A brilliant combination of cycling and sight-seeing through a fascinating corner of India
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
For an apparently unmoveable atheist, I found the deity 'dressing' ceremony at the Jagdish temple in Udaipur astonishingly moving.
The sheer number of waves and smiles from local kids (and their parents / grandparents - some of whom might have looked glum, but a smile, wave and 'namaste' almost always broke through the facade of indifference) was fantastic. As was the sighting of Sarus Cranes just before dusk in the Keoladeo National Park, and the tiger in Sariska National Park, and the carving in the main Jain temple at Ranakpur, and arriving in Pushkar to a brilliant orange sunset... etc etc etc
- What did you think of your group leader?
- Pramod and Sanjay did a fantastic job, and the trip wouldn't have been the same if one or the other had been missing. Pramod's quiet approach perfectly balanced Sanjay's frequent aspirations for everyone to have a go at 'Indian' dancing... On the bus... After rum and coke. Brilliant! To see them at their most competitive, put them on opposing sides during a 'friendly' cricket match...
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
The first afternoon in Delhi can feel like wasted down time, but bear in mind that you'll be up at 6am on many of the subsequent days and have probably just endured a tedious night flight - relaxing by the pool is acceptable!
Not having visited India before, I was rather unsure of myself and wish (in hindsight) that I had taken myself off to the Qutab Minar complex, which wasn't too far from the hotel. If in doubt, negotiate a price with the tuk-tuk driver and crack on.
Whilst it's possible to eat incredibly cheaply in India, we tended to adjourn en masse to local restaurants in the evenings, where you could expect to pay in the region of 600INR (including beer) for a decent veggie meal. Don't worry if you can't get hold of small money from the FOREX places in the airport - I found that I soon had a stack of 10, 20 & 100INR notes after meals (10INR notes proved invaluable for 'toilet tipping'!), and there are ATM stops en route if you need to top up supplies of cash.
This was my first ever group holiday, and I was nervous about booking it beforehand (it was a birthday treat and I didn't want to have a miserable time!). I can honestly say that I had a blast and would do the whole thing again tomorrow.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
There's so much to see and do on this trip that you'll find it almost impossible to have an early night - particularly if you find yourself in a group of cyclists who won't be rushed. Some of the sight-seeing can feel time-limited, but the only times I felt really pressured not to linger were at the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. If you get a chance at the latter, ask to see the mosque, which is outside the 'museum' complex and still in use - fascinating Sufi shrines inside and an interesting comparison with the Jama Masjid in Delhi.
Luckily you'll get plenty of time in the Taj complex. The mausoleum chamber itself can be unpleasantly crowded, but linger until the guards move you on (to let the next group in) and go round to re-join the line if you think you missed something.
Finally - if you like good quality hand-crafted decorative items, then bring a card with plenty of credit. The carpet I bought in Jaipur arrived back in the UK just after me (8 days)!
PS. My only negative: The pre-trip bike preparation was rubbish - the bikes didn't appear to have been cleaned after the previous Exodus trip, and some were only just road-worthy. Pintu did a fantastic job of puncture and general field repair en route, but I thought he'd been poorly served by the quality of his starting materials. Luckily this didn't detract from what I can only describe as a fantastic holiday.