An Awe-Inspiring Journey Through India

On our Maharajas’ Express train ride through India, the staff was truly wonderful – although our butler had an uncanny – almost creepy – way of appearing each time we would leave our room. And the food! My favorite was Himalayan river sole prepared in a beurre blanc sauce – as tender and flavorful as any fish I can remember having eaten.
The destinations were wonderful (in the true meaning of the word) as well. We visited Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Balsinore and finished in Mumbai…often with events morning, afternoon and night.
Most striking is the virtually limitless wealth that once existed throughout this land. Royal palaces and hunting lodges abound – all decked with walls of semi-precious and precious jewels, thrones of pure silver, frescoes full of symbols and meaning, grounds of exquisite beauty, and much more.

Many of these palaces have now been converted to hotels, entertainment venues and museums…and we were treated to royal parades led by horses, camels and musicians, served royal lunches, treated to puppet shows and fireworks, and in one case greeted by the royals themselves.

We especially liked these musicians

We visited with elephants who gladly took bananas and sugar canes with their trunks and mouths (what huge tongues have these huge, gentle creatures). Of note was a hundreds-year-old astronomical park created by a king – its equipment still tells time in a multitude of ways, one as accurate as .02 seconds.

We also were fortunate enough to experience the outdoors, first with a dawn visit to a nature preserve in an unlikely and unfulfilled pursuit of tigers. However, we did see a great deal of wildlife, a stunning ancient fort, and we made friends with some of the local birds.

A snake bird drying its wings also caught my attention

On another evening, we ventured out into the desert by camel cart. As the sun set on this magical and faraway place, we were served a dozen courses of food at our individual cushy chairs in the sand while local musicians played traditional music, and sequin-clad dancers performed miraculous feats of grace, balance and limberness as bonfires were lit around us.

But of course, the highlight was our early morning visit to the Taj Mahal, a first for both of us. As we arrived at the gate house, this standard of all beauty literally emerged from the mist, creating a breath-catching, emotional moment…the accolades we have heard actually cannot do this structure justice.

It took 20,000 men 22 years to create this tribute to a king’s love for his queen, and even with that amount of effort, it seems an impossible task. The marble is so hard and well-polished that it literally resists dirt; it has been cleaned only once, and then with river mud allowed to dry and peel off…yet it remains pristine white. The size, symmetry and lines are so eye-pleasing from a distance, while the marble carving and inlay work (which we were lucky enough to observe in a contemporary workshop – mind-numbing attention to detail is required as even a tiny flower might be made from 20 or more pieces of gems) that cover much of the surface are both a marvel and a treat. Words are not adequate to describe the visceral impact of a place of such great beauty.
Eventually, we made our way to Mumbai, where we were treated to lunch at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, a slightly rundown testament to the days of British rule…and one last visit to a jewelry shop, where the pieces were as impressive as the prices were low. And finally, on to our 32+-hour journey back home where days later we are still recuperating and absorbing the many adventures of our travel through India.

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