India was by far one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The culture is rich, the history is intriguing, the people are some of the nicest people I have ever encountered, the music is unique, the food is fantastic, and the architecture is absolutely gorgeous.
We went for about 11 days (1 week off work, plus two weekends and a holiday) and visited what's commonly known as the Golden Triangle - New Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. We also added a side trip to Udaipur between New Delhi and Jaipur. India is large, so we weren't able to squeeze in much more than that in a short amount of time, but we definitely have plans to go back and visit cities like Goa, Mumbai, and Calcutta one day.
Why India? This may sound silly, but I first wanted to go to India after watching the movie A Little Princess when I was 8. They have a few beautiful scenes from India in the film, that really put it on the map for me and it's always been in the back of my mind as a place I wanted to visit. Over the years, as I saw movies like Slumdog Millionaire and read books like Sold (set in Nepal and India) and Behind Beautiful Forevers and it became more of a place of intrigue to understand the culture, lifestyle and vast socio-economic differences. The last few years, we've had it on our list of travel destinations, and we finally decided to give it a go. We began researching the country and decided to line up our trip with the Indian Holi Festival so we could experience a true cultural holiday.
We used Zicasso to find our tour company, Indebo, and had a wonderful experience. They were extremely helpful, and provided excellent itineraries, guides, drivers, and service!
Day 1: DEPART FOR NEW DELHI
We left for New Delhi and had a full day of travel.
Day 2: NEW DELHI
We arrived in New Delhi by international flight and met our driver who transported us to the lovely Leela Palace Hotel.
Day 3: DELHI
We started the day with a sightseeing tour of Old Delhi visiting Jama Masjid & Chandni Chowk and experienced a cycle rickshaw ride through the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk to reach "Kha i Baoli", Asia's largest wholesale spice market. After that, we visited the Red Fort, the India Gate along the "Rajpath" (a ceremonial boulevard) and saw the presidential palace and other government buildings. We later visited the Humayun's Tomb and Qutub Minar which are both UNESCO world heritage sites and then visited the Lotus Temple - the Bahai temple on the way to Qutab Minar.
Day 4: DELHI / UDAIPUR
After breakfast in Delhi, and a morning exploring the beautiful hotel and pools, we were picked up and taken to the airport for a short flight to Udaipur. When we landed, we were met by our driver and taken to our hotel. Our hotel was part of the original City Palace - they had divided the City Palace into a hotel, museum, and the palace for the royal family, so it felt very majestic. We were then driven down to Lake Pichola for a boat ride around the lake and a stop on an island for exploring. We returned about an hour before the time we told our driver to pick us up, so we walked back to our hotel and had them call him to let him know. From there, our tour company had arranged for a henna session at the hotel. The girl was extremely talented and designed the traditional designs of a peacock for Udaipur. We later walked to dinner at an amazing tandoori place with a rooftop patio.
We started the day with breakfast and a lovely morning walk around the lake. We encountered a colony of monkeys playing around along our walk and watched in awe as hundreds of monkeys swung from trees and raced across the lawn in front of us. When we returned, our guide met us at the hotel and we proceeded with a sightseeing tour of Udaipur, visiting the City Palace, Crystal Gallery, and Jagdish Temple. For the evening, our tour company had surprised us with exclusive tickets to attend the Royal ceremonies of Holika Dahan at the City Palace with the royal family of Udaipur, so after lunch our guide took us to a dress-making shop where we picked out fabric and designs for traditional Indian attire we would need to attend the ceremony that night. The shop delivered the clothing to our hotel a few hours later and we walked from our hotel to the Palace. The ceremony began with a processional of the royal family, the lighting of a bonfire, and then ended with dinner and fireworks.
Day 6: UDAIPUR / JAIPUR
We began our morning with breakfast and were picked up and transported to participate in the "Holi" celebrations with a local family. The celebration was a vibrant party of colors, laughs, smiles, dancing, and great food! We loved getting to celebrate this holiday with the locals and had an absolute blast. At the end of the day we took a train to Jaipur and stayed at the Shiv Vilas.
Day 7: JAIPUR
We woke up and took an excursion to the Amer Fort where we took an elephant ride up the hill in which the fort is situated. Later that day we returned to the city and visited The City Palace, Jantar Mantar (the observatory), and the Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds. That evening we had a wonderful experience and were able to go to a local home to attend a cooking demonstration session followed by dinner with the family.
Day 8: JAIPUR / AGRA
We left Jaipur for Agra by driver and visited the forgotten city of Fatehpur Sikri along the way. We stayed at the Agra Hotel, ITC Mughal which had a great rooftop view of the Taj Mahal.
Day 9: AGRA / DELHI
We woke up early for a sunrise visit of the Taj Mahal to see its facade change colors to a pinkish hue. The queue was really long, even with the early arrival and it was a little rainy and there were tons of mosquitoes, but it was well worth it to see the beautiful Taj Mahal in person. After that, we visited the Agra Fort and the tomb of Itmad-Ud Daulah.