Our family has been blessed with the opportunity to visit most of Europe and the Middle East; each country more impressive than the last. However, nothing has made an impact on each one of us as Incredible India.
I have dreamed about visiting exotic India since I was a little girl. The infatuation of India’s vibrant colors, dance and flavorsome menus only amplified with this visit. Now, if you’re thinking of visiting India, let me forewarn you about two things. If you’re looking to tour a cookie cutter, well-kept country, you’re in the wrong continent. Leave those expectations behind, as large regions of India struggle with trash and what western culture would consider poverty. But seriously, get over it! India is not just a country; it’s a life experience.
Our experience began with a flight into Delhi where we received a warm welcome from out tour guide, Raj. We drove to Agra and began our tour with the famous Taj Mahal. More than a decade ago I read a historical fiction book about the story of the Taj Mahal. I don’t know if it’s the love story behind this famous architecture that makes it so memorable or the illuminating white marble that will never leave your memory. The never forgotten love story of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, a Persian princess that he later named Mumtaz Mahal is the inspiration of the Taj Mahal. Although Shah Jahan had two previous wives, there was no doubt that the love of his life was Mumtaz Mahal, as she would accompany him on all his military campaigns and he trusted her with political and military affairs. She died giving birth to their 14th child and after her death, Shah Jahan went into secluded mourning for more than a year. Later, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a symbol of the love he had for Arjumand and as her final resting place. The couple is buried at the Taj Mahal to commemorate their eternal love.
—–Warning, I’m about to go off on a tangent——-
All right Hollywood, there’s no one more appreciative of the dozen movies about Romeo and Juliet than I. But seriously, what about Shah Jahan and Arjumand Banu? Romeo and Juliet left this one little alleyway in Verona (Juliet’s house) that I regretfully have to report has graffiti and gum stuck all over it, was seriously one my my biggest disappointments in life (runner up with Paris). Shah Jahan and Arjumand left behind the Taj Mahal for the love of God! Have no fear Hollywood, I’ve done all the work for you! Shah Jahan can be played by Irrfan Khan (Slumdog millionaire) and Arjuman can be played by the exotically beautiful Aishwayra Rai Bachchan (Pink Panther 2). Now Lights, Camera, ACTION!
—-Ok, I feel better now, back to the topic at hand——–
Our next adventure in India was visiting an elephant farm in Jaipur. By far this was the best family event we’ve ever participated in. At this farm my children participated in feeding, painting and riding the elephants. It was remarkable watching my two young children get more and more comfortable around a 6 ton animal. Upon arrival, we were instructed to stand in front of an elephant as he placed a flower necklace around our neck and blessed us with his trunk. During this visit we discovered that elephants have an incredible memory and love to eat bananas. I will never forget riding the elephants and my daughter singing Christmas carols at the top of her lungs; or trying to convince my son that he didn’t need to peel the bananas for the impatient elephants. These moments together will forever be engrained in my memory. I have no doubt that my children will remember our encounter with the elephants as well. My son in particular really took a liking to an elephant named Bulbul, to the point that for the rest of our trip we couldn’t pass an elephant on the street (yes, this actually happens in India!) without him shouting, “There’s Bulbul!”
In Jaipur we also visited multiple palaces where Mughal emperors lived. The ornate and detailed structures still standing today, centuries later. We learned about the architectural differences between Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu structures. But more specifically about how in India all these religions have adopted each other’s art and culture over the centuries of living together.
We couldn’t leave India without purchasing some souvenirs. We visited a mercantile shop and watched the process of how they make stamped cloths and handmade rugs. I also fulfilled a longtime dream of picking out an authentic Indian Sari. Last, I bought some beautiful Amethyst jewelry and some pieces of art that were painted on rice paper.