From sleek modernity of New Delhi and the glorious palace hotels of Rajasthan to the ethereal glow of the Taj Mahal at sunrise, the vibrant colour, scents and sounds of India never fail to impress.
I have never travelled anywhere else with such an intensity of colour as is found in India. Our fondness for cool black is a dreary contrast to India’s brightly coloured turbans, stunning saris and temple flowers. Rajasthan, a land of vast deserts, camel trains, ancient forts and temples, is the ‘jewel in the crown’. The spices piled high in the market and the decorated elephants at the Amber Fort all make this part of India a photographer’s dream.
The Taj Mahal in Agra, some 200km from Delhi, deserves the effort to arise early and experience it at sunrise when visitors are fewer and the light creates a dreamy hue. Intricately inlaid precious stones cover the walls, the monuments, the tombs. No photo or movie does this shrine justice. You must see it through your own eyes — and so romantic! The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in honour of his beloved wife, Mumtaz. He was imprisoned after being overthrown by his son and thus could never complete a black marble facsimile of the Taj across the river that was going to become his own tomb. One of the great, tragic love stories of history!
India has endured thousands of years of conflict and generated incredible wealth, leaving a legacy of impressive fortresses and beautiful palaces. Some Maharajahs’ palaces are now the most gorgeous hotels where us mere commoners can stay in the opulence that was the exclusive realm of Indian royalty. The most picturesque of these is the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur where the James Bond film Octopussy was shot. Others still feature the gorgeous glass inlaid walls, colourful wall paintings, and cool shady courtyards of the era – my favourite is the Samode Palace just out of Jaipur. At least 475-years-old, each suite has its own unique personality, with marble baths, four-poster beds and stunning views over the mountains to delight even the most jaded traveller.
Religion is an ever-present facet of life in India, with a diversity of faiths adding layers of intrigue to an already fascinating culture. Delhi’s Qutab Minartower, the Jain Temple of Ranakpur, and the 17th-century Jagdish Temple (Hindu) of Udaipur are just a few examples of India’s rich spiritual life.
Travel around India has become so much easier over the years, with excellent domestic airlines, high quality hotels and vastly improved tourist services. It’s now also very popular to add on some time in Sri Lanka, or end on a more relaxing note in the Maldives.
The sensory overload India exudes from every pore can delight, confound and overwhelm the first-time visitor in their first couple of days on arrival. But if you take an open mind and go with the flow, you can’t help but fall in love with the colourful experience that is India.
Words: Chris Lyons, Director, World Journeys