I was lucky enough to act as Tour Escort for Goway’s 15-Day Jean Stilwell’s Incredible India Journey tour this past winter. Similar to Goway’s 17-Day Splendours of India – Holiday of a Lifetime, this was a one-off departure India tour that took us through some of the most culturally-rich parts of this exotic country. The tour was hosted by Canadian opera singer and radio host, Jean Stilwell, who had long yearned to visit India. Accordingly, our journey and destinations emphasized the region’s culture, including art, music, theatre, and architecture.
I, of course, got to meet and know some of our incredible travellers, including Penny Hughes, a writer from Ontario, Canada. Here, along with some of my pics from the tour, Penny describes her experience, from start to finish, on this exclusive itinerary.
I have never been on an organized trip abroad in my life, and to tell you the truth I never even contemplated doing so. Those were my thoughts until I heard Jean Stilwell, Toronto’s famous opera singer, talking on her radio show about a special trip she was hosting to India with Goway. That made me sit up. India was on my bucket list. It took me two weeks of contemplation but I eventually did call Goway; my agent could not have been more helpful and suddenly my bucket list became shorter.
The trip started in Toronto where 16 souls boarded an Emirates Airways plane bound for Dubai and then on to Mumbai. We arrived at an ungodly hour at our five-star hotel where we were served cold drinks and then shown our rooms. After a good sleep we ventured out into the streets of Mumbai and started our tour. Mumbai was wonderful. Crowded, noisy, colourful and friendly. How we crammed all we did into two days I don’t know, but we did. We travelled in the comfort of an air conditioned bus with an excellent driver and driver’s assistant. The assistant kept us all happy with cold bottled water and snacks. In Mumbai we visited a temple, Gandhi’s house, the famous architecturally wonderful railway station, the tree of knowledge, the Gateway of India and last but not least Bollywood where we watched a soap opera being filmed and a show featuring Bollywood dancers. We also had a lesson in the latter, but none of us were hired! Too much talent, I think they said.
Domestic air travel was easy, as we then took the short flight to Udaipur, our gateway to historic and noble Rajasthan. On arrival we met our Indian guide, Medan, who was to be our shepherd the rest of way; all the way to Delhi. Throughout the trip we found him to be always wonderfully informed in Indian history, culture and even spiritualism, and very respectful. Our transport arrangements were always well arranged, and seamless wherever we went.
Udaipur was a remarkable city; my favourite I think. The buildings in this city have to be seen to be believed. The workmanship and artwork, built centuries ago, are incredible. If only such beauty could be seen in the buildings of today. Besides all the palaces and forts, we also had a cooking lesson and several of us took turns making various dishes, all resulting in a delicious lunch. And, happily, none of us got upset stomachs! Either our cooking was great or the local Kingfisher beer we drank warded off any evil spirits! This was followed by a silk painting demonstration, a little henna artwork on our nails and hands, and then an evening at a local dancing show.
Up next was Jaipur, the Pink City. Jaipur offers spectacular architecture, most impressively seen at the Palace and the Amber Fort. A visit to a spice market brought the colour and smells of India straight to us. That evening a unique experience took us to a private home, where we dined with the family, learning much about Indian family life and culture. The delicious meal they prepared was certainly a highlight.
On our way by bus to Ranthambore we passed an almost biblical sight — a herder with his caravan of camels travelling down the road. The bus stopped and we took pictures, suddenly surrounded by camels, sheep, and goats. One of the great things about this trip is that our guide always took care of tips, so we were not left to guess what the correct amount of rupees should be. Our journey continued through an area of semi desert and, suddenly, through the barren-looking land, a gleaming palace arose. This was to be our hotel! It was huge, with three courtyards, and we all seemed to be permanently lost! However, we somehow always managed to find the pool, dining room and, of course, the bar. The following day we went on a safari in search of the famous Bengal tigers at the Ranthambore National Park. No such luck in the morning, but never give up is my motto when looking for the world’s amazing creatures. Our afternoon game drive came through, with an inspiring, up-close and simply amazing sighting of a tiger. Certainly a highlight of the trip, and perhaps of life, really.
It was then on to Agra. I found the town of Agra to be disappointing — it was one of the dirtier places we visited, and that was surprising seeing that it houses one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. However, that first view of the Taj Mahal at sunrise and all was forgotten. What a sight…it is simply stunning! The Indians refer to it as “a teardrop on the face of humanity.” There are no other words that you need to describe it; it has to be seen to be believed. Seeing it and learning its history should not be missed.
Sometimes you need a little something to put your life in perspective, and for many of us, a visit to Mother Theresa’s orphanage did just that. A heartbreaking place with little abandoned babies and children, but one’s belief in human nature was revived seeing the dedicated nuns and volunteers working there, and the smiles of those who have so little. God bless them all and keep them safe.
At this stage it should be pointed out that our guide was in fact an artist in his own right — a singer no less! A visit to a sitar shop gave him a unique chance to display his talents, where Jean, our opera singer, was prompted to join him. East meets West opera style! A wonderful experience followed – Indian High Tea with a local family who explained to us the world of politics, local society, education, and even of arranged marriages.
Our final leg led us to New Delhi and an incredible rickshaw ride through the market streets of Chandni Chowk. I can only say, thank the lord we were in rickshaws, as without the navigation of our amazing drivers, we might still be lost — stuck in a world of colours, silks, jewelry and food. A stunning experience.
By the time we boarded the plane for home, we were certainly worn out, but certainly fulfilled. Was doing a guided tour worth it? Simply…YES. On one’s own we would never have seen a quarter of what we did in the time we had. Personally, although exhausted on my return, it felt like a “good tired”. There were no pressures on the trip besides a few early mornings. Knowing I didn’t have to think about anything, and that someone else was taking care of all the small details, gave me a constant feeling of ease. The most stress was having to meet at the front door at the allotted time, and occasionally deciding what to eat and drink! The hotels were all A1, and to be honest, the standards of most were much higher than any of us would have anticipated at the outset. Great food throughout, and certainly no reports of illness or ongoing tummy troubles. On this trip, any such fears really were unfounded.
The group was an eclectic bunch of people who quickly got to know each other. Anthony Saba, our tour escort who shepherded us from Toronto was very amusing, albeit a little bit mad some of the time, and very helpful all of the time. Medan, our Indian Guide couldn’t have been more attentive. He taught us how to cross roads safely, avoid beggars, buy jewels and saris, stay at peace with ourselves and how not to encourage hawkers. This trip was a howling success. I loved this group experience, and all the joy and comradery that went with it. So many memories made with new friends! Way to go, Goway! Namaste.
If you would love to experience some of these same highlights on an India tour, check out our 17-Day Splendours of India – Holiday of a Lifetime.
Like all other Goway Holiday of a Lifetime tours, it is an exclusive, fully escorted, small group tour offering luxury accommodation and unique dining experiences… truly a “promise of something special.”