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Trip Report From DC to Delhi and beyond

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I relied heavily on the Asia Board community to plan our recent trip to India, thank you all so much for making this a really terrific visit. Seeing the Taj Mahal and visiting Varanasi have been at the very top of my MUST DO list for quite some time but because of a break in my work schedule, it was the first chance we had to go in February, which I thought would be the optimal time for the weather. I’ll focus more on logistics and impressions in this TR, rather than details about the sights we saw (not sure my description of the Taj Mahal would be an improvement on others you’ve read) and I’m happy to answer questions.

Background: We are mid 60s/early70s couple (wow that sounds old) who have vacationed quite a bit in SE Asia, France and Italy and visited lots of other places on business. We travel more slowly now and strongly prefer 3 days in one place even if it means seeing fewer things. This was an “Oberoi bubble” trip, the only way I could get DH to agree to go to India (his first time but I was in Mumbai for a week on business around 8 years ago).

We flew from Dulles to Delhi on Etihad Business class thru Abu Dhabi (there was a flash sale in December, very good price so I redeposited the frequent flyer miles we had used a few months earlier). It was our first experience on a Middle East carrier and it was very nice. We left on Jan. 28 and returned on Feb 16.

Our itinerary changed a few weeks before we left because there was a labor strike at our final destination, a small resort in northern Rajasthan between Jaipur and Delhi. It was a real scramble to find alternatives with only a few weeks to go, especially during high season so we ended up with one long drive at the end of the trip. The itinerary would have been very different if we had know that we couldn’t stay at our final , planned destination but we were very happy in the end.

New Delhi, 3 nights, Oberoi
Varanasi, 2 nights, Suryauday Haveli (flew to Varanasi on Air India)
Agra, 2 nights, Oberoi Amarvilas (flew directly from Varanasi on Air India)
Udaipur, 3 nights, Oberoi Udaivilas (drove to DEL from Agra and flew to Udaipur)
Shahpura Bagh, 1 night (drove from Udaipur)
Jaipur, 2 nights, Samode Haveli (drove from Shahpura)
Rathambohre, 3 nights, Oberoi Vanyavilas (drove from Shahpura)
Radisson Blu at DEL (4 hours sleep), drove from Rathambohre

Based on other recommendations on this forum, we used Castle and King to make all the hotel/car/guide/driver arrangements (and rearrangements) beginning in August. I made the internal flight reservations. I laid out the basic itinerary and where we wanted to stay in Oberoi’s. Arvind suggested the other hotels and we were happy with the choices (more details later). Arvind was an incredible help when we had to redo the last few days and tried booking many different alternatives for us until we settled on Rathambohre. A local agent, who was a Castle and King rep, met us at every hotel or airport to be sure that our accommodations were OK and to agree on the sightseeing and travel plans. This meant we had a local contact if there were any problems or if any changes were needed and we did make use of those contacts a couple of times. Krishna was our driver everywhere except Varanasi and he was a very important part of making our trip so successful.

We began taking Rifamaxin as a prophylactic as soon as we arrived in Delhi. I was fine for the entire trip. DH became ill the day after we arrived, no way to tell why, but we suspect it was a reaction to the Rifamaxin (we ate carefully only at the Oberoi and shared our food but I was fine). He “lost” one day in the hotel room, was able to sightsee the next day for most of the day and was fine by our travel day to Varanasi.

Our domestic Air India flights were OK , the planes were clean and we had a 2-hour delay on the flight to Varanasi. One very odd thing, although my reservation had us sitting together, Air India shuffled the seating and split up couples, it was very strange. We only took one carryon for the domestic flights and Krishna kept our bags and brought them to the next destination (he drove from Delhi to Udaipur while we flew so a different driver picked us up at the Udaipur airport since Krishna was on the road). This made check in very easy (especially in Delhi where there were long lines for checking bags) and the security lines were not very long, maybe a 10-15 minute wait (with separate lines for “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”. One amusing thing, I think Filmwill’s trip report has been read by local agents in India….they all insisted that we leave very early for the airport so that there would be no risk of missing our flights. In one case, we left ridiculously early but just didn’t want to fuss about it. Except for our final drive from Rathambohre to DEL, we didn’t drive more than 4 hours between destinations. In every case, whether we drove or flew, we arrived at our next destination in the mid afternoon (typically between 2 and 4pm). We could have done some sightseeing or shopping after our hotel check in but we chose to take it easy and enjoy our hotels, catch up on news and email (we had internet that worked very well in all our Oberoi rooms and it worked fine in the public rooms in the other hotels).

Food, etc.: We ate almost exclusively in our hotels where we had some great meals and some poor ones. All our hotels had very large breakfasts, we pretty much skipped lunch (sometimes had an energy bar, sometimes a snack at the hotel after returning from sightseeing just to tide us over to dinner). I’m glad to say that it relieved me of the anxiety of selecting a good lunch place (not bland, not touristy, not worrying about getting sick). The best meal we had was at Vanyavilas where the chef prepared a special dinner for our wedding anniversary, set up in the mango grove with dozens of lights and lanterns. The worst meals by far were at Udaivilas where we had two dreadful dinners (and then understood after the second one why the restaurants were almost empty). Our dinner at Ambrai, the only place we ate outside a hotel, was great. We drank India wine (Sula and Fratelli) for dinner, Sauvignon Blanc except for one awful bottle of Syrah.

Weather: Perfect. Upper 70s to low 80s in the afternoon, cooling down considerably in the evening and early morning to the low 50s. No rain. No fog, only smog in Delhi and some in Agra

Will continue with some specifics about each place and answer questions as they come.

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