Private tailor-made journeys of a lifetime

Enchanting Travels guest Anne Chatterley discovered incredible variety during her private tour of India in February 2012, in what she and her husband called “a trip of a lifetime”. Here she shares with us her experience.

Where does one start when planning a trip to a place that has fascinated the imagination for longer than you care to admit and that you finally have a chance to see?

I think I read every travel brochure that exists in print or online. Some seemed to cram a lot in a short time, others only went to a few places on my wish list and the offered extensions failed to fill the gap. Then I stumbled onto the Enchanting Travels website which offered to put together your dream holiday before you signed on the dotted line. With infinite patience Jen looked at my wish list, ascertained what kind of holidays I usually enjoyed (walking) and where, and how far I was prepared to travel in a day, as I’d asked to see some of India off the tourist trail.

My husband asked only that a wildlife park be included as he felt it was my dream that was being fulfilled. The result was a trip that incorporated the Golden Triangle, Udaipur with its lakes (I love Venice), Jodhpur and Deogarh within the desert region and Ranthambore wildlife reserve, where we were lucky enough to see a tiger which came so close to the jeep we could have touched it. Luckily it already had its dinner in its mouth!

We finished our trip with a ride on the Toy Train and a stay in Shimla. As for the places we stayed in… they ranged from a bed and breakfast establishment in Delhi to a palace. What they all had in common was comfort, good food and friendly, helpful staff who wanted you to enjoy your visit.

Perhaps because our Travel Consultant Jen was aware that reality does not always live up to one’s dreams, when she found out I enjoy reading she recommended some fiction which she and her colleagues thought might bring a touch of reality to my expectations.

Before we signed the contract we were told all the cons as well as the positives of travelling to a country very different from England.

India is what they say: hot, dusty and incredibly noisy in the towns and cities. Motorists seem to spend all their time blowing their car or scooter horns, scents are exaggerated in the heat and there is color everywhere. Even on building sites, the numerous women doing back-breaking work wear the most beautiful colored saris.

We had a chauffeur and local guides who enjoyed walking so we experienced so much on foot. The guides did ensure we knew the car was available whenever we needed it by keeping the driver on standby at the end of a phone, so we did take advantage of this at times.

Have you ever walked in the desert, had a picnic and seen leopard tracks near a water hole (mind the jeep was never far away)? Or sat on an ox-driven water wheel helping draw water from a stream for the villagers? Well, we have… and the experiences were incredible.

We saw so many beautiful and/or inspiring buildings; the Taj Mahal and the Jain Temple (Ranakpur) have to be seen to be really appreciated. While the men talked about the opium trade, I was shown round the house and chatted with the womenfolk about being women. The hostess was so keen to assure me that Western visitors were always polite. I asked why she and her family had agreed to open their home to strangers and was told it was to provide an education for their son and daughter; they hoped it would mean the children had an easier life in the future. As a woman I could understand some of her desires.

In the hotels we given so many treats e.g. one young waiter at the Gateway Hotel, Agra, told me about red carrots and the fact that they were used to make a dessert in the home. At the end of our meal he and the manager came and said they hoped we didn’t mind but the waiter had been talking to the chef about our conversation and he had made the dessert especially for us to taste (they refused to accept any payment). This was not an isolated incident: I’m amazed we didn’t come back twice the size! It added to the experience – being able to taste food that people ate in their homes and try dishes that chefs were hoping would appeal to visitors.

People like the bullock driver and others were probably hoping for a tip but except in one instance did not make us feel it was obligatory. Then there was an elderly lady in Shimla who went out of her way to check I was OK and inquire about where I was going (I had popped out to have a solo walk at dusk) and then advised me to go back because ‘big cats’ would be out soon. She did not have to do that, but she did.

Our main driver and the local guides went the ‘extra mile’ to ensure we experienced more than the tourist attractions.

I could go on and on. India was all I had hoped for, Enchanting Travels delivered what they promised and more. Yes there is poverty and inequality and the role of women is still under-appreciated but for all that I came away with a great respect for the country and its people. We were made to feel welcome not just by staff but by the people we came in contact with in all walks of life.

There was such an air of optimism around especially in the countryside. Stand pipes are appearing in villages which is helping make life easier and people are taking advantage of the new schools provided, although it has to be admitted that they are generally more eager to send their sons rather than their daughters. I do hope the future is what they hope for.

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