Looking for part 2? A Solo Traveler's Journal #3: Incredible India Part 2 is now up!
We are back with another episode of Solo Traveler’s Journal. This time we are heading to the ancient home of the Indus Valley civilization, a region of historic trade routes and vast empires, the seventh largest country in the world that holds over 12 billion people. You guess it right, it's incredible India!
After coming back from Indonesia, I wasn't sure where to go next. I've played around with the idea of going to Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam or Laos, but these countries didn't seem to excite me as much. As I walked through a bookstore looking for ideas, something at the corner of my eye caught my attention. It was the India Lonely Planet book. "Why haven't I thought of India before" I thought to myself. It's in the proximity of Asia, it has one of the new 7 wonders right here (the Taj Mahal) and India is where Steve Jobs found his spiritual enlightenment for crying out loud. So that's when I decided to go to India.
For the itinerary, I decided to go with the 6-days private packaged tour called The Exclusive Golden Triangle package by the India By Car company. I have heard stories about the frustration of traveling in India with public transit including floods, delays, and loudness so I decided to go this route instead. The golden triangle is one of the most popular routes to travel in India, especially for first-timers. You will go from Delhi to Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur and then back to Delhi. Ramesh (the contact person at India by Car company) organized the itinerary for me that fit well with my schedule without cramping in too many activities. My experience booking with them went very smoothly, and he replies all the questions I had promptly. Here's a summary of my trip:
- Day 01: Delhi: Welcome to Incredible India! On arrival at Delhi international airport, you will be welcomed by our executive & transferred to your hotel for check-in.
- Day 02: Delhi: During the day, visit to some notable attractions of the city including visits to Humayun’s Tomb (highly recommended), Jama Masjid (biggest mosque in India), Qutub Minar (the tallest stone minaret in India), Lotus temple and Raj Ghat. A rickshaw ride in the bustling bazaars at Chandni Chowk, tour to Khari Baoli spice market. Stay overnight at Delhi.
- Day 03: Agra (210 Kilometres/ 03 ½ hours drive): At appropriate time in the morning you will be picked up & transferred to Agra. After having a wash & change, you will be taken for a guided visit to Agra Fort during the day. Later, you will be taken for a tour to the most beautiful monument of Love - Taj Mahal during sunset. Stay overnight at Agra.
- Day 04: Jaipur (250 Kilometers/ 05 hours drive): Enjoy the sunrise tour of Taj Mahal. Drive to Jaipur visiting Fatehpur Sikriand Abhaneri on the way. Check in at a hotel. The evening is free to explore the city. Stay overnight at Jaipur.
- Day 05: Jaipur: Enjoy a guided tour of Amber Fort. You will be provided the Elephants to ascend the fort to visit the complex. Enjoy a tour of Jaipur city. Visit the Maharaja's City Palace, the Observatory, Ram Niwas Gardens, Hawa Mahal and drive past the old part of Jaipur city. Stay overnight at the hotel.
- Day 06: Delhi – Tour Ends (270 Kilometers/ 05 hours drive): Transfer to Delhi international airport to board your flight back home.
- If you are in Asia, or want to travel from Asian countries to India, Jet Airways is probably the cheapest option. It cost me around US$310 for a 2-ways flight from Bangkok to Delhi. Despite the cheap price, JetAirways is not a low-cost airway so you will get all the accommodation you usually get at a very cheap price.
- 3G in India
I got a solid 3G signals using Airtel while traveling around the country. If you want a 3G sim card with a few minutes of calls, it will cost you around 1100 rupees with 1GB of the internet. But if you are like me who only want 3G, you can get it without the phone calls for only 200 rupees. They will try to sell you the expensive one first but if you tell them what you want, they will adjust it for you.
- Getting a SIM card in India is a hassle!
Getting a SIM card in India as a foreigner is quite difficult. First, you need a copy of your passport (the info page and the address page) and they want a picture of you as well (they can take a photo for you if you didn't prepare it). You also have to fill in a form where you will have to specify your permanent address at home and the address of the hotel you are staying. Once everything is done, you will not be able to use it for around 3 hours. I bought mine at 12 and it was activated at around 4 PM the same day. To activate a 3G you have to call 59059 and they will ask you about the information you filled in the form such as "What's your father's name" and "Where do you live in India". Make sure you tell them the correct address of your hotel, otherwise they will not activate it for you. I think all these are for precaution to prevent terrorists using the phone to ignite a bomb.
- DO NOT drink water selling from the streets. Your stomach is not built with a defense system like the locals. When in a restaurant, make sure you don't have ices in your glass. Most of the time, people got sick because of the ice that was prepared by the restaurant. Ask them for a bottle of water and make sure that the bottle has not been opened yet. Be suspicious of anyone who offers you drinks.
- Touters are inevitable. They will try to be friendly with you or do things for you and they will expect something in return such as tips, or maybe buy a carpet from their friends. Reject them firmly. Don't be on the fence about it. Otherwise, they will keep bothering you until you give up.
- Visit the Taj Mahal during the sunrise (arrive around 5:30 AM) and you will have (almost) the complex to yourself especially during the monsoon season (July).
- India is India and you will wonder why things work the way it is here. Don't. Be as open-minded as possible and you will enjoy India much more.
Ok, now you know what to expect, let's dive into our third solo traveler's journal:
Day 1 - Epic Floods in Delhi
After 4 hours long flight (Jet Airways) from Bangkok to Delhi. I've finally arrived at the airport. I was welcomed with this amazing wall.
I was met with my driver, Ram who approached me and gave me a welcoming flower (seriously) and a booklet full of free post cards and tips on what to watch out for in India. He also gave me a phone equipped with local SIM card so that whatever happens, I can call him right away. The car was very clean and it is really in good condition. Ram speaks basic English which is ok for me. Although, I was expecting him to be able to explain places for me.
I decided to take a risk and go during the monsoon season. I was not disappoint. As I landed, the plane's lighting change from very bright to super dark like I was landing at night but it was actually midday. The rain was pouring like crazy at it continue pouring like this for 4 - 5 hours. As you can imagine, there are floods everywhere and the traffic was paralysed. Luckily I didn't have anything to do that day except checking in to the hotel. Although I did saw how broken the governing system is in India. The traffic lights don't work during the rain, so cars were coming in all directions at the speed of a snail. People hid under the tollway hoping for the rain to stop. It took me over an hour and a half to go from the airport to my hotel, the Florence Inn.
Here's a shot of the room. The hotel was booked by the India by Car company so I had no idea what to expect. The quality was very good. Clean, good food and located at the center of the walking street.
Day 2 - Powering Through Delhi
At the lobby waiting for my driver in the morning.
I was met with a guide for the Delhi tour. I had no idea they also paid for the guide but it was a welcome surprise (or is it?). We reorganized the tour a bit because it was Sunday and there are flea market along the roads around the Old Delhi so we decided to go there first.
This is the Red Fort. Since I was there around the end of July and it was around the same time as the Indian independent day so there were higher security than usual. The guide said we can't go in but clearly there were people walking around inside. I think I tried to rush me so he can finish the tour early.
After seeing the Red Fort from a far, we took a rickshaw ride (arranged by the tour) to go see the spice market, in the Chandi Chowk.
The Chandi Chowk is located in the Old Delhi. The guide told me that this place is populated with labour class Indians. To tell you the truth, as I looked around, I was amazed by the living condition that these people have to live through everyday. I saw a drunk guy sleeping on the floor full of wet garbages having flies flew all over him. I also saw a guy scraping some kind of black goo (looks like wet garbages) with his bare hands to find something valuable to sell. I was amazed but not disgust at all. This is life. People living off what they have. I feel grateful for what I have. Seeing India like this had really taught me to be more humble.
We finally arrived at the spice market. They are just opening up and I was given a tour around the spice store. By tour I mean, they tried to convince me to buy stuff. This is my first experience facing an Indian merchant and man they don't give up easily. They will say it's a tour but it is basically a sale pitch putting you in quite a uncomfortable situation. If you don't want them to bother you, don't accept to go tour around their stores. I bought a few teas back home just to get out of the situation.
Now we headed out to Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in India which is located in the proximity of the Old Delhi district.
This is the Jama Masjid. The guide gave me only 15 minutes as he tries to rush through the day. Since it was in the morning, it was quite peaceful. Although, it isn't as big as I thought but still impressive.
After the Jama Masjid, we went to Raj Ghat to pay respect to Gandhi. Raj Ghat is basically a huge park with a small memorial near the entrance. We stayed here only 30 minutes.
Now we arrived at the Humayun's Tomb or the mini Taj Mahal because the Taj Mahal design was based on this tomb. This is one of the best place in Delhi hands down. Very peaceful with large areas for you to walk around. I wish I had more time here, unfortunately the guide only gave me 15 minutes and he said I might not be able to see every places if I was not on time.
More photos of the tomb. Beautiful isn't it?
Besides the main tomb, there are several monuments you can walk around as well.
As it was midday and the heat is starting to get to me, we just took a little peak at the India Gate monument which was built by the British in honor to the Indian soldiers during the World War.
Another peak tour at the India parliament.
I was going to go into the Lotus temple but the line was way too long and I was super hungry so I decided to take a photo from the outside. I wish I could walk around inside though.
Butter chicken. A must try! :)
This is the last place of the day, the Qutab Minar. I decided to let the guide explain in brief and ask him to leave me here for 2 hours so I can walk around in peace. I just realised that having guides following me all day is not my thing at all. I would rather discover every corner alone myself. Much more adventurous that way. :)
And that was it for day 2. The traffic was jammed as usual and it took us around 2 hours to go back to the hotel.
Day 3 - A taste of Agra
I was about to check out of the hotel at 9 AM but apparently, my driver was late due to the traffic so he postponed to 10 AM. Since it would take us almost 4 hours driving from Delhi to Agra, I was a little disappointing because it means that I will have less time at Agra. Although, I do understand the necessity because you can't predict how the traffic will go down in India.
It used to take more than 4 hours but thanks to the newly built express way that shortened the time for us. My driver told me that his friend and his 2 Australian clients from the same company is also driving to Agra as well. Since I was bored out of my mind, we did do some races, waving at each other along the way.
Believe it or not, while on the road, I had a chance learn one important life lesson, to survive at any cost. We stopped at one of the resting area for food. Since all the menu is in Hindi, I accidentally ordered a vegetarian meal. The food came with weird green liquid, a sweet fried potato ball, and a very dry rice. I had no choice but to eat it all up so I can keep going. The food was not present at all but it's all part of the solo travel experience. You learned from your mistakes. To this day, I still have no idea what those was.
We finally arrived in Agra. The majority of the roads were under renovation when I was there which caused the traffic to be paralysed for hours. There was even a road where you have to drive up a one-way rocky hills just to get through the construction site.
We arrived at the hotel (Hotel Crystal Inn) around 4 PM, washed up and headed out to Agra fort.
Here's the Agra fort. Don't be fooled by the exterior. Inside there are beautiful green gardens everywhere. It was one of the most peaceful places I've been. Since it was in the evening, there weren't many people walking around and it really let me absorbed the size of this place in its fullest scale. The sheer size of this place is mind blowing.
Only around 25% of the fort are open for visitors. All the others are for military. Even 25%, the beauty and scale of this place had me mesmerised since the first time I walked along the corridor of the fort.
Here's the entrance. My guide (complementary by the company) told me that the entrance was built zig zag to prevent war elephants high on opium to be able attack the gate directly. Also it allowed the defender to sneak attack the intruders from higher ground in all directions.
Some more images as I walked through.
You can see the Taj Mahal from the fort. This fort imprisoned Shah Jahan, the Indian emperor of the Mughal Empire who built the Taj Mahal for his wife. Unfortunately his son, took over and imprisoned him here.
Around the area where Shah Jahan was being held.
A look around as I walked back to the entrance to meet up with my driver.
I was told that I will be guided around the carpet factory. Unfortunately they rounded me up asking me which carpet I wanted to buy for my family. This is how they sell stuff here. Thy will generously offer you a tour and put you in an uncomfortable situation trying to sell you stuff. I rejected buying firmly and they just showed me the door. They had no interest in me after that.
Another mislead tour around the marble factory. The worker here cut these marbles by hand and stick them one by one like the flowers you see all over Taj Mahal. This is some neat stuff right here, but I still had no interest in buying them.
And that is it for the third day in India which ends this first part of the post. We'll be releasing the second part of this post next week telling my experience seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time, traveled to a remote mosque called Fathepur Sikri, surprised visit to my driver's local town and his family, seeing how the local's life is actually like in India, traveling to Jaipur and concluded my trip of India.
I hope you guys enjoy this first part of the episode. Stay tune for the second part. If you have any question or suggestion, feel free to let me know anytime.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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