We booked our 9 day 8 night tour of Rajasthan with India Private Heritage Tours. It was an easy process and one that I would recommend to anyone going to India. Don’t take a package tour sold by your travel agent. We found it much better and far more cost effective to locate a reputable Indian company and deal with them directly.
Magan at India Private Heritage organised everything for a fixed price; all of our hotels including breakfast, the car and our driver for the entire 9 days. We paid extra only for our lunches and dinners, plus entry fees to museums and sites etc. And no deposit necessary; all booked and reserved on trust.
We arrived in Dehi from London on 23rd October, at around midnight. My good friend Ashish (ex Motorola) met us at the airport and it was only a 20 minute or so drive to his apartment in Gurguram (Gurgaon) . Ashish and his wife Bindia live on the 17th floor of a nice apartment building in a large penthouse. They live with his elderly parents and their dog Shiro. It was great to spend the 2 nights with them before the tour, plus we went out to the most amazing restaurant "Indian Grill Room" for dinner on Monday night.
The view from Ashish's 17th floor apartment was along Golf Course Road towards Gurgaon and Delhi; a very hazy view most days we were there.
Tuesday 24th October:
Tuesday was spent organising my Indian SIM card that Ashish had bought. It took a while as every SIM card in India has to have a registered owner, and it’s a complicated process for a foreigner, and it is then only valid for the exact duration of my Visa. We also located an ATM and successfully withdrew Indian Rupees for our cash expenses.
Wednesday 25th October:
Our driver arrived at the apartment at 0830. His name was Mahendra Singh and he had a Toyota Etios 4 door sedan, and it proved to be a very good car to travel in; ample room for us and our luggage. We loaded up and left to drive the 230 km to Agra. Travel in India is rather slow; 230km was scheduled to take about 4 hours.
It didn’t take long to be assaulted by the sights and sounds that make India such an incredible country; a Mum breast feeding a baby while on a scooter with her husband and 1 other kid; no helmets at all. Traffic congestion, cows, goats, monkeys, derelict trucks, auto rickshaws,, intense colours, horrible smells, garbage, sewerage, and people everywhere; the immensely rich and the very poor.
After a nice Indian lunch (the first of many!), we hired a guide (Aril) for about NZ$20, and took a guided visit to Agra Fort. Agra Fort was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. The Agra fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is only about 2.5 km from the Taj Mahal. The fort is more like a walled city; huge gardens and beautiful buildings. Part of it is still used by the Indian military so no access to that area. There was a fair amount of pollution haze about, but we could see the Taj Mahal in the distance, from the Fort.
We then drove to the Taj Mahal. We wanted to be there at sunset as this magnificent building changes with the different angles and intensity of the setting sun. We also hoped to get a photo in the “Lady Di seat” where her photo was taken in 1992.
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The tomb is the centrepiece of a 17-hectare complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens.
The complex is believed to have been completed in 1643 with ongoing work for another 10 years. The marble was brought by elephant from more than 200km away.The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage". The Taj Mahal attracts 7–8 million visitors a year. It is indeed a wonderful building at any time of the day, and is definitely a ‘wonder of the modern world”. Its just one of those places that you need to see in person to appreciate it.
We then fell victim to the shopping detour where our guide Aril took us to a marble factory under the guise of seeing how marble was cut and inlaid with gemstones, same as the marble at the Taj Mahal was done. After a 10 minute demo, we were ushered into the shop. I was a bit annoyed as I had said no shopping. But never mind; we bought a small candle light holder as a souvenir.
Dinner was at our Hotel, the Crystal Sarovar, with an excellent India buffet.
Our driver Mahendra has been excellent so far; very careful and very interested in us, our family and travels. Quite a serious guy on day 1 though!
Thursday 26th October:
Breakfast at the hotel and it was then a 250km drive to Jaipur, scheduled for about 5 hours. We met Magan the tour boss man at the hotel before we left; he was there with another tour; a very nice friendly guy.
We visited Fatehpur Sikri and Abhaneri on the way, plus had a stop at Galta Ji (Monkey Temple) near Jaipur.
Fatehpur Sikri is a town west of Agra founded founded in the 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, and was the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585, when it was abandoned. Fatehpur Sikri is one of the best preserved examples of Mughal architecture in India. a series of royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, private quarters and other utility buildings.
Abhaneri is a village about 95 km from Jaipur, just off the Agra to Jaipur road. The village has an amazing step well and a nearby Harshat Mata Temple. The 'Baori' or step well was invented to harvest rain water and this one remains one of India's deepest and largest stepwells. The flight of stairs and the palace are all arranged in a square pattern with the well lying at the very bottom. The flight of steps are thirteen storys deep. The palace at the bottom of the Baori was a place for the royals to stay during hot summers days. There is a large courtyard with covered areas housing intricately carved sandstone artifacts/idols dating as far back as 10th century.
Returning to the car, we found a small boy waiting for us; he was skipping school and doing magic tricks for money. Probably only 8 or 9, but he was very very cleaver. 100 rupees was a decent tip, about NZ$2; No wonder he skips school!
Mahendra suggested that we stop by the Monkey temple as we neared Jaipur. The proper name is Galta Ji and it is a large Hindu temple complex that is about 10km to the east of Jaipur. These temples are a popular attraction as they are home to a large colony of monkeys. Galta Ji is a unique Hindu temple as it is centered around a higher natural spring that has been channeled to fill seven large pools. In these pools pilgrims come to bath away their sins while the monkeys annoy tourists and also swim in the holy waters.
When we visited, there was a holy festival occurring; it was very busy but was amazing to see the pilgrims bathing in the waters. Some pilgrims were crawling towards the temples, over a distance of about 2 km. A very colourful experience, with very few tourists around.
Our driver Mahendra was much more relaxed today; we laughed and joked about the traffic of India and the extraordinary sights on the road, and how good his GPS brain was working!
Our hotel in Japiur was Khandela Haveli; a beautifully restored old Indian mansion. It had a beautiful internal courtyard, a Roof Top swimming pool and restaurant. We ordered dinner from the menu at the rooftop restaurant; and ate too much of the most delicious chicken tikka and other Indian dishes ; very nice with our kingfisher beer!
Friday 27th October:
Unfortunately our hotel room was underneath the swimming pool on the roof, and the pump & filter kept us awake all night. So we arranged to change rooms for Friday night. We then left the Haveli at about 9.00am for our day of sightseeing in Jaipur.
First stop was Hawa Mahal ("Palace of winds" or "Palace of the Breeze") named because it was essentially a high screen wall built so that the women of the royal family could observe street festivals while unseen from the outside. It is built of red and pink sandstone, and is sited on the edge of the City Palace. It was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh. It was difficult to photograph as its right on a busy main road teeming with people.
Next stop was a tour of the Amber (Amer) Fort/Palace. Built in the 16th century by Raja Man Singh in red sandstone and white marble, the palace complex is laid out over 4 levels, each with courtyards. When we were here, a Bollywood movie was being made about the history of the palace and fort.
As the Indians say “You will be provided the Elephants to ascend the fort to visit the complex” And we were; The elephants carry two persons and are allowed to make just 5 return trips per elephant, and only from 9.00am till 11.00m. They seem to be quite well treated, so we didn't feel too bad about getting a ride up to the Fort
The Amber Fort palace areas are beautifully decorated. There are vast mirrored halls with inlaid mirrors and inlaid gemstones such as turquoise. There is also a beautiful manicured garden area within the palace complex.
We then went back into the city and to various city sights in Jaipur city which was built by Maharaja Jai Singh, an astronomer 260 years ago. We visited the Maharaja's City Palace (a part of which is the home of the current Jaipur “royal family”), and the Observatory. Amazing granite, marble and concrete instruments such as sun dials, and planetary instruments
Saturday 28th October:
We drove from Jaipur to Udaipur, about 400km and 6 hours. We left at 0900 and were scheduled to go to to some historic sites, but Magan called me and suggested that we go to the Pushkar camel fair instead.
The Pushkar Fair is held for 10 days in late October early November and is one of the largest camel fairs in India. We are glad we went; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the colour, spectacle and carnival of one of the last great traditional fairs, which brings livestock, farmers, traders and villagers from all over Rajasthan.
We stayed for about 3 hours in 36 degree heat. We took a camel cart for 200 Rupees around the large grounds,and then wandered through the alleyways with restaurants and shops selling everything you would ever need for your camel and much more.
And then a late lunch in another beautiful restaurant where we were the only diners. Amazing décor; but it took them 45 minutes to make a sandwich!
Then we drove to the "Lake City" of Udaipur which is a pleasant oasis in the heart of a very dry Rajasthan. The huge city palace towering over the Lake Pichola is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan. Though it is a conglomeration of buildings built by successive rulers, it is a uniform design and has amazing views of the lake and the city from the upper terraces.
We stayed in another haveli, Karohi Haveli and we wandered the nearby streets for a while, and then went to a waterfront restaurant Ambrai for dinner. The lake is surprisingly clean for India and we ate more Indian food on the waterfront with amazing views of the place and city at night.
After breakfast, we drove to explore the City Palace We hired a guide Sunil, who was excellent. . The city palace is amazing; a mass of courtyards, pavilions, terraces, balconies, corridors and rooms. The main entrance is through the triple arched gate, the ‘Tripolia’ with eight marble porticos.
We later took a boat ride on the lake and to Jagmandir island and gardens before returning to the city and visiting the Jagdish Hindu temple. This temple is the largest and the most beautiful temple of Udaipur.
Udaipur is the location for several movies; part of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was set here, and also the James Bond movie Octopussy from 1983.
In the evening, we went back for dinner to the wonderful Ambrai Restaurant on the waters edge and ate more Indian and drank more Kingfisher.
100% Indian food so far, and no ill-effects!
Monday 30th October:
Today is a 250km drive from Udaipur to Jodhpur via Ranakpur
We left at 0830 to head to Ranakpur to visit the Ranakpur Jain temple located in a valley on the western side of the Aravalli Range. The roads were narrow, winding and very rough; definitely real India!
On the way we stopped to look at a small Hindu temple near the roadside; but Mahendra knew more. On the other side of the road out of sight, there was an Indian farmer with 2 buffalo attached to a water wheel; round in circles they walked turning a crossbar geared to the water wheel with tin buckets to scoop up water form a stream and distribute it to irrigate his fields. Its been done this way for hundreds of years,and still works amazingly well. So, my first day at my new job; working on an Indian farm.
Ranakpur has the marble Jain temple, and also much older Sun Temple nearby. The temple has 1444 marble pillars, carved in exquisite detail, supporting the temple. The pillars are all differently carved and no two pillars are the same. Also all the statues face one or the other statue. There is one beautiful carving made out of a single marble rock where there 108 heads of snakes and numerous tails. The image faces all four cardinal directions. In the axis of the main entrance, on the western side, is the largest image.
One of the interesting things in India is that we were often stopped and asked if we could have our photo taken. Many Indians never have interaction with foreign tourists so they like a photo to take home and show the family that they met a real one! This couple, and their son who took the photo, came from Ahmedabad in Gujurat State and were on holiday.
After lunch, it was a long slow drive via the town of Pali to Jodhpur, where we were staying at Rattan Vilas. This hotel was once a Maharajahs home and is still owned by the family. Dinner at the hotel again; it was pleasantly warm and no mosquitoes so we ate outside.
Tuesday 31st October:
Heather was feeling tired and a bit seedy, so she rested at the hotel and I wet on the morning tour.
Our driver Mahendra is from near Jodhpur and he asked me if he could have Tuesday afternoon away; his sister in law was getting married and he needed to go to the wedding or face family fury. So I said no problem; we could organise ourselves for the afternoon.
After breakfast we drove through Jodhpur, which is situated on the edge of the Thar desert. The massive 15th century A.D. Mehrangarh Fort is on the top of a rocky hill above the city. The city is ringed by a high wall about 10 km long with 8 gates and many bastions. Jodhpur is now the second largest city of Rajasthan).It is known as the Blue City due to various houses painted blue; supposedly a cooler colour and which isn't attractive to mosquitos.
Mehrangarh Fort (Mehran Fort) is one of the largest forts in India. Built around 1460 by Rao Jodha, the fort is situated high above the city and is enclosed by thick walls. Inside there are several palaces with intricate carvings and large courtyards. The museum in the Mehrangarh fort was very good, and one section of the fort museum there was an exhibition of old royal palanquins, together with arms, costumes, paintings and decorations
Jaswant Thada is a cenotaph built by Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur State in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II and serves as the cremation ground for all the royal family of Marwar. The mausoleum is built out of intricately carved sheets of marble and the interior displays portraits of the rulers and Maharajas of Jodhpur The grounds have carved gazebos, a tiered garden, and a small lake.
In the afternoon and with Mahendra off to the wedding, we took an auto rickshaw/tuktuk into the central city market area near the Clock tower. It was a amazing place of small streets and alleys selling everything imaginable, and a lot that is unimaginable.
Wednesday 1st November:
Today we drove from Jodhpur to Mandawa, the first leg of heading back towards Delhi and Gurgaon.
Mahendra had survived the wedding and we left the hotel at about 0930 for the 250km drive , which took 6 hours. There were not any safe restaurants en route, but Mahendra stopped in a small village that he knew well and we had small cups of strong Indian tea and then bought some bananas at a roadside vendor. Both dodgy looking places, but we felt 100% safe with Mahendra's recommendation.
(Mahendras father is a local farmer; Mahendra was brought up and went to school in the area and is now married with 3 children about 9, 6 and 4 years old. Life was tough for him and still is for his family. When he was younger, no one at home had a clock or watch; only a sun dial. On cloudy days, he was often late for school..or so he told us!)
The drive was along a mixture of roads, at times on the edge of the desert, and crowded with vehicles, animals and people. Mahendra was playing dodgems with camels, cows, goats, trucks, buses, tuktuks monkeys, elephants, motorbikes, donkeys and all the while trying to avoid wayward pedestrians. He is a very alert and excellent driver.
Mandawa was suggested by Magan as a good stop; it is in the Shekhawati area of Rajasthan and as it is nearer Delhi it is popular small town. There is a fort built in 1755 now converted to a luxury hotel. It is also noted for its Havelis or town houses. We talk a walk around the town for an hour or so, but we didn’t stay at the Fort hotel.
We drove about 10km away to a very dusty area on the fringe of the desert to a Havelli called Vivaana Resort. We stayed in an amazingly restored traditional 19th century building. A beautiful historic hotel, nice gardens and extraordinarily good food both at dinner and for breakfast.
Thursday 2nd November:
Today we drove from Mandawa back to Gurgaon
More crazy roads as we drove from Jhunjhunu through towns and villages such as Narnaul and Rewari; the landscape slowly changed as we left the very arid and dry region of Rajasthan and headed towards Delhi. We passed several mud brick making areas where the soil was a very dark red. Many hundreds of metres of excavated soil and stacks of completed bricks.
We discovered that Mahendra had never been to the “American Temple” as he called “McDonalds” so we suggested a stop for lunch and I would pay for his meal. McDonalds India is no beef, so it’s either chicken or vegetarian burgers. Mahendra enjoyed his first chicken burger; I hope that he won’t make a habit of going back though!
We arrived back at Ashish place in Gurgaon (Gurguram) at about 3.00pm, looking forward forward to 4 days of rest before flying to Singapore.
Mahendra our friend and driver was excellent. He was friendly, polite and was always on time. Very knowledgeable about the route we were taking; plenty of advice on what to see and also what not to do, which is also important. His car was always immaculate, cleaned every night in preparation for the morning, and with bottles of water, hand sanitiser, tissues, phone charger and camera and laptop charger and his car even had in car Wifi. And he was a very safe driver, not taking unnecessary risks. And a very funny guy as he became more relaxed with us. I hope that he enjoyed his 9 days with us as much as we did with him.
If you want to go to India, Mahendra Singh will be happy to help out and make all the necessary arrangements.
His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
His mobile number is: +91 99286 52884.
And he is on Whatsapp for easy contact.
Friday 3 November:
We relaxed at Ashish place and went out to dinner at Ashish golf club; a very exclusive golf resort
Saturday 4 November:
We hired a Uber/ola car for 8 hours and took a self guided tour of Delhi. It turned out to be a very dodgy car and driver; both in quite bad states of repair. But we saw Connaught Place, India Gate, the Presidential palace, the Red Fort, and our last stop was Qutab Minar.
The Red Fort was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty for nearly 200 years, until 1857. It is located in the center of Delhi and houses a number of museums. In addition to housing the emperors and their households, it was the ceremonial and political centre of the Mughal state It was built in 1639 by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan of Taj Mahal fame.
Qutab Minar is a minaret that forms part of a a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of Delhi. Made of red sandstone and marble, it is a 73-metre tall tapering tower of five storeys The design is thought to have been based on the Minaret of Jam, in Afghanistan.
Sunday 5 November:
We went to CyberCity; the upmarket office and IT hub in Gurgaon for a look around, and to have a late lunch; Taco Bell of all things and it was a nice change after mainly Indian food.
Monday 6 November:
More home cooked Indian food for lunch. Ashihs' young cook makes the most delicious chapatis. (And Shiro the dog loves chapatis with milk for breakfast)
We left Ashishs apartment at about 6pm in a taxi to drive to the airport; about 15km which took about 1.5 hours in horrendous traffic, And all for 658 Rupees or about NZ$14.50.
1.5 hours in up to 13 lanes of horn honking and functional chaos was a fitting end to our 2 weeks in India, .
India is more than incredible. And we only saw a very small part in our 9 days touring and 5 days of staying with Ashish and Bindia.