill located on one of the highest points in the area.  It was from here that much of the decision making was carried out that affected the whole continent.

Above: The Viceregal Lodge on Observatory Hill was the residence of the Viceroy of India and was used as a refuge during the hot summer months for government.

Above: Exploring fascinating Shimla on a privately guided Colonial Heritage tour – a most fabulous guide who brought the history of Shimla alive with such vigor and fascination (See more photos of Shimla on our facebook page).

Next up – Rajasthan 

The opulence of the Rajput Kings fuses with the Hindu love of exuberant décor, and today offers world-class heritage boutique hotels.  Rajasthan is rich in history, with imposing forts, captivating Jain and Hindu temples and culture, creative art and flamboyant architecture.  It is an intriguing region where India’s northern plains merge into the mighty Thar Desert.   We would need an entire website to adequately describe our journey through Northern India & Rajasthan so the following are the highlights.

Above: Samode Palace

Jaipur, the beautiful Pink City of India is Rajasthan’s sprawling capital, with its ochre-washed palaces, fort and exquisite walled city at its heart and bustling bazaars to explore.  We explored spell-bound lost in its extravagance.  The scene on the streets is insane with tuk-tuks, beggars, cars, buses, motorbikes, cows and the occasional ambling elephant, driven by a brightly coloured turban wearer, miraculously weaving in between each other in a medley of accepting chaos.

Above:  A view of The Amber Palace from our tour of the intriguing Shila Devi Temple, the Hall of Pleasure with all kinds of spectacular craftsmanship on display and spectacular mirrored ceilings. 

We were transported in jeeps through the winding streets, past snake charmers and street hawkers to the remarkable Amber Fort is the ancient capital of the state of Jaipur and the palace of the local rulers and was built in the 16th century high up on the hill overlooking a lake in which its towers and terraces are reflected (see more photos on our facebook page).  Following this we hopped back in our heavenly air-conditioned vehicle and were taken to the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur itself to explore the Palace of the Winds and City Palace where one of the highlights of the whole trip was a private tour of the Maharajah’s apartments (he was in residence!).  (for photos of this see our Instagram feed or facebook page).

Ali Sullivan’s diary entry, “Day 6: Jaipur for a spot of shopping, Amber Palace with private tour of the Royal Apartments. Then a visit to the fascinating outdoor observatory (above),  followed by the funniest Bollywood dance lesson & dinner in the fabulous glittering Rambagh Palace! Amazing day”

Above: One of the world’s most hilarious experiences imaginable spinning and laughing while learning the art of Bollywood Dancing!

Above: Diary entry from Ali “Day 7: 5am start for a dawn hot air balloon ride. The most peaceful experience…couldn’t stop grinning up there!”

Meeting elephants at Dera Amer private tented forest camp and heading off to our elegant hand-crafted tents (with ensuite bathrooms) tucked away in an idyllic corner of the estate.  We enjoyed sundowners from the hilltop, an open air dining candlelit feast and a night-cap beside the firepit.  I’m longing to go back there!

Below: A rest & a glass of champagne before our sundowners with views of the surrounding countryside form the hilltop vantage point.

Off to Udaipur

Next stop Udaipur.  The wonderful thing about having your own driver and guide is that you can go off-track rural Rajasthan with interesting villages to visit en route where there are little known fort-palaces with panoramic views over colourful countryside and women displaying embroidered mirror-work clothing adorned with silver jewellery.  However, it is the majestic lake city of Udaipur known as the most romantic city in Rajasthan that so enchanted all of us.  Set on the shores of Lake Pichola, its streets are surrounded by beautiful palaces and framed with the backdrop of distant hills. We spent hours ambling and ogling at the sights, smells and sensations of the most picturesque city imaginable.  The narrow streets are a riot of colour lined with shops, bazaars and markets ablaze with baskets of vibrant coloured produce, with stray cows meandering freely and helping themselves to vegetables. See Video of our tuk tuk ride!

Above: Ambling and ogling at the sights, smells and sensations of the most picturesque city imaginable. 

We enjoyed an evening boat cruise around Lake Pichola to see the city from the water, including the fascinating Ghats with the spectacle of women busy with their socialising and washing, wearing brightly patterned saris of all colours in the paint box.

Diary entry from Ali “Day 8: An early flight to Udaipur.
A morning tour of the City Palace, a spot of shopping and then off to the totally amazing Lake Palace Hotel for some much needed R&R by the pool. Beautiful, beautiful place”.

Above: The iconic Taj Lake Palace Hotel

The Taj Lake Palace Hotel is one of the most romantic & dramatically located hotels in the world & was once the home of the Maharaja’s of Udaipur & now us!!! With fluttering rose petal welcome, we enjoyed yoga on the terrace as the sun rose, a boat tour of picturesque Lake Pichola – wonderful dining, swimming, sunning and soaking up the spoiling attention.  Pure heaven and the end to quite possibly the world’s most perfect journey.