India Trip Feb 1-18/18

Old Feb 19th, 2018, 08:41 AM
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jft
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India Trip Feb 1-18/18


We just returned from a wonderful trip to India starting from Delhi and ending in Mumbai. We were 4 -6 people during parts of the trip. We did some arrangements ourselves and also used the help of Indian Panorama for the southern portions ( Tamil Nadu and Kerala). It was busy but smooth. In the north we used an excellent driver , Ramesh Kumar of Indiatravelbycar who met us at the airport in Delhi and was with us until we flew out of Jaipur on Feb 6th. He arranged several of the guides for us and was at our disposal for the 6 days. In Delhi we stayed at Lutyen's Bungalow for two nights, a homey bed and breakfast well located in New Delhi. We had a full day of sightseeing with a guide including many of the highlights(Jantar Mantar, Humayuns Tomb, Chandni Chowk (rickshaw), Rashtrapi Bhavan...well timed so that we could see the Qutb Minar when the lighting was best. We had a great dinner at a neat restaurant called Sodabottleopenerwala in Khan Market (casual, great food,upstairs, Parsi cuisine, some staff are hearing impaired). We left for Agra the next day and stayed one night at the Radisson Blu Taj East Gate which was fabulous- beautiful and reasonably priced hotel with excellent service, We went to the Agra Fort that afternoon and hired an excellent guide Asif Khan on site. He recommended we view the Taj Mahal at sunset from a rooftop terrace in town whose name escapes me at the moment. The next morning we viewed the Taj Mahal in its sunrise splendor at sunrise with a prearranged guide. It was so beautiful and lucky for us there is no scaffolding at the moment. Personally I feel one night in Agra is sufficient. We went back to the hotel for breakfast and then left for Fatehpur Sikri on route to Jaipur. It was a really special stop and not out of the way. Ramesh arranged for a great guide for us for the short time we allocated. We then made our way to Jaipur where we stayed 2 nights at the Trident Jaipur. (Nice hotel with good service and food a bit outside the walled town).Traffic was crazy due to a Moslem conference that was ending but Ramesh managed to deal with it in his calm manner. We had another excellent guide the next day and spent time at the Amber fort ( a real gem), and the City Palace Museum. The Anokhi Museum and store was closed this day. We also went to the Albert Museum the next morning on our way to the airport. We ate at Palladio Jaipur and Peshawi ITC Hotel both which were good. We did not have time in our itinerary to explore other towns of Rajasthan.We flew to Chennai the afternoon of Feb 6th where we met our new driver Krishna arranged from India Panorama. I will continue later.
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Old Feb 19th, 2018, 12:42 PM
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Jft, thank you so much for this--been wondering how it was going for you, after your earlier planning thread. I'm impressed not just by the trip, but also that you can be writing a report the day after return!! You've packed much interesting detail in to a succinct descripton.

Looking forward to more about South India, as I'm starting to plan another trip to there next January. Interested in continued reading about the sites, as you've done above: places you saw, lodging, your helpful guides and drivers, as well as if Kerala and Tamil Nadu, seemed different (slightly less frenetic?) than the north.

Thanks again, and welcome home!
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Old Feb 20th, 2018, 03:05 AM
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Welcome home! What a beautiful photo and a great start to your trip! Sounds like you packed a lot in and had some wonderful experiences!

I, too, am eagerly looking forward to your report, a bit selfishly, as we will also be making a trip to Kerala and TN next year. So, like CaliNurse, anything you can share about experiences you liked or didn't would be greatly appreciated!
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Old Feb 20th, 2018, 08:18 AM
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Welcome home. Great photo.
Waiting to hear more. Looks like you really enjoyed the trip and had good drivers to assist you.
Looking forward to more details as well as shopping experiences.
Have a good rest now and enjoy the amazing experience.
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Old Feb 20th, 2018, 09:02 AM
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Just some background- we were 2 couples around age 60 who flew direct on Air Canada's 787 from Toronto to Delhi(around 14 hours). My friend's son who lives in Mumbai was able to join us for most of the trip which was great. A lot of the restaurant recommendations came from him and his wife. The temperature in the Golden Triangle part of the trip was about 24/15 C, and sunny but smoggy especially in Delhi. You needed a sweater at night. The air quality in Delhi was not great. We had some paper masks with us ( just the kind to filter air not the N95 tight fitting ones that make you feel sick) but usually a scarf over your face worked during bad moments or nothing. Khan Market where we ate in Delhi had some nice shops and had we more time I would have spent some time shopping. Jaipur is known for jewellery and we stopped at Ratnavali Arts recommended by the guide ( I don't think he got commission) which was a reputable store and where we made some purchases. Heritage Textiles in Jaipur had lovely blankets, pashminas, clothes etc and our friend had some shirts and a nehru vest made which was delivered to the hotel the next morning. I had made a mistake in my first post. We ate at Peshawri ITC in Agra and the second restaurant in Jaipur was Handi Fusion which was excellent( casual, not expensive)
Personnel from India Panorama met us at the airport in Chennai and introduced us to the driver and gave me an India SIM card for my phone. We added data to it. We checked into Raintree Anna Salai which is a new, clean business hotel with an extensive breakfast. Chennai was a transit stop and we had no plans to sightsee there. It seems to be quite an industrial city although I am sure there are areas to visit but not where we were. We went to a lovely restaurant called Amethyst which is this hidden oasis with a huge verandah in a park-like setting hard to notice from the busy street. You need to drive to get to it from the hotel. They had a huge dessert selection as well. The following morning our driver picked us up in the Tempo Traveller which is like a small commercial bus on route to Pondicherry (Puducherry). At this point we were 6 and it was great as it has lots of space and lots of windows. We stopped at Mamallapuram which is an amazing Unesco world heritage site about an hour or so from Chennai. Our friend's son hired a guide on site and negotiated a reasonable rate. Mamallapuram is worth a visit- it is a 7th century port city carved out of granite rock built by a Pallava king.
Later we made our way to Puducherry where we checked into a lovely small heritage hotel called La Maison Perumal which we had booked ourselves. It offers a cooking demonstration in the early evening which was nice. Many of the nicer hotels are quite small in Puducherry and fill up quickly during peak season. This one came up at the last moment ( we had enquired in November and it and its sister hotel were full) and we were happy with it. I would recommend booking hotels in Puducherry early. Puducherry was a French colony until around 1954 and has a different feel to it than other areas. It has a lovely promenade on the water as well as some nice architecture and a nice town to walk around. We enjoyed drinks and snacks at Coromandel Cafe which has great hummus and a lovely atmosphere on the verandah as well as indoors for dining. We ended up there twice as one evening we had dinner reservations at our hotel and unfortunately that night it was a very limited menu which did not work our for some members in our group. The other night we ate out at Le Dupleixe which has a lovely atmosphere as well. India Panorama had originally tried to book our rooms there however it did not have vacancy. The next day we went to Auroville for awhile- interesting hippy like ashram and later we went to the market area. I love food markets. I would have to say that the vendors seemed unhappy in this market compared to others in different countries I had visited. I liked Puducherry and it was a nice contrast to the more hectic areas where we had been.
The next morning we left on our fairly long drive to the Chettinad area south and west of Puducherry. The driving is not easy in India and Krishna was up to the task. He is an excellent driver and a kind, caring, professional man. Both of our drivers made sure there were plenty of water bottles in the vans at all times. Toilet paper is something that is worth having on hand as well. Between the honking and the traffic I was happy to leave the driving to someone else.
The Chettiar Mansion area is a hidden gem. The arid dusty area about 2 hours drive east of Madurai in its heyday had thousands of ornate mansions of the Chettiar merchant community. I think they were built around 1905 and most were abandoned around 1947 after the war. We stayed at Chidambaras Vilas booked by India Panorama which is a real treasure. The hotel is in great condition, service was wonderful, food was very good. For a small fee they did a lovely cooking demonstration. It has a lovely pool which was great as the south is hot! Also an older man who works there can give tours of the non-hotel rooms and take you up to the tower. We had a lovely dinner one night at the Bangala which is another lovely heritage hotel in Karaikudi.We also toured a few other heritage houses and saw a palace from the outside. I think there is another hotel called Visalam ( a CGH Earth) which we did not see- it is more modern. A couple of our group stayed one night at another hotel( I think Chettinadu Mansion) but it was not nearly as nice. Wandering out of our hotel walking through the dusty streets and seeing remnants of grandeur was very interesting. Karaikudi was more of a busy town and was about a 20 minute drive from our hotel. We stayed 2 nights and then left Munnar with a stop in Madurai.

Mamallapuram


Puducherry


Chidambaras Vilas
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Old Feb 20th, 2018, 05:54 PM
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Thanks again, JFT. Eenjoying and appreciating your insights, descriptions, reviews, and photos. E.g.g, glad to read you consider Mammalapuram worth a stop.
Re: La Maison Perumal--did you think the find the location was ok for Pondicherry? I ask as it's a bit outside the "French Quarter" -it sounds like you saw plenty in any case!
Looking forward to descriptions of Madurai and Munnar!!
(Did you perhaps mean to add the word "for" in front of "Munnar" in your last sentence?)
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Old Feb 21st, 2018, 04:21 AM
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Yes, I ment for Munnar.
We really liked La Maison Perumal. It is a bit off the main area but really a short walk.You can reach the far end in 20 minutes on foot. It is on a small street and is really quiet. It is worth choosing your route as one of the streets you can take to the main tourist area is noisy and hard to walk on. The main area of Puducherry that tourists frequent is really not very big. Probably the L'orient would have been fine but we were happy to have made the change.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2018, 02:55 AM
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I'm glad to know you liked La Maison Perumal - that's at the very top of my list!

I'm so enjoying seeing the photos as part of the TR -- I really feel like I'm experiencing the places you're visiting.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2018, 04:25 AM
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Lovely photos and a great report jft, really takes me back. Thanks ��
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Old Feb 27th, 2018, 09:11 AM
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thanks so much for starting this TR so quickly and for including so much detail, as I'm yet another fodorite with India on my radar for next Jan/Feb.

Can I make a small plea though? I am struggling a little with reading what you have typed - an extra line in-between each paragraph would make reading it a lot easier.
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Old Feb 27th, 2018, 09:19 AM
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It was my one of the biggest dream to visit Taj mahal. It is really beautiful. A true symbol of love.
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Old Feb 28th, 2018, 03:19 AM
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Originally Posted by annhig View Post
thanks so much for starting this TR so quickly and for including so much detail, as I'm yet another fodorite with India on my radar for next Jan/Feb.

Can I make a small plea though? I am struggling a little with reading what you have typed - an extra line in-between each paragraph would make reading it a lot easier.
Sure. I will for future. I am not sure I can edit past posts. How was Italy?
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Old Feb 28th, 2018, 03:45 AM
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I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed your trip very much by seeing your posts, along with TajMahal there are many other interesting and beautiful destinations in India like Kerala, Goa, Sikkim, Ooty, Kodaikanal etc.. If you are interested in visiting these places, please let me know so that i can share the details of these packages.
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Old Feb 28th, 2018, 04:01 AM
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We stopped for about an hour and a half at the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple complex. Our time was limited as one in our party had a flight to catch as well we had a long drive ahead of us to our hotel in the Munnar hills. We didn't have time to explore Madurai other than visit the temple.

Truly this complex is a marvel, with I believe a total of 14 towers of different heights. You need proper attire to enter and they are very strict ( and inconsistent as to what you can bring in with you ( the female attendant wanted my friend to check a roll of toilet paper! I could leave my socks on, others were told to remove them). We interviewed and got a guide close to the entrance. It was a Sunday so many local families with kids were attending in their Sunday best and there were a few bride and grooms there seated near the entrance hall.

south temple


Bride and groom

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Old Feb 28th, 2018, 12:11 PM
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wow, wonderful photos jft - i love the colours - and thank you so much for the paragraphs.

Italy was great, thank you, but quite a lot colder than India!
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Old Feb 28th, 2018, 07:53 PM
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You have truly snapped some great photographs!
Thanks for sharing.
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Old Mar 1st, 2018, 02:41 AM
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Still following! I love your photos! And very interested to read your experience visiting the temple complex. And to see the bride and grooms - wonderful!
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Old Mar 1st, 2018, 04:39 AM
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Pictures from first part of trip



Visitor at Qutb complex


Qutb complex


Probably my favourite site, the Qutb Minar Complex. Best seen towards the end of the day when the lighting was superb.


Chandni Chowk


Presidential Palace, New Delhi ( morning smog)
I will add some photos from my earliest post. I hope the attachments are included

Last edited by jft; Mar 1st, 2018 at 04:42 AM. Reason: Included attachments
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Old Mar 1st, 2018, 08:51 AM
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love these photos! the shot of the little girl is just wonderful; a touching moment and connection!
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Old Mar 1st, 2018, 12:27 PM
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Thank you for the additional photos, Jft. I'm iewing with great memories of some places, and great anticipation of others.
Re: your first photo, I love the bird flying above the Taj Mahal!
Thanks for the continuing narrative---looking forward to Munnar, Cochin, and backwater tour descriptions when you have a chance.
Re: the wedding: last year in Ahmedabad Gujarat, a wedding party was most gracious about me taking photos. I read later (haven't fact-checked though) it's considered a good omen for the marriage when a foreigner is involved in the celebration.

Do you miss India?
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