Return from India and Nepal

Another trip over and another return to Australia. My fourth visit to India and my second visit to Nepal have yet to satisfy my cravings for these cultures. It appears that each time I return to this great country I call home, I am instantly ready to turn around and visit the foreign lands that I love.

Well for now, I am back in Sydney and enjoying the time with family. I will keep my love affair with India and Nepal going through my writing  for the time being.

28 days, 2 countries, 1 wedding, an elephant ride and a multitude of beds. This doesn’t even come close to summarising the great trip I have just had. I’ve been driven through mountains and laid on beaches, I’ve danced on river boats and sung with children, I’ve washed clothes by hand and eaten the finest Seafood of India, but still there is so much Iam yet to see or do.

Over the next month I will be reflecting on this trip with many stories, tales, recounts and tips, but for now here are some of the highlights:

– A fabulous 4 day wedding in Delhi, India

– 1 day trip to Jaipur with spur of the moment dance in Wedding Procession to finish the day off

– Return to the Magical Taj Mahal for my twice in a lifetime experience

– Flying into Nepal in the midst of Maoist Strike mayhem and a 6 day hold on Petrol across the country

– Visiting the most popular sites of Pokhara, Nepal, on the back of a motorbike

– Watching the sun go down at the serene Lake Begnash, just outside Pohkara Municipality, Nepal

– Taking a riverboat ride to the Elephant Orphanage Chitwana nd naming a baby elephant, Malachye

– Riding an Elephant through the Jungle of Chitwan National Park

– Making Momo’s and washing my clothes by hand in a real Nepalese home

– Learning to count in Nepalese from a 3 yr old and practicing the alphabet in English

– Taking the morning Everest Flight past the mystifying Himalayas

– Visiting two community schools built by the amazing organisation Room to Read, http://www.roomtoread.org

– Cruising the Bars of Baga Beach, GOA, India

– Staying with an Indian Family in the South of Goa, friends of friends I met in America- small world!

– Taking a tour of the senses at the Tropical Spice Plantation, Goa, India

– Being treated like a movie star on the Swastik River Cruise near Panaji City, aka being asked for many photos by Indian Tourists.

– 12 hour train ride on the Indian Railways from Goa- Mumbai. A meal and 4 cups of tea will cost you just over $1 and for less than $20 you have a sleeper in an AC compartment

-Watching a friend’s friend in a  Stand up Comedy club in Mumbai, only to be the butt of the Australia Jokes, thanks Rohan Joshi!

– Eating Seafood at the famous Apoorva restaurant, a favourite in Downtown Mumbai

– A weekend in Daman with a group of 5 young Indian Professionals

– Sailing at Sunset in front of the Gateway to India and Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, India

– Visiting the World’s largest Laundry- The Dhobhi Ghat, Mumbai, India

A fantastic trip with many more highlights to come. Please visit India and Nepal. You will not be disappointed by the diversity, beauty and interesting culture of these 2 great countries.

Please post your requests for stories below in the comments section and read about the destinations you most wish to see!

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Taj Mahal: Twice in a lifetime Experience

I would have thought seeing one of the seven wonders of the world and one of the most famous buildings in the world would be only a once in a lifetime experience. I have just been informed however that for me the Taj Mahal will be a twice in a lifetime experience.

 

The magnificent Taj Mahal is situated in Agra in the North of India. This sacred site is considered one of those must sees in one’s life and millions of people make the trip to see the great structure every year. It is one of the most recognised and identifiable buildings in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

As my second trip to the famous Taj fast approaches, I thought I would reflect upon my first siting in 2005. After a business trip to the amazing Udaipur and a quick stop in Delhi, my father arranged for us to fulfil one of his lifelong dreams of seeing the Taj Mahal in person. It was to be a long day trip from Delhi to Agra, but an unforgettable journey.

 

We started the day with a 6am ride on one of the famous Indian trains, though we of course took 1st class so I feel I was somewhat robbed of the true experience. Upon arriving in Agra we were met by our guide for the day and taken to the closest car park to the Taj. There are no cars allowed within 1 kilometre of the great structure and so the last leg must be done on foot or as we chose, by horse and cart.

 

The trip leading up to the Taj Mahal is incredible with the typical indian life of markets, farm animals and busy people bustling about the streets. There are tour guides and souvenirs as with any popular tourist site but it all seems to be more cultural and relevant here.

 

Once up close you must walk through a series of red buildings and courtyards before you are met by the four gates. You then turn to face the Western gate which leads to the site you have travelled so far to see. My father could barely hold in his excitement but I wasn’t feeling the same way. I know it’s important and it’s so very famous but I had seen so many pictures so I wasn’t expecting to be dazzled or overwhelmed. The lead up and suspense to actually seeing the structure really does help the experience and I would be lying to say that I was anything less than speechless once faced with the Great Taj.

 First view of the Taj

The experience begins as you walk through an enormous gateway with indian styled architecture into a dark middle section where the Taj Mahal is first framed in a natural window.

 

 

This is the typical photograph everyone has seen. As you continue forward, the gardens and  the enormity of this site are revealed to you. Once you have walked all the way through the arch and stand directly in front of the Taj with all it’s splendour laid out before you, you can but simply gasp at this amazing spectacle. I didn’t think it would affect me that much but I felt a shiver down my spine and a sense that I was experiencing something spectacular.

That famous Image

 

We spent a good 2 hours there strolling around the gardens, taking the mandatory 100 photos, viewing the river that runs out the back, seeing the muslim mosque and replicated temple which stand to either side and entering the Taj Mahal itself. Once close to the building you can see the true expense that went into it’s construction and the 17 years for which it took to be constructed. It is made of white marble with semi precious stone inlay both inside and out. The tombs of the great Maharaja who built the temple and his wife lay at the centre as a reminder of what the building was originally for, a final resting place of the kings beloved Queen. I most certainly recommend a guide to walk with you through the site as there is too much wonderful history and questions to be asked for you to miss out on.

 

My experience at the Taj was further cultured by the wonderful Indian people who were also viewing the site that day. It was Indian Tourist season in June when we went so for a rare time there were actually more Indian tourists then there were foreign tourists. To the delight of many of the Indian tourists that day they not only got to see the great attraction of the Taj Mahal but they were entertained by something else new and intriguing, ME!

 

As I stood on the main viewing platform at the centre of the site I began to notice a crowd forming near me. But instead of viewing the magnificent structure ahead, all eyes were on me. Slowly one by one, people came up to to shake my hand and speak to the white skinned, blonde haired, blue eyed girl who said “dhanyawaad” and “Namaste”. I didn’t realise until my guide informed me that many of the people may never have seen a white person before as they were coming from villages and towns where tourists would never go. Before I knew it, a busload of tourists were there and I was posing in a photo with 20 odd Indian people all wanting to hold my hand and say hello. This went on for at least 15 minutes before I gave Dad the signal to come and take me away from the madness. For me it was a truly humbling and special experience. To have people be so excited to meet you and interested in you for simply being different was a joy. I’m glad I could share that special moment with them in such a wondrous location.

 

Walking out of the garden and looking back over your shoulder at the Taj Mahal for one last time is almost as exciting as the first glimpse. You feel as though you have accomplished something great and you now have this memory to cherish until the end of your days.

 

I cannot wait to make the acquaintance of the Great Taj Mahal again. They say that you could visit it every day for a year and it would never look the same because in every light it has a new and different beauty. I will also be going with an Indian family as part of a wedding ceremony and a cultural tradition which will add to the experience. I am interested to see how culturally important this site is to Newlyweds and how important this structure has been in the Indian way of life.

 

For more information on the history of the site and how to get there visit:

http://taj-mahal.net/

http://www.tajmahalindia.net/

Quick history and background:

A beautiful story of love and Tragedy. The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is Mughal Architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Indian, and Islamic aarchitectural styles. Building began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, and employed thousands of artisans and craftsmen.

Soon after the Taj Mahal’s completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son and put under house arrest. Cruelly locked in a  tower in the nearby Agra fort, where he was forced to look at his beautiful creation everyday. Shah Jahan had previously planned to build a second structure identical to that of the Taj Mahal but in black marble. He wanted to be buried in the tomb which would face his beloved wife’s final resting places so that they could look upon one another for eternity. Sadly, due to his don’t intervention, it wasn’t to be. Upon Shah Jahan’s death his son buried him in the mausoleum next to the centred tomb of his wife, making it the only unaligned or symmetrical part of the entire tomb.

Since 1983 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as “the jewel of Muslim Art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”

Adventure Travel & Backpacker Expo Sydney

Today I went down to the beautiful Darling Harbour to check out the Travel mania that has swept through Sydney this weekend. My focus was on the Adventure Travel & Backpacker Expo but it was easy to get distracted with Mind Body and Spirit as well as two other festivals going on around there.

My greatest surprise of the day was to get into the Expo at around 3pm (closes at 4pm) and see that it was already time to start celebrating the success of the day. However, my sources inform me that the whole expo is like one big backpacker travel party. Good people, travel on the brain, beers and other beverages flowing and generally a great vibe throughout the whole place.

The expo is run by  http://www.myadventureexpo.com/and sponsored by Myexpotravel (http://www.myexpotravel.com/) aswell as TNT Magazine and YHA Australia. The goal of the event is for people interested in travelling in Australia and Around the World, who have a focus on Adventure and Backpacker style travel to connect and learn more about what’s on offer. And man was there a lot on show!

From overseas work to Incredible India, Bungee Jumping in New Zealand and Volunteering in schools in Africa. You had the latest in backpacker accessories, the best in accommodation and backpacking locations around Australia as well as the cream of the crop for Travel agents and guides. Throw in some competitions, live music, 1000’s of brochures, lollies and FREE giveaways and you’ve got the traveller’s dream day.

My favourite stand was definitely the crew from Cairns! They set up a bar and the tunes were pumping out all day. Win friends and influence people with FREE Beer, these guys are on to a good thing.  I was also very impressed with an up and coming group, DragonBus. www.dragonbuschina.com was launched last night and they will be offering a hop on/ hop off bus service in China. You also can’t miss the fun teams at TNT Magazine and TravelManagers for their down to earth vibe and great advice (Contact NickBowditch for all the best deals!)

I really took away from this Expo just how little I know about Australian Travel and the many wonderful places that this great country has to offer. I have been to some of the “must see” destinations in the world- Eiffel Tower in Paris, Taj Mahal in India, Pyramids of Mexico and Oktoberfest of Munich. Sadly though, I have not seen Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or Ayers Rock. I haven’t even been to some of our major cities like Hobart, Adelaide or Darwin. It was definitely a bit of home truth for me and Australia is now at the top of my travel list!

The event is on again tomorrow, 8 November 2009 at the Exhibition & Convention Centre (Darling Harbour). Grab a few mates, cool down with a beer and you can start planning your next big adventure!

For FREE ENTRY visit: http://mytraveladventure.com.au/free-sydney-expo-ticket/