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Trip Report India - Bright Smiles and Bright Colors

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India is indeed a land of bright smiles and bright colors. It truly has much to offer for all the senses. We enjoyed a fabulous journey through northern India, creating many special and unique memories.

Many thanks to all of you here on Fodor's travel forum who helped me so greatly in planning our trip. I really appreciate your expert advice and helpful recommendations. Your sharing of your travel experience was priceless. Thank you so much.

My husband and I recently returned from our first trip to northern India, a very enjoyable and successful journey. Initially, my husband (DH) wanted primarily to see the Taj Mahal, and so he really was campaigning for a very short trip to India, just for that purpose. However, I convinced him to expand the itinerary, and so our 2 week trip to India developed. DH now attests to the great number of magnificent sights to see and enjoy in India; he loved the trip. We opted to travel in the month of February, in order to maximize our chances for clear, sunny, warm weather and to hopefully miss the potential fogs for which Delhi and area are known. We made our arrangements with Castle and King (C & K), a travel agency in Delhi, and we worked closely with Arvind, the owner. He was wonderful to work with over the course of many, many months of planning. He answered my many emails very promptly and courteously, advised me when necessary, and agreeably made changes whenever requested. He is extremely efficient, reliable, and professional. All in all, he delivered an excellent job, and I highly recommend him.
We were pleased with our mix of hotels and each length of stay. We were blessed with beautiful weather - blue skies and comfortable temperatures throughout the trip.

Wednesday, February 5
After almost a year of planning and anticipation, our departure date finally arrived. We were to fly from Newark Airport during what goes down as perhaps one of the snowiest winters on record here. Most flights for that day were actually cancelled; but somehow our 8:40 pm flight to Delhi departed (dramatically) more or less on time. (We left in between snowstorms)! The flight took 12 1/2 hours, and we were met at the Delhi airport by a representative and driver from C & K. They drove us to the Sheraton New Delhi Hotel. Upon check-in, we were upgraded to executive club floor privileges; we were able to have complimentary breakfast and happy hour daily. (As Starwood Gold Preferred Guests, we are generally upgraded, a very nice feature worldwide). It was now of course late in the evening of February 6, so we quickly unpacked and enjoyed a much-needed good night's sleep, our very first night in India.

Friday, February 7
After breakfast in the Club floor eatery, we met our guide, Roshan, in the hotel lobby. He was an excellent guide and we highly recommend him. He has an undergrad degree in history, as well as a 2-year graduate degree in history; so he is very knowledgeable. He also speaks English very well and is quite personable. He was to be our guide for the entire itinerary (except Varanasi, as we were flying there and meeting up with a guide just for that location). We then met Krishna, our driver for the same duration, and we settled in to the Toyota Innova, which was waiting for us in front of the hotel. Krishna is a superb driver, which is absolutely necessary amidst the chaos of traffic existing all over India. There seem to be no traffic rules, and yet somehow I never worried about our safety on the roads, with Krishna's hands on the wheel. (Thank you, rhk, for recommending him)! By the way, Krishna said that in India one needs 3 things to drive: good horn, good brakes, and good luck! On the roads, there is a constant mix of cars, SUVs, motorcycles, bikes, cycle rickshaws, pedestrians, carts, trucks overflowing with passengers, buses, dogs, cows,.... And of course a great deal of honking and commotion.... But all keeps on moving along, despite many time-consuming traffic jams. Krishna is also a very patient and kind gentleman, a pleasure to have on board, and calmly and reliably navigate us through colorful India.

First we visited Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Then we took a cycle rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, a maze of very narrow, busy lanes, where everything imaginable is being sold. We saw outdoor barbers, and dentists, and shops, and eateries, a wild and fun ride! Then we went to the Red Fort, a 17th century palace and fort. We visited the Raj Ghat, the memorial site where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and the National Gandhi Museum, which displays photos, spinning wheels, and personal effects. We drove along Rajpath, a wide, ceremonial avenue, and we saw the impressive India Gate, the President's residence, and Parliament. We walked on the stately avenue, took photos, and observed many people strolling on the adjacent lawns and enjoying the beautiful day. We drove through the Diplomatic Enclave, a lovely, residential area. We lunched at Basil & Thyme, and then we checked out the Santushti Complex, including Anokhi and Fabindia. Krishna calmly drove us back through lots of hectic traffic to our hotel, where we enjoyed wine in the Club lounge and then dinner in the hotel. This, our first day in India, was indeed a busy and full day. We were introduced to the pace of life here and we accomplished a great deal.

Saturday, February 8
We had breakfast in the Club floor eatery and then met Roshan in the lobby. Krishna drove us to the Qutub Minar, the tallest stone tower in India; the first mosque in India is here. Next we visited Humayun's Tomb, a beautiful form of Persian influenced architecture. Then we visited the National Museum and saw the exhibits of sculpture, musical instruments, weapons, etc. After lunch with Roshan at one of his favorite places called Havemore, we wandered around the shops at GK 1, N Block. At some point, we stopped at the Baha'i House of Worship (Lotus Temple) and took photos of the striking-looking lotus flower shaped building. There were long lines of people, waiting for a chance to enter and meditate. We returned to our hotel and went to happy hour in the Club lounge and then dinner. Afterwards, we packed for our trip to Varanasi, which was the next morning. We took only small overnight bags, storing the bulk of our clothing and luggage with Roshan and Krishna, as they would be meeting us a couple of days later. This was definitely a much-appreciated convenience, especially when we later found out how much the airlines charge for excess baggage weight on domestic flights.

Stay tuned for Varanasi....

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