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My Wendy Wu Tour of India - Golden Triangle & Ranthambore

The most well-trodden paths of India would be my home for the next week.  Filled with excitement (& some trepidation) I headed to Heathrow to meet the rest of my new companions for the tour & to experience the delights of British Airways’ famed Club World.  1st stop – Delhi!

I can honestly say the 6ft flatbed was amazing & well worth any upgrade cost, enabling me to sleep a good 6 of the 8.5-hour overnight flight – pity I missed most of the Club World service but at least I’d make use of it on the way home! 😉

An uneventful morning arrival in Delhi. Immigration cleared and baggage collected within 30 minutes – which puts many UK & International airports to shame - we headed outside to the shock of a wall of intense, dry heat.

Our beautifully air-conditioned mini bus glided through the hair-raising 45-minute journey to The Park Hotel, New Delhi, our first hotel of the tour. Every mode of road transport appears to have equal footing in India – from a pushbike to a lorry, a moped to a camel & cars & pedestrians in between.  Somehow everything moves around with ease – but with extreme horn-tooting! A sort of Carry On Chaos, but no sign of aggression as in the UK, more like, ‘I’m coming through, so move over!’ 

Busy road in Delhi, India

A surprise was the abundance of animals along the streets – all ‘wild’, but part of the community – dogs, squirrels, pigs, camels, cows & monkeys to name a few. I wasn’t prepared for some of the unfortunate living conditions we saw, both on the streets & tucked away, seemingly ‘hidden’ behind shop fronts.

More remarkable & uplifting was the friendliness & charm of the people.  Everywhere we went we saw smiling, cheerful faces. We had a delightful welcome & greeting by our tour guides from Go India Tour, a quick freshen up, then we were off out to explore Old Delhi – a mix of chaos & stability. The calm & tranquillity of the palaces & mosques belies the madness of the streets & this, along with the sights & smells all around, are a real eye-opener to the fascinating, medieval, north of India.

We visited the historic Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India, followed by the best way to experience the narrow, winding lanes of the old town - cycle-rickshaw – an experience I will never forget! Millimetres separate the wheels from the hordes of people, dogs, mopeds & cars that fill the tiny streets amongst the markets & shops - I think I held my breath almost to the point of collapse until we arrived at the spice market, where a 10-minute stroll around the stalls selling every imaginable colour & scent of spice opened our hearts, minds & senses to the vibrancy of this old city. 

Herbs and spices in local market in Delhi  

Throughout the day we saw architectural styles introduced by the colonial rulers that had been adapted into the Indian environment – the Presidential Palace, the Secretariat buildings & the impressive Rajpath to the World War 1 memorial arch – the India Gate.

The next morning brought us to New Delhi, a contrast to the old town. Here we visited the Qutab complex – one of India’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites - which houses the Qutub Minar & the uncorroded Iron Pillar, said to date back to the 4th century AD. 

Qutab complex in New Delhi, India

After lunch, we headed on the (supposed) 5-hour journey to Jaipur & the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, our home for the next 2 nights. The roads leave a lot to be desired, so often journeys take longer than planned – we were constantly on Indian ‘stretched’ time! So timetables are always rather ‘flexible’! 😊

Jaipur is the state capital of Rajasthan & known as the Pink City, due to the construction of buildings in pink-coloured sandstone.  Maharaja Jai Singh II carefully planned the city based on an ancient Hindu method & included surrounding walls, & also constructed the remarkable Observatory, which remains one of Jaipur’s central attractions.

Palace in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan in India

After a leisurely evening we had a new full day of sightseeing ahead of us – first stop being the amazing Amber Fort. Many forts were built across Rajasthan, some purely for defence but mostly as fort-palaces, & the Amber Fort is one of the finest examples of these. 

Amber Fort in Rajasthan, India

We travelled by jeep to the Fort as the other method of transport – apart from on foot – is elephants. Due to the unethical treatment of elephants & other animals across the world, Go India & Wendy Wu Tours do not condone the use of them for tourism purposes.

Once you have dodged the hawkers & street sellers vying for your attention to buy their pretty trinkets – ornate sun umbrellas, elephants & guide books – you enter a wonderful ‘palace’.  This includes the Hall of Victory & the amazing Sheesh Mahal, or Mirror Palace, a room with all four walls & ceiling completely embedded with mirror pieces, imported from Belgium to create a stunning, glittering room of reflections.

Sheesh Mahal, the Mirror Palace in Jaipur

Back in the city, we visited another UNESCO site, Jantar Mantar, a collection of 19 architectural astronomical instruments built & completed in 1734, although with an almost ‘space-age’ appearance & featuring the world’s largest stone sundial. This was a fascinating place to visit, as you can tell the time to within seconds from the various sundials & also the location of the sun in the astronomic calendar. 

Jantar Mantar in Jaipur

Jaipur is a stunning & vibrant city of colour & culture, & a fantastic place to buy silks, jewellery, carpets & handicrafts.

The following day I woke with excitement as we were heading to Ranthambore with the chance to see the elusive tigers in their natural habitat.

We broke our journey to visit the famous stepwell, Chand Baoli in Abhaneri, which dates from the 11th century – a marvel of architecture which has steps & carvings in a geometrical pattern all the way down 13 floors towards a 64-feet deep well! These were generally used as community centres & a form of reservoir for water harvesting. An amazing photo opportunity was provided by this brilliant example of human ingenuity. 

Famous stepwell, Chand Baori in Abhaneri

On arrival into Ranthambore it was easy to see what everyone’s life & business revolves around.  Almost every hotel has 'Tiger' in the name, all of the sign posts have a tiger picture on them & all the locals are selling ornaments, hats, caps & t-shirts with tigers on them! I certainly hoped this was a good omen that we would be lucky enough to spot the real thing.

We settled into our hotel – the Tigress – our home for 2 nights.  A beautifully designed, luxury heritage resort, with suites & villas adjacent to the national park.

An early start - before breakfast - ensured we got to the park before the temperatures soared.  It was actually rather cold – or was that the shivers of anticipation? I’m not sure!

As well as tigers, Ranthambore is home to leopards, wild boar, hyenas, sloth bears & various breeds of deer.

During the morning game drive, our driver spotted a tiger print, which built the excitement within the group – surely one would appear very soon…. Unfortunately, & to my complete disappointment, we were unlucky & didn’t catch a glimpse of any tigers, although we did see many deer!

We returned to the hotel for lunch & caught a couple of hours of sun around the swimming pool – & listened, very dejectedly, to other guests recounting their stories of seeing tigers on their morning drive ☹

We headed out again in the afternoon to another area of the national park – the zones that you visit are randomly selected – & we had everything crossed for a sighting. On this outing we saw a lot less deer & secretly hoped this may be a sign that there may be tigers in the vicinity. After a long trek across the park the driver suddenly changed track & headed down a ramp & around a bend to where we were ecstatic to see not one but 4 tigers!! Not only 4 tigers but also the kill they had taken down only about 20 minutes earlier! 

Tiger drinking at Ranthambore National Park

We parked up, with a group of other vehicles, for around an hour & took in this amazing spectacle.  They each took a turn in devouring some of their prize & a couple of them strolled leisurely across to the water-hole & lapped it up before lying down in the water to cool off.

The tigers were a mum & her 3 cubs, who were around 11 months-old.  They stay with her until they are around 2 years-old, when they move to new territories within the park & live solitary lives.

This was a truly magical & emotional experience that I felt honoured to have seen, as not everyone who visits Ranthambore is lucky enough to witness these rare, beautiful & elusive creatures.

After breakfast the next day we set off on another long journey, this time to the city of Agra via Fatehpur Sikri. Located 40km from Agra, this was built as the capital of the Mughal Empire in the second half of the 16th century & is a complex of monuments & temples, all in uniform style & all remarkably well-preserved.

We then visited Agra Fort. This was rebuilt as a fort palace by the Mughal Emperor Akbar & was completed by his son & grandson. Magical views of the Taj Mahal across the river Yamuna are a tantalising taster to the highlight of our tour, that we would experience the following day.

Agra Fort in Agra, India 

A very comfortable night in the Clarks Shiraz Hotel enabled us to wake easily for our early start to see one of the most iconic buildings in the world & one of the New 7 Wonders of the World – the Taj Mahal – at sunrise.

We entered the grounds before most other tourists to ensure optimum viewing of this truly stunning mausoleum & possibly the most well known of all India’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Built by Indian & neighbouring Islamic artisans, whose sublime skills one can only marvel at, in memory of Shah Jahan’s last wife & Empress, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. The Taj Mahal immortalised her as the ‘light of the palace’ & was described by the poet laureate Tagore as ‘a tear on the face of eternity’. The Taj is decorated with mosaics of semi-precious stones. Its beautiful calligraphy shows verses from the Koran & this monument to love is a place of pilgrimage for millions.

The staggering ivory-white marble mausoleum is truly breath-taking at sunrise – it has a translucent warm glow that changes throughout the day. The pinkish hue, through milky white, becomes golden when lit by the moon.

Everything in the gardens & the mausoleum is built in complete symmetry – only the addition of the Shah's own burial chamber after completion affected the symmetrical design. You can sit on one of the many marble benches & take in the absolute wonder of this astonishingly beautiful sight, oblivious to the many other people around you doing the same.

A pose on ‘Lady Di’s bench’ was a must for us all, before we donned our shoe covers & entered solemnly into the main burial chamber, where photography is not allowed.

Zoe in front of the Taj Mahal in India

We returned to the hotel for breakfast before heading back to Delhi for our last evening.

During the afternoon in Delhi, we visited Project Arman, a charity that is sponsored by Wendy Wu Tours along with other businesses, whose mission statement is ‘No Child in Trash’ – they endeavour to help the children of the area’s waste-pickers, by educating them & providing them with opportunities to gain a respectable future livelihood & break the chain of poverty. This was an extremely humbling experience where we met children from as young as 2 with older siblings up to 14/15 years, who were all so excited to meet us – each trying to get pole position in front of the cameras to recite their counting or rhymes or even just to get a selfie with us! 

Children at the Project Arman charity supported by Wendy Wu Tours

We stayed overnight at the Pride Plaza Hotel, in the Aerocity area of Delhi.  This is a district full of airport hotels & a perfect location for our return flight home the next day.

So what did I think of India?... India is a truly amazing country of endless superlatives – the areas I visited provided a week of complete contrasts – from the dignified struggles of some citizens of Delhi, to the ornate wonder & testament to human creativity & love of the Taj Mahal & other monuments.  And from the mundane cows, camels and dogs etc wandering the streets, to the magnificent tigers & other spectacular beasts of Ranthambore.

The culinary delights in all the restaurants & hotels that we ate in were a treat to the senses – a feast for all, including the vegan & vegetarians in the group.

I can honestly say that India most definitely exceeded my expectations – my personal highlights were definitely the tigers & the Taj Mahal.

I would be delighted to discuss any holiday plans for India & the Golden Triangle, or any other travel arrangements. Please feel free to contact me on 0121 389 9158 or email zoe@travelclubelite.com

Zoe Franklin.

Notes: Zoe Franklin is Sales Manager of Travel Club Elite, one of the UK’s leading ambassadors for Wendy Wu Tours. Zoe has 31 years' travel industry experience & has travelled extensively. Travel Club Elite is an ABTA Member of 33 years standing & has excellent Trust Pilot Rankings, with average scores of 9.8, out of 10! 

  • 18th May 2018
  • Zoe Franklin, Sales Team Leader