India’s culture was like nothing we had experienced before. India is a country with many diverse customs, and any visitor traveling to India will be overwhelmed but also wowed. India is full of color, unique scents, and many sounds. It has diverse cultures, monuments, landscapes and places to explore. It is a land of surprises, delights and rich in heritage.
We experienced much of India’s culture in the state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan is the land of Rajas, Maharajas, and camels. In the past, some of India’s wealthiest called Rajasthan home. Located in Rajasthan are wonderful monuments and haveli’s (mansions) showcasing the elaborate lifestyles of the rulers of India’s culture-rich past. The route that connected the East to the West, the Silk Road, traveled through Rajasthan.
An India Cultural Tour
To truly experience India’s culture especially in Rajasthan, you have to do more than visit the monuments and temples that attract so many visitors to India. You need to visit small towns, watch artisans at work, and witness the light in the eyes of the local children. You need to stay in places that hold so much of India’s history such as palaces and haveli’s that were once home to the royal families. Experiences like these are how you get up close and personal with a real feel for the culture.
Doing all of this takes someone who has the connections to put together a custom itinerary for your travels. We feel we experienced India’s culture by letting India Heritage and Cultural Tours create a custom program for us. We met with the owner, KV Singh and had a fascinating discussion about India and its culture. Nothing is off limits when talking with KV, which was refreshing. He arranged our India culture tour complete with hotels and a driver.
Khandela with its Beautiful Bazaars
We began our cultural tour with a visit to the 2000-year-old city of Khandela. Khandela is a market town that services nearby villages. It is different than many of the other Indian villages that we visited. It is well organized, clean and welcoming. We toured the hustling and bustling bazaars of Khandela with a local guide who spoke English. The locals here let us shop and did not pressure us to buy, something quite different from our other experiences in India. Like many cities in the area, there is a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Christians living together amicably.
Along the way, we stopped at a family business of pottery makers. Since the Light Festival was only a week away, they were busy making all sorts of things in preparation. It was amazing to see how fast they crafted the pottery and then painted it.
We had lunch at Castle Khandela. The castle has a royal feel and ambiance to it. It’s been in the owners family for eighteen generations. We toured some of the guest rooms, and each room was spacious and different from the other. Throughout the castle were many antiques on display. We requested a no dairy or meat meal, and they graciously accommodated us. We enjoyed a traditional vegan Indian lunch.
India Heritage and Cultural Tours also put together a Jeep safari ride for us. We traveled through very small villages and hamlets. In one village, we met some kids playing a game with an old tire. We asked them to show us how they played the game and their wide grins said everything. After the demonstration, they invited us to visit their home to see how they lived. They were such a happy family. The family; mom, dad, and three children lived next to one of the village wells. They shared their home with an ox, a cow, and several goats.
Visiting a Working Farm
We were also able to visit a working farm and a stepwell that the owner of the Castle Khandela owns. The farm had a caretaker. At night, the caretaker would sleep on a raised platform in the middle of the farm field. By sleeping on the platform, he could shew away cows that wandered in to try to eat the crops growing there.
Also on this jeep tour, just outside a small village, we came across these ruins. They were memorials to the Indian husbands of past who died along with their wife/wives who committed Sati (burning of the widow). When the male died, cremation took place along with his wives. There were plaques on the memorials representing the husband and each number of wives. The practice of Sati was banned when the British colonized India in 1840.
A Night in a Haveli and Dinner with a Local Family
We stayed at Khandela Haveli in Jaipur. The haveli is amazing. It’s a very authentic haveli set on a quiet side road with a lovely front garden. KV, the owner of India Heritage and Cultural Tours owns this hotel. He proudly displays antiques and pictures of his royal family past.
We finished our first day of this tour with a dinner at KV’s home. His whole family was there, wife, children, grandchildren, mother of his daughter-in-law. He said, “This is a frequent sight in our home.” It was a real treat to share a typical family get-together and meal with KV. We enjoyed getting to know all of the family.
A Visit to a Local School
The next day we were able to experience India’s culture in a very different way. We visited a local school in Jaipur. The school had children of all ages from Kindergarten through high school. The children were eager to show us what they were learning. They also seemed very proud to have westerners visiting their school. The school is a private school, but unlike most private schools, this one did not have mandatory fees. If the family could not afford it, they still could attend. We helped distribute a mid-morning snack of bananas while we were there.
Phool Mahl Palace
The next day we visited Phool Mahl Palace in central Rajasthan. Hotel Phool Mahal Palace has a beautiful location. The imposing Kishangarh Fort with its 17th-century moat sets behind the palace, while it faces the vast rainfed Gundalao Lake. They proudly display their royal family heirlooms throughout the palace. Visiting this palace was also a real treat. We again enjoyed a typical, delicious India lunch here.
The Sacred city of Pushkar
From there we were on to the city of Pushkar. We were now in the northeastern part of Rajasthan. Pushkar, with its many temples, is located on Pushkar Lake. It is a sacred Hindu site with 52 stone staircases. The town’s temples include the 14th-century Jagatpita Brahma Mandir, dedicated to the god of creation. Legend has it that the tears of Lord Shiva formed Pushkar Lake after the death of his wife. Pushkar is considered very sacred, and thus meat and egg consumption is forbidden in the city.
While in Pushkar we visited the sacred waters of the Temple at the Gau Ghat. There, we said a traditional Hindi prayer for our family. Next, we visited the 14-century, Brahma Temple. The temple made of marble and stone slabs has a distinct red pinnacle. Brahma Temple is one of the few existing temples dedicated to the Hindu creator/god Brahma.
On this night, we stayed at the Hotel Castle Kalwar owned by Mandhata Singh, a highly decorated former General of the Indian Army. The castle located in Kalwar, a small village just outside of Jaipur is a destination in itself. Unlike Jaipur, it is very quiet and tranquil at Castle Kalwar. One morning, Keith enjoyed a cup of Chai in the garden as he listened to parrots squawk, saw peacocks dance, pigeons feed and watched birds forage for food. The biggest treat here was having dinner with the general. Our conversations were fascinating. Keith and the General talked about some of the US bases that both were on during their military careers. We always say that the highlight of travel is getting to know the local people, and this was one of those times.
The Serene and Stunning Gandharva Retreat
On the last day of our tour, we went to the Gandharva Retreat. It is a luxury resort adjacent to the Sariska National Park, also in Rajasthan. The retreat, nestled amongst grasslands, dry deciduous forests, and rocky landscapes is peaceful. Dr. Anu Mehrotra was our hostess for the day. Besides owning the resort with her husband, she is a professor of Buddhism at the University in Delhi. Her chef prepared the most amazing vegan lunch for us. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with Anu, sharing our stories and of course, like all parents, talking about our children.
The retreat sprawls over 13 acres, has six large independent cottages, that are about 1000 sq ft in size. Each cottage has a dressing room, en-suite bathroom, a patio, and a private garden. Three of the cottages have private plunge pools. And all are surrounded by a serene and stunning landscape. Unfortunately, we did not get to stay the night here, but it is on our bucket list for a return trip to India.
Exploring India’s Culture
India’s culture traces its heritage back thousands of years. This unique country has witnessed countless prosperous episodes of history, and each leaving their mark. Through an India cultural tour, one can observe the legacy of the past by exploring the splendid forts, grand haveli’s and of course, the temples. India Heritage & Culture Tours offers tours that provide an unsurpassed and unique India experience. They have more than three decades of experience in heritage and cultural tourism. And most likely you’d get to meet the owner KV and have a discussion about India and all she has to offer.
For more of what India has to offer, check out Experience Indias Golden Triangle for the First Time
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Watch this short video of highlights of the trip