A Taste of India – Golden Triangle
India Travel Diaries – A Taste of India – Golden Triangle
For many, the idea of travelling to India is somewhat daunting. Despite knowing that there are some absolutely magnificent sites to be seen, immense history, culture, incredible food and spices, nature and more; there can also be significant challenges for many travellers and therefore planning and consideration must go into a trip to India with children. Here you will read my India travel diaries, a taste of India with kids, from my perspective.
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We looked for family tours in India and finally decided to book our India Golden Triangle tour through Indian Holiday. They were excellent to deal with, very professional, their guides and driver were always on time, supportive and encouraging and very conscious of our satisfaction and safety. If you are looking for a taste of India with children experience, we can recommend Indian Holiday.
Our tour was for six nights, with the first night in Delhi, followed by Agra, three nights in Jaipur and then returning to Delhi for one night. It was a great taste of India for our family to have together, it was also a taste of Asia that they were yet to experience. There are many other parts of India that we would love to explore further, but that will need to be for another trip but would most certainly give us a more real taste of India.
Travelling to and arriving in Delhi, India
It had been a long day travelling from Langkawi, but a good one. Our Air Asia flight from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur was early departing and therefore early to arrive in KL. We made our way from Terminal 2 at KLIA to Terminal 1 at KLIA on the free shuttle bus. It all went seamlessly and we arrived with enough time to sit and take a moment to break and get ready for the next leg of our journey – from Kuala Lumpur to New Delhi.
Our flight leaving KL was late departing, which meant we took off just before the boys’ bed time. A late dinner was had and then the lights were dimmed. Eventually, both boys were asleep and managed a couple of hours sleep during the flight. We arrived in Delhi at what was one in the morning (Malaysian time), or ten thirty at night in India. We were somewhat fortunate to still have those couple of extra hours up our sleeves to sleep.
Transitioning through Delhi’s International airport was smooth. The queues for foreign passports were short and our bags came out quickly – this was a relief given the time of the night. Our only (and major) hold up was when we went through customs and we discovered that drones are prohibited in India and we were not allowed to take our drone into India. My heart sank. Surely not!
Geoff and I quickly discussed what we were going to do about this, with the kids in earshot, we decided we would declare it. Apart from the fact that it was the right thing to do, we didn’t want to take the risk of being caught with a prohibited item in India.
Customs were shocked that we had a drone given they are prohibited items. I explained that we were travelling on an extended holiday to a number of countries. We asked whether we could take it and not use but the answer was a hard “no”. So, our smooth journey through the airport came to a screaming halt. We had to fill in a whole lot of paperwork and had to leave the drone at customs. I was taken to the customs office where I signed forms and left our beloved drone for “safe keeping”. It seemed to be shelves of other confiscated items chaotically lined up. We are only in India for a week so hopefully it won’t be too far buried by the time we come back! We are told it will be there when we return to leave and go to Singapore. Our fingers are crossed.
Finally through customs, we were greeted warmly by an Indian Holiday representative. He guided us through the airport to which we were hugely grateful. By this stage it was almost 3am Malaysian time and we were very tired. We made our way to our car and driver who will be with us for the duration of our stay in India. This was a welcome relief. The car was comfortable and spacious which will be perfect for our driving days. Before leaving the airport car park, we were gifted a welcome gift of a scarf each. This was very kind and well received by us all.
Our drive through Delhi to the hotel seemed long at that time of the night. We were really tired and it was hard to keep eyes open. Upon arrival at Leela Ambience Hotel, we were quickly ushered through the reception and given information about how our tour would go before heading to our rooms.
We had two double rooms booked for our stay and boy were they luxurious! Again, another welcome relief after the massive day we’d had. The boys insisted on having a shower/bath before bed because the bathrooms were next level fancy (for us), even though it was now about 4am Malaysian time. We hurriedly got through that process and I think our heads hit the pillow by 4:30am Malaysian, which was about 2:00am India time.
Delhi to Agra and the Taj Mahal
It was the best (but shortest) night sleep we’d all had. The beds were beautifully comfortable, the pillows felt like resting our heads on the lightest of feathers. We were rudely woken by our alarms and we all knew what that meant – buffet breakfast! We were up at 7:50am and enjoying breakfast by 8:15am. The food was delicious and there really was a wide range of items to enjoy. Some local and some western. By 8:45am, we were back in our room madly packing up for a 9am departure. We somehow managed to be checked out, in the car and on the road to Agra by 9:02am! Incredible!
It was exciting driving through New Delhi, a sight to behold for the boys who had never experienced such unique traffic conditions. We were looking forward to giving the boys the best taste of India they could get in a week. They both started a list of “crazy things we see on the road in India”. There were wide eyes, spotting different things and loads of questions. The questions led to conversations, and it felt so good to be able to share another part of the world with our kids. What an awesome experience and from the safety and security of the car we were in.
Arriving in Agra was overwhelmingly exciting! We had all been waiting with great anticipation to see the Taj Mahal. We arrived too early to check into our hotel, The Retreat Hotel, so we stopped off for lunch first. It was our first Indian meal together in India and it most definitely didn’t disappoint. We ordered a selection of dishes that were not spicy and we hoped the boys would enjoy. They have both become so good at trying new foods and to our delight, they liked what we ordered – tandoori chicken, paneer masala and something “green” with chicken (I can’t remember!), a selection of naan bread and saffron rice. At the conclusion of our meal they gave us an Indian ‘after meal digestive’ which had an aniseed flavour which Taj thought was particularly nice.
Following our check in at The Retreat Hotel, we quickly got ourselves organised in our room and made our way down to reception to meet our guide. With driver and guide, it was time to make our way to visit the Taj Mahal. The roads were busy, people everywhere, cars, tuk tuks, markets stalls, people selling small items on the street – it was somewhat chaotic but amazingly the boys took it all in their stride!
We got a courtesy shuttle bus from the carpark to the ticket purchase point at the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. We probably should have bought tickets online beforehand; we are told they are slightly cheaper that way, but we didn’t know we needed to do this. Anyway, we got our tickets, our shoe covers and bottles of water. The boys were free to enter. We followed the crowds, got through the entry point, went our separate ways based on gender to get through security and finally arrived at a viewpoint of the majestic Taj Mahal. It truly was breathtaking.
There were thousands of people. Far more than there were last time I was there in 2005. We later learned that between Christmas and New Year is one of the busiest of the year. Mental note, don’t visit the Taj Mahal at Christmas/New Year time! We slowly made our way through the crowds. We stopped along the way and negotiated to have some photos taken of us by a licensed photographer. We felt somewhat ridiculous posing for the photos but just went with it and pleasingly, we managed to get a few that we really like.
By the time we got to the foot of the Taj Mahal, there was a massive line up to walk through. We stood in it for about 45 minutes and finally made our way through the tomb. I have to say, having been there before, I was really disappointed by this experience. It was loud with security blowing whistles and people talking, we were being hurried through with people pushing up behind us and the floor was covered in shoe covers that had been disposed of by previous visitors. Our guide tried to stop to share information but it was difficult. So much for it being a place of peace and remembrance, it was very difficult to enjoy and appreciate the moment.
Through and out the other side though, we had time. Time to enjoy, appreciate the majesty, the architecture, the detail, the beauty. We had time to wander and take it all in. The sun was setting which added to the magnificence of the experience. We took our time heading back to the gate to exit. We stopped on a number of occasions to capture just one more shot of us at the Taj Mahal.
Upon exiting the grounds, rather than getting the courtesy bus, we walked back to the car where our driver was waiting. The guide was keen for us to get the bus but we were happy to walk, it was only 15 minutes and an opportunity to experience Agra and the touristy side of the Taj Mahal. We also got to take lots of photos with ‘Taj’ in the name, including one that said, “I LOVE (with a heart) TAJ” – we were particularly pleased with that one!
For dinner that night we ate at the hotel restaurant, The Retreat restaurant. It was very nice food and the service was good. However, when it came time to pay the bill, we were required to pay some on the card for the food and some by cash for the alcoholic drinks. We questioned this, particularly because the cost of the drinks was well above the cost of the food, which was more than it should have been. You really do need have to your wits about you as a tourist travelling through India. Anyway, after questioning it, the price was all of a sudden 400 INR less but we still had to pay cash. We reluctantly did so then headed off to bed for the night.
Agra to Jaipur and Fatephur Sikiri
The next day we had an early start again. We enjoyed our breakfast at the hotel then met our driver who took us to Fatephur Sikiri, on our way to Jaipur.
Fatehpur Sikri is a city located west of Agra, founded by a 16th century Mughal emperor. The magnificent red sandstone buildings are at the core. We enjoyed a tour with a local guide through Jama Masjid mosque, the marble Tomb of Salim Chishti, Jodha Bais Palace, Buland Darwaza and Panch Mahal. We heard the story of their King and his three wives – one of Hindi religion, one Muslim and one Christian. The detail in the handmade carvings was simply incredible! Our guide was fantastic – really engaging, interesting, passionate and entertaining with the boys.
Following our tour, we made the final part of our journey to Jaipur. We arrived at about 4:30pm and enjoyed settling into Zone By The Park Hotel. We were to be there for three nights so it was good to be able to ‘unpack’ a bit more and spread our things out. It is hard only staying one night in a place before moving on, it is not the way we like to travel and it always feels rushed. When we travel, we like to have a minimum of three nights in any one place.
New Years Eve in Jaipur
It was New Years Eve and we had a New Years party to go to. This was a (an expensive – $52 USD each) mandatory extra for our booking with our tour. We of the understanding that it began at 7:30pm which was a stretch for us all at this point in our trip as it was. The boys normally are getting into bed at that time and we had had two late nights and two early mornings in a row, they needed a rest. But, with the prospect of attending their first NYE party, they were fired up (delirious) and psyched to not miss a beat.
We thought dinner was first, at 7:30pm. It wasn’t. It turned out the party began at 7:30pm with live music, drinks, snacks and Bollywood dancing and at 9pm dinner was served! We were the first to arrive at the party which was in the basement of our hotel. The music was so loud, the singers, well, they were not our cup of tea, the food was good, the drinks were “free” flowing and thankfully there was some Bollywood dancing and an opportunity to join in. I say thankfully, and I am thankful, but boy I stood out like a sore thumb and I am quite sure everyone there has a video of me dancing Bollywood style really badly! HAHA! Never mind, I didn’t think it was right to see in a NYE in India and not Bollywood dance!
The NYE party was pretty average as far as parties go but we sure did have fun together. We had a great laugh at everything that was going on around us. Finn wore his headphones to muffle the noise for a little while. We had waiters bringing us snacks constantly, we couldn’t eat enough in their minds. Mickey Mouse even turned up. A dreadful Mickey with a sleazy helper attached to his arm. They stood in front of us for a while speaking to us in their language; we didn’t know what they were saying but I nodded and smiled. I felt a bit sorry for Mickey as none of us really knew what was going on so I invited him around for a photo with us; I figured it was the right thing to do and I wondered whether that was what he was asking us. We had the photo and then they came and stood back in front of us talking to us. Again, we had no idea what they were saying. Eventually, we realised they were asking for a tip. Tipping is a thing in India, too. We did our best but I know we didn’t master the art and we frequently got caught out without small money and very awkwardly had to wave our hands apologetically indicating we had no money.
Dinner was amazing. It was a buffet and there was something for everyone. In the kids’ case, it was in the form of dessert! It was exceptional and we did our best to eat and drink $52USD each worth. Interestingly, we weren’t allowed to drink alcohol while eating dinner. That seems to be a thing. We didn’t quite work out whether the restaurants were not licensed to serve or store it. Most served it but it was rarely on the menu and they frequently ran out the door to buy the beer we ordered and then returned with it in a plastic bag.
Following dinner, we went to bed. It was 10:30pm by the time we got to bed which was very late for the boys and for us at that point. We were all still suffering with jetlag from our late arrival into India on Friday night.
New Years Day saw another early morning. There was no late start for the locals on NYD, not like in Australia. No public holiday, so everyone was out and about doing their usual activities. Our tour started at 8am, so we were up and at it, breakfasted and ready to walk out the door by 8am. The driver was there waiting for us as usual and greeted us with a big “Namaste” and “Happy New Year”. We really liked our driver.
We named our guide, “Moustachio”, as he had the most impressive moustache that curled at each end. He had excellent English, was very attentive and very knowledgeable. His name was actually ‘Sing’, as in, “sing a song”, as he told us at the beginning of the day.
Sing spoke to us a lot in the car and throughout the day. He was very well informed and through listening to him, we discovered he was well educated. He told us about the different levels of training and qualifications of guides in India. He is qualified to be a guide throughout all of India with his qualification. His wife is a professor at a University.
We spent seven hours with Sing. He took us to the Wind Palace for a photo, stopped at the Jaipur Step Well for a look, explanation and photos, we went through the Amber Fort, stopped at Janta Mantar (the palace on the lake), before stopping at a jewellery shop where we learned how stones are cut, and, a textiles/handicraft shop where we were shown carpets, textiles, handicrafts and Finn had a go at block printing. That was all before lunch! After lunch, we went to the astronomical observation centre for a look. There was one more stop scheduled but we had had enough, the boys were tired (as was I) and we had done a lot of listening by this point, we needed to find some quiet space.
The thing that will stick in our minds forever about this day is the advice Sing gave us about crossing roads. He said, “When you cross roads, you must walk like a cow. If you walk like a chicken, you’ll get kicked”. Best advice ever, but, it is a little scary walking across roads in India, even if you chant ‘walk like a cow’ in your head!
I’ve mentioned already that travelling through India is a sensory overload. It really is. It was loud everywhere we went, including the hotel rooms because they were all on busy streets where cars and tuk-tuks drove past tooting their horns. The noise became very tiring and throw in a tour guide talking to you about every site we saw, which we appreciated of course, but we just needed a break.
Some chill time back at the hotel room was required and enjoyed by all. We went to the rooftop to watch the sun set and see some kids fly kites from the rooftops of their buildings – that was pretty cool. We then went for dinner at a restaurant next door to our hotel, called Mr Macchiato.
We had been able to choose restaurants that had food the boys would eat. They had been very good, trying lots of different foods but they did find a lot of it spicy so often wanted to order something different. Often, their ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ (or similar) had spice despite requesting that it didn’t. Again though, they managed so well and more often than not, ate their meals regardless of the level of spice.
Our dinner at Mr Macchiato was, to be honest, a bit of a disaster! I am (kind of) laughing about it now but at the time, I was not! Everyone was tired, over it, but trying their best to muster up some positivity and a desire to be together. We took our go to card game, Phase 10, laid all the cards out and started playing. We let the kids order fancy milkshake type drinks with their dinner, not something we normally do. Within an inch of the top, Taj spilt his all over the table. Fortunately missed the cards but it spilt all down the front of him and onto the floor. I saw mess and I saw handwashing in the basin after dinner (insert eye roll). Geoff went to his rescue and ushered him out to the toilets to clean up as much as possible. The waiters rushed around us cleaning the floor and moving all of our things from one table to another. Phase 10 for the night was over. The food was good but the mood was not. We didn’t stay long. As soon as we’d finished, we went back to the hotel for an ‘on-time’ night of sleep. Just what the doctor ordered.
Jaipur independent touring
We enjoyed a lazy breakfast at the hotel, a bit of housekeeping and then our driver picked us up at 11am to take us out to the Bazaar. As we were on our way, he kept asking us what it was we had wanted to buy and it was hard to explain that there was not necessarily anything in particular, it was more just to have a look. That said, the boys were keen to get a souvenir and had a couple of things in mind.
We got out of the car and started walking. The Bazaar was not exactly what we had envisaged. Geoff and I had Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar in mind. It wasn’t like that at all. Nevermind. We walked along some back streets, crossed roads courageously like cows, experienced that sensory overload, passed cows on the streets, puppies running everywhere, market stalls and so much more. It was great to see Jaipur by day, the day-to-day life in Jaipur without being in a particularly touristy area. It was not an area for tourists, it was for the locals. The boys were a little uneasy doing this without the security of the guide and were most concerned we would either not find our driver, or that he would not be there when we got back. He was.
Following our unsuccessful souvenir shopping experience for the boys, we asked the driver to take us to some specific sorts of shops. He had friends everywhere so took us to his friends’ shops. I hope he got a cut of the sales the shops got, I’m sure he did. Our driver was great – we liked him a lot!
We shopped for a while, bought some souvenirs, as well as another suitcase to take home all our purchases! Geoff had some tailoring done at one of the shops which was good as he’d been on the look out the whole trip but the timing hadn’t been right. We went by the palace on the lake for another look as the sky was more clear that day, had another nice lunch then went back to the hotel for another rest.
For dinner we ventured out again, on our own. We hailed a tuk-tuk from outside the hotel, much to the horror of Taj. He was so concerned that we wouldn’t get to where we needed to go or that something bad would happen. Anyway, we did it anyway, for the experience and it was one!
Our driver didn’t speak English or seem to understand the map I was showing him on Google Maps. It wasn’t until then that I realised that the tuk-tuk drivers didn’t operate with maps, they operated by knowing. Anyway, between us (the driver, my map and me), we got close to where we wanted to go. We walked the rest of the way. The final part of the trip was to cross an eight laned road at what seemed like peak hour! It was time to put our ‘walk like cows’ mantra into good use.
We stood on the side of the road for a long time. We watched the traffic for a long time waiting for what seemed like a break. There were none. Geoff and I kept looking at each other, not needing to say anything because we both knew exactly what each other were thinking – a combination of, “We can’t do this”, “Crossing this road would be stupid”, and, “We don’t have a choice, let’s do this!”. Eventually, we did it. We stopped in the middle for a break and a regroup! The traffic was moving faster in the next crossing so it was a bit more scary but there was no turning back. Without thinking too much more about it, we crossed and survived!! The adrenalin rush was real from all of us. We were all bouncing when we got across! I repeatedly said the entire way across the road, “Walk like a cow, walk like a cow, walk like a cow” and I heard the occasional “moo” from the boys.
Dinner was at a restaurant/brewery. There was beer involved and the first one went down very quickly. Dinner was great, the food was really good and the atmosphere was fun. We made our way back out to the road and hailed another tuk-tuk. We got one, another who didn’t speak English but a nice lady nearby helped explain to the driver where we were to go. He charged us double the price as the one on the way there but we didn’t care, we got there safe and sound.
It was a slightly stressful experience but a fun one and one that we all took confidence from. This is a memory that we will most definitely look back on in years to come and talk and laugh about!
The clothes Geoff had made arrived at 10:30pm at the hotel. They called through to our room and brought them up for him to try on. Fortunately, they fit him. I’m not sure what they would have done if they didn’t! The tailors are really very clever. Having only spent five minutes with him taking measurements and to be able to whip up shirts and trousers so quickly and making them fit – pretty impressive.
Jaipur to Delhi
Wednesday morning was an early-ish start. I say ‘early’, but really it was just earlier because we had to get up, packed, breakfasted and on the road back to Delhi. We were all really tired. We had had a big week travelling, seeing India and navigating our way through tourist sites, maintaining engagement with guides when sometimes it was a bit too much and of course the smells and food challenges that we had. At lunch we decided to cancel our already paid for destination tour which was an afternoon tour of Delhi. It didn’t feel great to do it but at the same time, you can’t put a price on your health and happiness, right!
So, instead of tackling the sensory overload that India has been for us on this trip, we checked into our hotel (Leela Ambience Hotel) and stayed put. The boys played hotels, they were the masseurs in the day spa, we toured the hotel, had long showers and baths, ordered room service and put on our PJs and slippers early. It was the best!! It felt so liberating and well overdue!
Despite the relief and rejuvenation we felt from the change of plans, there was still that little niggle that says, “You didn’t fly all the way to India to sit in a hotel room”. That niggle needs to go away! Travelling with kids is one thing, but travelling with kids in some of India’s busiest cities is another. The niggle eventually did go away, and we felt very much at peace with our decision. You’ve got to do that, sometimes, right? Some of the best laid plans just aren’t all that and need to be changed. After a chillax, we wandered around the hotel and ordered room service for dinner and were all in bed for an early night – it was the best!
Our final hours in India
Our final morning in India saw one last buffet breakfast. I couldn’t believe it; we were all still so full from all the food we had been eating all week and we all ate bare minimum. Packed up and ready to go, we made our way to the foyer, handed over our last tip to the hotel staff and made our way to the Delhi Airport. We needed to arrive in plenty of time because we knew we had the task of getting our hands back on our drone that we were required to leave at immigration for the duration of our trip – stress!
We said our goodbyes to our driver, gave him his tip because he truly had been wonderful. We were told from the beginning that there was no obligation to tip, however, if we felt the service had been good, we could do so, and we should tip accordingly. It is hard to know but we think we gave him a tip that was deserving of his efforts.
Next task was getting the drone – little did we know that the next three hours would end up being the most stressful airport experience of our lives so far!