24 October 2013
Wexas Managing Director Steve Allen travelled to India with his family and records his impressions of this beguiling, beautiful destination over a series of five special blog posts.
India is definitely one of those destinations that's on most of our 'to-do' lists. Yet, it's also one of the places that conjure up a mix of both wonder and trepidation, especially if travelling with children. So it took a little bit of discussion to persuade Sarah, my wife, that all would be well when travelling as a family of six, especially for our youngest, Rory, who is nine.
Debate done and agreement reached, we embarked on planning an itinerary that would give us - as first-time visitors - a range of experiences that would include some of the iconic places whilst allowing for some relaxation along the way. We turned to Krishna in the Wexas Travel team and our partners in India, Creative Travel, to bring the journey to life and guide us through the visa process.
Into Delhi and a whole new world
We flew with Etihad, via a short stop in Abu Dhabi, to Delhi. The crew were excellent, smart and attentive throughout, and the in-flight entertainment was enjoyed by everyone, along with good food and wine. Sarah and I were able to savour the Pearl Business Class service whilst our four children reported that these were the best economy flights that they had experienced - high praise indeed.
At Delhi we were soon through the airport and on board our minibus, with Achilles (Akhilesh) our driver, plus his mate. As we were to discover over the next week on our travels on India's roads, having a competent driver is an essential. It's a very busy place, with wide variations in driving competencies and road quality. We were soon transported to the Imperial Hotel though, an oasis in the heart of vibrant Delhi. The hotel oozes an understated quality and service, in a splendid building adorned with hundreds of prints and pictures that reveal much of the rich history of India.
We were in Delhi for just over 24 hours but we planned to make the most of our introduction to India. With a knowledgeable guide joining Achilles on our air-conditioned minibus we visited parts of both Old and New Delhi, the ancient and the modern, with all of our senses buzzing.
The Red Fort, a fort and palace from the Mughal empire, built when the Emperor Shah Jehan moved the Mughal capital from Agra to Delhi in the mid 17th century, is simply stunning. It is full of the hustle and bustle of life, and is a majestic creation made from red sandstone. We also visited the largest mosque in India, Jama Masjid, and the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the 'Father of the Nation'.
We then immersed ourselves in the Old City, travelling in pairs on rickshaws expertly ridden by the drivers who must have immunity to stress from congestion. The streets were narrow and filled with people moving from small shop to small shop, on foot and on bikes, a constant stream of hustle and bustle that somehow squeezed by one another and around the potholes. As to the supply of electricity, there are wires aplenty just a few feet overhead, strung from building to building in a chaotic collection of connections that would surely defy the best electricians around. Our journey around these streets was truly memorable and a must-do for any visitors.
We hopped off the rickshaws at a Sikh temple and watched as one group worshipped and paid their respects whilst another group prepared great vats of food to be given to the needy and poor, who congregated in a large eating area open to all: an eye-opener of another kind. In stark contrast, we had an excellent lunch at one of the marvellous Oberoi, New Delhi hotel, located next to what must be the most expensive golf driving range in India: an experience that reflects the realities of life in India today, with its extremes of wealth and poverty.
Later that day we returned to our haven at the Imperial. We made good use of the swimming pool and the gym, and had a relaxing soak in the bath. Suitably refreshed and attired, we were more than ready for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles in the bar. That first G&T was just perfect! Equally special is the hotel's Spice Restaurant, which, as we were to discover, is both a journey and a destination in itself. Another must-do when in Delhi.
The Spice Restaurant is divided into nine areas that represent the journey of life. The food was excellent, and we were guided through the menu options with care by the Maitre d', Rohit, an excellent ambassador for the restaurant who had at one time worked in Hawaii. We sampled a Sauvignon Blanc made in India and were pleasantly surprised at how good it was too! After our meal, the Maitre d' gave us a 'tour' through the nine areas, explaining what each meant and the significance of the layouts, the different designs, wall coverings and decoration: a mesmerizing 30 minutes or so for all of us, and a sense of what we were beginning to appreciate and discover about India. Highly recommended.