The Taj Mahal: it’s one of the most gorgeous buildings in the world, the icon of India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of the World. But do you know what this architectural marvel was built for, and the love story behind it?
Romeo & Juliet, Cleopatra & Mark Antony, Tristan & Isolde—to these famous tales of love, we must add the no less legendary (and tragic) story of Shah Jahan and his queen Mumtaz Mahal.
We initially posted this story in January 2014, but it still perfectly represents the exhilaration of traveling in India. It is written by Cherie Thiessen, a traveler on one of our Taj Mahal Express tours, and ran in an issue of Senior Living Magazine.
We’re swerving and bumping our way along one of the world’s oldest roads: the historic Silk Route, one of a network of connecting trade routes linking East, South, and Western Asia with Europe and North Africa. We’re only taking this impossibly congested road from Delhi as far as Agra, a mere 240 kilometres, but that will nevertheless take us all day. Here’s what will slow us down:
Cows lying in the middle of the road, nonchalantly munching on garbage. The drivers all manage to veer around them without altering their speed.
Two truckloads full of students, standing cheek-to-jowl in the back as they jerk and jostle to the music spilling out of the front. Every time the vehicles slow, some of the agile youths rappel out of the trucks and swap places, nonchalantly flicking in and out of traffic. Our driver brakes.
Women in rainbow saris balancing bales of chaff the size of smart cars on their heads, the edges of which scratch against our windows.
Vehicles ahead of us abruptly stopping in the middle of the road to enable occupants to pray alongside three-storey Hindu statues whose large eyes eerily track our every move.
A school bus crammed with tidy, uniformed children, barreling down on us on the wrong side of the freeway, forcing our two lanes of traffic to further divide into a very emaciated three. An overloaded fruit truck inching past the school bus so closely that a young arm is able to reach out and grab a banana from the teetering pile.
We wave and the children wave back exuberantly. (more…)
I would never offer a tour that wasn’t a terrific value — that’s the core of our business at Friendly Planet Travel. But there are some tours that are so value-packed, I want to point them out specifically.
I had the opportunity to do just that at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show last month. I named my speech “The Top 10 Affordable Destinations of 2012,” and delivered exactly what I promised. Check out my speech in it’s entirety below.
If you don’t have time to watch the full video, I’ve detailed a few of my favorites, as shared in my speech, below.
Pick #9: Ireland. Like Greece, Ireland has gone through some difficult financial times, but you would never know it from the incredibly friendly and welcoming people you’ll meet when you visit. Ireland has always been a popular destination for Americans, but in the coming years, Ireland is expected to see record numbers of tourists. That’s no surprise. The country is beautiful, with lush, green landscapes; picturesque towns and villages; castles galore; and plenty of pubs where you can mix with the locals, especially since they speak your language.
Pick #6: India. This wild, disorganized country of over a billion people is simply amazing. It has plenty of history and culture to experience and admire. It has an educated, entrepreneurial population that is rushing toward modernity at the speed of light. It has the most gorgeous building I’ve seen, the Taj Mahal, and believe me when I tell you that no picture does this palace justice. That’s how all of India is.
Pick #3: China. Each year, we wait to see if interest in China will finally drop among travelers, but it never does. This is a country that continues to amaze travelers, with its ancient history, gorgeous landscapes, incredibly welcoming people, and, of course, the food. Oh, and did I mention that you can buy an entire wardrobe for pennies on the dollar? Travel to China continues to be a terrific bargain.
Pick #1: Cuba. You might be thinking Cuba is a place that Americans can’t visit. But in the past year, the rules have changed, and a few tour operators are lucky to have been granted one of the new people-to-people licenses, including us. This tropical island is a 50-minute flight from Miami, but until recently, it could just have easily been on Mars. Thanks to a liberalizing of laws, Americans can visit Cuba legally. Visiting Cuba is like taking a trip back to the ’50s, and not just because of the cars. When you visit Cuba, you get to see how people have created a life for themselves with very little money or resources. The music is everywhere, street parties abound, and everyone is welcome to attend. It’s quite an experience.
What places are you planning to visit in 2012? One of these or somewhere different? Let me know here.