“How was your solo trip?” A question friends often ask after my latest adventure.
A few years ago, if you had asked me, I would have said Ethiopia and India were in a tie for the last places I’d visit. Fortunately, fate intervened – Ethiopia and the stone churches of Lalibela were a treasure and India … well, India is a land where humanity presents itself in the most dizzying, creative burst of culture and religions, races and tongues. It’s a place impossible to not be astonished by.
Adventures For Solo Travelers (AFS) is a solo travel experience like none other I’ve found – for starters, it is a family owned business run by the energetic Suzy Davis, who has an almost encyclopedic brain of the world. She and her husband Terry meticulously plan each adventure, and they far surpass the offerings of the typical bland tour company.
This solo trip to India is no exception. It’s summer here and oh-so-very hot, but that’s the best time to see the beasts of the jungle in all their glory. Just when I think Suzy can’t possibly top the last adventure … she amazes me once again. I am writing this poolside from the stunning Oberoi Vanyavils resort next to Ranthambhore National Park, home to about 60 Bengal tigers living in the wild.
But I am jumping ahead.
India is a land where many of the great religions of the world were born and poverty and wealth are intermingled in a way I can barely describe. Yes, it is loud and crowded. Yes, cows and crazy rickshaw drivers bob in and out of traffic so recklessly that I gasp audibly.
While we are tourists, one of the things I love most about AFS trips, is we get multiple times to experience life as close as possible to how Indians live. “Stay together like sticky rice,” says Ajay, our wonderful guide for the solo trip, as he leads us through the crowds at the local train station to catch our ride to Agra. Not only is he funny, his passion for his people shines brightly as he shares the history of the area and so much more with us.
The Taj Mahal – its everything everyone says, and then some! She’s glorious!! An immense mausoleum of white marble that took 21 years to build, she is a love story standing the test of time. The Taj is a jewel from Shah Jahan to his beloved and should not be missed on a solo trip to India. We are whisked through the VIP express lane by passing a long line of thousands of Indian women in their colorful saris waiting for entry. Once in the immense complex – there is a reason why the Taj stays on the seven wonders of the world lists.
I am not sure what the Indian word for “WOW” is … but it is a pretty speech defying moment during this solo trip.
I chuckle at the shy smiles of the colorful sari dressed ladies who want to take photos with us. Out come our cameras for photos when one asked if she could re-tie Cindy’s sari correctly. Fifteen minutes later we were off with an amazing memory to treasure. Later we visited Suzy’s favored animal charity, Wildlife SOS, a sanctuary and hospital for rescued elephants.
Once back in Delhi, Ajay takes care of every need – with strict requirements for in-country flights luggage limits, we are thankful that he has arranged for the bus to carry our bags separately to Jaipur. Someone jokes their bag is pregnant. If that’s possible, mine is having triplets from all the treasures I’ve brought along the way.
There are lots to see in Jaipur “The Pink City.” Amber Fort is the best attraction – a sprawling complex combining both immense fortifications with unexpected beauty and charm in its gardens. We spend an afternoon at an elephant sanctuary known for its TLC – a few brave AFS’ers even joined in washing the elephants. Elephants siphon water in their trunks and spray themselves … and its riders down. I joke this is what happens when the Marriot runs out of water. It was loads of fun and a wonderful way to spend the late afternoon. Oh, a small tip – the hotel spa is a treat. A sublime 90-minute massage was very reasonable.
Next, we are off to see the tigers! Guru, our amazing bus driver weaves us in and out of the Jaipur traffic sometimes with mere inches to spare like the pro driver that he is. Once out of the city, we make it down miles of highway and unpaved roads littered with small villages to our next luxury property.
The insanely beautiful Oberoi Vanyavilas awaits. A five-star luxury resort in every way imaginable, this property is perennially ranked first in the top 25 best small hotels of the world. How Suzy pulled this one off for our solo trip I’ll never know, but I am very glad she did! They call our rooms “a luxury tent”. Throw out your vision of a tent – a lush curtain draped bed, hardwood floors, comfy towels, a clawfoot tub, shower and every amenity possible – this is glamping at its finest! My room even comes complete with a personal peacock who preens and intermittently cries his mating call from dawn until night when I finally drift off to in a dreamy, contented sleep.
And finally what we really came to see on this solo trip – the beautiful beasts of the forest here in Ranthambore National Park. While it is summer here, May is the best time to see tigers as they come out of the jungle looking for water.
An early morning ride rewards us with sightings of a cougar, many deer, monkeys and more. Later we were rewarded for our patience and tolerance of bumpy roads – Arrowhead is a female Bengal tiger about 4 years old. She’s called Arrowhead because of the arrow mark on her left cheek. Today she was napping by a waterhole much to the annoyance of a nearby deer who was really thirsty. I had no idea that deer could talk … stomping her hoof and a sound best described as a sharp bark – this one tried in vain to raise the tiger from her lazy afternoon slumber.
Arrowhead had her first cubs several months ago, but it appears they didn’t survive which is fairly common … other daddy tigers often kill their offspring, protecting their turf. Hence cubs stay with their mom for the first 2-3 years.
In 2005 there were only 26 tigers here. Today thanks to significant education and conservation efforts, they count 60 tigers currently in this park alone. The male tiger has a large territory that overlaps the territories of several females with whom he will mate. Then male tigers pick their ladies and have at it … sometimes up to 40 times a day according to the park rangers. No “honey I’ve got a headache” going on here!
India is full of magic and an enigma. I will leave you with this – if you are thinking about coming to India on a solo trip, my advice is simple – DO IT!
The beauty of AFS is even though many of us are traveling on a solo trip, you are never really alone.
One of the things I love most about my AFS adventures are the great people I meet along the way. Over the past five years, I’ve made new friends all over the country and enjoyed travel experiences that are so much more than “Look at this monument … and now that monument” led by expert guides who clearly approach their work as a J-O-B versus being truly passionate about sharing their country with visitors. Suzy’s passion as a world citizen shines in each one of our trips, and whatever your interests, it’s hard to go wrong with AFS Travelers. – Cherie, Dallas.
If you’re searching for adventure, check out our Upcoming Favorite Exotic Vacations for 2018. If you have questions contact AFStravelers or read more of our travel insurance, Why Group Travel Tours Are A More Fun Way To See The World and see our Solo Trip to Hawaii.