An Indian summer Tips for a hot holiday
Michael Pullman travelled across India by train from Delhi to Kolkata, and discovered that if you can cope with the heat there are advantages to travelling in the summer.
I had been meaning to travel to India all year but the only time I could get away was in late April/early May, just as the Indian Summer was beginning and the tourist season was drawing to a close. It was undoubtedly very hot but I benefitted from very good hotel rates, and if you can cope with the heat there are other advantages to travelling in the summer months. Here are some tips on what to expect when travelling in the summer:
It was during my first afternoon in India, wandering around New Delhi in the sweltering heat, that I realised to get the most out of my trip I would have to get up early and make sure I was in the shade for the hottest part of the day. Throughout the rest of the trip I put this into practice, and by the end was actually enjoying my early nights and early starts, it was beginning to feel like a healthy holiday.
Few other tourists
Agra served as an excellent example of one of the key benefits of travelling in the heat. I was outside the Taj Mahal as it opened at 6am, with a handful of other people. This gave me plenty of time to explore the stunning monument in beautiful tranquility before the crowds of mostly Indian tourists arrived. I took my time walking around the monument, pausing at various spots to appreciate the view, and was even able to get some photographs without a single other person in them.
Beware the "loo"
My next stop was Gwalior, famous for its enormous hilltop fort and just over an hour from Agra by train. This central region of India proved to be the hottest part of the trip, and I foolishly decided to tour the fort in the early afternoon. Despite taking a car up there, much of the fort needs to be explored by foot, and with the temperature touching 46 degrees and worsened by the loo, a hot wind which blows through this area in May, I had to finish the tour early. This was the first time the heat had affected my day, but I probably should have planned my day better. A good way to deal with the loo is to take the locals' lead and protect yourself from the hot wind by wearing a linen headscarf.
Choose your hotels carefully
A luxurious escape is particularly important in the summer, when you will probably spend more time at your hotel than you would at other times of the year. In Gwalior I stayed at the Taj-owned Usha Kiran Palace, a superb place to cool off. The 120-year old palace is set in acres of landscaped lawns, the rooms are wonderfully airy with eloquent architecture and there is a generous-sized swimming pool to combat the heat. It is a hotel that feels supremely luxurious without being stuffy in any way.
Be careful when moving from hot to cold
The following day I reluctantly left the Usha Kiran Palace and headed to the train station for the 2-hour journey to Jhansi, from where I would head to Orchha. During this journey I felt a little worse for wear, mainly because I had been waiting in the hot train station for over three hours for my delayed train, before entering the ice-cold air-conditioned carriage. Moving between very hot and very cold can play havoc with the body so you do need to be careful and try and listen to the signs your body gives off at times like this. Feeling a little queasy in the cold, I stood up between the carriages for most of the trip, the blasts of hot air coming from the open windows now proving a relief!
Don't let the heat stop you
Varanasi was as hot as Gwalior but that didn't prevent me from doing the two main excursions - an early morning and early evening boat ride along the Ganges. In the morning you can see pilgrims washing themselves in the river and the misty sky slowly filling in with colour. In the evening, as the sun sets and the river flickers with hundreds of lotus-leaf candles, and numerous religious ceremonies take place along the river, including the burning of bodies, all to the eerie sound of tolling bells, the city feels like nowhere else on earth.
Travel in style
Whilst the auto-rickshaws are tremendous fun, being driven around in an air-conditioned vehicle is a great way to combat the heat and build up the strength to step out and tour around a site. Guided tours are the way to get the most out of your trip. On my day-long guided tour of Kolkata I was able to see so many of the city's highlights, including its fascinating colonial architecture, the Victoria Memorial and the world's largest banyan tree, which I would not have been able to acheive independently. For train journeys during this time of year I would always recommend the air-conditioned carriages, but do take some extra layers for overnight journeys, as the air-conditioning can get quite cold.
I would definitely travel again durng the Indian summer, partly because of the excellent rates but also because of the absence of other tourists, allowing you to explore the key sites in relative solitude. If you drink plenty and avoid the midday sun, you can still have an excellent time exploring one of the most interesting destinations in the world.
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