Having had our fingerprints and retinas scanned in the high-tech customs booth, we stepped out into the warm air of Delhi. Wow! What an experience! Nothing can quite prepare you for the sensory overload: the sights, the exotic smells, the cacophony of noises and the tumultuous kaleidoscope of colours. Our driver was fantastically talented in swerving in and out of the plethora of taxis, buses, tuk-tuks and animals that occupied the road. Our hotel was The Maidens, a beautiful heritage hotel with amazing rooms and a real centre of calm amongst the businesses of Delhi life. That evening we boarded the beautiful Palace on Wheels, ahead of its seven-night journey across India. A traditional pipe band greeted all guests on the platform and toured the train before returning to our own hotel for a well-deserved rest.
The morning came all too soon but the day's itinerary was something worth getting up for! We were bound for Agra, home of the Red Fort and the iconic Taj Mahal. We boarded our train service and headed out into the lush Indian countryside, arriving in Agra two hours later. Agra Station was equally as chaotic as Delhi and we soon finally found our ride and left the bustle behind. We could just glimpse the magnificence of the Taj Mahal far over the Agra rooftops from our position in the hotel's rooftop café. Our first stop in Agra was the incredible Red Fort. Still partially occupied by the Indian Army, we enjoyed a guided tour of the sandstone and marble fortress, and our guide could not have been more knowledgeable.
Then it was onto the highlight of the trip, the Taj Mahal. It was a short walk from the parking area as no vehicles are allowed in the vicinity of this Wonder of the World. Passing through the marble entrance we were greeted by the truly breath-taking sight that is the Taj Mahal. It is an outstanding feeling that can't quite be described. The beauty of the building and the heartwrenching love story behind it make the entire experience wholly overwhelming. It was truly emotional knowing that there is such beauty in the world. We spent a few hours strolling through the grounds in awe before regrettably taking our leave at sunset.
As the morning sun broke through the dense canopy of branches ahead, we all sat in hushed anticipation. This was Ranthambore National Park, a dusty menagerie of forest and underbrush home to a wide variety of exotic wildlife and one of the best places in India to spot Bengal Tigers in their natural habitat. We had driven for hours, buffeted and bounced to and fro on the park's road network and here, emerging through the treeline was a beautiful tigress. She wasn't at all as interested in us as we were her. It was a wonderful experience and she was truly a majestic creature and then, just as quickly as she had appeared, she disappeared once more into the underbrush.
The following day, we boarded a coach and left the chaos of the city behind, heading out into traditional Indian countryside, bound for colourful Jaipur. Our hotel was the stunning Trident Jaipur, boasting a lakeside location with views of the former Jaipur Royal family's Summer Palace. No visit to Jaipur is complete without an excursion to the Amber Palace and that is exactly where we went. We'd be travelling to the palace grounds a little differently, riding on the back of a pair of magnificent elephants. The palace was fascinating and our guide had an impressive well of knowledge of the palace's secret apartments and passageways that were once used by the Maharajas' twelve wives.
For our final day in India, we headed off to the rural village of Patan. Here, we joined a local camel cart procession that wound its way up the narrow tracks and into the village proper and up to the former palace, repurposed as the Patan Mahal Palace Hotel. We toured the stunning grounds and wandered through the vivid gardens. Our final night in India concluded with a beautiful dinner under the stars, accompanied by a roaring fire that cast dancing shadows on the sumptuous meal before us. As we enjoyed our traditional meal, the sky erupted in a flash of colour - fireworks to signal the beginning of Diwali, and a fitting end to a truly memorable journey.