The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Howzat, IN­DIA!

Tigers, the Taj Ma­hal and top cricket?

- By Michaela Strachan

FROM the Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val in Ja­pan, where I had been film­ing for the BBC, I headed straight to In­dia for a two-week hol­i­day. The con­trast could not have been greater. Tokyo is for­mal, clean and struc­tured; Delhi is noisy, colour­ful and chaotic.

This was a trip that was in­spired by cricket. My son Ol­lie is pas­sion­ate about the sport and loves the In­dian Pre­mier League (IPL).

We had talked about how great it would be to one day go to In­dia and watch a match. Then my part­ner Nick and I came across the travel com­pany Ex­plore. Among its itin­er­ar­ies was an en­tic­ing trip called Fam­ily Taj, Tigers And Palaces, which hap­pened to co­in­cide with the IPL sea­son and the Easter hol­i­days. Per­fect.

Delhi is a bustling, in­tense city, and be­fore we met the rest of the Ex­plore group mem­bers, we had a cou­ple of days on our own.

We went on a food tour and also took a cy­cle tour of Old Delhi. Both took us to places that we would never have ex­plored by our­selves and made us sam­ple some dishes we never would have been brave enough to try.

Old Delhi is par­tic­u­larly noisy and chaotic and was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence. But we sur­vived the first two days with­out get­ting ‘Delhi belly’ from street food, and even man­aged to stay safe on our bi­cy­cles among the hoot­ing cars, rick­shaws, mo­tor­bikes and street dogs.

We started our Ex­plore tour on day three. Any reser­va­tions we had about go­ing on an or­gan­ised trip with other fam­i­lies soon van­ished as we re­alised we were all go­ing to gel well. There were four fam­i­lies on the trip – 15 peo­ple al­to­gether – and the chil­dren were all of a sim­i­lar age to Ol­lie. We’ve never been on an or­gan­ised group tour be­fore but I would def­i­nitely rec­om­mend it, es­pe­cially for a trip like this.

Our first out­ing was a whistlesto­p tour of Delhi. There is so much his­tory to take in and so many mon­u­ments to ad­mire, but the one that stood out for me was the Qutb Mi­nar com­plex, thought to be the first Mus­lim site in In­dia, dat­ing back to the 11th Cen­tury.

The most mem­o­rable sight was the Jain monk. Jain­ism is a fas­ci­nat­ing re­li­gion – fol­low­ers are against vi­o­lence to all liv­ing things, so they are vege­tar­i­ans. Strict fol­low­ers also limit the amount of dairy prod­ucts they eat and avoid root veg­eta­bles. Some monks even wan­der around com­pletely naked. As our amaz­ing guide Sarob said: ‘If you see a naked man in Delhi on his own, he’s prob­a­bly a lu­natic – if you see a naked man flanked by two other holy peo­ple pro­tect­ing him, he’s a Jain monk.’

The tour took us to many fas­ci­nat­ing palaces, forts and, of course, the Taj Ma­hal. If you go to In­dia, the Taj is a must-see.

It’s in­cred­i­bly im­pres­sive and beau­ti­ful, but I’m afraid I’m in the camp that thinks it’s com­pletely over the top and can’t quite be­lieve that so much money was spent on a burial site.

Is it all just a won­der­fully ro­man­tic love story or was it just a rich bloke with way too much money show­ing off? Some will say I’m a com­plete hea­then, but the more of th­ese shows of wealth I see, the more it con­vinces me of the ab­sur­dity of the hu­man race.

NOT sur­pris­ingly, the high­light of the hol­i­day for us was the wildlife. We stopped at a great bird sanc­tu­ary called Ke­o­ladeo Ghana Na­tional Park and were taken on a bird­watch­ing tour by rick­shaw. It was a re­lief to get away from the con­stant hoot­ing and noise on the roads and into a wildlife sanc­tu­ary. We all en­joyed spot­ting painted storks, spot­ted owlets, lit­tle green bee-eaters and sarus cranes.

Our mo­ment of peace and quiet was in stark con­trast to our next ad­ven­ture – a train ride to Ran­tham­bore. To be fair, it was a lot more pleas­ant than I’d imag­ined, and it took us to the glo­ri­ous Ran­tham­bore Na­tional Park.

I have filmed tigers there twice be­fore and it’s a very spe­cial place. We weren’t for­tu­nate enough to see tigers on our first two drives, al­though we did see plenty of other wildlife, but on our third drive, luck was on our side. Within ten min­utes we spot­ted a male, a fe­male and two cubs near a kill.

I felt hugely priv­i­leged to see four tigers in the wild. Be pre­pared, though: it is a bit of a bun fight in the park. There were 15 other 4X4s and a sa­fari lorry there dur­ing our visit, but once all the ve­hi­cles had se­cured their view­ing spots, things did seem to set­tle down.

The most ex­tra­or­di­nary episode for me was watch­ing a street dog, which had made her way into the re­serve, chal­leng­ing the male tiger for the kill. The dog barked in­ces­santly to try to scare the tiger away so that she could ap­proach the car­cass. Th­ese dogs are a law unto them­selves – they’re re­spected and tol­er­ated, and it seems the tigers

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