As I reflect back on our visit 17 years ago, my husband, Gordon, and I have vivid memories of the shockingly impoverished communities shadowed by the opulent palaces… the child with elephantiasis shadowed by the jeweled bride, the filth of the crowd-ridden streets adjacent to the immaculate grounds of public attraction. India is not just another country but a contrast between reality and fantasy.
India is like another planet. It would take multiple lifetimes to absorb all that it has to offer. I return this trip with my husband Gordon but also with our 17-year-old daughter, Lizzie and 14-year-old daughter, Anna.
One must be ready for almost anything with 18 official languages and a staggering procession of cultural attractions that reflect myriad religious, ethnic and historical influences. Most shockingly, 1.1 billion people reside in this country roughly one-third the size of the United States. It is best suited for those with an open eye and mind and for those who would love not only to experience some of the most amazing properties in the world but a country that leaves life long impressions. It truly forces your senses into over drive, as it is difficult to explain how massive it is and how massive its contrasts are until you experience it first hard.
I will do my best throughout our two week stay to bring this all to life through photos, my blog entries, along with my girl’s thoughts and photos portrayed through their eyes which you can check out under the YOUNG TRAVELERS part of my website. Come visit with your open mind and heart and you will see why India is not just another country.
Here are the highlights of our two-week journey so far:
Day 1, 2 and 3: We landed in Mumbai at 11:55pm after traveling for 28 hours. Thankfully, we were met by our wonderful driver from my Virtuoso On Site, Peirce and Leslie. They helped me arrange this trip for my family and I use them for all my wonderful clients traveling to India.
Fatigued but excited and curious, we had a quick overnight at the Leela Kempinski near the Mumbai airport. Traffic is horrific and though I wanted our girls to go into Mumbai the drive would have taken well over an hour. We were well taken care of as a dear friend of mine who works for the Leela Hotels upgraded us to the Royal Club rooms where we already felt like Maharajas ourselves.
We started our journey with the most important reason for coming to India that was to visit our very dear friends, Sanjiv and Shefali Bajaj and their family. This relationship with the Bajaj family has spanned 50 years and 3 generations since Sanjiv’s father and my father attended Harvard Business School in the early 1960s. The Bajajs were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and my parents traveled to India for the occasion as well. Coincidentally or not, the previous reason for Gordon and my visiting 17 years ago was to attend Sanjiv and Shefalis wedding and now we have the pleasure of staying with them on their 17th wedding anniversary.
All generations of the Bajajs have visited us numerous times in the America. We have waited to embark on this trip for many years, as we wanted our girls to be old enough to enjoy it. Also, we hope they will understand this unique relationship of our families and continue the friendship with their respective generation of Bajaj children.
So our journey begins and on our first morning the Bajajs sent a car and driver to pick us up from the Leela Kempinski for a three hour drive to Pune where they live and where their family business, Bajaj Auto, is based. What a perfect way to start of our journey with some of our favorite people in the world who will also join us near the end of our trip for a few nights in Jodphur at the Umaid Bhawan Palace where we will spend “our” Christmas together.
Day 4, 5 and 6:
We journeyed next to the cool Arabian Sea under hot sunny skies in Goa. Formerly a Portuguese colony, Goa is home to the largest Christian population in India. It is slow paced and filled with smiling friendly faces. Life in Goa is simple and we cannot help contrasting it to the hectic lives we live back in America.
The local Anjura Flea Market, started by gypsies years ago, takes place each Wednesday from dawn to dusk outside the town of Punjim. Vendors hawk every type of local ware one could imagine. Bargains abounded and bartering was friendly. We weeded our way through countless aisles of stalls and the girls were thrilled finding trinkets and gifts for themselves and friends back home.
Anna’s dream came true with a ride on an elephant and a chance to get a “bath” from the elephant. Though a bit touristy, the experience made her trip. We also had a little local culture by visiting one of the most gorgeous vistas in Goa and the body of St Francis Xavier who brought the inquisition to Goa in the mid 1500s.
One of our favorite dining spots in Goa was Zeebops, a breezy beachfront shack serving delicious Goan fish stew and Kingfisher beer. No shoes required as this laid back relaxed restaurant harkened to the Caribbean more than India…how cool!
DAY 7 onward:
The long, tiresome 12 hour journey from Goa to Agra was more than worth the blood, sweat and tears it took to get us to the Oberoi Amarvilas. Though our stay was brief (12 hours!) it was worth every minute. Each room has a view of the Taj Mahal and my only lament was that we did not have more time to enjoy this beautiful property, one of the top 10 in the world! The service surpassed anything I have experienced before. Upon arrival, we were exhausted and hungry and happened to mention that Anna’s bag did not make it from Delhi. To our amazement, the hotel outfitted Anna from their boutique, hand delivered and free of charge, with a complete set of attire more chic than any of us.
Despite the predictions of possible fog, we experienced the highlight of our trip viewing the Taj Mahal. Arriving at sunrise with clear skies and with our great contacts and guide, we were the first to enter this amazing structure on Christmas Eve. We could not snap enough photos of this overwhelming site and amazingly had the luxury of seeing it without the throngs of tourists thanks to our guide.
We headed from Agra after experiencing sunrise at the Taj Mahal. There was a lot of traveling to fit this wonder of the world in our itinerary but a trip to India would not be complete without a visit.
We continued onto Jodphur, where we met our friends, the Bajajs for the next three nights. Known as the Blue City for its cobalt-painted facades and famous for its tie dye printing, we settled into the most opulent palace, Umaid Bhawan Palace, still the home to the maharajah and one of the largest residences ever built. I felt like I was part of this royalty as “our” palace was not just another luxury hotel but a place where you could step back in time and slip into the richness of India.
The King was celebrating his “lunar” birthday while we were on property that led to much curiosity and excitement. We have some exciting stories to share about our stay, as we were lucky enough to be one of the palace guests in attendance.
While in Jodphur some highlights were a guided tour of the Mehrangarh Fort where the royal family once resided. It is built high on a rocky cliff and the views from the fort stretch across the plains as far as the eye can see with views of the Umaid Bhawan Palace which is located in the “new” city. After lunch at the new boutique Raas hotel, we worked our way through the madness of the Sadar Bazaar in the “old” city. A quick stop at the finals of the most rivaled of polo teams was a fun way to celebrate our Christmas Day.
We will head onto Jaisalmer tomorrow where we will spend our final two nights at the Serai Tented Camp in the Thar Desert. We will visit the Jaisalmer Fort built of sandstone that looks straight out of Arabian Nights. It is known as the Golden Fort for the hues it takes on in the desert scape. Our last evening will be spent riding camels in the sand dunes at sunset to enjoy a final toast to this trip of a lifetime.
India is a place that we will return, a mystical place that will live vividly in hearts for many years to come.
Click on the pictures below to explore the properties.