Floating down the Ganges one magical evening, I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with what I hoped would be fresh air. What started out as the exotic scent of sandalwood quickly morphed into a mélange of barbecued human, raw sewage, and garbage. I guess this is the kind of thing that might scare off tourists, but you’d never know it from the crowd of rowboats in the river.
“Good MORNING!” The greeting squawked through our cabin speaker with such garbled tenacity that I nearly poked my eye out putting on mascara. “Now we arrive into Agra, the jewel of Ind … shrrrr, eeeeeee, shrrrrr … ounge car at oh seven hundred to …. shrrrrrrrr … Taj Mahal.”
I took my fingers out of my ears and fished around for a Kleenex to clean up my forehead. “What in the heck was that?” I asked Chris.
It’s hard to feel connected to a country when touring by train. You’re separated from most of it by glass and speed. And when you finally disembark—from the Maharajas’ Express, at least—you’re greeted with enough fanfare to make the Queen of England blush.
The Maharajas’ Express. Just the name makes you think of a turbaned prince draped in silks and jewels charging across a magical land in the era of Raj. But this iron horse is not only a modern rendition of bygone days, it’s also one of the most luxurious trains in all of Asia. With forty-three cabins featuring hand-carved wooden furniture, private bathrooms (some with roll-top bathtubs), personal valets, and laundry service—plus two elegant restaurants, an observation car with a library, and a round-the-clock lounge car—this five-star hotel on wheels promises all that is enchanting about incredible India, with none of the ew.
India is like a blender on high speed … with the lid off. —Chris G.
When I stepped into the rickshaw I knew another world awaited, one so foreign that I might as well be boarding a bathysphere bound for the bottom of the ocean. I thought of a magnet I kept on my refrigerator in college, when exotic travel was just a dream for me. Underneath a boy astride an elephant, it read, “There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes wide open.” Little did I know that these were the words of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Now, twenty-five years later, I was in the oldest part of his country’s capital. Read more
People in the States either love the idea of India or they hate it. Or maybe fear is the better word. When we told folks we were going there for three weeks, the response was typically a look that said, “Why in the world would you go there?” followed by the two words travelers probably hear the most: “Be careful.” Still, it’s not the kind of response I’m used to when I announce a big trip. Usually my friend or family member will act excited—or at least curious—and then make me promise to tell all about it when I return.
And some did. The country does have its fans, including Mark Twain, who said, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”
But mostly I heard, “Ew. Don’t get sick.” Even the nurse at the Travel Immunization Center in Chicago said, “You’re going to India? Watch out. We’ve seen some nasty stuff come back from over there.”
“Really?” I asked. “Like what?”