Darlene and I joined a small group trip in Northern India in late January, booked through Explore!. The tour began in Delhi and traveled across much of the Rajasthan region of northern India before finishing off in Agra and returning to Delhi after two weeks. We then took a little extra three day excursion to Rathambore National Park in search of tigers to cap off our visit to India.
We had a fun group of the nine of us (everyone from the UK but us), plus our wonderful Indian tour leader Inder Singh (“Indu”). We also had an additional local guide at many of the historical sites we visited. India proved to be quite the experience – from the crazy anything-goes, honk-to-be-heard traffic of every form and size to the innumerable historic sites and temples to the massive crowds of super-friendly Indian people everywhere. Oh and of course so many curries and other Indian dishes to try!
Starting in busy Delhi, we visited a number of temples, tombs and a mosque over two days before traveling by train into Rajasthan. In Ajmer, we visited one of the oldest mosques in India and, not being a place visited by foreign tourists, we were approached by lots of folks wanting to take selfies with us. That evening we stayed at a rural Maharaja’s palace now converted into a heritage hotel where we were treated to an ox cart ride into the neighboring village.
We visited the massive Chittorgarh Fort the next day on our way to Udaipur in the south. In Udaipur, we saw a performance of Dharohar folk dancing and toured the City Palace before Darlene and I succumbed to a tiring cold and missed out on the boat tour across Lake Pichola as well as a demonstration of miniature detail painting. We were feeling better the next day as we continued on to Jojowar, stopping off at a beautiful Jain temple.
Our next stop was to see a demonstration of handcrafted Dhurrie rugs by Roopraj Prajapat – and have the whole group tempted into buying some rugs! We then continued on to visit the Mehrangarh Fort and Palace as well as visit another busy street market in Jodhpur.
Then we were on to a long drive and our deepest point into the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, to Bikaner. Along the way, we visited the Karni Mata “Temple of Rats” where tens of thousands of rats make a home and are cared for, worshipped and given offerings. (While Darlene waited in the bus. ;-) In Bikaner, we were given a tour of the Junagarh fort and palace, saw some havelis (traditional highly decorated mansions) while exploring a street market, visited another miniature painting artist and the girls got painted in henna while the boys played foosball.
On the way to Jaipur, we took a driving break to see some more havelis in Fatehpur. With two days in Jaipur, we toured the Amber Fort and Palace, visited the astronomical observatory park of Jantar Mantar and the City Palace but also were treated to more Indian handcraft demonstrations – few came away from there empty-handed!
And yet on we continued to Agra for the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort of Agra and the Baby Taj mausoleum, with a stopover at another red sandstone fort at Fatehpur Sikri.
On our return to Delhi, the rest of our group headed home to England while Darlene and I boarded a train for Rathambore in hopes of seeing Bengal tigers in the wild. Unfortunately, none were to be found on our three excursions into the park over two days. Hey, but Darlene bought some more Indian handicrafts!
It was a great trip overall but I admit to being put off by the constant street crowds, the noise and air pollution and the garbage strewn everywhere – lining the streets and filling the river beds. However, we’re both still happy to have had the opportunity to visit India and we very much enjoyed our group and Indu’s enthusiastic guiding.