India: Member Postcards
Indagare member, Carroll Pierce, enjoyed her recent family trip to India. Here are her impressions.
Our guide was excellent and we were so glad to have a driver and assistant driver. Our guide did a good job sensing when we’d had enough, or when we wanted to stay someplace for longer. He always had pocket-change on him, allowing us to buy food for pigeons, grasses for the street cows, or snacks for ourselves.
On our first stop in Delhi, we stayed at the Aman, which was excellent choice. We so appreciated arriving at such a luxurious oasis after the sensory and auditory overload that is India. Our rooms were amazing and spacious and very chic—we kept snapping pictures of the furniture and accessories. The sleek lobby and huge pool were especially impressive, but the pollution is so bad in Delhi that the air in the hotel is smoggy! It was so bad, it almost made me wish for surgical masks. There is what appears to be smoke under every hallway ceiling light—hotel management tried to tell us it was fog, but it was definitely pollution. Luckily, it didn’t smell.
Touring Delhi was moderately interesting. I don’t think we found the most beautiful sections but our time walking in Old Delhi was of high impact value. The Sikh kitchen was so interesting and definitely a favorite stop for all of us. I recommend packing surgical booties for entering temples.
Our next destination was a tented camp in Thar Desert. My husband, Bob, really loved this part of the trip as he loves constellations, bonfires, and good Scotch and delicious food. The rest of us thought that it paled in comparison to being on safari but the camels were fun and a first for us. The discovery of two-inch-long flying ant-like critters crawling all over the inside of our tents as we tucked in was scream-worthy and now solidly in the girl’s memory banks. (We’d all forgotten the first rule of safari tents when one is not in them—turn off the lights and pull the netting!) We had nearly forgotten how fun sand dune-jumping was and loved having a tour of a local shoemaker’s farm.
Bob really needed a haircut, and after seeing all the roadside barbers, our guide arranged for Bob to get a trim. In the midst of a six-hour drive one day, we pulled over in the middle of nowhere. The girls and I were thrilled, Bob was not nearly as enthusiastic!
Then we went on to Jodhpur, where we were staying at the magical and fantastic Raas Hotel (Tunvarji ka Jhalra, Makrana Mohalla, 91 291 263 2207). Its contemporary architecture blended seamlessly and creatively with the old. It is a really special place and very fun to be right in the city to hear the call to prayer, and walk or take a tuk tuk through the streets.
Traffic in India is wild. Cows and dogs rule and “might is right”: 18-wheelers, vans, cars, scooters, bikes, walkers, tuk tuks, elephants and cart-pulling-camels camels compete for space on the roads. It’s a horn-honking flowing river and it all moves out of the way for animals.
We took a cooking lesson at a private home, which was really special. The timing was a bit off, and the evening was too long and late. Garish agreed and apologized, but it was worth it. The girls asked a lot of questions, the food prep and instruction was fun.
We started noticing kites in the air on one drive and our guide filled us in on the games kids play with kites. Our guide also knew of our interest in polo so he took us by the grounds one afternoon.
My favorite part of the trip was going to Jaipur. The Rajvilas was a welcome respite from the chaos. My daughters loved lounging by the pool in a huge pillow nest. The observatory is compelling. A tip to future travelers: know your birth-time as the guide can tell a lot about people from what time of day they were born. We saw cobras outside of the City Palace, which was—great fun and dramatic! We went sari shopping and had a very special mini-cooking class before dinner. We were all so struck by the opportunity we were having, being in someone’s private home, on a school night for their children. Their willingness to entertain complete strangers was amazing.
We walked up to the Amber Fort (the girls wanted to ride the elephants up but the line was too long) and dodging the poop and urine and elephants going up and down was definitely memorable and very active!
We ate Christmas dinner at the Rambagh Palace complete with formal service and turkey, stuffing and cranberries. The table was decorated with red bows and greenery and felt very different from the new Oberoi.
We all loved the wood-block printing and carpet shops outside of Jaipur. Another highlight was seeing the 9-year-old street magician who was so good, our guide invited him into the van to show us his tricks!
Arriving at the Aman in Ajabargh came at the perfect time! Tim, the manager, was interesting to chat with and Leticia, his breathtaking significant other, was the perfect hostess. She also runs the gift shop, which has a spectacular and unique collection of jewelry and accessories. We rode horses, hiked, visited a village, read by the pool, swam and ate the yummiest western and Indian food. A tip to visitors: get a table for two outside by the fireplace and another night, request a table on the roof.
I am glad we went to Agra. Everyone should go, but other than the Taj Mahal, there isn’t much to see and the restaurant options aren’t great. On the drive from Agra to Delhi we stopped at a “stepwell,” (a water collecting device), which looks like a sunken inverted pyramid. It was one of the most memorable sites on the trip.
The Delhi Oberoi (Subramaniam Bharti Marg, Delhi, 91 2436 3030) is modern, clean, and our New Year’s Eve dinner there was perhaps the most fun family meal of the trip. We were excited to be going home and enjoyed recapping the trip. Everyone had a great time. Even in the luxurious style we travelled, and with the help we had on the ground, India is an overwhelming undertaking.