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dgunbug Oct 16th, 2011 11:28 AM

June & Mike's 24 Day Adventure in India
While this report was actually started just prior to leaving for India, under the heading "Off to India", I did not tag it as a trip report. Additionally, the original report skipped around a bit, so, in an effort to make this report more readable, I will begin the beginning. I am grateful for those who contributed past trip reports and to those who answered my many questions. Your help was most appreciated and instrumental in making our trip run very smoothly. With a bit of planning, India is actually an easy country to travel through and can easily be done independently.

We had 27 days to travel and would spend 24 of those days on land in India actually touring. We decided to save Delhi for the end of the trip for two reasons; we had heard that Delhi was highly polluted and were concerned about my husband's asthma, and we thought it reasonable to just stay at the airport as our flight to Udiapur left at 5:40 AM.
We knew that traveling in September would be hot and were concerned that it was the tail end of monsoon season. Unfortunately, this was the only time that we were able to travel, so we decided to deal with the circumstances. The weather proved to be exceptionally hot, but we never saw a drop of rain.

The following was our itinerary:

Sept 14 – Lv Fort Lauderdale 2:05 p.m.
Sept 15 (thursday) —arrive Delhi 10:35 p.m – night in airport hotel
16- (friday) fly to Udiapur 5:40 AM (Air India) from terminal 3 – Day/night udiapur
17 –(saturday) Udiapur – day/night in udiapur – Jagat Nivas – PICK UP FROM HOTEL AT AIRPORT
18 – (sunday) Udiapur – day/night in udiapur
CASTLE & KINGS – 7:30 am PICKUP – 1 day drive to Jodhpur
19 -(monday) – Early departure from Udiapur - drive to Jodhpur –night in Jodphur
(Stop along the way at Kumbalgarh Fort & Ranakpur) – Vivanta by Taj – Hari Mahal
20 – (tuesday) Jodhpur – day/night in Jodhpur
21 (wednesday) Jodhpur – day/night in jodhpur
22 – (thursday) to Jaisalmer – Train departs 6:10 AM – Arrives 11:45 (5:35 hrs) – 1st class A/C Gateway Hotel Rawalkot (Confirm #54197018) - Taj
23 – (friday) Jaisalmer – day/night in Jaisalmer
24 – (saturday) Jaisalmer – day/night in Jaisalmer
25– (sunday) Jaisalmer to Jaipur – (sleeper lv 16:20 – arr 4:50)
26 – (monday) Jaipur (arrive 4:50) - Country Inn & Suites
27 – (tuesday) Jaipur
28 – (wednesday) 6:45 AM departure from Jaipur by car to Agra – [235 km] – tour Shand Baoli in the village of Abhaneri to see the step well, Galta Kund (monkey temple) & Fatehpur Sikri along way. evening sunset from across river–Taj Gateway Hotel
29 (thursday) Agra - Taj at sunrise – Red Fort, CAR To Gwalior –
30 – (friday) Gwalior overnight - Usha Kiran Palace Gwalior (Taj)
1- ( Saturday) to Orchha (stopping at Datia and Sonagiri on way) – overnight
Bundelkhand Riverside Hotel
2- (Sunday) Orchha – overnight
3 – Monday) – To Khajuraho – Chandela Hotel (Taj)
4 – (Tuesday) Khajuraho – fly out 13:25 - Arrives 14:15 to Varanasi –
Rasmi Guest House - pick up at airport included
5 - (Weds) – Varanasi
6 – (Thurs)– Varanasi
7– (Fri) Varanasi - Fly 11:50 AM – to Delhi– Kingfisher Wood Castle Hotel
8 – (Sat) Delhi
9 – (Sunday) Delhi – tour until 8-9 p.m. – go to airport
10 – (Monday) - Lv Delhi 12:50 a.m. – arrive FL 5:00 p.m.

As I reported initially in "Off to India", we had a few snags with the airline seating. Air France and Delta reassigned our window and isle seats to two middle seats, only one day prior to the trip. We were seated in separate rows, no where near one another. After a great deal of arguing with the airlines, our seats were reassigned so that we were together again. The flights were uneventful, with one exception - Sometime during the night, I dropped my eye glasses and stepped on them. Thankfully the glasses were only bent and I was able to get them repaired once we arrived in Udaipur.

dgunbug Oct 16th, 2011 11:42 AM

We arrived and cleared customs easily around 11 pm. We intended to sleep in the Delhi airport hotel but discovered that it had not yet opened. An alternative was to rent a sleeping pod, but we discovered that they were all pre-booked. There is what looked like a quiet lounge area just outside the sleeping pod rooms and one can pay approximately $20 for 2 hours of rest which included a small snack and wi-fi service. The wi-fi service did not work and the lounge was less than quiet. If you want a massage, you can get one there. We headed up stairs and found the seating to be more comfortable. The Delhi airport was quite nice with gift shops and a nice food court. It was very clean with modern toilets. We understand it is a big improvement over the old airport.

dgunbug Oct 16th, 2011 11:47 AM

We flew Air India flight to Udaipur, departing at 5:40 am and arriving timely at 7:30. We had pre-arranged for a hotel pickup and were pleased to see a driver from the Jagat Niwas hotel waiting as we exited the terminal. We knew what to expect on the roads, but it gave us a certain thrill to actually pass by an elephant, several camel driven carts, goats, dogs, pigs, sheep, and numerous cows, in only the first few moments as we made our way into Udiapur. The level of poverty, the dilapidated housing and road conditions were all stunning. We were thrilled to have finally arrived and anxious to begin our adventure.

Craig Oct 16th, 2011 12:29 PM

Okay, now let's get down to the new part of your report. You know we are all chomping at the bit. And the rhkkmk's are leaving shortly and need to have as much info as they can for their one month (2nd) tour of India.

Kathie Oct 16th, 2011 12:46 PM

Oh, good! I've been looking forward to your report.

thursdaysd Oct 16th, 2011 12:54 PM


dogster Oct 16th, 2011 01:22 PM

Slowly, slowly catchee monkey... don't let anyone, even the esteemed Craig, rush you.

dgunbug Oct 16th, 2011 03:56 PM

Oh esteemed one, more is on the way. Patience please...I've just gotten over Delhi Belly.

So...upon our arrival at the Jagat Nivas Hotel we were given juice, which we hesitated to take as we feared that water was added, but we were reassured that all was well and the juice was from a can. We were quickly checked in and went up to the rooftop for a quick breakfast of a massala omelet, juice, toast and massala tea. The view from the rooftop is spectacular and the setting so serene. The service was very good and the room, while basic was comfortable and had a nice sitting alcove. We did not pay extra for the room with a view, but truthfully, we rarely spent time in the room and it was not something that we missed as we enjoyed the view from the rooftop. We picked this hotel/haveli after many recommendations on Fodors and on Trip advisor and we were quite pleased with the location and hotel. It is situated right on the bank of Lake Pichola and provides an excellent view of all the Palaces of Udaipur i.e. City Palace, Lake Palace, Monsoon Palace. There is no wi-fi in the hotel, but right next door is a Travel Agency/Internet center. We did use the services of the travel agency and were quite pleased with them. More on that later.

We were off and running as soon as we finished breakfast and freshened up (all of about 5 minutes) - we were too anxious to linger in the room to rest. We like to begin our journey by simply wandering the streets and as it was still early, we strolled through the town, into the market area heading toward the bell tower.

India (as far as what we saw) is not a beautiful country but can be described more as chaotic. The streets of Udaipur, as well as other cities we visited are filled with people, cows, carts drawn by mule, horse, camel, or manpower. Woman and men commonly pass by with heavy loads upon their heads. Fruits, vegetables, and grains are layed out upon the streets for sale. Vendors cook and sell their food on carts or stalls set out on the street. Most are deep fried and seemed to be buzzing with flies. Many men wear colorful turbans and the woman are adorned in beautiful saris. India is a photographer's dream. The streets are dusty and filthy and littered with cow dung, necessitating great care in ones footing. The store fronts and houses are in poor condition and often look half built, if that. Unsightly electrical wires are everywhere. It is not uncommon to see men urinating out in the open whenever they have the urge. I often wondered what the woman do.

The people were as interested in us as we were in them. Many of the children wanted their photos taken, but it was disheartening when we realized that often their request for a photo was followed by a request for rupees. It was saddest to see young woman with their babies begging for money and food. I tried to hand out bananas at times, but it is impossible to feed and give to all the beggars and of course it only encourages more begging.

After wandering the streets for a while, we headed toward the City Palace, stopping along the way at the Jagdish Temple. This Hindu Temple is well worth a visit. There is no fee and the carvings are quite intricate.

The City Palace Complex is the largest Palace complex in Rajastan and we were anxious to tour it. DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE WE MADE: Despite having read how good the audio guides are, we were convinced by a guide to use his services. It turned out that we had difficulty understanding him at times. I did use the audio guide for part of the complex and was extremely pleased with the quality and information. We found this to be true throughout India - the audio guides were terrific.

We were told that the Museum is the jewel in the crown of the Udaipur City Palace Complex. It is here that you can immerse yourself in the history of the Maharanas of Mewar, and really get a feel for their culture and how royalty lived. The Museum comprises both the Mardana Mahal (King's Palace) and Zenana Mahal (Queen's Palace), which make up the City Palace. Constructed over four and a half centuries, starting in 1559, the Museum is the oldest and largest part of the City Palace Complex. The architecture is the main highlight and it was a bit disappointing that the furnishings no longer exist.

Sitting opposite the Museum, and requiring a separate ticket, is the Fateh Prakash Palace hotel with the Durbar Hall, once used for royal audiences. It now serves as a venue for banquets and special functions. Overlooking the Durbar Hall is the Crystal Gallery which should not be missed. It is purportedly the largest private collection of crystal in the world. Amongst them is a crystal footrest, and the only crystal bed in the world. It is truly amazing.

After touring the Palace complex, we decided to take the boat tour on Lake Pichola, which included a stop at The Jag Mandir Palace which is adorned on the outside with elephant carvings. The boat ride was pleasant and gave us an opportunity to look back upon the City Palace Complex and to appreciate its grandeur. It was a great way to cool off after a long and tiring day.

By this time we had had it and we returned to our hotel to relax and freshen up before dinner time, which we had decided to do at our hotel.

We made our way up to the rooftop to enjoy the end of the day and to have our first wonderful Indian meal. The butter chicken was delicious as was the Paneer dish and cheese and garlic naan that we shared. As the sun set our wait staff pointed out the monkeys scampering on our hotel's roof. This was a great way to end a perfect first day. We were exhausted, but ready to get up early to set out on new adventures the next morning with a guide we had lined up through the hotel.

rhkkmk Oct 16th, 2011 08:54 PM

fantastic.... glad to read this portion because other than info from craig i have not read any first hand info on udaipur.. we will be there in a few weeks for 3 days..

before i retire tonight to my crystal bed (the only other one in the world), i wanted to say that i look forward to your other installments, espcially the one on varanasi.. thanks

gmoz Oct 17th, 2011 12:28 AM

This is probably a dumb qjestion but where do you get the audio guides? Are the guides on the internet or provided at each site (possibly like the ones we had on a tour of Alcatraz)
Thanks for any info.

dgunbug Oct 17th, 2011 04:23 AM

Audio guides are available at most major sites in India and can be rented when you purchase your entry ticket.

gmoz Oct 17th, 2011 04:33 AM

Thank you. Looking forward to the rest of your report.

kmkrnn Oct 17th, 2011 05:54 AM

More please! I had to go unpack my cheat sheet of notes , and added to it from your report, esp the audio guide.

dgunbug Oct 17th, 2011 06:23 AM

Glad to hear you are finding this gives me more of an incentive to complete the report. Will post more later today.

sf7307 Oct 17th, 2011 11:04 AM

dgunbug, another great start - I'm just going to follow you around the world!

crosscheck Oct 17th, 2011 05:31 PM

Hi dgunbug, How was the weather in Udaipur? We're thinking of going next year at the same time, but the guidebooks all say it is not the ideal time because of monsoons, heat, humidity, mosquitoes, etc.

dgunbug Oct 17th, 2011 06:36 PM

sf7307 - thanks for the encouragement. Where should we go next?

Day 2 - Udiapur: Just outside the entrance to the Jagat Nivas is a travel agency/internet center. I thought I saved the name of the driver/guide we used, but can't find his card. I believe the young man is a partner in this company and his English and personality were excellent. He can arrange to take you around by car or by tuk tuk, depending upon how far you will be going and on how you prefer to travel. We used his services for two days. On the first, his Uncle, a very pleasant gentlemen, took us out on a tuk tuk
as we indicated that it was our preferred means of transportation.

We first stopped at the Cenotaphs located just outside the city. These are burial memorials for the royal families and they were quite impressive. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the area and it was a great photo opportunity. I highly recommend this stop.

Our next stop was to Sahelion-Ki-Bari, the Garden of the Maidens. This garden, with extensive lawns and shady walks is situated on the banks of the Fateh Sagar Lake and was constructed in 18th century by Maharana Sangram Singh for forty-eight young ladies-in-waiting sent to the royal house, as part of the dowry as a cool summer retreat for them. It is purported to be one of the finest examples of Hindu landscape gardening and is a favorite picnic spot of the city, however, we were unimpressed and could easily have given this stop a pass. Perhaps during another time of year this garden is more impressive.

One word of advise: The toilets there are communal squat toilets. I will admit that I locked the door when presented with three squat toilets and no privacy barriers between them. I quickly took care of my business and sheepishly exited the premises as an Indian woman was banging on the door, bewildered why I would have locked it. This was one of the rare instances where I did not find a Western style toilet.

Our next stop was to an art exhibit of miniature paintings, for which Udaipur is famous. They were truly beautiful, but my husband is not one for shopping and we stayed only briefly while the artist showed us the art of making such paintings.

We drove past Fateh Sager Lake, one of Udaipur's man made lakes, where we could have taken a boat ride, but we passed on the opportunity. Note that in the center of the lake is the Naroot Park with an Observatory. As we intended to see the Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur, we saw no need to visit this one.

We continued on through the lush and pleasant countryside to the very pretty Tiger Lake which has a boardwalk to stroll upon. The walkway is lined with gazebo like structures. What was most interesting was that we were accompanied by cows also strolling the boardwalk. It was also interesting to note how high the water level was, as evidenced by one of the gazebos fully underwater. This was obviously a good monsoon rain season as we also discovered later in Varanasi where a large portion of the ghats were also underwater.

Upon our return to town, our driver dropped us off at the vegetable market where we decided to wander. En route to the hotel, we encountered tribal dancers celebrating on the streets. It was not clear to us what they were celebrating but this group of people were colorfully adorned with painted faces and bright tribal clothing. It was all entertaining for us and for the local folks who were gathered around to watch them.

We made our way back to the hotel for a shower and nap prior to dinner. Shortly before sunset, we were picked up by car (by the same agency) and taken to the Monsoon Palace. One drives through a game reserve to get to this palace which was used in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy as the residence of Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince. It offers a panoramic view of the Udiapur's lakes, palaces and surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, the skies were cloudy so a nice sunset was not in our cards. We proceeded back to town where we were dropped off at Ambrais, a restaurant that had been recommended by several people. This restaurant is on the opposite bank of the river from our hotel and the main town. It has a beautiful view of the City Palace and of the Lake Palace Hotel. We enjoyed our dinner and the ambiance, although we thought that the meal at the Jagat Nivas was better.

Day 3 - Udiapur: At 10 AM we were picked up by our driver (the young man) to take us to the magnificant Jain Temple "Shri Eklingji Prabhu Temple" in Egleton. It's located around 20 kilometers from Udaipur so we took an auto this time. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple complex is made completely out of marble. It also contains large colorfully painted statues of Lord Shiva’s Nandi Bull. The original shrine was built by Bapa Rawal, the founder of the Mewar Dynasty.

Nearby, and also worth seeing, are the ancient 10th century Sas Bahu temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temples are covered in intricate sculptures and were in the process of being spruced up (some scaffolding) when we were there.

We returned several hours later to the hotel to relax before going out again to tour the Bagore Ki Haveli and then to watch the recommended folk dance performance which is held there nightly - Rajasthan dancers, puppet shows and music. Our notes indicated that the Haveli was open between 10-7 pm, after which there was the evening performance. We arrived at 6 pm expecting to tour the Haveli prior to the show, but discovered that the Haveli closes for tours at 5 pm. We were somewhat disappointed as we had saved this for our last evening. This Haveli is only a short walk from our hotel and is supposed to be well worth visiting. The show was entertaining, but similar to other puppetry and dance performances that we were to see later in the trip.

Afterward, we returned to the room to retire for the evening as we were being picked up at 7:30 am by Castle & King for our drive to Jodphur.

dgunbug Oct 17th, 2011 06:39 PM

Crosscheck - the weather in India is definitely hot this time of year, however, we did not have one day of rain and hardly saw a mosquito the entire time. I would presume that November through February would be a better time to travel, however, sometimes you just have to take what you can get. This was the only time we could travel this year.

greycat92 Oct 18th, 2011 04:21 AM

I just returned from a similar trip to India (Mubai-Aurangabad-Udaipur-Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Agra-Varanasi-Dharamsala-Delhi). We also stayed for two nights in Udaipur and dined at Jagat Niwas about a week after you. I must agree that it is the best restaurant around and has an amazing view! However, I must beg to differ regarding the mosquitoes - perhaps you are not as tasty as I, but I had serious problems with mosquitoes while traveling through Rajasthan and wore DEET all the time. But then again I am always the one who attracts them at home too.

In Udaipur, we made the mistake of staying at a cheaper haveli nearby called Mewar Haveli. I wish we had stayed at Jagat Niwas. The rooms there were amazing! Instead we had a much smaller room, minor bloodstains on the sheets (but no apparent bugs), and a tiny bathroom with the shower in the middle.

Also, we did in fact have a very good experience with the guide that we hired outside the City Palace - we were hesitant but he turned out to be excellent. I agree that it is a crapshoot, though, and the audio guides we tried at other places were all good enough that I don't think you ever NEED to hire a guide anywhere.

One additional note - for those who are planning a trip to Udaipur, we can recommend Cafe Namaste for breakfast. The power goes out in the city for a while every morning but you can get a wonderfully strong coffee and pastry at Cafe Namaste around 9 or 10 am. We enjoyed a fresh cinnamon bun and muffin there that were a welcome respite from the usual toast and eggs at all our hotels.

dgunbug Oct 18th, 2011 05:22 AM

After a great deal of debate, we hired Castle and King to provide transportation between Udaipur and Jodphur and then later between Jaipur and Khajuharo. Arvind, the company owner is a real gentlemen, his drivers were all extremely competent and we felt safe with them at all times. We were shocked that Castle & King did not require a deposit up front and we agreed to meet with Arvind at the end of our trip when we returned to Delhi in order to pay him. Upon meeting Arvind at our hotel, he advised us that he had a driver available and offered us his services complimentary for our first day in Delhi. When my husband met with the unfortunate incident of being pick-pocketed at the Lotus Temple, Arvind emailed us and kindly offered us assistance and even money if such was needed.

We had arranged for an early pickup at 7:30 from the hotel in Udaipur and the driver met us timely. We were a bit disappointed that his English was not better, but he was able to understand us and was helpful at all times. This driver was only used for the day and had been arranged last moment.

After being picked up, we made our way a few hours North to
Kumbhalgarh Fort. This fort was very impressive, having the second longest wall in the world, the first being in China. It is so wide in places that eight horses can stand abreast on it. We had read that the wall encompassed 360 temples and many palaces and gardens. It was built in the 15th century and is up 1100m high so the views of the area are amazing. The climb up to the top was worth it and not too difficult. The day was very cloudy and at times obscured our view, however, it also added to the magical atmosphere of the place. We visited the temples first and were impressed with their intricate carvings.

There is a light show at night at the Fort and several people suggested staying overnight here before going to Udaipur, but we were anxious to get to Ranakpur and proceed. We were glad with our decision.

The Jain Temple at Ranakpur is a couple of hours further. The temple is still used and Non Jains can only come after 12 noon. The temple was constructed in 1439 and made of milk white marble that is almost iridescent. The carvings are amazing and so intricate. The incredible C15th Jain temple at Janakpur is one of India's most significant religious buildings. Built of beautifully carved marble over 1,400 pillars (the precise number is claimed to be uncountable) support the building. We wished we had longer to linger as the marble changed color, depending on the angle of the sun. It was difficult to capture the beauty of this Temple by camera.

At the recommendation of another Fodorite, we stopped for lunch at Hotel Maharani Bagh not far from Ranakpur. The grounds were beautiful and we were taken to an outdoor dining area. We had expected a buffet lunch, but lunch was only off a menu. Lunch was fair and evidently safe to eat as we suffered no ill effects.

We continued several hours further arriving in Jodphur at approximately 5 pm. While we enjoyed passing through the small villages on the way, the road conditions were terrible and the drive seemed endless. We arrived at our hotel at approximately 5 pm and were very pleased that we would be staying at the beautiful Vivanta by Taj - Hari Mahal for the next two nights. This was to be one of the nicest Taj hotels that we stayed at. We were exhausted and decided to rest and do dinner at the hotel. The dinner was buffet style and probably the best we had during our journey, however, there was not any one item that stood out as being particularly wonderful. Nevertheless we were happy to dine here and enjoyed the Indian live music played as we ate.

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