A few years ago I joined a luxury tour of Northern India with a company called On the Go Tours. Having previously visited India as a child on a 6 week trip, I was excited to return and see how much I remembered. I was also keen to experience India as part of an organised tour and see how it differed to travelling independently.
I think India tends to be a destination for travellers who’ve already conquered South East Asia and are feeling more confident using local transport in Asia. From my experience as a travel consultant, India tends to be a ‘Marmite’ destination – travellers either love it or hate it. But having experienced India both on a shoestring and now on a luxury budget, I believe that some proper planning and for some people, an organised tour can definitely make for the most enjoyable experience.
You can fly direct from London Heathrow to Delhi in 8hrs 30 minutes. I flew Business Class with Jet Airways and was very impressed with their service. You’ll have a fully flat bed, delicious freshly cooked food and a wide selection of cocktails in the Skybar.
I’m used to comparing a wide variety of Business Class cabins and I've often found Jet Airways a more economical alternative to the more well-known carriers. In fact, they are one of the few cabins to offer a fully flat bed on all international Business Class flights.
The tour itinerary I followed was similar to the 9 Day Taj Showcase itinerary, but it ended in Jodphur rather than Udaipur.
We began our tour in New Delhi and after exploring the Red Fort and the site of Gandhi’s cremation we took rickshaws through the streets of Old Delhi to a fantastic local restaurant recommended by our guide.
We then left Delhi in a private mini bus bound for Agra. The journey is an experience in itself; seeing whole families travelling on the back of mopeds, what looks to be the entire contents of a corner shop on the front of a push bike and local buses with passengers hanging onto the side of them. You’ll certainly feel grateful for the comparatively luxurious mode of transport you’re in!
The tour arrived in Agra at lunchtime, so we spent the afternoon visiting Agra Fort before heading to the Taj Mahal just in time for Sunset.
From Agra, we continued to Jaipur (the Pink City), where we stayed 2 nights in the beautiful Rambagh Palace, before heading onto Jodphur (the Blue City), before returning to Delhi.
On a tour like this, all transfers are included but even being collected from the airport in an air conditioned car, you’ll find it doesn’t take long for Delhi to take hold of you. You’ll be whisked though the noise of car horns, the sight of cows walking freely down the main roads and rickshaws buzzing past you, before arriving in New Delhi for the first of the incredibly luxurious hotels on this trip.
The Taj collection features some of the most impressive hotels in India and many properties are converted palaces. I challenge you to feel anything other than regal as you sip your gin and tonic in the gardens watching peacocks nonchalantly stroll across immaculately manicured lawns!
Other than budget, a key difference between independent backpacking and travelling with a tour is the valuable knowledge you gain from your guide. Their personal insight ensures you make sense of what you see each day, and I know I left with a far superior understanding of Ghandi, the Taj Mahal and what it’s like to live in one of the fastest growing countries on the planet than I ever would have gained from swatting up from my guidebook.
Despite being with a group, we had plenty of free time to shop in local markets and pick up some clothes and gifts. One tip - be prepared to haggle for bargains. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, your guide will always help you get a bargain!
The Taj Mahal features on many a travel ‘bucket list’ and it certainly didn’t disappoint me. Travelling with a tour means you’ll have entry tickets pre-booked for you, which means you can skip the big queues.
I would always recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset so you can see the colour of the marble changing with the position of the sun (makes for some truly spectacular photos!). It’s also far more comfortable visiting in the early morning or evening so you can stroll around the grounds in the cooler parts of the day.
I also enjoyed riding elephants up to the Amber Fort in Jaipur. Climbing up the side of the mountain on an elephant adorned with a beautiful headdress and visiting the Jantar Mantar observatory were memorable moments for me. We ended the day at the Umaid Bhawan Palace where Liz Hurley got married!
Unlike most countries in Asia, India requires you to organise a visa in advance. Tour operators will give you in-depth guides on how best to apply and we can help you arrange the appropriate visas.
You will also need a number of different vaccinations when travelling to India so you should always check with your GP who can advise you which vaccinations are required before you travel.
Is India next on your list? We can help you tailor-make an itinerary just to suit you, or we can book you onto an organised group tour like the tour I did. Just call us or request a quote by email to start planning your trip.