TRAVEL DIARY: Ross Stevenson shares the ins and outs of his Indian adventure!
3AW’s Ross Stevenson made the most of the most recent survey break and went to India!
Here’s an account of his trip in his own words!
The Singapore airlines flight to New Delhi is so easy. One stopover in Singapore and you’re there.
Immediately the locals commiserate us about our “long flight” but of course to Australians this is not a long flight by any means.
Having never travelled before with Abercrombie and Kent, the level of service that you receive from the outset is remarkable.
It starts with being greeted “Airside” – which means two representatives greet you as you get off the plane and before you go through any passport control or customs.
It makes the whole process swift indeed and next thing you’re in your private vehicle transfer to your hotel. (In this case the Imperial, New Delhi).
For the rest of your tour you will not be without a driver or guide at any stage.
The Imperial is old world five star luxury.
Built in 1931, it has 235 rooms and given that the prevailing architectural style of the building is art deco I’m guessing that 1931 might have been peak art deco.
I had a vague memory that someone had once told me that the town of Napier in New Zealand was largely art deco in design because it had to be completely rebuilt after having been destroyed by an earthquake.
As a matter of pure curiosity, I googled Napier, New Zealand, and found out that it was destroyed by an earthquake in …1931!
The hotel itself has a few restaurants and bars – one in particular the Patiala Peg bar where four people sat down, worked out a plan to partition India and invented the modern state of Pakistan.
Sort of like the AFL draft of nations.
The selectors were Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Ghandi (India), Mohammad Jinnah (Pakistani) and Lord Mountbatten (usual suspects).
This hotel is all about history. The main restaurant is called “1911” which is the year the British shifted the capital of India from Calcutta to New Delhi.
The Imperial was designed by FB Blomfield, who was an associate of Sir Edward Lutyens, who was the Brit who had the architect’s dream of designing a city (New Delhi) from the ground up.
I was surprised by how beautiful parts of Delhi are.
The really nice bits of the city due to their broad avenues and mansions and public buildings is actually referred to as “Lutyens Delhi”.
Delhi is also very very green. Trees are highly valued. They are often individually numbered and most certainly can’t be cut down.
Speaking of bars … the local beer is Kingfisher, which is delicious (as most local beers are in the world which leads me to this question: is XXXX the only undrinkable local beer in the world?)
Our guide in New Delhi is Rehka, who turned out to be our golden ticket to opening this wonderful city of many parts. We love Rehka.
I would venture to say that if you didn’t have a car and someone like Rehka, the real Delhi might be hard to find. Or I must just be soft.
So armed with Rehka we got amongst it.
First call was the Jama Masjid Mosque, built by Shah Jahan, who is the man who built the Taj Mahal.
Clearly, his was an infrastructure driven administration.
A sign out the front says “tik tok” is strictly prohibited inside the mosque.
Not even Rehka knew what tik tok was so she had to check.
Turns out it means dancing or singing or generally having fun of any type. Pretty much as I remember going to church in Brisbane when I was growing up.
Fun Fact: Work starts here at 9am in the morning. School starts at 6am in the morning.
Now, that means if the kids can get themselves to school under their own steam that gives parents three beautiful hours at home every morning before work!
This beautifully designed city has a population of 22 million. That is to say – Australia.
To stand out must be difficult.
Nevertheless, at some restaurants, particular customers have their own permanent wooden reservation signs.
One I saw was for the Nawab of Pataudi. The Nawab of Pataudi when I was growing up was Captain of the Indian Cricket side – I think he only had one eye.
I’m told that this Nawab is a Bollywood star. His son perhaps?
“WHAT WILL BE, WILL BE”
Then to the Bangla Sahib temple.
It’s the No.2 Sikh temple after the famous one at Amritsar. It’s quite beautiful.
It has a community kitchen, staffed by volunteers, who serve three meals a day to whoever wants one.
It’s not means tested. If you want a meal you’ll get one.
They serve 20,000 people a day (almost as many as Chin Chin!).
I asked about a job here. Apparently you just go to sikh.com
Fun fact (and I think most will regard it as a fun fact) Rehka tells us lawyers in India make very little money due to people’s “what will be will be” attitude to life.
Apparently after a traffic accident you jump from your car and scream at the other motorist “I won’t see you in court!”
The divorce rate is .05 per cent, so Family lawyers in particular must be eating the wallpaper.
Speaking of family law: in the Muslim Faith in India (and 80 per cent of the population of Old Delhi is Muslim) a man can still divorce his wife by simply saying “I divorce you” three times.
In breaking news, according to Rehka, it is sufficient to simply text it to her. Divorce in 33 characters!
Jealousy fact: Rehka has a mobile phone with unlimited calls and unlimited data which costs her Rs.200 per month. That is four dollars Australian. $4 a month!
Just as Clive James, when he migrated to England as a young man, was taken by the fact that the English celebrated May Week in June, and just as Oktoberfest is in September, and just as Ireland is further north than northern Ireland, so it is that parts of New Delhi are older than “Old” Delhi.
MORE FUN FACTS!
- 50% of Indians are under 25 years of age!
- 75% are under 35.
- 10% of Indians pay tax.
Bloody hell there’s a lot to see in a city of 22 million. Be picky.
Rehka chose the Qutub Minar which is a 13th century freestanding tower.
In fact, it’s the tallest freestanding tower in the world. It has a minatet at the very top where the call to prayer is made five times a day. Presumably by the fittest man in India.
So to the next destination. Up and off to Agra!
We were doing the so-called “golden triangle” – which starts at New Delhi, then to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and then on to Jaipur before returning to New Delhi.
It was all by an air conditioned modern four wheel drive Abercrombie and Kent vehicle, driven by the magnificent Boopi (Bhupinder).
The trip to Agra is about three or four hours and largely on freeways, but magnificently chaotic.
The locals joke about driving in India.
They say that the colour of any traffic light is merely a suggestion!
And they also say that in some countries they drive on the left-hand side of the road and then other countries they drive on the right hand side of the road.
In India it’s take your pick. And they are bloody well right.
THE MAJESTIC TAJ MAHAL
Once in Agra, you check into your hotel (in this case the Oberoi Amavilas).
Every room has a view of the Taj Mahal. Extraordinary.
It is said that you must visit the Taj Mahal in the morning to take advantage of the light. Our guide in Agra is Atul.
He is the Alastair Clarkson of the Taj.
As a result of his strategic brilliance, we were able to get to places on our own before anyone else.
Before dinner the night before our visit, we suggested that we would meet him at 5:30am in the lobby of the hotel.
He said no it would have to be 5.15.
And so it was that at 5:15 you are picked up in a golf cart and driven the short distance to the ticket office for the Taj Mahal.
If you get there at 5:15 you will be in the first 20 people to get in.
Once you get inside Atul has a clear strategy which he outlined to us about what to do so that we were able to get to parts of the Taj completely on our own.
It is not for me to reveal his strategy. After all I would not reveal Clarko’s! But this man could clearly have engineered the D-Day landing!
The backstory to the Taj Mahal is an extraordinary one. I could Google it but what would be the point I’m simply relying on Atul‘s version.
Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal to honour his deceased and much loved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
This is my understanding of what happened after she died.
The Shah presumably spent a fortune constructing the Taj Mahal.
One of his kids said to himself this bloke is a SKIER. That is – he is Spending the Kids Inheritance.
Whilst having that thought he also realised that “kids” was a plural expression. So – he killed his brothers. He drew the line at killing his father so he imprisoned him in the palace adjacent to the Taj Mahal so that his father could continue to do what he did best and apparently that was to drink a lot.
We have discussed on the Breakfast program fact that there are well known tourist attractions that are disappointing and well-known tourist attractions that absolutely gob-smacking.
The Great Wall of China is incredible. The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen is completely underwhelming. I can add the Taj Mahal to my list of the truly gob-smacking tourist attractions of the world.
You only need one night in Agra. Once you’ve seen the Taj then Agra is done. Time to move on.
THE LAST LEG
Up and off to Jaipur. Please don’t think getting up involves early hours. We met Bupi every morning at either 9 or 9:30 am. Luxury.
First off, to the Mughal style Amber Fort – a massive beautiful structure.
Not called Amber after the colour, but for some other reason that I never found out!
We see examples of hand printing and block printing of garments.
We were able to get behind-the-scenes access to the city Palace of Jaipur where the royal family of Jaipur still live.
At the time of the creation of independent India in 1947, the Royals lost all power but they still exist and according to my close questioning still have significant wealth.
We’re invited into the home of a local family who will cook us a splendid lunch.
In charge of cooking was a lovely woman Sonal who is married with twins. A boy and a girl aged 9.
Also in attendance were the in-laws.
She cooked us a magnificent chicken curry with okra, pilau, eggplant and beans.
Sarah said it was really interesting to see that they cooked the curry in a completely different order than we would cook them.
A&K provide a list of recommendations for restaurants in each city we visited with an appropriate price guide.
We were able to find some great eating experiences from the simplest to the more ornate. Special mention goes to a restaurant called Indian Accent in New Delhi. Simply outstanding.
It was a bit of a whirl wind trip but Sarah and I are both shocked at how much we enjoyed it.
Remembering that it was a luxury trip with Abercrombie and Kent where you were not without a guide or a driver the entire time you were there.
To Rehka, Atul and Ranjeet and especially to our beautiful driver Boopi, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your care and attention and guidance in our little Taste of India.
Ross travelled to India courtesy of Abercrombie and Kent.