Inside India: The Highlights of an Incredible Country

Beauty in architecture, the thrill of experiencing a new and exciting culture, incredible cuisines and fascinating wildlife, sounds like the perfect travelling experience, don’t you agree?

Few places in the world offer authentic experiences these days. With the world becoming more and more commercialised, you may not feel you’re getting the real deal when visiting new places. After all, you can fly half way around the world and still find a burger chain restaurant you’d thought you’d left behind on your local high street.
Of course, some of us embrace it. And, why not? Home comforts can certainly make travelling more familiar and, well… comfortable.
But, if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, somewhere where you can really feel you’re embracing a new culture… say hello to India.
We’ve recently launched our brand new tour and an exciting new destination, exploring India and its incredible Golden Triangle. And, we’re pretty sure this is one of those tours that will really fuel your wanderlust.
We’ve left no stone unturned when it comes to experiencing the very best of India. From iconic destinations to coming face to face with the majestic tiger, here’s just some of the incredible things you’ll experience on our brand new tour…

The Golden Triangle

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

 
You may have heard of the Golden Triangle in reference to India before, or maybe not if this is your first insight into the country. But, the Golden Triangle is a must. It refers to India’s three most visited cities in the north-west, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and is a major tourist route packed full of fascinating sights.
Jaipur is home to some of Asia’s best Bazaars, a city buzzing with activity, nicknamed the ‘Pink City’ from the hue of its buildings, you’ll certainly want to visit its main attraction, the Amber Fort, just on the outskirts of the city.
The capital of India, Delhi, is a real contrast of old and new, from its turbulent past to its thriving future, it is host to a wealth of fascinating historical monuments as well as modern symbols of the present day such as India Gate and Parliament House.
And Agra, well… Where do we start? Obviously the world famous…

Taj Mahal

The taj Mahal

Topping many bucket lists, a trip to the Taj Mahal is a must when visiting India. A wonder of the world and universally admired, the mausoleum of white marble is a spectacular sight.
Built in Agra between 1631 and 1648, by order of the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his third (and favourite) wife who died during the birth of their 14th child. The iconic building is a true symbol of eternal love and romance.
Easily one of the most photogenic pieces of architecture in the world, you’re probably wondering just when are the best times to visit? Two pieces of advice, early morning and evening. Although, in the morning, your view could be slightly shrouded by mist, but in the evening… expect perfection.
The orange glow of the evening sun, the warm air clearing any lingering residue and the views of the Yamuna River opening up, you don’t have to be an avid photographer to capture the most incredible photos during the golden hours of the evening.
As many as 28 different varieties of semi-precious and precious stone were used to adorn the Taj Mahal, making this more than just a gem on your journey through India, but a truly treasured experience.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

Staying in the city of Agra, there’s more than just the Taj on offer in the former capital city of India. The Agra Fort is a sandstone and marble masterpiece.
It runs along a 2.5km stretch of the Yamuna River and was built as a military fort by Emperor Akbar. It was repurposed as a palace by no other than Shah Jahan, who spent his last years under house arrest there by his own son, Aurangzeb.
Despite being held prisoner following an illness, which saw four of his son’s embroiled in a war of succession, Shah Jahan was given a room with a view, in a tower overlooking the Taj Mahal.
The Shah Burj, as it is known, has an exquisite marble balcony where Shah Jahan spent his final days close to his late wife, overlooking his masterpiece.
If the Taj was the jewel of Agra, Agra Fort certainly shines just as bright. The walls house a number of stunning structures such as the pearl mosque and many hidden rooms, a fantastic experience learning about the grand legacy of the Mughals in India.

Fatehpur Sikri

Panch Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri

Follow the Red Sandstone to Fatehpur Sikri, a small ghost city just west of Agra. Ranking among the most visited spots in India, the city was made the political capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585.
Fatehpur Sikri is considered to be one of the architectural legacies of Akbar, hosting beautiful palaces, halls and mosques.
From the Buland Darwaza, the largest gateway in the world, to the Panch Mahal, a beautiful 5-storey ‘pleasure palace’ used for Emperor Akbar to relax and unwind and to be used for his entertainment.
The top floor offers outstanding panoramic views of the surrounding area and the brilliant architecture within Fatehpur Sikri.
The complex took around 15 years to build and is one of the best instances of Mughal architecture and is now a UNESCO heritage centre.

Ranthambore National Park

Bengal Tiger at Ranthambore National Park

One of India’s most iconic parks, Ranthambore is best known for its population of Bengal tigers. A former hunting ground of the Maharajas of Jaipur, the park now acts as home area for one of India’s most famous conservation projects, Project Tiger.
The project was launched to protect the diminishing population of tigers throughout India. With just 9 tigers in its care at the birth of the project, with the help of more tiger protection schemes around the country, India now boasts an impressive 70% of the world’s tiger population.
The importance of tiger preservation in India is more than stopping a species from going extinct, the tiger also plays a pivotal role in the health and diversity of the ecosystem.
The top predator of the food chain keeps the population of the wild ungulates (hooved mammals such as goats, cows and deer) in check, and maintains the balance between these herbivores and the vegetation that they feed on. If the tigers were to become extinct, the entire system would collapse.
Ranthambore offers more than just a chance to see the tigers up close and personal, but a real insight into India’s wildlife.
India offers one of those once in a lifetime trips of true experiences and creating lasting memories
If you’re ready to indulge in a fantastic Indian extravaganza, take a look at the full itinerary of our India’s Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore tour, here.

Why is Rocamadour so popular?

I’d heard of Rocamadour before and seen many photos. I knew it as the French village that sits on the top of a steep cliff above the River Alzou, but I had no idea what the place would be like until I visited it as part of Leger’s Highlights of Provence and the Dordogne tour.

It was about 10 o’clock when we finished dinner on our first night there and the village was really quiet. From what I could see, there was just one main street through Rocamadour, so I decided to go for a little stroll.
The cobbled walkway looked so lovely, lit up with soft yellow lighting from the hotels and buildings lining the street, so I decided to take a few photographs. There were very few people around but I felt quite safe walking along on my own.

An evening stroll down Rocamadours main street.
An evening stroll down Rocamadours main street.

Dancing in the street

As I set up my tripod, a small group of people appeared, walking towards me from the other side of the archway I was about to photograph. The guy in the threesome was dancing about and leaping into my shot, and as they got closer they asked what I was doing.
Before they got too carried away in their super-fast French chatter, I reached into the depths of my memory for my school-days French and asked “Parlez-vous Anglais?” Luckily for me, they continued in English, asking what I was doing: Why was I in Rocamadour? Why was I taking photos? Where was I going? When I explained that I was with a coach tour, the guy explained that he needed to get to Paris tomorrow and asked me if there was any room on our coach! I explained how, unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to give him a lift, before wishing them bonne nuit and bon voyage!
Before long, another couple appeared from the shadows of the archway. Again, the guy started dancing in front of the camera (what was it with guys and cameras?) and asked me what I was doing.
I had a chat with the couple – an English guy and his French girlfriend who were here visiting her family – before deciding to put my camera away for the night and headed back to my hotel at the end of the street. Who would’ve thought that there would be so many friendly people about at that time of night in the quiet streets of Rocamadour?

Bonjour Rocamadour

In the daylight I got to see the true charm of Rocamadour. I thought it had looked wonderful at night time, but in the day, the village really came to life. It was late April when I visited, so no doubt not as busy as it would be in the height of the summer, but the place had a lovely buzz about it. Gone were the pastel-coloured buildings with brightly-painted shutters that had been a familiar sight in other places on my trip, now replaced by rustic, biscuit-toned stone shops, restaurants, houses and hotels along the cobbled street.

Rocamadour's main street.
Rocamadour’s main street.

As I walked down the pedestrianised main street, the smell of garlic floated through the air and I could hear the bells of the little train which runs up and down the street, carrying visitors through the lovely place. The lane was lined with wonderful, little shops selling handmade jewellery, arts and crafts, soaps, pastries, chocolate, foie gras (quite popular in this area) and wine, with two or three stone archways – the main gateways being the Porte du Figuier (right next to our hotel) and the Porte Salmon.
Le Petit Train de Rocamadour.
Le Petit Train de Rocamadour.

Shopping in Rocamadour.
Shopping in Rocamadour.
Shopping in Rocamadour.
Further down the street, stone pots displaying colourful flowers lined the walkway and there was a sweet smell, which I later discovered was the small, white flower, Stephanotis, which I’d seen in planters outside a couple of the restaurants. The shop owners and locals were very friendly and welcoming. In one shop, the owner asked me to speak to her in English for a while so that she could practice her language skills!
Flower pots lined the street.

A place of history

During my trip, I learnt that the Rocamadour is known for its historical monuments and the village attracts pilgrims from many countries each year. There are many stories surrounding the origin of the name of the village and a lot of history about the chapels, abbeys and churches there. I could see a large, stone tower high above the main street, and so decided to walk up the stone steps (apparently, climbed by pilgrims on their knees even today) for a closer look. It was quite a climb but there were some excellent views along the way. Along Rocamadour’s main street I’d passed a sign for the ‘Ascenseur de Rocamadour’, the lift which would’ve taken me to the top, but I thought I’d get better views by walking. I was right.

Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Rocamadour.
Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Rocamadour.

Once through the buildings and courtyards of the château and the chapels, I entered a shady path, zig-zagging its way through the trees, known as the ‘Stations of the Cross’. The path was quite steep up to the château at the top, and at each turn there was a frieze depicting a Station of the Cross.
The zig-zagging path of Stations of the Cross.
The zig-zagging path of Stations of the Cross.

The 8th Station of the Cross.
The 8th Station of the Cross.

The best view in the village

At the top of the hill I entered the château (you need two 1 Euro coins to get through the turnstile) and walked up the stone steps for some magnificent views over the village. The battlements of the château were really narrow and jutted out over a drop of a few hundred feet – not too good if you don’t like heights! Despite my legs feeling like jelly, it was from there that I got a real sense of the size and layout of the village. I could see our hotel and the coach park amongst the two rows of terracotta rooftops and excellent views over the Alzou Valley and of the churches and village below. The climb had definitely been worth it.

Excellent views over Rocamadour.
Excellent views over Rocamadour.

Au Revoir, Rocamadour

The sun was shining in Rocamadour on the morning our party left, lighting up the hillside and the creamy stone of the churches. I popped into the hotel’s restaurant to grab a croissant and jus d’orange before heading back into the street which was very quiet for 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. Three or four small cats stretched out on the street enjoying the morning sunshine as I exchanged a few cheery bonjours with the handful of shop owners opening their shutters.
Main street in Rocamadour.
Whether it’s for its religious connections, historical significance, charming architecture or just the impressive views, it’s not hard to see why Rocamadour is France’s second most visited site after the impressive Mont St. Michel in Normandy. For me, it was just a lovely place to visit, a great little rustic French village where you can pass a few leisurely hours amongst some fantastic scenery and friendly locals.

Au Revoir, Rocamadour.
Au Revoir, Rocamadour.

But now it was time for me to head out on the winding streets above the lovely village of Rocamadour once more, for the next leg of my Highlights of Provence and the Dordogne tour.
Have you been to Rocamadour? Share your stories with us in the comments below.