THE TRAVEL GAME
Ladakh, India's 'Little Tibet', Ladakh is a high, windswept land of devout Buddhists, of grand monasteries, demon dances and flickering butter lamps. This corner of the Tibetan plateau is linked with the world by two tortuous mountain highways: Ladakh means 'land of high passes'. The eastern route, the Leh - Manali Road, has to be one of India's longest and meanest road journeys, extending 437 km from Manali in the forested hill country of Himachal Pradesh, up and over the Himalayan ranges to reach the Ladakhi capital, nestled in the Indus Valley. When I chose the relatively soft option of catching a 5am flight up from Delhi, over the mountains to Leh, the Ladakhi capital, I had not anticipated that a welcoming party of red-robed monks would be waiting to greet me... no, the Dalai Lama himself was expected within the hour.
Delhi, City of Ghosts India's capital is haunted by the ghosts of British and Mughal invaders now departed. Many of today's Delhi-wallahs took up residence only after the Partition of British India, moving into the historic havelis abandoned by traditional owners.
Diu for a change Time out from trekking around India? Goa, with its Mediterranean-meets-tropics ambience, is where planeloads of palefaces go to flop on an Indian beach, but there's a less frenetic alternative north of Mumbai. The sleepy tropical island of Diu clings like a flea to the underbelly of the Gujarati elephant. As you cross the causeway to Diu, you arrive at a scaled-down Goa. Looking back from the formidable 16th-century fort one might imagine Diu to be in southern Europe, with spires standing out against the skyline and pastel-hued villas tucked into each of several bays.
Gujarat, Lion of India Cubs close at heel, the lioness emerged from the thickets onto a gravelled track, confronting the two-legged intruders. Within a few short hours we had turned to rubbernecking at our own species, joining in a Gujarati carnival for the third successive night. Some time after midnight, the foreigners clambered up on stage with the richly-costumed dandia raas dancers, clashing sticks - lethal lengths of pipe - to the amusement of a growing audience.
The defining feature of Gujarat, where London's East India Company first engaged with the Moghul Empire, remains its staunch Indian-ness. In Ahmedabad, Gandhi founded the ashram from which he set forth to challenge British rule on the famous Salt March. Indians associate Gujaratis with prosperity and business acumen, and Gujarati communities are well-established across the former British Empire.
Push along to Pushkar's annual camel fair, when a dusty throng of camels and their owners, ash-streaked sadhus, pious pilgrims and backpackers from all over descend on this sleepily sacred outpost on the edge of the Rajasthani desert.
Corbett Tiger Reserve: track down the elusive tiger, or cast your rod for the golden mahseer in the national park and tiger reserve named for the celebrated tiger hunter turned conservationist, Jim Corbett. Tigers aren't easy to spot here, but park director Rajiv Bhatari explains why this is as it should be. Corbett's legacy to the hill country people of Kumaon also includes the creation of a model sustainable community on his own estate.
Lutyens' Legacy One of the most important English architects of the early twentieth century, Sir Edwin Lutyens' most important work was the layout and planning of New Delhi. Although Lutyens was commissioned to design an imperial capital, India gained independence almost as soon as construction finished.
Slowly down the Ganges From Sangam, the confluence of the sacred Hindu rivers, drift downstream to Varanasi, the holiest city.
Yoga capital of the world At Rishikesh the glacial milky-blue waters of the sacred Ganges break free from the Himalaya, spilling out onto the plains. Even if you take your peace and love with a dose of scepticism, the 'yoga capital of the world' still repays a visit. At the nightly candlelit ceremony on the banks of the Ganges, young saffron-clad devotees clap and chant and sway. As the chanting builds to a crescendo, western women take up the rhythm with unseemly gusto. From the Sixties onwards, westerners in search of Eastern wisdom have made the pilgrimage to the ashrams of Rishikesh. In 1968 the Beatles arrived to immerse themselves in Indian spiritualism at the feet of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. A young Canadian photographer was staying at the ashram at the same time, and stumbled upon the band; Paul Saltzman's rare pictures were published only recently.
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