INCREDIBLE INDIA –“It wasn’t half hot mum!”
Asia must be my absolute favourite destination, and when the opportunity to cruise down the East coast of India arose it had to be done. Looking at the itinerary there were numerous ports of call starting in Abu Dhabi and disembarking in Colombo, Sri Lanka. But was that quite enough to capture the real India? I decided not, I needed to explore further and am so pleased I added the week-long Golden Triangle Tour with the chance to spot tigers in the Ranthambore National Park.
My wife was either going to love or hate it and the result was one of the most enjoyable and memorable holidays we have ever taken with such superb weather.
Early October we flew into Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, prior to boarding Fred Olsen’s Boudicca. This gave us the chance to take a city tour to one of its major icons, The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The mosque is an incredible marble masterpiece, with a huge single piece Persian carpet adorning the floor and during the Eid festival it can accommodate over 41000 worshippers.
After boarding the Boudicca, the next port of call was neighbouring Dubai and again this city was very clean, modern, and clearly wealthy. Both these Arab destinations host F1 Grand Prix‘s. One of the must do’s in Dubai is to ascend the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building at 800 metres, over double the height of our London Shard. The views over the city, desert and ocean are magnificent and at the base of the building, highly technical musical fountain shows take place during the day and evenings.
Back on board we sailed for 2 days before touching on the Indian coastline at Porbandar (the birthplace of Mahatma Ghandi) and then on to Mumbai (or the old Bombay) This was where the fun started! An evening night tour was spent largely in traffic jams. Every type of contraption you could imagine was on the roads also including cows, pigs and street vendors. The whole place was vibrant, and it gave us a feeler of what laid in store!
The next day we were off to see the Gateway of India with the adjacent Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. We spent some time in the manic Crawford Market with so many fruits and vegetables we had never seen before. Then a visit to the Dhobi Ghat, the largest open-air laundry site in the world. No Indesit, Bosch or Hoover machines here, just Dhobis (washer men) washing the clothes with a flogging stone, starching them and then hanging them out to dry on wires on the street.
We then cruised further south to Mormugao, Goa, and it is clear why this is a very popular beach resort. Golden sand beaches and good modern hotels. We also went inland and visited a spice plantation. It was very interesting to see how cardamom, cloves, nutmeg etc are farmed and exported.
Our next port was Kochi and a chance to watch the local fisherman use their huge cantilever Chinese fishing nets, something you could just sit and watch for hours. This visit was linked to a stop at the oldest European church in India, St Francis in Kerala, where the explorer Vasco Da Gama was originally buried before his body was shipped to Lisbon some 14 years later.
In Kerala we also had the chance of a day trip on a traditional houseboat along the backwaters. Again, it was great to see the world go by, with the villagers going about their chores along the riverbank.
The Boudicca finished its cruise in Colombo and we took a flight to Delhi. The package I had organised included our own driver and car for the week, good hotels and daily sightseeing with a local guide at each destination and all the entry fees pre-paid. It worked brilliantly, and we have so many memories to cherish.
In Delhi after a curry breakfast, we had a tour of old Delhi, with unbelievable traffic and huge contrasts between the rich and the poor. Cows, some owned, some wild, took absolute priority on the roads. Some aimlessly walking the wrong way down the carriageway, others just content to have a nap on the central reservation. Boars were also given the same priority treatment but not so the locals. Honking and Hooting was compulsory, unlike here, where you may get involved in a heated confrontation to say the least! People were living on the roadside in bivuoac tents but seemed quite happy and content with life and literally thousands of shops selling everything under the sun. A total eye opener but remarkable to see and experience.
During this day out we then had a rickshaw ride through Chandi Chowk exploring the narrow streets and colourful markets, with the strong aroma of spices everywhere. The whole place was buzzing!
The next day we set off on a 5 hour drive to Agra, a visit to the Agra Fort and then the highlight, the Taj Mahal.
When we arrived at the Taj the entry area was heaving, hundreds of people trying to get in all at once, but the locals let us through. Tourism is very important to India and everywhere they went out of their way to ensure they made a good impression.
Walking through the archway and seeing the Taj for the first time was a sight that I shall always remember, along with my first sight of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Incredible.
In addition, we had to have our photo taken on the very seat that Princess Diana sat on before entering the main building. We were quite surprised as despite the awesome exterior there was little inside, although a magnificent shrine to Emperor Shah Jahan’s beloved wife.
We had another 6 hour drive to Ranthambore Reserve with a stop en route at the Fatehpur Sikri, the abandoned Mughal City. We are now expecting to find the tigers just like David Attenborough.
After two safaris we spotted numerous monkeys, deer, a leopard and a rare sloth bear. Sadly, no tigers, so we will have to go back!
Our final stop on the way back to Delhi was Jaipur, the Pink City and the Amber Fort set up on a hilltop which I thought was excellent. We had an elephant ride to the top and the views were amazing, with the huge wall following all the contours of the mountains. Goodness knows how they managed to build it! It reminded me of the Great Wall of China and a real must to see if you ever visit.
India is such a diverse and interesting country, the people are so, so friendly and the sights and history are incredible.