India… a dream come true
For more than 25 years my wife, Elisabeth, and I talked about one day organising a holiday in India.
The inspiration for such a trip came from the 1990 Channel 4 documentary, The Great Moghuls – written and presented by Bamber Gascoigne – based on his book of the same name. The television series told the story of the period of Indian history when the country was ruled by the extraordinary dynasty of emperors known as the Great Moghuls.
My wife and I were fascinated by the story and decided that one day we should organise a tour of Rajasthan, the state where the Moghul Emperors had their capital cities, royal palaces and mausoleums, including, of course, the renowned Taj Mahal.
Taj Mahal, Agra
As so often happens in life, every year brought with it a reason why that particular year was not practical for such a trip. In the summer of 2016, we decided that, finally, we should turn the dream into reality.
From the documentary, we had some idea of the places in Rajasthan we wanted to visit and my wife was able to draw up a provisional itinerary – including Agra, Ajmer, Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.
Lake Pichola, Udaipur
At the same time, we mentioned to our older son and his fiancée that we were planning a Rajasthan tour and suggested that we could take them with us as a wedding present. They accepted and the result was that we were now four people, with some idea of where we wanted to go, but in need of help to flesh out the ideal itinerary, travelling times and suitable hotels.
A key moment was our decision not to book an organised tour, but to develop a private tailor-made itinerary. We felt that we needed more time in certain locations and more flexibility in terms of travelling times – we had already discovered that Rajasthan is not only a very large state, but also that it has roads which are sometimes very, very slow to travel along.
Camel safari in the desert, Jaisalmer
A second key moment was our decision on timing. From Indian friends, we knew that the English winter was ideal for a Rajasthan tour. We, therefore, settled on November/December as our preferred time slot.
Having talked to a number of respected tour operators and looked at their brochures and websites, we decided on Cox & Kings, who seemed to us to have the right balance of knowledge and practical experience.
Palace of the Winds, Jaipur
The planning process began in early summer and it was at this point that we first talked to Cox & Kings consultant Agomoni Ghosh, who became our permanent contact at the company. From then on, my wife worked with Agomoni to put together the final itinerary.
What was crucial, we found, was to get Agomoni’s input on specific possible additional locations, possible routes, the travelling times between locations and possible hotels. The whole process took several months and we couldn’t have achieved what turned out to be a perfect itinerary without Agomoni’s input. We expanded the final itinerary from 14 to 17 days and included a stay in Rohet, in addition to all the other locations on our original list.
As part of the tailor-made itinerary, Cox & Kings provided an air-conditioned eight-seater vehicle with driver. Guides were also organised for all specific visits. The vehicle was roomy and comfortable. The driver was always punctual, helpful and managed the often difficult roads brilliantly. The guides provided the local colour and in-depth knowledge.
One holiday incident deserves a special mention. In Agra, our future daughter-in-law became unwell on the day we were due to drive to Jaipur. We decided that she needed to stay over in our Agra hotel for one more night and to then travel on, with our son, to Jaipur by taxi the following day. The Cox & Kings office in Agra organised everything for us and what could have been a small disaster became no more than a hiccup.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
The hotels selected were all very different and of a consistently high standard Four, however, stood out for us as being worth a specific mention – Shahpura House in Jaipur, Vivanta by Taj – Hari Mahal in Jodhpur, Suryagarh in Jaisalmer and The Lalit Laxmi Vilas Palace in Udaipur.
The Lalit Laxmi Vilas Palace, Udaipur
Interestingly, we found that every day of our 17 days in India brought something new and something to remember. The holiday exceeded all of our expectations and was truly a dream come true.
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