Right now, I should just be making my way back from the trip of a lifetime in India. Due to coronavirus, the Indian government cancelled my family’s tourist visas just three days before the start of our holiday, meaning we are stuck at home in the UK under lock down (like many citizens around the world, including in India).
Everybody is really disappointed the trip couldn’t go ahead, as we had a great two-week itinerary planned, taking in New Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Kochi and Mumbai. Here are the five things I was most looking forward to doing on our special trip:
1. Watching the Wagah border ceremony
The nightly Wagah border parade (approximately 40 minutes’ drive from Amritsar) has been taking place since 1959 and sees security forces from both India and Pakistan put on an elaborate show to demonstrate the countries’ rivalry, as well as their brotherhood.
Soldiers exhibit rapid, dance-like manoeuvres and raise their legs as high as they can before the ceremony closes with the coordinated lowering of the nations’ flags.
Thousands of people watch the military drill on both of sides of the border, and this was probably the thing we were most looking forward to. The ceremony is currently suspended.
2. Cruising on the Discovery houseboat
There are plenty of houseboats in Kerala, but this converted wooden rice barge comes recommended by the reputed Abercrombie & Kent travel agency and describes itself as the first boat on the backwaters to be completely eco-friendly.
The 65ft long Discovery has just one double bedroom, with further sleeping accommodation in the living room - meaning you won’t be sharing your cruise adventure with other guests.
All meals are included in the rate and you’ll be accompanied by a crew of four.
Riya and Sanil from the Discovery team were really good about refunding our deposit, and we can’t wait to make our next reservation and explore the lakes, rivers and channels of Kerala.
3. Seeing the famous Taj Mahal
No trip to India is complete without seeing the world-famous Taj Mahal, commissioned in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts over seven million visitors every year, though is currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown measures.
We planned to visit on a day trip from Delhi, but if you have more time, you can get a great view of the Taj Mahal from across the river bank at the 25-acre Mughal garden complex located directly opposite the monument.
Note that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, so plan accordingly.
Need a driver/ guide? We’ve used Mumbai-based Trail Blazer Tours India Pvt Ltd (part of the Katgara Group) for tours in Agra, Delhi, Amritsar and Kerala.
4. Staying at the Taj Palace, Mumbai
There’s perhaps no better place to stay in Mumbai than at the Taj Palace & Tower in Colaba.
For special occasions, splash the cash and stay in the historic Palace wing of the hotel, built at the turn of the twentieth century. In addition to the Palace, the hotel offers rooms for a lower rate in the Tower, which opened in 1973.
The onsite Harbour Bar is a great place to sit and enjoy the hotel’s famous and elaborate Harbour cocktail - a potent combination of gin, local fruit juices as well as a few secret ingredients, plus flaming cognac poured on top:
We had reservations in both the Tower and Palace for our upcoming trip, and hotel general manager Taljinder Singh and his team were very gracious in allowing us to cancel our non-refundable bookings.
5. Visiting the Partition Museum in Amritsar
Also located in Amritsar is the Partition Museum, housed in the historic Town Hall building and located just a few minutes’ walk from the city best-known attraction, the Golden Temple.
Inside the museum, you’ll hear the story of the partition of India by the British in 1947 - a painful event that displaced up to 12 million people and killed between 200,000 and 2 million people.
The Partition Museum, which focusses on real people’s lives and experiences, is described as “a moving place with some heart-wrenching stories”.
This month’s holiday to India should have been the trip of a lifetime, but we’ll definitely make plans to return as soon as possible.
We’ve also been really fortunate that most of our suppliers and accommodation providers have been kind enough to refund our reservations, even where they were non-refundable.
What did we miss from our itinerary this time? Is there somewhere else we should plan to visit on our next visit to India?