This photo of me at the Gateway to India in Mumbai was taken on May 13 at the end of my 16-day visit to northern India. This colonial monument was built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911, but is now one of the prime tourist attractions in Mumbai.
As I walked among the people visiting the monument, I was bemused by the thought that I might be the only foreign tourist among them.
I felt welcome. As occurred several times during my holiday, some local people struck up conversation with me, asking where I was from (and how many children I had).
My hat was another common topic of conversation. Several people asked where they could buy a hat like my Akubra during the “golden triangle” leg of my journey (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) when the maximum daily temperature was about 45 degrees Celsius (113 F). The heat didn’t bother me as much as the poor air quality. The only time I felt distressed by the heat was at Agra Fort, which tends to absorb heat. My hat certainly helped and I had respite when I was being driven from place to place in an airconditioned car. Many local people are not so fortunate – media reports suggest that some have suffered heat stroke.
Why visit northern India?
I have wanted to visit India for as long as I can remember, so when I heard that India was again welcoming tourists, it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity before I became much older. (I also hoped that the timing of the trip would enable me to avoid being exposed to an unedifying election campaign in Australia, but the election was held later than I had anticipated.) There were two places in India I particularly wanted to visit: Daman, the former Portuguese colony north of Mumbai; and the state of Meghalaya in the north-east. Daman was of interest because an ancestor with a Portuguese name, who migrated to Australian in the 1850s, was born in Daman. I had several reasons for wanting to visit Meghalaya – I had become interested in the cultural history of the north-east of India after visiting Bhutan a decade earlier and was curious about the description of Meghalaya as the Scotland of India. Most importantly, I like waterfalls.
Since this was my first visit to India, I also wanted to include the golden triangle in the program, and was interested to see Kolkata and Mumbai.
The trip was organized through Rough Guides Trips, a British firm. The detailed planning was managed in India by Bharathi Uveka (Indian Stories and Travel X). Bharathi was extremely helpful in developing a program that suited my requirements as an old person who wanted to stay in good hotels, be driven around, and have guides explain what I was seeing. Bharathi and her assistant (Shaju K) stayed in touch during the tour to provide information and to ensure everything was happening as planned. There are cheaper ways to visit India, but I am satisfied that I obtained good value for money.
I think the quality of the hotels I stayed in helped me to avoid any stomach upsets. I also took appropriate precautions, including imbibing some whisky every evening.
In what follows I am highlighting some of the sightseeing aspects of my trip. I will leave discussion of more serious topics to later articles.
Highlights of the Golden Triangle
It is difficult to select just one aspect of my trip to Delhi as a highlight. My Delhi guide, Raj (Rajender Rathore) took me to several interesting places, including a Sikh temple and memorials to Gandhi.
I have selected the Taj Mahal as the highlight of my trip to Agra. That will probably not surprise anyone, but the Taj receives so much publicity that I was half-expecting to be disappointed. Having now seen the building, I think it deserves all the praise that it has received. My guide, Neeraj Chnwada, arranged for me to see the Taj from several angles, and to observe it change color in the evening.
One of the highlights of my journey from Agra to Jaipur was a visit to Chand Baori. The step-well in the foreground dates from the 8th century, with upper stories built in the 18th century, during the Mughal era.
The driver for the Golden Triangle leg of my journey, Pratap Bhati Singh, arranged for me to visit Chand Baori and some other sites as an addition to the itinerary.
Bhati - that is what he told me to call him – also assisted in other ways including by providing help in navigating the process of obtaining an Indian sim card for my mobile phone, and giving helpful hints on how to use ATMs (e.g. don’t ask for more than INR 10, 000 in one transaction).
A visit to Jantar Mantar was one of the highlights of my visit to Jaipur. This site, which contains a collection of 19 astronomical instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses etc. The monument was completed in 1734.
My guide in Jaipur, Abishek Shrivastava, is a hero. As well as providing historical information, he caught my hat when it was blown off my head by a gust of wind, he rescued my phone after it slipped from my fingers and fell about 3 meters to the bottom of an instrument at the astronomical museum, he read my aura, and he found a post office where I could buy stamps for letters to send to my grandchildren. (Unfortunately, the postal services have not cooperated to ensure timely delivery of the letters – it is now more than 3 weeks since they were posted, and they still have not arrived.)
From a sightseeing perspective, the flower market was a highlight of my trip to Kolkata.
My guide, Vikash, introduced me to drinking Masala Chai the Kolkata way, in disposable clay cups, and provided insights about the history of Kolkata. I will discuss colonial history in a later article, but I want to note for future reference that the comparative economic performance of West Bengal and other Indian states over the last 50 years may provide a useful case study of the effects of socialism.
Waterfalls were the sightseeing highlight of my visit to Meghalaya. However, rather than showing photos of many waterfalls, I will discuss my visit to the double decker living root bridge and Rainbow Falls at Nongriat. The first photo is of my local guide from the village and a few of the 3800 steps that needed to be traversed.
The second photo is of the double decker root bridge.
The third photo is of me at Rainbow Falls.
The feeling of achievement after visiting Rainbow Falls made it worthwhile, but I was a silly old fool to think that my good health and regular walking habits would make this fairly easy to accomplish. In retrospect, I should have prepared by undertaking some specific fitness training.
It took much longer than expected for me to climb back up the hill. I am most grateful to the local guide, shown earlier, and my guide for Meghalaya, Mr. Dipankar (below) for their support and patience. I am also grateful to my driver, Mr. Simitar, who came looking for us when we were overdue at the car park.
I felt no ill-effects next morning after the exercise the previous day, but after sitting in cars and planes for the next couple of days, I felt stiff and sore by the time I arrived in Daman.
The highlight of my stay in Daman was to visit churches and other sites that my great, great grandfather might have visited. The first photo shows a local guide (a university student) with my driver, Jeevachh Singh, and myself in front of one of the churches.
The guide for my Mumbai visit, Rupali D’Souza, took me to Mani Bhavan, a museum which was Gandhi’s residence in Bombay from 1917 to 1934. The display of the famous salt march, pictured behind Rupali, is an example of the series which capture major events in the life of Gandhi.
It was a privilege to visit this museum. While in Delhi I had visited the place of Gandhi’s assassination and his tomb, so this completed the circle. The opportunity to remember Gandhi’s contribution to the world was certainly one of the highlights of my visit to India.