Some time back I did a post on ‘5 significant holidays’. I’m not sure if my recent trip to the Golden Triangle in India would count as significant but it was truly epic.
I went on my own because Juni had done the same trip back in 2003 at the time of 9/11. That was September of course and for some reason Voyages Jules Verne offers ‘no single supplement’ deals at this time of year. So this year I went because the trip includes the Taj Mahal which is on my bucket list.
Bucket lists are of course a recent phenomenon and I struggle to compile one. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled extensively and there are few places now that I have a burning desire to visit. Perhaps the Hermitage in St Petersburg, maybe Nepal and the Himalayas. It wouldn’t be a long list but I’ve always felt that after Machu Picchu which I visited in 2013 the Taj would be on it.
There were 10 of us on the tour, all singles and just two blokes both called David. The other David was younger than me whilst the ladies ranged from mid 40s to mid 70s which meant that I ceded seniority to one of them. I suspect we were a bit like the Marigold Hotel but I’ve never seen it so I maybe way off the mark.
Our tour guide was Vikram who did an excellent job of keeping us on schedule and making sure that we were fully informed about everything which we saw and more beside. He led us with charm and quiet dignity. Vikram was ably abetted by driver Gujraj, who never caused us to doubt his ability to cope with the challenges of Indian traffic, and Hardeep who was ever present just to keep us safe including shepherding three of us there and back across a busy unlit 2-lanes each way highway at night to access an ATM.
It was advertised as a 10-day tour which meant 8 days because you have to get there and come home on days 1 and 10 respectively. We hit the Taj on day 8 which was just right because although we saw amazing sites elsewhere they might have seemed less impressive had they come after it.
I’m not going to describe these sights except to say that by and large they met and often exceeded expectations. And that was doubly true of the Taj itself where we’d been warned to expect scaffolding but there was none and the sight of it slowly being revealed by the rising sun at dawn was indeed truly epic.
But there was more to the holiday than the sights. Many factors contributed to the full end-to-end Indian experience. Here’s my top five.
The Indian people themselves. They were ever smiling and always enthusiastic to be involved in photographs, either ours or their own. Often an Indian would come and stand with us so that his or her friends could photograph us. And it’s a testimony to the Hindu ethic maybe or perhaps it’s the Gandhi legacy that we experienced no aggravation throughout.
It also helps of course that English is widely spoken but it is definitely Indian English where one word is never used when there’s a chance to use two.
The Archeological Survey of India. This is the government agency which maintains India’s ancient monuments and it does an excellent job. Every one which we visited was in good condition with immaculate lawns throughout. It was good to see them being enjoyed by local people as much as by tourists and to recognise the enlightened policy of locals paying less than the other ‘high value visitors’
Our four hotels. They were of different quality but all four were up there in the good to excellent bracket meeting the basic requirement of delivering ‘bed, bathroom and breakfast’. I enjoyed an excellent freshly cooked omelette at each hotel, they all served fresh croissants and when I asked for a proper Americano I got one every time.
Happy hours and free drinks. All ten of us in the group ‘liked a drink’ and it helped that two of the hotels gave 2 for 1 during the happy hour and that the other two committed minor errors for which they atoned with free drinks. Indian wine is just about drinkable, the ubiquitous Kingfisher beer is fine with curries and Bombay Gin is good wherever you drink it!
The Indian traffic. It may be strange to say so but despite the chaos on the streets it works. You wonder how the mix of bicycle-rickshaws, motorbikes, Tuk Tuks, small cars and buses along with the occasional cow could possibly work but it seems to. I put it down to a complete lack of lane discipline which maximises the use of road space coupled with everyone looking out for everyone else. 360 degree vision is essential in combination with some sort of innate sense of fair play and who has right of way.
It was a splendid holiday and because it was comparatively short it was an intense experience which has left me little clearer about who did what In India before the Brits turned up. But the one question which stays with me is what would have happened if we hadn’t?
There’s a set of photos at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmosF5EU.