Spending time in the beautiful and vibrant country of India is an experience like none other, and every day I spent there was filled to the brim with unique experiences. Seriously, we almost never sat still - we were GOING from the time we got out of bed until we crashed in the evenings. But rather than regale you with a minute-by-minute account of my time in India, I thought I’d do the hard work of picking just FIVE experiences to highlight as my favorites. Not an easy job, but someone’s got to do it!
Helping make roti at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib (Delhi)
Now, it’s probably questionable how much I was actually “helping” and how much they were just “offering the tourist a chance to try to help,” but the fact is, I was deeply touched by the mission of this and other Sikh temples, and it was nice to pretend like I was pitching in a little bit. This temple is beyond just a place of worship — it serves an open-door cafeteria for anyone and everyone who wants a FREE healthy, home-cooked meal. Everything is done completely by volunteers, from the donation of the ingredients to the preparation and serving of the food, to the clean-up in between meals. It is absolutely refreshing to see people practicing their faith in such a concrete and selfless way, and I was honored to be even a small, slow cog in the service of such an honorable goal.
Interacting with elephants at Dera Amer
I love animals, and my older son, Oliver, is absolutely smitten with elephants specifically. But we both recognize that for every ethical elephant (or other animal) encounter, there are hundreds that mistreat these majestic creatures. So it was an absolute delight to visit Dera Amer, a wilderness camp just outside of Jaipur. They have rescued three elephants so far (with two more on the way) from lives of hard labor and punishment and have brought them into a comfortable retirement surrounded by tourists excited to meet and care for them. Visitors stay in luxurious tents on the grounds of the camp, interacting with these gentle, lovable creatures throughout the day. The elephants will come to your campsite to wake you up with a gourmet breakfast, and you’ll have the opportunity to bathe, feed and otherwise care for the elephants during your stay. It’s the ultimate in luxurious, ethical animal interaction. (And, if you’re like my son and your first question is about the type of paint they use on the elephants, rest easy! These are organic, vegetable-based paints, and they’re only used occasionally, usually when kids are visiting and ask to decorate the elephants.)
Experiencing the Taj Mahal first-hand
I am not the kind of person who generally enjoys they typical tourist attractions. They’re usually crowded, and they almost never live up to the hype. They’re more the kind of thing that I feel like I SHOULD see rather than the highlight of my trip somewhere. But the Taj Mahal is the exception to that rule for me. It is, quite simply, BREATHTAKING. And, I’m going to be honest, I’m kind of a cynic. So trust me when I say that this place is so beautiful, the story so heartbreaking, that I had to try really hard to hold back tears when I stepped inside. A building has never made me cry before (not even close). But there is something so special about this place that I felt extremely moved and overwhelmed, both by its grandeur and by the story behind it. Definitely a somewhat unexpected highlight of my trip.
Receiving a blessing at a Hindu temple in Jaipur
I can’t profess to understand exactly everything that took place while we were inside this many-hundreds-of-years-old temple in Jaipur, but I can definitely say that it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. We received a blessing and a kalava, which is a red string bracelet that was blessed as part of the ceremony, and we chanted along after the priest and acted out a number of rituals involving rice and fruit and rose petals. It was an interesting insight into the religion, even though I am not sure exactly the specifics!
Our lavish welcome at Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur
Every hotel welcomed us lavishly, with a shower of rose petals, a garland of flowers or a scarf, and a specialty welcome drink, among other greetings, but at the Oberoi Udaivilas, we were in for a special surprise, as local dancers and musicians met us, along with camels and horses dressed in their finest attire, to welcome us to the hotel. Of course, this lavish welcome was followed by the otherwise “standard” rose petal shower and scarf presentation. It was over-the-top in the most amazing way and definitely a welcome I won’t soon forget!
There are so many other fond memories and amazing experiences from my time in India, but I’m cutting myself off at five! If you want more, stay tuned to my social media pages as I announce my in-depth guide to planning your first trip to India. Or, if you can’t wait, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’d be delighted to help you plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to this beautiful and surprising country!