India tourist and food tour, India - Jan 8 - Jan 22, 2019
Well to sum up our trip it definitely met the "Incredible India" tour. We found the whole trip to be wonderful. A few items could have been better but both my wife and I believe we truly got immersed into India, history, culture, cities, countryside and most importantly the wonderful people of India.
We were met at the Mumbai Airport at 3AM in the morning by a guide and driver who took us to a money exchange person at that time of the night and got a better rate than the airport exchanges. We were driven directly to Hotel Godwin and got checked in with NO problems. We received our documents and vouchers for our whole trip. Hotel Godwin proved to be a very nice hotel at a great location near the India Gate in Mumbai. Since we got in so late we took the day off and just wandered around the area with no problems. Breakfasts were very good at the hotel but the restaurant in the evening (Cloud 9) was just so-so, not bad - not good.
Our tours were nicely timed typically our pickup was about 15 to 20 minutes after the agreed on time but considering the traffic we were not displeased. Elephant Island was very interesting and our guide was informative. The great thing was our guides were conversant in English and they were with us to make sure we got to the right spots, offered tips on how and what to do and gave us a very great analysis of what we were looking at. Victoria Train Station was fun and interesting as was the outdoor laundry amazing place. Bollywood was OK fun to learn about the filming process, the dancers were just students in a tiny stage versus a real Bollywood performance. Watching a 3 hour Bollywood movie got boring very fast as we did not understand Hindi, just an hour of so would have been plenty. I was nice to visit a movie theater and sample the snacks. The Dabbawallas were very interesting and it was great to learn how they perform their services. Fun little train ride and to buy tickets. Another outdoor laundry and we were driven to the airport with plenty of time to spare so we have no last minute hassles. Good Mumbai visit.
We were picked up at Delhi Airport and deposited at the Taj Princess Hotel. Hotel was good also breakfast was OK and the location was nice allowing us to wander the street. Old Delhi was a very good visit, riding in Rickshaw, visiting temples and mosques etc. Amazing place with animals in the streets and crowded bustling area. We were a little disappointed we did not get to sample "street food" as we were warned the water and oil used in the cooking process might not be the best for us. Probably good advice but it sure smelled good (we love Indian food of all sorts) The Gandhi memorial was nice but the real great thing was the Gandhi house with the little museum, learned a lot and it was very nicely done without hurrying us along. The New Delhi was very nice wide roads and modern government buildings. The annual independence day was coming up so we got to see preparations for the parade and a few groups practicing. The Qutab Minar and the Humayun Tomb was great and our guide very informative. The visit to the Delhi slums was interesting and we got to provide some bags to chips to the children again something you need to see. This tour was to a "newer" slum as the Indian government is trying to rebuild the area providing better housing. Our guide Samar in Delhi was very good providing us with a lot of information.
Our driver for much of our northern India tour was Ravinder Tiwani and he was excellent getting us thru unbelievable traffic without any mishaps. Our drive to Jaipur took us thru countryside. He took us to the Hotel Suryaa Villa which was a nice hotel good breakfast. My wife was not too happy with her dinner but I kind of liked my dinner at the hotel. The Pink City tour was great and the Amber Fort with the elephant ride was very good. We asked for some extra time to allow my wife to walk the Jaipur markets and our guide made sure we had the time we asked. Our tour of the Jai Singh II Observatory is not to be missed (I actually thought of cancelling it BUT am SO glad we did not cancel) I was very impressed. The Maharajah Palace tour was good as well. Our poor driver worked a long day as we did the evening Indian cooking class we love Indian food and learned so new tricks to making a great Indian dinner. Fun and Yummy at the Harsoli Haveli with Beena as our host.
Now on to Ranthambore a long drive but again we got to see the countryside stopping at the Om Rudra Priya Resort - what a great room huge. Disappointed at no wifi in rooms and one evening no hot water but a very nice place. We wandered out and took a tuk-tuk ride into town to wander around. Our tiger safari was wonderful. We made a mistake and did not have a blanket with us in the morning so we were extremely cold riding to the reserve BUT we had the great luck of seeing a tiger in the open and got great pictures of the tiger and the herds of deer, antelope, crocodiles, monkeys, birds etc. Wow was this fun!!! Breakfast was very good and our evening dinner was nothing short of excellent - do not miss the pre-fix dinner too much food but incredible veggies and a little butter chicken. We were so surprised and happy exactly what we were looking for.
On to Agra with a stop at the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. We had been told to see the Bird Santuary from an Indian ex-pat here in the US but I was kind of skeptical about seeing birds. Once again I was totally wrong what a great stop our guide was Krishna was excellent. We learned a lot and got to spend some time walking the park with him. He was an enthusiastic Indian tourist supporter and made our visit great. Also he found a few Indian Rock Pythons for us to view.
Our hotel in Agra was the Howard Plaza The Fern. A very nice modern hotel with a great breakfast. Our tours of Agra were also very good with of course the Taj Mahal being the star. Our guide suggested a few tour modifications since the Taj in winter is hidden in early morning fog so we took his suggestion and visited the Red Fort first - as interesting as the Taj in my opinion. We saw the exterior of the Taj and then early the next morning we visited the interior. Our guide was great. He allowed us time to explore the town on our own where we walked and rode tuk-tuks. Fun to visit the local market place but watch out for the open sewers.
Our driver got us back to Delhi with plenty of time to spare to catch our flight to Varanasi. As usual we were met at the airport and escorted to our hotel the Temple on the Ganges. Although the location was very good on the Ghat Assi it was certainly the worst hotel of our stay. Our room was not cleaned although we were there three nights we just asked for fresh towels. The bathroom was tiny so when you showered the whole place was wet. Small room and the breakfast was so-so. I ate dinner there one night and it too was OK but nothing special. Varanasi is a very special place not to be missed. Our guide did a great job getting us to the right places and explaining the city with its temples, Hindu and Buddhist, Ghats in the morning and at night. At the end of our temple tour they dropped us off to allow us to wander the streets and Ghats. We spent a lot of time watching the cremations and walking the streets. We finally took a tuk-tuk ride back to our hotel but then stopped at a restaurant called Diyva near our hotel. Again we ended up with a spectacular vegetarian dinner so good I asked our waiter to write down the names of what we ordered so we could try to make some of these items at home. Lots of open sewers, animals of all sorts wandering the street, traffic and blowing horns but we got the full immersion into India. We were driven to the airport with plenty of time to get our flight back to Delhi. Once back in Delhi we were met at the airport to be transferred to the International Terminal for our flight out of India.
Spectacular trip which we will never forget. By and large the hotels were good with amazing wifi access except for Ranthanbore. Our Varanasi hotel left a bit to be desired. I think the location of all of the hotels were located in almost perfect spots to allow us to walk the streets. We had no problems in the streets and never felt unsafe. There was enough English speaking available for us to get around and purchase what we wanted. We were very pleased with the drivers and guides across the board. Having our "own" driver and guide made the trip extra special as we could make minor changes along the way. We recommend Kimkim and Active India if you want a tour tailored to your specific requests.