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The Golden Triangle… and Shimla

| 17 Feb 2017

Since childhood, I have wanted to travel to India – fascinated by my grandfather’s stories of his time there during the First World War; avidly watching documentaries and films; conjuring in my mind a picture of the country through history, literature, music and art.

Women at the baby Taj

I often travel alone, but as this was going to be something special, I wanted my adult daughter to share the experience. Having researched many holidays in India, we chose the Cox & Kings’ Golden Triangle and Shimla luxury tour.

A key factor in the success of the trip was Yogi, our wonderful tour guide. His historical and cultural knowledge, his calm approach, and ability to skilfully manage and facilitate every aspect of the tour was exceptional – nothing was too much trouble. There were fifteen people on our tour with a diverse mixture of backgrounds and experiences, and from the beginning it was a like-minded, caring, supportive and friendly group. We became like an extended family on tour.

Our itinerary was extensive and it is impossible to cover everything, but below are some of the highlights:

Delhi

The start of our tour, Delhi was a beautiful city and so green, with many parks, tree-lined avenues, magnificent buildings and monuments. We explored Old and New Delhi with memorable visits to India Gate, the magnificent Red Fort and the Jama Masjid Mosque. It was here on our first day that we discovered the friendliness and curiosity of the locals. They were very keen to take photographs with us and their families – handing over their babies for us to hold.

Red Fort, Delhi

Red Fort, Delhi

To Agra

We left the luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel for the drive to Agra. There are long distances to travel between cities on the tour but the journeys were made comfortable on an air-conditioned coach with our expert driver (another Yogi). His ability to manoeuvre a large coach in the often manic city traffic was incredible. Cold bottles of water and refreshing hand wipes were given out regularly by our helper on board and rest stops were made where there was always something interesting to see.

Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi

The Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi

We got up at 4.45am to watch sunrise at the Taj Mahal. I was prepared to be a little disappointed, as I thought it could not be as wonderful as those who have visited say it is.  How wrong I was – walking through the huge entrance gate and seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time was breathtaking. It was stunningly beautiful. Walking towards the monument through the gardens and reflecting pools is something I will never forget. Donning shoe-covers, we walked through the building and were rewarded by fabulous views of the Yamuna river.

View of the Yamuna river

Views of the Yamuna river, as seen from the Taj Mahal

In the evening, we returned to watch the sun set over the Taj Mahal from the Mehtab Bagh, a garden on the opposite bank of the Yamuna river – another unforgettable experience.

Sunrise over the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Driving through the city of Agra after the serenity of the Taj Mahal was a shock to the system. The colours, sights and sounds are overwhelming – but in a good way! The streets are crowded with people, auto rickshaws, motorbikes (often carrying whole families), cars and trucks travelling in all directions, sacred cows, herds of water buffalo and rooftop monkeys.

To Jaipur

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is a huge contrast to the bustle of Agra.  We visited the City Palace, admiring the mixture of Rajput and Mughal architecture and passing the fabulous Hawa Mahal palace, an intricate façade from which the women of the court watched life in the streets below.  We sped in jeeps up to Amber Fort, with its impressive walls and watchtowers where we also saw our first elephants and cooed when a monkey brought her baby to show us.

Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal

The Gateway Hotel Ramgarh Lodge (once a hunting retreat of the Maharaja of Jaipur and still displaying some of his trophies) was our favourite.  We spent three nights there, situated in the hills and overlooked by the Aravalli mountains.

The Gateway Hotel Ramgarh Lodge

The Gateway Hotel Ramgarh Lodge

The well-planned itinerary gave us a rest day, so carrying our sticks to ward off the local monkeys, we took a walk through the local village.  Hearing the chanting of children, we looked in at the tiny school, and passing a family home, were invited to sit and take a drink. We watched the grandmother weaving baskets and were made very welcome.

We enjoyed lunch and afternoon tea on the lawns and swam in the lovely outdoor pool. Bliss!

To Shimla

Taking a comfortable, air-conditioned train from Delhi to Kalka, we changed for the much anticipated journey on the ‘toy train’ up to Shimla, the summer capital of the Raj, at the edge of the Himalaya. Taking over six hours with no air-conditioning and a very basic toilet, this was certainly ‘an experience’ never to be forgotten – we wouldn’t have missed it but were very glad to travel back in plush cars!

Shimla

Aerial view of Shimla

Shimla itself is fascinating – with a mixture of Indian architecture and crowded bazaars alongside English mock-Tudor buildings, a Christian Parish Church and a very British looking high street. We were there on Gandhi’s birthday so were able to join the celebrations in the town.  Musicians and dancers entertained the crowds, children enjoyed horse rides and crowds flocked to the Apple Festival.  Our final visit was up over 8,000 feet to the Jakhoo Temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god.  A huge statue of Hanuman looks out over Shimla, and monkeys run all around the site stealing your shoes when you enter the Hindu temple and only returning them in return for food.

Shimla at night

Shimla at night

I have covered only a fraction of our adventures in India, but can thoroughly recommend this tour. We met some wonderful people, always felt safe and had a wonderful time, making memories to look back on with great joy.  India is so much more than I had imagined and we’re planning to return to explore more of this beautiful country.

Linda Samson travelled on the luxury group tour Golden Triangle and Shimla >



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