This past January, I had the honor to accompany my wife Radhika, her daughter Monica, our future son-in-law Steven, and her parents to India. This was my first trip to this amazing and diverse country, home to over 1.4 billion people which has recently passed China as the most populous country in the world.
A bit of background on why we took this two-week adventure to India in the first place…
My wife’s dad is 87 years old, and he’s always wanted to share with his family where and how his amazing life began. What most people see is this kind, retired structural engineer who lives in a beautiful home with his wife of nearly 60 years in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles. What they don’t see is the real life, one in a billion chance of escaping the abject poverty of a remote Gujurati village and begin a family legacy that today includes over 100 living members across four generations and four continents.
This visit is a pilgrimage of sorts, I mean realistically how many lengthy flights does one have left in them at his advanced age?
After a very enjoyable flight over on Turkish Airlines, an overnight at the lovely St. Regis Hotel in Mumbai, we flew to the Gujurati regional city of Rajkot, then drove two hours to the tiny, remote farming village of Khilori, where the family home still stands over 80 years since it was built in the late 1930s…
If you’re anything like me, a lifetime citizen of a first world country, who’s never experienced even one day of wanting for food, running water, heat, clean clothes, proper sanitation, money, etc. and then you show up into this completely different world that you probably saw from afar on a TV infomercial trying to raise funds for poor children or perhaps as a backdrop for some movie; and now it’s real. I mean driving down bumpy, gravely, unpaved roads, walking passed, cattle, stray dogs, and locals of all ages, staring at you because you clearly are out of place here, both visually and emotionally. This was the family home to a single mother and seven children.
The next day, we drove 90 minutes outside of Mumbai to the village of Rajapara, where Anant and his brother Chandu lived with their maternal grandmother after their father passed away when Anant was only four years old, where he had refuge for two years until they both were sent to a state sponsored boarding school to begin their incredible journey onward and upward. To clearly describe the conditions of this home circa 1940 would be difficult, safe to say, no running water, no modern indoor plumbing, little or no food, no shoes; just the love of a grandmother who sold off inherited jewelry from her deceased father to make ends meet.
Despite their spartan existence, hope for something more provided the motivation to make the most of things to come. Simply amazing, awe inspiring and incalculable. The next day we flew to Jaipur for more fun and adventures!
Jaipur is known as the Pink City, so named for all the government buildings that are painted pink in honor of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, who was making a historic visit to the city.
The day got off to an amazing start as I got to experience two things that I wasn’t sure I’d ever do, pet a cobra, and ride an elephant! There were snake charmers as we arrived at Amber Fort so as I was taking a video, they encouraged me to sit down next to them. Next thing I know they said I could touch the hood of the engaged asp. That was a thrill to say the least and then within moments we boarded elephants for the long ride up the hill to the entrance of the fort. There’s an uneasy feeling as you first sit down but you hold on tight and go with the movement of the pachyderm. So glad we chose that form of transportation as opposed to a boring Jeep!
The interior of Amber Fort, completed in the early 1800s, was spectacular. The attention to detail, the grounds, the engineering, and design seem so far ahead of its time.
Onwards to City Palace, the home of the reigning monarchy for the state of Jaipur. There’s quite a display of historic weaponry, tapestry, and attire on display to enjoy but no photos are allowed. Next door was the observatory, a series of sundials constructed in 1728 that are so accurate it boggles the mind! The world’s largest sundial resides there and our guide, Angelica demonstrated how time was and still is calculated. Very cool!
We drove five hours to Agra to spend the night and set us up for the big day ahead. The next morning began with a short ride to the Taj Mahal. I cannot fully describe the awe in front of my eyes as we passed through the gates. It’s so massive and exquisitely gorgeous that it doesn’t look real. A very brief history of one of the seven wonders of the world…
Constructed over 22 years in the 1600s as a tribute by a forlorn king who lost his wife of twenty years who died during childbirth. It is an architectural marvel in so many ways. I suggest strongly you visit Agra and experience it yourself. I could go on and on but trust me, put this on your bucket list!
We flew back to Mumbai for two days to visit with local family members and then back to Mumbai International Airport for a brief 45-minute flight to Goa, the state just to the south on the southwestern Arabian Sea coast. The new airport we flew into is gorgeous and we were greeted in the terminal by a live band. Where else does that happen?
Geographically, it is India’s smallest state by area and its fourth smallest by population.
Goa became an overseas territory of the Portuguese Empire, part of what was then known as Portuguese India, and remained as such for about 456 years until it was annexed by India in 1961.
Goa is visited by large numbers of international and domestic tourists each year because of its white-sand beaches, active nightlife, places of worship, and World Heritage-listed architecture. It also has rich flora and fauna because it lies very close to the Northwestern Ghats rainforests, one of the rare biodiversity hotspots of the world.
Our driver took us the 45-minute scenic drive thru lush villages and farm country to our home for the next two nights, the Taj Fort Aguada Resort and Spa. What a stunning hillside property overlooking the sea, built on the grounds of Fort Aguada, originally constructed by the Portuguese in 1612 to guard against the Dutch. It was a reference point for the vessels coming from Europe at that time.
Back to Mumbai and then we flew home after spending three amazing days in Istanbul, before heading back to LA. I hope to return to India for more adventures soon!