Janet and Philip
Rated 4.3 of 5
Holidays in India
India Holiday Experience
We had a terrific holiday - I hope the following feedback will give our view of a first time visitor to India and our experience that you may be able to use in guiding others into the ‘right’ holiday for them.
The hotel was well situated – could walk into town, not far from the metro and not too far from Gate of India and Official buildings. The hotel itself was fine except I would not class it as a deluxe room; it was small and had been well used; as it was at the back of the building the view was not very good. I think we were put there as there was a wedding there one day and many of the guests were staying for several days and I believe they were given priority. It was interesting to see the wedding but we were not allowed to use the garden or pool that evening. For this reason I could only give the hotel 3 out of 5, and if going to Delhi again would look for another hotel nearby.
The guided tour was very good and the lady very helpful. We walked into town and found the Catholic Cathedral and school that was lovely and also took the metro out of town as a further sight seeing trip of old Delhi. The golf club was terrific but as it was the weekend could only play the 9 hole course.
We then travelled to Agra overland – the journey was fascinating. The Radisson was ideally placed for the Taj Mahal, especially as we had an early start, the guide was full of information ad we were able to take as much time as we needed. It was also an easy walk into town and the local shopping area. The room was a good size and good facilities. The guide was very good and arranged for us to play golf at the local course which we understand is now allocated to the military. The tours he took us on were exactly what we wanted to see – he advised us to go to the back of the Taj Mahal in the evening to see another view of it.
Agra – we later talked to some Americans who had made the trip as they were fascinated by the Taj Mahal, and had booked the expensive Oberon Hotel as it boasts every room overlooks the Taj. Unfortunately at this time of year it is misty and they never saw it from their hotel room. I don’t think they had a guide either as they had not gone to the Taj until later in the day by which time it had got busy and were continually been moved on.
Overland then to Jaipur – again another fascinating journey. The Four Points Sheraton was a nice hotel and well placed. The hotel contacted me for my views and the only negative was that the tiles by the pool was very slippery – they have replied thanking me for my comments and that they have rectified it. I wanted the comment to be helpful rather than critical and I would stay there again. The red fort is fantastic – the building is beautiful and seems to go on forever, the other fort was also fascinating for different reasons – for anyone who hasn’t been on an elephant before it would be a good experience. We also visited a Sikh temple of marble in the evening – it was beautiful and well worth the visit.
Back to Delhi overland; and again fascinating the sights and sounds that we are not used to. Our driver was lovely and we felt very safe with him, and got on with him really well. The guides were also very good.
Flight Delhi to Amritsar
Probably our best and worst experience. The hotel Ista was really good – the only hotel that got the sun by the pool (the others got no sun in the afternoon). When we left it was early and before breakfast was served – they said that most of it would be laid out and we could help ourselves to what was there. This was something I have never come across before but it was very helpful to us and we appreciated it.
It is situated just out of the town next to a ‘shopping mall’. Although I prefer local markets its nice to have this facility to wander round on a night – stock up at the supermarket there and generally see what different goods there are, try different brands of sweets etc.
We had a fantastic visit to the Golden temple and queued for over an hour to go inside, which was well worth it. It is only small but incredibly beautiful. The set up where they feed 45,000 people every day for free was incredible and fascinating. In the evening the guide took us to the ceremony on the India/Pakistan boarder. We were a bit late arriving but got a good seat at the front. The atmosphere – the ceremony and the marching were terrific – a trip not to be missed.
We then went overland to Dharmshalma. The road is horrendous – part of it is a narrow mountain road that is badly surfaced and big drops with no barrier – all that I hate in a journey. It was not the fault of our driver, but other traffic especially crowded buses coming at you at speed could easily run you off the road.
The hotel we knew was basic but it was fine, they were very helpful and we had a really good meal in the evening. The guide was fine but after Agra, Jaipur and Amritsar the tour was a let down – perhaps if we were deeply interested or had seen the Dali Lama, perhaps we would have felt differently, but for us it was mundane. Although the hotel was fine it was isolated, we could not walk anywhere where there was anything to see or do and as I was not going to travel on those roads at night we decided to leave early.
Our guide was good and through Sita we were booked in for an extra night at the Ista in Amritsar (we paid that locally to Sita in Varanassi). This was definitely the worst part of the trip and one we could have missed and used the days more effectively elsewhere.
The guide/rep said he would contact us about transport to the airport the night before leaving – he didn’t so my husband phoned the office and was told we would be picked up at 7 a.m. for an 8.45 flight. When no one arrived the hotel staff phoned our driver (one day when we said we wouldn’t need him any more, he gave us his number so we could contact him should we change our minds). This was fortunate as he got to us very quickly – he had been told pick up was 8 a.m. So from having a fantastic day with the guide/rep. we almost missed our flight. The driver was our hero and saved the day.
On to Varanassi – had a wonderful stay here.
Arriving at the hotel by boat we did wonder what we were being taken to as we arrived at the boarding house and all we could see was a high wall with just a hole in the wall as an entrance. We found out later this is because the Ganges rises up to 15 metres in the monsoon season. Once inside it was charming – small with rooms round an open courtyard. There was a balcony and a roof terrace where one could watch the life on the river below – free yoga on a morning if you wanted to rise very early.
The boat ride in the evening to the cremation was not at all nasty as I had expected and full explained by our guide - on to the evening ceremony where our guide and boatman got us to the front so we could go on shore and watch it from a balcony – all for 50 rupee. The next day went back to the cremation site, the mosque and temples in town and outside of town. The traffic here was the worst anywhere but our driver was terrific – as was our guide; he spoke very clear English and was so knowledgeable and able to impart his knowledge very clearly. I would recommend the boarding house rather than the hotels which are away from the river – this way you get to see the real India. Varanassi with Amritsar was another highlight of the trip for us – except that our guide here was superb.
The hotel was great – good location etc. – as it was Devalli it was lit up and was spectacular. Unfortunately we had picked up a bug or something (probably on the flight, others were suffering at the airport on our return flight) and the first night my husband was very ill – I just didn’t feel very well. At the arranged time I went down to our driver and guide to ask them to come back later to see how we felt. We went out in the afternoon and the guide was very good and shortened our tour and put in the easier parts that did not entail a lot of walking – for which we were very appreciative. We enjoyed what he showed us and were sorry that we were not able to take advantage of the whole tour.
The hotel was ideally placed in the centre of things. On the first night we went to see the ceremony of putting the effigies into the Ganges that the guide had told us about. We followed them through the streets to the river. Police had barricades at the river stopping all except those with effigies from going to the river bank – the officer in charge saw our interest and invited us through to see at first had the whole procedure. The guide came next day (there was a mix up as she had been given the wrong name but it only delayed us slightly) – she was terrific – asked us what we wanted to see. She took us to the points of interest farthest from our hotel and told us the ones we could walk to on our free day. She spoke excellent clear English and was very chatty and informative. Of course Mother Teresa is synonymous with Kolkata and to go to see where she lived was great. So was the banyan tree – never seen anything like it; but the most interesting was the flower market – again the real India. The number, types of flowers, the artistry everything about it was fascinating – loved it. Another building worth mentioning is Queen Victoria’s monument – another beautiful building. On our walk back to the hotel we found a fantastic cake/coffee shop between the monument and the TATA building. We asked to see if we could take a look in the cricket ground and as there was an interstate match going on stayed for 3 hours to watch.
We did not enjoy this hotel for several reasons that I did relay to them when they asked by email for my views. We had a room on the 3rd floor on both visits that looked over dirty roof tops – higher floors would have a better view. The first visit was supposed to be a superior room the second a standard room – the rooms were the same for both visits – just a few doors apart, and it certainly was not a superior room. They had been well used – the second room must have been near to some machinery as there was a drone in the background most of the day and night. On the second visit we were without hot water most of the time – we were told that the water on the 3rd floor is always not very hot – you need to be on the higher floors to be sure of hot water. We are not demanding guests but we felt like second class here, they seemed to be more interested in their Indian guests; we had to ask for tea and coffee at breakfast and the general attitude was different from every other hotel. We were having difficulty with the internet in the business area – asked the gentleman at the desk for help – he said OK then walked off and 10 minutes later had not returned. We left a case there after our first visit and the ‘case man’ was very off hand when we returned.
In all the other hotels we were interacting with all the staff, they were smiling and friendly – here most of the staff were not exactly sullen but were distant. I also had an issue with security – one quickly gets used to putting bags etc. through for screening and being frisked – no problem. Here this happened – every time I went in I had to put my handbag through security – if there was a lady there I was frisked – if not I just walked through. The cricket team from another state were staying at the hotel and they walked in without putting anything through security and were not frisked. Considering that their large cricket bags and cases had been in a dressing room or their coach all day where they could have been tampered with, this seemed ridiculous. I do not have a problem with strict security but if the security is for a reason my handbag was less of a risk then their big bags that no doubt had been left unattended, and if it is felt there is a need for security it needs to be tight or it is not worth doing. I definitely would NOT STAY in this hotel again – but I would look for somewhere close as the location is excellent, as was our guide.
Loved it – the Windermere is so different from any other hotel we have ever stayed in anywhere in the world – lots of old world charm and so relaxing if one just ‘goes with the flow’, the views are also fantastic. Also convenient for a walking around if you want to do this. Our driver and guide were lovely and so helpful. My husband told the driver I was uncomfortable on mountain roads and he was terrific, the guide was chatty and helpful – he sought out some cheap spices for us and took us to a fantastic shop that sold tea (lots of advice available). It was out of season for tea picking and as it was the weekend the tea factories were not working. He picked us up early when we were leaving so that he could detour to a factory so that we could see one – he need not have done this and it was greatly appreciated. The sunrise visit is so worth it. Another highlight – loved it.
A different place altogether but again interesting – the caves were incredible, to think they were carved so long ago. On the ride out to the caves – stopped to see some cotton growing – guide and driver really good and helpful. Hotel was very good, would stay there again.
Again different to the other places we went to - my husband loved watching the cricket at the oval and got chatting cricket to many of those there. Elephant Island – lovely boat ride out and the caves were not as big as the previous ones but just as interesting. The quality and price of shopping on the island was the best we encountered anywhere, wished I had taken more money with me. The tour was interesting as was our ‘walking tours’ in our ‘free time’. Lots of old lovely buildings especially the railway station. Went to the Taj Palace hotel for afternoon tea, cost approximately £14/15 – between 5 and 7 p.m. you get sandwiches at your table with lots of other goodies available self serve – as much as you can eat and as much tea/coffee that you can drink. Lucky to get a window seat to watch the world on the waterfront and the gate go by – well worth it. Lots going on at the gate – worth finding out what is on or just walk by – there were some fabulous singing there, bands and dancers at different times.
Went to the cricket for 2 days – husband loved the price.
The hotel was well situated - basic but they had made a good job of updating an old building – breakfast not the same range as the larger hotels but enough and good quality. On our last day when we had a flight at 3 a.m. therefore a late pick up we did ask what it would cost to retain the room until later in the day as we were not leaving until late at night (explained we would not need the room servicing) and it would have been nice to have somewhere to have a shower and change. We were disappointed when told it would be the full price for B & B especially as we had checked on the internet and knew they had 5 rooms available at that price. Needless to say we did not take them up on it but have willing spent say £20 for the few hours use.
We had a terrific time – loved the country – loved the people (except at the Peerless). Enjoyed learning about the country and taking to the guides, drivers and hotel staff – learning about their lives etc. Fabulous buildings and places to visit – it was hectic but except for he trip to Dharamshala and the Peerless would not have changed anything.
Funnily the Taj Mahal was not our favourite – we loved the Golden temple in Amritsar and the red fort at Jaipur. Admittedly going in the winter you do not see it at its best as the weather everywhere is hazy, but going in the summer months may be a bit too hot for most people.
Except for the Peerless the staff, guides, reps, drivers etc. were very good – as always there are those you connect with more than others. The guide in Varanassi was exceptional as was the one in Kolkata was so flexible and went out of her way to find out what interested us and tailored it to our needs, and the guide in Jaipur had exceptional knowledge of the history etc. of the area, and the guide in Darjeeling went out of his way to ensure we saw what people go there for i.e. tea. Perhaps as we spent more time with him we got on exceptionally well with our driver from Delhi – round trip back to Delhi. A slight problem is that although the guides/drivers spoke English, the accent of some was difficult to understand.
Things to watch
In Delhi a man pointed out my husband had what he called ‘bird dirt’ on his shoe. It was easy to see it wasn’t bird dirt but something else – as I had read about this scam we would not let the ‘shoe cleaner’ clean it off as of course he would want paying. As we were warned by one of our guide the same applies if someone wants to mark your forehead.
We nearly missed one flight as the departure gate number both given orally and printed on the ticket was changed but nothing was announced. As time was getting close my husband checked and we were almost the last on the flight. I would advise anyone to remain vigilant, keep a check on the time and not to take it for granted that there will be notification of changes.
India is so different form the life we are used to but when we travel we want to see ‘the things one must or should see’ but as we are in a different country want to learn about the country, the history, the people etc. etc. etc. We want to see the real country, beautiful and interesting buildings and the real people. We like to do lots of walking – we find that some of our most interesting sights, buildings have been found whilst ‘getting lost’. This we did on this holiday.
Whilst security is tight we soon got used to that and standing in separate queues – this took us a bit of time to get used to but wasn’t a problem. We wandered down many of the poorer parts of the places we visited and never felt threatened anywhere. Mumbai was probably the place where hawkers were more insistent than other places.
Would recommend Elephant Island for shopping, and that you take tea at the Taj Palace. For us we would have missed out Dharamshala and would not stay at the Peerless again – other than that thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the trip. Would definitely NOT MISS the Golden Temple and the border ceremony at Amritsar. Would recommend the Windermere and the boarding house on the Ganges – so different from international hotels – loved them.
We were glad to have a driver and car as this meant that we could take in more of the places visited – would have regretted doing what most do and take a day trip to Agra etc. this is not enough time to get a feel of the place. I think we spent more on tips than anything else – took advice from you and others – as ours were good we felt they were worth more than the basic ‘going rate’ – the guide in Amritsar missed out as he failed to turn up, the driver got extra as he saved the day.
Thanks again for a great holiday – your itinerary was excellent overall – accommodation was good to excellent except for the Peerless – hope this view of a first time visitor is of use.
Regards and thanks
Janet and Philip
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