By PHILIP JOHN SIOW

Visiting a foreign country has always been exciting and adventurous, no matter if you’re young or a senior citizen (which I happen to be). My regular group of friends decided to take a holiday in the first quarter of this year and we chose to visit the Golden Triangle in north India, and included Srinagar and Kashmir.

We received numerous cautionary advice but we shrugged them off. Being a part of a touring group, you just need to adapt to the company. In our case, it was just that. We shared our light moments, laughter, problems and the solutions to them, and so in this atmosphere we toured New Delhi, Srinagar, Jaipur and Agra.

We mainly coach-toured the vibrant capital city of New Delhi and we rode along the broad avenues, and snapped shots of grand imperial buildings. Iconic monuments remembering great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru stood out. The massive white Government buildings by the former British rulers seemed like the huge old buildings and colonial mansions still standing in Seremban, where I live.

Our next destination was the famous town of Srinagar in Kashmir. Our flight took us only 90 minutes. Approaching its airport, we were presented with an exquisite view of ice-capped mountains. For us folks from a tropical country, these white mountaintops seemed like a wonderland.

Even though it was early summer, the nights were very cold. Here we were driven to Dal Lake, famous for its charming houseboats which are as high as a single-storey shoplot. They are fully carpeted and attractively curtained. All modern amenities were available, which made for a comfortable stay.

Houseboats that double up as shops on Dal Lake. Photo: Philip John Siow

Houseboats that double up as shops on Dal Lake.

The writer's wife Ann relaxing in the hall of their houseboat.

The writer’s wife Ann relaxing in the hall of their houseboat.

Our butler Yusoff provided very good service. All meals were served and our cook prepared for us Kashmiri dinners which were not too spicy. The local tea and coffee had their own distinctive flavours, different from our Highland tea or Ipoh coffee. All the same, we enjoyed them all, and it was a memorable stay.

Locals who live around Dal Lake use wooden boats to get around.

Tourists are transported around in shikara, fairly big boats which can accommodate four people at a time. Shikara are decorated and cushioned for the comfort of their passengers. It only took one expert oarsman to row the shikara. To avoid polluting the clean lake, only a few small outboard motors were seen in use.

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, was our next stop. It is a popular tourist destination. Top of the list is the exquisite Red Fort, a former palace showcasing the grandeur of the high life and power of the Maharajas.

We rode on well-trained elephants from the foothill to the fort on top of the commanding hill. All places of interest are commercialised, very unlike the slower and calmer Srinagar where Islamic lifestyle prevails. The evening call to prayer from a high minaret of a nearby Masjid reminded us of home.

Writer and wife riding an elephant to the hilltop of the Red Fort in Jaipur.

Writer and wife riding an elephant to the hilltop of the Red Fort in Jaipur.

The last destination in our tour was the heritage city of Agra. The world-renowned Taj Mahal needs no introduction. We were told to visit this gorgeous monument early in the morning. Soon after we arrived, numerous foreign and local tourists joined the queue to view this splendid mausoleum built especially for the beautiful Maharani Mumtaz. Maharaja Shah Jahan was later interred here lying beside his Maharani. It is a Unesco Heritage site and certainly deserves this high status.

Visiting tourists spots is always a highlight of any tour. But surely travel is something more than sightseeing? I believe that our tour gave us a chance to extend our hands in friendship and to act as minor ambassadors of our country.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.


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