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Gerry Clarke

My solo tour of India with Cox & Kings

My jewel-studded journey to India and its Golden Triangle began shortly after arrival in Delhi. The local Cox & Kings representative greeted us at the airport and immediately made us feel very special. After giving us each a brightly coloured garland of fresh marigold flowers to hang around the neck and a delightful hand-painted picture, we boarded our air-conditioned bus and were whisked away through the busy traffic to our luxury hotel – the magnificent Taj Palace.

This was the first day of my Exotic India tour and I was one of a group of 15 solo travellers being treated like VIPs. I had chosen Cox & Kings earlier after speaking to friends who recommended the company for its choice of India tours with high quality accommodation and affordable experiences. I had selected this particular small-group tour after consulting Vasu in the London office. He explained that it was designed for solo travellers, with no single supplement and with the services of an experienced local tour manager. As I was travelling on my own, I reckoned it would be good to spend time with like-minded people in a journey of discovery around the Golden Triangle and with a knowledgeable guide.

Happy smiling staff were on hand at the hotel to deal with our bags and offer a cool, refreshing drink. We were given a tika – a small red dot on our forehead – which made us feel most welcome, and I sensed that I was very much going to enjoy my trip to India.


Featuring fine marble architecture and lavish decor, our hotel was one of Delhi’s jewels in the crown, and part of the internationally renowned Taj chain of luxury properties.

Set in lush gardens within the quiet diplomatic area of the city, the hotel is spacious and elegant, with a large garden and swimming pool and a variety of dining options. Soon we were relaxing by the pool and talking about our upcoming sightseeing trips with Prem, our very charming and experienced local tour manager.

We began with an afternoon tour visiting the impressive Jama Masjid Mosque to watch the sun set over the minarets and see the bustling Chandni Chowk market by cycle rickshaw. The amazing sights, sounds and smells continued into the night, as our small group got to know each other over a traditional welcome dinner of authentic Indian cuisine at the acclaimed Haveli Dharampura restaurant. 


The next day we awoke thoroughly refreshed and after a buffet breakfast with a choice of full English, Continental or Indian, we continued our tour of New Delhi, visiting the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun and the unique Qutb Minar tower: two of Delhi's best examples of Indian architecture. Built in 1565, Humayun's tomb is a fine example of Mughal architecture and was said to have inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal. Qutb Minar is a soaring, 73-metre-high tower whose origins are masked in mystery. Some believe that the tower was erected to celebrate the beginning of Muslim rule in India while others say it served as a minaret to the muezzins, where they called the faithful to prayer.  


The following day, we boarded what would be our tour bus for the next twelve days, heading first to the City of Agra and the Taj Mahal. We travelled some 200km on a good modern motorway which took around 4 hours, including a brief comfort stop at a clean and well-stocked service station. In Agra, we checked into the Taj Hotel & Convention Centre – another stylish property chosen by Cox & Kings – where first-class facilities include a rooftop infinity pool, and restaurant offering spectacular views of the Taj. It was the perfect place to relax after our day’s travel, and as I later discovered, by night, under the stars.

That afternoon, Prem took us to visit the magnificent Red Fort, where we walked through the streets of the old Mughal city and up to the citadel, passing through exotic marble palaces and terraced pavilions which were once home to the British who occupied it for more than a hundred years.

Agra came to prominence as the capital of the Mughals who built and landscaped the city and created beautiful gardens, waterfalls and canals. Today the bustling streets of Agra are home to many thriving industries, including carpet weavers, leather workers and marble sculptors, many of whom are descended from the craftsmen who originally built the Taj Mahal.

We were up very early the next morning to visit the Taj Mahal in time to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, the day began with some seasonal fog and the normally crystal-clear blue skies would have to wait for another day! 


However, the Taj Mahal looked magnificent and stunning in the early morning light.  Built by Shah Jahan to mark the death of his bride Mumtaz, it is widely recognised as one of the world's most beautiful buildings. It took over 20 years to build and is carved from pure white marble, incorporating many semi-precious stones inlaid in unique patterns.

The tour then headed to one of India's most iconic national parks, Ranthambore, home of the Bengal tiger. As our route passed close to the ancient citadel of Fatehpur Sikri, we stopped to discover that it was a deserted, 16th-century red sandstone city which was built as a tribute to the Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chisti. Sadly, it was abandoned after only 15 years due to a shortage of water, but for us, it was another fine example of classic Indian architecture. 

Next stop: the railway station in Bharatpur, where we boarded a local train to Sawai Madhopur to stay two nights in the Dev Vilas Safari hotel – just a short drive from the park gates. The hotel was a traditional colonial-style safari lodge, set amongst guava trees and mango orchards with fabulous views of the Aravalli Hills which we were to discover later in the week. 

The Ranthambore National Park covers over 400 square kilometres and was once the private hunting grounds of the maharajahs of Jaipur. The Park is well known for its tiger population but is also home to other local wildlife, including panthers, leopards, sloth bears and a wide variety of deer, as well as very much being a bird watcher's paradise.

Wildlife is best seen early in the morning or late afternoon as the sun is beginning to set. So, it was another early start for us, and after a quick breakfast we set off in open-top Jeeps to view the wildlife. Our hopes of glimpsing a tiger were high, as there were plenty of photographs around the hotel and we were told that one had been spotted only the day before. We kept our eyes peeled, seeing many deer and even a tiger footprint which was clearly visible in the sand beside the road. But sadly, despite all the time we kept our eyes focused, we failed to see a tiger, although we did come across another tour group who showed us a photo of one that they had seen earlier in the day and were most impressed by their evidence.


The following day, our tour bus took us to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan where we stayed in a wonderful heritage hotel, Shahpura House, full of charm and character reflecting its colonial past, with a collection of fine furniture, antiques and enjoyable works of art from the days of the Raj. 

Jaipur is known as the 'pink city' due to the pink stucco walls and is remarkable for its ancient buildings and streets. The palace complex is still home to the Maharaja and includes the Hawa Mahal or 'Palace of the Winds', a pretty ornamental garden, a family museum, and the unique Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory.

For me, it also gave rise to one of my memorable experiences, as I came across an old photo of the man who built my house in England. He was Sir Conrad Corfield, who was political advisor to Mountbatten during Indian independence in 1947.

On a hill just outside the city walls, lies the magnificent Amber Fort with its outstanding views across the surrounding countryside. Jaipur is a well-known centre for traditional Indian crafts, including jewellery, silver, silk and woven materials, as we discovered during a visit to a local carpet factory and workshops.  Later in the day we visited a private hotel which featured in the BBC series about the Real Marigold Hotel with some well-known television personalities living in retirement in India. The owners invited us for a gin and tonic on the roof as the sun slowly set over the skyline and we began to feel just like celebrities too.

The following morning, we departed for Deogarh, stopping on route for lunch in the small town of Pushkar and visiting its well-known temple and market.  The drive took around six hours, but it was a fascinating journey through the local countryside with all manner of things to see, including exotic food crops, ancient water wells, incredible transport, and busy roadside scenes with pretty Rajasthani girls wearing their traditional brightly coloured costumes and gold jewellery.


We discovered Pushkar is an important pilgrimage centre for Hindus. The sacred lake is surrounded by hundreds of temples with bathing steps leading to the water and we visited a temple that was more than 2,000 years old and home to a life-size idol of Lord Brahma.

We continued on our way and arrived at an attractive little town known as the 'Castle of the Gods' some 135km north of Udaipur, surrounded by lakes and close to the Aravalli hills. We were staying for a couple of nights at Deogarh Mahal Heritage Hotel, a palatial family residence whose owners played an active role in running the place and went out of their way to make us feel very welcome. The rooms and suites, each individually decorated with stained glass, colourful fabrics and ancient artifacts, were amazing and like something out of a historical Indian film set. Our evening drinks and buffet supper were served on the rooftop terrace under the bright, twinkling stars. It was a perfect way to relax and enjoy the delicious local food and drink. I was even more impressed when the hotel arranged a cookery demonstration to show us how to prepare their signature Indian dishes.

The next morning, we took a scenic ride on Deogarh's metre-gauge train through the Aravalli Range of hills. The line was originally built in the 1930s by the British to connect the regions of Marwat and Mewar, which were the setting for Rudyard Kipling's novella The Man Who Would be King. The hour-long rail journey trundled slowly through rocky hills, alongside rivers and waterfalls, across breathtakingly high bridges and past quaint old railway stations and sleepy rural villages.

It was a memorable journey and one of the highlights was slowing down to feed the monkeys that leapt aboard the train in search of food. Fortunately, Prem had organised a few bags of bananas which kept them at bay. We also discovered Prem was actively supporting local schoolchildren with books and educational items which he had been purchasing with donations of surplus currency from tour guests. We were all more than happy to support him in his ongoing charitable work.


We spent the final leg of our bus tour driving to Udaipur, one of India's picturesque and romantic cities. For us, there was an added bonus which was the beginning of Diwali – the Indian festival of light – and as we passed through the busy towns and villages along the way we saw the local people preparing for the holiday weekend, installing bright, colourful garlands and strings of lanterns. 

En route we stopped at Ranakpur to visit a spectacular Jain temple which is nearly 500 years old and still in perfect condition. At its centre is the huge domed Chaumukha temple with several intricately carved shrines that hold religious idols and is supported by 1,444 ornately carved marble pillars.

Arriving late afternoon in Udaipur, we checked in to our hotel, one of the Fateh Collection of luxury boutique hotels overlooking the city and the iconic Lake Pichola. It was recently built, with spacious, elegant rooms, large open terraces and beautiful landscaped gardens. For me, one of the best treats was a quick dip in the pool to admire the view after the long day's drive, followed by a fun tuk-tuk ride through the narrow streets of the old city, where we became part of the Diwali celebrations complete with firework displays that carried on well into the night.

The next day, after another excellent buffet breakfast, we set off for a guided tour of Udaipur, the magnificent City Palace and a relaxing cruise around the lake. The Palace is the largest complex in Rajasthan, comprising many buildings added by various maharajahs through the centuries, with panoramic views over the city. The highlights were the Moti Mahal building with its mirror inlays, and the iridescent tilework of Chini Mahal.

In the afternoon we took a boat ride and admired the views from the lake of the merchants’ havelis, temples, and the exquisite Gul Mahal Pavilion on Jagmandir Island. We stopped off here for an alfresco lunch and visited the ornamental gardens of the Maids of Honour, with its famous white-marble elephants that featured in the James Bond film Octopussy.

That evening we enjoyed a farewell dinner under the stars overlooking the lake. For me, this was one of the most memorable evenings, having developed new friendships with other solo travellers, who I found like-minded and happy to laugh and talk about our individual travel experiences. We formed a WhatsApp group to keep in touch, and recently held a re-union at an Indian restaurant in London which has enabled our little travel group to flourish.

I would also like to say how much we all appreciated Prem, our very helpful tour manager. He was not only highly professional and knowledgeable about the local history and culture, but he was always on the ball in sorting out any issues. After I broke my tooth, for example, he arranged a visit to a local dentist who fixed the problem without us losing any valuable travel time. 

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we drove to the local airport for a short flight back to Delhi and our final night’s stay at the Vivanta New Delhi Hotel, which was close to the Indira Gandhi International Airport. This was a modern urban hotel in complete contrast to some of the palatial hotels of our travels. The rooms were most unusual as the architect had created a modern bedroom featuring acute angles and custom-designed furniture with a stylish bathroom incorporating a rainfall shower and internal glass walls. The buffet-style dining experience was rather more traditional, though, and we were able to help ourselves to any favourite Indian dishes on offer. Having become something of an Indian foodie fan on our travels, there was plenty for me to choose from.


After a comfortable final night’s sleep, we boarded our bus for the very last time and travelled to the airport for our flight home. We were sad to say goodbye to our bus driver and his assistant and to our excellent tour manager, Prem. They had looked after us extremely well and I was in no doubt that Cox & Kings had done us proud, and their local team had given us a wonderful insight into ‘Exotic India and the Golden Triangle’.

I will certainly be booking another tour with Cox & Kings at the earliest opportunity. 

Gerry’s top travel tips 
  • If you think you might fancy a flight upgrade, book it at the outset – it's cheaper. 
  • Smile and say hello to everyone; they will almost certainly respond in kind. 
  • Take a photo whenever the opportunity arises. 
  • Ask your tour manager to help you buy souvenirs from street traders; it avoids hassle and ensures a fair deal all round. 
  • If you have any health issues, speak to your manager. When I unfortunately broke a tooth, Prem quickly arranged a visit to a dentist for emergency treatment. 
  • Remember to give any spare cash to the tour manager to purchase books for local children; it makes you feel good and educates young people: a win-win all round.