11/1997 - India

15-day trip to India with an itinerary that included a visit to the city of New Delhi, Jaipur, Samod, Puskar, Ranthambore National Park, Gwalior, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Benares, Sarnat
I have often planned to go back to India but without success (one year, for example, we couldn’t go because of the plague and so we went to China instead). Finally, after many years, I managed to organize this trip whose preparation has been long and thorough and whose result was excellent.

The excellent trip result was mainly owed to the Indian tour operator which I contacted: http://www.stateexpressindia.com/

The travel agency owner, Sanjeev is a very experienced person who made us love India even more than we already did. I wish to remember that Sanjeev gave us a perfectly suitable Mercedes minibus driven by such an experienced driver that he deserved (for his skill) the name “Schumacher ” .

New Delhi is a modern city with large boulevards and multi-lane roads . The Colonial influence is especially present in the buildings of the modern part of the city. It is particularly impressive to see all the government buildings with numerous English-style palaces all characterized by large colonnades. We visited the Parliament, the India Gate, the tomb of Gandhi , but we could not visit the Jama Masjid Mosque. The Red Fort, opposite the mosque, has got a large square in front where many buses are parked and are used by the passengers , participating to a religious meeting, as… hotels! The Red Fort is about two kilometers long, with wonderful gardens, a small mosque and the Emperor’s residence .

The next day we left New Delhi by bus going to Samode where we went to stay in beautiful rooms with antique furnishings . Remembering the previous visit to the Samode Palace hotel I took care to ask for the vintage rooms and not the modern ones . Our wish was granted.

 

 

We went on and reached Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan . We visited the town, the Amber Fort , the City Palace and the Royal Cenotaphs .

We left before dawn and got back at dinner time . We spent a very tiring day but what we saw was very interesting . The town of Pushkar is famous for the temple of Rangji, but especially for the lake, dedicated to the god Brahma (creator of the world) . Thousands of pilgrims arrive to Pushkar from all over the country to make purifying ablutions in the waters of the lake. Pushkar is also famous since it hosts one of the most important cattle fairs throughout India. The fair lasts two weeks and, during this period, there is also a festival where the music of the desert is played accompanied by dances and several sporting events, such as the camel race, are organized. The exhibition begins with the full moon in November. We were there too earlier but there were already many participants of the fair. We arrived some days before but we could enjoy an unusual and nice scenery. We visited the temple climbing a number of steps . We went down to the lake in whose waters the pilgrims bathe using the numerous Ghats ( steps ) . We saw very meaningful scenes for the intensity of the prayers accompanied by purifying ablutions .
Our attention was mainly attracted by the multitude of the pilgrims who wandered in the city. They come from all over India and reach the city with all kinds of means , not least even the elephant.

We left Jaipur and we travelled a very long distance ( in India they drive at 30/40 km per hour) to visit the Ranthambore National Park in the hope of being able to see the famous Indian tiger . We participated in three safari rides inside the park. Unfortunately we did not see the tiger, but only a crocodile, a few deer and an eagle.
We had to be content with the beauty of the bush and of Ranthambore Fort .

We started our transfer (260 km)at dawn and reached Gwalior in the afternoon. We visited the ancient Fort, that is a fortified citadel, built along the edge of a sandstone rock which is over 300-meter long. It is beautiful the colour of the sandstone (yellow honey) embellished by nice colourful decorations . We concluded the visit of the site with the Gujari Mahal Palace, which hosts the interesting archaeological museum.

The peasant village we visited appeared to us in all its primitive beauty. We were welcomed by the village chief and his wife, who then accompanied us during the visit. We were allowed to get into some very humble houses and, despite the presence of animals inside, we can say that there was order and cleanliness.

The city of Victory ( Fatehpur Sikri) was built to celebrate the triumph of Emperor Akbar against a Muslim dynasty in the middle of 1500. The city has been abandoned since 1586 ( it had been inhabited only for sixteen years ) when Akbar decided to move to Persia. There are several monuments in the city, all well preserved; the most significant is certainly the room of jewelry ( Diwan-i- Khas ) whose interior is particularly interesting for a central pillar from which, radially, spread out various brackets. Quite impressive the stairway to the Friday Mosque ( Jami Majid ) in whose courtyard pilgrims wait to get into the white marble mausoleum to pray at the tomb of the saint Shaikh Salim .

Agra is the city (in India it is considered a large village of a million inhabitants) in which in 1632 the emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal for his favorite wife. The majestic mausoleum , all in white marble, inlaid with floral motifs of semi-precious multi-coloured stones, has been declared since the year 1983 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This monument is called ” temple of love ” and is a regular destination for the newlyweds on their honeymoon. Admiring the Taj Mahal ,in its gigantic proportions , mirrored in the water surface in front of it, is a sight of great beauty

Not far, on the same side of the river, there is the giant Agra Fort from where you can enjoy stunning views of the Taj Mahal. This immense fortress, built in red stone in 1565 , has strong bastions , almost three kilometers long , which make it even more impressive . Also the Fort has been declared “World Heritage Site”. Inside there are many big historical buildings and monuments and the beautiful “garden of the grape”. There are numerous rooms that can be visited, some of particular beauty, such as the Hall of Mirrors and the Grand Audience Hall . There are also two elegant mosques and several pavilions with colourful marble decorations. On the opposite bank of the river, it stands the mausoleum Itimad- Ud -Daulah’s Tomb, built in 1620, also in white marble with inner rooms whose walls are decorated with inlaid coloured stones . The Indians jokingly call this monument the “Baby Taj ” .

We made the transfer from Agra to Khajuraho by a super-fast train which brought us to Jhansi from where we continued with our minibus (our driver had travelled all night long ). The temples of Khajuraho date back to the period from the tenth to the twelfth century, but were soon forgotten. Only in 1840 they were rediscovered by the English who restored them in the first two decades of the 1900s. All the temples are decorated with many carved figures depicting various deities and a number of wonderful maidens , representing the beautiful inhabitants of Paradise. They are the “apsaras” represented while dancing with grace and fascinating pleasure, and the “surasundari ” portrayed in their suppleness . Finally a multitude of erotic sculptures who want to express the joy of life and exalting fertility. All the sculptures are so beautiful that the erotic aspect does not bother.

Varanasi, whose name means “the city between two rivers”, is also known as Benares and is the holiest city of India. In fact , as well as Muslims go to Mecca, the Indians, at least once in their life, go to pray in Varanasi . We immediately entered the atmosphere of the city waking up before sunrise to be ready in the boat in the sacred river, the Ganges . The atmosphere was unreal , the darkness still enveloped us . They gave us some candles . They used to put the candles on the waters of the river as offerings to the gods . There were other boats around us, full both of tourists and of pilgrims, many of them completely shaved . They were the relatives of the dead people whose bodies were going to be cremated on pyres arranged along the banks of the Ganges. The sun rose and warmed the air, while the faithful , who previously seemed to be dressed all in the same way, now showed the various colours of their clothes . We approached the “Gaths”, the numerous staircases which, from the top of the river bank, step down into the Ganges where a crowd of believers were making ablutions. In the central part of the Gath, where at sunset they are going to light the pyres , we saw several bamboo canes at the top of which they lit sky lanterns ( Akashdeep ) in order to illuminate the path of the dead to the afterlife . Nearby there are some pilgrims praying in yoga position. We got down the boat to visit the old part of Varanasi. It is a maze of narrow streets ( all pedestrian ) where it is difficult to proceed among the colorful crowd . We visited several monuments , including the famous Golden Temple.

We spent the afternoon visiting the Durga Temple, better known as the “monkey temple” and then moved to the nearby town of Sarnath where we could admire several stupas, the interior of a temple with the image of a Buddha, praying priests and a monk.
 

Our trip to India is complete.
We were fascinated by the beauty of the monuments seen , by the beauty of the colourful clothes worn by women , the beauty of the eyes of the children interviewed , although , at times, expressing sadness.
India is a fascinating country, perhaps difficult to understand for an European , but thanks to our friend Sanjeev , who organized a wonderful journey , we came back ready to promote the trip to India to all our friends.
The inexhaustible Sanjeev also planned the visit of Nepal, limited to Katmandu, a city where we flew from Varanasi and which I invite you to go and see.