The thought of travelling to India had always fascinated us. The Taj Mahal, exotic palaces, the flash of a brightly coloured sari and streets full of chaos, filled us with both excitement and trepidation.
After booking our flight to India we began to have doubts, would we get sick, would we find it too confronting, would we be safe and most importantly, would we like the food?
We didn’t know what to expect when travelling to India, but through all the chaos, history and colour, India turned out to be one of the most remarkable experiences of our life.
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India – First Impressions
From the moment we walked out the doors of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, we were struck by the chaos of India. We were hit by a wall of searing heat which was closely followed by the pungent smell of cooking spices and car fumes.
Our first taste of Delhi traffic was exciting, the mystic twang of Indian music shrieked from brightly decorated trucks and a multitude of car horns blasted in the stream of endless traffic. We were in India and it was everything we dreamed it would be.
Of course, our excitement soon turned to fear as our driver crossed the highway and drove against oncoming traffic in a race to get us to our hotel. Welcome to India!
Highlights of India
There are so many wonderful places to visit in India. The Mughal forts and bazaars of Delhi and the ornate palaces and Hindu temples of Jaipur are just a few.
Travelling the vast distances of India is a feast for the eyes. Along the highway camel carts haul mounds of produce, farmers tend goats in rural villages and busy roadside stalls sell trinkets to pretty girls in vibrant saris. These are just some of the incredible things to see in India.
Of all the things we saw in India, two places stand out, the Taj Mahal and the Holy City of Varanasi.
The Taj Mahal
I caught my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from the Mehtab Bagh, a shaded garden across the river from The Taj Mahal.
The marble shone dazzling white in the afternoon sun and people the size of ants milled around its base, emphasizing the sheer size of the building.
I remember feeling underwhelmed and hoped that I wouldn’t be disappointed when it came my turn to walk within the grounds.
Dawn at the Taj Mahal
The sun rose as we walked through the Great Gate. Framed by the gate’s dark arches, the Taj Mahal stood out against lavender skies. A breathtaking sight that left me overwhelmed with emotion as I gazed upon one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
The morning sun gave the Taj Mahal a soft creamy pink glow. Arabic calligraphy and intricate flowers of inlayed stone decorate the entrances and tombs.
The beauty of the Taj Mahal is a tribute to Shah Jahan’s love of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
**Top tip – Visit the Taj Mahal at dawn to beat the crowds.
The Holy City of Varanasi
The holy city of Varanasi sits on the banks of the River Ganges and is one of the oldest cities in the world.
A visit to Varanasi can be confronting, it is a major pilgrimage site for Hindu’s who believe that their soul will be released from the cycle of rebirth if they die and are cremated there.
That being said, we found Varanasi to be one of the most unforgettable places we have ever visited.
Walking to the River Ganges
Walking through crowded streets we slowly made our way toward the River Ganges. Dodging motorbikes, cows, bicycles, dogs and people, we passed shops selling embroidered saris, copper bowls and trinkets.
All around there was an atmosphere of excitement. Seeing the shaved heads of a group female pilgrims from south India, reminded us that this is one of the most sacred sites in India. A journey of a lifetime for many Indians.
River Ganges Boat Ride
Soon we came to the Dashashwamedh ghat on the River Ganges. We were quickly taken to one of the many boats that lined the shore and began our journey upstream.
We drifted past colourful shrines, palaces and temples. The banks were teeming with people, and we smiled as we watched children playing in the water. In the shallows, women washed clothing and the devoted washed away their sins in the sacred waters of the River Ganges.
We turned and made our way towards the Manikarnika cremation ghat. From a distance we could see the flames from this holiest of places. The air smelt sweet with the scent of sandalwood and camphor.
We came to a halt in front of the cremation ghat and watched as family began the ritual of saying goodbye to their loved ones.
I felt uncomfortable being a voyeur to such an intimate ritual but as I watched I became enthralled by the beauty of the ceremony.
The body is taken down to the waters of the River Ganges on a bamboo stretcher. Wrapped in rich cloth and flowers the body is cleansed in the sacred waters to wash away past sins.
The body is then put on a funeral pyre which will burn for many hours. The purifying flames giving spiritual release from the earthly body.
The chief mourner, usually a son, recognised by his white robe and shaved head, will stay until the cremation is complete.
The Ganga Aarti Ritual
As night falls, the boats return to the Dashashwamedh ghat. The flotilla of boats are greeted by the colourful lights of the Ganga Aarti. Pools of light shine on the thousands of people who sit on the banks waiting for the nightly ritual to begin.
The Ganga Aarti is a Hindu ritual prayer offering to the River Ganges. A group of priests begin the ceremony with a long blast on a conch shell.
Bells, singing and chanting follow as they offer fragrant incense, smoke, flowers and fire to the four corners of the earth. A beautiful ceremony which emphasises the spirituality of this fascinating country.
Last Words on What to Expect When Travelling to India
When we started our journey, we had doubts about our trip to India. Yes, India is confronting, it’s crowded, it’s dirty and there’s no glossing over life and death, you see life in all its beauty and harshness.
But India has a spirituality and mystique that will work its way into your heart and leave you spellbound. India was everything we dreamed it would be and more.
Do you have dreams of visiting India? Have you been to India? Feel free to leave a comment, we would love to hear about your experiences.
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