Over the past 10 years my friend and business partner Sally Kirby has established herself as a bit of an ‘African Queen’ in the travel industry. So when it was suggested that she take on her first Indian adventure, she set off with equal measures of excitement and foreboding. Read all about it in our Sally and Alice Travel Co. Q&A…
Q: Sally how did the idea to go to India come about?
A: In truth, it was born of a yearning for a new personal challenge…and an irresistible invitation to attend a friend’s Indian wedding! From a business perspective, it was in response to a demand from our loyal clients to be able to offer holiday alternatives to Africa, and following on from our fabulous trip to Sri Lanka in 2012, it seemed like the obvious next step geographically…
Q: Tell us where you went…
Q: How did you get from place to place?
A: Planes, trains, automobiles…and an elephant. It is a huge country and my advice for first-timers to India would be to take on a manageable chunk and do it justice i.e. Rajasthan, with the understanding that you will be back for more. The roads in Rajasthan were for the most part dual or single carriageway, occasionally it went into a bumpy dirt road and that’s when you really noticed how much people like to use their horns and how many cows, goats and camels there are roaming freely. I travelled by train from Delhi to Katgodam (last stop for the Himalayas), the First Class carriage was very comfortable and sociable with locals heading home to their families for the Diwali Festival…
Q: Did any smells, sights, sounds particularly stand out/stay with you?
A: SMELLS oh yes – from the overflowing spice baskets in the markets, to the overflowing sewers in Agra; the smells made my eyes water at times. Sights; my first glimpse of a tiger in the wild, the colourful saris and the red Rabari turbans, and the early sunlight mixed with dust in the mornings. Sounds; incessant blaring of car horns, ear-damaging drums, the early morning call to prayer and the deafening silence at Leti.
Q: What were you feeling?
A: At times it was overwhelming – it has been a while since I travelled somewhere for the first time on such scale. I often felt like a student, soaking up everything I could about Indian culture/ language/ history/ wildlife/ topography, everything was new to me. But for the most part, I felt very privileged. I was amazed at how different I felt when I adopted the Indian philosophy of “living in the present” something I am trying hard to hold on to now back in the UK. Spirituality is underlying in everything in India, it puts a smile on people’s faces and gives them a sense of optimism in their everyday lives, no matter what they do, or who they are.
Q: I’ve always found Indian elephants rather less handsome than African elephants, would you agree?
A: They’re smaller for sure, a little bit pink in places…and hairier – although that was something I may have only noticed on account of my proximity, I have certainly never been that close to (or taken on a waterfight with) an African elephant! Dera Amer, near Jaipur, is a privately owned estate where you can interact closely with Asian elephants; bathe them, feed them and walk with them and their Mahout (human carer) around the farm. The entrepreneurial owner, Udajit, helped me to better understand the role of elephants in Indian culture and society, and the need for places like Dera Amer to protect them from being exploited.
Q: Did any memories or connections to other places and times come to mind during your trip or is India completely unique?
A: Jawai Leopard Camp reminded me a lot of the Damaraland in North West Namibia; the desert scenery, the ever-changing light reflecting on the rocky outcrops, sunrise and sunset drives tracking the elusive leopard at Jawai (the elusive rhino in Damaraland) and the sense of remoteness and space. The old city in Jodhpur reminded me of the souks and walled city in Marrakech. Bustling markets, lively crowds, and courtyard ‘havelis’ (townhouses) – like the gorgeous Samode Halveli - oases of calm hidden from the chaos behind heavy wooden doors.
Q: Was the shopping as good as I think it is?
A: Errr, yes. Anokhi, Hot Pink, Idli, Organic SOS beauty products – I have compiled a list of my favourite finds to share with you, where to buy fabrics, throws, kaftans, jewellery, books and art work…
Q: Were there any particular finds that you would mark as ‘must-dos’?
A: The Indian palace hotels add a very unique dimension to any trip in India – there are few places in the world where you can sleep alongside a Maharaja in somewhere as decadent as Umaid Bhavan Palace. The tented lakeside wilderness camp, Chattra Sagar (pictured below) has two elevated tented suites, which are both very private and boast fabulous 360 views. Two unmissable romantic moments on any Rajasthan itinerary would be a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal from The Oberoi Amarvilas and a candlelit dinner on the roof terrace at the iconic Taj Lake Palace.
Q: If you were to recommend just one safari camp to an enthusiast looking for something different, which would it be?
A: Jawai Leopard Camp offers a very unique safari experience in India. Here, the local villagers live alongside a high population of leopards roaming freely in the wild, just metres from their homes, with no fences or gates separate them. When on occasions the leopards have preyed on their cattle, the villagers do not reciprocate by killing the leopards as they consider the hills to be sacred, and the leopards to be divine creatures. This co-existence is very unique and is not happening on the same scale anywhere else in the world.
For those keen to see tigers, the heavenly new Suites at Sher Bagh - a tented camp bordering Ranthambore National Park – evoke classic safari camp romance and come with outdoor showers and jacuzzi baths.
Q: Top tips for those heading to India?
A: Everyone who has been to India had words of advice to offer, but the ones I kept in the back of my mind were, “embrace it and laugh off any situations which frustrate you”. They do love bureaucracy in India, I lost track of how times my passport was copied, and their diligence made doing a quick hotel inspection virtually impossible as each member of staff was very proud to show off their ‘department’!
Q: Describe India in 3 words
A: Welcoming, humbling, rewarding
Q: Where to next Sally?
A: On the Indian sub-continent; Kerala and Ladakh…and I’m also intrigued to visit Varanasi. On the African continent…Morocco for Pure Lifetime Experiences Trade show. And I am being more and more drawn to Ethiopia for a very different African experience.