On a rainy Thursday morning we departed Surat, bags in tow along with our honeymooners. The second part of our journey was more about exploring India but we had a very busy itinerary and tried to get in as much as possible. Many followers on Instagram wanted to know about how we booked and how we got around. For the Surat part of our journey we handled logistics and bookings on our own via booking.com. For the next part we scored a better deal using an agent. My mom got quotes from agents in India and Zuber Patrawallah was able to match the best quote we received. Everything was included, hotels, flights, transfers and tours. The only excess we paid was tourist fees at tour sites. In every city we had a driver waiting for us, accomodating us and taking us whenever we needed. Zuber’s services were excellent and I highly recommend him if you’re looking to explore India with the help of an agent.
We got to New Delhi via and IndiGo airlines flight. New Delhi was very hot and very humid, we were fetched from the airport and immediately taken to our first tour site; Humayuns Tomb. We did a bit of sightseeing before checking in to our hotel, my brothers were very keen on getting an early start the next day because they wanted to perform Jummuah at the Jama Masjid. I found things more formal in New Delhi as opposed to Surat, traffic was intense and the humidity was stifling. I had a niggling chestiness that became exaggerated due to the poor quality of the air and pollution. This made ND my least favourite of all the cities we visited.
Where we stayed: The Crowne Plaza in Okhla
Where we visited: Humayuns Tomb, Qutub Minar, India Gate and the Presidential Palace. My favourite experience was reading Jummuah at the Jama Masjid in New Delhi, the atmosphere was invigorating. Be careful outside the masjid though, you can become very quickly accosted by beggars and they will follow you around relentlessly. After Jummuah we visited Chandi Chowk and Nizammudin. We didn’t get to everything on our intneray due to time constraints and heavy traffic. Also, our hotel was situated quite far out. If you’re going to ND, I suggest staying near Connaught Place.
What we ate: The first day we were tired so opted for a takeout meal from Kebab Express, they delivered it to our hotel. After Jummuah we had the loveliest authentic butter chicken at Karrims in Nizammudin. Recipes belonging to the royal Mughal chefs are still used this restaurant in a hotspot for tourists visiting from all around the world.
Where we shopped: Chandni Chowk was an adventure, that looks nothing like it does in Kubi Khushi Kabi Gham. The shopping is really nice but you need lots of time, and also be wary about your possessions (we were warned many times that pickpocketing is very rife). There’s lovely clothing shops opposite the McD’s with very reasonable lenghas. You can also pick up replicas of Sabya Sachi and Manish Malhotra designs, at excellent prices (but remember to bargain very hard!). You also get lovely stationery (pick up embellished envelopes for Eidie), jewellery, trimmings, and almost everything you can think off. Nizamuddin had really nice silverware, abayas, tents and musallahs. We got to check out the local supermarket called Big Bazaar, and it was such a treat! They have groceries, homeware and clothing. If you have a chance purchase luggage like Samsonite and American Tourister, they are priced very reasonably in India.
Getting around: Uber is the cheapest. Tuk-tuks are also readily available, and taking the rickshaw near Chandni Chowk is quite an experience! Our coolest adventure of the entire trip was taking the Gattiman express from ND to Agra.
The highlight of my trip was my first train ride ever and seeing the Taj Mahal. We reached Nizamuddin Station early in the morning. The train station from the outside seems like chaos. We were immediately approached by porters dressed in red uniforms and after furious negotiation, they agreed t0 carry our luggage to the platform. Zuber ensured that our driver also guided us and waited with us until the train arrived. The train station can be overwhelming, there are lots of people, all rushing and the local trains that come speeding by are loaded to capacity. Once once you’re at the correct platform, just take everything in and enjoy it. It’s the perfect time to people watch, and really experience INDIA. As soon as our train arrived we got on and got settled. The inside is like a very spacious airline. The train journey was very comfortable and I actually fell asleep immediately and missed the fresh breakfast we were served. I did wake up long enough to witness some interesting morning activities being carried out on the train tracks. Our journey came to an end far too quickly and we had 5 min to disembark at the station in Agra, the excitement to see the Taj was bubbling inside me. If you are ever going to India, try and include at least one train trip on your itinerary, it’s a lovely experience!
Where we stayed: Double Tree Hilton Agra
Where we visited: THE TAJ MAHAL! I expected this to be an overrated experience but it was it was the highlight of our trip. As soon as reached Agra we had a driver who took us to the hotel to freshen up. We reached the Taj entrance at around midday. This is where the guides appointed by our tour operator were invaluable in their assistance. They were able to purchase our tickets and bypass queues quickly. We were then led to a awaiting photographers who take pictures. They coax you into taking a package of pictures, pose for pics and give you an album when you’re done. Here are some thoughts I penned about my experience at the Taj Mahal.
In 2000 my high school had a cultural event, showcasing Indian culture. I used a speech my mom had given to local women’s groups. It was a speech that got her invited to the Indian Embassy at that time, and it was a speech she hoped would inspire them to send her for a trip to India. A trip that never materialised. Travel seemed way out of our reach at that time, as my parents struggled to make ends meet. I memorised and recited my mothers speech, fascinated by this distant land with its dabawallahs and its magnificent Taj Mahal. This speech echoed in my mind as I saw the Taj Mahal 19 years later in person, with my mother and brothers by my side. I was humbled, I was in awe of this beautiful structure. And most of all I fought back tears, as I basked in gratitude having given this privilege of travel. A privilege to see the wonder of the world in my lifetime. A wonder of the world, I spoke of so confidently but inwardly thought I would never be able to see in person. What a magical moment it was ,a day I will never forget.
We left the Taj Mahal many hours later, with 100’s of pictures and precious memories to last a lifetime.
What we shopped: We did almost no shopping in Agra, besides trinkets and magnets. Tour guides will take you to a marble factory but most items available for purchase are very expensive.
What we ate: Halaal food was not readily available, we were a bit tired to go out looking for food so we opted for fast food. We sampled the paneer tikka wraps from McDonalds and the famous Aloo Tikki burger as well as vegetarian pizzas from Pizza Hut.
How we got around: Ubers, Tuk-tuks and our tour guide.
We spent only 1 night in Agra before heading to Jaipur in the morning. Before leaving we stopped at Fatehpur Sikiri a small town that was the palace of the Emperor Akbar. We disembarked and did some sightseeing with a guided tour of the Panch Mahal. We also did some shopping at the local market where we purchased lovely marble goods at better prices then in Agra (unfortunately my brothers Taj replica was shattered on the flight).
5 hours later, after journeying through colourful Rajasthan we reached the beautiful pink city- Jaipur.
We spent a little more than 24 hours in Jaipur one of India’s first planned cities. The entire city was painted pink in the 1870’s to welcome Edward, Prince of Wales. The city houses marvellous forts, palaces and and ancient monuments which my inner history geek just loved. A guide met us at our hotel to take us sightseeing in the city but we had very limited time to see and explore as much as we could. It was a lovely experience but I feel we could have done with an additional day or 2, to fully do justice to exploring Jaipur.
Where we stayed: 4 Points Sheraton -Jaipur
Where we visited: Amber Palace, City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Albert Hall Museum.
What we ate: We found a lovely fully halaal restaurant on Zomato called Cafe Kebabs. The meal we had there was paneer masala, tadka dal,different types of kebabs, naans and masala fries. This was one of the most scrumptious food we ate on the trip, the food was spicier and the curries had the deepest colour. We enjoyed the food so much that we visited it a second time before we left for the airport.
What we shopped: We only had time to visit Bapu Bazaar, streets lined with shops selling the most gorgeous goods. We managed to purchase lovely linens, you get the most intricate jewellery, handbags, juttis, saris, skirts and clothing in Jaipur. The work on garments is done by hand and colourful representative of Rajasthani culture.
Getting Around: Tuk-Tuks and Uber.
After an epic time in Jaipur we got ready for the final leg of our trip- Mumbai.
We landed in a wet and gloomy Mumbai, afflicted with the worst of the Indian Monsoon season. We were greeted at the airport by our friendly driver Munir Bhai who chauffeured us around Mumbai. We decided to stay in Colaba, a hotspot for tourists. Colaba is very close to the Gateway of India and there’s lots of shopping and exploring to do. During the part of our journey we parted ways with my brother who opted to stay at the United Families Welfare Trust Mussafir Khana. We freshened up there before leaving Mumbai and I actually liked how clean and hospitable the service was. If you looking to travel on an extreme budget consider booking there.
Where we visited: Munir Bhai was a very patient driver and took us to Juhu beach, Santa Cruz market, Mohammed Ali Road, he even offered to take us to a movie set and show us the homes of Bollywood stars!
What we ate: There are plenty of halaal food options in Colaba, we found a quaint restaurant and enjoyed a lovely meal of dhal and rice. Also, a must do in Mumbai is high tea at the Taj Hotel (if you’re not staying there). Near the Crawford market we had the most delicious falooda and I finally managed to sample the chilli cheese toast. Sandwizza also looked delicious from outside and its where locals purchase a midday snack, so queues are very long. Don’t miss an opportunity to sample some paan!
What we shopped: To be very honest, we found shopping in Mumbai quite expensive, especially compared to Surat and Jaipur. We managed to buy a few trinkets and mithai and I thoroughly enjoyed the Crawford market. They have the best imported groceries stocking every single brand imaginable.
Getting around: We visited Mumbai during a very busy time, it was the 10th of Muharram as well as the Ganpati festival, this made traffic very heavy and commuting around was very time consuming. Munir bhai took us around, we also used Uber (it’s more expensive in Mumbai) and the local taxis.
Our journey started and ended in Mumbai. It felt like 12 days went by in a blink of an eye, and very soon we were back at the airport with bags ladened to capacity and ready to go back home.It was trip I will never forget. I travelled with my loved ones, having adventures in India and making memories that will last me a lifetime. I am no travel blogger, to me travel remains a privilege. I am just glad to share some of my trip with all of you. We experienced everything from luxury to budget accommodation, almost every mode or transport, warm hospitality in the gaams and a food safari that has me wanting to recreate some of the dishes I ate in my kitchen.
Need to know:
Apply for evisas here: indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html
Here’s a post with a wealth of suggestions on what to do in India: facebook.com/safeerakaka/posts/10157654528329558
For a driver in Mumbai Munir Bhai: +91 98 211 55512
Agent Zuber Patrawallah: +91 98201 01608
Agent to book tours around India & Maldives: Salman Bhai Mia: +91 98795 16333