Our lovely client Keith Davey, so kindly wrote three trip reports of their Mantra Big 5 Tour. This report is on the cultural aspects of their India Tour. Their final post will capture India’s bird diversity in the coming weeks.
Although the Mantra Big 5 Adventure concentrated on visiting some iconic Indian National Parks, there was also a cultural part where we visited places that had a fascinating history, full of beautiful historical buildings and edifices. This started on the morning after we arrived at New Delhi.
On the first day we went on a tour of New Delhi, led by Aditya. We visited Qutub Minar, built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibek in 1199.
Here is the famous Iron Pillar, noted for its rust-resistant composition.
We then visited the Mogul Emperor Humayun’s Tomb. It was commissioned by his son Akbar in 1569-70.
Due to the rapidly approaching India Republic Day, we were unable to stop near the War Memorial Arch, because all roads to it were blocked off by a huge military presence and Delhi police.
But we were able to drive past the President’s palace, Parliament House and Government buildings.
A reverential moment was visiting Raj Ghat, the cremation site and tombs of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
If you go to Delhi, be certain to book onto the Old Delhi Walk and Food Tour. Mr. Ramit Mitra was our guide. Unlike more slender Indians, you could see he was a connoisseur of Indian food. (You can read about this tour review in the Sydney Morning Herald!).
We were soon walking down narrow, dark alleys, into places that Pat and I would have never be game to go without a guide. We didn’t have large dishes, just many small tastings of some very interesting Indian and Muslim foods. One proud chef pointed to his chicken dish and said, “I’ve used 52 spices in this dish”. It was powerful stuff.
Pat purchased a bunch of bananas, but a mischievous macaque came up behind her and stole them, with lots of local laughter. Pat wasn’t convinced that the monkey and the banana-seller didn’t have a partnership going, as she purchased a second bunch for our dinner.
I must mention the quality of the accommodation that was included in our Mantra Big 5 Adventure. Luxurious on every scale, far in excess of what we would have expected. Both Pat and I found that having up to five waiters around us was a bit unnerving at times. We’re not that used to restaurants, but are more of the fast-food lot. Being Aussie’s, we wanted to help out by taking our soiled dishes and cutlery to the serving benches. We soon realised that this was not what the serving staff wanted us to do, so we soon refrained.
The Alsisar Haveli, a Heritage Hotel in Jaipur was magnificent. It was like being transported back through time to the era of the Raj.
The dining halls were all grand and sumptuous. We had not expected to stay at such lovely accommodation.
The Corbett River-Creek Resort and Spa was located in an extremely scenic area, surrounded by steep mountains and alongside a spectacular river.
At Jaipur, the Capital of Rajasthan, we visited both the Presidential Palace and the Astronomical Observatory. Jaipur is known as the Pink City, a colour associated with hospitality. All the city walls were painted pink in preparation for a visit by Britain’s Prince Alfred in 1853.
The Astronomical Observatory is the home of the world’s tallest and most accurate sundial. It casts a shadow that is accurate to within two seconds.
We also visited the Chand Baori Stepwell, built by King Chandra of the Nikumbah Dynasty in the 8-9th Century for his bride and himself to escape from the summer heat. The steeply stepped construction led down to a permanent source of water where he and his wife could always get fresh water for drinking and bathing.
The sculptures reminded me of those at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Sadly, the ones here had been defaced.
A highlight occurred at Corbett, the little village surrounded by Jim Corbett National Park, the first national park declared in India. We had two to three hours to spare, so Girdhari Lal, our driver, guide and good friend suggested that Pat and I might like to visit a Hindu temple. Pat had mentioned a few times that we would like to see a temple if our busy schedule would permit.
The Garjia Devi temple is built on a huge rock siting on the river Kosi. Devotees reach the temple after climbing several flights of stairs. The temple attracts thousands of devotees from across the globe. We also visited the smaller temple alongside.
Newly-wed couples coming to Corbett must seek the blessings of the deity Garjia Devi. While talking with two newly wed couples, we were blessed by a local holy man and he tied some sacred string on our wrists. It was a sacred, moving and never to be forgotten experience.
Throughout India we were approached by many locals with the statement, “Ha, Australians, how’s the cricket going?” Our trip coincided with a set of cricket matches between India and the Aussies. Pat and I don’t normally follow cricket, but we soon learned that if in town, we needed to watch the evening news and be ready to answer any question about cricket. As we drove past every small town, on a bare patch of earth nearby, many young boys were playing their national game. It seemed to Pat and I that there are five religions in India, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhism, Sikhism and Cricket.
When we went out on the jeep safaris into the national parks, on many days we were the only foreigners there. Quite a few times at park resting places, locals would come up to us and request that they take a photo of us and their friends and relations. It was always obvious that the Indian people went out of their way to ensure that we were having a great time.
When Pat and I signed up to do this tour with Mantra Wild Expeditions we had no idea what a personalised tour was. We had been away about ten times before to overseas countries with different tour groups in parties of up to 15-20. But this trip was designed just for the two of us. We need not have worried. At every airport and at hotel reception at the start of every day someone was there to meet us. The evening before, the driver would tell us what time someone was going to pick us up the next morning. We never missed a beat on our journey. While travelling our driver would always be pointing out things of interest with great pride.
Every luxurious room we stayed had a refrigerated bottle of water waiting for us as we arrived. In every car we travelled, with the exception of the jeeps, the driver had a bottle of fresh water for each of us ready for our journey. Pat and I did find the true Indian food to be very spicy, but we coped. Some bigger restaurants in our accommodation did tone down the spices for their European guests.
In each car we travelled, including the twelve jeep safaris, Pat and I were the only passengers in the vehicle. This made our wildlife photography much easier since we didn’t have to elbow others out of our viewpoint.
Every person we met on our journey went out of their way to ensure that we had the most amazing experiences. The absolute highlight is that neither Pat nor I became ill from the water nor the food, so we never had to miss out on going to see wonderful things each and every day of our Mantra Wild Big 5 Adventure
Who are Keith & Pat Davey?
I have always been a keen nature photographer. When only 8 years old I taped a magnifying glass to my Kodak box brownie to photograph insects and flowers.
In 1964 I was the naturalist for the Leyland Brothers “Down the Darling” river expedition. This was followed two years later when the Leyland Brothers crossed Australia from Steep Point in Western Australia right through the middle of Australia on the “West-East Crossing Expedition”. I have authored five books on Australian wildlife, “Australian Lizards”, “Australian Marsupials”, two books on Australian Desert Life and a “Photographic Guide to the Seashore Life of Australia” which is used as a text in marine courses throughout Australia. I was also Head of the Instructional Media Unit at the University of Newcastle for more than twenty years.
Pat was the first female cine-camera operator in a television station newsroom in Australia at NBN3 Newcastle in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Pat is also a keen photographer.