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Trip Report Our long awaited 'Incredible India' experience

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After dreaming of visiting India for years, finally we made it, and not only was this our first trip to India (well, with the exception of 2 weeks on a beach in Goa, a very long time ago), but after years of travelling around the world, often with the help of all you wonderful fodorites, I’ve finally got around to writing my first trip report.

We are a couple in our 40's with no kids and our aim was to experience India, but at a pace that didn’t leave us needing another holiday at the end of it! The keys for us were to experience the local culture, wander the markets, enjoy the food and take in the sights. We enjoy seeing the odd temple or palace but are not hugely into history or museums, but we are massive photographers and this was a huge part of our trip.


ITINERARY


Kolkata – Oberoi Hotel - 3 nights
Varanasi – Radisson Hotel - 2 nights (Changed to 1 night mid-trip)
Delhi – The Imperial Hotel - 1 night (Changed to 2 nights mid-trip)
Agra – ITC Mughal Hotel - 1 night
Jaipur – The Raj Palace - 3 nights
Jodhpur – Ajit Bhawan - 3 nights
Udaipur
 - Leela Palace - 3 nights
Mumbai – The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel - 2 nights

Thursday 20th December 2012
BRISBANE - SINGAPORE - KOLKATA

Finally, the day had arrived for our India trip. Our day started at 5.30am with a taxi to Brisbane Airport. It hadn't actually sunk in that tonight we would be in Kolkata! The Singapore Airlines flight was on time and ran smoothly, service and food weren't bad, then we had 3 hours to kill at Singapore Airport, so we took a walk, had some food, and it wasn't long before we were boarding our Silk Air flight to Kolkata. Again the flight was good, the service was fine and it was only 3.5 hrs, so after years of dreaming of going to India, at 8.45pm we landed in Kolkata. Only then did it begin to sink in. We were actually here. We got through immigration and customs in minutes, our cases came out pretty quickly and in no time at all we were in the arrivals hall, where our driver from the Oberoi was waiting for us, with a smile, a bottle of cold water and cool towel. Lovely! Within minutes we were making our way into the traffic heading for the city. We were very tired but exhilarated at having arrived and kept grinning as we looked out the window. The streets were busy with people and traders and food stalls, and the traffic was chaotic, even though quite late at night. The city was more ramshackle than I had imagined - no big skyscrapers here. We were so engrossed in everything that the drive flew by and in no time at all we were pulling up outside the stunning white colonial style building of the Oberoi Grand. We were taken to our room to check in (we had been upgraded when I had previously emailed the manager requesting a higher floor non-smoking room). The room was lovely, with a very comfortable bed, just what we needed after 21 hours travelling. We unpacked, showered and went to bed, although it took a while to fall asleep we were just so excited to be here.

Friday 21st December 2012
KOLKATA

We woke at 5am this morning, which was partly because we were eager to see the city, and partly jetlag. So we headed to the gym, which felt great after the previous day's traveling, then after showering, and having a wonderful breakfast, we ventured outside. Our hotel really was in the midst of everything - on a very busy street with lots of traffic and honking horns, and traders selling there wares up and down the street. It was only 9am so still pretty quiet. We took a walk up to the Maiden where boys were playing cricket, then walked the back streets to the New Market. We were pretty jet lagged and everything felt a bit overwhelming, so we decided to get a car and driver to take us round to get our bearings. Having taken a walk, despite my intention to dress modestly in three quarter pants, a t-shirt and sandals, I felt like a stood out like a sore thumb so changed into my walking trousers and a shirt, and took off the sunglasses, thereby deeming most of the clothes I had brought with me unsuitable for the rest of the trip! We booked a car with the concierge and at 10.30am we set off. It was a brilliant idea. For 2 hours he drove us round, starting with Eden Gardens Cricket Ground which Mr V desperately wanted to see, he took us down to the Ganges where we watched people praying and bathing in the filthy water, it was incredible to watch, then we drove past the Writers Building, around the streets, over the Howrah Bridge, taking photos along the way and just sitting grinning as we watched the scenes outside pass by. Then he took us to Mother Theresa's home, where we went inside and saw her tomb, which was quite moving. Our last stop was the Victoria Monument, and the driver was pretty shocked that we didn't want to go in, just photograph it from the outside, philistines that we are! When we got back to the hotel at lunchtime we really felt we'd packed such a lot in already. The car and driver for that morning was definitely a good call.

We decided to have lunch at the hotel and as we took a table outside near the swimming pool this was our first chance to test how helpful the hotel would be in catering to Mr V’s gluten-free needs as a Coeliac, as the menu consisted of sandwiches, pizzas and pasta ... we needn't have worried! After handing over a coeliac card, we ordered vegetable fried rice (which wasn't on the menu), then the chef came out to assure him that they would make anything he liked and assured him gluten free bread was now being made and would be ready for his future meals at the hotel. The lunch was delicious and very relaxing sitting by the pool and the weather was still warm. I decided to relax with my book by the beautiful pool in the afternoon, but the heat went very quickly. Jet lag and a busy morning got the better of us and we decided on a quick nap in our room at 4.30pm but we both fell fast asleep and didn't wake until 7.30pm! We headed downstairs to the Thai restaurant, which we hadn't thought to book, and they had no tables free until 9.30pm - so much for our quick meal and early night! When we finally got a table in the restaurant it was lovely. We had fantastic food and wonderful service, and Richard, the Food and Beverage Manager couldn’t have been more helpful. Finally, we headed to be after a wonderful first full day in Kolkata.

Saturday 22nd December
KOLKATA

We had an early start today (which wasn't a problem due to our jet lag) so we could head off to the flower market at 6am. This was so worth it. Not really a market as we think of it, more little muddy tracks with hundreds of flower sellers setting up shop, under the Howrah Bridge. Not another tourist in sight, although we were fairly conspicuous by the white suited peak capped Oberoi driver who insisted on showing us around, which was actually great as we felt very safe taking our cameras out and getting some fabulous pictures, what a great experience. We headed back to the hotel for a shower and breakfast.

Next we went for a walk into the old part of Kolkata. Fantastic! Dusty streets, filled with people, cars, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, bikes, cows. We wandered past street stalls selling all kinds of food, watched men bathing at water outlets on the street, and marveled at all kinds of businesses, from the man sitting on the pavement hand-cutting keys to the man at the typewriter providing office services. We wandered for a couple of hours until we were hot and tired and headed back to our hotel. I was so hot and dusty I decided I wanted a swim and had to do it before the temperature dropped in the afternoon, so by 11.30am I was by the pool with my book and the sun was still warm. The pool, however, was not. Despite this I braved the ice cold water which after a few minutes felt refreshing. Mr V joined me but it was too cold to stay in for very long. We dried off and ordered another delicious vegetable fried rice lunch. We decided to have some time relaxing as we were still very tired, so spent the rest of the afternoon reading by the pool which was lovely. After last night's experience at dinner we decided to book a restaurant and chose the hotel's multi-cuisine restaurant La Terrasse for 9pm, as we wanted to go for a walk in the early evening to Park Road. When we headed out of the hotel we were shocked at the noise from outside, there were people everywhere! As it turned out there was a march going on with thousands of people involved. They were protesting for stronger punishments for crimes against women, after a brutal rape and beating by 6 men in Delhi had left a girl in intensive care. There had been similar marches escalating into riots in Delhi in recent days. We walked, or rather shuffled our way through the crowds past all the street traders to Park Road, which had all the Christmas lights on. We had a look around a great bookshop, Oxford Books, but beyond that there wasn't a lot to see. It was a nice thing to do on our last evening in Kolkata, but we were back in the hotel at 7pm, so we brought our dinner reservation forward, and went at 7.30pm.

Dinner in La Terrasse was a highlight, and mainly due to the wonderful service we received from Richard, the Food and Beverage Manager. He welcomed us like family and when we said we wanted to try some of the Bengali Specialties he asked us to let him choose. Mr V had decided to go vegetarian for the trip but I didn’t find that so easy, so decided to use my judgement and go vegetarian if eating anywhere that I felt unsure about and eat meat in the 5 star places. We had a mixture of vegetarian starters which were delicious, followed by a Bengali lamb curry with mace and black cardamom, with Poori bread for me, and a Bengali Vegetable curry, with ridge gourd, potatoes and poppy seeds for Mr V. All were absolutely delicious, and this remains the best meal we had on the whole trip (and we did have lots of wonderful food elsewhere). As all of their contained gluten, the chef prepared a beautiful complimentary fruit platter for us. It was a lovely meal to have on our last night in Kolkata. Our Oberoi experience was exceptional, with the overriding feature being the warm and caring service, unusual for a big chain hotel. They have a no-tipping policy which means you get great service because that's what they do and it also makes a great place to find your feet. Kolkata was wonderful, a great place to start our adventure, and the Oberoi made it all the more special.

Next: KOLKATA - VARANASI

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