The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Tigers, the Taj Mahal and top cricket?
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