Imposing palaces, aromatic scents, mesmerising wildlife and the festival of colour; Michael Clapton, a Kuoni customer, captures our Temple, Tiger & Taj Trail through his camera lens.
As soon as I landed in India I was swept away in the warm embrace of this amazing country. The people, places and culture have left a lasting impression. The India tourist board’s slogan of ‘Incredible India’ is undeniably justified.
Watching a beautifully majestic, yet highly-threatened, Royal Bengal tiger in her natural environment was one of the highlights for me. It was magical and a privilege. From the adrenaline-pumping moment when the creature was first spotted by the guide to the silent minutes of reverence admiring the graceful movements of paw through scrubland, the experience was unforgettable.
"I was swept away in the warm embrace of this amazing country. The people, places and culture have left a lasting impression."
Michael Clapton, Kuoni customer
Wonderment is not refined to the wildlife of India, however. The cities of Delhi, Agra and Amritsar are incredibly busy, but full of architectural and cultural delights. Old Delhi is where traditional images of India come alive, as narrow winding streets packed with buzzing rickshaws, carts and wandering cattle maze through animated markets and dilapidated residences. The streets are richly aromatic, with the scent of jasmine from incense sticks and spice from the roadside stalls; and intensely colourful from the sacks of fresh vegetables, crates of pickles and marinades, plates of hot cooked snacks, rows of sparkling jewels and sequined shoes.
"Old Delhi is where traditional images of India come alive, with narrow winding streets packed with buzzing rickshaws, carts and wandering cattle."
Michael Clapton, Kuoni customer
Out of this sensual menagerie spring colossal Mughal constructions such as the imperious Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Humayun’s Tomb, all coated in complex networks of intricate Islamic designs. This juxtaposition of richly-decorated imposing palaces standing among crumbling suburbs, however, is no more drastic than in Agra, where the sumptuous Taj Mahal sits among the hubbub of ramshackle streets.
Sunrise is the best time to visit, when the mausoleum appears like a mirage, the softly-lit curving contours emerging gently in the translucent dawn light; a soft-focus aurora of empyreal domes and vaporous minarets. As the sun gradually rises, the marble transforms from cool lavender and warm magnolia to a shining intense white, illuminating the subtle carvings and sprawling pietra dura inlays.
It is truly breathtaking, but equally matched by the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Visited at night for the intensely passionate Palki Sahib ceremony, the ornately decorated temple, glowing deep amber and dazzlingly reflected in the inky blackness of the surrounding water, is completely awe-inspiring.
The lasting impression I have of India, though, is of celebration. I chose the tour with the Holi themed departure so I could experience the excitement of the festival of colours in Jaipur. Parades of people party through the streets, dancing behind trucks blasting out Hindi music whilst making the air thick with purples, greens, reds and oranges from the powder they throw back and forth.
Throngs of motorbikes scurry around in a procession of cheering and buzzing, each packed with three or four ecstatic locals with faces stained in luminous hues, the whites of their eyes and teeth beaming in the sunlight. Joining in with the water fights and powder throwing is a must, although wearing old clothing goes without saying, and a waterproof camera case is essential for taking any kind of photo close to the action.
India really is incredible, and the Holi themed tour is a fantastic introduction to the awe-inspiring spectrum of culture, architecture and nature of this amazing country.