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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report India for Softies : A slow comfortable tour around some of Northern India

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I am newly retired and a bucket list of places to see whilst still fit and well has been drawn up. At the top of this list was a return to India.

Thirty years ago I spent some time backpacking in South India, touring around for weeks on a shoestring, staying in dubious rooms where you were not that keen to touch anything and eating food from the street and roadside dhabas. Other than a trip to Goa for a beach holiday I had not been back to India since.

This time I wanted to see some of the sights of Northern India. The passing of time has made me considerably fonder of clean rooms, air conditioning, evening cocktails, laundry services and cars with drivers than previously and this time the trip was to be comfortable and slow paced.

Faded photographs from that last trip show me in front of many important temples and other significant monuments but I lived in the moment then and watched the kaleidoscope of colour and history go by without feeling much need to catalogue it or make any chronological sense of it. This time I was to be more informed and in preparation for our trip I took a short course on Indian History [at the City Lit in London which I can highly recommend to anyone in striking distance] and I read around the subject a bit. I particularly enjoyed Ferdinand Mount’s ‘Tears of the Rajas’, Abraham Eraly’s ‘The Moghul world: India’s tainted paradise’ William Dalrymple’s ‘The last Moghul’ and ‘A year in Delhi’ and Alex Von Tunzelmann’s wonderfully gossipy ‘Indian Summer: The secret history of the end of an Empire’. I also enjoyed on DVD Michael Wood’s BBC series on ‘The story of India’ and another BBC series Sona Datta’s ‘Treasures of the Indus’ [available to download from BBC store] has a really good episode on the Taj Mahal and other Moghul buildings. After a lifetime of wall to wall working for the health service and bringing up our now grown up son I know it is a serious luxury to have the time to do all this background research and it really did add to the enjoyment of my trip.

Some of the amazing trip reports on Fodors were also read more than once. As a result, I am in awe of how many Fodorites have the stamina to cover so much ground on every single day of their trips and the number of you that manage for weeks on hand luggage alone. These feats are not for us though and we are really happiest travelling slowly with a full quota of luggage and seeing relatively few sights each day. We spend the rest of our time focusing on food with the occasional excursion to the pool or hotel grounds.

Health preparations consumed us much less than they appear to do for some others. In line with UK NHS 'fit for travel' advice we simply ensured that our Tetanus, Typhoid and Hep A were up to date and left it at that. We ate all sorts in many different types of places and neither of us had any problems at all.

We booked everything independently online and decided to stay in a mix of different type of hotels ranging from the posh and swanky through all points of the spectrum down to a simple Homestay. I can highly recommend such a mix as each type of accommodation offers something different and it has given us so many kinds of memories. We went at the end of September and the prices were still a bit lower than at other times of the year with many hotels offering special offers on stays of three nights [e.g. throwing in meals, executive lounges and airport transfers etc.] which were excellent value. I mainly found these offers on each hotel’s individual website requiring you to book direct with them rather than on trip advisor type websites so it is well worth inspecting them all directly in order to find the best deal.

I was pleasantly surprised by the cost of flying to Delhi from London and can only assume it is a highly competitive route. We booked Premium Economy British Airways flight where you get extra legroom over and above economy and two seats in a row so no clambering over or around anyone other than your partner [plus a few other extras like better baggage allowance, in seat power and slightly fancier meal] at a good price in the BA summer sale. I felt that this option was an ideal trade-off between comfort and cost for a flight of this length [8.5 hours].

For the internal flights I was unable to shake off those distant memories of truly terrible check ins lasting many hours in hot and seriously chaotic Indian airports and hence, given the relatively low cost of doing so, I booked us onto business class flights.

To get to and from Varanasi I had booked a few months in advance with Vistara which is a newish airline owned and run jointly by Singapore airlines and Tata steel. Both prestigious companies who should be totally ashamed of themselves as I discovered quite by chance on the day before we set off for the holiday that they had cancelled both flights some time before, failed to tell us despite having both my mobile number and my email address and happily kept our money [over £400] in their account. Their customer services response when I contacted them was dismal with one responder just emailing me copies of the original ticket saying they were confirmed and another responder saying they had cancelled the flight and texted me but that the text must have failed to reach a UK mobile phone number! I would therefore advise anyone to avoid Vistara at all costs! Had I not identified this cancellation [when quickly checking flight numbers to forward to my son] it could have completely ruined this leg of the trip and caused no end of hassle but as it was I managed to hastily rebook for the same dates and at roughly same price with Jet airlines. We also flew to Jodhpur from Delhi with the much maligned Air India but, in direct contrast to the dismal Vistara scenario, they securely informed us of a minor flight time change [20 minutes different from that initially scheduled] by a series of very clearly marked emails.

We also booked a car and driver for seven days to take us through Rajasthan and after scrutiny of various review sites and guide books we chose a Jaipur based firm called “India by car and driver” which turned out to be an excellent choice in every respect. Their driver was safe, punctual, courteous, helpful and unfailingly cheerful and their administration was responsive and pricing and inclusions clear. I liked the fact that you only paid a small deposit in advance [online via a Visa card thus offering their protection for your money] and the balance when you got there and after you had confirmed that all was satisfactory.

Our final itinerary was as follows: -
Fly from London to Delhi
4 nights Leela Palace Delhi https://www.theleela.com/en_us/hotels-in-delhi/the-leela-palace-hotel-new-delhi/
Fly Delhi to Jodhpur
3 nights Raas Jodhpur http://raasjodhpur.com/
Trip with car and driver from Jodhpur to Jaipur and onwards to Agra.
4 nights Jas vilas, Jaipur http://www.jasvilas.com/
2 nights Coral Tree homestay Agra http://www.thecoraltreehomestay.com/
Fly Delhi to Varanasi
3 nights Nadesar Palace Varanasi https://taj.tajhotels.com/en-in/taj-nadesar-palace-varanasi/
Fly Varanasi to Delhi
1 night JW Marriott airport hotel Delhi. http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/delap-jw-marriott-hotel-new-delhi-aerocity/?pid=corptbta&scid=b661a3c4-9c47-48c8-9e13-75b66089dd79.
Return flight from Delhi to London

After all this planning and the packing and the last minute flight rebooking all we had to do was to entrust our house and our cat into the care of our son and we headed off back to India.

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    You have reminded me why I am always wary of new airlines... so glad you checked well ahead of time and were able to re-book.

    Looking forward to hearing all abut your trip!

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    Congrats on retirement!!

    Love your comparison of then vs now: "I lived in the moment then and watched the kaleidoscope of colour and history go by without feeling much need to catalogue it or make any chronological sense of it"--beautifully expressed! That explains why I don't have more photos from the "then" 45 yrs ago!!

    Joining the "looking forward" group (-:

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    This time I wanted to see some of the sights of Northern India. The passing of time has made me considerably fonder of clean rooms, air conditioning, evening cocktails, laundry services and cars with drivers than previously and this time the trip was to be comfortable and slow paced. >>

    loncall, finding your TR this morning was somewhat serendipitous as that's exactly the sort of trip we would want to do, that is, if I can ever get DH to India. We went to Sri Lanka a few years ago and loved it but I have a yen for India, my mum and grandma having both been born there whereas DH would prefer to return to Sri Lanka.

    Anyway, I'm along for the ride, which I hope will be peaceful and sedate.

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    Thanks to all who have responded to my initial post.

    KMA was a new one on me jacketwatch until I googled it just now but then I am always totally in the dark ages in respect of such acronyms!

    You are right to be cautious re new airlines Kathie as I learnt the hard way. However, you would think one jointly owned by Singapore airlines would have performed better, they must know how to send customers an email.......

    Do continue to consider India Annhig. Our particular trip was mainly pretty low on unpleasant hassle and very high on amazing experiences.

    We arrived at Delhi at 8.20 am after an overnight flight braced for delays and frustrating queues but found that the airport was almost totally empty. We whooshed through the visa on arrival process in about five minutes collected our baggage in about ten minutes, quickly changed some money and walked out into the heat of Delhi arrivals hall. Our room rate at the Leela Palace included airport transfers which we had booked in advance via email and so we were immediately met by a hotel representative who led us personally to a rather swish limousine complete with a driver in peaked hat. We progressed in unaccustomed style through the streets of Delhi which were also quiet as it was the Eid-al-adha holiday and government offices and some businesses were closed thus reducing the early morning traffic.

    The Leela Palace hotel is large modern and welcoming. I had wanted a hotel that would reliably ease us back into India and this one definitely fits that bill but I had worried when I booked it that it might be a bit bland and ‘could be anywhere’. Happily it is full of Indian art works and very attractive flower displays and it felt unique in style which was good. The welcome was efficient and despite the fact that the official check in time was hours away we were led straight to our room. After a shower and a snooze we pattered around the hotel exploring what it had to offer and made our way to the included club lounge where all sorts of dainty bites to eat were laid out and tea and coffee served in traditional afternoon tea style. We had wondered about visiting Humayan’s tomb in the late afternoon to catch the evening sunlight but we were enjoying ourselves so much in the hotel that we left that for another day.

    That evening we ate at ‘Jamavar’ the hotel’s Indian restaurant which was elegant and calm and soothing to jet lagged nerves. Whilst expensive by Indian standards it was not expensive for those who are used to London prices and we enjoyed all of our meal with both the black Dhal Jamavar and the mutton curry being rich and satisfying in flavour. That night was also the start of my addiction to Garlic Naans. We absolutely love Indian food and regularly cook and eat a wide variety of it in the UK but we have never found anywhere that cooks the brilliant Naan bread which we enjoyed almost universally on this holiday regardless of the class of the restaurant. Instead of a bit doughy and dryish think thin, crispy and buttery. Freshly made lime and mango pickles were also a revelation compared to the jars we have in our cupboard at home and we have vowed to make some for ourselves in order to maintain this high standard now that we have returned.

    Whilst we are very definitely foodies we are not by any stretch of the imagination wine connoisseurs however we do enjoy a bottle with most evening meals on holiday and found that by sticking to the Indian produced section of the wine list we could keep costs down. Sula and Grover wines were to our mind entirely drinkable.

    The following morning we set off for day one of the itinerary that we had sketched out in advance. Different people plan sightseeing in different ways but we like to have a little schedule for each day set down in advance of the trip that groups together sites and notes down possible nearby lunch spots so that we have something concrete to work from when there. We then obviously amend and adapt as we go along.

    We got a taxi from the hotel to Lal Qila [red fort] and walked around its impressive ramparts before entering through the main gate. Inside we enjoyed people watching as much as the buildings with many Indian families enjoying a day out and large numbers of young men seemingly eyeing each other up but we were not entirely sure with what in mind. On exiting we wanted to take a rickshaw to the spice market which is at the other end of Chandri Chowk the main thoroughfare through old Delhi. Securing a rickshaw was not problem and we jumped in as did a prospective guide who we did not want. He was very persistent, far more so than in any other spot in India where by and large a polite no thank you and wave of the hand was sufficient, and took some shaking off.

    The spice market is fascinating. Streets lined with a multitude of small shops selling all manner of items all surrounded by a haze of smells and with many local customers sitting on stools in front of the displays pondering their choices. Behind the shops was the wholesale market, with many huge canvas sacks of spices being wheeled around on wooden trolleys in a scene that was pretty much the same as it must have been a hundred years ago. As long as we kept out of their way no one took much notice of us and it was very worthwhile.

    We then took another rickshaw [this time sans any unwanted guide] to the Jamma Masjiid mosque. By this time it was hot and we were getting hungry and so before visiting the mosque we made our way to a recently restored Haveli [Haveli Dharampura http://www.havelidharampura.com/]which we had noted had a restaurant open at lunch time. The Haveli was only about five minutes’ walk from the Mosque but involved plunging back into the narrow streets of old Delhi and finding the place was a bit of a challenge and we went up a few wrong turns before more or less falling into their hallway.

    The Haveli is interesting revealing a little of the wealth that was previously within this part of Delhi and it reminded us of the Moorish Riads we had visited in Marrakesh many years ago. Their restaurant [The Lakhori] was attractive cool and air conditioned. They serve upmarket versions of the street food [with prices to match the setting] that is all around you in Old Delhi and we enjoyed our lunch. We were glad we had persisted in finding it.
    We walked back to the Mosque where despite my extremely modest outfit I found I was required to wear this long voluminous robe which my partner unkindly but correctly said made me look like Homer Simpson in that episode where he wears a Mumu. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEVXq73OZz8]

    The paving stones of the mosque courtyard were burning hot once you had taken your shoes off and we both nearly got third degree burns when we tried to take a short cut off the provided carpet patch. I tried to concentrate solely on the beauty and the history of the mosque but it was not easy given this backdrop !
    As we exited the Mosque we had assumed it would be easy to find and take a taxi back to our hotel which was some considerable distance away. For whatever reason this was not the case and although there were hundreds of rickshaws both automated and cycle there was not a taxi to be seen despite several laps of the mosques perimeter road. In the end we asked around and got put into a cycle rickshaw to go to what was described to us as a taxi rank but which looked to us like a used car lot. One of the cars identified itself as a taxi and we set off in the most ramshackle car we have ever been in which was virtually tied together with strong. After some confusion about which hotel we were going to. They tried to take us to the Lalit which looked nice and which had a very helpful doorman who kindly assisted us in telling the taxi driver where we actually wanted to be. We giggled at the contrast with our previous day’s arrival in the Leela’s posh hotel limousine and decided to ask to be let out before we got to the hotel’s rather gracious security check arrangements for fear they would think we were quite mad getting into such a car !

    After a supper in the Leela’s coffee shop we made our way up to the hotel lounge for a nightcap or two and retired to bed satisfied that day one had gone well.

    On the second day we made our way to Lutyens Delhi starting at the Indira Ghandi museum which is based in the large bungalow which was her home. I really enjoyed this museum as many of the rooms were left exactly as they had been when she lived there with all her personal belongings giving one an impression of the architectural style of the bungalow and the lifestyle lived in the area as well as her history. The spot where she was assassinated by her own treacherous body guard was very tastefully marked with a path showing her last walk from the house through the grounds and a sheet of glass where she fell.

    We then followed a walk which is set out in the Dorling Kingsley guide to Delhi which takes in many of the most interesting streets in the area. Many of the houses are now embassy and government owned with guards at the entrance and high walls but one still got a good feel of the layout of new Delhi. The walk was peaceful and there was no hassle of any kind along it. We finally got to the parliament buildings, the Rajpath and India Gate which were embarrassingly built to emphasise British power and rule in the 1920s but which happily now offer an impressive and well kept centre for India’s national Government.

    Our lunch plan for that day was the 1911 restaurant in the Imperial hotel which was not far away in Janpath but in looking for a shop ‘cottage industries’ that was said to be opposite the hotel we managed to be persuaded into a rickshaw that proceeded to take us to another branch, or possibly another shop entirely, some distance away and which involved a Kamikazi type drive at high speed through the lunch time traffic. Just when I felt that we were in a certain death situation we arrived at the shop only to find it unpleasantly touristy with lots of aggressive hard sell. We therefore made a quick retreat but had to reverse the ride back to the Imperial and ended up shocked and sweaty in the rather refined lobby of that hotel.

    Pulling ourselves together we entered the restaurant with as much aplomb as we could muster. We were seated in a most attractive section overlooking the lawns and with many period features intact. The food there gets mixed reviews but we enjoyed what we had [a masals dosa for my partner and a kebab in a roti for me]. Definitely worth a visit to see the hotel where much history unfolded in the last years of British rule and which is still clearly a haunt of wealthy Delhi-ites. We then avoided any further taxi and rickshaw debacles by getting one directly from the doorman of the hotel and hence progressed back to the Leela at a more normal pace and style.

    On our final day in Delhi we learnt from the mistakes of the previous days and hired a taxi to follow us around and wait for us at various stops. The cost of this was so minimal that we realised we should have done this from the outset. We had planned to see the Q’tub Minar in the morning but were quite tired when we awoke and felt that we needed to slow down in keeping with our proposed slow pace for this trip and in order to retain enough stamina for the two weeks still ahead of us. We therefore with some regret knocked this off our list and instead did a spot of light shopping in Khan market [Good Earth and Anokhi] and had a lazy lunch at a café called’ Soda Water Bottle Opener Wala’ http://www.olivebarandkitchen.com/SodaBottleOpenerWala/index.php?brandid=6&branchid=24 which is themed as a Parsi café more traditionally found in Mumbai. Whilst not usually fans of themed restaurants this one was great fun with many quirky artefacts and some interesting Parsi food choices that we were not familiar with. Their Onion Bhajii [which we are familiar with as it is served on every high street in Britain !] was also outstandingly good.

    We got to Humayan’s tomb in the golden hour of the late afternoon sunshine. This a garden tomb and the grounds are beautiful and tranquil and we wandered around for some considerable time enjoying the slightly cooler air and the setting sun. We climbed up to the steps to the tomb itself and this elevated position gave one a 360 view of the lawns and the traditional Moghul layout of the gardens amongst which sat picnicking local families with the women very colourful and graceful in their saris. A perfect end to the Delhi section of our trip.

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    loncall - what a lovely start to your trip, and to your TR which I am really enjoying, not least because of your deprecatory writing style as well as the detail of what you did and how you did it. So useful! as well as very entertaining.

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    Loncall, congratulations on your retirement and the many trips that the two of you have to look forward to. I am very much enjoying your report on India, especially the way you bring the sights, sounds, and smells to like. Like Ann's spouse, I too have not been brave enough to jump head first into India although I continue to be fascinated by the reports you and others write about the country. Will be following along intently.

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    Great to hear you visited Haveli Dharampura. I've stayed in other Welcomheritage properties and they were lovely. Did you by any chance have a peek into the Dharampura's hotel rooms? While you were there for a meal,I wonder what your thoughts are about visitors making that area a base for a stay in Delhi, vs staying in New Delhi.
    Love your story of arriving hot, sweaty, and frazzled into the Imperial's lobby. REAL class is a place that doesn't even look twice--let alone look up their noses--at visitors in that state!! (That's a lesson I learned beautifully in your country, with the totally classy but down-to-earth tuxedoed servers during teatime at The Ritz!)
    Enjoying this report and missing India. Thank you for taking the time.

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    It is very kind of people to say that they are enjoying reading my report. I certainly hugely enjoyed reading many Fodors TA reports before I went.

    We thought the Haveli Dharampura was really nice Calinurse, unfortunately we did not think to view any rooms but I would imagine from the overall attractiveness of public areas that they would be very nice. Staying there would be very atmospheric and the staff we met were very friendly and spoke good English. Anyone considering staying should, however, be aware that it really is in the heart of the old city down very narrow and dusty little streets with all manner of small traders and the bustle and hum of local life surrounding you which I guess would be an attraction for some travellers and a turn off for others !

    Another brand new place that we tried whilst in Delhi which I forgot to mention in my previous post was the ‘Masala Library’ restaurant on Janpath next door to the Meridien hotel. Apparently there is a highly successful branch of this in Mumbai and it opened a Delhi branch in a very sleek setting just a couple of months ago which I had picked up on when exploring some blogs in advance of my trip. Our meal there was stupendously good and an absolute bargain for what one got. Modern Indian with a tasting menu of 19 courses [!] for circa £25 a head plus taxes. An Indian take on molecular gastronomy so course after tiny course unfolded all based on the traditional tastes and flavours of different parts of India but served in entirely new ways . All courses were pretty good and some courses were spectacularly and memorably good. An absolute must visit for anyone staying in Delhi who is interested in modern Indian food. I gather it is immensely popular but you can book in advance of a trip via email. http://masalalibrary.co.in/gallery.html

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    loncall, one of my favorite restaurants is a place in Bangkok called Gaggan. Gaggan is also the chef's name and he trained under the head chef at Il Bulli. His restaurant serves molecular cuisine with an Indian accent. It was voted the best restaurant in Asia for 2016. If you are going to be in Bangkok, I highly recommend it. Given your comments on Masala Library, I expect you would very much enjoy it.

    Thans for the recommendation.

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    I've been postponing beginning reading your report, loncall, thinking rightly from the title, I'd want to take the time for a thorough read. And now it will cost me potentially even more time than I'd imagined as my local library has a copy of ‘Indian Summer', requested, and ‘The Story of India’ has been added to my Netflix list.

    I've spent some time in India - north, south, east, west and have been trying to resist the thought of returning, another reason for ignoring your report which, as you now know, I've failed to do. Now waiting for more.

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    Fantastic narrative loncall .India is truly magical, with all its idiosyncrasies,a country which mystically lures the most intrepid traveller.

    Certainly tempted to try Masala Library and its on my 'hit list' next time in Delhi. Been an Indian food addict & I wouldn't mind risking life,limb nor belly to try out new cuisine and Delhi never ceases to surprise me.

    Another great city in India is Mumbai for creative cuisines, a multi-faceted metro, often inspires some,'out of the box' thinkers.One such place is Bombay Canteen,you folks must try it out.

    http://thebombaycanteen.com/

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    Gosh Kathie your link to Gaggon has had me immediately thinking of a reason for me to return to Bangkok! Myanmar is on my bucket list so that might be the opportunity. Similarly Inquest I now want to visit Mumbai in order to get to the Bombay Canteen.

    Sorry to have created more pressure on your time MmePerdu! I ‘read’ some of the books mentioned including the Indian Summer one via audiobooks which at least allowed me to double up whilst also driving or cooking or similar!

    We returned to Delhi Airport for our short flight to Jodhpur. Yet again it was a very model of a modern airport, calm, cool and orderly and with plenty of seating. It was not until we got to Varanasi at the end of our trip that we saw the vestiges of the total confusion, heat and madness that still haunts me from my previous trips thirty years ago. The Air India plane left on schedule and interior was old but clean. Because we had booked business class flights [to avoid the chaos that did not exist!] we got served with flurries of white table cloths and a reasonable lunch.

    Jodhpur airport is very small and our cases were soon retrieved. We had booked a hotel car to meet us but there was some confusion as to its whereabouts and the hotel representative at the airport bundled us into one of the numerous waiting taxis instead. We loved the Raas hotel from the very minute we arrived and it was probably the favourite of our trip, indeed it became one of my all-time favourite hotels. People who have visited it, or who are planning to visit it, may be interested in a little video I found that the architect has put together explaining how the hotel was designed to fit the small plot in the heart of the old city. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWTvmzdfuCM

    We felt that the design was very successful indeed with the view of the fort revealing itself as you wound through the hotel grounds and as you pulled back the shutters in your room. When we sat on our balcony as the sun set, with the fort lit up majestically before us with the old roofs of the town all higgedly piggedly underneath it we could hear the sounds of the old city around us; the odd firecracker, the calls to prayer by the local mosque, maybe a faint horn from an auto-rickshaw, and felt very much at one with it whilst at the same time being in a very comfortable and luxurious environment. A magic place.

    The room was designed in keeping with the rest of the hotel and was spacious and cool with a good sized bathroom and a neat little cubby-hole for all your cases and the wardrobe area thus removing clutter from the room itself. We felt it was outstanding value for money [less than £100 a night at that time of year].

    That night we climbed a short steep flight of internal steps in order to eat on the restaurant level overlooking the fort. The view and general feel and setting was out of this world stupendous, the service was great and the food was good [albeit the menu choices were perhaps rather on the ordinary side given the price, I guess however that they are catering to what many people staying want].

    The next morning, we ate breakfast in the equally attractive downstairs restaurant and enjoyed the freshly made South Indian choices on the menu, Masala Dosa etc. before stepping outside into the Clock tower market which is a few steps away from the hotel. Many local food and other businesses were juxta positioned alongside stalls selling bangles and saris. I am always interested in how such local markets sell some things which are instantly recognisable and could be on a supermarket shelf in South London whilst other things are totally alien and I would know how to use them or cook with them.

    We wandered around venturing a little way up some of the side streets and whilst a few people tried to engage us in conversation that we guessed would lead to an invitation into their shop the overall level of hassle here was low. In fact, they mainly seemed interested in the fact that my partner has a moustache with more than one stall holder commenting on this with some enjoyment!

    After a bit we got to a corner with a row of autorickshaws on it and negotiated a price for one of them to take us up to the fort.
    I gather that if you walk there is a more direct route but going to the fort via autorickshaw led you out of the town and along a road that swept up and around the side of the hill affording you great views of the town beneath you.

    Mehrangarh fort turned out to be everything a good tourist site should be. Not only was it spectacular but it was well run with an excellent audio guide that I would highly recommend. We were particularly intrigued by the way this audio guide explained how the path up to the fort and the right angled turns in the gates and archways was to prevent invading elephants from storming the fort as they could not get up the momentum to charge and batter down the fortifications. We clearly have no grasp of elephant warfare as to us it was difficult to imagine how an elephant could have got up any speed up such a steep hill even if the path had been straight! Plus, you would have seen any elephant coming from several miles away!

    We were there on a day with clear blue skies and the views for miles around and down towards the blue houses of Jodhpur were intriguing as we spent some time just hanging over the battlements looking at them. Had we been younger we might have tried the zip wire which soars across the landscape and which was bizarrely advertised by a huge billboard featuring a totally surreal and larger than life size picture of Boris Johnson saying words to the effect of Jodhpur has the best zip wire in the world. [For those readers from outside the UK Boris Johnson is a wildly controversial British politician, indeed by a weird turn of post Brexit fate currently our foreign secretary, who once got stuck on a zip wire during the London Olympics].

    We decided our days of zip wire antics were behind us and sedately progressed around the various exhibitions inside the fort which were well presented and explained and benefited from have many cooling fans strategically placed as the sun rose and the day got hotter. We enjoyed how inside the rugged red hewed walls of the fort there were many different styles of architecture denoting the different areas and some of these surrounding the women’s quarters where a brilliant white with elegant carved screens and decorated inside with mirrors and glass the colour of jewels.

    At the end there was also a good museum shop. I am not one for shopping at the best of times and I simply loathe beyond reason the sort of place where you have to bargain whilst they take out and show you realms of things that you do not want but this museum shop was full of lovely high quality stuff that was sold at a fixed price and which you could browse in your own time. I left with a carrier bag full of items including a very nice turquoise silk evening purse.

    We had a late lunch back in the hotel and I spent what remained of the afternoon by the attractive pool before a room service meal on our balcony enjoying a bottle of red wine that the hotel manager had kindly sent to our room in order to make up for the slight confusion with the hotel car at the airport.

    The following day we repeated the circuit of the market this time taking some photos of spots that had caught our eye and then headed off in an autorickshaw for the Umaid Bhawan Place. This palace, now a Taj hotel, is largely closed off to external visitors. We had considered staying there and when we eventually booked elsewhere I had envisaged we might have a meal there until I discovered that there is apparently a £60 cover charge per head in addition to whatever your meal costs. Whilst a minimum order price or a smaller cover charge would have been understandable given that they would wish to avoid having hordes of tourists sharing a drink between four people, this level of charge struck us as both daylight robbery and a signal that the hotel was more than a bit “up itself’ and hence not for us!

    The palace does however have a museum that you can visit [full of strangely interesting pictures of the Maharaja playing polo and such like] and a small collection of vintage cars that we inspected and you get good views of the external building which was built at about same time as the Rashtrapati Bhavan [then Viceroy’s house] in Lutyens Delhi. Apparently there is a film being made here at Jodhpur about the events in 1947 leading up to the partition and the independence which sounds as if it will be worth looking out for when it is released. http://rajasthanpost.com/index.php/2015/09/14/in-the-blue-city-of-british-raj/

    Later that day we wanted to see from ground level the area of Jodhpur famous for the blue houses which we had seen from above when visiting the fort. We got an autorickshaw to the area which we had read had the best streets [by virtue of asking it to take us to a guesthouse that we had spotted in the guidebook as being in the right general area]. The journey there was as fascinating as the destination taking us along an incredibly lengthy shopping street lined with tiny shops each one serving as a frame to a little vignette of local life. Men chatting on rickety chairs in front of displays of items such as batteries or light bulbs that looked as if they had been there on the shelves for at least fifty years, a glimpse of women in saris brushing the steps, hairdressers and barbers with the big leather seat backs facing the open street front and the customers facing mirrors on the back wall. I wished I could know more about all their stories and their lives! How could each tiny shop be economically viable?

    The ‘blue area’ was also fascinating with no other obvious tourists and no one taking much notice of us as we wandered around many streets taking in the ornate façades found on some of the old houses and peeping up into the side streets all painted in various hues of the trade mark blue. Every now and then the street we were on would open out and one could see glimpses of the fort towering above you. Dusk began to fall and so we decided we better head back and we made our way back to the shopping street we had journeyed along earlier and found an auto rickshaw without problem.

    Heading back through the Hotel’s old Haveli gates and into the cool glass cased reception area I knew how lucky I was to have enjoyed another very special day.

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    Jodhpur doesn't sound as congested as I picture India to be. The fort sounds lovely - how does it compare to the one in Jaipur? Your wander through the homes and back streets would be something we would very much enjoy.

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    Following but a little late.

    Glad you know what KMA means. :S-.

    I have always thought that the Indira Gandhi museum is a moving experience.

    As for those crazy drivers I got a T-shirt for our son in IGI. It depicted a crazed driver of a three wheeler speeding like the devil with a terrified passenger. Perfect. :D.

    Actually Indians are quite proud of IGI and for good reason. Our 1st trip was in 1978 and their airport then was Palam. It was partially open so bird were flying around it. Not quite what we saw at O'Hare when we left. :D.

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    Wonderful report!

    The Mehrangarh fort is the best in Rajasthan! It even has an elevator these days. One can ascend by elevator, then walk down leisurely to see the sights.

    Ossian (about ten miles outside Jodhpur) is a tiny town with ancient and modern Jain and Hindu temples.

    Waiting for your next installment . . .

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    I do hope you will have the opportunity to eat at Gaggan in Bangkok. When you decide to take your trip to Burma/Myanmar I'll be glad to help with you planning. It has become our favorite Asian destination. We plan to return in 2017 for trip #4.

    Very much enjoying your report!

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    Jacketwatch I think the t shirt you bought your son sounds fun!

    Kathie I will definitely be drawing on your assistance on Fodors re Myanmar if we get to go there!

    Tripplanner001. Jodhpur was a busy little place but not really congested in the town [no traffic jams or similar and not hordes of crowds] and the fort felt very airy and spacious set as it is high on the rocks. Whilst beautiful inside Jodhpur is more a fort than the Amber Palace in Jaipur which is slightly more glitzy and dazzling from afar. We loved simply Jodhpur and it is most definitely worth including in any trip to Rajasthan.


    We moved into a new phase of the holiday when we left Jodhpur as we had a car and driver. As I mentioned in my initial post we used a firm called ‘India by car and driver’ and we were very pleased indeed with both our driver and the service as a whole. We had communicated with them and shared our proposed itinerary two or three months in advance and once we accepted their price [which was very clearly set out by them with all the inclusions] we were asked to pay 20% deposit in advance [online by way of a visa card] and only had to pay the balance once we got there and knew that everything was satisfactory. It all worked like clockwork and Raj our driver picked us up at Raas hotel on the appointed day and we set off in the spacious, spotlessly clean, air conditioned car which was full to the brim of boiled sweets and ice cold water held in a cool box. We also got given a fully charged local mobile phone which had Raj’s number and that of his company keyed into it so we could contact him as and when needed without incurring any charges on our own mobiles. http://www.indiabycaranddriver.com/

    We headed directly to Jaipur which took in the region of five hours and as we progressed along the road it became clear that, in addition to having an experienced and professional driving style, Raj also had good conversational English and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the local area which he generously shared with us. As a result of this we are now considerably more au fait with the range of local industries and other aspects of social geography in Rajasthan than we are of those in Southern England where we live!

    Our hotel in Jaipur was ‘Jas Vilas’ and it was set in the modern part of town about ten minutes’ drive from the older pink city. It was small and individual and not part of any of the big chains which is exactly what we had been looking for. Initially we felt our heritage room was perhaps a tad dark and we were a little unsure of whether the in room fountain and the somewhat whacky bathroom furniture was to our taste. However, it was spacious and everything was spotlessly clean and it grew on us as the stay progressed. It was in any case not long before we found ourselves enjoying a generous gin and tonic in the exceptionally pleasant outdoor dining area by their neat little swimming pool, surrounded by trailing flowers, admiring the typically painted walls and the local fabrics of the table settings and being served by exceptionally charming staff. The food there was good, most reasonably priced for the quality [circa £5 for a main course] and clearly cooked freshly to order. We ended up eating there most evenings as it was most relaxing.

    The following day we met Raj at the agreed time and explained to him our plan to follow a walk in the Lonely planet guide around the pink city prior to visiting the city place. He seemed concerned that this was a deviation from the norm and went to considerable lengths to warn us of all that could befall us if we walked through the streets of Jaipur without a guide [shopkeepers, rickshaw drivers, roadworks and street food seemed to feature highly in these warnings]. We persevered though and got dropped off at the starting point of the walk. As expected we trotted around the suggested route with no untoward events at all admiring the ornate gates and buildings all painted pink by civic decree and noting the grid like layout of this old city which contrasted with the windy narrow roads of Jodhpur.

    There were a fair number of tourist shops as we were near the main sights but there was also a lot of local life to see; street dentistry, food stalls selling deep fried treats for breakfasting workers, a little fruit market, several small street corner Hindu temples with flowers and ringing bells, a whole street full of shops selling pots and pans, cloth for turbans hanging off the balconies. After about half an hour or so we were admiring Jawa Mahal with its famous exotic façade and then made our way to the City Palace squeezing around the major and dust making civic works underway in that area as the Jaipur metro is being built.

    City Palace was beautiful albeit not in the spectacular setting of the Amber Palace that we were to see the following day. I particularly liked the courtyard of the four seasons where each of the four doors into it are exquisitely painted each representing a different season.

    We then left the palace and crossed over the road to Jantar Mantar the ages old observatory. We had not thought that this would be wildly interesting but we really enjoyed it finding the gardens it is located in much cooler than the splendid but very hot marble courtyards of the city palace. We live very near Greenwich Observatory in London where the Prime Meridian is and used to be frequent visitors when our son was younger. Despite the timelines being similar the two observatories could not be more different and the contrast in approach was very intersting. Whereas in Greenwich the displays are indoors and the focus is on clocks and telescopes the Jantar Mantar has absolutely huge sweeping outside structures, looking like modern sculptures, acting as massive sundials.

    The following day we drove up to Amber Palace which was built as a household palace with the family retreating up the Hill to the higher and more fortified Jaigarh fort if under attack. The views from both are splendid but the Palace has the more interesting interior.

    After Amber Palace we asked our driver to take us to the Anokhi museum which is set next to an old stepwell in Amber village [maybe five or six minutes’ drive from the palace car park so a very easy add on]. The little museum is set in a restored Haveli and it showcases, explains and demonstrates the local craft of block printing. It is a must see for anyone interested in fabric and sewing as I am but was also more generally interesting given its place in local culture. It also has a nice little shop but we also visited the main store down in Jaipur the following day which has a much greater selection. I was in Heaven! http://www.anokhi.com/museum/home.html

    On one of the days in Jaipur we had our only poor dining experience of the whole trip at Peshwari in the ITC hotel. Famous for its food from the North West Frontier and a sub branch of Buckara in Delhi we did not think we could go wrong. But it turned out that it was not for us at all. The restaurant is set to one side of the main hotel in a dining room that had circa 1970s orange and brown décor, very uncomfortable seating [stools with no backs] and menus all printed on a wooden block that was worn and peeling at the edges. The service was strange and managed to pull off the somewhat difficult trick of being both slightly obsequious and slightly supercilious at the same time. Throughout the meal we were barely left alone with different servers all flitting back and forward asking at random if all was OK and throughout we were repeatedly pressed to order more and more food even when it was clear that we already had more than we could eat [we are hearty eaters but the portion sizes were huge] but when we declined we both felt they acted a little bit as if they thought we did not have the money for anything further. The food was indeed good and had the service and atmosphere been better we would have enjoyed the meal but as it was we owuld not recommend it at all.

    Our final day in Jaipur was the ‘rest day’ that we had built into our holiday planning as we felt we would need time out from all the sightseeing in order to just loll around the hotel and read. We went to Anokhi for lunch in their coffee shop and some shopping but did nothing else. We were really pleased we had done this as, although there were still many things of interest in Jaipur, we wanted to conserve energy and enthusiasm for the rest of the trip.

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    Glad to hear that you prevailed convincing your guide about doing the walking tour of Jaipur. I too have used LP on several introductory city walks, and find that it does a good job.

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    Loving this report, Loncali. Shame about Peshwar, and any place when weird service and atmosphere interferes with enjoyment of food. (There's one at ITC Mughal in Agra too,; fortunately, very good food and service, with a lots of interesting breads.)

    What you said about your Jaipur hotel dinner being relaxing... Maybe it's (old) age, but at the end of a day in India, after returning to lodging, the last thing i want is to go out again! So finding a decent hotel restaurant is part of my search now. What about you?

    Look forward to reading more!!

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    Glad you had a better experience on the Agra Peshawri Callinurse. I agree with you that we were a little less inclined to go out for meals in the evening than we usually are in Europe and hence felt that we spent more of our 'down time' in the hotels than we typically do. We were really pleased with the highly varied places we stayed in [from the top to the bottom of the price ranges] and taken together they really made the holiday for us.

    The next step we drove out of Agra passing by the distinctive pink city gates for the last time and through an area with many young people piled high into rickshaws and minibuses which our driver told us had may colleges and universities located nearby.

    After some time we turned off the main road to Chand Baori stepwell at Abheneri. This is a very worthwhile little detour, not only to see the very grand stepwell and to admire the feats of engineering that created it, but to view the pleasant rural countryside and the workers in the fields that surround it. We have not seen stepwells in any other country than India and would be very interested if anyone knows why they emerged here and not elsewhere. They have a very attractive symmetry about them and seem to have acted as a place of beauty and a gathering place as well as a functional structure. Definitely worth asking your driver to come here if you are on the Jaipur to Agra road, it was around 10-15 minutes from the main road.

    The other stop was at the very well-known site at Fatehpur Sikri. This had featured in the Sonna Datta ‘Treasures of the Indus’ BBC programme that I mentioned earlier which gives mush useful background context. You have to get on a little bus up from the car park to get to it with all sorts of attendant pushing and shoving and paying for tickets when on the bus so make sure you have some small notes! [The lack of queuing discipline in India often took us by surprise when it arose in situations where there was no need whatsoever for anyone to push in as it was entirely clear that everyone was going to get on. People quite often barged bodily into us, as if seeking to get onto a crushed London Underground train in the rush hour]

    Fatehpur Sikri is spectacular partly because it was all built in a very short period of time and so the architecture is more uniform than elsewhere and the red sandstone and carvings are magnificent. The site is quite large and spread out and it was not crowded on the day we went so we enjoyed having a bit of space to roam peacefully around taking it all in.

    We arrived in Agra in the late afternoon and went straight to the Mehtab Bagh to gain our first view of the Taj Mahal from across the river. The Mehtab Bagh was designed from the outset to be part of the features of the Taj mirroring the ornamental gardens within the Taj complex and it is having recently been cleaned up to form now a relatively well tended park like environment. Large white tipped campus grass growing along the river banks framed the view of the Taj and it was a great taster for the what was to be seen closer up the following day.

    We stayed at the Cora Tree homestay in Agra that was very cheap [about £25 a night including a substantial breakfast]. It is in a stellar location right by the East Gate ticket office. We enjoyed a home cooked vegetarian evening meal there on both nights and can recommend it for those who are comfortable in basic accommodation.

    The following morning, we set our alarm for 5 am and were out on the darkened streets making our way to the ticket office by 5.30. We got a bit worried in the ticket office as there were notices saying you might have to show ID and we did not have any with us [in UK there is no legal requirement to carry any ID and so we are not in the habit of doing so unless we happen to have a driving license with us]. Fortunately, they did not ask for anything other than our money and so we did not have to retrace our steps to get our passports but I would advise others to take formal ID with them just in case.

    We then walked down the street now with a faint light in the sky and with many rickshaws and horse and carts hurtling along bringing tourists from more distant hotels to the entrance. After passing through a pretty perfunctory security check we were inside. As others have said nothing prepares for you for the spectacle of the Taj Mahal at Dawn and we had perfect clear blue skies that day. It was truly breath taking. The sun’s rays glance off the marble and the whole building, which is very much larger than I had envisaged, seems to shimmer. It was, I understand, built as a representation of Paradise on earth and it offers that image even centuries after it was built and when surrounded by tourists taking selfies.

    We also enjoyed Agra Fort and the Itimid ad Duala tomb that day but it will be that image of the Taj as it slowly revealed itself as you walk through the entrance gate which will stay in my mind.

    The following day we drive to Delhi airport up the new express way and said goodbye to Raj our driver who had taken such good care of us. Our flight to Varanasi was short and we were soon being greeted by a staff member from the hotel and were being ushered into a limousine and conveyed in some style to Nadesar Palace. This was our end of holiday splurge, made less expensive by a very good deal they offered on their website at that time of year if you were staying for two nights or more, and it was a real treat. A small and intimate hotel with gracious and friendly staff all set in extensive green gardens. The history of the hotel was fascinating, it started life in the British East India company before becoming a property of the local Maharaja and many pictures and photographs lined the walls illustrating its earlier years. Our room, called the Bhutan room, was one of the cheapest but was most attractive, large and with décor and bathroom all in keeping with the broader historic environment. We felt very spoilt and lucky to be staying there.

    We had chosen not to use a guide anywhere else in India as we do not enjoy having to attend to the guide and to listen to potted history of sights and we much prefer to read up about them first and then simply absorb the atmosphere when there. We felt, however, that Varanasi might need some interpretation and guidance and so we had pre-booked two tours with a firm called ‘Varanasi walks’ that was getting good reviews. They were both excellent and easy to organise vie email with them ahead of the day. Our guide Nomi was just what we were looking for i.e. someone who could explain the meaning of what we were seeing and its human worth rather than just reeling off umpteen facts and figures,
    The first tour was a boat trip along the Ghats at sunrise being rowed along just to the two of in our own private boat. It is almost impossible to describe the atmosphere, particularly as you move towards the funeral areas, but it felt a unique privilege to be party to so many people celebrating life and death.

    We returned to the hotel for a restorative breakfast [the hotel does a very good eggs benedict!] before setting off later that morning with the same guide for our second tour called ‘Northern Bazaars and Hidden Alleys’. If you do nothing else in Varanasi, you should do this tour. It takes you through parts of the city which are so different, so medieval in appearance, that you feel as if you have somehow slipped into a parallel Universe. You wind deep through the maze of tiny alleyways all alive with different trades and full of the hubbub of life, visiting small Temples and Mosques that you would never find on your own in a million years and hearing from Nomi about the life of the area and the way in which the beliefs of local people inform it.

    The next day we organised a taxi through the hotel to visit Sarnath which is about a 30 minute drive away. It is where the Buddha is said to have given his first sermon and has a nice little museum at the entry that it well worth visiting despite the seriously officious guard on the door who treated my having a mobile phone in my pocket as if it was a major criminal offense. [there are lockers at an earlier gate which I had missed that it should have been placed into]. The site itself is, however, suitably peaceful and it was a pretty and tranquil place to end to all our visits for this holiday.

    For some reason Varanasi airport had closed off the access road about a hundred yards short of the terminal thus creating the need for much carting of cases over flowerbeds, multiple additional security checks which seemed flawed in their execution as some people clearly bypassed them, the airport signage showing completely wrong flight times, airport shops where packets of pringles were kept under lock and key, lots of aggressive shouting by the staff member at the gate and a chaotic system which invited business class customers to edge round the perimeter of roped off areas in the tiny space between the rope and walls to access priority boarding. After navigating this kerfuffle, we felt quite glad to be going home and returned to London very smoothly via an overnight at the JW Marriott at Delhi [a big and could be anywhere international hotel but very near airport].and our British Airways flight.

    On the flight home I was so very glad that I had returned to India and seen some of the most amazing places in the world all in way that had neither rushed or exhausted us. I was also secretly thinking about my next trip. Where should I go next?

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    Very nice report. Thank you.

    Not getting into a line is just the way it is there. I too have seen this over and over. Once on a plane from AMS to DEL an Indian guy tried to go ahead of three other men in an line for the lavatory. He was immediately told where the line was! A few weeks ago I was in a crowded Indian grocery store here and some guy from behind pushed his cart THREE times onto my back. Just the way it is.


    I'll bet you were indeed glad to be going home after that chaos checking into your flight. I too can empathize. We've been there. Sigh.

    Were too next? I was recently watching a Smithsonian program, a docu-drama about ancient Burma. That tweeked our interest.

    We spent 5 days in Singapore last Feb. and fell in love with this city-state and Kuala Lumpur is very close too, maybe a 1 hr. Flight.,

    Great report and happy travels. :).

    Larry.

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    I, too, identify with the "lack of queuing discipline in India". As jacketwatch mentions, at times just having someone take charge does the trick, if momentarily. Edging my way toward the service counter in the scrum at the main post office in Connaught Place, just about to score, I was cut off by several eager souls. A well-dressed man beside me addressed the miscreants in no uncertain terms, in English I imagine for my benefit, and as one, they shrunk back leaving me space to approach. A fine moment.

    Thanks for the report and the suggestions throughout. Noted for next time.

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    such a lovely and informative report, loncall, so much so that if we do make it to India, we may just use it as our complete itinerary. [excepting the places you weren't so keen on of course!]

    Thanks so much for taking the trouble to post it.

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    This is how it was for us MmePerdu at the Indian super store Mustafa in Singapore. We were looking at jewelry, the 22 karat gold kind and one guy just tried to cut in and get our salesman to wait on him. The salesman and me both told him he had to,wait. If you have been in Indian jewelery stores then you know the sales people don't take out items for more than one customer at a time for obvious reasons.

    Later at another jewelery counter the same thing happened. Some man cut in as we were being waited on and all this to ask if the price is in dollars or rupees??? Seriously?

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    Also regarding differing social norms, there's the curiosity phenomenon. In Jaisalmer with Holi beginning, there was a very long line at an ATM. When I got to the machine, the only westerner in sight, the crowd of men pressed closer in around me, watching every step of my transaction, fascinated. It was startling, but by then I was somewhat used to it, though not in the body-press form this one took. But I didn't feel threatened in any way and nothing to be done in any case.

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    I had an interesting moment of curiosity back home actually. I bought one thing at an Indian grocery store and then went next door to the Subway shop to get a sandwich. The Indian gal waiting on me asked me about why I had a jar if Indian food, a jar of chutney I think. I told her I like and she seemed surprised. Then I mentioned that my wife is Indian and that I have become quite a fan of Indian food. Her chicken curry is the best IMHO! Anyway I gained 40 lbs. after we got married so I blame it on her cooking. :D. So this little gal said "your wife is Indian but you are American." I told her very nicely with a big smile that "love crosses all boundaries." :). Her smile was bigger than mine.

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    Thanks for the report. I have shied away from India but so love reading trip reports. My interest is piqued even more, but just need my confidence to catch up! Great, great insightful read. Glad you had a wonderful time and that you experienced the trip you were looking for. This is exactly why research and good planning is needed to experience a country that is personal to you!

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    Ah yes, the scrum where there should be a queue! Try an Indian train station ticket office in the run up to Christmas.... The Chinese are pretty bad too.

    Great report, thanks. Next? Well, you were in the Bhutan room.

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    Thank you for reading and for all your responses.

    Annhig and Lolazahra, I do hope you both get to India some day. It was a simply amazing trip and very easy to manage.

    It really is not even faintly scary or difficult once you are there and, as we found, there are many comfortable places to stay in all price ranges. English is so widely spoken that if you get slightly lost or into any other minor pickle we found it very simple indeed to sort it out compared with say Spain or Italy where we do not speak the language.

    Hiring a car and driver made it all very relaxing as well as there was no last minute panic or crush on busy stations to catch trains or buses and no need to lug your bags on and off them.

    To thursdaysd- Ahaa...... Bhutan, now that's an idea !

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    Just finished your trip report and loved the content. A very easy read and could visualize your experiences easily! That is just the way I would like to visit India. I will be making my third trip about the middle of December with a friend who is making this trip gor the first time. Two retired 60+ women of Indian origin, doing this trip together. Neither one of us were born in India and with no idea of how to trace family roots!

    Problem with dealing with your agents is everything seems very regimented, 1 night here, 2 there, 3 elsewhere! I like the idea of having your own car/driver, but want to book hotels when I am ready to move on. If we like a place then we can be free to stay a few extra days! You said you booked your own hotels online. Can you share what the daily cost of car/ driver was?

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    In dealing with agents - any agent - you need to be specific about what you want. For many people three or four days in a place is plenty. Just remember that it takes four nights in a place to give you three full days. Sometimes agents can get you better prices on hotels - you'll have to check. In any case, I always recommend that people use an agent to book their car and driver. That way you have back-up if something goes wrong. If you contract directly with a driver, you don't have that.

    If you have never used an agent, be aware that you will need to negotiate exactly what you want. Your agent wants you to be happy and will gladly make changes (even on the fly) if that is what you want.

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    Hello Ravisinghe, I paid a total of 28000 INR for my trip as described above [i.e.morning pick up from Jodhpur hotel and transfer from Jodhpur to Jaipur, use of car and driver for sightseeing during a 4 night stay in Jaipur, transfer Jaipur to Agra, use of car and driver for sightseeing for 2 night stay in Agra, transfer on final day from Agra to Delhi airport via expressway]. We paid 20 % in advance via a secured online payment system and the balance once we got there.

    We booked and paid for our hotels independently, as we did not want to give any untested company too much money up front. However having now personally experienced the service and set up of the company we used I would be happy to consider them for hotels as well should we ever travel to India again.

    I imagine that the price depends on type of car [ours was a large and very comfortable Innova] the distance you want to travel, and whether travelling in the low season like us or in high season etc. So sensible to get several quotes from different places based on your trip plans and then to negotiate from there.

    I agree with Kathie that it is important to be clear about what you want and to double check exactly what is included e.g. we specified we wanted air conditioning, working back seat seat belts, a driver who spoke basic English. When we got the quotes we also checked that road tolls and petrol, drivers overnight expenses were included and that the quote included VAT and taxes. Plus we went for an agency that reviews suggested did not take you on unwanted shopping trips for commission ! I guess I also sort of informally assessed the clarity of their email communications and speed of response.

    As described in my trip report we felt that the agency we used 'India by car and driver'and Raj our driver, fully met all our requirements and exceeded our expectations.

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    As a P.S. for Ravinsingh; I notice you mention that you are of Indian descent and maybe interested in tracing your ancestors.

    Genealogy is one of my interests and by complete chance I was looking at a blog this am which said a whole lot of new records are now online in respect of records kept during period of East India Company and subsequently British rule. Just copying the link in case by any chance any of your family had any links with those institutions !

    https://blog.findmypast.co.uk/exploring-british-india-office-records-2051806596.html

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    loncal - thanks for the financial info [the driver seems pretty reasonable and comparable with what a similar deal cost us in Sri Lanka a few years ago] and also for the link to the records. Both my mum and grandma were born in India and though my mum has a birth certificate, her mother never had one which led to problems when my mum wanted a passport for the first time.

    I would love to try to trace Grandma - we think that she was born in "Madras" in about 1900 - so thanks!

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    Thank you so much Ioncall for your response regarding the financial info and the link to trace family. Both my paternal grandparents were born in India and were taken to Fiji as indentured labourers to work the sugarcane plantations during the British Raj. I never met my grandfather since he passed away when my dad was a preschooler but I knew my grandmother well and that is the side of the family I am most interested in meeting, since I heard many stories from her growing up. Unfortunately I was young and did not write down any of the information.

    I have contacted both India by car & driver and Castle & king. Waiting to hear from them.

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