In Love With India—And The Hassle-Free Way To Explore The Country
For Loralee Soong, co-founder of the SOFA Design Institute, travel holds the allure of walking into the unknown. “I always like going to a place that I’ve never been to, so I like experiencing new things, discovering new places,” she says.
The Ghats of Varanasi
And what could be more unknown than India? “We did the Golden Triangle so that’s Delhi, Agra for Taj Mahal, and Jaipur. We landed in Delhi and then we also visited the Ganges River in Varanasi, the holy river of India,” she says. “This was January last year. The weather was actually very pleasant.”
The majestic Taj Mahal
Soong had always wanted to go to India to see the Taj Mahal. She didn’t expect to fall in love with the country. “I didn’t expect my husband to love India. I enjoyed planning the trip as much as the trip itself, so I think in India, as long as you plan the trip properly, it’s really the most amazing place. For me, it’s one of the countries that have—I mean, the culture is very rich, it’s so colorful, from the food to shopping is also really interesting, the handicrafts, the fabrics, the jewelry. And just seeing the everyday life of the people there, it’s just so different and your senses are all heightened being there,” she says.
For Soong, part of the fun of travel is the planning for it. “I always plan our own itinerary. I was recommended the most amazing travel books. It’s called the Love Travel Guide and it’s only made for India, and they have a Love Travel Guide (by Fiona Caulfield) for the top destinations in India. They had one for Delhi, they had one for Jaipur, and for other places in India. I booked everything, from the taxi driver to the rickshaw driver, the restaurants were all planned, so I think it was less harassing for us because we didn’t have to negotiate or haggle with any of the vendors there,” she says.
First on the itinerary was Delhi, India’s capital. Inhabited since 6 BC, Delhi has a colorful history of housing different empires and being raided, destroyed, and rebuilt throughout the centuries. Today, it is a bustling metropolis, one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities in India, a city where history meets modernity. “We explored the old town, we had a rickshaw tour around the old city,” she says.
From Delhi, they went on a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Agra, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is famous for its Mughal-era buildings, which include the Taj Mahal. “Culturally, it’s just so rich,” she says. “The cleaning ladies in Agra, I took a photo of them, they were wearing their colorful saris, wearing all their colorful jewelry to work as cleaning ladies,” she says.
Street food in Jaipur
They relied on local guides a lot during their trip, all pre-booked through suggestions in the travel guide. This, Soong emphasizes, was what took away a lot of potential stress from the trip. “In Jaipur, we went on a street food tour with a recommended guide as well,” she says. “ The food was amazing. Even the vegetarian meals were pretty good.”
lounge at the Samode Palace
It is Jaipur that Soong waxes poetic the most about. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan in Northern India, and is the gateway to many tourist spots in the area. It gets its nickname “Pink City” from the time the city was painted pink to welcome Britain’s Queen Victoria and Prince Edward VII. “In Jaipur, we stayed in a beautiful place—these are old apartments of Indian royalty that they converted into boutique hotels,” she says.
The Soongs riding an elephant
They also went on an elephant safari in the Northern Indian countryside. “We stayed in this beautiful hotel in the countryside of Jaipur, and then one of the managers was nice enough to take us around their village,” she says. “He took us around the village. He even introduced us to his family.”
India, she says, may not be for everyone, but if you plan properly, there’s a bigger chance that you will have an enjoyable experience. “India, it’s either you love it or you loathe it. I heard so many people say that they didn’t enjoy India, but for some reason, my husband and I just loved it. I guess the culture is very welcoming,” she says. “I think that as long as you plan your trip well, you can really enjoy the place. It’s just so colorful.”
A longer version of this article was published in Metro Society’s May 2016 issue