“Our accommodation was as varied as our itinerary. We stayed in hotels, home stays, havelis and a desert camp.…”
We were a group of seven on an 18-day trip to see the architectural highlights and the arts and crafts of Rajasthan and to learn a little about the way of life and customs in the region. Joji was unable to accompany us, but he was at the end of the telephone line and on email at regular intervals to assist, advise, and problem solve if necessary.
Early morning arrival in Delhi (6 degrees Celsius and fog!) could have been daunting after the long flight from New Zealand, but the ATI representative was there to greet us, introduce us to our driver for the tour, ensure our safe arrival at the hotel, and answer any questions. This friendly welcome was repeated in every city we visited, with an ATI representative to smooth our arrivals and departures, and very informative guides eager to show us as much of their cities as our itinerary allowed. All of them were happy to share personal experiences with us, and engage in discussions about arranged marriages, politics, religions and customs, which added depth to our limited knowledge of the region and its peoples.
Our expert driver took us safely through the maze of cars, buses, lorries, motorcycles, people and cows which jam the roads, skillfully negotiating the narrowest of lanes, and totally unfazed by the sight of an overladen wheat lorry on the wrong side of the road heading straight for us!
So what were the highlights? It’s impossible to answer that question – everything was a highlight, each day was different from the previous one, and each brought exciting new experiences. Seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise brought a lump to my throat – its sheer beauty is breathtaking, and the workmanship is amazing. The contrast between this monument to love and the harrowing experiences of the women who run Sheroes café in Agra – victims of acid attacks – exemplifies the contradictions and dichotomies that exist in India.
The forts at Jaipur (the pink city), Jodhpur (the blue city) and Bikaner were fascinating. Then the desert with its luxury camps and stately camels was a new experience altogether. We enjoyed fossicking and bargaining in the markets and spice stores and were fascinated by the skill of the miniaturist artist whose school/studio we visited one afternoon. Likewise, the silver and jewel factories and the craft villages where we watched artisans create jewellery, rugs and fabrics.