May 20, 2011
It was a while ago, Vicki Mitanis joined the financial institution I am employed with. We gradually became good friends … and from then on, Vicki very soon announced that she is going to India. After spending a couple of weeks in India from February 26 which took her to the states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and National Capital Territory of Delhi …, she returned on March 12, 2011 with mixed feelings. This is her story…
I have been reading a lot about India and further had the opportunity to update my knowledge by interacting with many of my colleagues. The zeal of visiting India had reached its crescendo and hence in my annual leave wasted no time in booking a holiday to India that covered Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Orchha, Khajuraho and Varanasi.
I took a flight to India’s commercial capital Bombay, oops Mumbai where I was joined by other members of my group.
My tour started from the Gateway of India so to say, from where we headed to Elephanta Island, 10 kms south-east of Mumbai. An hours journey each to and fro in the ferry was amazing. The trip provided a great view of the city skyline and the sunset over Mumbai was something we were looking forward to when we returned, but since the day turned gloomy the sun was nowhere to be seen.
The complex of ancient cave temples carved out of rocks in Elephanta Island is incredible. While there, we became friendly with the children residing in the island. When getting set to click their photo, the bubbly noisy lot went into rapt attention so much so that they only stared at the camera waiting for the flash to come out. It was only after much persuasion, they would at least open their lips a bit and tried to smile. I for one thought that was really cute!
Visiting different areas of gigantic Mumbai city, admired the many buildings that were architecturally unique. Like many others, I too have heard that the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) in Mumbai and the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, Australia were designed by the same Architect at almost the same time in the nineteenth century. If rumours are to be believed, it is said that the designs got interchanged at the stage of execution. But here I was looking at the CST, wondering and pondering how this marvel would fit into the Melbourne city landscape and vice versa.
Mumbai is such a busy city overflowing with people. I guess one needs to be very tough to survive here.
Our next stop was Delhi which looked to be in total contrast with Mumbai. That was cool! New Delhi is well planned and beautiful. We travelled by the city’s modern metro system to Old Delhi to see India’s largest mosque Jumma Masjid and had time to explore timeless bazaars and scented spice markets along with the bustling Connaught Place where things were up for bargain. I did buy some fabric and scarves. There was a laneway full of bangles of all dazzling colours and sizes that amazed me the most. We paid a visit to a Gurdwara near the Red Fort and were fortunate enough to have a look at their community kitchen apart from interacting with the Sikhs.
Next on our itinerary was Jaipur - the ‘Pink City’. I had read that Jaipur is known as the Pink City because of the colour of the stone used exclusively in the walled city. The city beneath looked spectacular from Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Nahargarth Fort specially at sunset and at night. Moving around the well planned city visited Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Jai Mahal Palace, Albert Hall, City Palace, Rambagh Palace and a few other places of attraction. As dusk set in, the rest of the group decided to see a Bollywood movie, I for one settled for a game of Polo in the City Palace.
I came across a lot of street children in Jaipur asking for alms. They are so pretty indeed! Once, a group of three girls came to us begging for money. I had read somewhere that all these children are placed to do their job by their master/s and at the end of the day, they make merry with the money and the children get virtually nothing. With this thought in mind, we decided to buy them cool lassi (Indian yoghurt drink). As they savoured it, there was radiance on their faces emanating dimples and twinkle in their eyes.
Oh! The Taj … Finally, it was Agra which we were waiting for long! We visited the Taj Mahal on a Sunday. It cannot be expressed in words how beautiful the structure is. I know now why it is classified as one of the wonders of the modern world. The building’s exquisite marble inlay work produces a mesmerizing shimmering effect that is truly breathtaking to behold. Looking at its interiors brought me memories of my visit to Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The view of the edifice from the nearby Agra Fort is equally spell binding. Being here, I had a feel of the ‘Yamuna’ – another of India’s river of significance.
Orchha, meaning a "hidden place", certainly lives up to its name. The place is silently hidden about 18 km southeast of Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. The town itself is in Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh State. During our travels through the region, we found that Orchha is quite a photographer's delight. It turns absolutely magnificient during the evenings when you can silhouettes on film. The Raj Mahal, the Rai Praveen Mahal, the Jehangir Mahal, the Sheesh Mahal and the Chhatris are all beautiful.
Nestled on the bank of the emerald Betwa River, charming Orchha is the perfect spot to learn the art of Indian cooking at a culinary class. And so be it, had the pleasure of being invited as guests to a house to savour the hot ‘crispy rotis’ and ‘masala chai’ that lingered long after we had left.
Travelling to Khajuraho in the same State as Orchha was like being tucked away in some remote plains. The numerous temples here depict epic battles, Hindu legends and a lot of scenes in their delicately carved exteriors which is a treat to watch. Both internally and externally the temples are richly carved with excellent sculptures that are frequently sensual and at times, sexually explicit. Khajuraho oozes with passion, eroticism, dance and music and other finesses of creative arts depicted in sculpture and images of the temples.
The Khajuraho group of monuments has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of the "seven wonders" of India.
I had read a lot about the river Ganges and now here we were in Varanasi, the most sacred place for the Hindus. The Ganga Ghats at Varanasi are full of pilgrims who flock to the place to take a dip in the Holy Ganges by which they believe they will be absolved from all sins. It is believed that people are cleansed physically, mentally and spiritually. The river is of course polluted. We witnessed devotions of faith along the banks of the Ganges and experienced the magic of a sunset candle flower ceremony.
There are number of temples on the bank of the Ganges. I did see a group consisting of a dozen nuns, clustered in a boat which perhaps underlines the multi-religious society and secular fabric of India.
The next day, we visited Ganges as early as four in the morning to have a glimpse of the rising sun. It looks to be the river Ganges never sleeps. A swarm of people were burning incense and amidst the chiming of bells were conducting various religious ceremonies.
While in South Mumbai, I had a chance to see the twenty-seven storey personal home of Mukesh Ambani, one of India’s richest businessmen. In my India visit, wherever I went I could see the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets and many others without proper sanitation facilities, especially in Mumbai. This confuses me a lot. There seems to be a huge gap between the rich and the poor and a bit of a gap as well of what I had read and what I could see here first hand.
Chaotic, bamboozling, intoxicating, crazy, exasperating, squalid, daunting, overwhelming … India is all these things. The people of India are lovely and full of energy, food is amazing and the varieties of vegetables are phenomenal. Our journey in tuk tuk (auto rikshaws) made the travel even more memorable. I must be figuring in many a photo albums in Indian households as everywhere we travelled, people wanted to click a snap with us. I am glad I went.
Hitherto, I have been to Vietnam, Cambodia, Turkey and now India is added to my list. Stephen, my good colleague suggests I visit Goa, cover the hill stations and scenic attractions in the States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the South and reckons I would come back with a totally different experience altogether.
With the Aussie Dollar scaling to new heights and towering above the US Dollar and a prediction that it would continue to dominate for years to come has made overseas travel that much affordable. Never know what tomorrow holds and if I do visit India again, would promise you would have the pictures right here.
My Best Wishes from Down Under!
(as narrated to the author)