Intensely India.

Absolutely nothing prepares you for a trip to India. It is an assault upon the senses -I mean that positively- a fact that might overwhelm you when you simply want a respite from the constant, remarkable, sensory stimulation. You simply cannot be indifferent to the country, it demands appraisal. I lived there for two years and since then have been making annual visits as Lola buys her extraordinary doors, arches, columns and fabulistic tribal frames.

The country is huge, even in two years I hardly scrapped the surface of its geographical, cultural and spiritual munificence.

Anyway, lets start in New Delhi. I was doing a consultancy at the Taj Mahal Hotel on Mansingh Road, in the heart of Lutyens Delhi. From our top floor restaurant we had the best views of the parliament building, and India Gate, where you could often find the beautifully uniformed soldiers performing their daily martial rituals.

The roads were and always will be utterly disorderly, so once your in the center of the city, you may as well throw caution to the wind and try wandering around, in the sure knowledge that you will find one hundred things worth photographing. The chaotic Connaught Place is worth a visit to watch capitalist enterprise at its rawest. From there we used to walk via Jantar Mantar astronomy park to the Imperial Hotel for a well needed/deserved Bloody Mary.

The restaurant scene in ND is vastly improved from my day back in the mid-90’s when we used an Imodium rating for eateries, that was an inversion of the Michelin star system where a place would be awarded, one, two or three upset-tummy tablets according to how sick you would be when you dined there. Yet, now, the last time we ate in New Delhi at the Taj, in a leap of faith that even Kierkegaard would have been proud of, we scoffed mountains of the freshest, tastiest Sushi imaginable.

Whilst in New Delhi also visit the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, the Qutub Minar and The Lotus Temple.

The most entertaining way to get to the Taj Mahal in Agra used to be by train, and if you’re not too claustrophobic then the atmosphere on the Indian railways is incomparable. I’ve been a dozen times as all our friends and family obviously wanted to see this breathtakingly beautiful monument. If you have time and love photography, it’s actually worth spending a couple of days there as the place offers genuinely different experiences at different moments during the day, afternoon, evening and night. There’s some great shots to take from across the Yamuna River.

At the weekends we used to drive from our home in Sarvapriya Vihar to Neemrana Fort outside of the capital. It was a couple of hours drive, and was at the time on a single track either direction road, that was always scattered with crashed and burned out vehicles, ones that had obviously been missing one of the triad of Indian road requirements; good horn, good brakes, good luck. Being on the edge of the Rajasthani, or Thar desert the winter months were our favourite to visit in. Hot days and chilly clear evenings, where burning torches and pashmina shawls kept us warm, as we sipped Gin & Tonics with just enough quinine to keep the mosquitoes away, or was it just enough Gin to make us oblivious to their presence? and admired the uninterrupted star coverage in the heavens above us.

From there, it was just a quick leap to the Rajasthani gems of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur. Visit them all, they really are as beautiful, interesting and unique as the guide books say.

We were often driven to places in the venerable ambassador car, the Hindustan made vehicle that added so much character to the roads of the country. Speed was neither possible, nor advisable, so we’d sit in the back with our picnic and enjoy the glorious countryside as we potted between cities and monuments. God knows how long it took us to get to Amritsar but the Gold temple was wroth the trip. Again, an immensely moving, spiritually rich experience. So to was a trip to Varanasi the sacred city on the edge of the Ganges, where you’re happily break any no-early-mornings rules, so you catch the sun rise over the river that resembled the flaming river Phlegethon in Greek mythology. Awesome!

We actually go to Ahmedabad now as this is where Lola’s dealers are based and featuring my favourite building in the town, the Hutheesinh Jain Temple. We also eat incredibly well at the home of her dealers, who are Jains, where the entire dinner will be vegetarian fare.

One year we combined a work trip to India with a holiday in Nepal, which was very straight forward to get to from New Delhi. It was a fantastic trip, even though once in Pokhara we had asked our concierge at the hotel for a lowland trek amongst villages, with the Himalayas safely in the background. Instead he sent us up 4,000 meters. We gave hours of entertainment to the literally thousands of trekkers who passed Lola and I, as we were dressed in Converse trainers, shirts, blouses and carrying suitcases. As so often with the two of us, it was pure farce though luckily we had two helpers with our things. Anyway, it was an opportunity not to have missed, and the guys were even more appreciated when Chaos decided to swan dive off one of the mountain faces to get to the bottom quicker, broke her ankle and had to be carried down the rest of the way.

In a modern world where so much is demanded of us, India and Nepal take on an even greater responsibility as they remind us that finding time to develop some spiritual aspect or content in our own lives is of the utmost importance.

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