Did you see… 1984 

18 March 2023 tbs.pm/78445

Did you see…

Sunday 18 March 1984




Four photographs of India


Slow down! You’re in India now


The suitcases rattled. Our oriental perfumes and exquisite miniature chemist shop, wrapped carefully between layers of clothing, prepared us for malaria, indigestion, diarrhoea, sore throats – you name it, we had something for it. Geraldine James, fresh from filming ITV’s The Jewel in the Crown, couldn’t wait to get back; though to capture the spirit of India – so vast, so various, so packed with contrast – in a fortnight, seemed impossible.

‘India is best enjoyed by people not in a hurry,’ said Geraldine as we were driven at alarming speed to our Delhi hotel. First impressions were of drivers hogging the middle of the road, thumbs pressed permanently on the horn. It was noisy and exciting – the New Delhi area, with its gardens, avenues, colonial-style bungalows, the arched splendour of India Gate, contrasting sharply with the dust and dirt, the poverty, of Old Delhi. From the precarious safety of a bicycle rickshaw, we hurtled through seething, chattering crowds in the Chandni Chowk road (The Street of Silver). Compounding the chaos were bullock carts, darting yellow-and-black three-wheeler taxis, carts drawn ponderously by majestic camels, cows wandering aimlessly.

For Geraldine and me, the tiny shops in the Janpath area were a treasure trove gold and silver jewellery, carved ivory, patterned silks, embroidered shawls, handicrafts from all regions of India. Bargaining was part of the fun. ‘The secret is to pay no more than an item is worth to you,’ Geraldine advised. ‘If you get it for less, then that’s a bonus.’

Delhi’s 800-year-old history as India’s capital is as rich as you would imagine, and the buildings reflect a mosaic of changing architectural styles from bygone ages. The marble pavilions, inlaid domes, carved columns, the splendid Red Fort, the ruined Old Fort and the ornately decorated Humayun’s Tomb, are breathtaking.

And the pageantry of today’s India was perfectly captured by India’s most spectacular celebration, the Republic Day Parade on 26 January. There was a carnival-like atmosphere; crowds cheered the bands, the dancers in traditional dress, the elephants and the floats as they paraded past the Prime Minister, Mrs Gandhi, and her guest the King of Bhutan.

Next, a quick flight to Agra. Geraldine told me that the last time she had visited the Taj Mahal, it had been rather a reluctant trip. ‘It seemed such a touristy thing to do, and I thought it was more important to understand the everyday life of India. But when I caught my first glimpse of the building, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like something from outer space. I have never seen a photograph that even begins to capture its beauty.’

Our timetable took us down the long, dusty road to Jaipur. Mud-hut villages, separated by miles of unfriendly terrain, cultivated by sweat and toil, characterised the region. Occasionally, however, the flat landscape is broken by tantalising reminders of the past, such as the deserted 16th-century city of Fatehpur Sikri.

Our oasis in Jaipur was the Rambagh Palace Hotel, which offered the sort of luxury to which it would be nice to become accustomed. ‘But don’t be fooled by grandeur,’ warned Geraldine, an expert on avoiding ‘Delhi belly’. So, we drank mineral water, cleaned our teeth in mineral water, ate vegetarian curries, and varied our diet with pills. So far, so good. Jaipur, built in pink stone, is a medieval city that is the stuff dreams are made of. Everything, from the intricately carved Palace of the Winds to the spectacular Amber Fort, is ravishing.

Next, Bombay. Rather less romantic, it’s the commercial centre of India. But, a boat ride away, across Bombay Harbour, is Elephanta Island where 7th-century caves are decorated with magnificent rock carvings.

Finally, a quick and refreshing change – a visit to Goa on India’s west coast. Once a Portuguese colony, Goa was the haven we’d been looking forward to. Lush and tropical, the brilliant green paddy fields and swaying coconut palms were a balm for these exhausted travellers.

Our fortnight served only to whet our appetites, however, and, like Geraldine, I shall return to seek out more of the many faces of India. Each area has its own rare charm and distinctive mood and is, indeed, one of many jewels in a dazzling, mystical crown.

Only today are the treasures of India becoming available to ordinary holidaymakers. And, next month, TVTimes Travel Service will be offering exclusive autumn holidays to India. For further information about India, please contact: The Government of India Tourist Office, 7 Cork Street, London W1X 2AB (Tel 01-437 3677).

Janet Impey


Two images of India


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