We were a group of 4 people (2 couples) in our early and mid forties.
Arrived at the New Delhi T3 around 10.30 p.m. Had pre-booked a Toyota Innova (6+1 seater) with Travel Bureau Agra for a pick-up from the airport and drive direct to Agra. Had booked a Toyota Innova with Travel Bureau, Agra to cover New Delhi-Agra-Jaipur. I chose Travel Bureau, Agra after receiving several quotes from several travel operators in Delhi and Rajasthan (RTO). Left Terminal 3 at 11.30 p.m.
Reached Agra around 3 a.m. Checked into Hotel Royal Residency and slumped onto the bed. After lunch, were met by Deepak Sharma, the destination expert of TA, in the hotel lobby. I had arranged with Deepak to be our guide for the Agra leg. Since Day 3 was “Holi”, as per Deepak’s suggestion, visited the Agra Fort, Sikandra (Akbar's Tomb) and Itmad-ud-Daulah. Watched the sun set from Mehteb Bagh (across Yamuna River). Dinner at Pinch of Spice. Night in Agra.
Visited the Taj around 6.30 a.m. After lunch, drove to Fatehpur Sikhri. Trust me, having an expert guide to show you around does make a big difference and you would certainly appreciate and enjoy the great monuments of Agra. Deepak’s charges are very (I repeat, very) reasonable. Left Fatepur Sikhri around 4.30 p.m and reached Jaipur around 9.30 p.m. (on the way break, 30 minutes) Checked into Hotel Baba Haveli. Released the vehicle and the driver. Night in Jaipur.
Hired a car and visited the Amber Fort at 9 a.m. Took an elephant ride to the top. Rs.900 for 2 people. Visited the City Palace and Hawa Mahal. Walked around the bazaars enjoying the evening sun reflecting on the orange (pink) walls. Boarded the Train # 12965 GWL UDZ Express to Udaipur (2AC Rs. 755 per person). Departure : 10.25 p.m
Arrived in Udaipur around 6 a.m. Were picked up from the railway station by the hotel and checked into Mewar Haveli. Visited the City Palace (hired a guide inside the fort), Jagdish Temple and after lunch, took a boat ride and visited Jag Mandir. Dinner at the roof-top restaurant of Mewar Haveli, enjoying the sun-set. Night in Udaipur.
Had pre-booked with Mewar Haveli for a Toyota Innova (7+1) to drive us from Udaipur to Jaisalmer, with stops in Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur. Left Udaipur around 7 a.m and reached Kumbalgarh around 10 a.m. Left Kumbalgarh around 12 noon and reached Ranakpur around 1.30 p.m. Left Ranakpur around 3 p.m and reached Jaisalmer around 11 p.m (on the way break, around 60 minutes). Checked into Shahi Palace Hotel. Released the vehicle and the driver. This long rive was not as bad as I had feared. Night in Jaisalmer.
Hired a vehicle and a guide and visited the Ludarva - Gadsisar Lake - Amar Sagar Lake - Bada Bagh. Took a Half-a-day camel safari arranged by Hotel Shahi Palace. Rs. 1.250 per person. Left around 2.30 p.m and returned around 8 p.m. Night in Jaisalmer.
Visited the Fort and the Nathmal ki Haveli - Patwon ki Haveli - Salim Singh ki Haveli. Lunch at Trio Restaurant. Boarded the Train # 14060 JSM DLI Express to Jodhpur (1AC Rs. 945 pp). Departure : 4.30 p.m. Arrival in Jodhpur : 9.50 p.m. Were picked up from the railway station and checked into Hotel Haveli Inn Pal. Night in Jodhpur.
Visited the Meherangarh Fort and the Jaswant Thada. Tasted the Cheese Masala Omelet at the Omlette Shop. I had originally booked the Train # 12464 Rajasthan Sampark Kranti Express to New Delhi Cantt (1AC Rs. 1,641 pp). Departure : 6.30 p.m However, the train services from Jodhpur-Delhi on that day were cancelled due to some disturbances. Hence took a RTDC Volvo bus. Left Jodhpur around 4.30 p.m. Ticket price : Rs. 1,100 pp.
Arrived in Delhi around 5.30 a.m. Took a cab and reached the Terminal 3 (Domestic) around 6.00 a.m. Boarded the Jet Konnect Flight to Amritsar (Rs. 2,385 pp). New Delhi Dep : 7.50 a.m Arrival in Amritsar : 9 a.m. Were picked up at the airport by the hotel and checked into Hotel P R Residency. Visited the Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh. Hired a car (arranged by the hotel) to Wagah Border to see the Border Closing Ceremony in the evening. This is a highly hyped and exaggerated event . Considering the long queue and the security checks and also the fact that you need to be there atleast 2 hours before the start of the event without water (they do not even allow you to take a water bottle), I felt that this was a waste of time. However this is my personal opinion. After queuing up and completing all the security checks, foreign passport holders are allowed to go through the VIP entrance and are seated near the gates. However, once all these seats are occupied, I did see many foreign tourists being asked to go to the Indian visitors’ side which is very, very crowded with lot of pushing and showing. Once the event started, all the people kept standing and that’s when all the mayhem starts. I did see many foreign tourists leaving even before the event had started. Night in Amritsar.
Had pre-booked with Hotel Brown Palace, Pahalgam for a Toyota Innova (7+1) to pick us up from Amritsar and drive direct to Pahalgam. Left Amritsar around 7.30 a.m and reached Pahalgam around 9 p.m (on the way break, 60 minutes). Checked into Hotel Brown Palace. Night in Pahalgam.
Hired a horse and did a trekking to the Baisaran and Beetab Valleys. Night in Pahalgam.
Hired a Toyota Innova and drove to Srinagar. On the way, visited the saffron town of Pampore and purchased some saffron.. Checked into New Peacock House Boats. Night in Srinagar.
Did a city tour and visited the mughal gardens and the Shankaracharya temple.
Day trip to Sonmarg.
Day 16 & 17
Spent the days relaxing and did a lot of shopping. Purchased some good quality woolen sweaters and leather jacket. A leather jacket made out of sheep skin with inner padding with sheep wool cost around CAD $ 85.
After breakfast, drove to the airport and boarded the IndiGo Flight to Delhi (Rs. 2,007 pp). Leave atleast 3 hours before departure since Srinagar airport is chaotic with lot of checking. You also need to fill-in a registration form for each passenger before you check in and there is always a long queue for this. Before boarding the flight, you need to identify your baggage and only after you had identified your baggage, they are loaded onto the plane. Hence give ample time. Srinagar Dep : 11.05 a.m. Arrival in Delhi : 12.35 p.m. Hired a pre-paid cab and drove to Delhi Nizamuddin railway station. (1 hour drive). Boarded the Train # 12612 Chennai Garib Rath Express to Jhansi (3AC Rs. 372 pp). Departure : 4 p.m. Arrived in Jhansi : 8.40 p.m. Were picked up and driven to Orchcha and checked into Hotel Bundelkhand Riverside. The pick up from the railway station, rooms in Hotel Bundelkhand Riverside and the drive from Orchcha to Khajuraho, were arranged by a travel agent (Central India Travel Services) based in Orchcha. Their charges were very reasonable and got a room at Hotel Bundelkhand Riverside for 60% of the posted rate which also included breakfast. Night in Orchcha.
Hired a guide provided by the Travel Agent and visited the Jehangir Mahal, Chaturbhuj Temple, Chhatris (Cenotaphs), Laxminarayan Temple, Ram Raja Temple and Raj Mahal.
Left Orchcha around 3 p.m and drove to Khajuraho. Reached Khajuraho around 7 p.m (on the way break, approx 30 minutes). Watched the sound and light show (7.30 – 8.30 p.m). Ticket: Rs. 300 pp. Also watched a cultural dance show at the MPTDC Tourist Information centre located near the temple gate. Ticket : Rs. 150 pp (8.30 – 9.30 p.m). This is a wonderful show worth every penny. There were no other audience except four of us and they were happy to perform the entire 60 minute show only for us. Do not miss this show. Checked into Hotel Harmony. Night in Khajuraho.
Visited the Khajuraho temples (Western, Eastern and the Southern temples. Boarded the Train # 22447 Khajuraho Nizamuddin Express to Delhi (3AC Rs. 725 pp). Departure : 6.15 p.m.
Arrived at the Delhi Nizamuddin around 5.30 a.m. Were picked up from the railway station and checked into Hotel Wood Castle. Took the Metro and visited Qutab Minar and Humayun's Tomb. After lunch, visited the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple. Night in New Delhi.
Visit the Raj Ghat (cremation ground of Mahatma Gandhi), Red Fort and Jama Masjid. Lunch at Karim's. Explored Chandni Chowk (Old Delhi) by visiting the Chawri Bazaar (Paper products), Khari Bazaar (Spic market), Kinari Bazaar (Wedding items) and Dariba Kalan (Jewellery). Purchased sweets at Ghantewala (Est: 1790 – was told that this is supposed to be the oldest shop in India). Visited the Pallika Bazaar (underground bazzar) at Connaught Place. Night in New Delhi
Visited the Dilli Haat (3 minutes walk from INS Metro station) and the Central Cottage Industries Emporium for shopping. During our entire stay, used the Delhi Metro. Purchased a smart card for Rs. 200 pp (which included a refundable security deposit fee of Rs. 50) Metro was very convenient and very cheap. Night in New Delhi.
Early morning flight from Delhi to Toronto.
1) On arrival at the Delhi Terminal 3, I went to the Aircel booth (arrival hall) and purchased a basic Cell phone for Rs.2,500, which included Rs. 1,200 pre-paid minutes (no roaming). Documents required - Proof of Identity (passport copy), Proof of Address (a printout of the Delhi hotel booking is acceptable) and a colour passport size photo. The phone worked for the entire duration of my trip and I did not have to change the sim card at any point.
2) Although a bit expensive, I went along with Mewar Haveli for the Toyota Innova for Udaipur–Jaisalmer trip, solely for a peace of mind. Since all vehicle operators were looking for an advance payment, I decided to pay Mewar Haveli since I was staying there.
3) Same with the case for Amritsar-Pahalgam trip. One additional factor I gave consideration was that I thought a driver from Pahalgam would be more knowledgeable and experienced to handle the terrain and the road conditions of Kashmir.
4) I made all the advance payments for the long distance vehicle hire and the hotel bookings in Pahalgam and Srinagar house boat, by way of a Demand Draft issued by a Canadian Bank (TD). The drafts were issued in Indian Rupees and were drawn on their correspondent bank in India, which was Bank of India, Mumbai.
5) I booked all my flight tickets through Makemytrip. One advantage is that, when you book flights, Makemytrip offers discounts ranging from 10%-25% on hotel bookings. I used these discounts to book high value hotels, recommended in Trip Advisor. Cleartrip however offers discount on return tickets.
6) I used Cleartrip to book all train tickets. The booking window of Cleartrip for trains opens exactly at 9 a.m (Indian time), 3 calendar months ahead. For example, bookings for trains which depart on 5th April, the booking window opens exactly at 9 a.m (Indian time) on 5th January. (10.30 p.m on 4th January, Toronto time)
7) I specifically went for trains which were originating from the station I was boarding (except Jaipur-Udaipur) in order to reduce the risk of any delays. Since I booked all my tickets exactly 3 months ahead, I was able to get all 4 seats/births in the same coupe (including 1AC).
8) I used Makemytrip to book most of the hotels. I also used Cleartrip and Hotels.com (for hotels not offered by Makemytrip). However Makemytrip does offer a better price.
9) The whole 24 day trip cost approx CAD $ 3,500 per couple ($ 1,750 per person). This included all hotels, meals, air & train tickets, long distance vehicle hire, local sightseeing, entrance fee, guides and tips. Excluding the air fare to and from India and shopping.
10) If you are using a DSLR Camera, a Wide-angle lens (I used 0.42X HD) would get you some stunning pictures.
11) If I had more time, I would have loved to spend an extra day or two in Udaipur, Pahalgam, Srinagar and Orchcha.
On a side note, on our way from Udaipur to Kumbalgarh, on our driver’s advice, we stopped at a small village where carpets were being weaved. The name of the shop was Shiv Gorakh Dhurrie Udhyog. The name of the village was Sayara. There were two brothers who were weaving beautiful carpets. We took a gamble and purchased some carpets as the owner (Karen) promised to courier them to Canada. We advised him to courier the parcel after the 16th . We received the parcel on the 20th. I paid USD $ 400 for 7 carpets of different sizes, including shipping. These carpets could be used both sides.
Please feel free to e-mail me at : firstname.lastname@example.org, if you need any additional information.
I also want to thank all the destination experts of Trip Advisor and all other members for answering over 60 of my questions and providing expert advice, without whom this trip would not have been possible.
My apologies for this lengthy report.