Greaves values the feedback of clients who have
travelled with us to India. Graham Swift, who visited Northern
India with his wife in March, shares the highlights of his
Himalayan adventures and time spent visiting the Golden Temple, the
centre of Sikh pilgrimages.
1. Was this your first holiday to India? If
not, where else had you been previously?
This was our fourth holiday to India - and despite
the fact that we returned on Sunday, we are already planning our
fifth trip. Our first visit was to the 'Golden Triangle' the
classic Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur and Agra itinerary, on to which we
added a trip to Ranthambore, where we tried to view tigers. A great
introduction to the country. The second trip was to Kerala where we
spent some time cruising the backwaters in a houseboat. On our
third trip we headed back to Delhi and went across to Varanasi and
then down to the game reserves of Bandhavgarh and Kanha as on the
first trip to Ranthambore all we had managed to see was a lonely
tiger paw print. This time we had 13 tiger sightings, five all in
one go from the back of an elephant. The elephant safari was
marvellous - they go straight into the forest and seem to have a
level of understanding with the tigers, so much so that the tigers
let them get really close. We had a bit of a nasty moment when as
our elephant turned to leave, one of the tigers got to its feet and
started stalking after us. It was only after the elephant swung
back and fixed it with a menacing look that the tiger sat down and
2. What made you decide on choosing this
particular tour of Northern India?
We hadn't been to this part of India before and
wanted to see the north of the country. Who wouldn't want ot go on
3. You started your trip to India in Delhi.
As the bustling modern capital of India, what were your impressions
of the city?
Delhi is a fascinating city - it comes in two halves:
the old and the new. What is particularly interesting is the way
the British planned New Delhi, creating wide open avenues and a
tremendous feeling of space. We found that the poverty was a little
more obvious in Delhi, as in Mumbai, than elsewhere, but this is
probably only because everything is much more concentrated. We
stayed at the Imperial Hotel, which was wonderful - the food there
was great, especially the breakfast buffet and one evening we ate
in the Spice Route restaurant, whose Indian food was amazing. We
had a long chat to the chef and at the end of the meal we were
presented with a beautiful carved wooden box filled with spices -
that was a really lovely touch.
Temple at Amritsar © F9Photos, Shutterstock.com
4. After Delhi, you headed north to Amritsar.
Can you tell us a little about your visit to the temple, it
is the most visited building in India, with over 100,000 visitors a
day? Did you manage to carry the shrine in the Palki
The six-hour train journey is a must - travelling
first class is a real Indian experience, but not much better than
being in the guard's car on a British train. Once we arrived in
Amritsar we visited the Golden Temple twice, once in the morning
and once in the evening when the whole temple is flood lit and the
lights shimmering off the hundreds of kilos of gold that
cover the temple is simply stunning. We watched the Palki Ceremony
from a distance - you really need to be a Sikh to get involved.
Despite the fact that 100,000 people visit the temple in a day, it
is the focus of many Sikh pilgrimages, when we arrived in the
evening there were only a few thousand people in the queue, but it
moves quickly and didn't take us very long to get in. Once we were
in, the temple is large enough that you never feel too crowded and
one can walk around freely with head covered and bare feet
across the cool, spotlessly clean marble floors.
What was really remarkable was the fact that they
feed 10,000 people a day and the process through which they
go is very impressive. There is a staple of rice, dal
(lentils) and aloo (potatoes) that are ladled onto tin plates -
once finished there is an elaborate, and extremely noisy system of
cleaning the plates by hurling them around the room and
banging them on cauldrons to clean them. All the water bowls are
washed using sand. The people they feed are not just the poor but
everyone from those in need to local doctors, lawyers and
5. Amritsar is not just about the Golden Temple, what
else did you do or see in the city?
Outside of the Golden Temple and the site of the 1919
Jallianwala Bagh massacre there isn't much to see in Amritsar. When
we visited the site of the massacre we felt that the guide had a
somewhat revisionist agenda and that his views were being foisted
on us. However, we received several requests for photographs with
the locals and their children, a warm and friendly atmosphere
OPIS Zagreb, Shutterstock.com
6. Following Amritsar you drove up to Dharamsala - that
must have been an incredibly beautiful and winding drive into the
mountains. How would you describe your Himalayan
The road that leads up to Dharamasala is long and winding
pushing through dramatic scenery with monasteries plugged, almost
impossibly, into the sides of the mountains. Slowly, we snaked up
through the foothills into the mountains on increasingly sharp
roads. Our driver was cool and collected and not phased by the
chaotic traffic that was the same as in Delhi, but with steep drops
on one side of the road.
We stayed at the Chonor House hotel, which was gorgeous. Each of
the rooms is individually themed and decorated in a Tibetan style -
we stayed in the Birds of Tibet Room. In the evening you can sit
out on a lovely terrace with a gin and tonic listening to the
chanting coming from the monastery near by, mingled with the chorus
of the local dogs. The food has a strong Tibetan influence and was
delicious, although a Tibetan recipe book might be a little
We had a guide to take us around the monasteries, the most
impressive of which was the main Tibetan monastery next door to the
Dalai Lama's house. We were able to go inside and look around,
however, what struck us is that the monks spend all their time
praying and providing a focal point for Tibetan Buddhism in exile
and drawing attention to its plight, but we did feel that the monks
could do more for the local community.
7. Between Dharamsala and Taragarh you visited several
Buddhist monasteries, which was the most impressive?
The most impressive monastery was definitely the main one in
Dharamsala, next to the Dalai Lama's House. We were really
impressed though by the ruined fort at Kangra, we were told that
the surrounding mountains and cliffs were levelled by hand to make
Kangra Fort even more secure and imposing.
Wansford Photo, Shutterstock.com
8. In Pragpur and Shimla, how did you spend your time?
How was the mountain railway?
We loved Pragpur, we stayed at The Judge's Court - a wonderful
boutique hotel that was run by the Grandson of the original judge,
the first to have received a knighthood for his services in India.
There wasn't much to do in the area, a big river, a couple of
temples, but the real joy was the village, just five minutes walk
away through the hotel's garden that was clean and simple and
extremely atmospheric. In fact the whole area was great and an
idyllic climate, you can understand why the British moved into the
Himalayan foothills during the hot summer months.
We took the 'Toy Train' at Shimla, a narrow gauge railway
engineered by the British and snaking along the sides of mountains,
over viaducts and through many tunnels. A remarkable feat of
engineering. This isn't just a tourist train, it is used by locals
and visitors alike and takes people to the refreshing cool of the
British summer retreat of Kandaghat. Shimla itself is Little
Britain in the sub-continent - the streets and shops wouldn't look
out of place in a English market town! We had a mixed tour of the
Gaiety Theatre, which ended up with a very talkative guide
accidentally locking the three of us in one of the rooms at the top
of the building, at which he exclaimed "Problematical I am
9. Where did you tend to eat, did you eat in the hotels
or did you explore what was on offer in the cities and which was
your most memorable meal?
We tended to eat in hotels, preferring to err on the side of
caution than risk picking up a bug. Overall the food was fabulous,
we love Indian food anyway so the whole trip was a real treat.
10. If one experience will stick in your mind from your
holiday to India, which would it be?
The experience that would have to stick in our mind was walking
into the Golden Temple at Amritsar at night - the gold of the
temple, offset by the clean white marble of the buildings that
surround the lake is extraordinarily powerful. I'm not a religious
man, but it was awe-inspiring and we felt incredibly moved.
11. Was this your first time travelling with Greaves
India? Would you travel with them again?
This was our third trip with Greaves to India and we would
definitely use them again. They have this amazing understanding of
India and how the country works. Whatever you need is made
available and they really work on all the little things that really
make a holiday - the guides were excellent, the drivers reliable,
the food and hotel recommendations safe and and luxurious, they are
even able to help you jump the long immigration lines at passport
control. We just didn't have to worry about anything when we were
away - we could just concentrate on enjoying the holiday and all
that India has to offer.
You can find the Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and Agra tour in our
itinerary; Jewels of