Sunday, 6 December 2015

Amazing India

We decided that this year we would visit India; we spent around 8 months in all planning everything as we had such a short time to see the country (10 days to be exact) we decided to fly with Qatar from Manchester to Delhi and then fly from Mumbai back to Manchester so we could cover as much ground as possible; the main reason we wanted to visit India is because of what most tourists do.... The Golden Triangle and this is probably where most of my stress came from with the trip planning thankfully we came across a amazing company called Adventure Holiday Tours, Tarun made everything so simple and gave us plenty of options to choose from so it really did feel like our tour. I had done months of researching on the internet and trip advisor and Adventure Holiday Tours just stood out to us, they had great reviews and Tarun would always get back to us with super quick replies we knew they were the right choice (and if I am honest they were quite a bit cheaper than other companies we had come across but this did not affect the quality of the tour at all), Tarun even emailed us the day of our flight to tell us who our driver would be, where he would be waiting and what he looked like (which was all amazing for my travel OCD)

Wednesday 11th November 2015

After 12 hours of travelling we finally arrived in Delhi! We did have a slight nightmare with money because you are not allowed to bring foreign currency in to the country and as we didn't want to bring a lot of cash with us to change we decided we would just withdraw from ATMs.... The airport ATM wouldn't not give us any money which was a worrying start so we just went to meet our driver Mr.Prem, he was a lovely man who kept us safe during our whole trip which I cannot thank him enough for, nothing was too much trouble for him and he would regularly point out sights along the way (as well as stop for us to take photos if we wanted). As soon as we got in the car Mr.Prem gave us our invoice (which I found unusual initially as most tours we have done you pay after the tour but seeing how much travelling and toll roads we had to go through I completely get it) we explained about the ATM and he informed us it was the start of Diwali which is a 4 day long festival so the ATM in the airport probably had no money and that also some smaller areas will only let you take out 10,000 at a time to ensure they don't run out, but he found us a ATM that we could take money out from and then we paid him, fuelled up and we were on our way.

We travelled for about 4 hours to Jaipur seeing all the crazy sights along the way.... Cows just roaming the streets along with pigs, dogs, goats and monkeys, that I was definitatley not prepared for as I had read cows were sacred in most of the country but they just believe in letting the animals have a free life and to roam and cross the roads when ever the please and they would get fed and bathed I was actually surprised how well they were looked after.

We arrived in Jaipur at 12 as we approached our first destination we saw elephants just trundling down the street (at this point we didn't think we could be more surprised) and then we collected Mr.Money our guide whilst in Jaipur, he was very informative and told us the history of everywhere and threw in a few jokes here and there too; our first stop was some ancient steps leading to a well which was amazing and not like anything I've seen, we then moved on to the Amber Fort.... Well I clearly did not do my research on India because WOW.... What a amazing place with its on wall similar to the Great Wall of China and then this amazing Fort, the architecture was astounding I couldn't believe such a place had been standing for so long and still looked that amazing, we wondered around the fort whilst Mr.Money explained the clever building techniques and the history of the different parts if the fort and then we had some time to wonder around and take photos....

After the fort we made our way in to Jaipur and learnt about the different gates, the colours, royal visitors and a bit more about Diwali as it was takin over most over Jaipur; we stopped off at the Water Palace, drove past the Albert Hall and then went to the Obsevatory which was a bizarre place with so many buildings and structures all to do with light and the time it was crazy how accurate it was and they also had a section that is used for astronomy and how the light reflecting on certain things can determine your star sign for that month/time, we then headed across the road to the City Palace which was another amazing place (Indians definitely don't do things by halves) the building and detail was fab and it was nice to learn a little more about the British Royals and their connections to India.

By this point we were exhausted.... 25 hours of no sleep and the crazy Indian heat was starting to take it's toll so we headed back to our hotel The Vimal Heritage which was a stunning almost Morrocan inspired hotel that had its own little oasis in the centre of the hotel in the form of a swimming pool and small restaurant so after a quick nap we went to try our first proper Indian meal which was really tasty we then retired to our room but as it was Diwali there were a lot of fireworks going off (from 6pm until 1am to be exact) so we sat out on our balcony to watch them for a while before trying to get some sleep ready for another day on the road.

Thursday 12th November 2015 Jaipur-Ranthambore 

We had set our alarm for a 7.30 start so we had time to get ready, pack, get breakfast and pay before meeting Mr.Prem at 8.30 we were pretty tired after a sleepless night and the 4 hour drive to Ranthambore was a good chance to get some napping in whilst taking in the Indian countryside which was very different to that we had seen in Jaipur, the scenery was mainly fields where women and children were working harvesting what ever fruits and vegetables were ready, there were people guiding their sheep and goats along the roads and there were a lot of tin huts and small houses dotted along the road with men playing cards, children selling fruit and groups of people trying to fix all sorts of things it definitely was a different pace to what we had seen but it was amazing so many surprises it made it hard to sleep as we didn't want to miss anything.

We stopped for toilet breaks along the way and finally we reached Ranthambore which was crazy! Roads lined with hotels, people, shops, stalls, animals it was so much to take in at once, we had booked to stay at the Ranthambore Tiger Home which was a home stay and proved quite difficult to locate (it's definitely worth having your hotels names, addresses and contact numbers to hand as we found this a lot in our 10 days) when we got there we discovered we were the only guests staying there that evening though we didn't feel they were very well prepared for us we had no toilet roll, no towels, no explanation on how to get hot water for a shower and no information about food ect but as a representive from the Indian Excursions Co was meeting us at 1pm we did not have time to deal with it all, the representive just explained about our pick up time, what we needed to bring ect and informed us our driver would be picking us up in a hour.

Now anyone who has tried or is trying to book a safari in Ranthambore then you will know the nightmares of the booking process... The national park is made up of different routes and these routes come available to book exactly 3 months before at midnight, now route 3 is the route that is known for the highest Tiger spottings and that route 1 and 5 there is very little chance as there is so many trees that they are hard to see where as route 3 is more open grounds so obviously at midnight 3 months prior these slots become available and they get booked up almost immediately also what they don't tell you is that you have to have a Indian bank card to book these slots which kind of monopolises the whole thing, so i was left so disappointed that we couldn't book the slot we wanted then we got in touch with Indian Excursions Co as they were one of the main companies we could pre book with as most other places we got in touch with had told us to sort it when we got to Ranthambore but I didn't want to risk it and as we weren't aware of how the booking process worked we thought we would just book it; I'm not sure if companies who tell you they can guarantee a route 3 slot are being truthful, maybe they are the people who book all the slots at midnight I don't know but when we got to the registration (after being collected by our jeep and drivers) we were given route 1 so our hope of tiger spotting had gone out of the window but we had 3 hours of safari so we tried to stay hopeful; our driver and guide took us around the route explained about the different animals in the area and about the tigers in the area, we had a couple of exciting moments including hearing a dear make a emergency call which is warning the other deer that a tiger is near but as it was such a wooded area it would be almost impossible to see them but we waited and went between the different points the tiger could be at but no luck.... On our way out we heard route 3 had seen 3 tigers which verifies the profitability of that route, as we were driving out there was a huge commotion we tried to park up everyone was taking photos but out guide said he couldn't see anything but some monkeys were giving their alarm signal we drove down a little more and there it was.... A TIGER!! Perched up on the mountain side literally right in front of us so we stopped and took some photos but as it was getting very dark it was quite hard to spot but we were happy we had seen a tiger!!

We had looked in to our options for tea as we hadn't had a chance to get lunch we saw that the Vivanta by Taj had a hotel nearby that had a buffet serving a variety of food so we decided to have a little walk there however it isn't signposted as the Vivanta is it signposted as the lodge by Taj so once we located it (after buying internet on our phones to google map it) we got a couple of drinks and watched the magic show which was the best I've seen, a man literally sat in front of us made pigeons appear from nowhere!!! We then sat down and had some food it was nice to be able to try a few different things and to fill up on 3 courses after a day with very little to eat then we headed back to our homestay.

Friday 13th November Ranthambore - Agra

Fireworks continued to go off for most of the night, and then around 5am there were people in the kitchen next to our room and then around 7am music started blaring outside! (We were not meant to have sleep in India) so we got up, had showers and got some breakfast then Mr.Prem turned up to pick us up and take us on to Agra which was a veeerrrryyyy long drive roughly 6 hours so we had a few stops along the way for food and we stopped to look at a temple and just stretch our legs, we started to get close to Agra as the sun was setting, the traffic was crazy but finally we reached out hotel The Seven Hills Towers which was a beautiful place with a roof top pool and restaurant where on a clear day you can see the Taj Mahal. Mr.Prem had offered to take us to a restaurant in the evening that he had assured us was very good it was called A Pinch of Spice, he dropped us off (and even offered to wait for us) it was so busy outside we assumed it must be good and we had to wait 15 minutes for a table but we didn't mind ; we were sat at our table and ordered some drinks and our food and it was fantastic the food was so good and so reasonably priced (though living in the UK it seems we pay quite a lot for dinner out) I think it cost about £15 for the both of us and that was with a cocktail, a beer, a main dish, rice, chips, chappati and pudding!! We normally pay £36 for the two of us to have two drinks and a main each.

We walked back to our hotel which was only a 10 minute walk and then finally got to relax properly for the evening (though there were still a few pesky fireworks) the hotel room was lovely, spacious and modern.

Saturday 14th November Agra-Delhi

Another early start this time to see the Taj Mahal.... We were picked up at 6.30am and taken to the Taj which was incredibly busy (apparently best days to go are Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday NOT a Saturday) especially with it being Diwali it was still classed as a bank holiday so there were so many people piling in even at that crazy hour! It took 45 minutes to clear the security checks but once we were in.... WOW!! I didn't really research the Taj much as i knew we would have a guide to take us around but I was completely overwhelmed!! It is the most stunningly perfect building made completely of marble, it's 400 years old and still looks pristine like it could have been built a few years ago, I won't spoil the history or stories of the Taj as you need to go with a open mind and make your own judgments but it really is one of the most breath taking buildings I have ever seen and the fact it stands for enteral love just makes it even more special! Your not able to take photographs inside but every room you can go in is amazing, to be able to see how it was built and how it still stands is crazy. You cannot go to India and not see the Taj and hear about the history of such a majestic building.

So after our early morning outing we went back to the hotel to get some breakfast and to pack up our stuff ready, we managed to have half an hour of relaxing (which is so important when your travelling around so much just taking half an hour to chill on the bed makes a world of difference as it's so easy to burn yourselves out). Mr Prem and our guide picked us up at 10.30 and we headed to the Agra fort (after stopping at a marble shop which we won't talk about) Agra fort was equally as amazing and was a complete surprise again as I really hadn't done that much research, hidden behind the walls of the fort was the most insane buildings, which we made our way through just taking in the structures, the craftsmanship the sheer grandness of it all, it looks over the Taj Mahal on a clear day.

We made our way to Delhi it took a few hours but we soon got sucked in to the madness and crazy traffic if Delhi, we went to meet Tarun at his office it was nice to meet Tarun after conversing so much over email he made sure we had had a wonderful time and that everything was to our pleasing, after so much travelling (and so many nights of Diwali fireworks) we were ready to go and have a rest; we are sad we didn't have the chance to see Delhi properly but after so much moving around we couldn't have bared the thought of trying to get around crazy busy Delhi, after a relax at the hotel we braved a wonder of the streets around our hotel which reminded us so much of China and even though we were the only western people walking around we felt relatively safe and we noticed security cameras on the lamposts of most areas (whether they worked was another thing), though crossing the roads were a nightmare (especially when everyone is staring at you) we soon mastered it though and then headed back to our hotel to have dinner on our roof top terrace which was amazing and then we were back to bed ready for a 4am pick up! Our first leg of our tour had been amazing but exhausting but we couldn't wait for the next part of our amazing adventure.

A little photo update of our few days doing the Golden Triangle Tour with Adventure Holiday Tours 

(Above) A fewPictures from Amber Fort

(Above) Water Palace Jaipur 

(Above) Diwali Celebrations In Jaipur 

Ranthambore Madness

A Few Candid Shots Of Indian Country Life

Amazing Architecture 

The Taj 

Agra Fort

A Few More Shots of Indian Life

A Few Mobile Pictures x