Day 1: Thursday, 26 March, 2020 Departure
Today, we depart Australia for Mumbai Airport. After clearing customs, we’ll be met by our representative and transferred to our hotel.
Day 2: Friday, 27 March, 2020 Mumbai. India
This morning, we have our first encounter with India’s most populous city of 13-million. Its extended metropolitan region takes that figure up to more than 21-million, a mega-city that includes its wealthiest, but also its poorest. Until 1995 known as Bombay, Mumbai is not only India’s commercial, entertainment and fashion capital, it’s also headquarters of the world-renowned ‘Bollywood’ film industry. How could we leave that out of our itinerary? We begin at the waterfront Gateway of India monument, an impressive arch built by the British colonialists back in 1924 that served as a ceremonial entrance to the country. When India historically re-gained its independence in 1948, the last British battalion formally passed through the famous archway. Then, another early treat, we visit the modest two-story Mani Bhawan, headquarters of Mahatma Gandhi, the country’s most revered independence activist from 1917 to 1934.
GEORGE COMMENT: “My suggestion is that before leaving Oz remind yourselves of the amazing Mahatma Gandhi saga by getting hold a copy of the movie “Gandhi” played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley. It will remind you of how enormous one man’s “passive protest” against military power could have on a teeming colonial nation such as India! Gandhi – who described himself as a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew and a Hindu, by the way – was assassinated in 1948, shot in the chest by a fanatic Hindu nationalist. This afternoon we tour the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum, formerly Prince of Wales Museum during the so-called British ‘Raj’ era – the colonial period of India under British rule from 1858 until 1947. The CSMVS (above) displays rich collections of art, archaeology and natural history. We also plan a visit to the Dhobi Ghat, a 140-year-old “openair laundromat.” The local estimate is that nearly half-a-million pieces of clothing are washed there every day. In the evening, enjoy a Welcome Drink with George and his partner, Kirsty.
Day 3: Saturday, 28 March, 2020 Mumbai
This morning, an experience not to be missed, join George on an excursion to Dharavi, Mumbai’s massive slum, considered a ‘city within a city’ – close to one-million people crammed into an area less than a square mile! Despite this, cottage industries and small businesses thrive there. In fact, they account for Dharavi’s estimated annual economy of more than a billion US Dollars. On the other hand, we can’t help but learn about the rigors of daily life in the seriously contradictory slums, despite the gutsy “in-yourface,” resilience and clever resourcefulness of the residents who call this mostly squalid place home. This afternoon, having come away from Dharavi probably both impressed and depressed, we visit the Crawford Market, a huge Raj-era arcade prized for its architecture that somehow blends Gothic, Norman, and Flemish styles. Lockwood Kipling, father of journalist Rudyard Kipling and widely-read author of the “The Jungle Book,”also designed the Crawford Market friezes and stone fountains. Interestingly, in 1882, Crawford Market was the first Indian market to receive electricity.
GEORGE COMMENT: “If you didn’t get to see the highly-acclaimed Danny Boyle directed film, “Slumdog Millionaire” (shot mainly in the Mumbai slums) that took out eight separate Oscars in 2008, then promise yourself an evening on the couch at home and be fascinated by the “Slumdog” experience! Drinks on Yours Truly if you don’t find it engaging!”
Day 4: Sunday, 29 March, 2020 Embark Maharajah
After breakfast, we’ll board the Maharajas Express, acknowledged as the world’s “Leading Luxury Train,” taking out World Travel Awards five years in a row 2012-2016. The Express has redefined rail travel by offering opportunities for its passengers to explore destinations providing glimpses of the cultural heritage of India that will leave you with heaps of memories of a journey to be cherished. Our train departs for Udaipur, lunch and dinner served on-board. During the afternoon, George will host a conversation about one of our two fascinating and engrossing destinations, India and Bhutan!!
GEORGE COMMENT: “Reading up on our trip, I’ve found myself pondering that India and Bhutan are not just neighbouring destinations, they are intrinsically unique places unto themselves!”
Day 5: Monday, 30 March, 2020 Udaipur
This morning, we arrive in Udaipur, aptly known as ‘the City of lakes’ where we take a boat calming ride on the artificial fresh waters of Lake Pichola. Next we visit the grandiose City Palace of 11 separate palaces and courtyards. The Palace itself also has a vast collection of ancient miniature paintings and a Crystal Gallery. Your lunch today will be at a special venue. Later, you can either opt to return to the train for a relaxed afternoon or to explore more of the Lake City on your own. GEORGE COMMENT: “According to our itinerary, later in the afternoon, I’m to give a talk – which I hope will actually turn into both “serious and fun audience participation,” a free-flowing chat about my crazy journalistic life and adventures in the media. Or maybe put it this way, an unexpected opportunity for you guys to say to my face what you more than likely have often said behind my back during my 40 years of invading your living rooms with monotonous regularity via the likes of “60 Minutes,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “Dateline,” “TDT,” “The Project,” “George Negus Tonight” and other programs. Just joking! I will definitely go on about two major interviews I scored in India, one with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa at her ‘Home for the Dying’ in what then was then Calcutta, since 2001, re-named Kolkatta – argue if you like over the present spelling of a famous Indian city!
Day 6: Tuesday, 31 March, 2020 Jodhpur
A relaxing morning at leisure following our arrival in Jodhpur, referred to as ‘Sun City’. After lunch on-board we visit the imposing Mehrangarh Fort on a perpendicular cliff, with breath-taking views 400 feet above the city sky-line. Its proportions are so colossal that Rudyard Kipling himself called it “the work of giants.” It’s acknowledged as one of the best-preserved forts in India. Then we take a walking tour of the popular Old Clock Tower Market and its thousands of shops, one of which, we’re told, is a famously sought-after Lassi shop! Tonight, Kirsty and George will host our group at what they are assured is “quite a venue!”
GEORGE COMMENT: “By the way, if you don’t know what a lassi shop sells, it sells lassis. And if you don’t know what a Lassi is, it’s an incredibly popular Indian yoghurt-ish natural drink – not to be missed!”
Day 7: Wednesday, 1 April, 2020 Bikaner
This afternoon we visit Junagarth Fort, built in 1588 and one of the most impressive fort complexes in the country not built on a hilltop. It’s elaborate walls are ornamented with carved stones, marbles, paintings and in-laid semiprecious stones. Each palace in the complex – with its courtyards, pavilions and balconies – was apparently built by a different ruler over the centuries. This evening, enjoy a barbeque on sand dunes, before our super-comfortable train leaves for Jaipur, appropriately called the ‘Pink City’.
Day 8: Thursday, 2 April, 2020 Jaipur
Today, we explore the magnificent Amer Fort. Interestingly, the Amer is located high on a hill 11 kilometres outside Jaipur City. It boasts an elaborate palace complex, built from pink sandstone, pale-yellow sandstone and white marble and is divided into four main sections, each with its own courtyard. Later, we visit the City Palace with not just courtyards, but also gardens and buildings and is right in the centre of the Old City. It’s a striking mix of Rajasthan and Mughal architectures. Our local guide will no doubt explain the blend in styles. Later, as we leave for our next destination, Ranthambore, we’re back on the Maharaja for a typically sumptuous dinner.
Day 9: Friday, 3 April, 2020 Ranyhambore and Fatebur
After breakfast, a treat – a jeep safari at the Ranthambore National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary including Bengal Tigers in their natural jungle habitat. Then we’ll lunch on-board the train heading to Fatehpur Sikri, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On arrival, we’ll take a tour that includes astounding examples of highly regarded Mughal architecture, including the loft gateway at Fatehpur Sikri built by the Mughal emperor, Akbar in 1601. At 54m high and 35m wide, it’s reckoned to be the highest gateway in the world. Meanwhile, the odd Panch Mahala is recognisable from quite a distance. Why? Its five storeys are placed one-on-top of the other – like a pack of cards. The main building must once have been enclosed by jalis, nets, that get caught in the breeze making the area an ideal spot for sleeping during India’s hot summer nights. However, you’ll be pleased to hear we’ll be returning to the Maharaja to sleep through the night journey to Agra – and yet another traveller’s treat!
Day 10: Saturday, 4 April, 2020 Agra (Disembark Express in Delhi)
That treat we promised? As if you wouldn’t have known, this morning we visit THE one-off Taj Mahal – invariably right up there on any so-called global “bucket list”! Not going to go on! I reckon it’s fair to suggest that the mighty Taj will speak for itself, as it were! Breakfast will follow at an exclusive venue. We then re-board the train for Delhi. During our journey from Agra to Delhi, George will host a conversation about immensely complex, perpetusally fascinating India – officially a democracy with its 1.33 billion Indians. Throughout the country, nine religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Bahai faith – are all practiced. On arrival in Delhi we transfer to our city hotel and the remainder of the day is at your individual leisure or curiousity!
GEORGE COMMENT: “A few thoughts prompted by the Taj after reading about it – before actually seeing and touching it in its marble flesh! Here are just a few of the multitude of superlatives that have been used to describe the amazing white marble building that took 17 years for 22,000 labourers, painters, stonecutters, embroidery artists et al to complete: “truly a sight to behold;” “the most extravagant monument built for love;” “one of the most recognisable and iconic images in India and arguably in the world;” a building as rich in history as it is in opulent marble;” and on and on! After you’ve gazed on the real thing, maybe for the first time – maybe not!? What will be your superlative? By the way, amazingly, for a self-styled peripatetic traveller, it will go down as my first Taj experience…!”
Day 11: Sunday, 5 April, 2020 Delhi
After breakfast, a full-day tour of the city of Delhi, a city that offers plenty of magnificent landmarks and monuments that will help narrate the story of its past. Starting with the Old Delhi, we visit sprawling Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in the country, capable of holding 25,000 Islamic devotees. Later, we drive pass the well-known Red Fort, a red sandstone landmark, these days a complex of historical and other museums, before visiting Chandani Chowk, a vibrant bazaar filled with shoppers, food carts, sweet shops and spice stalls. There will also be an opportunity to ride on a cycle rickshaw. Don’t forget the “selfie” shot to prove you rode in one of these classic symbols of India! The main street of Old Delhi is teeming and tempting, as fine a monument to congestion, colour, cacophony and chaos as you’ll find anywhere in India. In the afternoon, we visit New Delhi and take in the India Gate, built in memory of Indian soldiers killed during the First World War. Later, we visit Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also what previous visitors say was for them Delhi’s most striking monument, looming “majestically” across the wide plains of Delhi, also a UNESCO Site.
Day 12: Monday, 6 April, 2020 Depart Delhi
We transfer to Delhi airport to board our flight to Australia.
Day13: Tuesday, 7 April, 2020 Arrive Australia
This evening we arrive in Australia.
GEORGE COMMENT: “.... hopefully, back home, with not only plenty of impressive photos to show off, but heaps of experiences, new friends, memories and maybe a greater awareness of one of the world’s simultaneously most exciting, intriguing, occasionally even challenging nations! See you again, fellow travellers – who knows where!?