Category Archives: India Blog Oct 2010

India Tour day 1 – Here we go again.

City Palace Udaipur

Can’t believe my week off has gone so quickly and tonight I will fly to Delhi to start another tour. This 16 day tour of Northern India has got to be my favorite and I am looking forward to it. Being half Indian, it is always special to go back there and to show my second homeland to a group is great. 

India is such a magical country, where all the bright colours, vibrant sounds, distinctive smells and all those flavours really make the senses come alive. Here are some pictures taken on previous trips. 

Family Outing

Baskets at an Indian Market

Coming home from school on an autorickshaw

Spice Market

Some Indian villages have no running water so have to rely on a water pump.

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India Tour Day 2 – Arriving in Delhi

Touched down at Indira Gandhi Airport at 11 am after a terrible night in economy class. I had to get off that plane and try to look fresh and professional to meet my new group, who had travelled on the same flight as me.

I had a lot to say during the short transfer to our hotel, including the most vital information on how to stay healthy in India. I also had to explain about the tipping pool – each client should contribute £30 or 2100 Indian Rupees and then I tip for the group for the whole tour. I will tip the drivers the drivers’ helpers (each coach has a driver and a helper), local guides, porters, hotel staff, park rangers, jeep drivers, boatmen, people who look after shoes at temples, rickshaw drivers……the list is endless. It is extra work for me but it is the best way to do it. It also ensures that the people who provide all these services are taken care of properly as many of them really do not have much and do rely on tips.

Got the group checked in and had time to a cuppa and a shower before heading off for a bit of sightseeing.

Started with New Delhi, built by the British and then on to a huge victory tower, Qutab Mnor built in 1190 by the Moghuls. Everyone managed to stay awake.

Dinner and an early night and hopefully I (and the clients) will be adjusted to the time difference tomorrow. All the clients have paid into the tipping pool – only ever had one client who refused and he was a doctor who said he couldn’t afford it. Amazing hey.

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India Tour Day 3 – Rickshaws and Old Delhi

Slept really well and felt adjusted to Indian time this morning. I have a different local guide in each city on this tour and the Delhi guide, Ravi, seemed really good.

We started at the Red Fort which is like a city within a city and then had to discover the narrow lanes of Old Delhi. The best way to do this is by cycle Rickshaw so I cashed in 250 Rupees (about £3.50) per person paid the rickshaw drivers and off we went. The clients loved it and the rickshaw drivers got some work. The lanes are full of small shops and market stalls, with electric wires hanging down all over the place. Monkeys are crawling on the electric wires. Each area specialises, so one area is full of silk shops, one

Street Life in Old delhi

 area full of jewellery shops, one full of stationary shops. India has more shops per person than any other country and looking at the amount of shops on the lanes you would see why. In fact by law every shop has to specialise in something and that is why the supermarket has never really taken off here.

This morning went well and then we had a free afternoon. Tomorrow we will fly to Udaipur in Rajasthan.

Here in India we use a local agent to book all services including coaches, local guides, hotels, domestic flights, trains. They also send someone to help me check the group in at hotels and airports. I have to do all of this myself in Europe but here is Asia service is second to none. Yesterday we were met at the airport by a young man,Kuldeep, who works for this agent and he accompanied us to the hotel and helped me check the group in. This morning he appeared at the hotel with the local guide and he informed me that he would be doing the whole tour with us. His job on tour is to help me! The only thing that worries me is that we have 4 internal flights on this tour and Kuldeep will not be flying with us as his company will not pay for the flights. He has to take overnight trains instead, so now as I write this blog, poor Kuldeep is on an overnight train from Delhi to Udaipur and will meet us there tomorrow.

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India Tour Day 4 – Land of Kings

Today we will fly to Udaipur in Rajasthan, the largest of India’s 28 states and known as “The Land of Kings”. Until 1947 the state was known as Rajputana and divided into smaller states, ruled by kings and princes.

The backbone of Rajasthan is Aravali Mountain Range, which lies between the fertile Dhundar Basin and the huge Thar Desert, one of the driest places on earth and stretching to the Pakistan border.

The state is full of history, palaces, forts and granduer and attracts many tourists, but it is also a very poor state with low literacy rates and often suffering from droughts.

India truly is a land of contrast.

Off to get the flight to Udaipur now and I am wondering whether Kuldeep’s overnight train has reached Udaipur yet (see yesterday’s post).

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India Tour Day 4 continued – The Maharaja’s Palace

Touched down in Udaipur, to be met by Kuldeep (my helper on the tour), who had arrived on the overnight train from Delhi this morning. There was also a guy from the local agency with him. The coach driver and his helper seemed pleased to see me and I realised they had worked for 7 days on my last India tour. I had given them a good tip and some golf caps. I always bring golf caps, pens, shirts and sweets for the people I work with and to take to a village. It is hard to imagine that some people really have nothing.

Udaipur is nestling in the hills, known as city of lakes and was founded by Udai Singh, the second of the kings who ruled this area of Rajasthan, known as Mewar. The kings in most areas of Rajasthan were known as Maharajas, but here in Mewar the kings were known as Maharanas – Maha meaning great and rana meaning warrior.

Our hotel is situated on land owned by the present Maharana, Arvind Singh and looks like a palace. There is a real palace that used to belong to the Maharana in the extensive gardens. I had a walk through the gardens and met 4 clients who walked with me to the old palace by the lake. 


Palaces in Udaipur

 The view over the lake to Udaipur and the famous City Palace were spectacular and I was just about to take a photo when I heard  a voice call out from above “I’m here come and see”. I looked up and saw an old man sporting the turban and twirly moustache so familiar to the Rajputs of this area. He beckoned for us to enter the palace and go upstairs to meet him. His name was Roop Singh, he was 81 years old and he used to be servant of the Maharana, Bhopal Singh the last Maharana in this area to have any political power. Since the end of British occupation the Maharanas and Maharajas of Rajasthan have had no political power, but they still have that status.  Roop now lives in the disused Palace and shows hotel guests around for a few rupees tip.

Roop Singh the Maharaja's Former Servant

The Palace and grounds are used as a wildlife sanctuary so we saw peacocks and spotted dear.

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India Tour Day 5 – Too much help in Udaipur

Today we had a tour of Udaipur, known as city of lakes and palaces or Venice of the east and visited the Maharana’s City palace, nestling on the shore of Lake Pichola.

City Palace

I really felt that I had too many helpers today. I have 17 clients in the group and I have Kuldeep, my helper for the tour; Ganesh my driver; Mahindra the helper on the coach and Rajgat the helper for Udaipur and Rohit my local guide for Udaipur.

Only in India!

Rohit is an excellent guide.

Ganesh drives the coach.

Kuldeep is a general helper, among other things he gives out tickets and room keys. Today he saw me taking staples off some papers so took the papers and unstapled them. He also sorted out an Indian sim card for me and tops it up when needed. Nothing is too much trouble for him, but I feel bad because normally I would do all these things myself and because he has to take another night train tonight so he can meet us from our flight to Jaipur tomorrow. He is very sweet.

Mahindra gives out bottles of water and helps the clients on and off the coach.

Rajgat reconfirms our flights and tells the hotel what time we need wake up calls and meals.

I don’t feel comfortable having all these guys running around after my group and me but on the other hand they are all getting much valued work. If you don’t work in India, you don’t get paid. I get this feeling when I visit relatives in Mumbai, who have servants for everything. It just doesn’t feel right but as my relatives say, they are giving work to a poor person who would otherwise be out on the streets. But on the other hand, are the rich exploiting India’s poor by having all those servants?

View of our Hotel from the City Palace

In the meantime, we had a good day; we saw the palace and had a boat trip on Lake Pichola.

Sunset over Lake Pichola in Udaipur

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India Tour day 6 – Markets and Contrasts

India is truly a land of contrasts; it is possible to visit India and not see the real India, but only luxury hotels, palaces and monuments. I always ask my group at the beginning of a tour if they want to have the real Indian experience or just stick to the tourist spots, which while very much worth visiting, do not show what makes the country tick or local life. As a tour guide, I genuinely want my clients to get the very most from a tour, see what other tourists do not see, go where other tourists do not go.

Today we had an afternoon flight to Jaipur and I could have had a lie in and a morning off, but no peace for the wicked and I made use of the free morning by taking the group to the local market, where foreign tourists have barely stepped foot (unless they were is one of my previous groups).

The markets in India are colourful, full of life and fundamental to the community. The supermarket hasn’t taken off here, even though the huge brands from Britain and USA are itching to get into India. The local markets here provide work for the people and keep the costs low.

On the way into the centre of Udaipur, we saw a crowd of around 300 locals, mostly men, waiting at a large road junction. These people have travelled into the city from the villages and countryside to find work for the day. The work could be in someone’s home, at the market, for a business or anything, but one thing for sure is that the work will be manual. The pay will be around 200 rupees (£3) for the day and these people do not know for sure if they will get work today or any other day – we passed them by at 9.15 am and most of them will have been waiting there since 7 am. That is how life is for millions in India – they literally live from hand to mouth.

Udaipur is considered a rich city in Rajasthan and supposedly does not have the poverty of other cities, but I suppose it is all relative. There aren’t the beggars on the streets as there are in bigger cities but there are a lot of poor people here.


Vegetable Market


We explored the market and I think the locals were just as interested in my clients as they were in the locals. The group were fascinated by the market and narrow streets and seemed to really enjoy the whole experience.

Indian Sweets

How to Make Samosas


The smell, sounds and colours of the markets really brought my senses alive. Street vendors cook and sell delicious dishes but I know from experience that my western stomach won’t tolerate street food so we can look only.


After out market visit we flew to Jaipur, city of Maharajas, founded by the Maharaja Jai Singh and capital of Rajasthan. On the way to the hotel we passed the slums of Jaipur and even though I have seen many slums in India (including the Mumbai slums featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire), it still breaks my heart to see human beings living like this, in their homes made of corrugated steel, cardboard or whatever else they could find, with no or little clean water or sanitation. We arrived at our hotel, securely guarded and safe from the chaos outside. It is a beautiful hotel set in its own extensive gardens and is like a palace. My room is very luxurious, grand and ornate and can’t help feeling guilty and sad that this room probably takes up the space that 3 or 4 families would take up in the slums we just passed. As I say, India truly is a land of contrast.

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India Tour Day 7 – Capital of the Land of Kings

Today we had the whole day in Jaipur, capital of land of the kings. Jaipur was founded my King Jai Singh only 200 years ago. Before that the King hade his residence in Amber (or Amer as the locals say), so that is where we headed this morning.  


Amber Palace

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India Tour Day 8 – Tiger Tiger

I always think, to really get a feel of a country, it is necessary to experience some journeys overland. Today was the first real road journey for my group and travelling by road in India is truly an adventure. The road to Ranthambore is certainly not smooth and we average about 20 miles per hour. However we see a lot of colourful, local life, villages and beautiful scenery en route. 

We arrived in time to check in, have lunch and get prepared for our first safari. Once upon a time India was home to an abundance of tigers, literally thousands, sadly due to trophy hunting and poaching before and after independence, there are now only 1411 tigers here in India. The save the tiger campaign has been launched and the tiger is a protected animal, but is it a case of too little too late?

Here is Ranthambore the tiger population is on the increase and there are now 42 tigers in the national park, though five tigers have been sent to another park.

Many people visit Ranthambore National Park with the sole aim of seeing a tiger and while it is very special to see a tiger in the wild, I really think it is better to appreciate the beauty of the park and consider a tiger sighting a bonus. I have prepared my group and told them that they probably will not see a tiger. Actually every group I have taken to Ranthambore has had a good tiger sighting but I can’t really tell the group that, in case they do not see a tiger and then are disappointed. Better to lower their expectations.

We have 3 safaris – 1 today and 2 tomorrow. I always work with the same park ranger, who this year was on a short list of 7 for Park Ranger of the Year for the whole of India.

The safaris are taken in gypsies (6 seater jeeps) or canters (20 seater vehicles). I have 17 people in my group so we head off in a canter. The park is divided into 5 zones and each vehicle is designated 1 zone per safari. For our first safari we have zone 4 – a good zone with 2 lakes and not as dense as other zones.

We saw spotted dear, samba dear, crocodiles, bird life, but not a tiger. We had just called it a day and were leaving the park when suddenly the people on another canter wave us over and there on the dirt track appears a tiger. A females tiger, 4 and a half years old and she walked right past our canter, just 2 feet away from us. The tiger is so powerful but yet so graceful. The clients are ecstatic. We can relax now – mission accomplished, the clients have seen that elusive tiger and close up.


Female Tiger

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India Tour Day 9 – Safaris and Villages

Another early start today for our 6.15 safari and we have zone 3, which has 2 huge lakes and even better the entrance is through a huge old fortress. 

Sunrise in Ranthambore National Park

The light is really great at this time of the morning and I can’t help getting a bit fed up with some members of my group who don’t seem to appreciate this beautiful natural scenery but keep going on about seeing another tiger. It was good that we saw the tiger on the first safari, as now we can relax. Sometimes the park rangers are really put under pressure to find a tiger. This is really wildlife and it is like a game of hide and seek with the tiger. However, I do think the clients who experience a couple of safaris without a tiger sighting and then see the tiger, appreciate it more. Some people come here and maybe spend a week and don’t even spot a tiger - but some of my group just don’t realise how lucky they are.


Ranthambore Fort

We saw the tigers footprints quite early this morning and followed the direction. We came upon some samba deer, who were making a warning call, looking very alert and ready to run. We stayed in that area and waited. Suddenly there she was – the same female tiger from yesterday. This time she was in the grass and we followed her until she came very close to our canter. Great sighting, happy group.

Stalking the Tiger

My Park Ranger, Vipul, is not only a great naturalist and park guide, but he also does a lot of work with the local villages. The villagers have a very simple life and really live from hand to mouth. Each village has one water pump and no electricity. Indians like big families so have lots of kids and the problem is that there just isn’t enough work for all the kids when they grow up, so many kids are sent to the big cities where survival is tough. Vipul has helped with various projects to improve life in the villages and he is a very popular figure. Even though it is not included on our itinerary, I always try to offer the clients a trip to a village. After our morning safari, we had breakfast and then headed out to a village with Vipul. I had told my group at the beginning of the tour to take the shampoo, soap, pens , paper and watever else they could find from the hotel rooms. Now, I have told them to bring these items with them as gifts for the village. I have brought many things from home for the poor people – shirts, fleeces, pens, sweets, caps. Vipul will share these things out among the villagers, otherwise they may start fighting over them. It is sad to see people having such a basic existance – these people really have nothing. All the kids want is someone to take their photo and then when they look in the viewer on the camera and see themselves they erupt into laughter. They are overjoyed with one sweet or one pen.

Kids in the Village

Even though the locals in the village have very little, they still offer us food and tea. Of course we do not take this, as they have so little. We do step into a couple of the small houses, that consist of just 2 small rooms for a whole family. Dried out cow dung is used as fuel for cooking and for heating in the winter.


In the Village

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