India, part 1

Our time in Oceania was over too soon, and now it was time for Asia. We decided to start in India and slowly work our way East, partially based on weather (some warned us it would be too hazy in India later in the year) and partially based on flight paths. Also based on a recommendation from an Indian friend (thanks Neha!), we booked an actual tour for India rather than attempting to DIY–as you’ll see throughout, this was a good idea and something I’d recommend to anyone planning a visit to India without a local in tow. We booked a 9-day tour of “The Golden Triangle” (which includes Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra) + Ranthambore National Park with Trinetra Tours, and we’d fully recommend them–they planned a jam-packed but interesting itinerary and took really good care of us throughout our stay. We did separately tack on a day in Mumbai at the end, more on that later. Here is the story of our Indian adventures!

Day 72: Another day lost to travel

Back when we were booking these flights, we managed to find very decently priced business class seats from Fiji to India (with a layover in Hong Kong) via Fiji Airways (second leg operated by Cathay Pacific), and lord knows you don’t have to ask me twice about business class vs. economy. The first leg (Fiji to Hong Kong) was 10 hours and we were so happy to have space to properly stretch out. The flight attendants took great care of everyone, they offered a nice amenity kit, and the food and drinks were delish. We were still on FijiTime so we didn’t even remember to take proper pictures…this is as good as it gets:

Our layover in Hong Kong was long enough to allow for a very nice shower in Cathay Pacific’s super swank The Pier, First Class Lounge, which was accessible to us through my oneworld Emerald status. I forgot to take a pic of the fancy shower (better stocked than any hotel I’ve ever been to and probably better stocked than my own bathroom), but here’s the fancy bar:

Bar at Cathay Pacific’s The Pier, First Class Lounge

Eventually we got on our second flight and soon were enjoying another spacious business class seat. Despite my best efforts to try to stay awake to minimize jet lag, I slept through a lot of this flight (whoops), so my opinions on it are minimal. That said, the flight attendants were very nice, and the seat was clearly comfy enough for a long nap. The food wasn’t stellar, which I did find to be a bit disappointing, but then I remember that it IS airplane food and there’s only so much they can do (though Fiji Airways’ was better).

Our Cathay Pacific business class seats

After 16+ hours of travel, I was beyond happy when we landed and I knew I wouldn’t have to get on another plane for a week (it’s the small things these days). That joy dissipated quickly when we were greeted at the end of the jetway by a Cathay employee informing us that one of our bags (mine, of course) didn’t make it–it had apparently decided to stay behind in Hong Kong. Wompwompppp. It was our first luggage ‘casualty’ of the trip, which I suppose isn’t that bad when you consider the fact that we’d been on 20+ flights in 10 weeks. They did inform us that it was arriving later that night on the next Hong Kong-Delhi Cathay flight, though that meant waiting around the airport until past midnight for my suitcase (they said they could deliver it BUT it wouldn’t arrive ’til late the next day and I had no clothing for our morning tour PLUS the Cathay employee said it was better to wait…which I took to mean that it may not get delivered ‘on time’ if I didn’t micromanage the process 🙄). We felt like zombies but the wait for the luggage was made significantly shorter by standing in the longest. immigration line. EVER. Silver linings, right?

Delhi airport baggage area…where we sat forever and waited.

I felt a little bad for our tour coordinator and driver, who were waiting for us at the airport the entire time, but I was so glad to have someone meeting us so I could stop using my brain for a bit. They took us to our hotel, The Suryaa, and our coordinator gave us the quick rundown of how the week was going to run, etc. I was looking forward to just following someone else’s instructions rather than trying to figure out a plan every day! Needless to say, we slept like the dead that night.

Day 73: Whirlwind Delhi tour

Our morning tour focused on Delhi’s history, the vast majority of which I’d never learned about before since American high schools tend to focus on Western history, and the architecture that comes with it. It’s impossible for me to recount all of the interesting history we learned here (partially because it’s way too much to type and partially because my brain is having trouble remembering some of it #senile 👵🏽), but I promise it was all really cool. The architecture we saw was incredible too, as you’ll see in the photos below.

First up was Humayun’s Tomb, a tomb built for a former Mughal Emperor by his wife, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The place is impressive at first sight, but even more so when you realize it was built in the late 16th century and is still standing (and in pretty great shape!).

Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

Next up was Delhi’s India Gate, which is a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died in WWI:

Delhi’s India Gate

We drove around the city a bit, checking out some parliament buildings, etc, and then finally time for a little lunch–our first real Indian meal. Hilariously enough, it seems like the restaurant we ended up at–Suribachi–is a common place for tour guides to bring their non-Indian tourists…everyone else we saw there was a tourist, and this became a theme throughout the tour. I do appreciate their efforts to protect my stomach (despite how ineffectual they probably were in the end).

Lunch at Suribachi in Delhi

Last “historical” stop for the day was Qutb Minar, a tower (and other monuments) built by a former Muslim ruler of Delhi after he defeated a Hindu king–it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This tower is quite impressive at 70+ meters in height and the history around it is interesting, worth a read if you have the time.

Qutb Minar

Next up: a tour through Old Delhi. We started off with a visit to Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India (it can fit tens of thousands of people!), which was built in the mid-17th century. I’d never been in a mosque before, and this was definitely an interesting experience. First, we had to cover up–Ben was given a sarong (😂) to cover his legs (he had shorts on) and I was given a way-too-long robe to cover my arms fully–I almost tripped and fell on my face in the first 3 seconds of wearing it. Touring the building and courtyard was really interesting, appreciating the beautiful architecture and learning more about mosques in general. That said, it was also such a strange experience because I don’t think I’ve ever been stared at so hard and by so many people at once. We were clearly outsiders and all of the people there (it was a busy afternoon at the mosque) were definitely staring at us like we were aliens. At one point I had to laugh because a mom put her two children next to us to take a picture…specifically to have us in the background 🤣🤣🤣.

Jama Masjid

After touring the mosque, it was time for our rickshaw ride! I honestly pitied our rickshaw driver–poor kid had to drag around like 400lbs of dead weight on a bicycle through packed streets…pretty sure that was the worst workout of his life. No picture of this ride can really do it justice. For those of you who have been to Times Square before, just imagine Times Square on a Saturday night, multiply the number of people by at least 10, add cars/motorcycles/bicycles/rickshaws weaving in between the pedestrians, plus maybe add a cow or two. I don’t know how we made it through the throngs of people and vehicles, but somehow we did. We made a few stops along the way to try (safe) street food and drinks, see some old buildings, and visit the spice market (which, by the way, will make you cough and sneeze for a good while after you’ve left). My favorite part? Seeing the monkeys climbing the power lines above us! (Speaking of power lines, my heart rate goes up just thinking about those power lines…how the entire city hasn’t imploded in a massive fire is beyond my comprehension.)

Crowded Old Delhi streets
Old mansion in Old Delhi
Monkeys, monkeys everywhere!

At the end of the tour, our driver took us back to our hotel, where I’m pretty sure we just passed out on arrival–just one day into India and we were already half dead. Touristing is hard work.

Day 74: Onto Jaipur we go

We got an early morning start the next day, as we had a 6 hour drive ahead of us to get to Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan. This was just the first of a few long car rides that we had as part of our tour, and while long car rides can get tedious and boring, I have to say that it’s much better when someone else is doing the driving 😂 In all seriousness, so glad we had a driver for all of this because driving in India is basically equivalent to jumping off a cliff and hoping you don’t die. Sounds dramatic, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating. I thought the DR had chaotic driving, but really, I had no idea what I was talking about. Roads in India are filled with cars (of all sizes), large buses (both tour buses and public transport buses), motorcycles, bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, pedestrians, and animals (including dogs, cows, goats, chickens, wild pigs, camels, and the occasional elephant). Now, not necessarily ALL of these things are on the road at the same time, but honestly…most of them probably are. I always thought cows were sort of dumb (I mean…they do have a very vacant look about them), but we saw cows literally navigating traffic. I have officially seen it all.

Eventually we made it to Jaipur and the first stop was to quickly check into our hotel, the ITC Rajputana, and grab some lunch before our afternoon tour. We were staying at 5-star hotels the entire time in India based on Neha’s recommendations, and our Delhi hotel was nice enough, but our Jaipur hotel had one of the swankest lobbies I’ve ever seen.

ITC Rajputana lobby

Our walking tour of Old Jaipur was similar to the one in Old Delhi — interesting and hectic. I can’t remember everything we saw, but we did once again taste some street food, stop by some temples, pass by some shops, and walk through various narrow alleyways. Pictures of all the crazyness below. By the time we got back to our hotel, we were dead again.

Indian sweets
Delish ice cream from a local shop – perfect on a hot afternoon
Indian snacks – some salty, some sweet, some very spicy

 

Having my newly-purchased bangles resized
Can’t get enough of these monkeys!
Temple in Old Jaipur
One of many narrow and crowded alleyways in Old Jaipur
Hawa Mahal

Day 74: Elephants make everything better

I’d been dealing with a stomach virus for the last couple of days and I woke up out of commission on day 3, so Ben went on the morning tour on his own. I’ll keep it brief: he toured the City Palace of Jaipur, Jantar Mantar (the solar observatory), and Amber Fort (which may also be called Amer Fort?), stopped by a wholesale vegetable market, and visited a carpet maker/merchant and a gemstone merchant–because no tour in India is complete without someone trying to sell you something! Here are some of his pictures:

Wholesale veggie market
Solar observatory
City Palace
Gemstone merchant
Carpet merchant
Amber Fort

While Ben was out having fun (and, to be fair, getting exhausted), I spent my morning struggling through my virus trying to figure out how to muster energy for the afternoon activities (because missing elephants is not acceptable). The hotel was kind enough to send someone to the pharmacy for me to get some medicine, which helped immensely. A couple of hours later, I was ready to brave the outside world. For elephants, sacrifices must be made.

We were (or at least I was) hesitant about this activity — we had told the tour provider that we would be ecstatic to see elephants but didn’t necessarily want to ride them given what I’ve learned over the years about how some elephants are trained for such things. They assured us the company was reputable and that we could opt to only do the activities we wanted at Eleday, so we went ahead with the plan. Of course we did end up riding a beautiful female elephant because I’m a sucker and the tour guide was very convincing; that said, I felt guilty and was worried about her the whole time. We did ride her bareback (well, with a small cushion), which did feel like a much better option than the typical riding chairs, but still, I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. To be clear, these elephants did appear to be well taken care of, no injuries or bull hooks to be seen, so I do think they’re a legit organization, but I wish they’d stop offering the rides. I hope the elephants are actually as happy as they appeared to be while we were there.

After the brief elephant ride, we were able to paint a bit on a different female elephant who had been part of a wedding recently, though we kept that brief as well–all of them clearly wanted to get to the eating part of the day…girls after my own heart. Feeding elephants is always the most fun, watching them use their powerful trunks, seeing how excited they get about a banana, even getting slobber all over your hand–pure joy. It’ll make you forget that your insides are dying a little 😂

All in all, a pretty great day!

Day 76: Safari time!

The next morning, another early morning drive–this time 4 hours–to Ranthambore for a little tiger safari time! Ranthambore National Park is one of just a handful of places across the entire world where you can see tigers in the wild, and you guys know how I feel about cats, whether domesticated or otherwise. We stayed at Khem Villas for our two nights in the area, at the recommendation of our tour company, and we’d fully recommend them as well. The actual safari drives were organized through our tour operator (rather than through our hotel, as we had experienced in South Africa when we went on safari) and this meant everything was organized through the national park itself. This is all fine in theory, but it does mean that each safari drive is limited to one section of the park (there are 10 or so), so if there happen to be no tigers in that area during your drive, you’re shit outta luck. Our first afternoon drive was soon after we arrived in Ranthambore, and while we did see some cool animals, not a tiger in sight. I was disappointed but kept the hope alive that we would see one the next day.

The ‘friendly monkeys’, as the locals call them (as opposed to the city monkeys who will snatch your food and sunglasses)
Plenty of peacocks at this park–did you know they’re India’s national bird?
So many Bambis! 😍
Napping owl

Day 77: #WhereDidAllTheTigersGo?!

We had a morning drive and an afternoon drive that day, and while we saw some cool/cute animals, tiger viewing was a total bust. I was (and still am) so utterly disappointed. We did catch a leopard at the end, which is cool in theory but he was SO far away and I’d already been spoiled by our African safari where we saw multiple leopards very close up (maybe 5 feet?)…#firstworldproblems. Here’s what we did see:

Fresh tiger tracks on our morning safari…just taunting me.
Mongoose for good luck!
Mmm…yummy lizard?
Loving this RBF.
Our new safari driver
Beautiful (but very far away) leopard–thank goodness for Ben’s zoom lens.

On one of the drives back to the hotel from the park, we did see some more wildlife:

Just a goat herd, traveling down the street.

That night, the moon was pretty incredible, perhaps the universe was apologizing for screwing me on the tiger front?

No filter–really looked like this!
A few hours later…

Let’s stop here for a break…next time, the rest of our Indian adventures!

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