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on location: south asia ❖

randy mink

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iding through the crowded streets of Jaipur in our air-conditioned minibus, the jaw-dropping scenes unfolded one after another. One that really caught our collective eye was a dilapidated bus with about 30 people sprawled across the roof, nearly every square inch occupied. Inside was jampacked, too, on this 115-degree day. We took pictures of the roof riders as they waved and smiled. For them, it was all part of daily life in India. For our Globus FAM group, the spectacle was one of the bewildering sights that kept us on the edge of our seats. It was a slice of the real India, the India that stays with you, the India you tell others about after a mesmerizing trip to the subcontinent of Asia. On the six-hour drive from Agra to Jaipur, one of my favorite experiences, I kept my nose glued to the window, not wanting to miss a moment of the passing parade—camel carts and oxcarts, 14 August 2011

Michael Lundquist

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Leisure Group Travel’s Randy Mink visits the Taj Mahal in Agra.

mango and banana vendors, stuffed-tothe-gills Jeeps with boys hanging off the back, rickshaw drivers pedaling through impossible traffic. Stray cows and dogs wander the streets, monkeys scamper across rooftops and boys herd

water buffalo (prized for their milk). And you want to get a picture of every woman gracefully draped in a turquoise, chartreuse, magenta or saffron sari—exclamation points in the stream of pedestrians spilling onto LeisureGroupTravel.com


Randy Mink Photos

Most visitors to Jaipur trek north to the hilltop Amber Fort, where an elephant ride is de rigueur. In the city proper, they can prowl souvenir markets offering puppets and other crafts, photograph fruit vendors and ride a camel.

roadways. As for the men napping on their parked handcarts, you wonder how they can sleep amid the constant horn-honking and near-miss accidents. With so much going on, there was no way I was going to nod off on the bus. A nap could wait until I got home. I’m in India! I told myself. If ever there was a place to gape and gawk, this is it. Though India is packed with traditional sights—temples, mosques, forts, the Taj Mahal—it’s far from a conventional destination. A journey to the world’s largest democracy is more about lifestyles. Tour director Anil Bahal of Distant Frontiers, Globus’ ground operator, told us, “You never go to India for a vacation. You go for the experience. When you get home, you’ll need a holiday.” The FAM trip for tour planners and trade press was an abbreviated version LeisureGroupTravel.com

of Globus’ 14-day “Secrets of India,” using the same hotels and incorporating the same activities. We did the Golden Triangle portion—Delhi, Agra

Agra’s Itimad-ud-Daulah Tomb has been called a “jewel box in marble.”

and Jaipur—taking the Shatabdi Express train from Delhi to Agra. Michael Lundquist, Globus’ national group sales manager, accompanied us. Though we suffered through tripledigit heat in early June, travelers in fall and winter can expect more pleasant weather in North India. Temperatures in October reach into the high 80s, while highs in February are around 75. The daily schedule for Globus groups includes welcome leisure time. It’s not just go-go-go every minute. India can get too rich for the blood, and you need time to recharge and absorb what you’ve seen. Everyone appreciates a break from the high-intensity experience and welcomes the chance to nap, go to the pool or get a massage. One afternoon before dinner I walked across the street from my New Delhi hotel and watched boys play a August 2011 15


on location: south asia ❖ pick-up game of cricket in the park. Then I went over to the pedestrian shopping area where cooks were grilling kebabs at little restaurants with outdoor tables. Standing cheek-byjowl on one block were McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s. (Burgers in India are lamb, chicken or vegetarian as the cow is sacred to Hindus. Anyone for a Chicken Maharajah Mac?) Here are some only-in-India experiences that Globus travelers can expect and that really brought the country alive for me: • Thrust yourself into the chaotic street life of Old Delhi on a 30-minute rickshaw ride for two through the teeming wholesale bazaars of the most densely packed quarter in India’s capital city. Weaving between bikes, handcarts, motorcycles and motorized rickshaws, your driver pedals through a labyrinth of narrow lanes covered in canopies of tangled electrical wires. At some points you almost can stretch out and touch the hole-in-the-wall stalls. Especially

Globus’ Michael Lundquist tests his snake-charming skills at the Amber Fort.

gawk-worthy: the color-splashed fabric markets and grisly butcher shops. • Another Old Delhi highlight is Jami Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Set on a mound above the fray, the red sandstone building topped by three marble domes is a beehive of activity. Our visit coincided with a Muslim pilgrimage. We had a field day taking pic-

tures of people milling about the courtyard and washing in the ablution tank. They were in a festive mood and glad to pose for us. In fact, some had their own cameras and wanted to include us in their group photos—we were exotic to them. Before entering the mosque, we had to remove our shoes and cover ourselves in a sarong or robe.

Globus ProGrams In IndIa est known for its European and North American tours, Globus has always been strong in Asia and now is “looking for a much more prominent slice of the pie, and India fits into that as a unique and exotic touring destination,” said Mike A. Schields, Globus’ managing director, groups and emerging markets. India “certainly stands apart from all other destinations in the world,” he said. “It is a chance to get completely outside of your current world and comfort zone. Everything is so different and unique vs. our lives here that it makes you both appreciative and awestruck at how we live and how they live. “India appeals to a certain type of traveler so the qualification process and target marketing have to be very selective,” Schields said. “Groups that have done China, Southeast Asia, Russia and South

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America would be appropriate for India.” Globus’ 14-day “Secrets of India” (priced from $2,929, plus air) includes the well-traveled Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) circuit. The North India itinerary also features Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu pilgrimage cities; Khajuraho temples; Udaipur; and Ranthambore National Park, famed for its tigers. Ten departures in 2011-12 are scheduled from Sept. 24 to March 10. Groups are limited to 20 in a fullsize motorcoach, and there are a few flights as well. A four-day South India extension is available. India is a “natural group market as few people would just wing it individually,” Schields commented. “Our goal is to grow the destination slowly and carefully via the group markets, targeting those groups that are looking for lifetime experiences. “We also want to push our extension

programs in the south of India, as the country is very large and diverse, and regional differences are significant,” he continued. Globus’ Monograms division, geared to travelers who want more independence, also offers India options. For details on Globus programs in India, visit globusfamilygroups.com.

LeisureGroupTravel.com


Resplendent in saris, Amber Fort groundskeepers gladly pose for tips. Stunning tablecloths tempt shoppers in Jaipur.

• The Taj Mahal, one of the most famous buildings in the world, is the very symbol of India and more than worth the crack-of-dawn wakeup call. To beat the heat and the crowds, Globus groups make a sunrise visit to this world wonder, making their way in two-person tongas (horse carriages) to the outer gates. The clip-clopping ride through the quiet streets of Agra is the lull before the storm of vendors hawking postcards and snow globes depicting the marble masterpiece. No matter how many times you’ve seen pictures of this ethereal monument to love—designed by Emperor Shah Jahan as a monument to his wife, who died in childbirth—there’s nothing like feasting your eyes on it the first time. For even the most jaded traveler, it’s a great travel moment. • Another classic experience is the elephant ride up the ramparts of the Amber Fort, high on a hill north of Jaipur. The 20-minute ride in a twopassenger metal basket (howdah) secured on the back of an Asian elephant is a standard activity at the fort, a sprawling complex of palace apartments, gardens and courtyards. As your beast of burden trudges uphill, you’ll have lots of photographers snapping your picture and they will hound you afterwards to buy. • A special Globus feature is a private-home dinner in Jaipur, the “Pink LeisureGroupTravel.com

City.” Just steps from the rough-andtumble streets, groups enjoy a homecooked meal at Sankotra Haveli. (A haveli, traditionally for merchants or noblemen, is a multi-story mansion built around courtyards.) The family has lived there since the 1720s. Our group was greeted with flower necklaces and led into an open-air sitting room where hors d’oeuvres were passed around and conversation flowed. Next came a tour of the home. On the upper terrace, Padmini Singh, our hostess, told us not to provoke the monkeys on the adjacent buildings. In the dining room we had sari-wearing and turban-wrapping demonstrations before the meal. I sat next to Mrs. Singh and had a chance to ask all kinds of questions about food and life in India. Later we encountered a torchlight wedding procession right outside our hotel. A marching band played as the groom rode a white horse and people danced in the street with the bride. When the revelers noticed us taking pictures, they invited us to join in. To say that India provides sensory overload would be an understatement. It makes other destinations pale in comparison. We barely skimmed the surface in five full days, but even a lifetime would be insufficient to experience the rich tapestry of India, a land infinite in its splendor and passion for living. LGT

INDIA

fast facts

• The population of India is 1.2 billion, making it the second most populous nation on earth (after China). With 28 people born every minute, India grows by 18 million annually. A third of the population is under 15 years of age. • India, a third the size of the U.S., is the world’s seventh largest country. It is bordered by China, Nepal and Pakistan. • For North American travelers, India is halfway around the world. Our group’s nonstop Continental Airlines flight from Newark to Delhi covered 7,702 miles in 13 hours, 28 minutes. • Indian Railways, with more than one million employees, is the largest employer in the world. • Hinduism, practiced by 80 percent of the population, is India’s most prominent religion, yet it has more Muslims than any country but Indonesia. • Besides Hindi and English, 16 official languages (and over 800 dialects) are spoken.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE Tour planners on the Globus FAM trip offer their thoughts on India as a tour destination. See the article at http://leisuregrouptravel.com/?p=24666.

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India