This is a fantastic taster of India. But there are disclaimers: a) It is busy but not physically active. You'll get a good snapshot of India but unless you go with an understanding the journey IS the destination, you might be disappointed; there is a lot of journey involved! b) December is probably not the time to go. The chances of hitting fog are high and the sunlight is what brings the colour of India out.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
For me the highlight of this trip was taking snaps of the locals out and about as we drove around. Observing the culture was absolutely fascinating and it was in these moments I captured my favourite photos.
The Taj Mahal is impressive. The fog meant we didn't go at dawn; this was the right decision but meant it was an impressive rather than a stunning sight.
The craziness of Varanasi was also something to behold and our tuk tuk ride through town was definitely an exhilarating highlight!
- What did you think of your group leader?
Ajay was a legend.
We didn't hit much luck on our trip. One of our group never appeared at the airport so we were kept waiting for him until we established he wasn't in the country; It was foggy when we arrived; It was foggy in Jaipur; We didn't see a tiger; We hit not one but three road blocks due to protests on the way to Agra on New Year's Eve; It was foggy in Agra so we didn't see the Taj at dawn and both our trains were very severely delayed which meant that we didn't get to see much of Delhi.
Ajay was amazing at patiently resolving all of this with patience and good-humour. We didn't miss out on seeing a single thing despite the delays. He made sure we weren't hassled or ripped off. He ensured we were well fed and always in reach of a semi-decent loo. He managed to navigate us around three road blocks which was no mean feat - at one point it looked as though our bus would be (literally) stuck in a village between two road blocks for the night and he managed to convince enough locals to help get us out. He made sure we ate well, saw the right things at the right time, and were appropriately inebriated to experience Indian trains. He had endless contacts that meant we were waiting for trains in the comfort of our hotel bar rather than on station platforms. Most of all he welcomed endless personal questions to explain Indian culture.
If you want to see India, you need an Ajay. Without him I would have probably still be somewhere in the Indian countryside trying to find my way to Delhi.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
This is an unusual trip. There is no physical exertion required at all and yet the schedule is pretty gruelling with almost no free time at all. You are always on the go but generally on a bus or a train which is fantastic if you are happy to see India through a window. I have plenty of advice:
Take your own snacks - hula hoops become strangely appealing after your 14th curry;Take your own pillow case for the hotels and a single duvet cover or sleeping bag liner for the train; Sleeping pills for the trains are a good thing; Definitely go on the evening Varanasi trip; ear plugs are essential; don't take too many books - you won't have time to read them except on the plane; in winter months you'll wear jeans so take more than one pair; the people with big zoom lenses were pretty smug (rightly so); be aware that you might not go inside the Taj Mahal but there isn't much to see inside anyway; take UNO for the long waits for the train.
And on the subject of the train, the sleep carriages are not flash but they do have western loos which in our case did not smell as terrible as I'd anticipated. It is like sleeping in a dormitory with four in each section with a curtain separating you from the corridor. You will sleep in your clothes so dress appropriately and in our case, we were on one of the trains for 20 hours so brace yourself for that possiblity.
Don't go in December - the fog is a pain and takes the beauty off things and it was 3 degrees some days. If you do, take a puffa jacket - you'll need it most days.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
It might not sound like I loved this holiday but despite all the dramas it is a great trip and I would recommend it for those that fancy catching a decent glimpse of the country.
The itinerary is well planned and even with all our glitches, Ajay made it work but as I said above, December is not the time to go.
My one comment would be around the shopping opportunities. Each city we visited is well known for a particular craft and it was great to have the opportunity to see those crafts being carried out. However, each time was followed by a lengthy sales pitch which may well suit the average American tourist but we Exodus crew really weren't in the market for a £3k carpet (however much of a bargain that may be), a £350 bedspread or a £5000 ring. That's not to say that purchases weren't made but I don't think anyone would have said they'd have gone home disappointed without them. We would all have much preferred a chance to walk around the local markets, however stressy they might be, just to see a little culture that hasn't been prepared for the tourist crowd.
Otherwise a great trip. Not a strenuous one but certainly an adventure!