Yesterday, my sixth escorted India Through the Back Door tour came to an end. And I must say, it was a strange feeling to say goodbye to another splendid couple, people whom I was fortunate to get to know quite well over the past four weeks in India.
Our group had our last meal together, our last conversations and our last laughs and today, everyone heads off in separate directions after having spent the past 24 days in each others company.
For me, this nearly one month India tour was a tremendous experience and I really do feel that the entire adventure was a success. The feedback has been positive from those who participated and hopefully, they all had as rewarding a trip as they envisioned when they had originally signed up to spend four weeks in India wandering around with me.
It had always been my goal, ever since I started working on the itinerary several months ago, to offer the most diverse Indian experience possible in the time we had, an experience that would be ideal for first-time travelers to this immense country.
And after some picking and choosing, eliminating and replacing, I eventually came up with a final list of destinations and a route that connected them all during four weeks in India. It’s impossible to see everything in India, regardless of how long you spend here, but this particular route seemed to match the goal of the tour the best.
However, in order to keep the memories alive (and to provide others with what I think is a great itinerary for an India tour), I shall now give an outline of the route that we took during this nearly a month-long Wander Across India excursion. This will be a basic summary as I plan to write several posts, with much more detail, about this India trip in the near future. There is just so much I do want to share!
So where did we go on this four weeks in India discovery Tour?
Delhi – Amritsar – Mandawa – Bikaner – Jodhpur – Ranakpur – Udaipur – Chittorgarh – Jaipur – Agra – Varanasi – Sarnath – Kolkata
We began in Delhi, a chaotic city for sure, but one that is filled with exciting experiences including India’s largest mosque, Akshardham Temple, Humayun’s Tomb, Lotus Temple, Qutub Minar, Old Delhi streets & spice market. Also we did a drive around Presidential Palace and got a handmade portrait sketched at India gate. The dinning opportunities were excellent too from the famous Bukhara Restaurant in ITC Maurya Sheraton (where US President Barak Obama eats) to Khan Chacha – which is a must visit eatery for delicious Kababs.
After the luxury of Hotel Le Meridien, we dived straightaway to rural tourism at Neemrana where we watched the real India up, close & personal. This surprise element included a village tour on camel cart, followed by a mouth-watering lunch made on clay oven by village women, Buffalo milking and roaming around on the streets of this small village. While coming back to Delhi after a long day on the countryside, we even faced the famous Delhi traffic jams when we got stuck in the roads for nearly four hours.
From New Delhi Railway station we hoped early morning on the Shatabdi Express Train for a seven hours ride to Amritsar. Once arrived in Amritsar, we visited the magnificent Golden Temple – the holiest temple of the Sikh religion and then we took a drive to India-Pakistan border to watch the bizarre flag-lowering ceremony which takes place every evening. Finally we roamed into the narrow lanes of Amritsar till we found Kesar Dhaba – the famous restaurant for Naan and Lassi. Also a kitchen tour of Kesar Dhaba was done to learn how they make such an awesome Indian food.
After returning by train to Delhi from Amritsar we started the road trip to Rajasthan next day. Our first overnight stop was at Mandawa – the city famous for finest frescoed mansions of the Shekhawati region. We stayed at Vivaana – a 150 years old heritage property which has now become a luxury mansion with a royal style. The old world charm is clearly experienced here.
After breakfast we proceeded for our next stop – Bikaner which is also famous for Havelis – mansions with hand painted fresco walls, the reason they call this city an “Open Air Art Gallery”. Here we visited Junagarh Fort – only fort in Rajasthan built on plains, Rat Temple and Camel breeding farm. Not to forget, we took a taste of camel milk as we tried our hands on Camel milk Ice cream. The lunch at Lalgarh Palace – another heritage mansion turned into a luxury hotel, was fabulous too.
The city of Blue Houses was our next destination where we visited Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Mandore Gardens. In the evening, we roamed around the old markets at city center, watched the beautiful Clock Tower, did some bangle and spice shopping before taking a fabulous roof top dinner along with wine at the famous Pal Haveli. The view of city and Clock Tower from Pal Haveli was mesmerizing and so was the taste of popular local snack – Mirchi Vada – hot and spicy green chilly stuffed with onions and garlic and the famous Lassi at Mishrilal Shop.
Later in the night, for another surprise activity, we walked inside a movie hall for the first experience of Bollywood Movie – ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’. The story was easy to understand even without English subtitles and I’m glad I could give you a live translation of the movie dialogues all through the film.
Our next destination was Udaipur and on route we stopped to visit the splendid Jain Temples of Ranakpur. These Jain temples were beautifully carved in white marble and represent the rich cultural history of ancient times.
Once arrived in the city of Lakes – Udaipur, often called as ‘Venice of the East’, we watched a fabulous cultural dance performance at Bagore Ki Haveli, Jagdish Temple, City palace and Saheliyon Ki Bari. Later in the afternoon, we took a boat ride on pristine waters of Lake Pichola to spot the Island Temple – Jag Mandir and drive around Fateh Sagar Lake. Our overnight stay was here at Trident Udaipur – another finest luxury hotel with landscaped gardens on the banks of the lake.
On way to Jaipur, we stopped enroute at Chittorgarh Fort which was built-in 7th century and climbed the Victory Tower – the leaning Tower of India. The story of the beautiful Queen Padmawati along with her Water Palace was enchanting too.
We moved ahead to the capital city of Jaipur to visit Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort, City Palace, Observatory, and Wind Palace. Later in the evening was another surprise activity planned – a visit to Indian family home for a traditional Rajasthani dinner of Dal – Bati. The stay at ITC Rajputana Sheraton was splendid in every sense or word.
After breakfast in Jaipur, we proceeded towards Agra – the city of Taj Mahal, stopping enroute to visit the “Abandoned City” of Emperor Akbar – Fatehpur Sikri. The city of red sand stone was abandoned due to scarcity of water.
Finally the much awaited moment – a visit to the magnificent Taj Mahal – a ‘Poetry in White Marble’. This visit was followed by another cultural live dance show at Kalakriti where the story of Taj is shown by the local actors and dancers.
Next day was eventful as we all played the festival of colors – Holi. Being my home city, we wandered around on the roads and participated in the color festival with full zest.
Also a visit to the finest Mughal Fort – Agra Fort and Baby Taj was done before taking an overnight train to the holy city of Varanasi.
On arrival in Varanasi next morning, we drove to the ruins of Sarnath – the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after gaining enlightenment. In the evening of the first day, we visited the Ghats or the bank of River Ganges to view the Ganga Arti – the river worshipping ritual. Next morning we took a boat ride in Holy Ganges to spot people performing rituals to pacify their ancestral souls. Later in the day we took a tour to Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Banaras Hindu University and we roamed in the narrow lanes till we found the Blue Lassi shop to drink the famous flavored Lassi in Varanasi.
The night of second day in Varanasi was again eventful when we decided to see another Bollywood Movie – which was not as good as the previous one we watched in Jodhpur. And we found that we are the only ones who were watching it, beside the many mosquitoes who had a feast on our bloods. And then we crashed the wedding… yes, the Indian Hindu wedding where we were treated as celebrities.
On our third evening in Varanasi, we took a flight to Kolkata which was our first flight ever full of mosquitoes inside the plane.
Once we arrived in Kolkata our luxury overnight stay was at ITC Sonar Bangla before we moved to my Father-in-law’s home in Howrah for an authentic Indian experience. The city tour here included the grand Victoria Memorial, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Park Street Cemetery, Belur Math and Mother Teresa’s Home.
We tasted the local Bengali cuisine and learned to eat by our hands alone at the famous Peter Cat Restaurant where we dived into Prawn Cocktail, Chello Kababs and sizzler.
Also many local activities like Fish Market tour, Iron factory visit; home cooked meal was planned on the last day of the tour.
And then we hit one last traditional Bengali meal at 6, Ballygunge Place where we took a platter of all Bengali food along with local Indian Mango and Mint drinks.
All of a sudden, my sixth escorted India Tour was over.
Now I can’t speak for everyone else on the tour, but as we did eat that last meal and I looked around at everyone, listening to all the talking and laughing and storytelling, I certainly felt honored to have spent time with such a wonderful group of people on this trip.
I was genuinely happy as the tour came to an end, not because everyone was leaving, but because I believe that this adventure was an overall success for all those who participated.
But of course, as they say all good things must come to end someday and after twenty-four days of wandering across India with me, from the chaos of Delhi all the way to the splendid forts and palaces of Rajasthan, moving to majestic Taj Mahal, down in the Ganges at Varanasi and an Indian home stay experience in Kolkata, while stopping in a variety of destinations along the way, the time has come to part ways with this lovely couple from the US.
So, I now want to thank Mr. Richard & Ms. Riffi O Brien who joined this sixth tour here in India. It was an absolute pleasure traveling with you and getting to know you as friends.
I had an incredible time over the past four weeks and, as I sit here at the Kolkata Airport about to board my flight back to the Delhi, I have already begun to play our trip over and over again in my mind. And I’m smiling the entire time. You will all be missed greatly and I have no doubt that I will be talking about this tour for a long, long time! And based on my experience over the years, it is almost certain that we shall run into each other again at some point down the road.
In the meantime, I now look forward with great excitement to the more India Through The Back Door Tours that I shall be offering soon.