This is India: A visit to the Land of Dreams

It’s been a whopping five months since my last International getaway, so needless to say, I was not only excited to be getting out of the country once again—but to be exploring entirely new territory. Our visit included the standard staple cities that make up the Golden Triangle (Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi) in addition to Ranthambore National Park.

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Arriving in India

We arrived in Delhi very early in the morning—just a little after 4AM. Pintu, our driver for the trip, greeted us by the arrivals gate with one of those spiffy signs that tour operators have with the parties’ names on them. It simply read “Mr. Butch,” and I was kind of hoping it’d say Mr. and Mrs., but I’d soon learn that women are basically non-existent in India.

The sun had barely begun to break through the clouds, and it was already obvious that the driving in this country was pure insanity. Horns were blaring for no apparent reason, but I eventually discovered that unlike other countries in which leaning on a horn is basically a way of telling someone to take a long walk off a short bridge, it’s actually a common courtesy in India. In fact, virtually every truck in the country has three simple words painted on the back to remind drivers just how much a honk or two is greatly appreciated when passing: “Horn OK Please”


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This is because lanes, while somewhat designated, are still completely ignored and weaving in and out of traffic and passing about 22 cars a second is just a standard part of maneuvering throughout the country. I don’t even think the vehicles in India are built with turn signals, speedometers, or even brakes for that matter. It gives whole new meaning to living in the fast lane.

Pintu’s eyes darted to the rearview mirror, and upon our reaction to almost witnessing cars colliding into each other (and other people, not just on foot—but on motorbikes and with babies in tow) and explained to us that nobody in the country has a thread of patience.

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“How do you, um, cross the street safely here?” I asked. “Everyone just seems to make a run for it.”

“That’s how you do it. You just hold your hand up, wave it at the driver, and run,” he explained. “This is India.”

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Delhi

We began our day in Delhi shortly after 7AM and were back at our hotel by 2PM. Blame it on exhaustion or jet lag, or perhaps even being overwhelmed by the heat and the extreme overpopulation of Delhi  (almost 10 million), but we were more than ready to call it a day. I think with proper planning and a swift driver like Pintu, it’s easy to see the best sights that this particular city has to offer in just a few short hours. We visited Humayun’s Tomb, the Old Delhi Bazaar, the Red Fort, Bahai Lotus Temple, and my favorite of all, the Qutab Minar.


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I’d also like to say this part of my day was the most traumatic because I witnessed a fairly small dog attack, kill, and then eat a big, beautiful parrot. Just when I thought that must have been one exceptionally hungry dog, I saw another attack and devour some other woodland critter. If you plan on visiting Qutab Minar, please bring these poor dogs some Kibbles ‘n Bits or something.

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Jaipur

The next morning we began what we thought would be a 3-hour drive to Jaipur (an error on our part during the planning process), but was informed that it was, in fact, more like 5 hours. Let’s just say that driving over 2.5 hours and thinking you’re almost there, only to hear you’re only half way, is soul-crushing when you’re dealing with 115 degrees on a sunny day. While the car we were in was very comfortable, it was just sizzling hot outside. I don’t even think riding around in a portable igloo would’ve made a difference.

When I reached for one of the bottles of water we had brought with us, I quickly remembered that you have to check to make sure that the bottles are properly sealed. While so many people in India are friendly, there are others that will think nothing of making others terribly ill through the consumption of Indian tap water, as long as it means making some quick cash by passing off said water in disguise as something that’s actually drinkable. I opened a bottle that seemed questionable—the seal just didn’t seem legit to me.

“If you are not sure, then don’t drink that one,” Pintu said. “This is India.”

We were delighted to finally arrive for our first of two days in Jaipur, where we visited the Galta Monkey Temple, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, City Palace, Amber Palace, and Jalmahal. But first, we started off at the bazaar to pick up some souvenirs.

“Be careful here,” Pintu warned. “One person may talk to you while his partner pickpockets.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “This is India?”


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Ranthambore National Park

Up until this point, all of our routes—while hectic—had been smooth sailing (smooth driving?). Roads weren’t fantastic, but they were nothing compared to the hellish ordeal that is Jaipur to Ranthambore National Park. It felt like the rollercoaster that nobody wanted to be on for about 6 hours. We had an afternoon safari drive shortly after our arrival, so by this point, Dramamine had become my best friend.

This park was the reason we visited during May, which is India’s hottest month of the year. Ranthambore is known for its tiger sightings, but going just almost any other time of the year results in disappointment for many. The jungle is lush and water is plentiful, so tigers are often deeply hidden in the bush and with no reason to come out. In May, it’s not only easy to spot tigers from a distance due to miles of twiggy trees, but many of them will wander in search of water.

Dealing with what was easily the hottest weather I had ever experienced was certainly worth it in the end, as we saw six tigers over the course of three days. That averages out to about one tiger per safari. Not bad at all.

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Agra

After being in a Dramamine-induced coma for a few hours due to the warnings of another insanely bumpy ride to our next destination, we arrived in Agra—home of the wonderful Taj Mahal. Aside from the actual tiger sightings themselves, this might have been the best part of the entire trip. It was certainly the most relaxing, and the Taj lived up to everything I thought it would be. We also made a visit to the Agra Fort.

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The Food

Understandably so, everyone always wants to know about the food in a foreign land. India is not only no exception to this, but piques the curiosity of many. I was reluctant to include this section because I really didn’t want to talk about this again, as it sends a shiver down my spine in a not-so-good way. Let’s just put it this way: Indian food and I can be chalked up as a relationship that started off wonderful, but just did not work out. It pulled me in quickly with its tasty flavors, vibrant colors and enticing smells, and then betrayed me just days later.

I absolutely love spicy food and was thrilled by the fact that they love everything with such zing. But then I quickly realized that literally having everything pack quite a punch (even down to the damn potato chips) is actually a curse. And by the way, American spicy does not even come close to Indian spicy. I don’t know how they handle it. I want to say they get used to it, but when your driver (who has lived in India his entire life) even has to continuously roll down his window to let out his fart clouds and then make a few quick “emergency” pit stops, it kind of makes you wonder.


Essential Travel Information:

Getting to India: You have a lot of options for flying to India, including the awesome Etihad Airways. If you can’t find a flight that matches your itinerary, you can also use a flight search engine like CheapOAir, which helps you find the best-priced and most convenient airfare option available.

Where we stayed: With the exception of staying at the Hyatt Regency New Delhi when we first arrived, we stayed at Oberoi properties throughout our stay in India, which I highly recommend. They were amazing, and for luxury resorts, not too expensive! To be more specific, we stayed at the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur, the Oberoi Vanyavilas near Ranthambore National Park, and Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra.

Getting around India: We hired a driver and we highly recommend it, but a lot of people prefer fully guided tours and train travel throughout India is very popular, too. Tour Radar offers a ton of different tour options for India, including rail travel itineraries and other tours.

Continued: Tips and warnings for those visiting India

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