Intrepid Travel India – Review: “Indian Getaway” tour

categories: asia travel
25% off Intrepid Travel trips

Amateur Traveler India Trip Group
I think you go to India for the Taj Mahal and some of the landmark sites, but what makes you want to go back is more complex. I took a group on an Intrepid Travel India Tour, Intrepid’s “Indian Getaway” tour. This is what we did and why we enjoyed it.

Table of contents: (Hide)

India Gateway Tour Itinerary

Intrepid Travel India Gateway Tour Itinerary map

The Intrepid India Gateway trip starts in Delhi and travels to Varinasi, Agra, the village of Tordi Garh, Jaipur and returns again to Delhi. Over the course of the trip we spent the night in:

  • modest hotels in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur
  • a more fancy hotel in Varanasi
  • a heritage accommodation that belonged to a local ruler in Tordi Garh
  • two night trains to and from Varanasi

India Gate shrouded by smog - Delhi, India

Delhi

Air quality

We traveled to India in the dry season in November which was great for weather but not the best for air quality when we were in Delhi. The smog was particularly bad when we were there. It got so bad that United airlines stopped flying to Delhi for a time between our arrival and departure fearing crew health issues. As I understand it the air quality is a combination of the cars, industry and the burning off of local fields.

Traffic

One of the most notable aspects of Delhi is traffic. The traffic is a mix of cars, motorbikes and the ubiquitous tuk-tuks. Yes, sometimes you need to close your eyes because of some maneuver by your tuk-tuk driver, but much more often you want o close your ears because of the incessant honking of horns. As far as I can tell, an Indian vehicle will cease to function if you stop honking its horn. On the way in the from the airport I tried to count to see what was the longest period of time that I could count between hearing car horns. I once made it to 6 seconds. But if your travel insurance is paid up and your relationship with your maker is on good terms, then there is nothing else to do but sit back, clothes your eyes as needed and enjoy the spectacle.

Food

My whole group loved the food in India. We ate at hotels. We went around the corner to local restaurants. We even stopped by stands along the highway for street food. None of us got sick, although some of us were nervous we would. I never did use the steri-pen I brought.

I did find the food often to be spicy. Now don’t get me wrong, I like spicy, but India got a bit too spicy for me at times… depending on what I ordered. My go to dish is chicken biryani. I had it on the Air India flight I took over and was surprised that airline food could reach my tolerance for spicy. Given that food tastes more bland at altitude, that is impressive. When I arrived at Delhi I went around the corner to the first whole in the wall restaurant I found and that was the only chicken biryani on the trip that I could not finish because of the amount of spice. Other things that we ordered were fine and people who did not like spicy food, did also enjoy the food.

Exploring Dehli

Before and after the tour we took 2-3 days to explore the city on our own. Some of the sites I hit were:

  • Mughal Emperor Humayun’s Tomb
  • Isa Khan Niyazi’s Garden Tomb
  • Lodi Gardens
  • Qutub Minar
  • India Gate
  • The National Museum

Read more at Historic Places in Delhi

food cart Old Delhi

monkey Old Delhi

vendor Old Delhi

Old Delhi

Our first sightseeing as part of the tour was a visit to Old Delhi. I may have thought Delhi was chaotic but Old Delhi turns that up to 11. It is a wonderful concoction of street carts, monkeys climbing the tangle of telephone wires, shops and food stalls.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid Mosque

We visited the large Jama Masjid mosque, one of the largest in India. They expect tourists so all the ladies are rented a covering garment. Conservative dress is appropriate and you cannot wear your shoes inside. When I say “inside”, I mean inside the complex as the mosque itself is a shallow building with most of the actual worship taking place outside.

Jama Masjid

It was not advised for women to climb the minaret unless accompanied by a man, lest they get harassed. I am not sure any of our group made the climb.

Sikh Temple - Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib ji

Sikh Temple – Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib ji

We visited the Sikh Temple which was quite a different experience. It was bright and colorful and musical. The temple dates back to 1783 and was built on the site where the 9th Sikh guru was killed.

Sikh Temple - Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib ji

One of the more memorable parts of our visit to the temple was a visit to the large kitchens where the community, with help from members of our group, cooked food for any who want it. We stayed for a simple meal of bread and lentils.

Pancham

We spent some time shoppin the wonderfully colorful streets of Old Delhi. Our guide Pancham, who we loved by this early point in the trip, had worked on cruise ships and as a chef in restaurants so he was a great resource to talk about Indian food for the whole trip. In a spice shop he introduced us to the basic spices in Indian cuisine: curry, coriander and turmeric.

We shopped for some snacks for the next leg of our journey which would be the night train to Varanasi.

India Night Train

Night Train to Varanasi

I have written in some depth about Riding the Night Train in India so let me just say here that the experience was interesting.  Think of a dorm room at a hostel with 60 or so people except that it is in motion. The chai vendor will come around periodically and sell you a warm cup of chai and we were quite addicted to it even this early in the trip.

I had previously ridden the night train in China on another Intrepid tour (see Riding the Night Train in China – with Video). That trip should have been 1st class but we had been bumped to 2nd class because we were traveling close to Golden Week. The Indian 2nd class car was better. In particular the toilets were kept more clean. Also the system for figuring out which car you were in was very clear and very organized on these tremendously long trains.

Varanasi is quite far from Delhi and the rest of the places that we visited. You could certainly avoid this train trip but Varanasi was the highlight of the trip for everyone in the group as I recall, so I was glad we had done the itinerary that included it.

Varanasi India

Varanasi

I have written in depth about Varanasi as it was the most memorable part of our trip (Varanasi, India – Ceremony, Tourism and Death on the Ganges – Video #103), so I will just hit the highlights here.

Varanasi was overwhelming. This is a hindu holy city on the banks of the Ganges River. There are a series of 88 ghats, or wide flights of stairs, that lead down to the river. Here people would be bathing in the waters of the river. In two of these ghats bodies were brought for cremation in a much more public way than we would be comfortable with back at home.

Varanasi India

Sunrise Boat Ride

My favorite part of the trip was the boat ride that started just after the sunrise prayer ceremony. We got into one of the many colorful boats in the smoky misty light of dawn and cruised down the length of the city watching the scenery that seemed almost a ubiquitous beige color interrupted by the colorful saris of the women and the brightly painted boats.

Varanasi India

Varanasi India

I took so many pictures in such a short period of time that I burned through an entire battery on my camera. You are going to want a camera with a good zoom that can take pictures like this from a moving boat from a distance.

Bollywood - Varanasi India

We even went past one ghat where a Bollywood film was being made.

Varanasi India

Hindu Ceremonies

We went down to the river at dawn and again at dusk to see the Hindu daily prayer ceremonies that involved sets of priests with smoke and chanting and fire making a series of ritual motions akin to dance. All this is going on as throngs of tourists watch. At the evening ceremony we got back in a boat and watched from a tourist flotilla as young chai vendors hopped from boat to boat plying their wares.

Varanasi India

We had our own more private chance to send prayers out on the Ganges with small biodegradable floating candles.

We also went shopping, drank lassis, watched funerals, dodged sacred cows, rode on tuk-tuks and pedicabs and visited a run-down fort. Check out my Varanasi post for more details.

Taj Mahal

Agra – Taj Mahal

I’ll bet you thought the highlight of this article and of this trip would be the Taj Mahal. I probably did as well.

We arrived into Agra much later than planned as I explain in the India Night Train article. Because of this we did not have a chance to visit the Red Fort. But the main reason that you go to Agra, if not India, is to visit this white marble mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna river which was built to honor the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan’s favorite wife. I think it is the story as well as the beauty of the building that makes the Taj Mahal as well known.

Taj Mahal

Let me be clear, just because the Taj Mahal was not the highlight of my trip doesn’t mean that this visit let me down in any way. The Taj Mahal is beautiful and worth seeing and the crowds there should not deter you from visiting. We visited in late afternoon and then stayed to see it in the fading light of dusk when it takes on a pink hue.

In my opinion, the beauty of the building is the exterior. If you are deterred from visiting the dark interior by the crowds you aren’t missing much.

Tordi Garh

I met some listeners of the Amateur Traveler because of Tordi Garh. I was in Key West in the summer after our trip and I was wearing my tour t-shirt with this list of places we went on the back: Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Tordi Garh, Jaipur. I realized a couple at the next table were staring at me. No, they had not recognized me… yet… they just wanted to know where the heck is “Tordi Garh”.

Tordi Garh, India

Tordi Garh is not a major city in India but a village of about 5,000 people. Visiting it was an intentional effort to get us out of the cities into the countryside. We stayed in a Heritage-listed palace owned by the descendants of the person who used to run if not own this village.

step well Tordi Garh, India

It was a nice chance to see what life is like in the countryside. We visited a step well, had a tour through the different streets of the town. Segregation by cast is no longer legal in India, but still a fact of life in these villages.

Tordi Garh, India

We climbed the hill above town at sunrise to the ruins of an old Mugul fortress with a view of the area.

Jaipur, India

Jaipur

The last city that we visited was Jaipur the capital of Rajasthan. Jaipur is known as the Pink City because of the color of its buildings.

Amer Fort - Jaipur, India

Amer Fort

Outside of town the group visited the massive Amer Fort. This spectacular fortified palace takes up 4 square kilometers on the top of a hill. This fort gives a very clear signal who has the power in town. It must be good to be the Raja.

Amer Fort - Jaipur, India

Amer Fort - Jaipur, India

The outside is foreboding and the inside of the fort is opulent with gardens, fountains, and halls where you could hold court. It has everything a self-respecting ruler would need.

Palace of Wind - Jaipur, India

Hawa Mahal – “Palace of Winds”

The most spectacular of the buildings downtown was the Palace of Winds which sits at the edge of the city palace.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur, India

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar is a collection of nineteen 18th century astronomical instruments including the world’s largest sundial. Great effort was put into tracking the sun and celestial bodies not for scientific reasons but for astrological reasons. We were told that even today you would not start a company or hold a marriage on a day that was inauspicious. We visited Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal  on our free time. Intrepid trips do have free time for you to explore on your own or maybe line up a cooking class or some other day tour through Urban Adventures which is affiliated with Intrepid.

Also on our free time Pancham took a group of us to a Bollywood movie. It was not what I expected. It was a romantic comedy, not a musical, with the same production quality as Hollywood… although in hindi. The movie theatre was beautiful but… people don’t apparently have the habit of being quiet through movies.

Delhi

The tour ended as it started at the same hotel in Delhi.

Amateur Traveler India Trip Group

Conclusion

I have taken Intrepid tours now to China, Morocco, Cambodia and India and each time the guide has been a treasure. Pancham was a great resource for trying to understand India a bit better. He would herd us to some of his favorite restaurants or stop the bus out in the countryside because he saw a vendor selling water chestnuts or homemade fritters that he thought we should try. He was patient and always cheerful.

The  “Indian Getaway” tour from Intrepid is a great first experience with India. It left me wanting to go back as it did many of our group. You don’t have to take my word for it as you can hear their reactions on Amateur Traveler India Trip – Amateur Traveler Podcast Episode 590

Intrepid Travel India - Review: “Indian Getaway” tour | India tour #travel #trip #vacation #india #jaipur #delhi #agra #varanasi #taj-mahal #itinerary #tour #cities #tips #architecture #food #culture #temple #mosque #beauty #places #bucket-list #northern #destinations #new-delhi Intrepid Travel India - Review: “Indian Getaway” tour | India tour #travel #trip #vacation #india #jaipur #delhi #agra #varanasi #taj-mahal #itinerary #tour #cities #tips #architecture #food #culture #temple #mosque #beauty #places #bucket-list #northern #destinations #new-delhi

Share this:

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

2 Responses to “Intrepid Travel India – Review: “Indian Getaway” tour”

Kathy

Says:

“As far as I can tell, an Indian vehicle will cease to function if you stop honking its horn.” I figured there must be a horn language, lol. When I flew from Chennai to Colombo in Sri Lanka I thought at first I had gone deaf because there were so few horn blasts!

“None of us got sick, although some of us were nervous we would.” My last visit, six weeks in the south, the only time I got sick was in the most expensive hotel of the whole trip. Going vegetarian for the duration isn’t a bad idea.

Looks like you were in AC3 on the Indian train – I’ve only done that once, AC2 is much better. More head room and fewer people. I’ve also done AC1, which is four berths in a lockable compartment, but it tends to be boring. Fellow passengers are government and business types. There should be a plan on the platform showing where the various carriages will stop but I nearly missed a train in Hampi because it was missing and I couldn’t find my carriage – there’s no warning that the train will leave, it just starts moving. If I’m going to take a night train I travel with a silk DreamSack, which takes up very little room. This is a great resource for Indian trains (and others!): https://www.seat61.com/India.htm

I would add the Bahai’i Lotus Temple and the Raj Ghat to the list of sights in Delhi.

Chris Christensen

Says:

I flew from India to Singapore, also culture shock with the difference in traffic.

Leave a Reply

Tags: , , , , , , ,