Words and images by Libby Cameron
It’s very easy to look at photos of India, its landscapes, people and it’s landmarks – the Taj Mahal for example, and be struck by the beauty of the image. But an image is insufficient preparation for the reality. India is so much more beautiful, more magnificent and more stimulating to the senses than one gleans from any image. To stand close to the Taj Mahal, its glorious white marble set with semi-precious stones, and to take in the exquisite detail of both its exterior and interior, is an uplifting emotional experience.
So many times in India a traveller becomes quite overwhelmed by the physical beauty, and the incredible detail depicted on everyday items, interior spaces and adorning famous public buildings.
India is indeed heaven for the senses. The procession of everyday life, drab perhaps in other places, is lifted by the spirit and vibrance Indian people express – from the colourful saris worn by the women, to the traditional turbans men expertly wind atop their heads.
Then there are the flowers…Indians are passionate about flowers.
A visitor to the early morning flower markets in Delhi, where family groups busily and expertly thread large piles of stemless flowers like marigolds onto long strings, is an impressive sight for the garden traveller. They have to be quick – the vegetable markets take over the space at 9am. Flower-threading must be packed up and gone, children sent to school – it’s a race to get it done!
But where and how are the flowers, particularly marigolds, grown in such large quantities? I was rewarded when travelling by train to the north, as I saw fields of bright yellow beside the tracks. The flowers are grown for quantity, stems not needed, and harvested regularly to bring on a maximum yield of happy yellow blooms.
Fresh flowers are an important part of Indian life. They are used to decorate homes and temples but also commonly at the foot of the stairs or in hallways at every hotel. At the haveli, a traditional Indian building where we stayed there were bowls, usually made of brass or white marble, filled with bright coloured floating petals. We were often showered from above with rose petals as we walked into the entrance foyer.
As in so many eastern countries, traditional garden design is symmetrical, with long narrow water channels, and simple fountains. Patterned paving, trees and geometric flower beds lend these gardens a very restful feel and provide a cool retreat from the searing subcontinental heat.
But there is nothing restful about the Mughal Gardens of the Presidential Palace, Rashtrapati Bawan, in New Delhi. These spreading gardens are open only for a few weeks each year. Every plant is primed to be in perfect form and flower at that time. Everywhere you turn an explosion of colourful flowers makes you gasp. A circular walled garden lined all the way round with huge single dahlias in an array of red, pinks, yellows and oranges, so tall that the flowers were on my eye level was a stand-out. In the heat of the day the perfume, particularly from the huge rose garden, was an intense sensory treat.
Its impossible to think about India without conjuring up the aromas of the beautifully spicy food. While not partial to hot curries, I love the more subtle flavours of expertly blended spices that flavour milder dishes served with warm, aromatic bread. Gulab Jamun, a warm sticky sweet to finish the meal is yet another sensory reward to be enjoyed. Yummmmm!
Libby Cameron will again return to India next February, and you can join in on the sensory over-load. Head to the Gardens Of India itinerary on the Ross Tours website for more details, or call Ros and Royce at the office on 1300 233 200.
Get a discount on all tours, Access to Expert Advice, A Magazine Every Season, A Free Garden Class Or Workshop, 10% Discount At Nursery Partners, Access Our Online Database And Magazine Archive And Special Events For Members Only