Vishal Mehra has worked as a guide in India for more than 20 years and has travelled the length and breadth of the country. In November, he will be the specialist guide on a nine-day tour of Rajasthan arranged by Country Holidays.
Where in India is home for you?
I was born in a house that was built in the 1640s when the city of Delhi was being founded. Old Delhi is a place where you could walk everyday of your life and still discover something new. It has colour, taste, smell and history; it’s like walking through an open-air museum. It’s also a paradise for Indian street food; I’m a foodie, so this is the aspect of my hometown I love the most.
What makes Rajasthan such a special destination?
If ever there were a place to truly lose oneself in the history and culture of India, it’s Rajasthan. The state is home to some of the finest palaces and forts, many of which are either hotels or museums.
Give us a taste of a couple of the places visited on the Country Holidays tour.
It starts in Udaipur, the Venice of the East and a city of lakes. This allows a gradual introduction to the colours and history of Rajasthan in serene surroundings. Next is the “blue city” of India, Jodhpur, home to the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. In the “golden city” of Jaisalmer we stay at a luxurious camp, the way the Maharajas used to stay when they were travelling; walking through the Citadel of Jaisalmer is like being transported back to the 16th or 17th century. We end the trip in an 18th-century Maharaja palace aptly called Lost Paradise.
This particular tour coincides with Deepavali celebrations. What can travellers expect to see?
During Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights, whole cities are illuminated by candles and oil lamps and given a festive look, and fireworks can go on into the night. On this tour, you can experience the amazing spectacle from the terrace of the Leela Palace in Udaipur and from the terrace of the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, with a 360-degree view of Rajasthan’s second-largest city.
What is Rajasthani food like?
Rajasthan is a desert state, so not much grows there in terms of vegetables. What does grow in abundance is green chillies! Despite this, the cuisine is rich both in meat products and vegetarian food. It can also be quite spicy, though the idea is to bring out the flavours without the food becoming unbearable to eat. (Even the majority of Indians can’t eat food that’s too hot, let alone tourists!) Laal maas is a popular Rajasthani meat dish cooked with a lot of red chillies to give a very deep colour to the curry. It’s usually prepared with goat or lamb meat and served with roti.
What general travel tips do you have for first-time travellers to India
|•||Come with an open mind! India is a learning experience that works gradually on all the senses. It’s a country of great contrasts, and those who come with an open mind can learn a lot.|
|•||While travelling, it’s best not to wear clothes that are too brief – no sleeveless tops or shorts. (In Indian culture, neither men nor women expose too much skin).|
|•||Avoid direct sun for prolonged periods of time and always drinks lots of water – three to four litres a day.|
|•||Street food always looks tempting but check with your trip leader first to see if particular items are likely to be safe for you.|
When’s the best time to travel in Rajasthan?
Two of the best months are November and February. It’s nice and warm during the days without getting too hot. Evenings can be chilly, so always carry a light jacket or pullover if you go out.
Country Holidays Trip Fact File
Title: 9 Days India Rajasthan – Deepavali in the Secret Paradise of the Maharajahs
Dates: 10-18 November 2012 (with a five-day extension available for those who wish to extend the trip to cover the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur). Registration closes 31 July or when tour is fully booked.
Price: Land tour price, per person (twin share): $6,650 (Golden Triangle extension: $2,990). Airfares from $942, economy.
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