We booked a tour in Delhi to visit Rajasthan on our first day in India. We were sweet talked into it after being taken there by someone who told us they were taking us to a “government tourist office”. We had heard all the stories before and thought this would never happen to us but it did. Our advice is seriously never book a tour! If you research properly and book everything yourself you will pay ten times less and you will enjoy it a lot more! We’ve decided to break Rajasthan into 2 parts as one post would be too long! So here is the first part of our adventure…
(We booked the tour at The Delhi Travel Transport Destination Centre, one of many dodgy tourist offices in Delhi I’m sure but at least you will know to steer clear of this one!)
Agra – The gate to the golden triangle
Our nightmare began on the train to Delhi when we received a phone call from one of the travel agents from the office where we booked the tour (Imran). He told us that he was waiting for us at Delhi train station with our driver and that we didn’t need to get a train to Agra. We were happy until we realised that he was coming in the car with us. He was really nice and invited us for dinner but we didn’t expect what was going to happen.
After a long drive we arrived at our hotel in Agra. We were very impressed and were delighted to have a comfy bed and taps with hot water for the first time in weeks. We had what felt like the best hot shower we had ever had then went to bed as we planned to go to the Taj Mahal early to catch the sunrise. When morning came we couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed, we thought we were still early but the crowds had got up earlier than us.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in 1631 for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal who was giving birth to their 14th child. Shah was said to be so distraught by the death of his wife that his hair turned grey over night. It took over 20 years to build the Taj Mahal and not long after it was finished Shah was overthrown and imprisoned by his son and spent his last days gazing at his creation from his prison cell window.
We were overwhelmed by the magnificence of this creation, it really is a must see if you get the chance. You can tell he must have really loved his wife. The entrance is a bit expensive but its worth it… We would recommend getting up early and trying to beat the crowds as we think it would be a lot more enjoyable.
Afterwards we headed to Agra Fort and were greeted by the most intense touts we had come across yet… we didn’t want to buy a whip or a doll so we ignored them and proceeded inside. Agra Fort is huge and by the time we got there after the Taj Mahal it resembled an oven! We would recommend going early in the day or at dusk. Agra Fort didnt seem so much after the Taj Mahal really but it was the first fort we seen of many.
That night we went for the dinner at Imran’s [the tour office guy] we ate dinner and were having a good time with his family. After dinner they insisted Sara put on a saree [traditional indian dress] and put henna on her hand. While this was happening Imran was telling Jimmy in another room that he needed 4000 rupees in advance to pay taxes or something and that the taxi driver would give us it back the next day. We discussed it and decided to give him it but once we got in the taxi Jimmy asked the driver about the money and they started arguing in hindi. We then realised what was happening and took our money back. We made the driver drop us off at the hotel leaving us very confused and angry.
Ranthambore – In search of tigers
The next morning we woke up still confused and angry about what happened the night before. Our driver told us to complain to the office and tell them everything and that we had a balance of 50 dollars. We had no idea what this meant so made a few phone calls and were told we didn’t need to pay anything as we had paid everything. We got this sorted eventually and were on our way to Ranthambore. The driver recommended we go see Bharatput bird sanctuary on the way, so we decided to go see it. We rented bikes and cycled around the park seeing painted storks, pond herons, egrets, cormorants, monitor lizards, a turtle and snakes. It was very nice but cycling in the heat was a bit much for Jimmy and at one point he was nearly sick.
After a long drive along some very bad roads we finally made it to Ranthambore and were furious to find that they had no record of a booking in our name. Our driver phoned the office and they said they had booked us in another hotel and had forgotten to inform us… What a surprise! We eventually got our accommodation and went to bed as we were up early for the tiger safari. We woke up at the crack of dawn and waited patiently on our gypsy to pick us up and take us to Ranthambore National Park. This famous national park is home to 32 tigers spanning over 1334 sq km alongside crocodiles, deers, monkeys and over 300 species of birds.
Unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to spot any tigers due to being stuck with disrespectful noisy people who were too busy laughing and making noises. If you don’t respect nature it won’t show you anything. Jimmy was enraged by this but it taught him that he would never go on a safari again in a gypsy. We would recommend doing the safari in a jeep with like-minded people if possible because the gypsys are a lottery and you don’t know who you will end up with.
Jaipur – The pink city
When we first arrived in the chaotic Jaipur we were very shocked that people were obeying the traffic laws unlike most parts of India. The first night we went out for a dinner and we were looking for a place we had heard about called Rawat Kachori, our driver was stressing about the police in Jaipur and that he couldn’t park anywhere so we told him we would meet him back at the hotel. We eventually found the restaurant and it turned out to be a fast food outlet, the Indian equivalent of McDonald’s! We tried the famous kachoris, a deep-fried spicey snack filled with vegetables and washed them down with the popular, traditional lassi, a yogurt based drink infused with fragrant flavours. They were all extremely spicy and the lassi helped cool our burning mouths a little.
On our way back to the hotel walking under a bridge, we thought it was raining but it turned out to be debri from the workers building a bridge above us. No warnings or road works in sight… India style road works haha. We thought we knew the way back to the hotel and that google maps could help us but we got lost and were walking the streets for ages until we finally found it.
Whilst in Jaipur we stupidly agreed to the agency giving us a tour guide for the day. We visited the Jantar Mantar, an observatory with what looks like a bunch of mad sculptures but they are actually time calculating instruments. Very interesting and well worth a visit. Afterwards we visited the city palace, a beautiful rajasthani style palace where maharaja was still living. Then we made our way up to the Amber fort, high on top of a hill surrounded by a man-made lake. We really liked the Rajasthani culture, style and history. We finished our tour visiting a textile factory and were able to see the textile making process.
By the end of the day we were very tired of the tour guide. He was very arrogant and was very rude. After the experience we had we promised ourselves that we would never take a tour guide again.
On our last day we visited the Hawa Mahal, the most visited monument in Jaipur. It was almost impossible to take a photo of the facade because of the crowds. We finished our trip meeting a very kind and interesting old man who worked at the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal, a minaret from which you can have excellent views across the whole city.
Part 2 coming soon…