By Emma Jackson
People say that a tour to India is a life-changing experience – and it only takes a moment for you to see why. Endlessly fascinating and a surprise to the senses, India feels very far removed from our Western norms and way of life. The world’s second most populous country with more than 1.2 billion people today, you’ll feel for yourself on an Indian tour how deeply it still feels rooted in its past rich cultural and religious heritage.
I was amazed every day by a kaleidoscope of unexpected sights and sounds, heady aromas and sometimes shocking contrasts. You’re sure to return from your magical tour of India with a new outlook on life and endless extraordinary memories.
Day 1 – Delhi
I arrived in Delhi after a direct evening flight from London Heathrow and was met by the local tour manager. We were transferred to our first hotel of our trip - The Suryaa Hotel in New Delhi. Upon arrival we were made to feel very welcome and were greeted with the traditional Namaste bow, which was soon to become a regular part of our special trip.
The hotel was truly stunning with a lovely outdoor pool, coffee shop and two restaurants. The rooms were spacious and came with air conditioning, TV, safe, bathroom and mini bar. We then had an afternoon guided tour of the Old City and experienced an exhilarating ride on one of the local rickshaws. Before we went back to the hotel for the evening we saw the India Gate War Memorial and Parliament House.
Day 2 – Agra
Our second day saw us heading out for breakfast at the delightful Colonel’s Retreat Delhi. Hosted by the colonel himself, we sat on the roof terrace enjoying the local flavour and views across the awakening bustle of Delhi.
On our way to Agra, we visited the ruins of the ornate Qutb Minar Tower. The second tallest minaret in the world made of bricks and standing an impressive 239ft tall, this tower is now part of the areas UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We then headed off to the famous City of Love and the home of the breath- taking Taj Mahal. We stood across the river in The Mehtab Gardens, to experience the sun setting behind the Taj Mahal.
Our hotel for the evening was The Trident Hotel, Agra. Close to the Taj Mahal and set amidst its beautiful gardens, the hotel has a swimming pool, spa, fitness centre, two restaurants and a bar. Each of the rooms have air conditioning, TV, a mini bar and tea/coffee making facilities.
Day 3 – Ranthambhore
We had a very early start on our third day, with our long awaited visit to the Taj Mahal. An experience that I will never forget, we watched as the sun rose above the beautifully crafted outline of this wondrous monument. We had our famous ‘Lady Diana’ moment photograph, sat on the bench itself. There was peace around the wonderful landscaped gardens. This truly was an amazing experience and a must if you visit India.
As we headed to Ranthambhore, we stopped by at the Raj Niwas Palace, Dholpur - also called the Dholpur Palace - which diffuses hospitality with ancient heritage in a premium opulence and style, presenting the avenue that was once home to Indian royalty. It became a part of modern Independent India as a Heritage Hotel. We were made to feel very welcome and it was a stunning peaceful retreat.
Soon afterwards, our journey onto Ranthambhore National Park began. Our hotel for the evening was the Ranthambhore Regency and it was the perfect place to enjoy the area’s wildlife to its fullest. The hotel has spacious gardens, a swimming pool, restaurant and bar. Rooms have air conditioning and are furnished with modern amnesties. In the evening we had a ‘tiger talk’ with a local naturalist , in preparation for tomorrow’s adventure.
Day 4 – Jaipur
Very excited for the day ahead, we had an early breakfast and set off in our Jeeps. We ventured into the National Park and saw lots of the local wildlife including striped hyenas and the sambar deer. You were told we might also see some sloth bears, the tigers and maybe a leopard. Unfortunately we didn’t see the tigers, but we did come across the fresh tracks of one.
After heading to Jaipur, India’s pink city, we checked into our hotel and enjoyed some free time with a dip in the welcoming cool pool.
Our hotel was the Shahpura House (my favourite hotel of the trip) which dazzled the eyes. Every picture, piece of furniture and chandelier was encrusted with gold. It was a truly special place, a gem of Jaipur.
The hotel had beautiful lawns and gardens, a restaurant, bar, gift shop and an outdoor swimming pool. Each of the rooms have air conditioning, mini bar, tea & coffee facilities and bathroom.
There was a surprise for us in store, as we were given a present from our tour guides: a gorgeous genuine sari each, complete with bangles and bindees.
This was our attire for the evening, as we were then hosted by a local family for dinner in their own home. Upon tasting the most amazing food, we then learnt how to make chapatis and danced with the family in an experience I will remember forever.
Day 5 – Vanaashyra
On our way to Vanaashyra, we visited the wonderful Amber Fort. Here you are able to take an elephant ride up to the very top. Once we were up there, the views were fantastic and the scale of craftsmanship of the quarters unfolded. Tiny little mirrors arranged in regimental patterns and preserved to their full glory, it was just stunning.
Sad that our trip was coming to an end, we headed towards Vanaashyra.
Set in the foothills of the Aravali range, we took a camel ride up towards the lake. With a small tented community, this was our accommodation for the night.
Vanaashyra with its little tents, all provided modern luxurious comforts, including air conditioning, full size bed, mini bar, your own bathroom and private terrace. You will also find a restaurant , bar, swimming pool and spa. All giving you the true feel of rural India.
The true essence of India
India was never on my list of destinations that I wanted to visit. Although I felt privileged being asked to go, I was apprehensive. But having been there? It was one of the best experiences of my life. The culture, the people and the sights made it a memorable destination that I will never forget. The professionalism of the local tour guides and standard of hotels were second to none. For those of you who are considering a trip to India in 2019 and beyond, I would recommend that you put it on your list. I will definitely be returning in the future with my husband for another extraordinary visit.