India with a splash of Nepal
Kathmandu Travel Blog› entry 1 of 11 › view all entries
Some people may prefer to take their time and go native but we approached it from the view point that we have 20 days lets see how much of India we can visit ,read on and I think you’ll be impressed with what can be done. We were fully escorted pretty much our entire journey , being met at Airports and stations by a local representative of India Invites who tailor made our visit to each town based on our requirements
The journey started with a late night arrival into Delhi and a short hotel stay before returning to Delhi airport the next morning for the short flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. We spent our time here unescorted and walked and used local taxis, mainly because I had been here before and knew my way around. India invites did however pre book our early morning flight around Mt Everest and arranged our early morning transfers to the airport and back
Calcutta - New Jalpaiguri
After 2 days in Kathmandu we flew cosmic air to Calcutta where our real Indian adventure began. We were met at the airport and given a whistle-stop tour of the city as we only had a few hours before our train departed. I guess one regret post trip is that the tight schedule didn’t permit us more time in Calcutta because the Victoria memorial is something else and although we got to see it and spend time there we were unable to see inside the grounds. Once the agent had seen us safely into our sleeper carriage and introduced us to the guard we were off to New Jalpaiguri.
This was one of the potential hiccups for our trip as we were due into New Jalpaiguri at 08:40 and the toy train to Darjeeling was leaving at 09:00, so any delay could be costly, however unlike UK trains it seems the Indian ones run on time and so with no fuss we departed on the Toy train to Darjeeling . Due to the steep grade of the hills the toy train is a 7 hour journey around the foot hills and whilst it is very relaxing and beautiful anyone interested in doing this journey may just want to take a car and then just do the 1 hour tourist version of the toy train that runs around the Batasia Loop .
That said if I went back I’d still do the 7 hour version every time.
We stayed at the Windamere Hotel (http://www.windamerehotel.com) which was like going back in time to the days of the Empire. We arrived just in time for afternoon tea and sandwiches on the veranda, looking over the hills. We had arrived on the first day of the season so there was quite a bit of cloud around but even so the views were breathtaking, literally as due to the altitude walking up 3 steps caused you to be puffing and blowing. After a very good dinner in the hotel we got back to the room to find the fire had been lit and the beds turned down, this was the life. At this point I should say it does get cold in Darjeeling at night, not cold enough for me to be wearing anything more than Shorts & a T-shirt but cold enough that the locals are walking around dressed in fleeces, gloves and woolly hats!!
Next morning and another early start (4am) and our guide took us up to Tiger Hill to see Sunrise over the Himalayas. Maybe because it was the first day of the season or maybe it’s always like it but it was chaos when we arrived as hundreds of cars and people were on their way up to the observation point to see the sunriset . Sadly it was a little cloudy so Everest could not be seen but even so it was just a magical feeling to the place. Our guide then took us around a few other sites, local zoo , mountain instititue , tea plantations and then we had the rest of the time to ourselves with of course more tea and sandwiches at the Windamere.
Early next morning (that was the only drawback with a tight schedule like ours) and we were taken by car to Bagdogra for our flight back to Delhi.
Nothing prepared us for the amount of traffic and people in Delhi. We had a car available to us for our stay in Delhi but we were content to walk about and do our own thing, to be honest with the traffic it was often quicker to walk. I will say at this point that one of the great things about ALL the agents that India Invites used for us was that there was never any pressure or hard sell for anything and not once did we get taken to a market stall, souvenir shop or excursion that we didn’t want to go to, something which we both appreciated very much.
We had arranged tickets for the one day cricket match between India and England, an experience never to be forgotten as the Indians were so passionate and made a constant noise throughout the game. We even managed to get interviewed before the match by Sky Sports (to my shame I predicted an England win!!)
We had another early start after the cricket as we took a day trip to the Golden temple in Amritsar a 6 hour but comfortable train ride each way. As it was a holy day we shared the palace with about 40,000 other people although I believe we were the only 2 white faces in amongst them but we were made to feel welcome and even offered food as due to the holy day everyone is feed courtesy of the wealthy citizens who wish to give back to the community. We also saw the site where the Indian mutiny began, now a memorial garden. Anyone planning a visit might want to stay a night in Amritsar as our tight schedule didn’t allow for a stop over and we found out on our return journey about the Wagah border ceremony which would have been great to have witnessed.
A late night return back into Delhi and a quick meal and a beer or 3, and then disaster struck as the next morning I was struck down with the dreaded belly. All attempts at leaving the hotel were aborted by a need to visit the bathroom but I did manage a tut tut ride down to India gate, the Lotus temple and a few other sights but I was in a bad way during this time and the traffic jam on the journey back to the hotel had me regretting my bravado at going out. Hard to say what caused it but I think we began to get to blasé about the food and drink, so Delhi decided to remind us that we were pampered westerners.
KHAJURAHO / ORCHHA / JHANSI / GWALIOR
A last quick tour around Delhi and the municipal part of the town before our quick morning flight down to Khajuraho where we saw the famous temples .We had our customary meet from the airport and went straight out to see the temples with our guide where we spent a few hours before recharging our batteries by the hotel pool in the late afternoon.
Next morning and we were back on the road to Orchha to see the cenotaph and fort before catching another punctual and comfortable train at Jhansi which took us up to Gwalior for our overnight stay and a reunion with our driver from Delhi. To give you an idea of the level of service given to us on this trip the travel agent at Jhansi, where we only spent 45 minutes, didn’t just pass us our tickets and point us to the station, he came down to the platform and waited with us for the train ,made sure we had fresh bottled water for our journey and only left the platform once he was happy we had taken our seats and the train was moving.
Next morning after breakfast we headed up to see Gwalior fort which is the dominating feature of Gwalior’s skyline, and definitely worth seeing.
We visited a few more tombs and temples in the area and then a 2 hour drive brought us into Agra where we spent the afternoon at the Red Fort before crossing over to see the Taj Mahal as it sparkled in the sunset. Next morning we were back at the Taj before 6am to view it at sunrise and before the crowds, we even managed to be the first 2 people inside that morning. It’s worth seeing it in both lights but to be honest such is its beauty just seeing it should be an absolute must.
After breakfast and a quick swim at the hotel it was back in the car for our journey by road to Ranthambore, stopping en route at the complex of Fatehpur Sikri, the capital of the Mughal Empire for some 10 years and home to one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masji.
We had come to Ranthambore for a chance to see tigers in the wild, something which sadly may not be possible in years to come. Safaris at Ranthambore involve being picked up early in the morning or late afternoon and driven around the reserve in large cantors which hold about 16 people. Tiger safari requires a lot of patience as in effect you just drive round and round the park, confined to the road waiting and hoping that a Tiger pops his head up for you.
The morning we arrived the guests had an encounter so we were optimistic, however luck wasn’t with us on our morning and afternoon drives, and although we did see some other wildlife, it was tigers that we had come all this way for. For the third and final safari we upgraded to a jeep which means you are able to cover more ground and although we heard a few roars and heard the tigers walking through the bush an actual sighting eluded us.
So that was it, no tiger sightings and we were due to set off that afternoon to Jaipur. Only it wasn’t quite, as one quick email to Prashant meant that we were able to delay our departure until early evening and thus had the chance for one last safari. We drove around for the afternoon, we found fresh paw prints, we heard the tigers yet again but still no sighting and curfew was approaching so we had to leave the park, dejected we drove out the main gate, stopped to sign out and then can you believe a tiger popped his head up a hundred feet away from us and to all extents outside the boundaries of the park!! It was by now dusk so my photo’s are not going to be appearing in National Geographic anytime soon, but I was elated I’d seen my tiger, unfortunately the behaviour of some of the tour drivers in an effort to please was distressing to the tiger and it promptly moved on to a quieter spot without the shouts and blaring of car horns, which may have been just as well or I may still be there now!!!
A quick shower and sandwich and then a 4 hour night drive to Jaipur , which involved trying to over take hundreds upon hundreds of lorries with no lights that were so over laden a feather landing on them would have caused them to collapse , all I can say is I’m glad I wasn’t driving .
First up was the Amber Fort on elephant back, which as the elephants are only allowed to work a few hours a day, meant yet another early start, you’ll understand why I make a big deal of this when I tell you that I am late for work every day due to finding it hard to get out of bed before 08:30 and yet this trip everyday was a 5 am start. The amber fort was very interesting and our guide here was very thorough and even able to keep us updated with the cricket score in the match between India and England (another defeat for England for those who want to know)
Next we visited the City Palace & Wind Palace and Sawai Jai , the very old and interesting observatory. Afternoon was spent at leisure enjoying the hotels rooftop pool and then walking on our own around the town.
A 7am flight brought us into Udaipar the city of the lakes and what appeared to be a very prosperous town. Our hotel was right on the shore of the lake complete with balcony which you could almost dangle your feet over into the water. The locals were all enjoying themselves splashing around in the water but we weren’t feeling so brave, even though James Bond swam the lake numerous times during Octopussy J
We visited the grand City Palace on the banks of the lake along with the Monsoon Palace, the garden of the maidens and rounded the day off with a sunset trip on the lake and some fine local dining in our hotel which as luck would have it was also the best dining in Udaipar
And onto the final leg of our adventure , a lay in for once and a 08:00 flight to Mumbai , which whilst matching Delhi for sheer numbers of people didn’t feel anywhere near as crowded , maybe it’s parks and almost British feel meant we didn’t notice it as much. Mumbai is a place you can just get out and walk about and take in the feel of the place , no going off to visit temples and palaces here we simply walked the streets and took in the city life a boat trip out to elephantine island to visit the caves. We even managed a day horse racing and souvenir shopping for my wife , I’d like to say my race winnings paid for the shopping but sadly the horses I backed are still running , but still it was a good day out.
With our last day we decided we hadn’t quite travelled enough so we took a 5:30 am bus to Pune as Terry’s grandfather had served there in the war and he wanted to pay a visit. Of course Pune is famous now for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie going there for a holiday but I believe they merely heard that Terry and I had visited and wanted to follow in our footsteps.
Pune was a 3 hour bus journey but then another hour to travel the last mile once you approached the town, but still easily achieved as a day trip from Mumbai. We couldn’t find anyone here who spoke English so we had to result to that very British thing of hand gestures but after a few false starts we found the barracks and more importantly managed to get back to the bus station afterwards as well. Another 3 hour journey back to Mumbai, just giving us just enough time to pack and have a farewell beer and then our Indian adventure was over as we headed off to the airport.
Or was it …..
As we left the hotel I commented that “considering all those trains and planes and buses everything went like clockwork “and then fate played it’s hand as we hit traffic from every direction and it took us 3.5 hours to reach the airport, even resorting to taking a detour through a town that I don’t think had even seen a car before and running up to the check-in desk mere minutes before they closed it … So now the Indian adventure was over for real this time….
A big thank you to India Invites who planned everything down to the smallest detail and made it such an enjoyable visit. If I had to pick one highlight I’d say Darjeeling and I look forward to visiting it again some day … but that said I’d repeat the whole journey again without any hesitation.