This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
At Annabel & Grace, we enjoy stories from women who are making the most of their lives by trying things outside their usual routine. Here is one such 50+ woman – Sally-Anne Laing – who has an interesting story to tell which she has entitled Champagne to Chapatis…
And so the journey begins…
Two months ago, my 24 year old daughter, Hannah, called to say she was off to India on her own for two weeks! After a sleepless night, I texted her at 2am to ask if I could go with her. Response? “OK but no 5 star hotels and we are using backpacks” (dear Lord!)
This is so out of my comfort zone. I don’t like curry and I don’t like crowds but boy I am going to embrace this experience and enjoy every temple, sunset, and landscape.
“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now” Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist
I am not classing this as a holiday – this is, for me, an adventure and I just cannot wait for the aeroplane to land, the doors to open and to get my first glimpse of India. I am expecting an abundance of colour, hoards of people, lots of noise and happy, smiley people. Come with me and share this experience – it will be a hoot!
The eagles have landed
Delhi airport was an experience – word of advice – avoid the crazy e-visa as the queues were horrendous and we were stuck for an hour. Should have had the visa stamped on passport.
Our driver is called Sukhvinder and I nearly jumped on him with excitement when I saw my name! To be honest I think it was relief. He has driven us around New Delhi today and I don’t think there is a landmark we haven’t seen. We were amazed at how green and clean the city was. We are treated like celebrities as people want photos with us (stand back and form an orderly queue!) and Hannah especially is followed everywhere by couples wanting photos with their children. All the Indian guys insist on taking selfies with her and if it continues I reckon I could find her a husband by the end of the trip.
We stopped at a Sikh temple so Sukhvinder could show us where he prays with his family. A very moving experience that made the menopausal woman in me cry; the people are just so warm and welcoming. We also visited The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial with some very inspirational verses leaving me feeling very uplifted and positive. The buzz of this country is mind blowing. The driving is unbelievably scarey and I just make sure my seatbelt is fastened and try not to shock Sukhvinder too much with my road rage (and I am not even driving).
Tonight we ventured out onto the streets of Delhi on our own. Bit of a silly mistake as I have never felt so scared in my entire life – the chaos, noise and sheer wildness of the atmosphere is unbelievable. Hannah came up trumps with a lovely vegetarian restaurant but I feel I have just taken part in a bushtucker trial – I just ate and didn’t look down! But I am so excited we are finally here. Off to Agra in the morning…
Day 2: Agra and struggling
We took the train from Delhi station to Agra and in some ways it would give South West Rail a run for their money. Very comfortable seats – bottles of water served and then a tray with breakfast AND we left on time! Ok ok so at Winchester station you don’t sit and watch the monkeys running all over or have a man spit next to you – I contemplated offering a tissue but Hannah warned me not to!
The train journey took us past the most deprived areas and the scenes I witnessed shocked me to the core. I just can’t understand how these people survive; they have nothing. Children and adults were walking on the train track collecting rubbish. I just wanted to stop the train and give my food to them – I didn’t touch anything on my tray as it just felt wrong.
We visited the Agra Fort which was beautiful – our guide explained all about the Mughal Emperor who built the fort in approx 1565. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site and also houses part of the Indian army.
For someone who doesn’t like curry or spicy food, lunch was a struggle. I am determined to try as much as I can but my word my limits are being pushed!
Agra is a huge shock and terribly upsetting. Nothing has prepared me and I have returned to the hotel upset and with a headache. Our hotel overlooks a muddy patch of land which houses three separate families and they just sit and squat. Children holding babies run around trying to dodge the tuk tuks, cows, monkeys, dogs and traffic and I have felt just so awful and sad.
Day 3: Taj Mahal and a dream come true
Today at the age of 52 and 9 months, Sally-Anne Laing stood in front of the Taj Mahal!
Woke at 5.15 am to be collected by Sukhvinder for the short drive to the Taj Mahal. Long queues to pay for tickets and shoe covers and then taken by a tuk tuk type taxi to the entrance. Like most places in India there are two queues – one for the men and one for the women.
Our first sight of the Taj literally stopped us in our tracks. It honestly took my breath away and even now, describing it I have tears in my eyes. It is quite simply stunning, beautiful and peaceful. Our guide gave us some incredible facts about how this building was made out of pure love by Shah Jahan for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. And that the Shah had 8000 concubines – how he managed the energy neither of us feared to ask, so we just shook our heads in awe!
Now for the last 15 years I have been asking my gorgeous husband, John, if he would build me a pergola at the bottom of our garden where I can read whilst enjoying the odd (!) glass of wine. When I return I shall offer him as many concubines as it takes to build me my long awaited pergola! What is good enough for Mumtaz is good enough for Sal.
The mausoleum was interesting and the architecture inspiring but sad to see someone had attempted to remove the jewels from one of the marbles. A peaceful walk around followed by the inevitable photo on the seat of Princess Di and we made for the exit – one final glimpse of a sight I won’t see again but will treasure forever.
We completed the most fantastic journey to Ranthambore after 5 hours. We drove though small towns dodging camels, wild boar, cows, dogs and monkeys. We share our M&S mint assortment with Sukhvinder and he shares stories of his life being brought up in the Sikh tradition.
Passing through the towns is like passing through several film sets. Buildings made of corrugated iron with only space for a barber chair and client to sit as a cow walks past and monkeys jump from one building to another. So many motorbikes. So much dirt and poverty but, again, only happiness on the faces of the people we pass. They have nothing but smiles, happiness and friendships to keep them going. To be honest what more do any of us need?
We arrived at the Vatika resort on the edge of the Ranthambore National Park and Sukhvinder left us and will collect us in two days time. We sat on our small balcony drinking masala and ginger tea and watched monkeys play in the trees. I have to pinch myself – still cannot believe we are here!
Early night as being collected in the morning at 6.40 for the safari to try and see the Bengal tigers. My struggle today – no hairdryer! Disaster – what am I to do! May have a word with one of the monkeys and get them to climb into one of the rooms at the nearby Oberoi hotel and pinch one for me.
Today’s fear? Apart from what on earth I am going to do with my hair tomorrow, I may be savaged by a Bengal tiger.
If you would like find out what Sally-Anne and Hannah did next, read the full unabridged version of their trip to India HERE.
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