After hours of reading, looking at photos , searching on the Internet and viewing images on the unsurpassed Google Earth, the day had come: we were walking into the lobby of Indira Gandhi Airport. Sudhershan, our driver for the upcoming three weeks, was waiting for us (to our relief). The first encounter with India, was when we felt the heat outside the arrival hall; 25 degrees (celcius) at 3AM. When we arrived at Sudhershans car, we looked at one another with some doubt. The Ambassador looked quite old to us. Despite our thorough preparation, this type of car escaped our attention.
After two nights in Delhi, we left for Rajasthan. Our doubts about The Ambassador turned out to be unjustified. The car was perfect for the sometimes bad roads. To our surprise, the 4 lane highway from Delhi turned out to be wide enough for 8 cars to drive next to each other. Compliments to the driving skills of Sudhershan. Despite the hectic traffic, he guided the car towards the cities, temples and palaces that awaited us. On to the legendary cities of the spice route. There are too many highlights to sum up here and now, so here is a brief selection from our memories.
The first city is always important: the first real introduction to Rajasthan. In this case the first city was Bikaner. Somewhat reluctant, we were released into the old city by Sudhershan. Three elderly Dutchmen alone in such a city. He clearly had his doubts about our survival skills. Therefore he made us promise we would let him know when we had returned to the hotel safely.
Granted, Bikaner was a hectic city. Camels, holy cows, the exotic shops, the women in their colorful robes, the clutter. Everything that would become familiar to us in the upcoming weeks, was at that time even more overwhelming than we had expected.
After a ride through the desert and even a camel safari in between (which was quite something), Jaisalmer loomed like a mirage in the heat. After checking into the excellent hotel (excellent as usual), we went into the fortress of Jaisalmer with a guide that Sudhershan had arranged for us. A good guide is recommendable, because you will be able to take shortcuts and see all the highlights a bit faster after each other. After this came the inevitable visits to several shops. In Jaisalmer we experienced a power out for an entire city for the first time. This would happen a few times more. But well, what would you expect when all the tourists want to have air conditioning.
The next days were filled with visits to temples in the neighborhood and wandering about in the fortress and the surrounding city. We discovered a lovely small photo shop in which photo’s were sold which were taken around 1910 by grandfather (Shiv old Photo gallery, Jachhary road). The beautiful buildings had not changed much (aside the neglection).
In Jodhpur we ended up in a beautiful havelli which was converted into a hotel. When we were enjoying a well deserved beer on the rooftop on the first evening, we felt like we were in a movie. On several rooftops children emerged to practice for the kite festival on Indian Independence Day in August.
In the meantime, we had grown more and more confident of Sudhershan. Without honking or any dangerous maneuvers, he dealt with obstacles like bad roads, rushing vehicles and sudden movements of holy cows. He spoke very good English. He knew his way around and he always knew where to find a good restaurant. Following his instructions, we found good alternative hotels when the hotels in the travel guides turned out to be not good enough. A relaxed driver that was always there for us. The car also turned out to be excellently adequate. Aside of one small problem with the air conditioning (which is very important and luckily it was fixed very quickly), the car was excellent.
Despite the fact that we had read a lot about the country, the reality of India was much more overwhelming than we had expected. The colorful people we met, who generally loved to be photographed, the religion that was practiced intensively, the procession of pilgrims, the view from a roof terrace on busy shopping streets with cows and camels, the delicious food s, the colors, the smell and especially all those people. All of this while having delicious meals and pots of special tea.
India turned out to be more accessible than expected. But it also turned out to be more intense and rawer than other destinations in Asia. The quality of our journey was at least partly determined by Sudhershan, who astonished us time and time again with his knowledge about the area. A driver who got us to every destination without even using a map. On the background there was Rob, who called us every once in a while to check if everything went well.
All in all, this journey requires a follow-up trip. Over the next few years we’ll definitely be back in India.