Portrait of India Tour
01 - 12 November 2016
So, you may or may not have wondered why I picked India for my free Tauck tour when I had the whole world to choose from. The picture above says it all. I have always wanted to visit the Taj Mahal and the only way I wanted to travel thru India was 6*. So for me there was really no choice that had to be made, and it was as amazing as I hoped.
I travelled with Singapore Airlines with a four hour stop on the way over, and just over an hour on the return. Both flights in and out of Perth had plenty of spare seats so I managed to have three seats to myself and travel in “poor man’s business class”. The flights in and out of Delhi were extremely full but managing to sit upstairs in economy class on the A380 was very comfortable and seemed to be very roomy. I can't comment on the meals, as I slept most of the way and didn’t eat any of the aeroplane food. As usual the flight attendants for Singapore were immaculate.
Delhi International Airport is rather large and it was a fair distance to walk to get to immigration. After lining up in a queue I was told I had an Electronic Visa and had to proceed to a different counter. This isn’t very well signed on arrival so you need to look out for the ETV – electronic visa queues (far end of immigration). It's a very slow process as they work in their own time - nothing is rushed. My baggage seemed to take for ever to come through, but once collected it was an easy exit.
When leaving Delhi you are only allowed to enter the airport three hours before your flight departure, and you must have a copy of your e-ticket with you (either paper copy or electronic) to enter the airport with passports. The ticket must have all names of the passengers travelling. If you do not have this you will not be allowed to enter the airport. All hand luggage must be tagged and stamped through security, and these tags are given at check-in by the airline staff.
All the domestic airports seem to be upgraded, but again you need e-tickets and identification to enter the airports and all baggage must be screened before airline check-in. All hand luggage must be tagged and stamped when heading through security, and if it is not stamped you will not be able to board the aircraft. I would recommend checking in about two hours prior to your flight as this process can take time. Everybody is searched and frisked, men and woman separately and this is also a lengthy process.
My Tauck Tour
Once entering the arrival hall, the Tauck representative soon made himself known to me and arranged for the car to meet us, and I was whisked away to my lovely hotel for our three night stay at The Leela Palace Hotel Delhi. The drive from the airport was about 30 minutes and I did learn the three rules of driving in Delhi - good horn, good brake and good luck!
On arrival at the Leela Palace (9pm at night) I was taken straight to my room for check-in, and all the paper work was done in the room and my luggage was delivered on arrival. It was a very spacious room with a huge bathroom, separate bath (definitely big enough for two people) and a television so you could lie back and watch a Bollywood movie. The shower was also a descent size.
Sweets were in the room daily with fresh fruit, and bottle water (plenty) was included. The staff were exceptional and nothing was too much trouble. We ate at two of the three restaurants during the stay and the food was outstanding. I couldn’t fault the hotel, service or interior. The fresh flowers were amazing and the roof top pool was delightful especially when a picnic basket full of goodies was delivered to you while poolside.
Over the next couple of days in Delhi we visited Old and New Delhi. Taking in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb. I found the Gandhi Smriti Museum the most fascinating though and it was well worth the visit.
The smog and pollution in Delhi was horrid, and they seemed to think the pollution was due to all the fireworks from the Diwali Festival and that the first rains would help. The first rains didn’t arrive when I was there and I have no idea how the planes land when it is so foggy.
We took off the next day around Old Delhi and visited the Red Fort Palaces and Raj Gate which is Mahatma Ghandi’s memorial and cremation site. We then went back to the hotel for an afternoon at leisure. After two days of touring Delhi I spent the afternoon by the pool as didn’t feel like shopping or fighting traffic. Several options were given to visit other sights but it was nice to have the down time.
Varanasi was our next stop which was absolutely fascinating. From the cremations on the Ganges to the morning bathing, and lighting flower candles while watching the evening ceremonies. We visited Sarnath were Buddha gave his first sermon and went to a silk factory. I thoroughly enjoyed Varanasi, but it is the only place where begging is tolerated, and the walk from the coach to and from the River was very interesting and definitely all sorts of people were seen.
On to Agra and it was the day I got to see the Taj Mahal for the first time. The view from my room would have been fantastic except for the smog! The hotel was stunning and the pool area divine. We could have been up for sunrise to see the Taj Mahal but at 5.30am when I looked out my window and couldn’t even see a trace of it, I decided sleep was more important. Our tour was supposed to be off to the Taj in the morning and Agra Fort in the afternoon, but due to the haze they changed the order around which everyone was very happy with. So off to Agra Fort we went, and it is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The time had come to take our golf buggies to the Taj Mahal, and we had a quick photo stop before entering the gates. It was as spectacular as I hoped, and it bought me to tears. The sun wasn’t shining so I didn’t see it sparkle but it was so beautiful even with the thousands of visitors. I did manage to get my photo taken on the chair that Princess Di had her photo on. My dream had come true!
We drove from Agra to Jaipur, which took about five hours with a brief stop to arrive at the Oberoi Rajvillas, which is a lovely villa/hotel complex. We visited Jantar Mantar Observatory which is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments for measuring time and tracking stars in the orbit amongst other things. On to City Palace Museum before heading to the Rambagh Palace for a special dinner of music, dancers, elephants, horses and camels.
The Amber Fort with her glittering palaces and pavilions was the next stop. A hair raising ride by jeep, or arrival by Elephant were the modes of transport for the day, and the afternoon was free providing time to shop.
The next day was another early start as we moved on to Udaipur. On arrival we visited the public gardens and then enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking Lake Pichola (all man-made lakes) before a leisurely boat cruise and arrival at our hotel.
Oberoi Udaivilas has been voted the Best Hotel in the World, and it was amazing. We arrived by boat and then transferred by golf buggy to the entrance of the hotel. It features two pools, huge rooms with claw foot baths and marble bathrooms, and lovely balconies. It was the first blue sky I actually saw! It was a shame we had to go siteseeing as I wanted to spend as much time by the pool and around the hotel as possible.
We visited the City Palace which was fantastic, and it was being set up for a multi-million dollar wedding which was great to see. This was followed by a short walk to a Hindu Temple and a visit inside.
The evening was a Turban and Sari demonstration before heading to a private residence for dinner. On the return to the hotel we stopped for a photo opportunity at an Indian wedding. We were all invited off the bus to join in the celebrations and the dancing along the street!
Our last full day started with a rickshaw ride to the local markets where we walked the streets and alley ways to see all the fresh vegetables, milk and spices. Full of smells, colour and of course, cows...
What a fantastic company to travel with. I was the only non-American out of 27 people, and this included the tour director Peter Pappas. I felt more than comfortable and all the other travellers made me feel welcome.
The accommodation used on this tour was as much of a highlight as the destination itself. Peter was a walking encyclopaedia, and you could tell he loved the country and his job. The knowledge and information that was given was informative, very interesting and covered everything from culture, religion and shopping.
One great initiative, which haven’t seen on any tour before, was a Bus Bazaar. Instead of everybody haggling for knick-knacks before getting on the bus, Peter would take the popular items and let us know the best price. We would then shop from the bus. It was great fun but it did get a bit crazy at times!
All transportation provided for the trip was very comfortable, and all internal flights were made easy by the Tauck ground staff. Nothing was too much effort and they were always willing to help.
Overall it was a fantastic experience, with a fantastic tour company. I would highly recommend experiencing India with Tauck!