This trip was very much an experience with a few highlights standing out amid an awful lot of travelling. This wasn't helped by thick fog throughout leading to extensive delays on the trains and a prolonged journey from Ranthambore to Agra due to roadblocks from political protesters. The journeying did give us a chance however to see the poverty and the rubbish but also the colours, people and lives of India. Curry for breakfast was fabulous!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
The Taj Mahal is truly stunning and our arrival was timed to perfection, missing the morning fog and getting there before the queues to get in were too big. It was unfortunate that we only had 45 minutes there of our own time.
The Hindu evening service at Varanasi on the Ganges was really interesting as well, and the opportunity we had to mingle with local villagers was also a highlight for me. It was also great to have a brief chance to wander through the streets of Varanasi too.
- What did you think of your group leader?
- Ajay was very conscientious, always ensuring there was food and toilet stops were available, and telling us about some aspects of local culture. He was working under very difficult circumstances however, which was no fault of his own, and he did try to keep us all informed about what was happening. When we got stuck in the bus in the middle of a village last on New Year's Eve while trying to avoid the roadblocks he used great initiative to work with the driver (and the villagers!) to get us out of there.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
I would not recommend this trip in December/January. The fog had a major impact: the "overnight" journey from Varanasi to Delhi was supposed to leave at 7pm and get in around 7am. It didn't actually leave Varanasi until 3am and didn't arrive in Delhi until 10pm, so we completely missed the day in Delhi.
Be prepared for long distances... it might not look far on the map but really it is.
If you do go in the winter take plenty of warm clothes and consider some fleecy pyjamas as well. It was as cold there as it was in the UK but with no heating in the hotels and not a lot of bedding it was quite parky. A good waterproof and a pair of boots rather than light t-shirts and sandals could also come in handy.
Don't expect to see a tiger!
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
We were kept on quite a tight rein during this trip, understandably so as there were considerable time pressures, but without much of an opportunity to wander around the streets or go to markets it did feel at times as if we were being kept in a bubble. The short bursts of backstreets we walked through were fascinating. Shopping opportunities were limited to the places we were taken to, predominantly of high value items such as carpets, inlaid marble and precious stones.
This trip clearly does have massive potential but I think we were just very unlucky for one reason after another.