Returning to India… 30 years later
After more than 30 years since my last holiday to India, I found the change surprising. Back then, we were the only car on the road, passed by just a few painted lorries. Long car journeys were on uneven, dirt roads and there were miles of desert and scrub. Now, India has exploded into a country of the new millennium.
Red Fort, DelhiNow begins our great journey, with early starts and lots of sightseeing. From Delhi we travelled to Alsisar where we stayed in the most beautiful heritage hotel, Alsisar Mahal. The small village had lovely painted havelis – Indian mansions – and peacocks. Arriving in Jaisalmer, I noticed the drastic change; there is now a great town that resembled a market as we climbed up to the fort. At night, the fort atop the hill looked like a ship lit up. The great houses are still there but the tuktuks and bicycles were too numerous, and in our eyes quite dangerous. We stayed in the desert outside the city in a modern fort that had been built as a hotel. As we were the only guests, we were very well looked after by numerous staff, making us feel like royalty. A highlight was the camel ride out in the desert to see the sunset. It was magical!
Alsisar Mahal, AlsisarWe only stayed one night in Jodhpur; this was enough time to walk around the blue city and to the great Mehran Fort on the hill. The following day, we set off to the beautiful city of Udaipur, stopping en route to see the magnificent Jain Temple at Ranakpur. Far off the main roads and in the mountains, these are the most amazing temples and are definitely worth a visit. In Udaipur, we stayed above the city, overlooking the Lake Pichola with its great, white palace. A short boat trip allowed us to see the famous palace, which is now a hotel, and the city from a different view. Our guide always booked the most interesting restaurants for us to dine at in the evenings.
Mehrangarh Fort, JodhpurWe then drove to Jaipur – a city of gems – and the beautiful Palace of Winds. The wonderful markets were bursting with Indian crafts, jewellery, silver and silk. For me, I remember the traffic. The chock-a-block cars, lorries, people, bicycles, tuktuks and even a couple of camels. Then slowly and majestically, an elephant walks across, clearing the traffic in front of him.
Palace of Winds, JaipurArriving in Agra, we were excited to see the Taj Mahal – the most beautiful and romantic building in the world – followed by the deserted red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri. We then flew back to Delhi where I said goodbye to my travelling companions. We knew each other so well by this point, and I could even remember their names! They knew I didn't talk at breakfast and I knew who liked to party late at night. They were indeed a kind and charming group.
Taj Mahal, AgraNow begins my great adventure of travelling alone to Shimla and Amritsar. I flew to Chandigarh where I was met and driven up the great road to Shimla with its numerous road works. I had wanted to come to Shimla for many years. My husband was a cousin of Rudyard Kipling and it was Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, who had designed the stained glass windows in Shimla’s Christ Church. However, I had to wait until the following day for that. I stayed at The Oberoi Cecil hotel, which is within walking distance of everything in old Shimla. It surprised me to see so many monkeys, as I expected it would be too cold for them. The next morning I was given a tour of the former Viceregal Lodge, which used to be the former residence of the British Viceroy of India and looks rather like a large Victorian house in England. Today it is the summer home of the President of India. It must be lovely in the summer, but it was cold and raining when I was there.
Viceregal Lodge, ShimlaI walked down Mall Road in the pouring rain, just like home, up to the Gaiety Theatre, where in the past the British who lived there – in houses called Kelvinside, Truro, Kendall or Corbridge – had taken part in amateur dramatics. The two windows were very like the Burne-Jones windows in English churches. It was hard to believe we were in the Himalaya. I then went on to Amritsar, which completely lived up to my expectations. Visiting the Golden Temple, which was built around a man-made pool completed in 1577, was a great experience. Of all places I’ve visited, it really does have a holy and spiritual feeling. The kitchens feed thousands every day, which was a revelation: shining buckets of curry, rice and bread are all given out freely.
Golden Temple, AmritsarI also visited the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial Gardens where the British had opened fire on women and children in 1919. This reminder of such a terrible event was very sobering. That evening, I was taken to the Pakistan/India border to watch the Wagah: a military display two hours before sunset, where they lower the flags of the two countries. There were thousands of people on both sides, supporting with cheers and cries. It was the only place I felt lonely – an odd feeling among so many – but my guide could only come so far with me and I walked alone to find my seat. The following day I flew to Delhi and then on to Goa for 10 days to meet friends, sit in the sun and swim in the sea. I have holidayed here many times: the climate is good, the people are charming and the Portuguese houses and white Catholic churches are still standing. I flew back to London having experienced the most wonderful few weeks of my life!
Beach in GoaYou can follow in Lady Huntington-Whiteley’s footsteps on Cox & Kings’ Classic Rajasthan group tour, with an extension to Shimla, Amritsar and Goa. To find out more, please speak to one of our India experts. Share: [Sassy_Social_Share]