Incredible India
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While attending a press conference I happened to win two first-class tickets aboard Jet Airways from Toronto to Delhi. Knowing that my wife had always dreamed of experiencing India, what better than a two-week tour of some of the country's most popular destinations.
The first step was planning the trip. My research into a tour operator uncovered Worldwide Quest. I was so impressed by what I found that I booked with them to set up all of my ground arrangements. Once that was taken care of, it was simply a matter of packing and getting to the airport.
Delhi, India's capital city was designed and built by the British during the 1920s. Delhi is a city of extremes and like most of India; it has a way of assaulting your senses with smells, sights and sounds. Our experience of this vibrant city began on a rickshaw tour of Old Delhi. From the 12th through the 19th centuries, Old Delhi was the capital of Muslim India.
Old Delhi is a labyrinth of streets, formidable mosques, monuments and forts speckled with colourful markets carrying all sorts of goods amidst an atmosphere of barely controlled chaos. Delhi is a distinct divide between ultramodern and traditional. Clean lines with tech money and automobiles, complimented by Old Delhi with ox carts and vivid full streets. This divide is just one example of the country's expanding economy over the past decade.  Our time in Delhi came to an end with a visit to Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque with white marble domes and minarets as well as Raj Ghat, where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated.
Not only did Worldwide Quest meet us as we stepped off the plane but they assigned a driver who would accompany us for the entire trip; each morning we would look forward to fresh fruit and drinks prepared for our days drive. From Delhi, our trip took us south to the city of Agra. As the capital of India between the 16th and 17th centuries, Agra is a city full of architectural wealth known for its marble and soapstone artisans. The slow pace was a wonderful contrast to Delhi's busy atmosphere. Our first stop in Agra was at the world famous Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1652 as the final resting place for his favourite Queen, Mumtaz. The perfectly symmetrical masterpiece took twenty-two years to complete and was built by the hard labour of over 20,000 workers, masons and jewellers. The artistry is mind blowing and although packed with people the sense of serenity and ambiance is brilliant. The Taj Mahal definitely lived up to its hype and remains a highlight of our travels.
Leaving Agra, we were once again reminded of India's vibrant culture. Heading southwest to Ranthambore National Park the lush landscape is speckled with women pristinely dressed in saris of every colour imaginable, a photographers dream. Cows ew the landscape, as a sacred animal they are highly respected and abundant. When they are in the middle of the road, the cow has the right of way.  Nestled in the Aravali hills, Ranthambore National Park is a haven for both wildlife watchers and adventure seekers. Although only 410km Ranthambores desert ecology has some of the finest wildlife sightings India has to offer. Our trip included a full day of viewing, with both morning and afternoon excursions. We were lucky enough to spot a number of tiger and wild boar; other animals present include leopard, chital, hyena, jackal and sloth. Up close tigers present an imposing sight, much larger then I had expected and much more beautiful. Our driver's skill allowed for some great photographs and lasting memories.
Next stop on our journey was Jaipur, named after Sawai Jai Singh II, the warrior and astronomer sovereign who founded the city. Amber Fort, a beautiful complex of palaces, halls, pavilions, gardens and temples, was built by Raja Man Singh over a period of two centuries. Approachable only via a steep path, we opted for the elephant option and enjoyed the once in a lifetime experience of riding an elephant into an Indian Fort. The City Palace, which boasts the title of former royal residence, was built in the centre of the old city. Its carved arches are supported by grey-white marble columns with ornate floral motifs in gold and coloured stones. Guarding the entrance are two elephants carved entirely from marble. Guides of the city are known as retainers and are descendants of families who have served generations of rulers.
After an amazing trip back in time we headed directly west to the Kingdom of Jodhpur.  Ruled by the powerful Rathores, Johdpur's Mehrangarh Fort is the setting of Kipling's The Jungle Book. Looking down on the city from the hill provides a beautiful and vast perspective. The dominant white roofs are offset by blue houses, the deeper the shade of blue the more religious the family. 
Driving through the remote and peaceful Aravali Range our next destination was the Jain temple known as Ranakpur Temple. Jainism prescribes to a path of non violence toward all living beings. Local holy families in rotation care for the temple. Carvings that today would not exist, simply because of the time and effort taken to create such intricacy, are abundant in this ornate place of worship.
The last stop on our journey was Udiapur. The city's palace is on the lovely Lake Pichola, built during the 18th century, the palace is one of the largest palace complexes in the world. Attracting tourists from all over the globe, the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed here in 1983. This is where our driver delivered us to the Udiapur airport to re connect to Delhi for our return home.
Our trip lasted twelve days and took us all around North India. We were fortunate enough have our expectations exceeded by Worldwide Quest and to fly first class on Jet Airways, experiencing amazing food and service. We stayed in some top end hotels and travelled in comfort, but India is not only for those with a large budget. The country is easy to navigate on a shoestring and is an affordable place to purchase quality goods, and have them shipped home. As we did with our kitchen blinds literally saving us thousands of dollars. India is a country on the rise with immense growth predicted for the hospitability industry, contributing to increased employment and other opportunities. Being a frequent traveller, I experience most destinations alone. Travelling alone has its benefits but travelling with someone you love cannot be beat.

Bart Card is the food and travel editor.

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