Gosh how time flies and although I had hoped to spend some more time chronicling my recent trip to Canada and the US I have now just returned from 2 amazing weeks in India and Thailand!
I just could not wait to share with you all the wonders and delights that India offered us on this first (and what will not be our last) trip to this amazing country.
I have been hesitant to take a trip to India for a range of reasons over the years – crowds, traffic, reports of people getting sick from the food and other things but with careful planning all of this was unfounded for us as we had a week of the most amazing travels through what is known as the golden triangle – New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
We decided when we were looking at dipping our toes into an Indian trip that for the first visit we would do it with our own guides, transfers, first class transportation on the trains and top hotels and we were spoilt as soon as we landed in Delhi.
Adventure World did an amazing job of ensuring that every aspect of this trip was planned, that we had the best English speaking guides and that the sites that we saw in each of the cities that we visited were memorable ones.
We were greeted on arrival and as India is going through an issue with money presently found that we needed to change some cash at the airport before we headed to our hotel because the money changers were all closed and none of the ATM’s had any money in them.
India is attempting to move to a card only society and I think that this will be something that will be very hard for them to achieve as so many of the market stalls and small vendors that we encountered all rely on cash. We did however end up paying in Australian Dollars a few times when they could not take credit cards and that was fine too.
We were quickly whisked out to the airport in our air conditioned van to our first hotel – the Taj Palace. What an absolute delight it was. From the moment that we walked in we were treated like royalty and the rooms, restaurants and amenities are all first class. This is one hotel that we will not soon forget.
We were greeted by the Manager and seated to take us through check in and then escorted to our delightful room and asked which type of refreshment we would like as we settled in for the afternoon and evening. This is how hotel check in should be – respectful, professional and easy.
After settling in we headed down stairs to enjoy a late lunch and then to explore a little of the surrounding area before we had an amazing dinner at the Taj Palace signature restaurant Masala. We chose to dive right in and had the set menu which consisted of 10 incredible dishes that gave us a real sense of authentic Indian Food and the service and the food were sensational.
Then it was an early night so we could be up early to be ready for our full day tour of Delhi that included a range of mosques, temples and an amazing 3 hour tuk tuk ride and walk through the central markets.
I think one of the highlights was the visit to the Sikh temple where each day they feed over 40,000 local people. They have staff and volunteers who work all day to prepare meals for the homeless and the needy so that they can at least get one good meal each day. (This increases to over 50,000 on the weekends!)
We were lucky to get a tour of the kitchen and to see the huge cooking pots and the people making Naan bread for the lunch crowds who were patiently waiting to get into the dinning room. This was such a humbling and incredible site to see and we were touched by the commitment from this community to assist those not as fortunate as them.
Wandering through the markets, enjoying the plethora of sites and smells along the way was a really fabulous experience and one that we really loved. We looking in spice markets, tasted local samosas and experienced fresh brewed chai.
This was a great first day of introducing us to India and we headed home for a quiet night before we were to head on the train the Agra the next day.
After a hearty breakfast filled with some of the local Indian tastes, once again, we were collected from our hotel and headed to the train station for our trip. Our fabulous tour guide accompanied us onto the train and ensured that we were seated in our correct seats (so often people just climb onto the train and sit in whichever seat is free, so this was another reason we used this great company!)
This was a great train journey and allowed us to see some of the country side on the was to Agra and to just sit back and take in the surroundings. This was the fast train which was supposed to take one and a half hours but as it is currently winter in India and there is lots of smog and fog the train trip took 3 hours. Really in the scheme of things this was not bad and we just sat back and enjoyed the trip through little towns along the way took in the sites, that we could see as the fog cleared before safely arriving in Agra.
We were collected at the train station and again whisked off in our private van to our hotel the ITC Mughal in Agra. Our guide checked us in and we made our way to our room and after a bit of discussion realized that we had been put in the wrong room. This was soon sorted out and we were transferred to our correct room in the Royal Mughal wing.
This was another lovely hotel and the staff were once again courteous, thoughtful and professional in their approach. We enjoyed an early lunch and then headed out to what would turn out to be one of the many highlights of this trip – a visit to the Taj Mahal.
It really is true what people say about the photographs you see not really doing the Taj Mahal justice. You really do need to stand there and take in the majesty and wonder of it to really appreciate the magnificence of this wonder of the world.
One of the other great things about having our own guide was that we did not have to cue to get in anywhere as our guide took care of getting tickets and ushering us into each of the sites we visited.
Next we headed to the Agra Fort, filled with amazing history, sensational architecture and spent much time wondering, learning and enjoying this incredible site.
Another amazing Indian dinner followed and the next day we were collected, checked out and headed to see some more sites during the day before we headed to catch the train to Jaipur.
We marveled at the streets, the sites and were taken to the park that sits opposite the Taj Mahal and across the river so that we could get another view of this superb monument. It was still a little hazy but it the majesty of the Taj was of course still evident.
Then it was time of board the train and head to Jaipur. This was a 5 hour journey that saw us arrive later in the evening at the ITC Rajputana and get settled into our room. (Just a note here, on our itinerary it said that we had a Executive Club room – and what we had thought would be a top room with all the usual Executive Club perks turned out to be the standard room in the hotel and was not nearly as nice or in my opinion 5 star compared to the other 2 hotels we had enjoyed.)
But settle in we did and then we enjoyed a late meal and then were ready to face our next day exploring Jaipur and all of the amazing sites on offer. We saw the pink city and the most stunning Jaipur Pink Fort and the 27km wall that surrounded it. Each of these had the most fabulous history and stories behind their construction that our guide was only to keen to share with us and really put them each into perspective.
We went to the stunning Jaipur Observatory which was created hundreds of years ago and today is still the most amazing outdoor observatory that you can find.
One final night at this hotel and we were collected the next morning so we could catch our flight back to Delhi for one final night in the Taj Palace and our last evening in India (this time!).
Before we left Delhi the first time we were advised by our guides that we really should try and get in for dinner at Bukhura Restaurant which was located next door to where we were staying as it has been consistently voted in the top 50 restaurants in the world. We booked for our last night in India to go an enjoy this amazing Indian tandoori/bbq restaurant and we were not disappointed.
This was a traditional meal – eating with your hands, tasting some of the most amazing spices throughout each of the dishes and enjoying yet another highlight on this trip.
You will see in this post that there are so many photographs that I wanted to share with you and I still have so many more!
This was a trip of a lifetime to the most amazing country and we were so lucky at this time of year to get the perfect weather and to get a fabulous first taste of India!
We are now planning to head back again next year to explore more of this amazing country!