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Palaces or Beaches of India

India is unique and diverse, with the most fascinating mix of religions, culture and natural and historic sites and contrast (grandeur to grottos) to enthrall and shock you.  My first visit I was as an innocent having never experienced real poverty before.  In India it is difficult to avoid. On our first night, as we neared the 5 star Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai (now famous for the terrorist attack of 2008) - where we hoped to nip in for a civilised pee - we were approached from all sides by people with outstretched hands.  One person was without legs on a ricketty trolley, another with elephantitus was proped against a wall, and others appeared hoping for a little baksheesh, children too pulling on your clothes.  The difficulty with giving a charitable donation in downtown India is that if you do, your generosity quickly encourages more beggars to surround you. The key is to have small change to hand for when the moment is right. This was my overwhelming first impression of India and although this will always be part of a visit there, and the accompanying guilt that you become, sadly, accustomed to, there are a multitude of other experiences that leave lasting impressions too.










On that trip, over 20 years ago, we survived a speeding bus journey through a sleepless night to reach Goa, with music blaring all the way. On arrival and covered in sweat and dust, our rucksacks dumped on the sand, we ran straight into the sea fully clothed. It was April, the monsoon season was brewing. Some evenings lightening split the purple sky during dramatic storms.

We were lucky enough to experience the beautiful beaches at a time when all the travellers staying at one beach at one time could fit round one table, which we did each night. We shared the wide stretches of gold sand and the ocean with the local fisherman, helping them pull in the boats each day. Since that time the Goan experience has changed a lot. Tourist numbers and prices have made a vast leap but Goa is still a wonderful, welcoming destination. I have returned several times. You can still stay in simple huts right by the beach and enjoy the delicious local food. To truly relax there go to this yoga retreat at one of my favourite beaches, Patnam.  Lotus Yoga Retreat.

My next trip was some years later when I flew in to Delhi to take a tour - in fact with a tour operator I was working for - around the palaces of Rajasthan and Agra.  It was work, but it didn't feel like it.  It was an action packed week - not in my usual style of travelling. To stay in heritage palaces with incredible decorative detail and have colourful local entertainment laid on as we dined in splendour was a magical feeling. It was in contrast to my experiences as a budget traveller, although both were just as rich and exciting in their own way.

We saw the spectacular facade of Hawa Mahal in Jaipur - the Palace of Winds - with its honeycomb effect over 5 stories with laticework decorating its 953 windows.  A dramatic vision in an otherwise ordinary street. Jahal Mahal in the middle of Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur city is a striking image as the palace appears to float on the water. In Agra state we visited the beautiful red sandstone Fatehur Sikri.  Finally the unmissable Taj Mahal which despite the crowds is serenely mirrored, in its white marble glory, in the reflecting pool.











Sitting next to the local guide thoughout that week gave me a wonderful insight into middle class life in India.  He was happy to chat away about how things are - the caste system, social expectations, arranged marriages, how you support others in need. This was a great distraction from the hair-raising happenings on the road around us.  Vehicles of all types, from carts with horses to descrepid buses to polished vintage taxis and heavily laden bicycles and rickshaws - all vying for space but we meandered through unscathed. At all times in India you are living on the edge of your seat, drinking in the visual extravaganza and catching your breath on the scents (and odours), tastes and sounds that go with it.

See some heritage palace hotels on QuirkyAccom.com's directory here.