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Craig & Jeane's Full Trip Report - Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore and Delhi

Craig & Jeane's Full Trip Report - Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore and Delhi

Old Mar 5th, 2005, 02:06 AM
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Craig & Jeane's Full Trip Report - Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore and Delhi

We have just returned from a fabulous 2 week trip to the "Golden Triangle" in India. This report is written in sections that will be continued on this thread.

As some of the regulars on this forum know, we chose to fly to Delhi (DEL) from Hartford, Connecticut (BDL) via Chicago (ORD), Tokyo (NRT) and Bangkok (BKK). Although the trip was 50% longer than if we connected through Europe, we were able to upgrade from economy to business class using miles on United from BDL to BKK. We then purchased relatively inexpensive business class tickets from BKK to DEL on Air India.

This was the third time we had flown the BDL-ORD-NRT-BKK route on United business class. Back in 2000 our first trip to BKK was quite the novelty with the personal TV's and the seats that massage your lower back. Now in 2005 United's planes are starting to look "tired" - not surprising given their financial situation. Competitors now have seats that fully recline in business class while United only offers this in first. That being said, we made the best of it using www.seatguru.com to choose our seats in the upper cabin of their 747's for the ORD-NRT and NRT-BKK legs.

We were a little leary about flying Air India, having heard some of the horror stories but it was worth doing as the layover at BKK was only 3 hours. The flight from BKK to DEL on an A310 was cramped in business class but for the 4 hour flight, it was tolerable. The plane was very clean, the food was good and we didn't crash. The seats on the 747 on the return flight were much more roomy and comfortable.

United could not check our baggage through to DEL. They claimed they could not bring the BKK-DEL Air India flight up on their computer. So, at BKK we had to go through immigration and customs, collect our bags, check in, and pay a 500 Baht (US$10) per person departure tax that we could have avoided if we had been checked through. Although our flight left at 3 AM Bangkok time, we were pleased the business class lounge that Air India uses was open.

We arrived at DEL at about 5:30 AM India time. The airport was deserted. We sailed through immigration, collected our bags and quickly went through customs. Our representative from Compass Tours was waiting for us on the other side. He showed us where the ATM was located and we each withdrew 4000 Rupies ($100) with no problems.

As we exited the airport and headed to our vehicle, we were besieged by a hoard of "porters" all grabbing our bags trying to "help" us in exchange for a few Rupies. I had informed Jeane that this would happen and told her to hang on tightly to her bags. Meanwhile I was telling one of the guys "no no no" as he tried to grab my stuff. I was a little ticked off that the Compass representative made no effort to fend these guys off. When we got to the car they succeeded in helping load everything in and then demanded a "tip". Since my smallest bill was 100 Rupies, I wasn't about to give them anything and I told them no, no, no I didn't ask for their services and didn't have any money to pay them. We drove off, ending the confrontation. The Compass Tours representative introduced our driver, Karan and handed us the vouchers for our private tour. We dropped him off somewhere in south Delhi and began the long drive to Agra.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 07:17 AM
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In a previous post from India I shared our first impressions of this amazing country that we experienced on our drive from Delhi to Agra. We had spent time in third world places before so a lot of the things we saw did not seem that unusual. What we did find interesting though was the variety of animals interdispersed amongst the human population - camels, oxen, cows, monkeys and of course, the "dancing bears" with their owners on the side of the road.

The Delhi - Agra highway is a good road by India standards. It is paved all the way and actually has two lanes in each direction in the busier areas. We quickly found that driving in India requires special skills which, fortunately for us, our driver Karan possessed. Because the roads are shared by all kinds of vehicles and animals it is necessary to pass often. Timing is critical - one must take advantage of passing opportunities before those vehicles behind you, those in front of you or those coming at you do it first. In India size does matter - since we were in an SUV (Toyota Qualis), we had an advantage over almost all but the larger trucks. Drivers use their horn more often than their brakes. They will honk to let others know that they are passing, that they want to pass or that if others don't get out of the way, they'll get hit.

We stopped so that our driver could rest and have a snack at the half way point between Delhi and Agra. While there are no rest areas on India highways, local entrepreneurs have built restaurants with gift shops and relatively clean western-style rest rooms at strategic places. This was our first introduction to the Indian rest room attendant - the guy that provides you with all the necessities in exchange for a small tip. The guy at this place was nice enough to break my 100 Rupee note, keep his 10 Rupee (25 cents) tip and give me nine 10 Rupee notes in return to use for future visits.

We arrived at Amarvilas in Agra around noon. A Compass Tours representative was there to help us check in and to schedule our guide for the next two days. There was some confusion on the part of the representative because I think he thought we would be arriving earlier on one of those midnight flights from Europe. It was not a problem, though. We were shown to our room. It was spacious with a huge bath and a nice sized deck overlooking the Taj Mahal. The view of the Taj is from the east so it looks different from the usual photos you see which are taken from the south. It was a great view none-the-less.

Neither of us had slept much on the planes (maybe 6 hours total) so we showered and slept for about 4 hours. After we awoke, we took some time to check out the hotel grounds. In addition to the view of the Taj, our 3rd floor room looked directly our over the pool. Although the temperature could not have been more than 70 F, there were several people sunning themselves. I did some time on the internet to let our families know we arrived safely and to do a quick post on Fodors. We returned to the room and our deck to enjoy a cocktail and watch some Indian dance which is performed on a platform above the pool. It was quite nice but far away. We got a better view of the action using our binoculars. We decided to have dinner in the continental restaurant. We split an order of vegetarian thalis which were quite good. After dinner we were tired again so we went to bed.

We awoke quite early. The plan was to leave with the guide at 6 AM using the golf cart supplied by Amarvilas to see the Taj at sunrise. We met Rashid and headed over. Rashid surprised us by picking up the $18 per person entry fee which was not supposed to be included in the cost of the tour. I did not complain. In Agra the sun rises at about 7 AM so we spent a good hour just watching the Taj from a distance. It was pretty spectacular watching the sun hit the east side of the monument. There were maybe 2 or 3 dozen people there when we arrived and many, many more when we left. I am glad we went early. Rashid gave us a great tour, explaining the history and the architecture of the Taj. At the Taj we saw our first pair of the many parakeets we would see during our trip - India is just full of little surprises.

From the Taj we proceeded to the Agra Fort, learning more about the history and architecture of the area. There are good views of the Taj from the Fort as well as views of people washing clothes in the Yamuna River and a large herd of water buffalo. Afterward, Rashid asked us if we wanted to go see a demonstration of craftsmen doing the marble inlay (at a shop, of course). We had a shop already in mind called Subhash Emporium (recommended in a book lent to us by Bob Kimball from this forum called "The Treasures and Pleasures of India") so we asked if he could take us to that one since we knew it was near the Fort. He agreed. Subhash Emporium had a good demonstration but even more impressive was the private gallery they had of priceless incredibly ornate examples of marble inlay. Jeane wanted to pick up a few souvenirs. We picked out some really fine pieces and I asked the salesperson whether the guide was getting a commission. He explained that that is how it works when you arrive at a store with a guide - just a way of marketing one's business. He also said that since the commissions his store pays are minimal, most guides will not bring tourists there. As we were short on time, we decided to go ahead and make the purchase. In comparing later we found that our purchase prices were quite competitive even with the extra commission.

Our guided tour ended at the It-Ma-Udallah Tomb, sometimes nicknamed the "Baby Taj". We found this very interesting and worthwhile to visit. There were very few people here. We saw an Indian squirrel which I initially mistook for a chipmonk because it was so small. The "Baby Taj" is on the other side of the river. To get there we had to cross a very narrow bridge that seemed have the entire human, animal and vehicular population of Agra on it. Suffice to say that it was quite slow going over since it was impossible to pass anyone.

We let our guide go and asked Karan to drive us to the Sheraton and Taj View arcades to finish up the day. We did not make any purchases but went just to get a feel for what was being sold in India.

For dinner we ate at the Amarvilas Indian restaurant, Esphahan. It seemed that many of the menu items were shared by the continental restaurant we ate at the night before. We split an order of vegetarian thalis again since they had been so delicious the first time. Esphahan did have some traditional Indian entertainment - a lady sitarist accompanied by a man playing a tabla drum. After we finished dinner, we were escorted into the kitchen to see how the bread for the thalis is prepared. It was very hot in the kitchen from the heat of the tandoor. To make the bread, the chef kneads the dough in his hands and then presses it to the side of the tandoor where it sticks and cooks until it is done - I never would have guessed that's how they do it.

After a full day and a late dinner we headed to bed in order to be ready for our 9 AM departure for Jaipur via Fatephur Sikri.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 09:16 AM
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Hi Craig - this was good reading. Please continue on your experience in Jaipur and Delhi. We are leaving for the Golden Triangle on Mar. 19. Thanks!
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 10:36 AM
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We set out for the abandoned city of Fatephur Sikri with our driver Karan and our guide Rashid promptly at 9 AM. It took about an hour to get there. Fatephur Sikri was the last of the "must sees" in and around Agra. After touring it, we had a pretty good idea of the history of the area and what Moghul architecture was all about. It was on this morning that I came to the conclusion that the Malerone I was taking to prevent malaria had the side effect of being a very effective laxative. I had my suspicions that something was wrong while flying and again on the previous morning. However, today I was forced to interrupt our tour to relieve my discomfort. Unfortunately this provided me with a crash course in "squatting" as there were no western style facilities at Fatephur Sikri. Luckily, Jeane was taking a different drug for malaria prevention, Doxyclycline whose only side effect is sensitivity to the sun. She had a sufficient supply for us both for the remainder of the trip. Needless to say I switched immediately and contacted our travel physician when I returned home to obtain a sufficient supply to last us an additional 7 days.

From Fatephur Sikri we continued on to Jaipur - a 4 hour drive. It seemed that in this part of Rajasthan there was a new photo opportunity everywhere you looked. Because it was a long trip, we avoided the temptation to ask our driver to stop every time we wanted to take a picture. We were staying at Rajvilas which is located on the outskirts of Jaipur. The road to the resort is a startling contrast to what lies behind the gates of Rajvilas. We observed people living in small tents literally on top of each other in total poverty. We had observed this elsewhere in India but it was still tough to see. I was wondering what went through President Clinton's mind when he passed this on his way to stay at Rajvilas a few years ago. Then I realized that he probably arrived at the resort via helicopter and missed out on the experience. Anyway, Rajvilas was even nicer than Amarvilas - the rooms were huge and very private. There was a very large pool. We were greeted by the Front Office Manager of the hotel in a way that I could immediately tell that there was a problem. It turned out that our room had no safe and there were no alternative arrangements for one of the three days of our stay. We discussed potential solutions to the problem and concluded that we would store our valuables in the main hotel safe if they would compensate us for the inconvenience by providing us with a free dinner. The manager suggested that the blame lay with Compass Tours because we had only been waitlisted for the hotel and thus were lucky to get the room at all. He thought that the dinner should be paid for by Compass but that it was a good solution. I suggested they work it out between each other which he agreed to do. Compass eventually agreed to provide us with a free dinner but we did not take advantage of this until we reached Delhi.

After settling into our room and enjoying a cocktail, we headed to the restaurant for dinner. We had a choice between eating indoors or out on the courtyard where there was a cultural performance. We chose the courtyard. In spite of the charcoal-burning patio heaters placed all around the courtyard, it got very cold during our dinner. We had the Rajvilas version of thalis this time which again were very good. Unfortunately, it was so cold we did not stay to enjoy the remainder of the cultural performance which was to feature Indian dancing.

The next morning we met our new guide, Man Singh. The plan was to see the attractions in central Jaipur. We started with Hawa Mahal - Palace of the Wind. This was just of photo opportunity. There was a snake charmer nearby so we took a picture of him and his cobra while handing over a few rupees. Next was the ancient observatory, Jantar Mantar. This was quite interesting. Our guide did a good job of explaining what it was all about and pointing to good places for photos. Last was the City Palace and museums. We spent a lot of time here and again, Man Singh was very helpful. After City Palace, Man Singh wanted to know if we wanted to see how block printing was done. It seemed like a good idea - other than checking out some jewelry and craft stores our afternoons were going to be fairly relaxed. It turned out that the block printing demonstration was affiliated with a place that sold rugs primarily. The demo was interesting and we checked out the rugs but we really weren't interested in buying a rug. Our guide wanted to stick with us while we shopped. We had mixed feelings about this since we felt he was just trying to earn a commission. We ultimately let him tag along. We decided to price some things at Bhandiri, Gem Palace and some other jewelry stores of our choosing but they were all exorbident for the ruby and gold pieces Jeane wanted. We did purchase a very unique painted elephant carved from camel bone at one of the stores. We went to a fixed price (no commission) government crafts store called Rajasthali and bought a few inexpensive things - paper mache boxes etc. Our guide was quite helpful in getting us to these places after we told him where we wanted to go. At the end of the day, we went back to the resort to relax for a while before our returned to take us to Rambagh Palace for dinner.

We returned to the resort to relax for a while, then our driver returned to take us to Rambagh Palace for dinner. The Suvarna Mahal restaurant at Rambagh Palace has a grand atmosphere. Unfortunately that is all it has going for it. The service was indifferent, the food terrible. We ordered something vegetarian - they did not have thalis. After dinner we checked out the arcade and found a jewelry store where Jeane found a ruby necklace that she liked. We decided to "sleep on it" and return the next day.

We seemed to be getting into a routine of starting our daily tours at 9 AM. We continued this routine in Delhi. Today we headed to Amber Fort and Palace about 45 minutes outside Jaipur. There was a long line for the elephant ride up to the fort so we decided to drive up and take the elephant down. This was no big deal - we've riden elephants a couple of times in the past. Amber Fort is quite spectacular - well worth a visit and a highlight of our stay in Jaipur. We spent a couple of hours at the fort. In the afternoon, our guide stayed with us again. We stopped at another crafts place called Silver and Arts Palace known for paying low commissions to guides but didn't buy anything. Next we returned to Gem Palace. We had seen one of those colorful blue ceramic elephants you see in all the gift shops. The one at Gem Palace was unique. We negotiated what we felt was a fair price and bought it. Our last stop was Rambagh Palace to see if the jewelry store we visited last night was willing to budge on the price of the necklace for Jeane. It was worth going to Rambagh Palace just to see it during the day. It is really quite a spectacular place. We didn't have much luck with the jeweler - he was willing to go 5% while we felt that 30% was closer to what we felt comfortable with. We left empty handed.

Dinner was indoors at Rajvilas this time. We ordered vegetarian but not thalis this time. It was excellent. Eating vegetarian our average bill at Amarvilas, Rambagh Palace and Rajvilas was about $40 which included a large Kingfisher beer and a liter of bottled water.

We returned to our room to prepare for our 8 AM departure to Sher Bagh at Ranthambore National Park.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 10:58 AM
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Hi Craig---how was compass tours for you tour and trip in India. thanks
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 11:25 AM
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Armity - Compass Tours was excellent for what they do. It really depends on what you want from a tour. We are quite independent and they accomodated us very well. I would be happy to answer specific questions. I plan to do a separate post on using a tour company in India with a focus on Compass.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 11:28 AM
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I am frustrated that my corrections to my Jaipur post in edit mode did not come through. I noticed the problem before but was able to head it off. You will note that there are some minor typos in that post. Please accept my apologies. I think I will type in Word then transfer for the next installments.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 12:41 PM
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The drive to Sawai Madhopur was easier and quicker than I thought it would be. Outside of Sawai Madhopur, on the way to Sher Bagh, we encountered a place called “the Anokhi” where Jeane found a tablecloth that she really liked. They claimed it was made by local women in association with the local Dastkar Craft Center. Unfortunately the tablecloth was not the right size. The salesperson offered to check to see if they could do a custom size. Jeane said ok. We agreed to check back later. Further on down the road was Anokhi, a branch of the stylish Delhi clothing store with another location in Jaipur. I was thoroughly confused. We arrived at Sher Bagh at mid-day. Our tent was not quite ready so we waited at the bar, conversing with some other couples who were also checking in. Our afternoon game drive was scheduled for 2:30 – lunch was at 1:30. Eventually we were escorted to our tent and were able to settle in a bit. The Italian-themed buffet lunch was served out in the open under a hot sun. I was still dressed for cool weather and felt the heat. I decided that for the 2:30 game drive I would wear my zip off trousers starting with shorts and bring layers. The guide for our jeep gave me one of those looks when I boarded. In a matter of minutes I realized it was getting colder and I was zipping on my long pants. Later I threw on my sweat shirt. It was an uneventful game drive. We saw some of the Indian antelopes, some monkeys and some birds but no tigers. We did enjoy the couple from London that shared our Jeep. After 4-plus hours, we headed back for dinner which with entertainment prior, started at 8 PM.

They brought coffee and a wake-up call to us at 5 AM. I think they thought we were insane. We were all ready to go at 6:15 AM, the required time to show up for our game drive. Unfortunately, the Indian government decided to do a little inspection of how vehicles and routes are handed out, delaying our departure by an hour and a half. Maybe that was a good omen. We avoided having to drive during the most frigid early morning hour - it was still wicked cold - I had 2 layers of fleece, a blanket, a water bottle and 2 more layers of clothing and still froze for the next hour. Anyway, the bottom line is we saw a tiger and tracked it for 20 minutes, snapping photos the entire time. The cool thing is we did not spot the tiger – a cantor driver did. Cantors are vehicles that hold about 20 people. We simply got in front with our “private” jeep and stayed there. Everyone else followed us as we snapped photo after photo. It was a great morning and even better for Jeane since it was her birthday.

When we returned to Sher Bagh, the staff informed us that there was a problem with our afternoon reservation – we were waitlisted for the jeep but the cantor was available. I cancelled on the spot – we had seen a tiger, those game drives were incredibly long and it wouldn’t hurt to relax and enjoy the camp. We decided to check out the Dastkar Crafts Center which sells crafts produced by women in the area. Not much of interest there though. We proceeded to the “real” Anokhi where Jeane bought several outfits. While we were there (we had come with our personal driver), a large contingent from Sher Bagh showed up via the courtesy vehicle provided by the store – it was a good day for Anokhi. The nice thing is a portion of their proceeds go to the Dastkar Crafts Center. We visited the Anokhi in Delhi and found this store to be about the same size with the same selection. We continued on to the “other” Anokhi – Jeane ordered the custom tablecloth. I hope it arrives as they could not complete one while we were in India. From there we went to Ranthambore Fort which was a self tour – it was pretty impressive for a 10th century military stronghold. We headed back to Sher Bagh to relax until dinner.

Prior to dinner, we had an opportunity to chat with Usha, Sher Bagh’s general manager. She is a lovely woman who is passionate about preserving the tigers. She is at Sher Bagh because her husband is a local doctor.

The buffet dinners at Sher Bagh were typical Rajasthani cuisine, mostly vegetarian. It food was delicious. In honor of Jeane’s birthday, we had a traditional Indian pudding followed by a cake with candles which she shared with all of the guests after they sang “Happy Birthday” to her. It was a great day for her.

The next morning, we “slept in” until 5:30 or so. Our private jeep left promptly this time but fortunately it was much warmer. We saw a wild cat on this drive, a real bonus as wild cat sitings are quite rare. We also saw some great scenery – the game park is huge and we covered quite a bit of it today. We had traveled with the same couple from London on all three game drives and promised to e-mail copies of our photos. We returned for a full breakfast and checked out, ready to catch the train to Delhi. We had sent our driver ahead with most of our luggage so we wouldn’t have to deal with it on the train.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 12:59 PM
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I didn't comment much on the accomodations at Ranthambore, probably because they are pretty basic. The camp is nicely landscaped and thoughtfully laid out however. Hot water is available in the mornings, after game drives and on request at other times. How hot depends on how many in the camp have showered. Water bottles are provided at night as it gets quite cold (40's - 50's). Although the tents are not heated, I found the beds so warm that I was sweating in the middle of the night. If you want a/c or heat, a pool or any other amenities, I suggest Vanyavilas at twice the price. The primary reason we stayed at Sher Bagh was the social atmosphere. We were not disappointed. My guess is that the guests staying there were 80% British and 20% American. We would definitely stay there again.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 01:09 PM
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A superb account, Craig. The next step for you is to do the Mumbai-Goa-Kerala-Mysore-Tamil Nadu circuit.

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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 02:30 PM
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Thanks, agtoau. How about Udaipur, Jodhpur and Varanasi?
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 05:22 PM
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Craig,

Udaipur et al are fine places, but you would still be in the same area of India. Varanasi, fo course, is an experience nobody should miss. But I was thinking more of a change in flavour. If you head south, you will get more than a hint of the astonishing diversity of India.


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Old Mar 6th, 2005, 08:30 AM
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This is a very long post on our stay in Delhi:

The train ride from Sawai Madhopur to Delhi took almost 7 hours. We rode in first class and had the compartment to ourselves. The compartment was equipped with two electrical outlets. We took the opportunity to plug in our digital cameras and edit our photos. We also recharged the battery in our cell phone. Our cell phone was provided by Compass Tours. It worked everywhere we went but we could not call internationally. Having a cell phone in India was a great convenience, especially for contacting our driver. Sher Bagh had provided us with a box lunch so we declined the free meal offered on the train. We were greeted at the New Delhi train station by our Compass Tours representative and a different driver. They knew exactly what compartment we were in and came right on the train to help us with our things. This prevented any porters at the train station from offering their “services”.

We were greeted at the Imperial Hotel with the news that they had overbooked. The Heritage room we had reserved through Compass Tours six months ago was not available. Because there were no alternate rooms available, we were put up at the nearby Park Hotel on its concierge floor. The Imperial compensated us for this with an upgrade to one of their suites for our next three nights plus a free dinner at the Spice Route. In addition, Compass Tours, who in our opinion should have checked first before bringing us to an overbooked hotel, also provided us with a free dinner. As a result of our inconveniences at the Imperial and Rajvilas, all three of our dinners in Delhi would be free. The Park Hotel was ok – the room was fine for one night, although it was a bit noisy, not quite shutting out the sounds of the traffic from the street. The complimentary breakfast in the concierge lounge was lousy. Note that we had breakfast included in our rate at all of the places we stayed. These breakfasts were excellent and consisted of full buffets plus eggs/omelets cooked to order. Needless to say, we never needed to eat lunch.

We were met at the Park the next day by Raj, our new guide and Karan, our regular driver. The plan was to do old Delhi in the morning and shopping in the afternoon. Raj suggested we skip the Red Fort as it was similar in architectural character to the Agra Fort which we had already toured. We were fine with this as we felt we had pretty much gotten the drift about Moghul forts and palaces. Our first stop was the largest mosque in India, Jami Masjid where we had a very educational tour. We climbed the tall minaret and were rewarded with a great view of the Red Fort and old Delhi. From there we took the touristy rickshaw ride through the Chandni Chowk shopping area. We did not stop to do any shopping. The area reminded me of Chinatown in Bangkok with its narrow streets and commerce everywhere. Interestingly, our guide had pointed out to us that the area was primarily Muslim. After meeting Raj and our driver near the Red Fort, we headed to Raj Ghat, the Mahatma Gandhi burial site. It was particularly moving as we had watched the video “Gandhi” with Ben Kingsley the weekend prior to coming to India. The last stop on our tour was the Sikh Temple near our hotel, Bangla Sahib Qurudwara. It was worthwhile gaining an understanding of another important Indian religion.

We left our guide and driver and checked into the Imperial Hotel. Karan had brought the luggage that we had sent ahead of our train ride. We spent the remainder of the afternoon marveling at floor after floor of handicrafts at the Cottage Industries Emporium across the street from the Imperial. We purchased a few small things and a large Jaipur Blue pottery plate. We felt that the quality of the items for sale at Cottage Industries varied widely. I was surprised that there were so many Indians shopping there. To get to Cottage Industries from the hotel on foot, you need to walk by the Tibetan Market to the end of the block and cross at the light. We were not impressed at all with the stalls at the Tibetan Market – seemed like mostly junk to us. At the crossing, we were approached by all sorts of characters looking for handouts, claiming that Cottage Industries was closed, etc. After we returned to the hotel, we used the pc’s at its business center to check e-mail and do another post on Fodors.

Later that evening, Karan picked us up for the first of our free dinners at Corbett’s at the Claridge’s Hotel. After confirming that Compass Tours was picking up the tab, we were seated. Corbett’s has a great safari-like atmosphere. We enjoyed meat for the first time in almost two weeks – we had the most excellent Northern Indian spiced lamb chops, cooked to absolute perfection. The server persuaded me to order a bottle of Indian wine which was ok but not great. I think beer stands up to spicy foods much better.

The following day was a Sunday, a great day for driving around Delhi as traffic was light. It seems like everyone complains about the traffic and pollution in Delhi. From what I heard from Raj, our guide, the pollution situation is much improved – all of the tuk-tuks and buses we saw ran on natural gas. We really didn’t feel the air was polluted at all. With the exception of Sunday, traffic was pretty bad however. There are lots of traffic lights in Delhi to slow things down. It seemed that elsewhere in India, things always pretty much moved along in spite of the very crowded roads – not in Delhi. It took a long time to get from place to place. Sunday’s plan was to start at India Gate and head down Raj Path to the Presidential Palace and the Moghul Gardens. India Gate and the Presidential Palace are must-sees but the Moghul Gardens, only open in February, were the highlight of the day. I had visions of strolling leisurely with Jeane through the gardens as we had done at gardens in so many places all over the world. This was not to be. At the entrance to the Moghul Gardens there were lines for security for males and females – no cameras, no cell phones allowed. We walked through a scanner and were patted down. Closer to the actual gardens there was a second security check. We then walked pretty much in a line on a set route through the gardens. There were hundreds of Indians there – I think we were the only Westerners in the place. Our guide was with us – it was a special treat for him as most tourists do not go there. That being said, the gardens were as spectacular as any we have ever seen – totally worth the time and effort to get in. Our only regret is we could not take any photos.

From the gardens, we had three more stops on our tour: the Gandhi Smriti, Bahai (“Lotus”) Temple and the Crafts Museum. Gandhi Smriti is Mahatma Gandhi’s home where he was assassinated. Our guide spent time with us reading many of Gandhi’s famous quotations to us – again, quite moving. We went a bit out of our way to visit the Bahai Temple since it would be closed on Monday when we would be seeing the other sites in south Delhi. It was worth the trip to see this incredible edifice and to learn about the Bahai Faith. After the temple we headed to the Crafts Museum. Our guide left us there to wander on our own. We spent a couple of hours there. The displays in the exhibit area weren’t laid out particularly well and in some cases there was no lighting at all. We tried to make the most of it. Also on the grounds were artisans making and selling their handicrafts – we enjoyed this but did not buy anything. We finished up at the museum gift shop which was reputed to be one of the best in Delhi. Jeane bought a few things including some paper mache Christmas ornaments.

Jeane still had jewelry on her mind so we decided we would check out some hotel arcades with branches of Delhi jewelry stores. Our first stop was the Oberoi which was mostly upscale mall type shops – very disappointing except for Ravissant jewelers. Jeane decided to “sleep on” a couple of things she liked there. Our next stop was going to be the Hyatt but it was so far out of the way that we decided to stop there on the way to our dinner at the ITC Maurya Sheraton. We headed back to the Imperial to relax until Karan picked us up again for our trip to the Hyatt and our second free dinner at Bukhara. Most of the jewelry stores in the huge Hyatt arcade were closed since it was Sunday. We knew we would have to come back. Prior to our meal at Bukhara, we checked out the shops at the ITC Maurya Sheraton arcade – not much of interest. At Bukhara we established that Compass was paying for the meal and our server explained that we would not be ordering off the menu. They would bring an assortment of northern Indian food instead. They brought us a feast – the spicy beef, lamb, and chicken dishes were all excellent.

Monday was our last day with a guide in India. We visited Humayan’s Tomb, my favorite monument in Delhi because of its perfect symmetry and Qutab Minar, the 12th century tower that proclaimed the arrival of Islam in India. After Qutab Minar we bid our guide farewell. Our next stop was the offices of Compass Tours. We had been in India 11 days and had only paid them a 10% deposit so far. We met with the owner Durjay Sengupta, a charming young man anxious to make our stay in India as good as it could be. He apologized for the hotel glitches we experienced and presented Jeane with a birthday present, an Indian cook book. Jeane noticed a travel poster on the wall and asked Durjay where she might purchase a similar one for her dental office back home. He responded that it would not be a problem to obtain a couple of posters and have the Compass representative meet us prior to our departure tomorrow and deliver them to her. I was so impressed how far above and beyond he and his company went to satisfy its clients.

After settling our account, we had our driver take us back to the Hyatt. At a place called Regency Jewelers, Jeane found a ruby necklace at a price she could live with. Since the shop did not have any earrings that she liked to go with it, the sales person offered to come to our hotel later in the day to show us some. We agreed to meet at 6 PM. The next stop was the Santushti Complex, a quaint little enclave of mostly women’s clothing stores. I brought had brought a good book with me so I was able to sit in the shade and read while Jeane shopped. It was a beautiful afternoon – the high temperatures during our stay in Delhi were around 80 degrees and I did not need a jacket in the morning. In spite of the cooler temperatures earlier in our trip, we could not have had better weather for the entire trip – clear blue skies every day and not a drop of rain. After 2 hours of browsing, Jeane bought an outfit which required substantial alterations – since the shop would do them for free, we agreed to stop and pick it up on our way to the airport the next day. We headed back to the Oberoi. Ravissant had offered to custom-make a bracelet that would fit Jeane’s small wrist – many of the bracelets she had seen were too big. The only hitch was that they would have to ship it to us at home since the lead time for this was about three weeks. After working out the details of shipping and insurance, we decided to go ahead and order it. Since we paid by credit card we felt we could dispute the charges if the bracelet doesn’t show up. Jeane also tried on a pair of earrings that she liked. She would buy them if the Regency Jewelers salesperson didn’t come up with anything. The Oberoi was our last stop of the day.

The Regency salesperson showed up a little late. I was a little ticked off that he didn’t call and tell us. He did not have any earrings that Jeane liked but Jeane wanted the necklace. It needed an adjustment and the salesperson agreed to have it ready by noon the next day. We told him we would come to his shop at the Hyatt some time after noon. Our free dinner that night was at the Spice Route in the Imperial. The atmosphere and the Southeast Asian cuisine were wonderful.

It was our last day in India. In the morning I went on line and confirmed our flight time of 6:30 PM which would require us to leave the hotel by 3:15 PM. Our driver arrived at 10 AM for some last minute shopping. We asked him to take us to Hauz Khas Village. The shops were just opening up when we arrived half an hour later. The village consisted of some very old buildings, winding alleyways and lots of small boutiques. Jeane found a couple more outfits and a place that sells hand made wrapping paper. From there we went back to the Hyatt where Jeane tried on her necklace. It wasn’t quite right but they told us they could have it ready in a couple of hours and would bring it to us at the hotel. We agreed and went ahead and paid for it. We headed to the Oberoi and Ravissant once again for the earrings. I negotiated a better price and we made the purchase. We returned to the Imperial to do our final packing, settle our bill and wait for the necklace. Our salesperson showed up when he said he would. The necklace fit correctly this time. Jeane was very satisfied with her shopping experiences in Delhi. I enjoyed Delhi but not as much as Agra, Jaipur and Ranthambore. All of these places had more character – the chaos on the roads, the camel carts, the monkeys the poverty and the grit. Yes, in Delhi you see the occasional cow lying on the divider in the middle of a busy boulevard and wonder how on earth it get there. There are also the beggars that knock on your car window at every traffic intersection. But basically, Delhi is more modern and less interesting compared to the rest of what we saw in India.

At 3:15 our Compass rep showed up with Karan, our driver and the posters that Durjay promised to obtain for us. The traffic outside the hotel was just awful. It took us 15 minutes just to get through the first light. To save time, Jeane agreed not to try on her outfit when she picked it up at the Santushti Complex. The remainder of the trip to the airport was uneventful. We arrived with more than two hours until departure. The line for baggage screening was so short that we didn’t even see it. The check-in and emigration process took 10 minutes at the most. I thought there was going to be a departure tax but there was none. We headed for the Air India business class lounge to wait for our flight. The lounge was comfortable but dimly lit with a rather indifferent waiter serving beverages. The flight from DEL to BKK went smoothly. We stayed overnight at the Amari Airport Hotel on the executive floor. I did a post on this elsewhere but our experience at the Amari was excellent as usual. Our flight left BKK at 7 AM. We had a 3 hour layover at NRT. United’s business class lounge was very crowded because a couple of flights were delayed. At ORD we went through immigration and customs. Fortunately our flight arrived early because it took forever for United to get our bags off the plane. The business class lounge in our concourse at ORD was closed for renovations so we had to use the one in the other concourse. The ORD – BDL flight was delayed by about 45 minutes but we managed to get home in the evening close to when we expected.

In conclusion, this was one of our best trips. I will be happy to answer any and all questions.
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Old Mar 6th, 2005, 03:58 PM
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Craig, are we going to see any pictures of your trip?
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Old Mar 6th, 2005, 06:12 PM
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I am working on the photos.
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Old Mar 6th, 2005, 08:54 PM
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craig---great report...i am very tired tonight and read it quickly and shall re-read in a few days...thanks...hope to see you soon

bob
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Old Mar 6th, 2005, 11:20 PM
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Hi Craig - glad that u enjoyed the trip to India. I had a quick trip to Singapore during ur visit here. Most of the things went of smoothly for you I guess. Hope to have u again here in the future - and the fog updates will be there again next winters...
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Old Mar 7th, 2005, 01:11 AM
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Debub - Durjay Sengupta of Compass Tours mentioned that he knows you. Small world isn't it? Thanks again for the fog reports. Craig
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Old Mar 7th, 2005, 08:19 AM
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Craig,
Thanks for the great report with lots of detail! You answered a question I had posted (last month?) about places to stay in Ranthambore & at your suggestion, my friend and I will stay at Sher Bagh for our upcoming trip in November. Thanks for the information on Sher Bagh--I'll pack lots of warm clothes! We have a booked a privately guided trip, similar to yours, but through General Tours. Thanks for all the shopping information as well as the sightseeing details. We are so excited about our trip...can't wait til November! It will be our first trip to India.
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Old Mar 7th, 2005, 09:03 AM
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Florida1, Have a great time at Sher Bagh and elsewhere in India.
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