Hopefully you will enjoy reading our trip report, whether you have travelled to India in the past or are thinking about touring India hopefully this report will be of some assistance to you. I read a thorough trip report on trip advisor a couple of years ago by and this report really encouraged us to visit this lovely country and explore it for ourselves. If you have never visited before and not sure what to expect then hopefully this will give you a wee taster as to what to expect.
This was our 2nd visit to the wonderful country that is India, we visited last year for two weeks and never left Goa, this time however we toured and seen some wonderful people and places and this is where the adventure begins.
The MRS and me returned from our first trip to Goa in Jan 2012 and almost straight away we started researching, planning, pricing and eventually booking an itinerary that would see us return to India via Istanbul in Dec 2012 for 3 weeks, our flights Edinburgh-Istanbul-New Delhi and returning Mumbai-Istanbul-Edinburgh were all with Turkish airlines booked via Kayak for £515 return PP.
We left Edinburgh airport on Sat 29th Dec and boarded a Turkish airlines flight to Istanbul, we arrived in Istanbul around 1800 and after clearing customs we made our way outside and the taxi marshal pointed us in the direction of a metered taxi to take us to Sultanahaemet. (old city) We were booked into the broken column hotel (our review is on trip advisor) we had a dinner next door to the hotel, the Mrs had Turkish stew and I had meatballs, the food was fine but a wee bit pricey for the drinks, after dinner and drinks we retired to bed. Next day we took in some of the sites such as the blue mosque ayah Sofia and the fountain square area, there are plenty of bars and cafes all around and Istanbul is a city we will definitely visit again, as this was just before New Year Istanbul was really busy as a lot of people from the East and West come there for New Year, this unfortunately pushes up the price of the hotels. We spent the afternoon strolling around and had a few dinks here and there then after a lovely dinner we got a taxi back to the airport for our 1920 Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to New Delhi.
Planes Trains and Automobiles
We arrived in New Delhi after a 5hour 20 min flight and it was 0510am local time it was foggy and cold, after clearing the customs area it was outside and straight away the touts are around you "taxi taxi sir" they ask, yes I replied to one guy and this is how the conversation went, do you know Karol Bagh area? yes sir, do you know the Florence hotel? yes sir, ok how much? a good price sir, at this he summons another guy to lift our cases and we head across the car park to a taxi they open the boot and put our cases in and then open the doors for us to get in, at this point I said how much? good price sir, to which I replied how much is a good price? 1200 rupees. NO WAY get my cases back out your bleep bleep bleeping boot I shouted ok sir how much he said, get my bleepin cases out the boot NOW, ok sir have you been to India before? yes I replied, ok sir 600 rupees (this is what it should cost) No I replied you've had your bleeping chance, and I walk balk over and arrange another taxi for 600 rupees. The lesson here would have been to pay the extra when booking the hotel and get the hotel to collect you from the airport, I would certainly get the hotel to collect me from the airport in New Delhi in future.
Once at Karol Bagh area it was a real eye opener, it was just after 6am still dark and there were people sitting on the street around fires or lying in shop doorways, there was rubbish strewn everywhere and at that time of the morning it looked like something out of a mad max movie. The cab driver eventually found our hotel the Florence hotel and it is indeed a 4* we have a quick bite to eat and it's off to bed for us.
We awoke early afternoon and looked outside it's a totally different world to the one we saw early morning. We went outside and got a tuc tuc to take us to the Connaught place area for the shops and restaurants after driving around 20 mins he stops outside a shop with a sign saying international bazaar, go in here sir, no way you were told Connaught place we are not going in there take us to Connaught place I said, he then tried to tell me that Connaught place would be closed after a couple of mins he moved on and dropped us at a set of lights we agreed that he would wait here for us and then take us back to the hotel and then we would pay him, we crossed the rd into a square with beggars and monkeys sitting around in equal numbers no way was this Connaught place either, we crossed back over the rd and the tuc tuc driver was nowhere to be seen, at this we were approached by another tuc tuc driver who told us he would take us to Connaught place, after a 10 min drive he stopped outside the same shop!!! NO BLEEPING WAY I SHOUTED NO BLEEPING WAY after pointing out what had happened earlier and some more swearing the man apologised and dropped us back where he got us. Back at the beggars square so after a drink it's into another tuc tuc and back to the hotel. it's really maddening in this city that the taxi or tuc tuc drivers choose where to take you rather than where you want to go.
We have an early dinner at the hotel then it's off to bed for us as we are up at 0500 to get the train to Agra as we are going to the TAJ MAHAL on New Year's day. Lesson learned from the previous day so we pre-book a taxi with the hotel to collect us at 530am to take us to the train station, the taxi driver is there prompt and we are at the station in plenty of time so we make arrangements with the driver to collect us from the train station on our return at 2240.
To enter the station you have to go through a security gateway and as we approach it there is a man with a shirt and tie on asking to see your tickets, when we show him our etickets for 1st class air conditioned he tells me that our tickets are not valid and we need to go to the ticket office on the 2nd floor, I took the tickets off of him and shouted NO WAY MOVE IT, he moved aside this was indeed another scam that I had read about on trip advisor and my lonely planet book, once we located the carriage we were in right at the front of the train there is a passenger list and seat number as per eticket next to the carriage door for everyone on that carriage, once inside and seated our tickets were checked and we were served breakfast which consisted of tea / coffee individually wrapped bread and individual portions of butter and jam, next up we were given a bowl and an individual portion of Kellogg's cornflakes, then the guy appears with a thermos flasks with a choice of hot or cold milk then followed by 2 spicy meat cutlets (also a vegetarian choice)and several bottles of water, these guys know how to spoil you.
The train is over an hour late as it pulls into Agra station but it's still just after 9am, once outside the station a man is holding a board with my name on it, this is our driver, once we identify ourselves he leads us to a large jeep he opens the door for the Mrs and I jump in the other side and he then takes us to a hotel to freshen up and this is where we meet our tour guide for the day. As it's very foggy here he suggests that we leave the TAJ MAHAL to the afternoon to give the fog time to burn off, so we go to the Agra fort for a couple of hours then we all head out of Agra about 25 miles or so to the deserted town that is fateh pur sikhri, this place was lovely and a real eye opener as to how the mughals lived and we seen the worlds original king size bed. Next it was back to Agra to the ICC mughal Sheraton hotel for a fine buffet lunch and a couple of expensive cans of lager (£4 per small tinny) after lunch the guide was waiting for us in the reception area and it was then that we were now ready to head for the TAJ MAHAL.
You get dropped about a mile from the TAJ MAHAL and you get a battery operated open bus (this is to minimise pollution)the bus is covered in the price of your ticket, once you get to the entrance men and women have to go in separate entrances for screening, there are massive queues and this is where the guides come into their own, because we have paid an expensive tourist ticket (less than £8)you get to the front of the queues, this place was heaving as it was New Years day and the Indians were all there looking for good luck for the year ahead. The TAJ MAHAL was all that we thought it would be and more, what a place, indeed what an experience and I certainly wouldn't do it justice trying to explain it so I won't even try, but what I would say is that if you ever get the chance to go then go, it is lovely and the grounds are also lovely, we got some cracking pictures.
We headed away from their around 1700 and got the driver to drop us at the hotel in Agra (this is where we parted company with our guide) so we could get some food and drinks, he was gonna come back for us at 1900 to take us to the train station. At 1900 the driver came back for us but he had another man with him who introduced himself as Mr Sunil Gupta the owner of signature tours the company we had booked the Agra tour with, Sunil told us the train was running late as it was the same train from the morning heading back the way, after checking that we were fine with the trip and that we were happy for the driver to come back then sunill then arranged for the driver to come back at 2030 and take us to the train station, the driver then waited with us until the train came around 2130, this indeed was an excellent service provided by Sunil, as was the service provided by the driver and the tour guide, 1st class service and I would certainly recommend using signature tours for the TAJ MAHAL or Golden triangle tours
Once on the train for the return journey they are quickly round with your food for the way back, firstly more bottled water, then a choice of veg/nonveg curry a choice of rice (mushroom pilau etc) and a spicy vegetable dish all were served in individual take away foil dishes all for £17 return.
Because the train was late in we got back to New Delhi at 0110 and we were just gonna go outside and sort a taxi out, but then I could see a bleary eyed familiar face waving in our direction shouting my name, I looked at the Mrs and said that's the taxi driver from this morning he has waited around 3 hours for us, he told us when the train was late he went to sleep and when the train arrived he then had the engine running to heat the car for us, now that is service, when I paid him the agreed fare and tipped him £2 he had a massive smile on his face and shook my hand and thanked me he was very grateful, but not half as grateful as us, as we were back safe and sound at the hotel.
GOA here we come
Next day we had Breakfast and lots of coffee and then in the afternoon we were off to the airport for our 2 hour flight to Goa with Indigo £70
When we arrived in Goa it was still light and the heat hit you as soon as you stepped off the plane once we cleared the baggage hall it was outside and the guy was standing with a board with my name on it and once again into an air conditioned taxi and we headed off to Candolim.
We were only staying in Candolim for 4 days and it was budget accommodation we had booked at under £20 a night for B&B so we knew it wasn't going to be anything fancy but it was near the beach in a central location next to the bars and restaurants.
Our first night back in Goa we headed for the Fishermans cove , the Mrs had Tandoori chicken and I had the chicken Tikka washed down with a few lagers food here is good and the prices are very reasonable. Next day we spent at the beach at Jacksons shack when we asked for the bill the waiter counted it out it seemed expensive we queried it but he says that it was fine needless to say we never came here again and on reflection I should have got a written bill but once bitten twice shy as they say, this is a poor reflection on Jacksons shack as the food was fine, but the waiter put us off with his scamming ways.
In the evening we ate in the Mango Grove across the road and up a bit from the Fishermans cove, the Mango Grove had a guy with a guitar and amp singing, it was a lovely atmosphere and the Vindaloo was lovely, a Scottish couple were sitting adjacent to us and as it was their last night they very kindly gave us a rechargeable torch. This place has someone employed to keep checking the toilets to make sure they are clean and replenish toilet rolls etc. My bill here would have been reasonable but the Mrs developed a taste for the mojitos in here and for this reason the bill was up a but it was worth it. The food was a little dearer than the Fishermans cove but still not expensive and for the quality and extra touches well worth it.
Next day we headed down to the beach for the day and set up camp at Francisco's shack excellent beach shack in a great part of the beach they also hunt the hawkers away from you, plenty of brits using this beach shack, also a lot of people used this shack for sun beds and food and drinks time and time again, but the food was lovely as were the staff and when I asked for the bill it was half the price of the shyster waiter at Jacksons and it was on a hand written receipt. That night we ate in Candolim at the spice plantation, I found this place to have very small portions and expensive.(enough said)
Francisco's again by day and the Carvelhha for dinner at night, this place is down a side street on the way to the beach, it's across the road from the Fishermans cove it's not much to look at, but the Tandoori food is lovely, one word of warning though, the portions are massive but again very reasonably priced.
Francisco's next day till late afternoon then it was time for us to get in the taxi and get on the move again this time to lovely Anjuna. The taxi driver dropped one of my bags on the ground and i lost a full bottle of honeybee brandy (1.38p), but thankfully the Mrs had placed it in a plastic bag so none of our clothes were wet.
Hacienda de Goa
We stayed here last year and gave the place rave reviews, and for this reason we were booked in here for the next 10 nights 11 days and this place oozes quality and tranquillity in equal measure, the rooms and grounds are very large and both are kept immaculate, the swimming pool is lovely and clean and the restaurant is first class, as are the staff and the owners are special people.
Being in Anjuna it is a wee bit further out from the busier places. (about 20 mins from Candolim by scooter)but it is well worth a visit even just for a few days or even just to taste the lovely cooking you won't be disappointed.
First night back at the Hacienda and we dined here in Romeos restaurant, the food is freshly prepared and cooked in front of you and the menu has hot dogs and burgers as well as Indian and Goan cuisine, the Mrs had the big burger (plenty of eating) and I had the melt in the mouth butter chicken. Next day we lazed by the pool all day broken up by lunch and drinks, ah lazy days in the sun with cold beer and lovely food. We dined in Romeos again at night, the Mrs had a spinach and mushroom dish and I had a chickpea and curry dish, once again a lovely meal washed down with kingfisher and honeybee.
Next morning we organised through the Hotel the hire of a moped and I headed 5 mins up the Rd to little Vagator beach near the top of the hill I saw two ladies about to walk over the scrubland towards the beach I stopped and asked them if they were looking for the beach? and they said yes I said are you staying in Anjuna? did someone told you the beach was 10 mins away? again they said yes how did you know? I replied same thing happened to me & the Mrs last year, so I got them to hop on and took them the five minute ride to the top of the beach road, the 2 Israeli women were very grateful as the walk is over 30 mins from Anjuna. Next I popped into my favourite barber in Anjuna for a wet shave, this cost about 70p for a cut throat razor shave and a head massage. In the evening we drove up the road to the Palm Grove and had a Tandoori chicken meal, a chicken tikka achari meal a garlic and cheese nan bread and a few beers for about £6, this place is queued out by Indians during the day as they do a fish thali curry for about 90p, not a fancy restaurant but clean and worth a visit.
We headed back into Candolim on the scooter and spent the day on the beach at Francisco's shack, we bought some T-shirts off Christopher a young guy selling T-shirts on the beach, even if they only last a few washes they will still be worth it. At Francisco's I try the Vindaloo and it was lovely and also washed down with a kingfisher bus as am scootering only 1 bottle all day. At night we tried some more of Romeos cuisine, the Mrs had the fish platter and I had the BLT sandwich with chips and homemade coleslaw, again the food is first class and I had a wee honeybee before finishing the night off with a few vodkas. Next day we were off on our travels again and this time we took the scooter down to Siolim and out over the river (Mandovi I think)bridge and over to Aswem beach, this is a lovely beach in a nice cove covered by coconut trees, a lot quieter and less trodden than Candolim or Baga beaches and far less hawkers, we spent the day here on the beach dipping in and out the Arabian sea, and had a lunch at a beach shack, the beaches over this side are much quieter but there is a lot more Russians than Brits over this side. When we were finished on the beach we had a leisurely ride back over the bridge and into Siolim then Anjuna, in the evening we went to the Vegetarian restaurant called Sita, this is next to the petrol pumps in Anjuna, it is very busy and the food was also very nice, I got a spicy chow Mein for around £1.40, only thing is this restaurant does not sell alcohol, so dinner tonight is washed down with some cokes.
Next day we decide to separate for the day the Mrs is staying around the pool for the day so I head into my favourite barbers in Anjuna for a haircut, shave and this then turned into a head, face, back and arm massage, also my fingers, neck and ears being cracked, I was in the chair for 30 mins all for under £1.50. After this I headed into the local city of Mapusa (pronounced Mapsa) the Mrs was here last year and didn't like it as it was too busy and dirty for her. After a wee tour round about Mapusa I headed back to Anjuna and stopped at the Sita restaurant again for a mushroom dish that was lovely. In the evening surprise surprise we decided to dine at Romeos, the Mrs had the very large prawn salad and I had the big burger and once again fantastico.
In the morning we headed off early and went to greenwoods in Candolim for a full English breakfast before setting up camp at Francisco's for some sunbathing and lunch, after this we done a little shopping in Candolim before returning to the Hacienda de Goa. In the evening we drove up towards Vagator beach, there is a restaurant up there hidden away called the alcove (Mr Thomas the owner of the Hacienda de Goa had given us directions to it last year) the view here is fantastic as you are about a good 40 to 50 ft above the beach and looking right over the Arabian sea, when the sun starts to go down the light colours in the sky are fantastic then it turns the sky red before it disappears then about 15 mins later it is pitch black. The setting here is second to none but then again so is the food. The Mrs had a fish platter which consisted of squid, prawns, shelled king prawns and two different types of flat fish. I settled for the mixed grill and as I wanted it done in the Tandoori it was all chicken, 4 pieces chicken tikka, 4 pieces garlic chicken, 4 pieces of chicken tikka achari and half a Tandoori chicken served with some salad and fries.(mine was around £6)
The next few days were mostly spent lazing around the pool and eating in or around the Hacienda de Goa. In all of the above never once did we have an upset stomach or bowel problems but then again we are careful as to where we eat and kept washing our hands especially after handling money and we never ever drank out of bottles or ate uncooked vegetables outside the Hacienda de Goa.
Mumbai here we come
On the Wednesday afternoon it is time to say our goodbyes to Susan and Thomas and all at the Hacienda and we will definitely be back here again next year, but now we are off to the airport to catch our Jet airways flight Goa to Mumbai £35. Mr Thomas had kindly pointed out that our hotel in Mumbai should be as near the hotel as possible and that we should book a cool cab from the airport to our hotel and this advice was to turn out to be invaluable as you will find out. On arrival at Mumbai airport we find the signs saying cool cabs and we join the queue to book our taxi, once at the front of the queue we showed the guy the address for our hotel and he then tells us the cost will be 340 rupees (around £4) to go 3.5 miles, then the guy at cool cabs said listen up this is very important, keep a hold of this receipt when you go out the building follow the signs for taxi rank and do not give this receipt to anyone apart from the guy with the security uniform and hat, he is up next to the cool cabs, also he said do not give the driver or anyone any more money as you have paid for everything.
As we left the terminal with the guys words in our ears people started to walk towards us saying prepaid taxi this way this way, no I promptly replied and headed for the guy with the hat and uniform on, he quickly summoned a driver and we were off again on our travels. It was after 8pm at night and Mumbai makes London look quiet, it then took us 50 mins to travel to the hotel some 3.5 miles away from the airport.
After we checked in we headed to our room in the Ramada Powai hotel, the room is large and very comfortable unlike what's outside, but hey ho this is India and after a couple of beers it's time for bed. In the morning we have breakfast that is set out in a buffet style all is fine and we arrange with the hotel a car and driver to take us to India gate the TAL Palace hotel and see some other Mumbai sites. This is about 11.30 and it takes nearly 3 hours to travel all of 18 miles. Mumbai is lovely but crazy and manic at the same time, India gate is a site to behold as is the universities and the outside of the railway station. The TAJ Palace hotel was the one subject to the terrorist attack in 2008, this place is indeed like a palace inside I had the chicken tikka and nan bread for lunch and this was melt in the mouth and around £10, they also had a buffet lunch on offer for around £30 but the full place was beautiful. On the way back up to the North of the city we stopped at some lovely gardens and then passed the world's most expensive house. This country really is a contrast of the have and have nots, but then again this country has lots of lovely places to explore, lovely people to meet and lovely food and culture.
We settled for the buffet for dinner in the Ramada at night the Mrs had cold dishes and salad and runner beans etc whilst I stuck to the hot curry dishes. We placed our phone call to the hotel reception confirming that we were to get an alarm call at 4am and we were in bed for 9pm, at 950pm the phone in the room rings, once awake I answered it's reception confirming that we have booked an alarm call for 0400 hours, I was not amused but I managed to go back to sleep next thing I know it's 0245am and the Mrs is spewing in the toilet this goes on for another half hour or so, well it's time to get up and showered and ready. When we go down to reception at 0440 we point out that they were meant to give us an alarm call they just shrugged their shoulder and said no-one had informed them, I hate to think what would have happened if we hadn't been up but we also had set alarms on our phones but this is not the point. Our taxi came and we headed through the deserted streets on our way to the airport, from what I have seen I much prefer Mumbai to New Delhi but then again if back in New Delhi I would get my hotel to arrange pick up from the airport and any taxis that we require.
The flight from Mumbai to Istanbul was 7hours 20mins, if I had realised this I might just have booked a flight to London, in the future I would probably exit from New Delhi to Istanbul. Once in Istanbul we once again headed for the old city Sultanahaemet but this time we stayed at the best western Empire hotel, as it was well after the New Year all the hotel prices were greatly reduced by half or more. The hotel was nice we got into our room just after 11am and after a beer it was bedtime for me for an hour or two. In the evening we went out for a lovely meal and the city is very quiet but still very lovely. After dinner and a few drinks its bedtime as we are up at 530am to be at the airport for 7am. The hotel very kindly let us into have breakfast at 6am even although breakfast doesn't get served till 7, we appreciated this gesture and everyone at this hotel were lovely the bedding and towels were also very clean and yes we would stay here again.
All in all this indeed was a great journey and one that we still laugh and talk about and even although we are back around 20 days we look forward to visiting India again next year.
I hope this was a good read, and may encourage you to travel to or around India, well until the next time.
All the best from Mrs Fowsky and me.