Travel has always been a huge part of my adult life and also of my childhood (if you count day dreaming about all the places I planned to go). Younger me would be pleased to know that I have made it to 35 countries. People often ask for my favorite destination and I simply cannot choose. However, I can pick a trip that has completely rejuvenated my sense of wanderlust, awe and put me a state of prolonged sensory overload… India.
I was invited to India by a local Destination Management Company partner to spend two weeks getting to know the destination and its venues. My first taste of this exotic country was in route to the hotel around 2:00 a.m. when I saw my first elephant walking down the road. That was the first of many interesting wildlife encounters on the roads of India.
Our itinerary included many of the top tourist destinations in the largest of India’s twenty-nine states, Rajasthan. During our time there, we saw the beautiful Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, Humayun's Tomb, Temple of the Wind and the Amber Fort in Jaipur and more. Each day was packed with adventures from riding elephants and camels, rickshaw rides in Old Delhi, going to markets and touring historical sites. For the “business” side of things we did some high-end hotel inspections, which were spectacular on all fronts.
The part of the trip that really left a lasting impression on me was the time we spent in the village of Samode, located about 3 hours from Jaipur. Our accommodations were at the 475 year-old Samode Palace, which was in complete darkness when we arrived at night. Initially, I thought the power was out as is common occurrence in many parts of the country. Once we stepped through the gates, the entire palace light up. Our grand reception included the throwing of rose petals, music and traditional dancers, and having necklaces of jasmine placed around our necks as we climbed the stairs. What an entrance!
The next day we did a village jeep tour. Our first stop was an elementary school, and when we arrived, we were greeted by what seemed like the entire town and its mayor – and, of course, goats. The humble school building was open air and had dirt floors, and inside the children were learning advanced math and English. The kids were so excited to practice their English, and they were fascinated by our smart phones and cameras.
Our next stop just outside Samode Village was a local family’s farm. The conditions of the home were completely different from anything that I had witnessed in my travels – bare rooms with beds made of rope with little-to-no bedding. The kitchen was the only room in the house with running (cold) water. Even with their minimalist living conditions, the kind farmer and his family were quite proud of their property and showed it off while posing for pictures in front of it.
It’s so touching to view the world of the Samode people. From our Western perspective, it was hard to see the conditions of the school and house, but it is clear that they are so full of life and “rich” with pride and happiness. While I did see some amazing architecture and luxurious five-star accommodations, I definitely came home with a new appreciation of space and the quality of life we are fortunate to have in the U.S. Even though India can be a challenging place at times, it operates with an orchestrated chaos. I would definitely recommend traveling there for the right type of person, and look forward to going back there myself someday to explore more of it!