For Will’s Mum’s birthday, Will decided to help her realise a lifetime dream and take her to India. She’s never visited before, and Will’s Dad is not a lover of curry so wasn’t keen on going himself. Will and I have been to India twice before, and loved it, so we decided that it would be a brilliant way to celebrate. For me, India is one of those places that when you love it, gets under your skin. My friend Raj has often joked that I must have been Indian in a previous life, as I love everything about it, and apparently make a better dahl than she does! So I was very happy to be going back there, as you can imagine.
We wanted to do an India highlights trip – in only 10 days – so we spent ages working out itineraries, looking at trains and domestic airlines, trying to decide the best route. In the end, Will did a fantastic job and put together a fantastic trip. Mumbai – Jodphur – Khimsar – Jaipur – Agra – Delhi. We also travelled in very different style to our first two trips – before it had been bright but basic backpacker places, and overnight trains; this time around it was gorgeous hotels and private cars. Very different – we did India in style!
We flew into Mumbai from Singapore. I’d been to Mumbai on both our previous trips but neither of us had fallen in love with the city – it had seemed crowded, dirty, frantic with traffic, and the juxtaposition between rich and poor so close together had been rather difficult to stomach. The Mumbai that greeted us on this occasion felt very different. A new bridge has been recently completed, which cuts out a lot of the traffic, acting as a kind of by-pass in the sea. The slums that were so prevalent when we visited before weren’t visible this time (though of course that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there… just moved). This time I actually wanted to leave the hotel and explore the city. We spent a great morning exploring the city and visiting all the landmarks, and the house Gandhi used to stay in when he was in Mumbai.
After a whistle-stop tour of Mumbai, we hopped onto a domestic flight up to Jodphur in Rajasthan. We’d been to Rajasthan (Jaipur & Udaipur) on previous visits, but ran out of time to see Jodphur. We heard so many great things that we really regretted not being able to visit, so we were keen to make sure that it was on the itinerary this time. The ‘Blue City’ did not disappoint. Smaller than the other cities we had visited in Rajasthan, Jodphur feels a bit more personal. The impressive Mehrangarh Fort, perched on a rocky outcrop, looks out over the city. I loved exploring it, with the bright blue sky overhead, and old stone all around me. The market was also fun and vibrant, with loads of fresh produce on sale. The whole city had a lovely chilled out vibe and I could’ve happily spent several days there.
After Jodphur, we travelled to the small town of Khimsar, where we were staying in the old Fort there. It’s a brilliant place to stay – lovely comfy rooms but with big ramparts all around the grounds, and the dining room is in the one part of the fort that they have left relatively unrenovated. Eating there is really atmospheric! We also did a little jeep safari into the desert where we saw all kinds of animals – lots of deer like looking creatures. We also did a short camel ride up a sand dune to watch the sunset – beautiful.
Next up was Jaipur. Will & I had both visited it when we first came to India back in 2004, so we were looking forward to seeing the city again, and seeing if had changed as much as Mumbai had. After a white-knuckle car journey (which saw cars coming at 80 mph down the road towards us, on the wrong side of a motorway – I was in the front and quietly praying I would survive), we arrived. Jaipur is known as the ‘pink city’ due to the colours of the walls, which were painted in honour of Prince Albert’s visit in 1876. In reality, they are more of a terracotta col0ur, but it still make the old city striking. We visited the Amber Fort, as we had done on our previous visit. It sits perched on a hill, looking over the city. Will’s Mum had wanted to ride up on the elephants that are there, but our well-meaning but ultimately frustrating taxi driver took us all the way round the back to the top, meaning we had to walk all the way down again to do the elephant ride. Poor bloke, I think he thought he was doing us a favour.
The Amber Fort is as beautiful as I remembered it and much more of it has been restored to its former glory. For instance, there was a garden in the central courtyard that hadn’t been there when we came before. More of the Mirror Palace is being restored as well, which is incredible to see. I’m pleased that India is preserving more of its beautiful heritage buildings.
On route to Agra from Jaipur, we stopped at Fatephur Sikri. It was originally built as a walled city, but now much of it lies empty and is described as a ‘ghost city’. We visited the mosque there, Jama Masjid. It is a striking building, and built out of the beautiful local red stone.
Next up was Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. I had mixed feelings about going back there. It had been such a perfect experience when we first went, that I was a bit nervous about tainting it. We got off to a frustrating start, as after having got up early to get there, we had to wait in a huge queue, which is split into men’s and women’s, for over an hour. Needless to say, the men’s queue moves super quickly, whilst the women’s drags. This is all in the name of security, but I received nothing more than a cursory pat on the thighs and around my stomach. Nobody bothered to check my bag. They need to sort this out! However, once I stepped inside, I fell in love with the Taj all over again. It is such a mesmerising building – you can’t stop looking at it. It’s almost as if it has some kind of magic to it. It’s easy to see why its one of the wonders of the world, and one of my favourite places ever. I never thought I’d visit it again, so I am delighted that I’ve had the opportunity.
Our trip ended in Delhi, where we really only had an evening, before we caught our early morning flight back to Singapore. We decided not to face the wrath of the capital city, and instead relaxed in the hotel with a massage and yummy dinner. It was very sad to leave Will’s Mum (she was flying straight back to London) but also I was sad to leave India again. It is country that has definitely got under my skin – it fascinates me and frustrates me all at the same time! If you have never visited, I would seriously recommend that you do – it is one of the most beautiful and captivating places I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.
(I took tons of photos and while there are plenty in this post, there are even more if you head on over to Flickr)