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Wow India

India is utterly seductive. From careening through congested traffic on rickshaws, to standing in awe before the Taj Mahal; India is a complete assault on your senses. And I am completely smitten.

I travelled to India in March, and used Delhi as the launching pad for my trip. A vast city with historic forts contrasting against ultra-modern developments, and where massive stone temples, unique to India, have been beautifully preserved. It’s a historian buff’s dream, but shopaholics don’t despair. I found it very hard to leave my purse closed for too long.

Staying near the heart of the city, my 4 ½ star hotel had staggering views over the sprawling landscape. Inside, three tempting restaurants and a shopping mall – and did I mention the views? – meant venturing onto the bustling streets below required some willpower. But Delhi soon engulfs you with a charm of its own. Although any romantic notions I had of leisurely rickshaw rides were cast aside the moment my driver wove a passage through the city’s notorious traffic. There is nothing sedate about the snarl of Delhi traffic. But while the trips were hairy, government initiatives have reduced the number of accidents so I felt safe. Just a little breathless perhaps!

A highlight during my stay in Delhi is Jama Masjid, the county’s largest Muslim mosque. Built during the mid 1600s, the mosque’s 40 metre high minarets tower over the vast courtyard; a beautiful testament to the 6000 workers who toiled for six years. Approximately 25,000 people can pray at the mosque and if you time your visit on a Friday, you can watch the noon congregation prayers. Just remember to dress modestly. Experiencing a Muslim religious ceremony made me realise of all the countries I’ve visited, India appears the most tolerant of other religions. With churches tucked alongside the mosque, there didn’t appear to be any judgement, or discrimination of others’ beliefs. Listening to news broadcasts in Australia about India didn’t prepare me for such a religiously diverse country.

And any visit to India comes complete with a trip to Agra. Popular because of the magnificent Taj Mahal, the town boasts a vast array of accommodation catering to tourists. My newly opened hotel was just 10 minutes from the Taj Mahal and the rooms had a distinctly funky vibe to them.

Clichéd perhaps, but actually seeing the Taj Mahal is astonishing. The building, the colour and the building’s preservation is very special. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife in the 1600s, Jahan could only gaze longingly at the mausoleum during his later years after being pronounced insane by his son and locked in a nearby fort. Legend suggests his imprisonment thwarted plans for a black Taj Mahal to be built opposite, which was intended as the emperor’s tomb.

Approximately four hours west of Agra is the famed city of Jaipur. Nicknamed the Pink City (after being painted pink in 1853 to welcome the Prince of Wales) this charming city has broad avenues and stunning architecture. I stayed in a 3 ½ star hotel and even though it was centrally located I still needed transport to visit the city’s attractions, because the city is so sprawling.

An absolute highlight for me was the nearby Amer Fort. Beautifully decorated, the fort was built by Raja Man Singh I and overlooks Maota Lake. Designed to glitter under candle lights, the multi-mirrored ceilings in the halls were crafted from shards of Belgium glass. It was totally unexpected. One of the joys of India is the architecture and how it changes between each city. I found each city had its own unique appeal.

India has a closed currency which meant I couldn’t purchase rupees prior to my trip. But with so many ATMs available, extracting cash was not a problem. Just remember you cannot leave with rupees either, so perhaps have a final clean out of your wallet in duty free! Also, during your stay ensure you have small change for the markets so you can barter with the locals. Bartering is widely accepted, and for the most part, expected in India. So dust of your bargaining skills and dive in. I found it similar to bartering in Bali where the outcome should involve no one losing face or dignity.

India is vast. But by joining a reputable tour company, such as InterAsia, you get to see the sights without the hassle of navigating public transport or breaking through the language barrier. I’ll be escorting a group tour through Holidays for You, and can’t wait to share my experiences with you.