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Trip Report A Little Late: Fabulous 3 weeks in India

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I have been remiss in reporting on my trip last April, for which I received much helpful advice on the forum. I just wanted to give a quick post to let you know how my first trip to India turned out, in the hope that I can be at least a little helpful in return for all the help you all gave me.

Flew business class on United from Newark to New Delhi. Flight was great--got a full 8 hours of sleep! A driver from the hotel picked us up. We stayed at the Le Meridien because that was the hotel selected for my husband's business engagements. We had a suite, which was modern and spacious with a fabulous view of the city. The service was very good, and I was able to practice my Hindi with them! The guys at breakfast taught me something new each day. I took a tour of Delhi with a driver from the hotel while my husband was working; he drove me around to the places I wanted to see (the red fort, Jama Masjid, Gandhi's memorial, some markets). I was by myself and didn't have any problems. I am a tall, blonde, California girl, so people did want to take pictures with me (I said yes to children, women, and families, no to groups of young men), but no real harassment. I wore a salwar kameez some days, western clothes other days, and soon enough was wearing casual sarees during the day and fancier silk ones in the evening. Indian clothes rock. Maybe I exude confidence, but I didn't really have any major issues and felt totally comfortable telling people (politely but firmly) to buzz off in Hindi when they got too close for comfort.

Then I took the Shatabdi express from Delhi to Haridwar to spend 4 days at the Ananda spa, in the foothills of the HImalayas above Rishikesh. This was extraordinary, perhaps my favorite part of the trip. Food, ayurvedic treatments, hiking, the staff--everything was heavenly. The ganga aarti in Rishikesh was practically life-changing. I also saw about 20 wild elephants, from crazy close up (and the only person there!) in Rajaji Nat'l Park. If you can afford Ananda, don't think twice, GO. I had my requisite Indian train experience on the way there, so I flew Kingfisher from Dehradun back to Delhi.

My husband and I then hooked up with our fabulous driver Ram, from India by Car & Driver, an EXCELLENT suggestion we got from you all. Ram is simply the best. He drove us to Agra, where we stayed at the Oberoi for one night. The building, pools, and, of course, view are gorgeous, but we didn't feel the service was up to snuff. We got up early to see the Taj, which was nice, and then got out of Agra.

Ram next drove us to Jaipur and the Rambagh Palace, which we ADORED. We stayed in an amazing suite, enjoyed the food immensely, loved the indoor and outdoor pools, the spa, the polo bar, the people, the peacocks--everything. We felt like a member of the (royal) family immediately. In fact, the Maharajah of Jodphur arrived at the same time we did! Ram is from Jaipur so he showed us around to the usual sights, as well as introduced us to some of his friends and took us to his tailor shop where we had a gazilion things made--very high quality and fast. But we had a hard time leaving Rambagh palace at all!

Our next stop was Udaipur, staying at the unparalleled Taj Lake Palace. I can't imagine staying anywhere else in Udaipur. So magical. We went to see the palace in town, but honestly, it was getting to be so hot we spent much of our 3 days there exploring the Lake Palace. My husband and I also had a truly special experience--a spiritual wedding on a candlelit platform that the hotel arranged. (We were married a year earlier in a non-religious--but beautiful!--ceremony.) Ram's friends in Jaipur picked out this exquisite turquoise with gold sequins saree for me, and the platform was covered in flowers and candles. Two holy men conducted a ceremony for us, which was very moving. Then, the hotel brought us out a dinner for two (which we had preselected), and, though they checked on us from time to time to see if we needed anything, left us out on our truly romantic platform to enjoy dinner and wine in private. Totally, totally amazing.

We stayed next at the Oberoi in Ranthambore. It was lovely, but in retrospect, I wish we had stayed at the Aman-i-khas. However, we had an incredible tigress sighting on our second day! Spent a few hours with her, first from afar when she was in the lake, and then she slowly cam toward us, until she passed right in front of our jeep, climbed up a little hill, and then rolled over on her side with a leg sticking up and took a nap. Breathtaking (and kinda cute--her cute paw reminded me of my pup!). I had food poisoning for the only time on my trip here, but with antibiotics, I was better in a day.

We stopped next at Ram's suggestion at Amanbagh, a place out in rural Rajasthan. We were only there one night, so I can't speak to the surrounding area. The hotel itself was extraordinarily beautiful. We stayed in a suite with a private pool, which was great fun. We would sit with a drink, hanging in the pool, and watch the monkeys play in the trees. The management was a little annoying, but I'm just being picky.

Next we stayed, because we couldn't stay away at our beloved Rambagh. Ram took us to a local restaurant, where we were the only non-Indians, I think so I could show off my improved Hindi skills and saree wearing elan. :-) The food was excellent, as it had been throughout our trip. As a vegetarian, I was basically in heaven.

Other than Ananda, where it could get quite cool, it was pretty hot, but not unbearable. It did mean that we didn't have jam-packed daytime sightseeing for the most part, but that was part of the reason I tried to book historical hotels. I mean, I would have made a special trip to see the Lake Palace, so why not just stay there and explore at our leisure? We did a lot of yoga, at great food, had fabulous ayurvedic treatments, met many local friends with whom we remain in touch, and basically had an awesome time. I didn't experience significant harassment, even when I traveled or went sightseeing by myself, and while there were signs of extreme and cruel poverty, if you aren't aware of that already, perhaps you should be jolted by it. I work in a non-profit intended to promote human dignity and justice, and I always look for organizations in the local areas I'm traveling to donate to before our trip, since the advice is usually not to give to folks who ask you for money on the street. India was a wonderful, unforgettable adventure, and I can't wait to go back! Thank you all for your very useful suggestions and advice.

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