Brilliant colors, culture, and people, India is a destination that one must truly be prepared for. India is one of the most diverse nations in the world, with the second largest population. India is a melting pot of beauty, history, poverty, filth, unlike any other country in the world. When I arrived to New Delhi, and was crawling through the streets in traffic my car was engulfed with people wanting to sell their goods, next thing I know a man with a cobra was in my face. I looked to my right to avoid him and an elephant and a large ox come trampling down the street. Mind you, this is no unordinary occurance. This road that I was traveling on had a Four Seasons and beautiful modern buildings, but 50 feet across the street were slums and some of the poorest people in the world. India is this bi-polar collision of beauty and extreme impoverishment.
India is home to some of the most amazing palaces and landmarks. The Taj Mahal, in Agra, is one of the most magical structures I have ever seen. It’s interesting how such a breathtaking monument could rest in such a desolate and meager town. Once built as a burial site for the Emperor’s wife, the Taj Mahal took 12 years and 20,000 men to complete. This ethereal monument is a sacred shrine for locals to pray and tourists to become enamored by.
Udaipur, is a haven for relaxation and bliss compared to many of India’s hectic regions. It is a town set upon a beautiful lake, which is home to the Udaipur Lake Palace. Converted into a hotel the Lake Palace is like a dream, and sits in the middle of the lake with no way of reaching it except by boat. As you meander your way into town you feel like your in an ancient white-washed village. The highlight of Udaipur is the Jagdish Temple. Located in the City Palace Complex this temple is an experience in itself. Having gone daily for prayers and chanting I felt like I was in a movie. Walking in to this temple barefoot, I took a seat behind 100 colorfully garbed men and women singing and partaking in their daily prayers.
Next thing I know I have two little Indian girls braiding my hair and and caressing my face like they haven’t seen a Westerner before. Daily I would go back and these two little girls would be by my side, enamoured by my every move. [ below: Udaipur Lake Palace ]
The SHOPPING in India is beyond belief! From clothes, jewlery, shoes, to buddahs and art, the choices are endless and the prices are even better! Jaipur is the shopping mecca of India. Every street has amazing baazars and markets that will satisfy your shopping cravings. If you have time to do anything but SHOP in Jaipur, you must ride elephants through the ancient, weaving streets that lead to the Amber Fort, a very unique structure that overlooks Jaipur.
A city that everyone must visit that represents India to a tee is Varanasi. This holy city sits upon the Ganges River, which is a river of extreme religious importance. Yearly one million religious seekers visit this destination for religious sanctity. This city is one of the filthiest I visited, but the energy, architecture, and ancient history was incredible. Every alleyway and hidden corner you would find a Sadhu (a holy man) completely white, covered in crematory ash, and chanting like he lived in an other-worldly dimension. A daily ritual in Veranasi, is the burning of the dead on the Ganges River. Families come from all over India with their deceased , just to cremate their loved ones in the ganges. This is such a spiritual experience for the locals, but for myself as an outsider it was beyond incredible to watch. We could witness these events from a tiny rowboat in the middle of the river, as massive bonfires sprinkled ash into the air. As I watched I saw The family members create this massive bonfire, the men of the family would carry their dead, wrapped in colorful cloth, and dip the body in the river, then carry it back to the burning site. They would then burn the body as hundreds watched and after collect all the ash and bones. The whole family would walk down to the water and throw all the remnants of the body in the water. The families are hoping that what is put into the Ganges will reach the world of the ancestors. In concurrence to my vision of Veranasi, Mark Twain once wrote, ” Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even then legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
After experiencing this intense cultural explosion, an amazing escape would be to visit Ananda Spa in the Himalayas. Located in the foothills of these glorious mountains this spa and yoga retreat will cleanse your palette and let you reminisce on India’s stir-crazy madness while relaxing in this tranquil haven. With yoga, meditation, cooking classes, you will finish your adventure in the lap of luxury.
” So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on its rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”
HIGHLIGHTS OF INDIA:
* Oberoi Hotels: ✩✩✩✩✩ Hotels all across the country with the most fabulous rooms, villas, amenities, and properties in all of India. [http://www.oberoihotels.com]
*Ranthambore Tiger Safari: hire a driver and off-road through the plains in search for huge tigers, as well as leopards, bears, pythons, and crocodiles..definitely an adventure! [www.ranthamborenationalpark.com]
*Udaipur Lake Palace and Village: such a beautiful town, with delicious restaurants and wonderful shopping..Check out the boutique ANOKHI, which means “outstanding” in English. It is unique Indian brand of home accessories and clothing. They have beautiful throws, pillows, robes, etc..and great quality!
* Jaipur ( For Jewlery & Shopping): Jaipur a beautiful rustic city, is know for its fabulous array of gems and stones. Also they have amazing bangles and rings!! About every block there has to be five shoe stalls with the best “indian” ballet flats..Varying from $2 to $5 you can find such unique and beautiful hand-crafted flats.
* TAJ MAHAL: as described above, and most everyone knows this is epic and unforgettable.
*Renting a Car and Driving: An adventure in itself!!! Although dangerous, it is an unbelievable experience to be able to drive through the rural countryside from city to city. The images you will see on your driving adventure are like out of National Geographic, and will stay engrained in your memory forever.