We had a complicated trip that Times India Travels helped plan. There were seven of us to be picked up at the LaLit Hotel in Delhi and driven to Agra where we would spend two nights at a self-booked hotel.
Then five members of the group would return to Delhi to catch a domestic flight and to see a few sights, if time allowed, prior to leaving for the airport.
My wife and I planned to continue on from Agra to Pushkar (one night, self-booked lodging), Udaipur (two nights, lodging booked by Times India Travels), and finally Jaipur (two nights, lodging booked by Times India Travels) before to returning to Delhi for sightseeing and our return flight to the US.
I arranged everything with Times India Travels via e-mail exchanges with Vijay Yadav. As other reviewers on TA have said, Vijay is very good at communicating via e-mail and patiently answered various questions I had prior to making a final commitment. Some of those questions were a matter of things just getting lost in translation. For example, Times India Travels’ hotel proposal was for “Double Bed Room in hotels with air conditioner hotel and it also inclusive of all taxes and morning breakfast”. I confirmed with him that this really meant a King-sized bed in a room for two people. Additionally, I confirmed that the rooms would have private bathrooms – not necessarily a given while traveling in India.
The bottom line is if you have any questions or doubts about what Vijay proposes, ask him. He will get back to you very quickly.
As it turns out, Vijay told us that we were the first group from the US to use his services. He has had other clients from Canada, the UK, and Europe.
He kept in contact throughout the trip via e-mail, SMS, and phone calls (I had a local phone which made it easy). And he was with us in Agra and for part of our stay in Jaipur. He was anxious for our feedback on the drivers and guides he had arranged.
I highly recommend Times India Travels for your India travel needs. India is a tough place to be when you are used to creature comforts. Organizing your trip through Times India Travels will ease your worries so you can enjoy what India has to offer.
Vehicles and Drivers
During the portion of the trip when we had seven passengers, I was concerned that we would be packed into a vehicle and would have to put our large assortment of luggage on the vehicle’s roof. When I expressed my concern to Times India Travels about space for the luggage he just told me “don’t worry”. We were pleasantly surprised to have a 10-passenger van pick us up in Delhi with plenty of room for luggage and passengers.
For the latter portion of the trip where it was just myself and my wife, the Toyota Innova provided was comfortable and clean, and the driver, Mr. Manjeet Singh, was top notch.
Cities, Hotels and Sites Visited
Agra (Radisson Blu, self-booked)
The hotel was very nice and we had self-booked Executive suite rooms – which allowed us to partake in their Happy Hour from 5-7p each night. We made it to Happy Hour the first night and the snacks were all we needed for dinner. We returned too late from sightseeing on Day 2 in Agra to take advantage of the Happy Hour.
The Agra guide was decent. The morning we visited the Taj Mahal it was foggy, so the photos of it are not the normal blue sky images we most often see online. Due to the location of the winter’s sun, there was not an opportunity to see the Taj at sunrise or sunset. And with the misty morning it would not have been good for photos anyway.
The 750 rupee VIP entry fee also gets you a bottle of mineral water and a pair of disposable booties to wear while inside the tomb. We came to hate going into any place where we would have to remove our shoes – as normally the floors were filthy and sometimes laden with pigeon poop and more.
Fatepuhr Sikri is located 40 km or so from Agra on the road to Pushkar. Our guide here was very good and did a great job of explaining the history and architecture. It was interesting and worth the stop. My biggest regret about it is that I didn’t buy postcards from one young kid who spoke excellent English. The 100 rupees he was asking for them would have been worth that amount just for the chance to take his photo.
Pushkar (Dia B&B, self-booked)
Based largely on Trip Advisor reviews, we tried to book the Inn Seventh Heaven, but they have a two night minimum stay. We were able to book a sister property (Dia B&B) for a single night – at an all-in rate of $51, including breakfast and WiFi.
The drive from Agra to Pushkar is a long one and Pushkar is much more primitive and dirty than we expected. Rather than visit the two sights we had planned on seeing (Temple of Lord Brahma and Pushkar Lake) we decided to just head on to Udaipur after our cooked-to-order pancake breakfast. The Trip Advisor reviews of those two sites really turned us off. Obviously we didn’t do sufficient homework on Pushkar ahead of time. Unless you are a devout Hindu or interested in camels, this is a place to skip.
Udaipur (Trident, booked by Times India Travels)
The Trident was a very lovely property with pretty gardens. WiFi was not included at any of our Trident stays; the cost for it was around 800 rupees per night. The buffet breakfast had a nice selection of food, both Indian and continental.
The tour guide (Farid) was just average in our opinion. He told us that he had been Paul McCartney’s guide when he visited Udaipur with his ex-wife Heather.
We made an unscheduled stop at the Jagdish Temple and then visited the City Palace and Museum followed by a boat ride on Lake Pichola. We were not told that we had an 11:00 am time slot booked for the boat and missed it by 5 minutes or so, forcing us to wait until another boat filled with (24) passengers. While it is always fun to be on the water, the trip is really just a 15-minute boat ride before and after a 15-minute stop at an island restaurant in the middle of the lake.
If you want to take nicer photos of shore activities (women washing clothes, kids swimming, etc.), make sure you sit on the right side of the boat. The boat takes a counter clockwise route along the shore and therefore you will be closest to shore if you are sitting on the right side. (I sat on the left side – and had to shoot through people’s heads to get photos of activities on shore).
After the boat ride we visited the Folk Art Museum where tribal artifacts and photos are displayed. We felt rushed by the guide and did not have the opportunity to see all that we wanted. Our stop at the museum was followed by a visit to a place where traditional miniature Rajasthan painting was done. The demonstration, as always, was followed by a visit to the store where items can be purchased. We now regret that we did not buy some items painted on camel bone thinking they were too pricey. Oh, well.
Jaipur (Trident, booked by Times India Travels)
Again, the Trident property is nice, and it is located across the street from Man Sagar Lake. We arrived close to sunset and the Jal Mahal palace was reflecting nicely in the lake. I walked to the lakefront to shoot some photos and found it to be a real hub of activities. I was careful to return to the hotel before dark to be safe. The outdoor pool must have been heated, because there were kids in the pool on both days of our stay. The food here was OK, but nothing special.
Our Jaipur tour guide (Ragu) was very good.
Our first stop was to the Amber Fort. Based upon Trip Advisor reviewers with concerns about treatment of the elephants used, we chose to drive up to the fort instead of going via elephant. There was a long line waiting for the elephant ride and we found out afterwards that the cost for the one-way trip was 900 rupees per person (about $18). There were plenty of opportunities to photograph the elephants on their way to the fort with passengers, or on the return trip from the Fort with only the “driver”.
This place is fabulous and we found it to be even more impressive than the Taj Mahal. Ragu was aware that I liked to shoot photos and pointed out the best locations for photos and didn’t rush us through the place.
Near the City Palace is Jantar Mantar, a well-maintained outdoor observatory that was interesting especially if you are into astrology, but we were a bit worn out from the morning’s tours.
After a short break, we had a mediocre lunch at the City Palace Café before touring the City Palace Museum. It was a good place to learn about the maharajah’s opulent lifestyles and had plenty of photo opportunities.
We did a drive-by of Hawa Wahal (Palace of Wind) and Ragu said that the best time to see it is before 10a in the morning – when the sun’s in the best position for photos.
Delhi (no hotel, just a few sites before going to the airport)
We stopped at two of the World Heritage sites: Qutub Minar (#2 of 104 on TA) and Humayun’s Tomb (#3 of 104 on TA).
Qutub Minar was, as I understand it, the original Delhi city. The tall tower is the focal point, but it is surrounded by mostly ruins of what was once a splendid community. Allow 45 minutes to an hour.
Humayun’s tomb is situated in a large park-like area with nice landscaping and gardens. The structure itself is impressive inside and out – and provide nice photo opportunities. Allow at least an hour. There is a fairly long walk from the gate to the tomb itself.
A guide really is not necessary for either site unless you want to go deep into their history. You can always read about it online or in a guidebook before and/or after your visit.
Entry fees for each site were 250 rupees per person. Both sites were clean and free of the normal litter you see in other places outside of Delhi.
All of the monuments we visited charged more for foreigners than for Indians.
The Delhi Airport
Our return flight was scheduled for 2:30 am. We arrived at 6:30 pm; tired after being in the country for three weeks. We thought we could relax and enjoy the airline lounge prior to the flight. Little did we know that you cannot enter the main terminal prior to six hours ahead of your flight (8:30 pm).
Fortunately, there’s a visitor’s lounge available for free to ticketed passengers. Upon entering the main terminal at 8:30 pm, we then found out that the check-in counter would not open until 10:15 pm… so we waited again.
We finally checked in, passed through security, and were able to enjoy a few comfortable hours in the Lufthansa Lounge – available to those traveling in Business Class on Star Alliance member flights. The WiFi, beverages, and snack items were very good… a nice treat before starting our nearly 30-hour trek home.