Cruise Specialists host Deidre Irlam has hosted many voyages over the years, but this one truly felt like an exciting new voyage and so we’re sharing her first hand experience to on a voyage to India.
It began on a Transatlantic crossing to England via the Queen Mary 2, thereby avoiding much of the jetlag with the 5 hours lost at mid-day. (A true cruise lover just sees these days as extra vacation and time to enjoy the ship!)
I highly recommend all of you reading this to “go east” this way on any visits to Europe and beyond. No not a luxury (although of course the QM2 is the ultimate), but a necessity to arrive “ready to go” – not time wasted feeling tired.
From London, we flew to New Delhi enjoying a good night’s sleep and arrived at the Airport to be met by the Uniworld Rep, Vishal who helped with luggage and whisked us off to a luxury car for our ride to our Hotel. Vishal was amazing and lucky for us stayed with us during both the land and River Tour. His knowledge and charm were exceptional.
We toured the City upon our arrival, but could hardly take our eyes off the roads to see the passing sights due to the traffic “rules”: see a space in the flow of traffic and drive your bike, car, bus, lorry or walk -towards it – and hope nothing runs into you, including the cows which are sacred and if walking or sitting in the middle of the road can’t be moved – but must be avoided. To hit and kill a cow we were told would mean our reincarnation as a donkey!!!
We did however visit Mahatma Gandhi’s final resting place and site of his assassination. It’s one of the few places you’ll find peace and calm in this bustling city. Raj Ghat is essentially a large park, but in the middle is an area walled off with lots of arches. There are quotations and translations written on the stone wall along the perimeter.
Our drive the following day was to Agra and the wondrous Taj Mahal. Everyone knows of this ivory-white marble mausoleum, but seeing it through the evening twilight and again next day with the mist of sunrise is surreal and should not be missed.
The next day we were off in our comfortable bus to Jaipur to see the Palace of the Winds where the women of previous times must watch the parades and city sights behind this gorgeous pink walled facade amongst other sites. Here we also encountered our first snake charmer!From here we flew to Kolkata to embark our riverboat, Ganges Voyager 2.
I don’t believe that any of our group of only 18 were prepared for the service, the lovely delicious Indian food, most had a touch of curry but there was always a pasta dish for those so inclined. The décor is gorgeously Indian, but with all modern amenities.The River Ganges experience made us feel extremely privileged as I know not many have visited this rural area of India.
The villages and villagers along the way will never be forgotten. Yes, there was poverty, but this was equaled out by happiness. Always ready to smile and wave and indeed a small boy carefully led me though a village on one occasion pointing out where I should step to avoid the cow dung!
After 7 delightful days we departed our comfortable “home” sadly said our farewells to our butler (our new best friend) and flew off to our chosen extension to visit Varanasi.
This was a place I had wanted to visit for as long as I could remember. A place of trepidation where the dead are placed publicly on funeral pyres and the ashes swept or blown by the wind into “Mother” Ganges the following morning. This is the most religious place in India where many come to die as their Hindu belief promises immediate reincarnation to a higher being.We set out with our guide at sunset, well prepared for what was to come.
The walk through the village was more crowded (if possible) than others. An orange shrouded body was passed close by us (fortunately well wrapped) and suddenly there were THE steps shown in so many photos. We climbed carefully down them and the 7 of us alighted a small long boat which slowly took us up river towards the smoking pyres. On the way we were all given marigold filled containers with a flaming nightlight which we were instructed to place in the water and make a wish thinking of our passed relatives as these lights, with many others, floated away.
I felt it a very calming Hindu experience rather than scary.
We then stopped, still in the boat to observe the Hindu rituals and prayers. The following morning, we returned at sunrise, embarking the small boat further upstream and floated down past the now mostly darkened fires and quietened relatives (who had been there all night) to observe them climbing down the Ghats to bath themselves in the Ganges.
Whatever ones religion I feel the entire Hindu Varanasi experience was a very Spiritual one not to be missed.
Overall this Uniworld River and land experience is one to highly recommend, the sights, sounds and many memories will stay with us forever.
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