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Trains Planes and Automobiles. A trip report to India Jan 2010

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Feb 20th, 2010, 12:21 PM
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Trains Planes and Automobiles. A trip report to India Jan 2010

This is going to be a long one!
After a year of planning, researching and reading we finally headed off to India on Jan 19, 2010 for one month. I would consider us ‘middle of the road’ type travelers, we don’t spend a lot of money on our hotels as we are rarely in them on this kind of ‘adventure travelling’. Our main concern is that it is relatively clean, has some character and in a good location. Most of our hotel picks were from either Lonely Planet Tripadvisor or the great advice on Fodors forums. We were not disappointed with any of them and happy with our entire trip. We wanted to try all modes of transportation, planes, car and driver and trains.
We were both vegetarians on this trip and neither one of us got sick. We stuck to good restaurants, not expensive necessarily but ones that looked clean.
Average cost per day per person was $15. We would spend around 150 rupees on breakfast when it was not included with our hotel. This was the hardest meal of the day for me because I just couldn’t do Indian food for breakfast so was usually limited to white toast and milky porriage and tea. The coffee in India is usually instant so we didn’t bother.
Lunch and dinner we usually ordered Dal, rice and another vegetable Indian dish, tea and bottled water and it usually came to 400 rupees for the two of us.
I brought a little net book computer with me which I found invaluable. I kept a blog in Word documents and also used it to download my pictures and put them in folders so that when I get home I remember where they were taken. When I found a place with wifi, which was more often than I expected, I would put my blog on the net and do my banking etc on my own computer. The little thing only weighs a pound which is great and I would update my diary on trains and planes when I had time to kill which was wonderful
Here is a list of flights/hotels etc. I booked everything on line

Flights
YVR-LHR-DEL. Points on British Airways economy class. We decided to break up the trip and overnight at the Holiday inn Heathrow to hopefully arrive in Delhi a little more human. We were delayed out of London 9 hours however because of fog in Delhi.
Arrival in Delhi Airport. After going through immigration and collecting our bags we stepped out and immediately went down a hall to the left for the transfer to the domestic terminal. There is a sign right outside the baggage area and very easy to find. You had to show your onward ticket to a guard and then again to a woman inside who directed you to a bus. We went on the bus across the tarmac to the domestic terminal which was free and very easy to use. This was a lot faster than taking a cab to the domestic terminal, and as I said, free.

Delhi to Udaipur o/w . Jet Airways. Bought on line with Jet for $87 each

Jaipur to Aurangubad o/w Kingfisher Airlines . Booked on Cleartrip.com $200 each
Jaipur airport is new, very nice and charged us an airport fee upon departure. I cant remember how much it was, a couple of hundred rupees each I think.

Mumbai to Varanasi. o/w Spicejet Airlines . Booked on Cleartrip.com $117 each
I thought all the inter Indian airlines to be fine. Spicejet is the economy line and you have food for purchase but other than that I thought they were all comparable. All were in regular coach class.

Trains.
All booked on Cleartrip.com We were not able to book any in first class but all in 2nd air conditioned. You need to wait for Indian Railway to be open to book on line with cleartrip which for us meant at 5PM or later and you receive instant seat numbers and confirmation. Very easy to use and the paper confirmations from the computer were always accepted without problems.
You can purchase locks and chains at any station from guys selling them. I would recommend this for overnight trains. We locked up all our bags except one, which we hid in behind the locked ones and it was stolen while we slept on the Varanasi to Agra train.
For overnight trains you are provided with clean ironed sheets, a very small pillow, and blankets. I found the trains hot most of the time so did not find that I needed any more blankets. There are guys going through with food for purchase but we brought our own to be safe. I found that earplugs were a good thing to bring along and a little alarm clock so that you don’t miss your stop. Sometimes the conductor will go through and call out the stop, but sometimes they did not and you just have to ask others where you are. They usually left at least an hour late but you don’t know until you get to the station. You can check but we found that the information given was usually not accurate. We would get porters to take our bags for us, they would stick them on their heads, both of our heavy bags, and take them to the proper track as they knew which platform the trains leave from. The other platform was usually up the stairs on the other side so worth the 100 rupees paid to have them taken to the proper platform. We always paid more than the required tip as our bags were heavy and these guys don’t make much money.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 12:26 PM
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Hotels: Udaipur Jagat Niwas. Booked directly with hotel. $92 for lake facing Raj room. http://www.jagatniwaspalace.com/
We were very happy with this hotel. We were put in a room above the roof top restaurant and had a fantastic view of the lake. I would definitely get a room with a view of the lake. The room was spacious, clean and comfortable. We had hot water and our own little patio out front. The staff was wonderful and the restaurant had great food. No internet but an internet café next door.
When we arrived at the airport we got a prepaid taxi to the hotel. Things we did that were amazing:
Rajasthan dancers, puppet shows and music nightly at the Bagore ki Haveli
We also took a boat ride around the lake. Great photo ops of the palace and havalis around the lake from the water side.
We loved Udaipur and thought it was a beautiful city.
We then arranged a car a driver with Rajasthan four wheel drive. http://www.fourwheeldriveindia.com/. Our driver was Rattan, he was a very nice young man, rather shy at first but near the end was more outgoing. He was a good driver but like most drivers in India I found him to be too fast. Until we had another driver later on the trip I had nothing to compare it to so thought it was normal. The car was a Toyota Innova which was clean and we felt safe. Bottled water was provided each day for us and I had no complaints.
We were picked up in Udaipur and driven to Jodhpur by way of Kumbalgarh fort and Rankapur. Both were well worth the time, the road to the fort was the best part for me as we went through the country and saw some wonderful sights.

Here is an excerpt from my blog about the drive:
Before leaving home we had arranged for a car and driver to pick us up at our hotel in Udaipur at 8AM and made our way to the Kulbargarh Fort a few hours north. The fort itself was very impressive with 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. The wall encompasses 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 there were very few non Indian tourists so we attracted a bit of attention. The older school children love to come up and talk to us, practicing their English.
I think however that the drive there and back was my favorite part as it was down twisting turning roads through small towns and villages. Our driver was going so fast that by the time I saw something I wanted to take a picture of sometimes it was too late. But we did stop to watch an elderly man sit behind his cows as they walked around in a circle to bring up the water for the area. We saw women in beautiful brightly colored saris carrying pots of water, large bundles of sticks or grass and even bricks and cement on their heads. They walk for miles balancing these heavy objects and not spill or drop anything. What skill! There would be many women in their beautiful saris squatting beside the town water pump washing dishes or collecting water in their containers. They come in groups and it acts as a social outing for them, coming to fill the containers three times a day and will change their saris for each trip. We would see them all walking together singing or laughing going down trails to their homes. I saw one little child who was so small she was hanging on the lever to make it come down while her sister held the water container to catch the drops.
Women men and small children wielding pick axes to work the field and people making bricks from the clay.
There were many men using their water buffalo to plow and level their fields and help with the farming. It was great! We were driving through one town and I saw dogs lying in the middle of the road. I asked ‘Are they dead?’ No Madam, they are just sleeping.
Well they will be dead soon if they keep sleeping in the middle of the road!
We then made our way to the Jain Temple at Ranakpur, a couple of hours away.
The temple is still used; Non Jains can only come after 12 noon which is why we went to the fort first. The temple was constructed in 1439 and made of milk white marble that is almost iridescent. The carvings are amazing and so intricate, as you can see by the pictures. There was a religious ceremony going on while we were there and they were singing and playing music and generally having a great time.
We headed off to Jodhpur. The road was a new divided highway, four lanes. There were cars and motorcycles coming towards us on our side of the highway. I asked why there was a divided highway if both sides went both ways. The answer is that if people only have a short distance to go they can be on whichever side they like. I asked if they would get a ticket from the police if they drove on the wrong side which was answered with a laugh. ‘No Madam, there are no rules here for driving; you can do what you like.’
The main highway is full of transport trucks. Most goods in India travel by truck, usually only people travel by train. Many of the trucks are decorated with garland, tassels, and Christmas like decorations. The road is shared with these trucks, tractors, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, cars, and camels pulling carts. The cars and trucks travel at such high speeds and there is only one thing that they will slow down for. It’s not the women and children on the side of the road; it’s not the bikes, motorcycles or cars, or even the camel carts. No, the only thing a driver will slow down for is a cow. Did I mention the cows? Hundreds of them, everywhere and most are on the road at some point of the day. These are holy cows.
There is a rule in India that when you are driving you must pass the vehicle in front of you……no matter how fast he is going. So you pull out to check to see if anything is coming. Yes a big truck travelling at light speed towards you. That’s okay though, I know that I can make it. So you pull out and the second rule is that you don’t go back into your own lane until you can see the nose hairs on the guy driving the truck heading towards you and you know that certain death is imminent in seconds. Only then do you quickly pull into your own lane. You need to have nerves of steel and very quick reflexes to drive in India. I closed my eyes for half the journey. It just couldn’t get any worse!
And then it got dark.
I read many times, do not be on the road in India in the dark. There are only trucks on the road at night, and most of the drivers drink while driving. And now it is getting dark and I am not a happy camper as I specifically said many times that I wanted to be sure to be in Jodhpur by dark. I guess I stopped to take too many pictures.
The trucks don’t turn their lights on at night. Well that’s if you don’t count the red and green Christmas lights on the front. Looks like a party driving by. A lot of other vehicles don’t have any lights. So you are driving along, still at light speed, and come up to a rickshaw, tractor or whatever that has no lights. But we are all still passing on blind corners.
I was so happy to arrive in Jodhpur still alive and in one piece.


Jodhpur. Haveli Inn Pal Booked directly with hotel. $52 per night for a Heritage View Room. http://www.haveliinnpal.com/ There is the Havali Inn and the Havali inn Pal which are owned by cousins and right beside each other which is confusing for the drivers. The Haveli Inn Pal is the least expensive of the two. Charming rooms, old world charm. We had a great view from our window seat of the fort. The roof top restaurant had an amazing view and breakfast was included. It was located right beside the clock tower so easy walking distance to the market.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 12:30 PM
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South of Jodhpur: Bishnoi Village. Booked on Hotels.com $50 per night http://www.bishnoivillage.com/. Spent two nights here. When we arrived we wondered what on earth were we going to do here for two days, there was nothing around for miles. Our home was a round hut made of cow dung and mud with a grass roof but there was a full bathroom. The rooms were a bit dark as the windows were tiny but they provided a battery operated lantern. They kept us busy with a jeep tour of the local villages and visits to some local homes. We were there on Republic day and invited to the local school as a guest to celebrate with all the villagers from around the area which was very special. The food was good, different from all the other Indian food we had on this trip. It was a different experience from all the other places we stayed and two nights was good enough. No internet

Jaisalmer, Shahi Palace booked directly with hotel. $44 per night for fort facing room. http://www.shahipalacehotel.com
We had a view room on the second floor. The room was charming, there was hot water in the bathroom and no complaints at all. As mentioned earlier in a trip report by Travelaw it is noisy. The hotel is designed in such a way that the noise travels up from the reception and down from the restaurant but after the first night it did not bother me any more. I always travel with earplugs. I found that the staff could not do enough for you and treated everyone who arrived like family and made everyone feel very special. There is internet in the restaurant and Wifi. We were there for the Desert festival which was fantastic. We loved Jaisalmer. The people where so friendly and we could walk almost everywhere.
We did an overnight camel safari that was arranged through the hotel. There were seven of us and we went to an area that no other tourists were in. We had read how some of the camel safaris watch the sunset with thousands of others which was not the case for us and we were thankful for that. The food cooked over the open fire for dinner was okay, very basic but after all we were in the desert. We were provided dome tents for each couple and blankets. The same blankets that we sat on the camels on the ride here. The tent zipper did not work and there were no pillows so this was not a romantic overnight in the desert. You are roughing it for sure. I froze to death as did most of the women. Somehow all the men managed to sleep. I did love it though. Would I do it again? No. But I am glad I did it once. The hotel would offer a free room to shower and rest up in until the train left which was great.
Nawalgarh ,
We were picked up at the Jaipur train station by our new driver, Ramesh Meena, India by Car and Driver. http://indiabycaranddriver.com also had a Toyota Innova and we found it very clean and safe. He was a better driver I must say. He was more courteous and did not lay on the horn the entire time. He did not drive as fast either. Ram was a very caring and thoughtful young man who could not do enough for us. Although Ruttan was great, to compare the two I would say that I would choose Ram. The prices were comparable as well. He also gave us a cell phone to use if we needed one and other little things that meant a lot.
Hotel: Apani Dhani. Booked directly with hotel for round thatched roof bungalow $27 http://apanidhani.com/apani/index.htm. Most of the hotel ran on solar power and was very environmentally conscious. This is great except it meant that there was no hot water until the sun warmed it at around noon. The meals are set and very rigid it felt. We did not find the staff very warm and friendly. It was a nice place however.
The Havalis in the area are amazing and worth the visit. We really enjoyed this area.

Jaipur, Madhuban Hotel. Booked directly with hotel for $40 per night http://www.madhuban.net/
This hotel is a wonderful little oasis in the noisy city of Jaipur. There is a garden in the middle where you have breakfast and a swimming pool although not warm enough for us to use it. We chose the least expensive room and it was very basic but clean. It had two twin beds and a covered porch with chairs. There was wifi. The food was good. Although the staff were very nice, they did not give a warm welcoming feeling like some of the other places we stayed. We did like the hotel though and would stay there again.
We like Jaipur. We went to the fort and did some shopping. Ram took us to Bollywood movie ‘3 idiots’ and it was great. I had really wanted to see a Bollywood movie and read that Jaipur was the place to do it because it had this wonderful huge theatre. Ram had seen the movie five times already but still killed himself laughing through the entire thing. No subtitles but you could get the gist of it all and we really enjoyed it.
We also went to visit Rams family which was very special. The then took us to Chokhi Dhani a place where middle class Indians go to have fun with their family. It reminded me of the Polynesian cultural centre in Hawaii. There were folk dancers, folk music, henna painting, fortune telling, magicians, camel rides and elephant rides. You then went for traditional Indian dinner sitting on the floor with no utensils. It was very interesting and entertaining.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 12:32 PM
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great start....long is not a word that affects fodors readers...
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Feb 20th, 2010, 12:39 PM
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Aurangabad.
Lemon Tree. Booked directly with hotel. Winter special included breakfast and dinner each day and hotel transfers. Three night stay for $300 incl. http://www.lemontreehotels.com
Very pleased with this hotel. It was new, modern, clean and the rooms very spacious. We had a ground floor room off the massive swimming pool. There was Wifi. The staff were wonderful . You could have the buffet or order al a carte meals. The buffet, which I am usually not a big fan of, were great. And they had a cappuccino maker! There was a small spa as well. The hotel would arrange a car and driver to go to the caves. It may have cost a bit more but worth the price to have it all done there.
Ajanta caves were 2800 rupees for the day and Ellora 1400. This was a small car with air and a driver.
I would recommend to hire a government guide when you get to the caves as it will enhance the trip a great deal. Price for a ½ day is 450 rupees and a full day is 750 rupees.
This was one of the highlights of our trip and well worth the time it took to fly here. We were just in awe of these caves and so glad we did them.
We spent three nights and three days here. The flights and trains all leave at night so you could do two nights and spend the first day doing Ajanta as it is the longest day and the second day doing Ellora and then flying out that night. We also did a tour of the fort which was good. The third day we did a city tour and we really could have done without it. The hotel was kind enough to give us a free room to use for a few hours after the tour and until our train left which was very welcome.

Mumbai.
Residency Hotel near the main train station. Booked directly with hotel One night Superior room for $70USD. http://www.residencyhotel.com/
Nice hotel close to the train station. No complaints. The price was right and the rooms were clean and there was hot water. The restaurant was fine as well.
We only had one full day here, we arrived by train at 6AM and were leaving the next morning so we booked a tour through:
Mumbai Magic http://www.mumbaimagic.com/
This tour included a nice car with air, seatbelts (which is something you should always make sure the car has seatbelts in the back seat, as not all of them do!) and a very knowledgeable guide. The price however I thought was extremely high, but I paid it as we only had one day. 10,000 rupees for the two of us for one day. We drove around Mumbai seeing the fishing area, Gandhis house, some of the major tourist areas and then went to Dharvi. I will paste an excerpt of my blog here:
We head for ‘Dharavi’ the slum area of Bombay. This is where ‘Slumdog Millionaire ‘ was filmed. We were going to see that the stereotype is not what this area is about. When you think of the largest slum in Asia you most likely imagine dirty, smelly, garbage and sewage everywhere with people looking hopeless, in rags and desperate. . This is not what we saw at all.
We went on this tour as it was described as an area that is very busy with everyone working and productive. An area that is hopeful. It is cleaner than many other areas of India we have seen. The people here all look healthy are in clean and tidy clothes and seem very happy. There is a huge industry here in recycling and an area where many different products are produced. Pickers will go through the garbage and sort out rags plastic and paper for recycling. We saw people making clay pots and putting them into kilns for the firing, foods being made and packaged, work gloves and other textiles being sewn. There is co-op housing provided to house many people. Once again, no other tourists around and the beginning of the trip was great with people smiling and welcoming us into their shops and showing us their work. These are very hardworking folk who are trying to carve out of a life as entrepreneurs. There were lots of children coming back from school and curious about these foreigners. As we were getting deeper into the area the mood all of a sudden changed. We were upon an area where a lot of papadams are made. You will see these in most Indian restaurants around the world, the very thin crisp bread with caraway seeds in them. The women roll out the dough on small round ceramic platforms and then they are dried on overturned straw baskets in the sun. An older woman is yelling something to our guide that we don’t understand but know it is not good. After an exchange between the two we find out that a few months ago a film crew was through the area and filmed a documentary about the ‘slum’ and where the papadams that you eat come from and the dirty conditions etc. Naturally these people were very upset. They let this film crew in and now it has aired and has threatened their livelihood so are not very welcoming of others arriving with cameras. We put our cameras away and head to an area of homes. Again the looks of contempt, mostly from the older folks is very uncomfortable and there are more verbal exchanges between our guide and some of the residents. An older man is talking to our guide and discussing the situation as Doug and another fellow climb up a ladder above one the houses to see a tailor shop. I stay below and am playing with the children who have surrounded me. They speak virtually no English but have on tee shirts that have “popeye’ and other English names so we ‘talk’ about those. The young toddlers love to come up and shake hands which is a western custom and they find it quite funny. The gentleman that the guide was talking to seems to have settled down as he feels confident we are not going to take any pictures and we communicate a little as he knows a few words in English. He has green eyes so I gesture that he has the same color eyes as me. We now have a bond, everything is okay. The children sing India’s national anthem for us and are very proud. Doug comes down from the tailor and we make our way back to the car. I do not imagine that tourists will be welcome here much longer.
One thing I was disappointed with was that I found out that the people in Dharavi do not get any proceeds from the tour from Mumbai Magic. On other such tours in other countries the tour company usually donates some of the proceeds to the local school or community but that was not the case here. Although I enjoyed this tour very much, I found it very overpriced. And the guide and the driver both expect a tip on top of it all of course too
Around 4PM we arrive back at our hotel and take the opportunity to catch an hours sleep. We hail a cab, one of thousands. I have never been to New York but imagine that it is similar in that two out of three vehicles’ is a yellow and black taxi. Our destination is ‘Leopold’s Restaurant”.
It’s claim to fame is two fold. If you read the book ‘Shantaram’ it is one of the main meeting points in the book. That is why we are there. It’s other claim to fame is that it, along with the Taj hotel, was the target of the terrorist attacks last year. We arrive to see a very plain looking eatery and are directed to a table in the corner. There are many foreigners here, a place where tourists hang out. Doug is sitting against the mirrored wall and there is a bullet hole right at his head level in the mirror. They left the holes there after the attacks last year. It really made you think about the terror that must have been in the minds of those people, just like us, who were just there to enjoy a meal in November 2008 when all hell broke loose.
The meal was good and we chat to some of the other patrons who are from the USA, Indonesia and South Africa. This is a very vibrant and lively place and apparently at any given time there will be at least a couple of patrons on the FBIs most wanted list, according to some

Varanasi Agra and Delhi to come later.........
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Feb 20th, 2010, 02:07 PM
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live42day: thanks for an amazing report. it is incredibly informative, and makes me want to go to India - (I'd given up the thought, as I'm thinking we are too old for such a grueling trip) You make it so enticing, probably your attitude has a lot to do with it.
More, please.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 02:37 PM
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Thanks for all the details. Sorry to hear about the stolen bag - I traveled with one big bag, locked to the strap under the bunks, and a day pack that I kept in the bunk with me.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 03:25 PM
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Thank you taconictraveler. Dont know how old you are, but India is a bit of a test that is for sure and why we decided to do this now instead of later. That being said we are 55 and 60, not spring chickens.
Thursdaysd, yes we were lazy and did not take the little day bag up with us. I had thought we had an upper and a lower, but the conductor told us we actually had two uppers otherwise with one of us sleeping above the bags it would not have been a problem. Could have been worse. All they got was my husbands little camera and I had downloaded all the pictures to the computer the night before and also some books and odds and ends. My bag with all my camera equiptment was locked but could have very easily been slashed and taken so we feel lucky that they only got the one bag. A lesson there for sure....
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Feb 20th, 2010, 03:31 PM
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Varanasi.
Palace on the River, (Rashmi guest house) booked directly with hotel. Room 303, Ganges view room for $135 per night http://www.palaceonriver.com/
We booked this back in August 2009 because we wanted room 303 and were not disappointed. Our hotel pickup was at the airport for us. We arrived to find that it was Shiva and Parvatis anniversary and people had come from all over India to celebrate. The roads were hammered! We were not moving as there were thousands and thousands of pilgrams who have come to bathe in the Ganges. Quite exciting really. We ended up walking a lot of the way to the hotel, which you have to walk part of the way anyhow. Two young men came to the car and our luggage was taken by a porter from the hotel and the other young man, Golu, took us to the hotel through narrow and winding alleyways. We were given a welcome lei of red and yellow marigolds and a small glass of coca cola before taken to our room. The room itself is quite unremarkable, clean with two twin beds and barley enough room to swing a cat if you were so inclined. The bathroom is small, clean, always had hot water but did have this unusual thing. There was a window at the top that went into the bathroom of the peoples room next door, so you could hear them brushing their teeth! Oh well, made you think before you went into the bathroom…
The best thing about this room, and what you are paying for is the view. A large window overlooking the Ganges and another overlooking the Ghats. You don’t even have to leave your room to see the action. It is noisy though. The entertainment goes on quite late, it is loud and the call to prayer, equally as loud, starts at 5AM and then there are the dogs barking all night. But I would not have stayed anywhere else it was mangnificent. The Restaurant on the roof was terrific, the food was some of the best we had and the service from all the staff outstanding. The view was amazing too. We had originally booked and pre paid for four nights and decided to reduce to three so had a credit of one night. Most of that was used in the restaurant as we took all our meal s there (breakfast is included) and we used two transfers through the hotel as well. They gave me cash for the balance left over.
Golu was our guide for the three days. Craig and Jeane, other foderites were also there in room 302 and used Pappu as a guide. They both seemed to do almost the same things and we were very happy with Golu and would recommend him.
We had a few meals with Craig and Jeane and compared travel notes which was great. We found that we had a lot in common too.
The festival added to our experience in Varanasi and sunrise on the Ghats seeing thousands as they went in to bathe was amazing. There were extra police with guns everywhere, especially in front of all the Shiva temples but there was not any trouble which was a good thing.
We did a day trip to Sarnath and the local museum which was okay but I was not all that impressed with Sarnath to be frank.
All in all we loved Varanasi and would recommend it to everyone. I am glad we did not go there first though. I think it might be a little overwhelming if this was the first stop in India. I was very happy with the order we did things, it introduced us to India in a gentler fashion I think.

FYI. The owner said that Bruno the dog stays at home now, he was so big that he would scare some of the guests, but he is doing fine.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 03:59 PM
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Agra.
Hotel Sheela booked directly with hotel for Executive room for $18 per night. http://www.hotelsheelaagra.com
We were unsure of this hotel as it had mixed reviews on trip advisor and other places. We found it just fine for a one night stay. The room was clean, basic and it is motel fashion, all on the ground floor. There is a beautiful little garden with gorgeous flowers and a small restaurant in the garden. The food was mediocre, not that great. You can walk to the east gate quite easily and it is located in the quiet zone where there is no traffic, only bicycle rickshaws which is a welcome rest from the honking and exhaust fumes.
We arrived in Agra and spent just over two hours completing a police report in the train station over our stolen bag. We are hoping to claim on our insurance. We then spent the afternoon seeing the Baby Taj which is good to see before the Taj Mahal and then went to the back of the Taj, across the river to see the Taj Mahal at sunset. This time of year the sunset is not that spectacular with colors but it was wonderful just the same. Our taxi driver told us to save our 200 rupees and just walk to the end of the road and sit outside the fence on the river to get the same view which we did. It really is breathtaking. Even though you think that it cant possibly be that great and live up to all the hype, it does.
At 6AM the next morning we took a cycle rickshaw about 10 minutes down the road to buy our tickets for the Taj. There are free busses apparently but we never saw any at that time in the morning and we were on a tight schedule. Our tickets cost 750 rupees each and included a bottle of water and sockettes to put over your shoes to go inside the Taj Mahal. You still have to take your shoes off to go into the Mosque however. Our cycle rickshaw had waited for us, (because we didn’t pay them yet) and took us back to the East Gate. We lined up, men on one side, women on the other, and they let us in at 645AM I think. You go through a metal detector and are searched by wand like an airport, which is quite common in a lot of places in India. They search your bags and you can not have cell phones, calculators, food, drink (other than the bottled water), computer wires or the likes. I found out you can not have toys either. We were travelling with this one foot high wooden mountie moose that we would take pictures of everywhere we went, like the Travelocity Gnome, and she said ‘nope, you are not bringing that in!’
We had hired a guide, well actually he found us at the ticket place and we agreed on a price for one hour. I know we paid way too much but I didn’t feel like bartering and only had an hour to see the Taj cos our train left at 1030AM. It came in handy because rather than me go back out and put this toy and my calculator in the locker and then stand in line again for an hour, (I was just going to throw them both in the garbage), he was able to get in and out in minutes and do it for me.
The Taj Mahal at sunrise is amazing. Amazing is not the right word. There is not a right word to describe it really. The crowds are less in the morning the light is better and therefore the pictures are better. An hour was too short a time to see it all, we left about and hour and a half later, but I was happy and feel we got some great shots and that I was able to sit and drink in the Taj Mahal. The guide walked us out and got our things from the locker and then wanted us ‘just to look’ at a marble shop but we were adamant that it was not going to happen so he went back to find another client.
We did not do the Fort or any of the other attractions but we are okay with that decision. The only reason I wanted to go to Agra was to see the Taj Mahal and it did not disapoint
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Feb 20th, 2010, 05:26 PM
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Delhi.
Hotel Le Roi in the Pahar Ganj district. Booked with Hotels.com. $70 per night http://delhihotelsleroi.com/
We had our last two nights in Delhi and wanted to be in an area where we could do some last minute shopping. This hotel had good reviews and is in Paharganj. We took a cab and were hoping that our last hotel would not disappoint as we had been quite pleased thus far. The hotel itself is quite new and modern. The reception area was very nice and we talked to the woman at the travel desk about arranging a tour of Delhi for tomorrow. The room itself was a wonderful surprise. For the price I did not know what to expect in Delhi and especially as this area is mixed in reviews as well. The king size bed had an actual mattress and box spring which was nice, and great pillows. There was a very modern bathroom and flat screen tv on the wall (which we did not use but none the less it was there). It is a very busy area but the windows blocked most of the noise. There is a bit of construction going on still in some of the hallways but overall it was great. The restaurant was good and breakfast was included. There were free computers and WiFi but it was down when we were there. The shopping bazaar area was a two block walk away which was very handy for last minute stuff. A very busy crowded area but we liked it.
We walked a couple of blocks over to the metro and tried that.
It looks like it is fashioned after Londons underground but it is above ground. Very clean, modern and fast. The stops are brief and it is hard to get on and off as there are so many people pushing and shoving in both directions. I was trying to get off and it was like a cartoon where my feet were not touching the ground and these big guys were pushing their way into the train and taking me with them. I said ‘Hey I’m trying to get off guys!” and we all had a good laugh and they helped me off.
The cost is 20 rupees each way. The only complaint is that once you get through the gates, (metal detectors’ again) there are no maps so you have to ask which platform you need for your stop It is a fun thing to try for sure.
We arranged a tour of Delhi the next day. She said it would be 900 rupees for 8 hours. I just stared at her and then said ‘900 rupees?’ You may recall that we paid 10,000 in Mumbai. She said yes and so it was arranged. We were asked if we wanted a guide too or just the driver. We decided that we just wanted to do a whirlwind tour of Delhi and did not want the guide, but it would have been an extra 750 rupees if we did.
Well here is the difference. The car in Mumbai was new, clean, air conditioned and had seatbelts in the back. And a very professional and knowledgeable guide. In Delhi we had what looked like a late model 88 Toyota, banged up and no seat belts or ac. Always ask why it is so inexpensive! None the less we were off although a little uncomfortable to have no seat belts. Our driver had a good command of the English language and was able to answer our questions. We just drove around to see the major sites but really not too ambitious to see too much other than from the car. I think because we knew we were going home perhaps. He took us shopping to the Delhi Hut, where I am sure the hotel travel agency gets a cut because the manager phoned me and asked how much money I spent there….
The day was good. I think that something in the middle of what we had in Delhi and what we had in Mumbai would be a good price. A car that is more modern than Delhi and a price around 4,000 would be fair for car and guide and driver IMO.
We did not get our wake up call so thankful that we had an alarm clock to wake us at 230AM to make our 3AM taxi to the airport.
We checked into the airport in Delhi 3 hours prior as advised and the woman said ‘ I am sorry to say that your flight is ½ hour delayed’. I said ‘I can live with that!’ (thinking about the 9 hour delay on the way there). She said, I will be right back and left for a minute and came back with an upgrade one class which was wonderful. We slept most of the way to London.
The flight from London to Vancouver was delayed 2 hours and was full to the brim with many Olympic athletes and family members as the Vancouver Winter Olympics are in full swing. A long flight to be sure so felt very blessed to have been upgraded on the previous leg.
We loved India. My husband said if he were to do it again he would just have a car and driver for the entire trip as we did not sleep well on the overnight trains but wanted to try them. We found the Indian people to be wonderful. They would stare at us intently but if we smiled and said ‘Nameste’ they would beam back a smile and come and try to talk to us every time. The places we visited we felt gave us a good variety as they were all different and had their own charms. On the way home we asked each other which place was our favorite and both decided that they were all our favorite for one reason or another. Each one stood out for a different reason and we would not have changed a thing.
I hope that someone who is planning a trip to India can get some information from this report as I was able to get information from all the trip reports of those who went before me.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 07:48 PM
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great report.. i hand it to you for doing the trip at the level that you did it at, i.e. $18 hotel, etc..
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Feb 20th, 2010, 07:51 PM
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yes it was a gamble, but we wanted to experience India on different levels and it all worked out. The way I figured it, if the hotel was a real dive we could always just walk away and find something else.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 08:29 PM
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What a great report, live: wow. Perfectly written - all the information laid out. It'll be a resource for thousands of years! lol. I'm really happy you had a great trip.

In Jagat Niwas you scored what I think is the best room in the house! You're talkin about the room on the roof, I think, all on its own?I never stayed in it, but I went up and sat on your patio and thought 'Ahh... next time, this is where I'll stay...'

Mumbai Magic's tours ARE expensive. When I was in Dharavi, there were no photographs allowed [with the other tour company] who do leave the profit from the venture with the community. Just one little problem: there hasn't been any profit. It sounds like you were put in an uncomfortable position, but probably you gained more of an understanding of Dharavi through that moment, than on the rest of the tour - fascinating tho' it was. I'd be passing a copy of the relevant piece of your report to Deepa, the boss.

I'm sad that Bruno has been removed for the public safety. I want at least ONE Fodorite to sight him, so that the terrifying truth of my Bruno story can be verified. Ahhh - no matter. But I'm with you - for all its oddities, the Rashmi has such a superb location it's absolutely worth it. To be in Varanasi for a festival... ahhh! Your India luck was with you.

The Lemon Tree Chain are good, aren't they? Refreshing. New India, too. Young. Glad you concur.

Great report live! Bravo! Really, really useful.
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Feb 20th, 2010, 08:36 PM
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Thanks very much Dogster You were a great help in putting this all together.
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Feb 21st, 2010, 12:35 PM
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I've so enjoyed reading your report! Thanks! Makes me want to jump on a plane and go back to India soon, but alas, that's not on the agenda for the next while.
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Feb 21st, 2010, 02:18 PM
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Live see my note on Craigs report. I think we were in Varanasi at the same time as you & staying in the same place!! Good job on your report it is great. We have been home nearly a week now. I hope to get some sort of report started soon!!! J
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Feb 21st, 2010, 03:57 PM
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who were you travelling with? Did you also get to the Desert Fair in Jaisalmer? Originally you were going to be there around the same time too.
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Feb 21st, 2010, 07:32 PM
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I was with my hubby. Yes we did get to the fair in Jaisalmer.
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Feb 21st, 2010, 07:48 PM
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We probably saw you in both places, may have even spoken to you.....
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