I first went to India on one of those package tours where you stay in a tourist class hotel, get ferried to the sights in a coach, and your only contact with the people is pushing through the beggars and hawkers. I hated it, but knew it was the bubble we were wrapped in that caused it. I went to Goa a while later, and that was delightful. I’m vegetarian, and eating in India is bliss.
I went back more than ten years later and had a wonderful trip. The Adventure Company uses local businesses – hotels and tour arrangers – to provide its customers with a more natural experience. Our trip started with delays in Bahrain and Muscat, Oman; we couldn’t get to Delhi due to fog there. We arrived in India two days into our holiday, and should have taken a train to our first national park the night before. They rebooked us on that night’s train – not easy on what was now Christmas Eve – and we travelled third class but it was better than our first night on the floor of Bahrain airport. We arrived at the national park and went straight off looking for tigers!
We visited five national parks as well as temples and castles. I had been to Agra and Fatephur Sikri on my first trip, but the magic was just as enveloping on this trip – maybe more so as I didn’t find it so hot, being acclimatised (and it was winter). These castles stayed in my memory, though, and influenced my books.
The best thing was the wildlife. I’m keen on birds, and two of us had our heads together with our guide to identify them. But all the animals were great – especially the tigers. The system in these national parks is that a number given to your jeep at the park entrance; if a tiger is spotted, you congregate at the place nearest the spot and take your turn to ride an elephant (four per elephant usually) over to where the tiger is. The intention is not to stress the tiger too much. It’s a balance between preserving the wildlife and financing the locals, yet giving visitors the excitement they seek. Sometimes the tiger leaves before your turn arrives. That’s life.
I could talk a lot about ecotourism, so feel free to talk about it in the comments.