Posted in International Travel, Travel in India

Discovering Northern India with Basker: The Full Experience

Our first trip to India together was just 6 months after Basker and I were married in 1982 but we have revisited this beautiful country many times. It has changed a lot over the years but it has always remained vibrant, colourful and exciting. Travel has been a passion for us and I have always valued it as a chance to gain wonderful memories and experiences which have enriched our lives….a lot. Of course, not only are the sights awesome but meeting many friendly people along the way has been the greatest pleasure.

Travelling with our friends on recent trips has been a huge privilege and this has made our trips immeasurably more enjoyable.

Pick and choose excerpts from this full experience post here.
Jump to Attractions
Basker’s best photo of the Taj Mahal

Table of Contents

Intro

Basker loves travelling to India and he started visiting this country in the 1960s as a child on a family trip from his home country, Malaysia. He later attended Madras University, Madras (now called Chennai) during the 1970s. Over the years he has built up a huge amount of knowledge about this incredible country and his passion for this wonderful place, the culture and the people has only grown stronger.

Many friends have asked us a myriad of questions about travelling in India and most have said they would love to travel here but just didn’t know how, and so Basker created his best itinerary and started leading private group tours to India.

See Basker’s travel web site here: Get Going To India
You may like to see Basker’s cooking web site here: Cooking With Basker
Janet & Basker at Amber Fort, Jaipur

The photos in this blog post are from our most recent group tour in 2018 with Basker as the tour leader. This post includes details about our itinerary and our tour. In this respect all of the bookings and preparations were made for us by Basker so we could relax and enjoy the travel confident in the fact that everything was taken care of. Not only our logistics were taken care of but also the logistics of our luggage was too which gave me good peace of mind.

Basker also took care of tipping. It’s something that we Kiwis find difficult to do. We don’t like it and we often miss read cues about what is appropriate but it is a fact of travel in India. We all contributed to the kitty and topped up during the tour when needed.

In this post I have researched various topics and found recommendations for good hotels and sight seeing activities so these are included for those who enjoy this type of organising and want to make their own arrangements.

On this particular tour I was thrilled to travel with my cousin Helen… we had a great time together and shared amazing moments… fascinating sights and experiences that we will never forget. There are just too many memories to expand on here but you can be assured that we laughed and giggled the whole way…

… especially when the elephant sneezed on us while carrying us up the ramp to the Amber Fort. There was a lot of gloop! During the day it all dried out okay but that evening when I finally reached the hotel I stood in the shower fully dressed and scrubbed all my clothes (and me) with hotel soap. Whew! Thank goodness for quick drying Katmandu travel clothing.

What an experience!

On a more serious note, we loved the real experiences and delighted in local shopping, regional food, walking through the back streets of Varanasi and up to the river to overlook the ghats, colourful and vibrant early morning Aarti on the banks of the river Ganga, an outdoor feast for Deepavali, a safari to search for tigers in the wild, and the list goes on…

Our group with Basker as the tour leader

Of course, as down-to-earth kiwis we took any opportunity to talk to people we met along the way, to joke with shop keepers, to share tips with other tourists, to stop in delight at a wedding held at the hotel or on the beach and talk to the guests, we ribbed the local guides- all in good humour.

Our coach was side swiped by a truck at one stage and we got to know our bus driver quite well that day.

Stop enroute from Khajuraho to Jhansi

My mind is still full of visions:

Helen drinking champagne while having her nails done at a five star hotel salon, being waited on hand and foot.

Me, trying to not get splashed while leaning down the side of a small boat to release a flower into the great River Ganga.

The boys on our tour running across a busy highway full of traffic to reach a bottle shop and load up the stocks of alcohol for pre dinner hotel room drinkies.

Facing a cow at full trot coming straight at me in a narrow alley in the back streets of Varanasi.

Chatting, smiling, waving to people in the street, in cars, autos, in shops, at the next table at a restaurant, at the hotel, everywhere we go.

A muddy pond on the side of the road filled with stunning purple water lilies.

Historic buildings that have a magic atmosphere and make me think of a wondrous bygone era.

Camel traders in Pushkar settling down for the night cooking an evening meal over an open fire and checking that the camels were well fed.

People smiling and heading for prayers in beautiful desi attire.

John calmly heading towards me after being lost in the Amber Fort for over an hour. Later he claimed to have been kidnapped by the harem!

Basker tucking into mountains of naan bread, biryani and curries for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The lush environment and white sandy beaches of Goa.

The sparkle of Indian rubies in Jaipur

Don’t get me wrong, there are some sights in India that are pretty confronting… the beggars in the street, neglected children, sick street dogs, cows that roam the streets and fossick through the rubbish piles. Poverty is an in-your-face reality but the vast majority of Indians are not poor. In fact, there is a large middle income group of professionals and business people who are benefiting from a growing economy. Not everyone is trying to rip you off. In my experience, people in India are some of the most kind and most generous people that I have ever met in all my travels.

Life in India can be incredibly harsh for some but… the belief in karma is inherent in the culture and the religion. Somehow this is grounding and reinforces my quest to live in the moment …and breathe.

On a personal note, some people have asked about my experience travelling in India with Basker as a multicultural couple. My one response is this: it has always been interesting!

For example, we have had many experiences where I am treated as the tourist and Basker is treated as the guide and we have a lot of fun dispelling those stereotypes. As a more visible tourist I am automatically the target for touts and there is some surprise when Basker turns around and steps in to take control of the situation. It takes a while for people to realise we are together.

But during these comical situations we like to stop, and we like to talk. We try to relate to people on more personal level and help them understand that we are just the same as any other family. In this small way we are attempting to create a more accepting and inclusive view of the world.

Yes, we are different but we love our differences!

Our group at the hotel lobby ready for an evening out

Transport in India

Travelling around India has got to be one of the greatest experiences of the journey in this huge subcontinent.

Busy intersection – Short video to watch

Traffic in the main towns and cities is still considered to be amongst the worst in the world. Sitting through traffic is one of the least pleasant things we have to do when on tour. Some of the cities in India are densely populated and the traffic is worse here. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam in Mumbai, Bengaluru or Delhi, you’re on one of the world’s Top 10 most-choked roads, according to the latest TomTom traffic index report.

We found that the suburban trains, for example in Mumbai are a great alternative and here are some tips:

  • If you’re female, get in the ladies only carriage as it is far less crowded and more relaxed.
  • Try not to travel during rush hour
  • Consider buying a first class ticket
  • Don’t attempt to get on or off the train while it’s still moving
  • Never hang out of the door. If you’re near the door way hold on tight
  • If it’s too busy or crowded for you then get off at the next station and take an Ola instead.

Tuktuks, Auto’s or 3-wheelers are common and are continuously roaming around looking for custom however we have used these sparingly. They don’t feel as safe as a car in the heavy traffic. We prefer to call up Ola for a taxi back to our hotel particularly at night after dinner at a restaurant. Download the app here. Fortunately the drivers take cash.

When leaving the city to go on tour we mainly travelled by air-conditioned private coach and this form of transport never fails to provide insights into the daily lives of people. I love to gaze out the window as we slowly jostle along.

Journeys from one destination to another can be long and hot with significant time periods between toilet & refreshment stops. But these stops tend to be at interesting locations far from the main centres and they have great souvenir shops and are a good opportunity to take in the countryside, sit by a river or chat to local people.

There is so much life to see.

However, my favourite way to see India is by train. There is nothing quite like it.

Firstly, the railway stations are so exciting… teeming with inter city travellers, bustling with porters, buzzing with food vendors and thronging with people from all different backgrounds. Then, when you hustle through the crowds and finally manage to find your carriage, hopefully your seat it is booked, you will be able to relax with a chai from a station vendor, gaze out of the window and enjoy the rhythm of the train as it moves through the city and out into the countryside where you will get a glimpse of rural life.

As a note to self, for next time… these are the trains I want to someday travel on.

For self organised travel see multimodal travel here

Of course, India is a huge continent so we also utilised air travel to cover some of the longer stretches. Our trip included the following domestic flights:-

  • Delhi to Varanasi
  • Varanasi to Khajuraho
  • Jaipur to Goa
  • Goa to Mumbai

Also our tour included two train journeys in air conditioned executive class carriage and AC chair:

  • Jhansi to Agra on the Howrah Express
  • Mathura to Sawai Madhopur- unfortunately this train was over booked and we had to miss this train ride and continue in our coach… far less exciting.

What Should You Pack for India?

  • Your passport, with 6 months validity.
  • Travel insurance is a must!
  • Your visa which is required by most nationalities to visit India. 
  • Vaccination was not compulsory when we visited but Covid 19 vax may be required now
  • A bag or suitcase that you can confidently carry, not too heavy… don’t bring too much luggage.
  • Domestic flights have 15kg luggage limit
  • Domestic in-flight baggage limit of 7kg
  • Power bank for long bus/train/car journeys
  • Multi-region adaptor with surge protect 
  • Mobile phone
  • Spare batteries
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Camera
  • Insect repellant- mosquitoes are prolific so ensure the repellant is 80% DEET
  • Sunscreen, hat
  • Crossbody handbag/purse
  • Buff or mask- great to cover up to help cope with pollution and dust
  • Light clothing, a light merino jumper/cardi, light waterproof jacket, hat, sunglasses.
  • Local clothing is readily available either ready-made or custom tailored overnight and can be great to wear particularly in rural or conservative parts of India. I love to wear kurtas over jeans especially from Fab India, many of which are made with hand block printed cotton fabric.
  • It can be more dusty and polluted than here in Aotearoa so try to wear darker colours.
  • A scarf is always useful, to drape, cover up, use as a daub for cool water around your neck.
  • Don’t bring your expensive jewelry collection, as an alternative consider purchasing handcrafted trinkets along the way or beautiful Indian mined rubies in Jaipur.

Suggestions for Coping With Culture Shock

It might not be the best idea to travel to India on your own on your first trip. We suggest taking a tour or using a travel company that can provide a guide. Check Basker’s Tour here.

Another suggestion is to pace yourself. Take time on your first day to rest, adjust to the new time zone, look around, take a walk, explore the hotel, have a cup of tea.

I am not good with large crowds and it usually takes about 3 days for me to relax and get used to it. This lead-in time is usually factored in to our plans if time permits.

The sights and smells will be overwhelming to begin with. Certainly acknowledge what you experience and we encourage you to talk about it with your tour leader and local guides. Life in India can be difficult but a little knowledge from these people about the culture will help you understand.

I love to chat to people I meet while out for the day on tour. It might be a chance meeting where I take a rest on the bench besides local people… I love to take this opportunity to ask questions or chit chat. I have had many lovely conversations in passing and it makes me far more relaxed and more appreciative to be here.

People will approach you to ask for a photo and I’m okay with posing with children or other women, and we will perhaps swap emails so we can exchange photos.

When photographing people and kids in the street please get permission. Always ask first.

I think it’s worth spending on nicer hotels if you can. We have used a variety of accommodation in the past but my preference now is to choose 5 star hotels. This just means you are comfortable and have somewhere nice to relax and have a cold beer after a busy day exploring. You are also guaranteed to have access to the best services including a hot water for that refreshing shower at the end of a long day which will not be affected by the usual power cuts.

In my opinion I don’t think tourist should ever give money or goods to beggars. Read an interesting article about begging scams here. As an alternative we suggest making a donation to a charity such as CRY.

Ensure you get a local Indian sim card for your mobile with a data plan that you can use in case you need it. Pick one up on your arrival at Delhi airport. Airtel have a booth inside the terminal.

As soon as you obtain your local sim card add your guide to the contacts.

As is the case when travelling to any tourist hot spot in the world, watch out for pick pockets and scams at all times but mainly at popular tourist attractions.

Make sure when you go to India that you have good travel and health insurance. 

The soul of India is food and the soul of this food is the spices

Some Tips for Eating Out

We loved, loved, loved the spicy food which made it easy to enjoy each day just that much more. I didn’t take many food photos during that tour but I wished I had. I would probably do so now because I could have captured so many Instagram-able images.

Venturing into town to visit a local restaurant is a great enjoyment while on tour and you are spoilt for choice in India. There is a large variety from fine dining to typical Indian Dubha. Restaurants that are not busy normally do not have a high turnover so food may have been sitting for some time… avoid them and look for a busier place.

Dining at the hotel restaurant is often a great choice as these restaurants can deliver a fabulous fine dining experience in a stunning setting. The service is usually excellent and there is typically a wide menu choice with western food included.

Avoid fresh cut fruit bowls, peeled fruits and vegetable salads on the road side. It’s best to stick with fruits like oranges, bananas, papayas and fresh coconut water. Only eat fresh fruit where you don’t eat the skin.

Ice candies made from shaved ice which are sold on the street look very tempting on a hot day but it is best to avoid these as they could be made from tap water. A lovely cool drink when you are out sightseeing is very welcoming but its best to avoid this if ice is added.

Pani puris are a loved street food of India. These are small crispy hollow fritters which are consumed with stuffings and flavoured water, and are best avoided unless you know for sure that the water inside is filtered water.

In general, I think it is best to avoid eating at roadside stalls unless you are certain of the quality of food. Often food is prepared without the benefit of running water so the chance of contamination increases.

See a selection of top restaurants here.

Tap water:

Don’t drink tap water in India. Be sure to carry a refillable bottle all the time and refill with filtered water from restaurants and hotels which usually have filtered water available. If no filtered water is available then you can buy bottled water. Be sure to check the seal before buying and open it yourself.

What to do if you get an upset tummy:

Travelers often worry about the dreaded Delhi belly. The majority of visitors do not get sick and if they do its usually for a couple of days as our tummies adjust to a different diet. However, on occasion a bug can be awful and downright debilitating.

My tips are:

  • drink stay away from any cream based desserts
  • always eat freshly cooked food from a restaurant with a running water supply
  • drink water from a bottle which is sealed and opened in front of you
  • brush your teeth with bottled/filtered water.
  • If you start to feel queasy try to keep well hydrated and switch to plain rice and yoghurt which is readily available at all Indian restaurants and hotels
  • Ask for hot water and lemon as your preferred drink at hotels and restaurants.

This should do the trick but in some instances you may need assistance in which case pharmacies are available along the way for over the counter medicine such as Imodium and electrolytes. Your guide may also arrange for a doctor to see you at the hotel and in the worst case scenario you may go to hospital.

I have never been sick in India but Basker took me to hospital in Morocco on a recent tour when I must have picked up a bug and felt terrible. At the hospital I was so grateful for the wonderful staff who looked after me. They had me rehydrated, up and on my feet in no time. This was kind of reassuring and helped me to feel more relaxed about travelling so far away from home… but always with full medical insurance.

See my trip to Morocco here.

Humayuna’s Tomb, Delhi

My Best Hotels for a Comfortable Stay

I like to mention the hotels we usually stay in because we have found them to be comfortable and in great locations which makes the stay all that more enjoyable. These days there is only a limited amount of time on tour and a great deal of that time is spent marshalling to and from hotels. So we think that staying in a hotel in a great location is an added bonus. This time can be used to get to know the place and surrounding sights even more.

As mentioned, we prefer to stay at luxury hotels in India.

The Leela Resort

Our hotel on the waterfront in Mumbai was stunning. The Leela Palace on the beach in Goa was a sheer delight and a foodie heaven. Pushka was slightly remote and the choice of hotel was limited but what a gem found… the Bhanwar Palace was cute and ornate and full of character that simply made us smile. The ice cream for dessert was very good here.

The Jaypee Palace Hotel is stunning and has a very good gift shop where we found lots of interesting gifty type items to buy at reasonable price.

The hotel at Varanasi put on an outdoor feast for Deepavali and we celebrated and danced the night away. In the morning we found a silk shop nearby and bought loads of scarfs, then we walked to the mall for a coffee.

As you can see I can chat on for ages about our hotel experiences… but I will put a link for each of the hotels so you can check them out. Look for my preferred fist link under the headings Where to Stay.

Jama Masjid Delhi

My Takeaways from Travel in India

Happiness is universal and you don’t need a lot of things to be happy.

And happiness abounds in India. It may be connected to the moral beliefs, religion, having close family & extended family relationships, love of music and festivals, love of Indian food, patriotism for this great country. It could simply be the culture. For whatever reason this atmosphere is cathartic, positive and regenerative.

You can’t help but feel grateful and appreciative to be here when you see dwellings without many modern comforts but the greeting is warm and the food is made with pride.

I always feel more grounded in India and try to connect with the intrinsic belief that living in the present helps you to appreciate each day. That is when I find all worry about the past or the future melts away.

There are some places that I would have liked to spend more time and there were some sights we had to miss. There is so much more to see but I think that a short trip to India taking in the main attractions is better than no trip at all. And there is always the lure of wanting to see more to draw you back again, hopefully this time with the second trip providing a little more knowledge and focus so that you can target specific interests.

For me that will be train travel, step wells, houseboats and more off the beaten track exploring.

Go back to top

Itinerary

Day 01 : Late Night arrival in New Delhi
Day 02 : Sightseeing in Delhi
Day 03 : Delhi to Ajmer by train & later drive to Pushkar
Day 04 : In Pushkar for Pushkar Camel Fair
Day 05 : Pushkar to Jaipur by Road
Day 06 : In Jaipur
Day 07 : Jaipur to Ranthambore by Road
Day 08 : In Ranthambore for safari
Day 09 : Ranthambore to Agra
Day 10 : Sightseeing in Agra
Day 11 : Agra / Jhansi, by train, & drive to Khajuraho
Day 12 : Khajuraho Sightseeing & Later board your flight to Varanasi
Day 13 : Sightseeing in Varanasi
Day 14 : Varanasi to Goa
Day 15-16 : In Goa
Day 17 : Departure from Goa to Mumbai
Day 18-19 : In Mumbai

My Top Attractions at Each Stop

1. Delhi

Most visitors to India enter and exit through Delhi. Most of the flights arrive in the middle of the night and it is normally a tiring experience negotiating your way through the airport and into a taxi or shuttle to your hotel.

But just when you think… this is all a bit overwhelming, the next morning you find yourself surrounded by hundreds of years of history. Architecture. Culture. Indian Cuisine. People. Life!

Your trip has started!

THINGS TO DO

Old Delhi walk-  Join a guided walk through the streets and bazaars of Old Delhi, visit the Jama Masjid mosque, Red Fort and the Chandni Chowk market. Taste some famous snacks, and enjoy a short ride by rickshaw to the spice market.

The market was the first place we visited early in the morning day1 of our tour of India and we felt submerged in the history of old Delhi, surrounded by traders excitedly preparing for Deepavali sales. The incredible noise, chaos, smells and atmosphere were everything we had envisaged when planning for this trip.

Here we also visited the spice shop that Karena and Kasey Te Awa-Bird, New Zealand MasterChef winners also visited.

Food Tours:

Qutub Minar.- Dating from 1197, Qutub Minar is one of Delhi’s oldest monuments, with a beautiful red sandstone tower that is 73m high.

President’s Palace– Rashtrapati Bhavan, built as the British Viceroy’s residence, is now home to the President of the world’s largest democracy. Located in an area of 130 hectar, the building was completed in 1929 with the palace having 340 rooms. The most magnificent room in the Rashtrapati Bhavan is the Durbar Hall, which is the ceremonial hall for all official functions of the President of India.

Humayan’s Tomb– Tomb to the Mughal Emperor of Delhi, Humayun, this tomb is a beautiful UNESCO heritage sight, and one of the best examples of Persian influenced architecture in Delhi. Spend an hour or two here wandering the grounds and enjoying the structure – for fewer crowds & better photos come early in the morning.

Lotus Temple– Built in the shape of a gigantic lotus, the Bahai Lotus Temple is a serene stopover, the temple is shaped like a lotus flower with 27 white marble petals. There are nine doors that open into a central hall that is approximately 40 m high and has a capacity to host 2,500 people. I found this place to be serene and beautiful.

WHERE TO STAY

2. Pushkar

Pushkar is centred around its holy lake which is said to have been created when Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower. It is still an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. The Lake is surrounded by bathing ghats and the town is home to one of the few Brahma temples in the world.

The main attraction for me was the Camel Fair so it is important to time your trip during October to November to include this remarkable event. It is truly fascinating!

Because the religious status of Pushkar it is a dry town (no alcohol).

Sunset at the camel fair, Pushkar – Short video to watch

THINGS TO DO

Pushkar Camel Fair– This is an annual five day camel and livestock fair held between the months of October and November. It is one of the world’s largest camel fairs. Apart from the buying and selling of livestock, it has become an important tourist attraction. Competitions such as the ‘matka phod’, ‘longest moustache’ and ‘bridal competition’ are the main draws for this fair which attracts thousands of tourists. I loved the fair and found this to be a fascinating and authentic glimpse into rural life in India.

Braham Temple– On Kartik Poornima during Pushkar Fair, the town celebrates a festival dedicated to Brahma. Devout pilgrims visit the temple after bathing and cleansing themselves in the sacred Pushkar Lake. The Brahma temple has been recognised as one of the ten most religious places in the world and is considered to be one of the five sacred pilgrimage destinations for Hindus. We visited the temple, climbed all the stairs and soaked up the holy atmosphere but of course during the festival it becomes quite crowded so there is a certain amount of jostling… but still worth a visit.

Holy Lake– According to legends, Lord Brahma, who is believed to be the creator of the Universe, dropped a lotus to the ground leading to the immediate creation of a lake. He then decided to name the place after the flower, and thus the name, Pushkar. The lake is serene and quite pretty. We stayed back after the tour had ended for the day to continue our shopping at the markets and we found ourselves walking along the banks of the lake. We enjoyed the calm atmosphere being in amongst pilgrims sitting by the lake, praying and chatting the night away.

Markets, Sadar Bazar & Banda Bazar– Here you will find embroidered Rajasthani clothes, wall hangings, handicrafts, textile, jewellery and leather products.

Savitri Temple– about 15 minutes up the hill for a beautiful view down over Pushkar, especially beautiful early morning or for sunset.

WHERE TO STAY

3. Jaipur

Rajasthan’s biggest city, Jaipur, also known as the Pink City is one of the most popular places to visit. Here you will find forts and palaces, havelis and bazaars. Plus, it is a sightseers and shoppers delight!

Just be sure to set out early to beat the crowds and get ready to bargain hard… or call Basker over to intervene for you. He drives a hard bargain.

I bought a lot of items such as table runners and shawls.

Jal Mahal, Jaipur

THINGS TO DO

Amer Fort (Amber Fort) – A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace is nearly 7 centuries old and is made entirely of red sandstone and white marble. Walk to the top or ride on an elephant to see carvings, precious stones and mirrors. What a breath-taking view of the Maota Lake in front.

Hawa Mahal – Hawa Mahal, literally the Palace of Winds was built using pink sandstone in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh and is the most recognizable monument of Jaipur. This unique five-storey structure with small latticed windows (called jharokhas) is a blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture. Originally designed for the royal ladies to watch and enjoy the processions and other activities on the street below, it now houses a museum.

City palace & Museum – The City Palace, Jaipur was built in the 18th century by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. The palace reflects a classic mix of Indian, Mughal and European architectural styles.

Jantar Mantar – A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jantar Mantar is considered as the one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world.

Johari Bazar Jaipur located opposite the Hawa Mahal, a great place for mirror work cushion covers and table runners.

Jewelry Shopping- there are jewelry shops everywhere all selling the most beautiful gems and jewelry. I always leave my jewelry at home and buy trinkets here and wear on tour. I like to visit Vimal Enterprises, a family run business located in Lal Kothi suburb with the house above. Here you will find a warm welcome and a showroom full of beautiful authentic jewelry at reasonable prices.

Food Tour – Jaipur Street Food Tour

Explore – Jaipur by bicycle 

Visit Anokhi printing museum & shop to learn about traditional block printing, or take a block-printing workshop

Sunrise hot air balloon ride – to see a wide vista of Jaipur

WHERE TO STAY

4. Ranthambore National Park

We all want to see a tiger up close and in person so the National Parks are your best bet. The big question is did you see a tiger?

Yes, but not on every trip… not on this one in 2018 unfortunately.

But it is beautiful here. It’s a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of city life and it is your chance to get back to nature. Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve is one of the world’s best known wilderness areas. You can join a group canter safari or take a private jeep safari. The best time to see a Bengal Tiger is on an early morning safari but you your chances are increased by taking the evening safari as well. Tiger populations have been on the rise again in India in recent years, and Ranthambhore has a relatively high density of tigers.

Sariska Tiger Reserve is a national park and is a quieter alternative to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve which is becoming increasingly crowded.

THINGS TO DO

Safari- You can book your Jeep Safaris through your accommodation or directly through the Rajasthan Forest Dept website.

Dastkar Ranthambore – a women’s collective of artisans creating and selling beautifully hand crafted items.

WHERE TO STAY

GOOD THINGS TO KNOW FOR SAFARIS

Wear neutral colours to blend in. Avoid bright colours and wear layers because it’s cold on winter mornings. Peak season is October to February during winter.

Wear a mask to help with the dust.

Smoking and flash photography are not allowed.

Be quiet and listen, noise will reduce your chances of seeing wildlife.

It’s worth it to take a small jeep rather than a large cantor, they are a bit more mobile and will increase your chances of seeing wildlife.

I’m not normally keen on to-don’t lists but I feel it is important in this case, it is such a natural & wild environment – don’t leave any waste behind you, avoid any use of plastic.

Forestry departments have strict quotas of visitors per day, so book as soon as you can. Many national parks close for the monsoon season which is May to October.

Most resorts offer packages with evening and morning safaris. Evening safaris are beautiful, but the morning ones are when you have the best chance of seeing more wildlife.

5. Agra

Tourists come to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

However, the Agra Fort is also stunning, especially if you didn’t get a chance to go to the Red Fort in Delhi. 

Even though Agra is located on the Golden Triangle tourist route (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur), there’s less to do here than in many other Indian cities because of course the focus is on the architecture and history of the Taj Mahal.

THINGS TO DO

Taj Mahal – A 16th-century Mughal monument and UNESCO World Heritage site, there is no sight more iconic and spectacular than the Taj Mahal. And of course it is the perfect opportunity for some out-of-this-world photos.

This may be the one reason for your visit to India and you may have waited a long time to see it- you will not be disappointed! To get the most out of your visit I suggest you read up and prepare well in advance… the time spent here will go in a flash! To prepare for your day at the Taj see here.

I have visited the Taj Mahal three times and each visit has been breath taking. It somehow changes and is different every time but it is always awe inspiring.

Agra Fort– an imposing fort on the banks of the river Yamuna

I’timād-ud-Daulah’s Tomb – also known as the “Baby Taj”, considered to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. A visit here will further increase your knowledge about the architectural period and the history of this amazing city.

Mahobbat e Taj Show– depicts the romantic love story of Emperor Shajahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal

Sheroes Hangout Cafe – is run entirely by acid attack survivors.

WHERE TO STAY

GET READY FOR YOUR VISIT TO THE TAJ MAHAL

Its a great idea to read up about what to expect when you visit the Taj Mahal and here I have included a few tips to help you to get the best experience out of your day. You can be sure that when you get there, the time will pass in a flash, so do not miss out on anything.

Don’t rush your visit because there isn’t a time limit during the day. Have a break, sit somewhere quietly under a tree and absorb this spectacular ancient Wonder of the World.

There is a costs to see Taj Mahal, the entry fee is approx Rs 1600 for foreign tourists and for domestic tourists Rs 480.

The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays for tourists, as the the mosque inside is open for prayers for the local Muslims.

Try visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise on a clear day.

Taj Mahal is also open during full moonlight nights for tourists , from 2030hrs-1230hrs. The amount of visitors going in is controlled in small groups and you have 30 mins to explore the Taj. Get your camera ready and do not forget your memory cards, because this is a fantastic time to take a stunning photo.

Avoid winters during the month of November to February, as mostly fog covers the Taj.

The best time to see Taj is from March to June (summer).

Get a rickshaw to take you there and back cheaply and its a good form of transport in an effort to reduce surrounding pollution.

Go early and wait patiently for the perfect spot to take your photo.

If you walk around to the right side of the Taj (as you approach the east gate), you can get an amazing photo from the Yamuna riverbank behind the Taj.

Consider hiring an on-site photographer who will have your photos printed for you when you exit the grounds, well worth the investment for a once-in-a-lifetime professional photo.

Be prepared to be surrounded by thousands of people, so it can be very crowded during the tourists season.

Leave your valuables at the hotel, only take a small bag for your:

  • Passport
  • Money
  • Water
  • Medicine
  • Camera
  • Phone

There is no dress code but you should still dress respectfully. At the entrance to the Taj Mahal you will be provided with cloth shoe coverings and must wear them when walking on the marble. The marble is usually hot so this is a better alternative than wearing bare feet.

It can be a hot day in Agra so wear light clothing and use sunscreen.

No food is allowed inside.

Cigarettes and lighters are also not allowed.

Tripods and additional lighting equipment need prior permission to be brought in. Photography inside the mausoleum is prohibited but outside is permitted. Most DSLR cameras are allowed as are mobile phone cameras, however video cameras are not permitted. There are lockable cabinets that you can hire to store your video camera and pick it up on the way out.

Watch out for touts and pick-pockets.

This is a high-pressure area so you just need to keep a vigilant watch out and you won’t have any worry.

6. Khajuraho

Khajuraho is famous for its sensual sculptures on the exterior walls of the temples. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains some of the best examples of temple architecture in India.

It is certainly an interesting visit to come here and gaze at the depictions carved on the temples and to figure out something you would like to try. We giggled a lot. But apart from that and the light & sound show there is not much else to do here. What I do recall is thinking that this seemed to be remote, away from it all and the gift shop at the hotel was good… we bought several items of clothing in a relaxed atmosphere.

THINGS TO DO

Jehangir Mahal

Khajuraho’s Temples temples were built by the Chandela dynasty, who ruled over central India between 950-1050 AD. Out of the 85 original temples, only 20 survive today. Most of them have soaring vertical spires or shikharas, which are believed to represent the Himalayas.

Sound & Light show at Western Temples. beautiful atmospheric outdoor show with the temples lit up, beware of the mosquitos, spray generously and tightly cover up.

WHERE TO STAY

7. Varanasi

Varanasi was the next most important place to visit after Agra for me. It is well known to be a spiritual destination and pilgrims come from all over the world to pray here. Each evening an Aarti is held on the river bank and there are always thousands of people who come to witness the prayers and obtain blessings.

The atmosphere created by smoke wafting from the ghats, faintly ringing bells, chanting mantras, flowers floating on the river set against the backdrop of a soft misty sunrise or sunset over the river is strangely serene and beautiful.

It feels esoteric and that you have been let into a secret world like nothing you have experienced before. Your first thought is that you would love to share this magic energy with everyone you hold near and dear… and those loved ones who have departed immediately pop into your mind.

Then you hear about the people waiting in the surrounding apartments to return to the river and you think yeah, I get it.

India’s holiest city is bound to have an impact on you.

Here religious feeling reigns supreme, and no sensual thought ever seems to assail these beauteous mingled forms. They come into unconscious contact with each other but only heed the river, the sun, and the splendor of the morning in a dream of ecstasy.

Pierre Loti
Sunrise River Ganga, Varanasi – Short video to watch
Evening Aarti, Varanasi – Short video to watch

THINGS TO DO

A boat ride at either sunrise or sunset (or both) is a must. It can be a scramble to find your boat and boatman but to be well prepared and hassle free you should make a booking at your hotel or book this Sunrise Boat Ride with Ghats & Morning Rituals Tour. This morning boat ride tour will give you the real view of holy Varanasi, where you will see the morning rituals, special features of the various Ghats that you will pass along the way and burning ghat where the dead are cremated.

Don’t take photos at the Manikarnika ghat or cremation ghat.

Watch out for fake priests or sadhus who will offer flowers or want to take a photo with you then ask for money. Your guide will help you to choose a bona fide flower seller if you wish to purchase a small bowl with flowers and a candle to float in the river and pray in your own personal way.

There will be lots of splashing and hopping from one boat to another. I have not stepped into the river for a holy dip but I have splashed the holy water onto my head and over my body several times. Yes, I know some droplets went into my mouth but I tried not to get too freaked out. The water is polluted, more in some parts than in others, that is apparent by the rubbish and the amount of people that bathe here and ultimately die here.

I’m okay with getting water on me but I prefer to keep my mouth tightly closed when near or on the river.

Walking Tours: The streets of Varanasi are ancient and fascinating. Varanasi is considered to be the oldest living city in the world. But you are sure to get lost wandering the narrow alleys and streets so we suggest a walking tour or two. This is also highly recommended if you are keen on discussing philosophy with your guide in an effort to come to terms with this place of birth and death.

Groovy Tours

  • Northern Bazaars & Hidden Alleys
  • Death & Rebirth in Banaras

Varanasi Evening Street Food Tour

Trip to Sarnath, the world-famous Buddhist site, which is situated about 10 km (6 miles) northeast of Varanasi city. This was the place where the Buddha delivered his first sermon in the Deer Park in 528 B.C that is also known as Dhamma Chakra Pravartan, meaning “The Wheel of Law turns”

WHERE TO STAY

Buddhist Stupa, Sarnath

8. Goa

When we first came to Goa in 1982 we stayed in a hippie coco hut on Anjuna Beach in North Goa and we loved it. Today we stay at The Leela Resort, South Goa, and we love it more!! For us, Goa is all about the beach, sun and sand.

We also love to dine by the pool and sample top quality cuisine at one of the hotel’s fine restaurants. It is the perfect winding down experience after a hectic sightseeing schedule. My preference is to simply relax within the hotel complex or on the beach, get waited on and sip feni at sunset.

However, there are other things to do which I could perhaps check out next time if I can pry myself off the beach lounger for long enough to brave the traffic.

THINGS TO DO

WHERE TO STAY

9. Mumbai

After a few days of sun and sand on the beach in Goa it is time to pack up and start the homeward journey. But a short stop in Mumbai is just the ticket for shopping and eating out at beautiful restaurants before you wing your way home.

Mumbai is an exciting, bustling city and is home to billionaires as well as slum dwellers. There is a total of 20 Million+ Mumbaikars so be prepared to be in awe of this gigantic, magic city.

On previous trips to Mumbai we have visited most of the sights, snapped a photo of India Gate, taken a boat to the Elephanta caves, gazed in awe at the outdoor laundry, strolled along Marine Drive or along the beach and dined out. Now, when we stop here we are mostly intent on catching up with friends, dining out and shopping for those last minute items that you did not want to carry around on tour. So it is good chance to buy gifts.

Helen, Janet, Sulabha & Basker out for the night at the Radio Club, Mumbai

THINGS TO DO

Gateway of India, Colaba no trip to Mumbai is complete without a mandatory photo of this iconic monument. You will also get beautiful photos of it from the little boat when you are on the way to visit the Elephanta caves.

Elephanta Tour take a beautiful, hour-long ferry ride across the bay from Mumbai to Elephanta Island, and explore a labyrinth of caves, temples, and shrines with your own private guide. Usually a great day out with a lovely long walk to the top if only a little tiring.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Colaba such a beautiful hotel to wander around. I marveled at the décor, walked through the lobby, saw the mosaic floors, had a cup of tea with a window view and posed on the majestic staircase for that iconic photo. It was one of the sites to be targeted during the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008.

Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat is an open air laundry place in Mumbai, India. It is located at Mahalaxmi railway station in southern Mumbai, it is also accessible from the Jacob Circle monorail station. The washers, known as dhobis, work in the open to clean clothes and linens from Mumbai’s hotels and hospitals. A fascinating visit especially if you love laundry like I do. See photo of this above.

Fab India my favourite shop for desi and western clothing. I love the western dresses made from all natural cottons printed with hand made block patterns. Also tablecloths, cushions and gifts.

Dharavi Tours ethical and educational Dharavi slum tours give visitors a unique glimpse into everyday life for many Mumbaikars while breaking down the negative stereotypes associated with slums.  80% of the profits from every tour are invested back into the community and most of the guides are from the community.

Early Morning Tour of Mumbai– 4-hour tour gives you an insight into how trade works in Mumbai and the city’s life that begins at dawn.

Public Transportation Sightseeing Tour

Markets:

  • Mumbai Magic includes Dadar flower market on their Good Morning Mumbai tour.
  • Mumbai bazaar walking tour.
  • buy Indian handicrafts in Mumbai.
  • Fashion Street- MG Road, south Mumbai. Near Metro Cinema and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus) railway station, opposite Azad Maidan.
  • Dharavi Leather Market- 90 Feet Road and adjoining Sion-Bandra Link Road, Dharavi, Sion, central Mumbai.
  • Linking Road- fashion. Linking Road, Bandra West (starts from Waterfield Road intersection).
  • This No Footprints’ Mumbai by Dawn tour includes the fish market.
  • The pavement on either side of the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda (Black Horse) Arts Precinct is bordered with the works of promising young artists
  • The area around C.P. Tank (Cawasji Patel Tank) is notable for its exquisite bangles. Try TipTop Point for something special. 
  • Mangaldas Market and Mulji Jetha Market- textiles and shawls
  • Zaveri Bazaar- Indian-style gold, platinum and diamond jewelry
  • Crawford Market- fruit & veg
  •  Chor Bazaar– antiques
  • Colaba Causeway- handicrafts

Street Food Tour

Some of my favourite restaurants:

  • Gaylords bakery and European style bistro plus Indian cuisine, beautiful food, excellent service, beautiful ambiance
  • K.Rustoms & co. Ice Cream Parlour family run business selling ice cream made on the premises and served in a wafer sandwich, great to eat on the street on the way back to your hotel after dinner in town.
  • Khyber is an iconic restaurant located in the art & heritage district of the city of Mumbai.
  • Leopold Cafe– established in 1871 (150 years old) this café in southern Mumbai is not only one of the oldest but is also an icon of the city. It was one of the sites to be targeted during the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008. Reportedly to be Shantaram’s favourite hang out.
  • Delhi Durbar (Colaba)
  • Aaram Vada Pav & Cannon Pav Bhaji (CSMT Station)

WHERE TO STAY

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4 thoughts on “Discovering Northern India with Basker: The Full Experience

  1. Very informative and interesting stories Janet. I have journeyed through India thrice. The tips given on packing and adventures is great. In my experience, travel through India with no expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

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