Group at Lotus Temple

Three Weeks In India…A Recap Of My First Tour

Derek India, Wandering Earl Tours 62 Comments

Group at Lotus Temple
My very first Wandering Earl Tour – the Welcome to India Tour – came to an end last night. Our group had our last meal together, our last conversations and our last laughs and today, everyone heads off in separate directions after having spent the past 19 days in each others company.

For me, this tour was a tremendous experience and I really do feel that the entire adventure was a success. The feedback has been positive from those who participated and hopefully, they all had as rewarding a trip as they envisioned when they had originally signed up to spend three weeks in India wandering around with me.

It had always been my goal, ever since I started working on the itinerary several months ago, to offer the most diverse Indian experience possible in the time we had, an experience that would be ideal for first-time travelers to this immense country.

And after some picking and choosing, eliminating and replacing, I eventually came up with a final list of destinations and a route that connected them all. It’s impossible to see everything in India, regardless of how long you spend here, but this particular route seemed to match the goal of the tour the best.

So where did we go on this Welcome to India Tour?

Delhi

We began in Delhi, a chaotic city for sure, but one that is full of interesting experiences, including Akshardham Temple, the Lotus Temple, the streets and markets of Old Delhi, India’s largest mosque and some excellent dining opportunities. And we managed to organize an excellent rooftop dinner as well complete with live Indian classical music…

Dinner in Delhi

Dinner in Delhi (2)

Amritsar

From Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Station we hopped on the Golden Temple Mail Express train that would take us to the city of Amritsar on an 11 hour overnight journey that involved meeting quite a lot of friendly locals on board (as well as a few odd characters) and having a hard time sleeping due to the constant screaming of the chai vendors who walk up and down the train cars throughout the night trying to sell chai to sleeping passengers…

However, once in Amritsar, we visited the magnificent Golden Temple, the holiest temple of the Sikh religion, before taking a drive to the Indo/Pakistan border to watch the bizarre evening border ceremony that takes place every day…

Border ceremony, Wagah, India (3)

Border ceremony, Wagah, India

Border Ceremony, Wagah, India (2)

McLeod Ganj

Our next stop was the Tibetan community, and home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile, called McLeod Ganj, a large village in the foothills of the Himalayas located some 2000 meters (6000 feet) above sea level. We spent a relaxing four days here, doing everything from visiting the peaceful Buddhist temples, exploring the mountains and nearby villages on a four hour hike, eating platefuls and bowlfuls of simple, yet delicious, Tibetan food items such as thentuk, thukpa and momos, taking a Tibetan cooking class and spending a morning at the beautiful Norbulingka Institute among other things…this town is addicting and even after four days many members of the group wished we were staying longer!

McLeod Ganj, India

McLeod Ganj, India (2)

Tibetan Yak Restaurant, McLeod Ganj

Rishikesh

Eventually, we pulled away from McLeod Ganj and took an overnight bus down the mountains and into the neighboring state of Uttarakhand, where we arrived in the town of Rishikesh early one morning. And after checking into our guesthouse in the quiet Laxman Jhula neighborhood located right along the holy Ganges River, we spent the next three days waking up to hypnotic music and chanting coming from the nearby ashrams, wandering around the temples, visiting the markets, eating very well (this was consistent throughout the tour!) and spending our evenings watching the puja ceremonies, one at the Parmarth Niketan Temple in Rishikesh and a larger ceremony at Har-ki-Pauri in the nearby holy town of Haridwar…

Laxman Jhula, Rishikesh, India

Rishikesh, India (2)

Hari-ki-paori, Haridwar

Agra

We left Rishikesh on November 13th, which also happened to be the main day of celebrations for the Diwali Festival, one of the most important festivals of the year. Our destination was Agra, some 8 hours away, and after a lunch stop in the village of Shahpur (which was the home village of Ajay, the guy who helped me organize certain aspects of this itinerary), we arrived at our hotel just before 7:00pm. Unfortunately, in terms of a Diwali celebration, there wasn’t much happening in the streets of Agra near our hotel apart from the frequent explosions of huge bomb-like firecrackers that were apparently designed for the sole purpose of blowing out people’s ear drums. And combine this with the fact that everyone was exhausted from the long day of driving, we just ended up having a quick dinner and then going straight to sleep.

The following day, the group went to see a Bollywood movie in the morning and to the Taj Mahal in the afternoon, however, both myself and Anil (my friend from FoxNomad.com who assisted me with this trip) did not participate. We were both suffering from Delhi belly and were unable to leave our room for about 36 hours.

Sick in Agra

Bundi

After two nights in Agra, we were off to the state of Rajasthan, and our first destination, after a 9 hour journey along some of the poorest roads we came across in India, was the magical town of Bundi. And just moments after arriving, I think everyone quickly forgot about the challenging, bumpy, noisy drive to get here as the sight of the massive palace on the hill, of the fortress high above and the pastel blue homes down below immediately put everyone in a good mood. For two days we soaked up the laid-back, super-friendly atmosphere of this town, exploring the impressive palace, watching the sunset from the fortress and conversing with all of the locals who were interested in having a chat. It’s no surprise that statements such as “this place is not like the rest of India” were heard quite frequently among the group.

Bundi, India

Palace in Bundi, India

Chittorgarh

On November 17th, we began our final journey together, a journey that took us from Bundi to the impressive city of Udaipur. And even though this trip took about 7 hours, we had a 2 hour break at the Chittorgarh Fort halfway, a fort that was built in the 7th century and is apparently the largest in India. Inside the massive grounds one can find a collection of palaces, temples, holy lakes and the striking Victory Tower…

Victory Tower, Chittorgarh Fort

Chittorgarh Fort

Udaipur

And then we arrived in Udaipur in the evening and the exploration of our final destination was underway. Over the next two days, we would walk around the Lal Ghat and Jagdish Temple areas, across the foot bridge to the other side of Lake Pichola, we would eat at the famous Biriyani House and the even more famous Natraj Lodge and we would spend a late afternoon at the Monsoon Palace, located on top of a mountain some 5 kilometers out of town, with some amazing views of the surrounding countryside.

View from Monsoon Palace, Udaipur

City Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur, India

And of course, we also had a celebration while in Udaipur, a simple end-of-the-tour dinner party, an Indian meal and some drinks, on the rooftop of our hotel, overlooking the beautiful City Palace and the shining lake below.

Now I can’t speak for everyone else on the tour, but as we did eat that last meal and I looked around at everyone, listening to all the talking and laughing and storytelling, I certainly felt honored to have spent time with such a wonderful group of people on this first trip.

I was genuinely happy as the tour came to an end, not because everyone was leaving, but because I believe that this adventure was an overall success for all those who participated.

So, I now want to thank every single one of you who joined this first tour here in India. It was an absolute pleasure traveling with you and getting to know you as friends. And based on my experience over the years, it is almost certain that we shall run into each other again at some point down the road.

In the meantime, I now look forward with great excitement to the Wandering Earl Tours that I shall be offering next year. My tour to Mexico in March shall be announced within the week!


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Comments 62

  1. Victoria

    Oh yes, this post reminds me of the old days on the old Indian train. “Chai! Chai!” You know Earl, I might be interested in joining you for 2015 as I would like my husband to experience India, but he’s distinctly nervous of “winging it” so I could potentially kill two birds with one stone LOL!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Victoria – In that case, do keep in touch and once I have the tours planned for that year, we can discuss the idea some more!

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  3. Anja

    Being in and out of India for the last year, I still did not see everything, of course, since the country is enormous. Your post gave me some new ideas of places I ‘d like to visit. Thanks for that. Great trip and post, by the way!

  4. Anja

    Hi Earl, I have great admiration for your way of life in the first place! And fortunately for us readers and fellow travelers and -bloggers, you blog about it. And make very good pics to illustrate your travels. Nice! I’ve been in and out of India for the last year, going here and there and everywhere….interesting…well, not everywhere, obviously, since India is so huge. So there is a lot more to explore;-). Your post gave me some ideas for places that I have not seen yet. Thanks! Kind regards, Anja

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Anja – There are too many places to visit in India so you could spend ten years there and not cover it all of course. Glad you found some new places to explore though!

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  7. salma

    Hi Earl,

    My Husband and I are planning on doing about 18-19 days in India from end of November 2013. Any chance you will be running this tour then?

    Thanks,

    Salma

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Salma – Actually, I will be offering a three week tour next year but I think it will be at the end of October. However, if that tour does sell out, I will add a second departure at the end of November as well so if you want me to put you on the early list for either of those options, just let me know!

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    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Shalu – I’ve been to South India as well on previous trips and I just figured for this tour that the north would be a better place to start. But I’m hoping to make it back to South India in a month for some extra traveling. And the person sitting on the wall at the Monsoon Palace in Udaipur is one of the members of the tour group…it was much less dangerous than it looks!

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  10. Addison S

    Congratulations, the trip looks like it was a great success. So glad to see photos of the border ceremony. That has to be one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen on my travels.

  11. M

    Hi Earl
    I wish I could have gone on the trip to India! It sounds like it was amazing.
    Are there things that one can do to avoid the Delhi belly?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey M – The best advice for avoiding Delhi belly is to avoid eating anything that looks like it will give you Delhi belly. If you stick to food from busy restaurants that prepare each meal fresh…you’ll be alright!

  12. Bessie

    Awesome that your tour went so well! I would love to go on this trip! Bummer that you and Anil both got Dehli Belly – there’s a strategy or sure in eating different food to stagger get sick.

    Congrats on your first tour!!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Thank you Bessie and you’re right, an eating strategy might have been a good idea. Something to think about for the next one – while one eats local food, the other has to eat toast 🙂 Hope you and Kyle are well!

  13. Dean

    I’m glad the tour went well for you Earl. You visited some amazing places and it sounds like everyone had a great time. I hope your future tours continue to be a success.

  14. Sofie

    Thanks for the full itinerary! Might come in handy one day:-) It sounds interesting, but also pretty exhausting. I hope your fellow travellers had some time to recover afterwards:-)

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sofie – It wasn’t as exhausting as you might think, at least not any more exhausting than any trip to India can be! We did move a little more quickly towards the end but it was rewarded with some relaxing time in the wonderful city of Udaipur before saying goodbye.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Andrew – That was a surprise for me as well. But there’s a good chance you’ll get that opportunity to share his bed if you join the Mexico tour so you might want to put your name down on the list!

  15. Steve C

    Well done Earl! However, you didn’t mention how the two guides in charge managed to be the ones who got sick. Was this to show the group what not to eat and why not to eat it? lol

    Also, I hope the one thing the group took away from this tour is that this is not the number of locations that should be attempted in that amount of time! It’s too bad that the nature of this type of tour (an education on how to travel) can’t be done properly. It can only be “do as I say, not as we’re doing”.

    Otherwise, I will definitely save this post for it’s itinerary and what to do and see in each location. Although I’ve been to several of these destinations, what you saw and did was a whole lot different than what I did. Ya can’t do it all and no two people will ever experience the same place the same! I always try to leave something undone to give me the excuse to return someday.

    Now, on to Mexico! Don’t eat any pig’s head tacos or iguana stew. I learned the hard way.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Steve – Actually, I just mentioned us two guides but by the end of the tour, everyone had fallen ill at least once 🙂 That was quite expected with India though!

      As for the nature of the tour, one thing I think you’re forgetting is that every traveler is different. Some people just want a small taste of a country, some people only have time for such an experience. And that is exactly what this tour was designed to do…to give those who otherwise would not have traveled to India on their own, a diverse sample of this country in 19 days. And given that those who participated were quite happy with how the tour went and the experiences they had, I consider it a complete success and wouldn’t say that this is not how someone should travel. For some people, this is exactly how they want to travel and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  16. RunAwayHippie

    That sounds awesome Earl! I hope everyone else had as much fun as you did! I’m excited to see what your Mexico itinerary will include! It also sounds like a very interesting trip.

  17. Sarah Somewhere

    Wow, that itinerary sounded amazing Earl! Well done, I take my hat off to you for a successful first tour in of the most logistically nightmarish (yet wonderful) countries in the world. Mexico will be a breeze after this!!! I also wanted to take the opportunity to thank your for your blog, we have just spent 2 months in Playa del Carmen and booked an apartment through your friend Liz. It was one of the best times we have ever had, and we’re already planning to go back next year! Cheers Earl.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sarah – That’s so wonderful to hear!! And just reading about others experiences in Playa always makes me want to run straight back there myself 🙂

      Perhaps we’ll have a meetup there next year!

  18. Paul

    Great recap of the tour Earl. Sounds like you and the crew had a great time (apart from the unfortunate stomach bug!). It’s certainly given me some great ideas for planning a trip, and looks like a good mix of famous and not so famous spots.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Paul – That was the goal…diversity of cultures, religions, geography and well-known/lesser-known destinations. I really feel this is a solid itinerary for first-time visitors to India but wherever you end up, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Steve – I do have a few more tours planned for 2013, so this could turn into something more substantial for sure 🙂

  19. Shane

    I thought this was a brilliant idea when you first announced it and I’ve been very curious to see how this would go. Glad to hear that, aside from a touch of illness, things seem to have gone well.

    With Mexico next, fingers crossed Montezuma doesn’t habour any grudges towards you – I don’t think you could have chosen two more stereotypical countries in this respect.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Shane – After India, I think Mexico will be a breeze in terms of stomach illnesses. I was certain that everyone on the India trip would get sick at least once (which they did) but with Mexico, I’m much more confident that such a situation won’t happen. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

  20. Chandni

    Wow!!The entire trip looks great! It must have been delightful for people visiting India for the first time. You sound like a great ambassador for my country : ) I’d love to join in on one of your trips some time (any plans on doing one in eastern Europe?? *hopes*).

    PS: Glad to see that you went to Chittorgarh when many people choose the more popular Jaisalmer and Jodhpur route. It is such a beautiful fort with a very rich history.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Chandni – I definitely prefer the Bundi/Chittorgarh route through Rajasthan and would do it again in a heartbeat! And I am thinking of putting together a tour for Eastern Europe…I’m working on the plans now and will see how it goes. I will have one to Istanbul in May, that I know already!

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