MAGICAL INDIA AT LAST - November/December 2018


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November 13th 2018
Published: November 14th 2018
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Us with DollyUs with DollyUs with Dolly

New Delhi
I have always wanted to go on a pilgrimage to India - it was here that my great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Allen was born in 1870 and lived in the country until the early 1900s. Her parents were James Allen who was a military man and Elizabeth Moore but I do not have any information on them apart from their names, although a ‘family story’ said that Elizabeth (nee Moore) was in some way related to Thomas Moore the Irish poet but I have been unable to prove any connection … …



Mary Elizabeth married my great grandfather, Edwin Henry Tucker in Bengal in 1887. They had several children in India including my Grandmother, Frances Elizabeth Tucker before returning to the UK. Having lived over 30 years in the country it must have been very strange for her and her children to come to the UK for the first time having lived so long in India.



Sadly I never got to talk to any of them about their time in the country which was such a shame. However because of them I have always been fascinated with the ‘magic of India’ and so am delighted to be able to visit the land they called home for so long and experience the country for myself.





INDIA



India is located in southern Asia with over 1.3 billion people - the most populous democracy in the world. It shares its land borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and maritime border with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Indonesia. It is a federal constitutional republic governed under a parliamentary system consisting of 29 states and 7 union territories.



Everyone we spoke to who had been before said, if you go to India ‘do it in style’, so we used a highly rated travel agent, Cox & Kings to put together an itinerary for us based on what suited us. We realised straight away that this trip to India was going to be more luxurious than what we usually encountered during our travels but I am sure we would get used to that, particularly after our scary moments under canvas in the middle of the Serengeti being charged by a buffalo last year.



Our plan was to visit the famous Golden Triangle in the north
Beautiful coupleBeautiful coupleBeautiful couple

He had just proposed
of the country which links India’s three most popular destinations - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur but we also wanted to visit several of India’s National Parks as you cannot have a holiday without wildlife of some sort . ……







We decided on a Grand Tour of Northern India, which explored the diverse cultural influences that have created the rich heritage of the region. Mainly concentrated in the north western state of Rajasthan but we would also be travelling into the state to Uttar Pradesh. The tour encompasses the holy city of Varanasi, the resplendent Taj Mahal, the pink city of Jaipur, Jodhpur’s blue-washed houses, and the beautiful lakes and palaces of Udaipur. We would also go in search of the elusive Royal Bengal tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India’s premier tiger reserve but not under canvas this time.



Following the group tour we would be flying from Delphi to Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra and then an onward flight to Nagpur into the centre of India in the state of Madhya Pradesh to see more of India’s National Parks.







OUR ARRIVAL IN
Mughal Emperor HumayunMughal Emperor HumayunMughal Emperor Humayun

An amazing building and surrounding grounds
DELHI



Our Virgin Atlantic non stop flight from Heathrow took 8 hours and we were glad we had upgraded to Premium Economy this time as we had a really pleasant flight with plenty of leg room. Even when those in front reclined their seats you could still see the large screen and as your table came out of your arm rest you did not have problems with eating and drinking, if someone reclined … … We soon flew into Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport and I must say it was one of the easiest transfers we have ever had as we passed through immigration with no queues, our bags arrived quickly and we managed to change some money and before we knew it we were were being greeted by our tour company - in fact there were six of them all lined up waiting to greet the two of us!



Although we have not travelled to India before we had spent some time in Sri Lanka and were expecting a shock to the senses after our rural village setting at home. However the sheer volume and noise of the traffic as we slowly made our way to our first hotel literally took our breath away, not helped at all by poor visibility and quite dense smog … … .. We had been forewarned and had bought disposable masks with us just in case. Although they were quite hard to obtain - asking at one ‘well-known’ chemist chain we were directed to their ‘face mask counter’ and you can guess what we found … … You could have Peel Off at the best price, salicylic acid peel, skin whitening mask, even masks in black or gold but none of them would do the trick! In the end we found some at a ‘Do it Yourself’ store which were rather over the top before our lovely daughter spoke to her nail bar ladies and we found just what we wanted.





Despite the smog we soon arrived at the Trident, Hotel situated in neighbouring Gurgaon, just 30km from the airport. We were greeted by a really smart looking doorman complete with wonderful traditional indian hat. Before passing through a security check where our bags disappeared through one door only to come out a few minutes later via another door. More doors and we were in a large entrance hall all with high domed ceilings - designed by a Thai architect the hotel was a low-rise building spread over 7 acres, blending natural elements and the luxury of space, water and light into its design - pure luxury. I must say it was with a huge sigh of relief when we walked through its doors and disappeared into its refreshing vastness. We were then taken to our room and completed the formability in the peace of the room, a nice change to having to stand in reception to book in. A quick change and before long we were sitting by a scenic reflecting pool under a line of beautiful smelling frangipane trees sipping cooling drinks - bliss. Whilst sitting at the poolside two a Red Wattled Lapwings flew down to drink from the water.





In the evening the hotel transformed itself when the stars come out and fire torches sparkled in the hotel’s reflection pools. This created a rather dramatic setting and a completely different ambience as we made our way to one of the three restaurants to have dinner - we had well and truly arrived in India.



There are not many capital city in the world so steeped in history and legend as the Indian capital, Delhi. Contributed to its glorious but often turbulent history have been Mongols, Turks, Persians, Afghans, Mughals and later the British. According to the latest census, 79.8%!o(MISSING)f the population practices Hinduism and 14.2%!a(MISSING)dheres to Islam, while the remaining 6%!a(MISSING)dheres to other religions; Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various indigenous ethnically-bound faiths. We were going to learn a lot about all these different practices pretty soon.



We were visiting just as the most important Hindu festival takes place in north India, Diwali, the festival of lights which celebrates the victory of good over evil. Not all was good though as the city was indeed blanketed in a thick grey smog as mentioned above. Delhi’s pollution season coincides with farmer’s burning crop stubble to clear their lands and with the use of hundreds of fireworks during the festivities it brings the problem to a head. Luckily for us we were not staying long in the city, even though the Supreme Court has restricted the timeframe for setting off firecrackers to only 2 hours during the day. Experts say that the current chronic air pollution levels were equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day it also put a ‘haze’ on everything we were seeing which was a shame!





A country by name, but a continent in scale, India is hard to describe but is a land of astonishing geographical diversity. Its sheer scale means that there are vast differences between temperatures and regions. We were going to experience some extremely long distances between the areas we were going to visit even with five internal flights planned to try and cut down some of the distances during our month’s visit.



That evening in the hotel reception we met up with the the other two couples making up our group, they were both from Surrey, the next county to us and we would be travelling around India with them for the next 15 days - I think we were going to get on fine and have a lot of laughs.



We set off early in the morning for our tour after a good breakfast, although they did not have an decaffeinated coffee for Paul. The waiter
Qutub Minar - 239.5 feet tallQutub Minar - 239.5 feet tallQutub Minar - 239.5 feet tall

A tapering tower of five storeys
disappeared and searched the hotel only to come back and say they did not have any but promised us they would have at breakfast the next day - we shall see!



Today the adjoining cities of Old & New Delhi are adorned with numerous treasures at every corner. Even though the city has been abandoned several times its rulers always returned, rebuilding it time and time again and turning it into a eclectic mix of architecture spread across the two centres.





A DAY IN DELHI



We met our guide, ‘Dolly’ who was from the Punjab region and had been a guide in India for 39 years, her knowledge was immense which was great for our whistle top tour of her city. She was dressed in a beautiful yellow sari which proved very useful as we could spot her in some of the crowded areas so never got lost … …



We toured densely populated Old Delhi where you could not miss the mighty Mughal-built Red Fort, the largest historical structure in Delhi named for its massive enclosed walls of red sandstone. It is here that Indian independence was first celebrated, and is still celebrated today. Every year on 15th August the Prime Minister of India hoists the tricolour flag and delivers his Independence Day speech.



The Mughal (or Mogul) Empire ruled most of India and Pakistan in the 16th and 17th centuries. It consolidated Islam in South Asia, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture as well as the faith. The Mughals were Muslims who ruled a country with a large Hindu majority. However for much of their empire they allowed Hindus to reach senior government or military positions. We would be visiting many architectural gems built by these Emperors during our time in Northern India.



The Red Fort served as a royal residence of Mughal emperors from 1648 to 1857. Built by one of the most famous of all Mughal emperors, Shah Jahan between 1636-1648, he also built the Taj Mahal in Agra which we would be visiting later. The Red Fort took over the honour of royal residence from Agra Fort when Shah Jahan decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi, similar to the pharaohs in ancient Egypt moving their capitals around to suit their beliefs and expectations!



There are over a 1000 forts in India and many still to be discovered, a picture of the Red Fort in Delhi though appears on the back of the countries newly released 500 Rupee note, implying its importance. Talking of currency I should mention that you are not allowed to bring Indian Rupees in or out of the country. You also have to be careful as in 2016 all 500 and 1000 Rupee banknotes were withdrawn from circulation and new ones issued. We were advised to be careful and not take any denomination higher than 100 Rupees, or only to take new notes particularly in shops - it is not possible to change any of these old notes.





JAMA MASJID MOSQUE



We visited the vast Jama Masjid Mosque, one of the largest Mosques in the world. Shah Jahan, mentioned above founded the city of Shahjahanabad, now referred to as Old Delhi in 1648 and built this mosque to dominate his city - it still does, we would later walk around this Muslim-dominated area of Delhi. Once up the steep steps one had to remove their shoes and don appropriate attire before entering the huge complex, if you wanted to take photographs you had to pay 300 Rupees to do so otherwise you had to leave your camera with your guide as they would not allow them inside - even your mobile phones! We walked around the mosque which had several gated entrances and was quite busy, one of our group had paid to bring his phone in so took some photos of our group dressed in their colourful flowing gowns. It was a shame that the colours of the mosque did not stand out because of the polluted air but it was good that we got to see this huge grand structure.





Near here we visited the Raj Ghat - the focus of this vast open-air memorial to Mahatma Gandhi is a black marble platform marking the place where the peace leader was cremated after his assassination in 1948. It was really peaceful here with the green lawns surrounding the platform whilst above us a swarm of Black Kites were gliding in the air - we were to see them soaring above us for most of the day. A recent
Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi

Peaceful gardens
study by the Wildlife Institute of India has brought a piece of good news for bird lovers in Delhi, among the major cities of the world, the national Capital has the highest density of black kites (Milvus migrans govinda). For the past five decades, the city has been maintaining a stable breeding population of these kites, commonly known as ‘cheel’ and despite urbanisation and the loss of green cover the population has remained intact. Known scavengers, black kites consume about 100g of food daily and help dispose of waste and there sure was a lot of waste on the streets of Delhi to dispose of - I am sure the population will continue to grow!



We later had a walking tour of Old Delhi passing the Jain Temple and watched many of the local washing before entering the temple and the nearby Silversmith’s market was literally buzzing with people. The trek from the entrance of the Red Fort to the densely populated three centuries old neighbourhood of Chandni Chowk was absolute chaos noise everywhere; cars, bicycles, rickshaws, hawkers, animals and pedestrians all occupying the narrow street and travelling in different directions all at the same time ….
Mahatma GandhiMahatma GandhiMahatma Gandhi

The peace leader was cremated here after his assassination in 1948
… you get the picture! It was much easier to walk along the road amongst all the mayhem than try and walk on the pavements lots of which were covered in rubbish. That being said an astonishing array of sights and smells assail you as you pass along these streets where you can purchase every product imaginable at the same time keeping a very tight hold on to your belongings …… We were glad that our guide Dolly negotiated some auto Tuk Tuks for us and it was much more pleasant watching every day life from the advantage of one of these. An auto rickshaw is a motorised development of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle and much more comfortable and of course faster.



I should mention here that two of our group were having problems trying to get money from an ATM. They had tried at our hotel and its adjoining hotel and now at three others in the city without success. If you are going to visit make sure you bring some cash with you to exchange to get you through you visit just in case.





NEW DELHI



We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch and were served some delicious local food but before too long we were heading out on the frantic streets once again. New Delhi, designated as the capital by the British in 1911 was built in true colonial style with tree-lined avenues, colonial homes, as well as numerous government buildings including Parliament House and the Viceregal Palace, now the official residence of the President of India. Standing out amongst these architectural gems was the majestic India Gate War Memorial. Many other embassies, monuments and temples lined its broad leafy streets giving the city a park like feel so different from old Delhi but each had their own individual attractions. We visited several tombs including those of Mughal Emperor Humayun, Iltutmish and Isa Khan before heading back to our hotel thoroughly exhausted.




We really enjoyed our brief glimpse of life in Old & New Delhi although the traffic volume, chaos and constant tooting of horns wore you down after a while. That being said what stood out for us was the huge array of vibrant colours everywhere, from the serenely sari-clad women to the spice, textile, and food
Qutub MinarQutub MinarQutub Minar

The first mosque in India.
markets dotted around the drab streets. Tempered with the hustle and bustle on the street in old Delhi was the peaceful haven at the large open air memorial to Mahatma Gandhi and the happy faces of the families out on a days visit - such a shame the city was shrouded in smog it made it all seem like a blur but a day we will remember - ‘our day in Delhi’





SOMETHINGS YOU MIGHT LIKE TO KNOW IF YOU PLAN TO VISIT



Paul and I always ensure that we abide by the customs and etiquette of any country that we visit and India being no exception. We always read up before we head off to any country, although we did make some mistakes on on trip to South Africa which those of you who read our blog will know about!



There is quite a lot of things to remember when visiting temples in India such as removing footwear before entering a temple premises. We were concerned with the fact that our shoes may well disappear but there are options available to keep footwear safe outside but probably best not to wear your very best or favourite shoes! Some of the larger temples have dedicated stalls and staff to take care of footwear but in smaller temples, one can request the flower/coconut vendor sitting outside, who will usually oblige for a small tip. It is much easier if you wear easy to remove footwear like if the weather permits that is … We had bought with us some disposable shoe guards which actually did become useful.



Of course dress code is of equal importance, short or revealing clothes are generally frowned upon and it is advisable to wear conservative clothes while visiting a temple. I can remember when we entered Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman I thought I was appropriately dressed with long flowing white trousers, top and scarf but the guides on the doors were not happy with them and I was taken away to buy a head to toe dress which did not cost a lot but remember being extremely hot on the tour around the grand building.



Language is another matter, as the Constitution of India recognises 23 official languages, spoken in different parts of the country, there is no one ‘national language’, luckily for us English is widely spoken. One word you will learn if you travel to India though is Namaste - you will hear this word often whilst travelling around the country, it is also spoken in nearby countries like Nepal and Bangladesh and other parts of Asia as well. India is a hugely diverse country, hence, Namaste is spoken differently in various cultures and languages.



This is a respectful gesture of greeting people in the Hindu custom and has different spiritual meanings. It is used to welcome guests or relatives, as well as for acknowledging strangers, and works both as salutation and valediction. The gesture is said to express honour, courtesy, politeness, hospitality and gratitude to the other person. Apart from being used as a greeting, it is also a part formal worship in a temple. When it comes to worshipping a deity, then Namaste signifies ‘greeting the God’.



Namaste is part of the daily procedure in India and you will often see this gesture in various Indian classical dance forms and in everyday religious rituals as well as yoga postures which is what I knew it from.
Just us in front ofJust us in front ofJust us in front of

Mughal Emperor Human tomb



Derived from the Sanskrit language, Namaste is formed by joining two words, namas and te. ‘Namas’ means ‘bow’, ‘adorations’, ‘obeisance’ and ‘salutation’; and ‘te’ means ‘to you’. Hindus believe that ‘the divine and soul is the same in everybody’. So when you say Namaste to someone, it implies ‘I bow to the divine in you - how lovely is that.



While saying Namaste in the traditional style, you can bow slightly and press both the hands together, with fingers pointing upward, thumbs on the inside near the chest and palm touching. However nowadays, Namaste can be said without the bow as well, but when you say it with the bow, it makes the greeting more formal and respectful, especially when you say it to an elder or an important person.





TIME TO MOVE ON



For now It was time for us to leave Delhi and after a quick breakfast we were collect at our hotel and taken to the airport for the first of our five internal flights. We boarded a Jet Airways flight to Varanasi a journey of about one and half hours - Namaste, see you there.


Additional photos below
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14th November 2018
Qutub Minar

The forgotten cultural gem of India
Thanks for telling me about Old and New Delhi and bringing back some memories from my own visits there. There are many well known gems in India. For instance Qutub Minar, Taj Mahal, Golden Temple of Amritsar and on and on and on. But next time I go to India I am going to spend some time trying to locate an almost completely forgotten cultural gem - the stairwells. There are maybe a thousand of these scattered all over India. Most have been abandoned and some of them are in bad repair or more or less ruined. But there are also maybe hundreds which each is an architectural masterpiece. /Ake
23rd November 2018
Qutub Minar

Many thanks
Thank you for your comments its always nice to hear that people enjoy reading our blogs

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