Four years ago, I first discovered the magic of India on our 8 day Taj Express tour. This year, I returned and once again got to experience – and share, the beauty and contrast of this fascinating land, from its diverse and striking landscapes, to its friendly and engaging people.
In 2009, on my first venture to this beguiling country, I was full of excitement. But at the same time this excitement was laced with a fair bit of fear too. Not so much fearful of India as a country, as I don’t tend to mind venturing into the unknown and uncovering new experiences. My initial fear back then was that I would be too sensitive to all of the extremes that I expected to encounter in such a diverse and challenging society. Let’s face it, India is not for everyone, or so you might think.
The moment I arrived at Goa airport in 2009 and first witnessed an elephant using a pedestrian crossing in front of the terminal, I immediately stepped into a world of wonder – and from that moment I realised I was actually an India junkie. Of course there were challenges, but what I quickly realised was that if there is one thing that India imparts on you, it is simply – acceptance. Acceptance that things are just the way they are, that no matter how many bags of left over lunches you hand out there won’t be enough to satisfy everyone, that your concerns about your own fitness or image or status are pointless here.
After a few wonderful days exploring the charming beaches and Portuguese influenced architecture of Goa, I made my way up to Delhi for the start of my 8 day group tour on the Taj Express, showcasing the colour and beauty of Rajasthan. I shared this first journey with 21 other wonderful people, and with each new day of this initial tour my fears evaporated and I became more intrigued, more appreciative, more engaged and more excited.
The Taj Express tour is the perfect way for a first time visitor to India to get started. Undoubtedly a land of diversity and extremes, India is the seventh biggest country in the world, and with the second biggest population. Home to mountain ranges that stretch to the Himalayas, verdant jungle and arid desert; vibrant townships, lively markets, UNESCO-listed buildings, mansions, palaces and havelis; lovely beaches, breathtaking lakes and meandering waterways, India has something for everyone. But more than anything, it is the people that really make India special. Our astounding local guide, the proud hotel and restaurant staff, the fun and engaging rickshaw drivers, the workers, the cheeky children and the smiling women with their colourful saris.
India is 30 countries in one and this trip was a tiny glimpse. The more you see the more you want to see. I added an extra three days on to my itinerary so I could visit Holy Varanasi, which for me was where India really invaded me soul. I immediately declared on my return that I would come back. I’ve heard it said that you will either go to India once and never return, or that you will continue to return often. I am delighted to be talking about India all over again (although I never really stopped).
This year I was very fortunate to have been asked to accompany a group of travel agents on their first trip to India, again on the Taj Express – I think it took me about half a second to agree to go. What was wonderful about this trip was that I got the chance to see the different ways India impacted, captivated, challenged and changed each one of them. India (and On The Go!) worked their magic again and I got to see people lose their fears, fall in love and accept as I learnt to do four years earlier.
I realised that my experience in India was not a one off, it is just what India does – and incredible does not even begin to describe it. So I am heading back again, in March 2014. Flights are booked and I’ve already started dreaming about my itinerary. This time I will be visiting Mumbai, Amritsar – I am excited to see the Pakistan Border crossing, Barahtpur – one of the world’s most diverse bird watching paradises, Orcha, Kujaharo, Chitwan and Nepal. I can’t wait to see what India next has in store for me!
To hear more about Emma’s trip to India, please email her at Emma@onthegotours.com.