There is no greater value than having your own expert local private guide. Our guide, Hemendre, was indefatigable, guiding us to greater understanding of India’s rich culture and history, from the era of Moghuls, Emperors and Maharajas, to British occupation and eventually, independence. We gained invaluable insights into the cultural harmony, tensions and tolerances between the Hindus and Muslims living together in one democratic united nation.
From Jaipur we traveled to Udaipur where we boarded a canopied wooden boat which glided across the still waters of Lake Pichola to Taj Lake Palace, a floating white marble castle and former summer palace of the royal dynasty of Mewar. I have never in my life been received with such ethereal beauty. We were showered with rose petals and serenaded by flutes upon arrival. Taj Lake Palace has been awarded the most romantic palace in the world, top five hotels in the world, the most Instagrammable spot in the world, and has now achieved status as my favorite hotel in the world. I never wanted to leave!
After exploring the city of Udaipur, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any more spectacular, the Crown Prince of Udaipur,
Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, made a regal appearance to host a lavish cocktail party on the palace grounds for us. This was a most rare appearance, but he expressed his gratitude to see foreign tourists in his country after the two years of the pandemic.
Udaipur is an excellent launch point to explore ancient Hindu temples. We traversed wild countryside to visit to the 1200 year old Sahastrabahu Temples at Nagda and strolled through the village of Delwara, followed by lunch at Devigarh, built in 1760 as a palace and converted in 1999 to a chic hotel resort.
We continued north to the countryside of Rishikesh, “land of the gods,” known for soft adventure. River rafting, ziplining, trekking, wellness and yoga are popular here. We checked into the Taj Rishikesh, situated on a forested hill overlooking the Ganges River. The Ganges River is considered sacred by the Hindu culture, much like the Jordan River is to Christians. At sunset, on the rocky banks of the Ganges, three Hindu priests performed an ancient Aarti ceremony, ritually chanting the names of stars, latitudes and longitudes, offering fire, water, and flowers to their gods for the favor of blessings to prosper us and our families.
We woke to do sunrise yoga with a genuine Hindu Yogi and waded in the Ganges where we meditatively stacked river rocks and baptized our sandalwood prayer beads.
From Rishikesh, we flew to Delhi. Do not be deceived by the pretenses of New Delhi, where one finds monuments, embassies, politicians, and all matters of sophisticated world business being exchanged between men in stylish dark business suits. Old Delhi, established in 2700 BC, is a must for any visitor. It is here, within ancient city walls, that we got lost in the colorful, chaotic sensory explosion of pedicabs, wagons, minivans and mopeds fighting crowds of sari-draped Indian market hagglers and traders, chickens, and cows.
While every day was an adventure, there were two highlights of my journey. The first was an opulent over-the-top celebration where we were fitted for custom saris, boarded a procession of horse-drawn carriages and were led by an Indian marching band and dancers through the Jaipur City Palace gates into the private royal residential quarters of the Pink Palace. We were showered with rose petals, entertained by an Indian music troupe, and treated to a traditional Indian dinner prepared by the royal chef to the Maharaja in the lavish open-air Blue Room overlooking the city lights.
The ultimate highlight was the Taj Mahal. We rode the Indian railway from Delhi to Agra and approached this awesome architectural wonder from the red arched gateway marking the entrance. We climbed the stairs and touched the cool inlaid marble as our guide brought to life the gripping love story that inspired this remarkable tribute. The majestic mausoleum complex took 20 years and 20,000 men to build over three centuries ago and houses the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and her husband, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who reigned 1628-1658.
The people of India were gentle, humble, happy, reverent. They seemed to be equally as fascinated by me as I was by them. I was asked for selfies wherever I went. I held babies and hugged grandmothers and took great joy in being asked to do so. It was easy to connect with the beautiful people of India and hard to leave.
To say that a journey to India is transformative and unforgettable is not an overstatement. Land of Maharajas and monkeys, palaces and peacocks, elephants and holy cows, nirvana and prana, India delivers an exotic and educational journey unlike any other.
CONTACT LISA Lisa@PreferredNaples.com 239-450-1746 www.PreferredNaples.com
Lisa is a Luxury Travel Advisor with Preferred Travel