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Mystical Rajasthan

by Mia Harrison on 08 July 2015, 12:07PM Mystical Rajasthan

Departing from Heathrow in a haze of champagne and Jet Airways hospitality, we flew through the night sky into what was, for me, unchartered territory.

I had notions of what I expected India to be as a destination, however nothing prepared me for how truly diverse and full of surprises this magical, and still vastly untraveled, land was to be.

After sampling the best night’s sleep I have ever encountered at 30,000 feet, we arrived well fed and fresh into Delhi International Airport. It was already a balmy 28 degrees and I was quickly realising that I would no longer need the coat that I had packed ‘just in case’.

We were met by Sorab, our Cox & Kings guide, and led to what would be our transport for the next week; an air-conditioned haven of a minibus which could comfortably accommodate all eight of us plus our driver (who ensured that our oasis on wheels was always fully stocked with chilled water and de-mosquitoed!)

We set off from the airport and were immediately sucked in to the wonder that is inner city Delhi traffic; our driver nimbly navigating what to us appeared to be nightmare road conditions! We gawped and even let out a few squeals as other vehicles around us narrowly missed each other as we wound our way through the congested roadways. It certainly felt like a baptism in the fire!

Our first day saw us visit one of the largest free-standing minarets in the whole of India. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies, and although it may have been too hot to stand in direct sunlight for long periods of time, humidity was relatively low; making shady spots the perfect places from which to admire these intracate monuments.

Our guide, Mr Lee, had a vast and almost encyclopedic knowledge of the area and the history behind these immense stone monuments, really bringing them to life in front of our eyes. He descibed how powerful maharajas of the past would have spent time languishing on furs, being fanned from a distance by their servants on the very grounds that we stood. 

We finished the day with a beautiful meal hosted by our hotel the Oberoi; a wonderfully lavish property in New Delhi with a vast white marble reception and stunning views of the suprisingly green city from its higher rooms. Taking reccommendations from our waiter we ordered a traditional Indian three-course meal consisting of a mixed tandoori platter and a mouth watering curried lamb dish, which barely left room for the pistachio kulfi that followed.  We then all shuffled up to our rooms, thankful for a powerful shower and the inviting arms of our beds after a long day!

An early start on day two saw us packed up and at the train station for 6am; the sky turning a hazy pink as we pulled up in our minibus. The Oberoi had provided us with breakfast on the go packed into individual lunchboxes, which were quickly devoured en-route as we watched the city steal away from us and give way to more rural India.

Our day was to start with a visit to the famed Taj Mahal, a place that takes your breath away when you catch sight of it for the first time - no matter how many times you may have seen images. Going early on in the day is highly reccommended as temperatures are still bearable, as are the crowds!  We were greeted by another guide who showed us around the grounds, allowing plenty of time for silly (if not obligatory) pictures.  The story behind the construction of the Taj had escaped me until this point, and I listened intently to the tale of Shah Jahan and his great love; for whom he was compelled to build a monument worthy of her beauty after her death.

The majesty of the Taj only grows as you get closer to it with intricate carvings in the marble, all of which you struggle to comprehend had been carved by hand. It definitely does not fail to impress and I would urge anyone who is contemplating a visit to drop everything and go. It certainly won’t be my final visit!

That afternoon, we drove onwards to visit the Agra Fort, an imposing and seemingly impenetrable construction which contrasted the mornings visit to the Taj Mahal completely. Deep terracotta coloured walls and tales of elephants being used as battering rams on the huge spiked doors kept us all enthralled as our guide led us through the streets within the fort.  Intricate detailing in the stone left us with a better understanding of the craftsmanship and skill that was still used in order to create these structures that were built with protection in mind.

That evening we took up residence in a converted palace, The Raj Niwas Palace, and were truly made to feel like royalty ourselves. With dinner provided by a myriad of servers, our hosts regaled us with tales of previous ownership of the property they had now come to own.

After another enormous supper, we waddled off to explore the main building. It was filled with treasures, from stuffed leopards to Italian marble, floor-to-ceiling hand painted murals of giant lotus flowers, and stunning tiles imported from Europe when the king residing had the wealth and luxury to do such a thing! The rooms that we were staying in for the night were spacious pool villas out in the manicured grounds, around which peacocks paraded through the exotic flora. I truly felt like a princess that night as I drifted off to sleep.

The following morning was another early start, as we were to head out on a river safari before the midday sun rose too high and it became too hot. Slathered in sun cream and insect repellent, we hit the road in two matching safari jeeps through the vast expanse of countryside.

There was a slight hitch when we arrived where our boat was docked in that it wouldn’t seem to start. Not letting this get in the way, we had a swift change of plan and soon found ourselves whisked off in our jeeps again for a tour of the local village. As we passed people’s houses, they were as keen to come out and see us passing as we were to observe what life was like for them. It was a strange scenario indeed!

Children waving us on and people shouting ‘hello!’ to us as we passed through the narrow streets really was an incredible experience that I know I will not soon forget! We arrived at what appeared to be a large deserted man-made lake in the centre of an old city; where dragonflies grazed lazily over the water and which was almost entirely covered in thousands of vibrant pink water lilies. It truly was a site to behold, like something from the ‘Jungle Book’, and I could almost imagine Mowgli making his way down to the water’s edge and collecting a jug full to carry back on his head!

Sorab informed us that this was a place where once a year, thousands of people would gather to bathe in the sacred waters, much like they do in Varanasi at the banks of the Ganges. I could see why they hold it as sacred, as bright green love birds flitted above us, and monkeys roamed the tree-tops above our heads.

Later on in the day, we resumed the original plan to head out on a river safari as our boat was now up and running, so we took to the water. We motored along quietly as our guide peered through his binoculars, pointing out all manner of wildlife as we went - from huge crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, to exotic birds skipping along the water. We were even slightly shocked to find a group of small children gaming around in the water where we knew there were large crocs residing!

Alas, our boat journey was not without a final hiccup, as we became grounded in a particularly shallow part of the river. Others on the boat became a tad anxious, whereas I found myself lost in the majesty of the glowing orange sun setting in front of our boat and highlighting the fish leaping out of the water.

It was a spectacular end to another spectacular day – and we did eventually dislodge ourselves and make it home in time for tea...

To hear more about my adventure, and to start planning your own- please call me on 0207 001 4225.

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