I thought I would drop you a note with some comments on our trip to India. As you know, I was quite apprehensive about the trip before we left, partly because I knew it was going to be a completely new experience for us, and also because of the alerts about the unusually high levels of pollution and the demonetization announcement by Prime Minister Modi which took effect just before we left Vancouver. (From an outsiders point of view, it appeared that the people most negatively affected by this drastic move were the “have nots”, rather than those who were the primary target.)
I will begin by saying that this trip was truly the most memorable travelling experience we have ever had. We will never forget the sights, the sounds, the people, the colour, the life.
The biggest highlight for us was Varanasi (all aspects of the city and the sights, but especially going out on the River Ganges both in the evening and again at sunrise the next morning.). It was like stepping into a different world. I am so glad you suggested that we go there. It truly does have a spiritual feeling. A bonus for us was seeing parts of two weddings that took place at our hotel when we were there. We had never seen an Indian wedding before, and the decorations, music, and colourful dress were fun and entertaining to watch.
The tour we took with our guide, Ada, to one of the slums in Mumbai was also an eye-opening and unforgettable experience. Seeing the recycling of mountains of “garbage; watching the men sewing fabrics in small rooms; having the children play and wave and smile at us (but not asking for money); observing the making of pottery and the use of what appeared to be homemade kilns; watching the preparations for a birthday party with many of the neighbours joining in to help; and on and on. We had expected an atmosphere of Despair, but instead felt that this was a vibrant, active community, despite the basic nature of the housing and the lack of so many amenities we take for granted. We have no way of knowing if this slum was representative of the many other slums which were apparent in some of the cities we visited, but we will not forget it.
We also loved Jaipur and are glad we spent an extra day there. The elephant ride up to the Amber Fort with its wonderful views out over the countryside; the observatory with its enormous and precision instruments; watching the full process of carpet making including weaving, scraping, washing, burning of the fibers with a blow torch; and hand washing (hard work); another wedding which we spent watching by the pool at the beautiful Taj hotel; the street scenes with people, animals, merchants, crazy traffic – all of it was wonderful.
We had expected to be impressed with the Taj Mahal in Agra (and we were), but we actually enjoyed the “baby Taj” just as much – fewer people, and our excellent guide pointed out the beauty in the chiseled flower and other patterns in the marble (and we later had a chance to see how this was done).
Walking through Old Delhi was also a fascinating experience, as was our visit to the Sikh Temple, and the beautiful monuments and buildings in New Delhi.
The Taj Hotels were great, and I doubt if we will ever see a more beautiful hotel than the Taj Palace in Mumbai. If I had to choose again, I would have chosen the Taj Hotel in Delhi, rather than the Meridian (which was very nice, but had more of a feel of a business hotel). Our guides were also great – all different, but really good at explaining what we were seeing and giving us the history of all the places we visited. It was hard to take it all in, but we really appreciated their enthusiasm. Special kudos go to our guide in Varanasi (Prem?) and in Mumbai (Ada?), but they were all good.
Khalid was also very hard-working, sincere, and we really appreciated his extra efforts on our behalf throughout. We were very sorry about the additional work we caused when we left our suitcase at the airport in Mumbai and really appreciated the time and effort of everyone who helped us get it back.
Anyway, this is a long story, but we really wanted you to know how much we appreciated all your ongoing encouragement and efforts, and those of the people who work with and for you. If it had not been for you, we never would have gone to India and we would have missed the experience of a lifetime. We will definitely tell all of our friends that Explore India is the way to go and that India should be on their bucket list. Many of our friends figured if we could do it, they could do it. And we did it!
Thanks again Nazir. We hope to get back to India in a couple of years, and maybe Nepal (and Kashmir when it is more settled). At that time, we will be in touch.