Our 7 night tour of India was based on the itinerary of Insider Journeys’ Taste of India tour, with accommodation chosen from both Small Group journeys and their Private Travel range. India is a very big country, so the week was designed to give us a little insight into this wonderful place.
We flew with Thai Airlines, via Bangkok into and out of Delhi. We flew in economy class. All flights were on time and the food and service were good. The connection in Bangkok on our return was 6 hours, but this was the only downside.
To fill this time, we purchased 2 hours in a Business class lounge. The cost was $40. There were good, clean bathrooms and a small buffet which was constantly replenished. The seats were hard and seemed to be made to discourage sleeping. It was pleasant and quiet, however, with wifi.
Delhi Airport is very modern and clean. We had no trouble arriving with our e-visas. There was a short queue, with a wait of about 10 mins.
We were met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. We stayed at the Imperial Hotel in a Heritage room. The hotel was built in 1931 and is very grand and very English. Our rooms were large with a big bathroom and a walk-in wardrobe/dressing room. There was a very friendly bar that was well frequented by guests and a huge swimming pool.
There were 3 of us from Melbourne in our group and we arrived before the others, so had the first afternoon free. We asked the concierge for a local restaurant recommendation and were not disappointed (despite having to queue). We paid about $6 each for a great meal which was a selection of many dishes. From our hotel we could walk down Janpath Street to Connaught Place where there are lots more shops and restaurants.
The remainder of our group arrived at about 10pm.
The next morning we all met officially at breakfast (a fantastic buffet at the Imperial) and headed off for a full day of sightseeing. We met our wonderful guide, Niki, who was with us for our entire tour. First we went to Old Delhi to see some markets bustling with people buying and selling goats for an upcoming festival and Chandni Chowk, an exotic market area where you can buy anything from spices to silk. We rode in a rickshaw down narrow streets and it seemed very busy, even though some shops were closed as it was Sunday.
We made a brief stop at the memorial to Mahatma Ghandhi. It is a very modest memorial in a simple park, befitting such an unpretentious, simple man. He did not want any statues made in his honour, so there is a plain black marble platform marking where he was cremated following his assignation in 1948.
Next we had lunch and an inspection of the Maiden’s Hotel. This a a lovely colonial 4 star hotel. This hotel is in Old Delhi, whereas the Imperial is in New Delhi. The rooms were spacious and the hotel had a country feel, despite being in a big city.
After lunch we finished off our sightseeing with a visit to a Sikh Temple and Humayun’s tomb. The Sikh Temple was fascinating because a team of volunteers provide a free meal to thousands of visitors every day. The kitchen was full of pots the size of wading pools and people sat in groups
chopping and peeling vegetables. It was quite a unique experience to see a real community at work. Then it was on to Humayun’s Tomb which is an impressive 16th century structure set in beautiful gardens. This tomb, and many others including the Taj Mahal, were built by Moghul emperors who ruled India from 1500s-1800s, coming down from Persia (now Iran).
Today we drove for about 4 hours to reach Agra. We checked into the Trident Hotel, which is a modern 4 star hotel. The hotel was very nice, but not particularly Indian. It did have a nice big lawn area around the pool.
In the afternoon, we toured the Agra Fort, built in 1565. It was later the home of Emperor Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal. He was also imprisoned here by his son later in life. We also visited a marble inlay workshop to see the techniques used to decorate the Taj Mahal. Seeing this technique close up made us appreciate the Taj’s beauty the next day.
Our dinner was hosted by the ITC Mughal Hotel. This is a stunning 5 star hotel with a foyer reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. Their restaurant, The Peshwari, is famous for its northwestern Indian cuisine. The dinner was wonderful.
The next morning we rose extra early for a dawn visit to the Taj Mahal, The Taj Mahal was commenced in 1631 and finished in 1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan. It was built in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth and is buried beneath. The building surpasses all expectations with its beauty and the rising sun changes its hue. Of course, there are lots of tourists here, but we found everyone to be very courteous with respect to moving on for photos and allowing others their turn, particularly at the, now famous, Princess Diana seat. There are also many hawkers outside selling souvenirs. Any interaction with the hawkers is seen as encouragement and whilst they were not rude, to sometimes felt invasive. Our guide, Niki, was fantastic is helping us with our transactions when we wanted to buy something.
After a late breakfast, we started our 4 hour drive to Samode, a small town in Rajasthan. Enroute, we made a stop at a step-well dating back to 800AD. This was an amazing structure of steps graduating down to a water supply. The engineering is incredible for the time.
Samode is a small village north of Jaipur. In the early evening we arrived at the Samode Palace Hotel. The palace is 475 years old and is a celebration of the combination of Indian and Muslim architecture. Each room is individual and magnificently decorated and they surround one of two courtyards and look out at the mountains on the other side. There are two swimming pools.
In the evening we were all dressed in a sari and treated to a wonderful show of local folk dancers. Then it was dinner in a private dining room. The whole evening was sensory overload and ended with a great sleep in our 4-poster beds.
The next morning we took a Jeep Safari around the village and farms of Samode. We visited a small working farm and saw how the farm is run by the family. Most of the field work is done by the women, I am not sure what the men do.
In the afternoon, we inspected a sister property, Samode Bagh. This property was built 250 years ago and was the country retreat for the Samode family. The vast gardens are surrounded by individual bungalows. It is a great spot for a family holiday as they run lots of activities for children.The accommodations and dining room had a real country feel with dark wood, rustic furniture.
We arrived back at Jaipur in the evening and checked into the Trident Jaipur. Like the other Trident properties, this is a nice 4 star hotel. Everything is clean and modern, with a nice big pool. We had an inspection and dinner at the Shahpura House Hotel in Jaipur. This is a 3.5 star property. The rooms are a nice size with modern bathrooms. There was a very nice pool and indoor/outdoor eating areas. A very nice hotel in this category.
The next morning we started early for our sightseeing of Jaipur. Jaipur is called the Pink City because in 1876, when the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited the city, the Maharaja Ram Singh had the city painted pink as it is the colour of hospitality. We saw the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) which has a facade built especially so the ladies of the court could watch life go by without being seen. Then it was on to the milk market. The dairy farmers bring their milk to town in metal kegs and people bring their own containers. People were testing the milk by putting their hands into the kegs and examining the fat content. Luckily, everyone boils the milk before using it.
Then it was on to the Amber Fort. This impressive fort was started in 1592. It is built atop a mountain to provide protection and a lookout for invading tribes. Many of the rooms are intricately decorated with mirror tiles.
For lunch, we visited and inspected another Samode Property, the Samode Haveli. This a lovely heritage property right in Jaipur. Beautiful rooms, and gardens abound. The decorations are so exotic, it would be hard to get to sleep in some rooms. Again a great pool.
This evening we had a very special surprise with a visit to Dera Amer Elephant camp. The riding of elephants is a very contentious issue in India. The government tried to ban elephant rides at the Jaipur Fort because it was vary hard on the animals and they were overworked. This led to elephants being neglected as their owners could not make any money. The government then decided to let the rides take place in the cool morning only at the Fort. Many tour companies, including Insider Journeys, do not patronise the elephant rides at the Jaipur Fort. Instead, at Dera Amer, the elephants are kept in more natural surroundings and only take guests for rides during their regular exercise. The only have to walk on natural ground, not concrete, and are well looked after by the staff. We had dinner here in a beautiful country setting and went back to Jaipur, but you can sleep in permanent tents at the camp and help to look after the elephants.
Today we drove back to Delhi, about 5 hours. In the afternoon, we arrived at the Trident Gurgaon Hotel, in the modern city of Gurgaon, close to the airport. This hotel is ultra-modern with vast water features in the entrance. It was so different to the more traditional hotels we had visited. There was no sign of ancient India here.
We had a few hours to ourselves, so the hotel car took us to a nearby shopping mall. Here we got to see modern India. Lots of young, well dressed people, not a sari in sight. All the big name shops from Europe and USA were there. It was good to see this side if life here as, clearly, not everyone lives a traditional lifestyle.
Our short trip was designed to give a taste of this vast country. I learnt so much about the history and culture. Our guide, Niki was excellent. He had a great knowledge of history and answered all of our questions. He was also very friendly and funny and we all were great friends by the end. Our driver, Majid, drove us safely around in traffic that was sometimes testing. His assistant Popu, was quiet as a mouse, but was so courteous when handing out drinks and helping us on and off the coach. The air-conditioned coach was always clean.
I feel I would like to go back and see some different parts of this continent, perhaps in the north towards Nepal and in the south, including Sri Lanka.
Thank you Insider Journeys.