India is wonderfully chaotic, vibrant, beautiful and exhilerating. I spent a long time planning, organising and rearranging our two week itinerary so that we could 1. make the most of our time in India and 2. relax. Here is our final itinerary, what I would have changed and a few tips on the Golden Triangle tour.
Arrived in Delhi and went straight to the hotel (The Claridges) where we slept (early afternoon). Not the best idea as it resulted in hideous jet lag for a few days. We then visited Delhi’s markets which I highly recommend, although the traffic is insane during Diwali!
The Claridges is a 5 star hotel in New Delhi with 3 star hotel London prices. It’s a colonial style hotel with old-world charm and highly attentive, if a little OTT, customer service. The setting is pretty, the security is tight and the food is good – the perfect start to our stay in India.
On the second day we visited Lodi Gardens which is so peaceful and a welcome escape from chaotic Delhi, followed by a visit to Humayun’s Tomb where I became a 5 minute celebrity with the hoards of schoolgirls obsessing over my outfit (traditional Indian dress with a turban). The Lodi Garden restaurant is just so beautiful with picture perfect outdoor seating areas.
You could also fit a few more sites in here before heading to Agra like the Lotus Temple which I wish we visited.
We left Delhi around 3pm to drive to Agra and fortunately only hit the Diwali traffic in Agra! In Agra we stayed at Four Points by Sheraton which is a fairly new hotel and reasonably priced. It also has large rooms with a view of the Taj (when the mist disappears, of course), a rooftop restaurant, gym and a swimming pool and very good room service (the food quality was far better than I expected).
After only one hour sleep due to jet lag we visited the Taj Mahal at sunrise – approximately 6am. It is breathtakingly beautiful and just so, so pretty. A little tip – you can’t take makeup inside or large bags, only a small bag with the essentials (phone, camera with no tripod and medicines). Your entry ticket includes a bottle of water. When queuing the male and female lines are separate, go to the female queue and buy as many tickets (including for men) as you need as the male queue can take up to an hour it’s so long. We loved wandering around the Taj Mahal and didn’t feel we needed a guide but they are available if you need them. We then went back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours before driving to Jaipur. You could also visit the baby Taj in Agra and a few other places that I’ll mention in a separate blog post. I think one night and one full day is enough time to enjoy Agra.
On our way into Jaipur we stopped off at the Monkey Temple – it’s eerie, kind of like a setting from Indiana Jones and slightly strange but still pretty special. The ‘Monkey Whisperer’ tried to walk with us and I assume sell his ‘guide’ services but my husband politely declined as he likes to just wander around himself. The ‘Monkey Whisperer’ took offence and got quite rude at one point – he actually made me feel very uncomfortable! Nevertheless, do go and see for yourself, it is an experience! Driving through Jaipur on the eve of Diwali was spectacular, it’s just so much fun. Going through the Pink City we saw so many lights, sounds and sights and heard puppet shows above shop windows and people rushing around buying last minute sweets. I also had henna applied to my hand quite close to the City Palace which cost £25 – if you’re in Delhi, it costs less than £10.
We then went to Diggi Palace, one of my favourite hotels (full review to follow).
On the fourth day we woke up feeling refreshed and ready for a day of sightseeing in Jaipur. Our driver organised a guide which actually worked out really well as we learnt so much. We visited Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, City Palace and Jantar Mantar with a little shopping thrown in. I love the story behind Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds, built so royal women could peek through the tiny windows and see everyday life below. Jantar Mantar was really quite interesting as our guide explained each instrument and how it works. Amer Fort is beautiful but really question if you want to take the elephant ride up, it’s just not worth it. Those poor elephants are not treated well and you’re only buying into the elephant tourism.
Our driver then dropped us off at an elephant farm for an ‘elephant experience’. I felt so uneasy with their attitude and the living conditions of these beautiful creatures that I declined and walked away. If you research the plight of elephants in India, you’ll probably feel the same way.
That night we celebrated Diwali at Diggi Palace with traditional dancing, a puppet show and fireworks – one of my most treasured memories of India. I will mention though that the pollution in India is terrible at best but during Diwali it caused havoc with my asthma. I definitely wouldn’t go during Diwali again for this reason alone.
The following day we left Jaipur early and headed for Jodhpur. We were staying at Chandelao Garh which is in a village 30 minutes from Jodhpur, the cheapest of our hotels and probably the most authentic experience. It is run by a man who seems to have quite a presence in the village – a few of the village men work within the hotel itself but there is also a social enterprise with an onsite workshop/shop where women from the village make beautiful items. The rooms are quite basic but perfectly adequate and there is a lovely swimming pool, a rooftop restaurant with views of the village and excellent customer service. I highly recommend Chandaleo Garh!
We spent the afternoon exploring the village, meeting the children and resting. If anything, exploring the village was my favourite part of Jodhpur! That night I enjoyed a wonderful 24 carat gold facial for only £12 and Jon relaxed with a massage – the best and most affordable treatments we found on our trip.
We visited the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur which has incredible views but I felt lacked the charm of Amer Fort. It was also very steep and quite a struggle to walk in the 34 degree heat. We also walked around the square by the clock tower and tried to find a few of the blue houses in the blue city. While we found a few, I wish we booked a city tour as you’ll walk safely through the heart of the old town.
We ended the evening with dinner at Chandaleo Garh where we invited our driver for dinner. It was truly fascinating listening to his life stories and learning so much about the Indian culture.
The following day we headed for Lakshman Sagar where we said farewell to our driver (I’ll add his details in a separate post). Now, if you are looking for a hotel in rural Rajasthan, I highly recommend, no I insist, you consider Lakshman Sagar – a hidden gem of rustic luxury and slow living. Full review to follow.
I really wish we stayed at Lakshman Sagar longer and we would have if I trusted my instincts. Prior to arriving in India I read a poor review on Trip Advisor which made me change our booking from 5 days to 2 and sadly we had to leave.
We arrived at The Farm in Jaipur after the most wonderful stay at Lakshman Sagar and was disappointed that it felt more like a homestay than a hotel. We were the only guests and the owners stayed in the room next to ours – I just couldn’t imagine myself relaxing around the pool. After two hours sitting in the rather pleasant room, I decided it just wasn’t worth staying somewhere that didn’t feel right. And so we left after 2 hours, 4 days early and with a cancellation fee. But it was so worth it. We went back to Diggi Palace for the evening where we settled down with my glorious butter chicken served by our favourite waiter from the week before. I was happy.
After a few hours of research we ended up booking three nights at Neemrana Fort Palace hotel, solely for the close proximity to Delhi and it also meant that we didn’t have to take the 4-5 hour 5am train journey that I had pre-booked. Full review of hotel to follow.
We arranged for a driver to collect us from Neemrana Fort Palace Hotel and take us back to Delhi where we went back to the markets for some last minute shopping. We stayed at Shanti Home and I am so pleased it was our last stop in India as it is a wonderful modern yet small hotel with a relaxed, bohemian charm. We both had a questionable massage with a delicious final meal of butter chicken – yes, I ate a lot of this dish – before leaving for the airport the following morning. The rooftop restaurant is adorable and the perfect escape from the hectic streets of Delhi below.
If you have read our itinerary this far, you’ll want to know what I would have done differently.
Well the first week on the Golden Triangle tour, Delhi – Agra – Jaipur, I would have kept the same in terms of timings. There are a few other places I hoped to see but for unforeseen circumstances we didn’t, I’ll add these in a separate blog post. What I would suggest is perhaps breaking up the following week with 2 days in an additional city, for example Jodhpur, Udaipur or safari, 4 days somewhere relaxing like Lakshman Sagar and 1 day in Delhi, if this is your final destination before flying home.
Expedia also have a good selection of activities available in India should you wish to book through a reputable agency.