Salam Alaykum Wayfarers. It is my pure joy to bring this week's feature to you by a friend of mine of many years, and very close to my heart, alhamdulilah. Sarah is a prolific traveller, and a strong believer in travelling with a purpose. She is a wonderful documentarian of God's great earth, and shares her faith and insight though her popular instagram account, sarah_and_the_city. Sarah has taught me a lot about photography from a young age, even before the widespread usage of smart phones and DSLRs, so stay tuned for photographs from the trip she is kindly sharing (posted below).
A little bit about the Wayfarer
My name is Sarah Chaabo, I live in Sydney but was born in Lebanon. Travelling is my biggest passion. My passport is my most valued possession as I know what a privilege it gives me to see the world Alhamdulillah. I’ve travelled to over 20 countries and my choices for travel vary from history, architecture, landscape and religious interests. I document my adventures through my Instagram, you can find me at @sarah_and_the_city.
What inspired you to travel to this location?
I have always dreamt of travelling to India, it started though the visual pleasures of Bollywood films, then reading ‘Shantaram’, by Gregory David Roberts ( which is my favourite book of all time), but cemented though discovering the history, landscapes and most importantly the diverse people of the country. I wanted to immerse myself in one of the most populated countries on earth and experience everything from praying in the mosques to watching a Hindu procession and eating a vegetarian meal on the floor of a Sikh temple.
Did you use a tour company, if so, which? Would you recommend them?
My sister and I decided to go with a tour group, not only would a tour cover all the places we wanted to visit on the trip but we wanted the safety and security of transport and hotels between cities arranged. We went with SNA tours, I would definitely recommend them. They gave me plenty of time in each city to pursue personal interests and gave us the most amazing hotels and restaurant options (no one got sick, that’s kind of a BIG deal for a tourist in India).
What steps did you take in preparation for this trip?
First things first - you have to arrange for a visa on arrival to India. It’s been made a lot easier in the past few years and all you have to do Is apply online directly and you receive an outcome within 24 hours. I took all the recommended vaccinations a month before departing as well as packed travel meds, a first aid kit and insect repellent just to be prepared.
The main highlights of your trip
Well, I can’t return from India without mentioning the Taj, it honestly is as beautiful as you can imagine - even more! I spent some time wandering the gardens, visited the mosque adjacent and sat down and people watched whilst taking it all in. From the opulence of the Taj to a complete opposite, the other highlight had to be stopping by a village school in rural Rajastan. The students really loved the attention from all of us and practicing their English. It was an example of how important education was in India, even amongst the poorest communities. The government provides free schooling and lunch for all the children to encourage them to stay and complete their schooling. Whilst we were in the Amber fort we watched a Hindu festival procession and performance in the courtyard celebrating the birth of Rama by devotees who had walked from all across Rajasthan to mark in the ceremony.
Your compass would direct us to…
In Delhi I recommend:
- The Jami Masjid in old Delhi - it’s such a beautiful place to marvel at Mughal architecture and people watch. Entry is free but for a small fee you can go up the minaret and are rewarded with sweeping views of Delhi.
- The Nizamuddin Daragh in Old Delhi - it’s a shrine and mosque of a Sufi Saint, and packed with devotees at any given time. There are qawwali performances on a few nights in the week as well.
- The Bahai Lotus temple, Humayuns tomb and gardens, and rickshaw ride though Chandi chawk markets!
- You are in the heart of Rajasthan so take the time appreciate the opulent Raj history and architecture in both the Amber fort with its beautiful views of Jaipur, and the city palace museum in the heart of Jaipur with its extensive collection of textiles and armoury.
- The Hawal mahal and pink city streets are a must to stroll around
- Visit the Jantar Mantar- an ancient astronomical observatory where they measured time and predicted eclipses with the use of equipment and mathematics.
- See the Taj in early morning light, to avoid both the crowds and the overcast sun.
- Wander around the incredible sandstone Agra fort were emperor Shah jahan was imprisoned by his son, and stand in the balcony where he’d look out at his beloved Monument for his wife.
- Catch an opulent Bollywood show, I recommend the Kalakriti show which also tells the love story behind the Taj Mahal.
Tips for halal eating
There’s Halal options all across India even in the western hotels. However, I’d stick to Vegetarian to minimise any risks of getting sick. Hindus and Sikhs are vegetarian so you will not have any trouble with the extensive vegetarian options on offer. Cows are sacred animals in India so avoid asking for beef options if you don’t see it on the menu. In the Muslim areas the most commonly eaten meat is mutton.
Travel safety warnings and cultural considerations
Before I departed many friends told me to ‘be careful’ in light of the rape cases that made the headlines, and that as a fair skinned female id be a particular target. I never felt unsafe once in India, having said that I was in a small group of 12 people. India is a very religious country all three major religious were on display and I think it underpins the behaviour of people with each other. It goes without saying to dress modestly whether you’re a man or woman. I kept an oversize scarf in my bag to save me from having to ‘borrow’ any coveralls from mosques and temples. If you’re going to stop and watch any street performance it’s expected that you tip them, these people’s lively hood is made on the streets by their talents so don’t be stingy.
What was the significance of this trip to you? How has it changed or impacted you?
I absolutely loved India, God willing I will return to discover more about this country. During my brief visit I learnt the value of kindness and community wether one is rich, middle class or poor. India taught me to appreciate the value of public spaces and their capacity to bring people together. What I will remember most about India is how devoted people are to their respective religions. When I would see people stopping by a shrine on the street or ablutions in courtyard pools I was reminded that life should revolve around worship and not the other way around.