24th December 2018
As someone who hasn't visited the Indian Subcontinent at all during my travels, I thought the best place to start and explore this vast and varied continent was at the largest country in the region, India. When choosing where to go, I wanted somewhere I could see and experience first-hand the hustle and bustle of Indian culture that it is famed for.
As a first timer, I thought I would get the most out of a tour of Rajasthan, the land of the Maharajas. So, I booked my place on the Wild Frontiers signature tour Taj, Tigers and Temples and eagerly awaited my Indian experience to begin.
Like any new traveller to this country, I was looking forward to the famous sites including, of course, the Taj Mahal, Amber Fort and the main cities of Jaipur, Delhi and Udaipur. I am a city girl at heart and love the fast-paced nature, so I was prepared and expected to love Connaught Place in Delhi, the main streets of Jaipur and the frenetic Agra.
What I wasn’t expecting was that I would actually fall in love with the more rural towns of Rajasthan and find them more appealing than the big named cities. Rajasthan is famed for its colours and culture and although these are seen in the famous cities, they come alive in the towns of Pushkar, Jodhpur, Jojawar and Bhenswara.
As a group, we immersed ourselves in bazaars full of colourful scenes of spices and saris, and even learnt a lot about how to mix and cook the curries and wear the saris in style! I walked through small villages and played with children whilst their families welcomed us to see their homes, ate samosas and drunk lassis with locals taking a break from their busy and hectic day and chatted with farmers trading camels whilst making chappatis.
In the big cities you can do this, but with what I felt was a hint of the Western world always surrounding you. In rural Rajasthan, I feel like I saw the real and true India.
A further aspect that I was surprised to find was India's extensive array of wildlife. I was very lucky on my group tour to spot so much, but when I think of countries that are known for their wildlife opportunities, India wasn’t a country that was high on my list, naive as it may sound. I was massively impressed that during my seventeen days I spotted tigers, hyenas and at least twenty variations of unknown birds, including the sarus crane in Ranthambhore.
Upon moving to Pushkar, I was surrounded by the noise and smell of hundreds of camels and horses of varying breeds. Leopards and black panthers were next on the list, roaming around the Eshrana Mountain range near to Bhenswara. The sight of an elephant making its commute along the streets of buzzing Jaipur shocked me and made me think about my mornings on the District Line!
But the biggest and best surprise of it all was how welcoming and inviting everyone was. Being a commuter in London, I am used to averting my gaze down and just moving forward. But on the train from Khamli Ghat to Marwar, the locals embraced us enthusiastically.
With limited Hindi and limited English, it was decided we would communicate in song. We sang a campfire classic and they would offer a traditional Indian song in return. It broke the ice in ways I wouldn't have imagined. If someone had told me I would be singing Old Macdonald on a train to a bunch of Indian ladies before I went, I would have laughed at them. But India and the people of Rajasthan have that effect on you.
They could easily have ignored us tourists and got on with their journey as we so often do in the UK, but they welcomed us to share a laugh and some snacks with them.
Would I go back to India in a heartbeat and I recommend anyone to follow in my footsteps, especially by taking the tour that I was a part of, which was the best introduction I could hope for. It showed me both the classic, traditional and well-known routes of India, but it also taught me to look outside of the box, expect the unexpected and to just go with the flow. And for that reason alone, I loved it.