Our 2-week adventure to Northern India exceeded our expectations. Our travel agent did an excellent job listening to our requests/goals for our journey, and then planning a diverse, once-in-a-lifetime trip that "checked all the boxes". Our itinerary was a perfect mix of historical sights, cultural experiences, and relaxation. We learned a lot and returned with many great memories; ones that we will never forget. Thank you!
It is difficult to choose a single most enjoyable or memorable part of our trip as it was all incredible. We covered a lot of territory and sights over two weeks, however, some highlights are as follows:
A cycle rickshaw ride through Chandi Chowk, Old Delhi. WOW! What a fantastic introduction to the vibrant sights, sounds, and aromas that are India.
Visit to Qutub Minar. On paper, it sounded somewhat underwhelming, but once we arrived, we were taken aback with how much we enjoyed seeing and learning about this immense tower.
Tour of the Taj Mahal. A beautiful, awe inspiring national treasure. We were moved beyond words. A special "shout out" to our fantastic guide. He was top-notch...very professional, personable, and knowledgeable. He also suggested altering our arrival time at the Taj (originally scheduled for sunrise) to avoid long security lines and early morning fog; which was brilliant.
Riding an elephant up to and touring the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Anyone interested in history shouldn't miss this activity.
Cooking class. Our gracious host taught us her own techniques for preparing Indian specialties. Besides learning how to cook Indian cuisine, we also enjoyed our conversation with her as she shared many of her life experiences with us.
Kudos to our driver during the first half of our trip. He was excellent...a safe, attentive, and polite gentleman, who didn't miss a beat. He always had anti-bacterial wet wipes ready for our use after every sight, cold beverages and snacks stocked in his clean vehicle.
Western Temples of Khajuraho. A bit out of the way, but well worth the trip. A beautifully maintained UNESCO World Heritage sight, these temples are spectacular. One can spend an endless amount of time viewing the unique carvings on the monuments.
A rural village visit just 20 minutes outside of Khajuraho. The whole town came out to greet us; which included a blessing, a band, and a dancing horse. We toured their village, a local home, and were treated to a homemade meal. The children were so delightful and precious. Truly an unforgettable and authentic experience.
Knowing what we do now, a few things we would do differently are:
We wouldn't visit during Diwali. The night our flight arrived in New Delhi was THE big celebration night of Diwali. Our driver and airport host transported us to the hotel, but we didn't get much sleep because Indians celebrate into the wee hours of the morning shooting off firecrackers. Also, due to the local tour office being closed, we didn't meet with our tour guide representative to receive our trip package (vouchers, etc.) and cell phone until the following evening which caused some confusion. Air quality in New Delhi the days following Diwali was extremely poor.
Skip the breakfast on the train to Agra; it's not very good. I would recommend having your hotel prepare a "picnic" style breakfast of some pastries, fruit, and juice box which you can eat on the train.
Skip the Kachpura heritage walk in Agra and city walk in Jaipur. The walk in Agra was awkward, short, and not particularly interesting. Our presence felt a bit intrusive. The city walk in Jaipur was in the street with the traffic. The many scooters, cars, and trucks whizzing within inches of us was unnerving to the extent that we weren't enjoying the walk and ended it short.
Varanasi...some good, some not so good. This is a very spiritual and unique city, it is also a very crowded and polluted city. Again, we encountered very bad air quality. People with asthma or other respiratory concerns might want to avoid it. The aarti ceremony and boat ride on the Ganges were interesting and we're glad we experienced it, but we could have easily omitted Varanasi and taken the couple extra days elsewhere in our itinerary.
My final thoughts/suggestion would be to ask the drivers and guides for a business card with their name on it. We struggled a bit with hearing and pronouncing their names. Having a business card to see the spelling would be helpful.
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