Eternal India with Contiki
WHY I CHOSE THE ETERNAL INDIA TOUR WITH CONTIKI
Before Christmas I received the most amazing email, I had been invited by Contiki one of the world leaders in travel experiences for 18-35 year olds to join along and experience a trip with them. I was given the choice of anywhere in Asia or South America which as you can imagine was a tough choice to make.
India is a place that has always been on my bucket list, a country steeped in history, full of culture and finally the most delicious food. When I was asked which tour I would like to experience from the long list that Contiki has, I just kept coming back to India. Plus, as a female I had always felt that India might be the one place I was not brave enough to travel alone to. That was actually a huge misconception on my part, but more on that later.
Honestly the thing that drew me to the Eternal India tour most was the sheer amount of diverse places and activities I would get to see and do in 12 days. The trip included everything from Rickshaws through markets, to grand Palaces, to Tiger Safaris in the jungle – what more could you want! I am incredibly happy with my decision to choose India. it was honestly one of the best, most unique experiences of my life and one that I cannot encourage you to do enough. I hope these two posts (there's too much information to give for just one) will help you understand what Contiki is all about and why you should make your first tour with them the Eternal India Tour.
THE PLACES YOU VISIT
ON THE ETERNAL INDIA TOUR
Delhi – 2 nights
Agra and the Taj Mahal – 1 night
Ranthambore National Park – 1 night
Jaipur– 2 nights
Udaipur – 2 nights
Mumbai – 1 night
Goa– 2 nights
DAY 2 OF DELHI
Day 1 is your arrival day where you meet your team and trip manager and get to know each other a little bit before the trip kicks off.
Day two is your full day in Delhi and where you get to experience the hustle and bustle of one of the worlds most hectic cities. We hopped on our private bus and made our way to the first site on our day long tour of Delhi to Jama Mosque. The first introduction to Indian Arcitecture and a wonderful one at that! We didn't spend too much time here, but enough to experience its vastness and snap a few pictures.
After hopping on one of India’s famous bicycle rickshaws we were whisked through the tiny back streets of Old Delhi. If was wild, like nothing I had ever experienced. Beeping is a like an additional language in India and in Delhi it is something you cannot escape so be prepared for the wild and loud journey.
Our rickshaw ride ended as we were dropped off outside the market area of Old Delhi where we visited the spice market to see a birds eye view of the place from an amazing roof top spot. It was a really interesting addition to the the tour and made for some epic photos.
The rest of the day included a lunch stop and a visit to one of Delhi’s largest Sikh temples where huge communities of people serve up food to those in need. This was so interesting and a part of the day I really enjoyed especially as we got to sit and help make the chapattis to be served later that afternoon.
After a long day of exploring we made our way back to get changed and relax before heading out for dinner in the hip area of Hauz Khas. Again this was another brilliant recommendation from our tour manager James. In fact he took us to some of the best places for food all throughout the trip. That night we ate at a literal whole in the wall (no seriously the restaurant was tucked in a tiny wall) and the tikka kebab that I had was probably one of the most delicious things I ate on our whole trip. So definitely take the advise of your tour manager, they know all the good spots and have tried these places first hand.
AGRA FORT & THE TAJ MAHAL
The next morning we were up bright and early to make our way, to perhaps the most anticipated place on the trip to see the Taj Mahal. After a fun bus ride, we arrived into Agra in the afternoon, checked into our hotel and then headed straight out on the bus to see see the sites for the day. Before the Taj Mahal we spent a few hours exploring Agra Fort one of the finest Mughal forts in India.
It was beautiful, the architecture is outstanding with red sandstone and marble covering the walls of this grand fort you would be hard pressed to not find a spot to capture a gorgeous photo. You also get a bonus shot of the Taj from afar! We spent just over an hour before heading on to the main event.
Honestly the first thing I can say about Contiki is that it made the experience of seeing a huge tourist attraction like the Taj Mahal so easy and smooth. Our tickets were already purchased for us and James our tour manager gave us tips on how to avoid long queues by not bringing bags (if you do bring a bag you will need to go through a separate bag checking line) I also liked the fact that we were told the history of the Taj Mahal before we arrived which left us plenty of time to actually explore. I saw a lot of tour groups that were gathered around tour guides trying to make out what was being said to them in a very noisy environment. It’s very busy and crowded so honestly learning about it’s history and meaning on the bus ride to Agra helped make it a much better experience in my opinion.
The Taj Mahal is truly one of the most spectacular buildings I have ever seen. I got a little Emosh when I walked through the entrance doors and saw it face to face. My fav spot to get a picture was the Princess Diana bench area and the side of the building where you can capture a beautiful image through the arches.
I thought I would mention a little bit about Agra Town itself as I think it’s important to note that it’s no where near as grand as it’s famous landmark. In fact I was quite shocked at just how run down it was. I didn’t like it at all, it’s definitely not worth staying longer than one day there and I’m glad that we had just one night before leaving early in the morning.
Oh boy I could write so much about this portion of the trip! I LOVED it. It was definitely one of the best parts of the entire Eternal India tour.
The journey to get to the area of Ranthambore is pretty long, but fear not there's a lovely lunch stop to break up the time. You also pass through lots of villages and rural parts of India that you might not otherwise see and although its from behind a window on the coach it’s still interesting to see none the less.
Once we arrived into the area we were taken straight to the Dhonk Craft Centre, a cooperative that was set up to employ those who would otherwise only find income from tiger poaching (Ranthambhore is renowned for this)
It was so lovely, we got to meet the creator of the centre and hear the message and purpose of why Dhonk was started. The delicious Chai Tea with incredible views also helped make it extra lovely. It is here you can shop locally made products such as toys/clothing and homewares. We were in craft heaven and to see that our purchases were going towards sustaining a local community really made the stop worth it.
Now let’s talk about the hotel - it was spectacular! A grand colonial style building covered in beautiful tropical trees and plants made it the Instagram dream. When we arrived we made sure to hit up the beautiful pool where the chai tea and biscuits were unlimited. We also enjoyed a lovely dinner and dance performance in the evening before hitting the sack early to be up for the 6am Safari.
Top tip for this. Make sure to wrap up warm and don’t wash your hair the night before! I made that mistake and unfortunately there was no hairdryer in the hotel. I was left to sleep on wet hair and when when I woke up we had to drive through pretty cold temperatures in an open top jeep at sunrise. Which left me with a pretty nasty cold for the next few days of the trip.
Aside of that, this experience was one of the best of my life. Driving through what I can only describe as a real life Indiana Jones movie was something I will never forget. But even more than that, we were able to see a Bengal Tiger just a few feet away from us, in her natural habitat when on our Safari through the grand national park.
To put that experience into perspective, a couple who joined our tour had been on 15 of these safaris and never seen a tiger. It was exhilarating to see something so beautiful in the wild and definitely up there as one of the best experiences in my life.
THE CITY OF JAIPUR
The next morning we left Ranthambore to make our way to Jaipur the place also known as the ‘Pink City’ This city was up there as one of my favourites on the trip. Everything was so colourful and beautiful and of course Pink! We arrived in the afternoon and were dropped straight to Jaipur Palace! It was stunning, the walls surrounding were this beautiful dusty pink and white colour that was just begging for a photo. On the tour of the palace we learnt so much history about the state of Rajasthan, the palace and Jaipur City itself. Did you know that Jaipur was painted pink as a welcome gift for a visit from the Prince of Wales? Cool huh!
We also had quite a bit of free time on the first day of arrival and so a few of us took a Tuk tuk to a beautiful tourist must see - the Patrika Gate. It was worth the 20 minute journey by Tuk Tuk and wasn't half as busy as I thought it would be because it is definitely instagram worthy. I had also received a really cool recommendation to visit Bar Palladio a gorgeous all blue Bar as part of the Narain Niwas hotel which aside of being picture perfect is also a lovely place to enjoy a drink and some snacks pre-dinner!
On Day two we had a pretty packed itinerary and were up early around 7am to explore Amber Fort. On route we also got to stop at one my favourite buildings in all of Jaipur the beautiful Pink Palace. Constructed of red and pink sandstone and sitting on the edge of the City the building was like something straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. The design is similar to that of a Honeycomb bee hive, and was absolutely stunning to see in real life. We learnt that the tiny windows were used as a viewing area for the Royal Princesses, although the story about it is much more sad being that the women in this time weren't actually allowed to go outside of the palace walls meaning this is the only way they saw the outside of their quarters.
The Amber Fort, next on our stop was also as equally as gorgeous in its architectural design. Built from red sandstone and marble this fort has both Hindu and Muslim architectural influence. We started the morning hiking up the side of the fort for incredible views. This is an add on portion of the tour but one I would recommend everyone does. But make sure to carry water with you and wear a hat! The walk isn’t too strenuous but definitely no stroll either.
Jaipur is the Capital of Rajasthan and not only is it famous for its beautiful pink city walls but also for is Art and Crafts. After exploring the outstanding architecture of Amber Fort we hopped back on the coach to be taken to a local craft and block carpet factory. It was here we were able to witness the incredible talent of local craftsmen and women first hand. It was amazing to see just how intricate the work is, that goes into creating the beautiful rugs we see in the high end homeware shops around the world.
The block printing in particular was interesting to witness as it is all done by hand, right down to the making of the ink. We even got to have a go of block printing ourselves and it's a lot harder than it looks! It really opened my eyes to just how much effort get puts into each and every piece created.
Next up on the trip was Udaipur, Mumbai and finally Goa, but that is far too much to tell you in this post!
So please check back for my second Eternal India post where I will tell you about the amazing treats of Udaipur India's City of the Lakes.
The incredible architecture and street markets of Mumbai and finally the beautiful beaches of Goa. Please feel free to ask any questions you might have for any of the places I have written about in this post.I would be happy to help.