India - ‘Our handle on the Golden Triangle’ - by Samantha Owen-Stoddart

This is my first collaborative post with my husband @chancetotravel on our recent travels to India and our 7 day tour of the Golden Triangle. We have wanted to go to India for some time but never really knew where we should explore, to what was in each area. This trip actually came about due to a previously planned trip to Bali having to be cancelled due to work. After searching many different destinations we found this tour by chance, in a sale with Kuoni, so we booked it. It was a group tour which was a first for us, having previously toured Sri Lanka on our own. To be completely honest with you we were very apprehensive about being with a group of 14 people, as you worry about personality mix or gelling as a group.

As our Indian adventure approached it was important that we checked our vaccinations were up to date and our visa applications were granted. Please see my previous post on India Tips!

Our departure day arrived with a long five hour drive to Heathrow ahead of us, we were full of excitement and trepidation as Adam suffers from a fear of flying. Parking at the long stay, we checked in at the Virgin Atlantic desk and managed our way seamlessly through security and into departures. Having pre booked the No 1 Lounges in Terminal 3, we enjoyed three hours of pre flight relaxation. We boarded our Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner and 7 hours 40 minutes later we arrived in Delhi (to 35 degrees at 10 am) After getting some currency and our bags, we were met by our guide, Hemant in arrivals with some of our group. We got on our bus, our ‘home on wheels’ for the next week and after a lovely introduction and welcome gift. We made our way through a busy Delhi to Maidens Hotel, our first stop.

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This hotel was a beautiful colonial style property, originally owned by the Maiden Brothers two English gentlemen from 1894, it was widely known as the best hotel in Delhi. Later bought by the Oberoi Group. After a warm welcome by the staff, we checked in and then ditched our bags and ran to the pool for some down time (which was few and far between we would later find out) That night we all came together for drinks and a group dinner, first impressions were it was a good mix of people and we were looking forward to getting to know everyone!

Next morning we had what I would now consider to be a lie in, a wake up call at 6 am. After breakfast we packed up and headed into Delhi. With a morning walk around the city, en route to the Jama Masjid Mosque, in Old Delhi. The Mosque was built by the 5th Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also built the Taj Mahal. This Mosque was his last build and is the largest Mosque in India, it can house 25,000 visitors at once. We had time to wander and take some photos inside. Onto Raj Ghat, an open air memorial to Gandhi which was a real favourite of mine.  India Gate was the next stop which was a welcome addition to the itinerary, it is a memorial to 70,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in the First World War. The bus then took us around New Delhi to where the last Viceroy of India lived and we had a quick lunch stop before we were Agra bound.

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Five hours later we arrived at the Trident Hotel in Agra to another lovely welcome and a great chance to hop in the pool before dinner. A few relaxing cocktails, including a mint chocolate Martini, then food followed. On three hours sleep no kidding, we were back up and off to see the Taj. The lack of sleep was clearly forgotten when we all realised we were the first inside the Taj Mahal at 4.45 am. We can’t put into words what we felt on walking into the wonder of the world. We stood in silence and awe. With over three hours to explore and learn more about the Taj Mahal, sit on Diana’s bench (Adam didn’t even know about this beforehand tut tut) and wander the mausoleum. The Taj was built as an act of love from the Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife who had died in child birth with their 14th child. Our memory cards stocked with pictures, we all regrouped, shared our thoughts and  headed back to our hotel for some much needed caffeine and a spicy Indian dosa or two!!

Fed and watered we took the bus to Agra Fort, built in the 16th century the impressive red sandstone monument later became the place where Shah Jahan was imprisoned under house arrest by his own son for wasting money on unnecessary extravagance like the Taj. Ironically the views of the Taj Mahal were fantastic from the fort. Due to the midday heat we headed back to the Trident for a few hours by the pool, before a late afternoon visit the Baby Taj, Itmad-ud-Daulah, built between 1622-1628 often referred to as the ‘Jewel Box’ due to its stunning features. I was left mortified when a baby monkey ran up the back of my leg, it was Adams fault of course… We headed to the other side of the river to the Mehtab Bagh Park to witness the Taj at sunset and the changing in colour reflecting against the marble.  We also met some photogenic street dogs, Paul O’Grady eat your heart out… With a late drive back to the hotel, Adam and I decided to chill on the outside terrace by the pool with a couple of others enjoying some pizzas and beers.

Next morning, we were up early to head to Jaipur, a 6 hour drive with visits en route to Fatehpur Sikri, which was a deserted Mughal city, built in 1569 and abandoned just 16 years later due to it’s lack of water supply. A lunch stop at Laxmi Vilas Palace, a heritage hotel and former Royal residence . Taking in the most fabulous Indian step-well Chand Baori in Abhaneri. Thirteen stories high, the step-well is made up of 3,500 steps and was built between the 8th and 9th century. Quite an amazing sight!  Arriving in Jaipur, with a very unwell husband we had two hours in the market before checking in at ITC Rajputana Hotel. This wasn’t the experience I had hoped for, as Adam ran to the loo, I checked us in and we got to the room. I took a swim as I thought he would be ok after a nap. I arrived back to the room a hour later to find him very poorly. I was worried so I gave him paracetamol and got a towel out our bag and soaked him in cold water as he had a raging temperature but he was shivering. He stabilised and I ate room service with a glass of rose champagne, ever the supportive wife! In all seriousness, I did dig out the travel insurance emergency number just in case. After a restless night, he had improved a little but couldn’t make the next days itinerary in Jaipur, which was a great shame but couldn’t be helped. Luckily our lovely friends in the group took some pictures and shared them with us.  They visited the famous Amber Fort, the City Palace, Royal Observatory and Hawa Mahal known as the ‘Palace of the Winds’. The group ended the day with a rickshaw ride in the local market. Throughout the day we discovered that a few more fell victim to the heat and infamous ‘Delhi Belly’ if that what it was…

That night we went to eat in one of the hotels restaurants, Peshawri, however I did most of the eating and Adam stuck to carbs due to his delicate tummy situation. But he was on the mend! A good sleep later we awoke to the new day and our travels back to Delhi. We left two of our new friends Janine and Mac here, as they were going onto Ranthambore, to see the Tigers for a few days.

The drive to Delhi was a six hour marathon by bus, where I took this opportunity to gather everyone’s details to form a group what’s app so we can stay in touch and share our pics. We checked into our last stop in Gurgaon, Delhi at the Trident Hotel in the cities business district. The afternoon was spent relaxing and enjoying the facilities. Recollecting our trip highlights together. That night Adam and I ate at the hotel’ sushi restaurant and enjoyed our last evening in India. Joking that we needed a week at the beach after this ‘full on’ adventure…

The last morning I took an early swim and we packed our cases and we regrouped, loosing Aileen and Nick to an early flight to Kerala. Lucky things!! The rest of us took a bus to the airport and flew back to Blighty. We had to upgrade our seats from the back row of the plane (economy) to what we now discovered to be the next best seats in economy delight… Virgins new addition to the 787 Dreamliner. This offers more legroom and costs £49 pp at the check-in desk in Delhi. Money well spent in my opinion.

Reflecting on our tour in India, we thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and couldn’t have asked for a better group. I think it was pretty unanimous that the itinerary was quite intensive and ultimately there is little time to take a breath. Personally we think that certain parts that we have not included in this blog post, such as stops at a marble factory, jewellery shop and similar were not necessary and felt forced to visit. And being typically British we were polite and went through the motions. This time could have been spent relaxing and people watching.

Overall our first taste of India was a positive trip and we would recommend a visit to the Golden Triangle to all. The obvious highlight was the Taj Mahal and we will never forgot the memories. We tried to stay as positive as we could when writing this post, but it’s important to stay honest. Really hope this comes across.

If anyone has any questions please feel free to get in touch! 

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If you want to see more great pictures, or read further blogs by Sam, visit her website www.sostravel.co.uk

Samantha Owen-Stoddart: The girl who loves to travel, sharing her experiences and inspiring others along the way