I have long been curious yet overwhelmed at the idea of exploring India so when The Broad Place advertised a retreat carefully curated from Jacqui Lewis’ favourite parts I knew it would be the perfect introduction to this crazy beautiful country. It was also a treat to share the experience with a terrific group of humans, most of whom have Vedic mediation and high grade living in common.
With 1 week to explore the sights of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, followed by a week of Panchakarma (Ayurvedic cleansing), we struck an exquisite balance of adventure and deep rest. With some seriously amazing meals along the way!
The pace of life is as I expected, one minute frantic, the next not a hurry in the world. In a country of 1.2 billion people I never felt claustrophobic but certain pockets of the cities were intense (mostly due to the chaos of the traffic and seeming lack of road rules or sanitation). I probably would have never tackled Old Delhi in a rickshaw except for the plans of the group and it was such a thrill. That rickshaw driver boldly proceeded down lanes I thought only pedestrians could fit.
It would span a novel to describe all of the moments packed into this trip, I will highlight just a few of my favourites in the hope of it being useful to those of you curious of India’s delights:
The Amber Fort, Jaipur
Stunning landscape (felt like I was on the set of a movie – so foreign was the sight to me), elephants that have been rescued from the circus now spend a few hrs in the mornings transporting visitors up to the fort, once atop the grounds are extensive, ornate, steeped in history (a guide that can fill some of it in is useful). This was my absolute highlight of the trip.
The Pink City, Jaipur
The architecture in Jaipur is terracotta (throwing a pink tint) with white trim, it frames the palatial centre of the city and is stunning in it’s own right. 4 gates, with Ganesha statues overhead, mark the entry points into the centre where the City Palace and Observatory are housed.
Shahpura House, Jaipur
This hotel is FULL of character, including the characters that work there. From the ornate sitting room that is elaborately hand painted to the colourful light fittings, brass pots, floral water features, everywhere you look there is something quirky and beautiful going on. Dinner can be taken on the rooftop (we had some incredible dishes here – the flavours are so colourful and the Indian’s do exquisite things with eggplant & okra), our dining experience was accompanied by music, dancing and a puppet show.
Expect to be asked for a tip anytime you are presented with anything, it’s a big disparity between the affluent and the majority in India, give what you can freely and know it is well spent.
The Imperial Hotel & Rambagh Palace
India has some stunning hotels and you don’t necessarily have to stay at them to enjoy them, we had tea at the exquisite, light filled atrium of the Imperial several times and dinner once. You can book a room for 4-5 hrs if you’d like to use the spa and pool. We also dined at Rambagh Palace which is the most opulent place I’ve ever set foot in, with a view to the current Maharaja’s palace set upon a hill nearby. Check before visiting though as I think this venue is normally exclusive to guests but our group was a special exception. Dinner was served on gold plated serving ware!
Truly the gap between the wealthy and the poor has never been so obvious, and humbling, as it was to me in India. I feel so grateful for the experiences we had and yet deeply aware of the privilege I was born into as an Australian.
The Taj Mahal, Agra
It’s reputation proceeds this I’m sure and it is just as magnificent as I imagined. The volume of visitors is overwhelming, especially the mosh pit that ensues as you enter the inner sanctum, just go with the flow and find a guide that will share the love story behind this monument.
We were blessed to be guided through this ayurvedic cleansing ritual over 7 days with Dr Deep and his team at White Lotus Ashram about an hour out of Delhi. It’s more like a hospital than a health spa which I actually found to be part of the process, letting go of creature comforts and distractions, resting deeply between treatments. This is the Indian natural system of healing and is recommended once or twice a year to maintain optimal health into old age. You can find PK centres all over India. I will write in depth about this in a separate blog post.
A note on yoga, or asana, to be precise – it’s so very different to the styles we practice in the West but it’s an absolute must when you visit. I had a good giggle every class and am surprised I didn’t hurt myself but felt more vibrant & connected after each session I did.
With our yoga teacher, Rajendra, we started early and practise included sun gazing, pranayama (breathing exercises), sometimes outrageously tiring calisthenics, asana and a few rounds of his sweet voice chanting to close. Watching the sun rise over a hazey Delhi skyline was food for the soul.
It really is quite special on the banks of Mama Ganga, with the mountains looming overhead. If you get a chance to visit this northern part of India seek out an Arrty ceremony at sunset (we did so out front of Parmath Niketan Ashram) and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram (made famous by the Beatles visit there in 1968) before the forest swallows it up. Wander the lanes around Luxman Jula and get a boat across or down the river.
Inside tip: blondies prepare to be famous (especially if you also have a tattoo). Worked out well for me, I got to take the pictures.