Private Taj Mahal Tour – Traveling India in Comfort

Private Taj Mahal Tour – Traveling India in Comfort

I am not a fan of group tours. I loathe sitting on buses, being shuttled from location to location, on someone else’s schedule. As much as I prefer more independent travel, there are times where a local guide, and a private tour, are worth the money. Booking a private Taj Mahal tour was just such a time, and one that fit perfectly with our goal of traveling India in comfort. I’ve always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and it was the main reason, other than food, for why I wanted to go to India at all. This being India, though, I did not want to deal with the hassles that come with getting ourselves from Delhi to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. And, I kind of wanted a tour guide to show us around. This was a once in a lifetime visit, and I wanted to make the most of it. Private Driver From Delhi to Agra Our driver picked us up from the JW Marriott Delhi for our Private Taj Mahal and Agra Fort Tour. We settled in for the three hour trip from Delhi to Agra, much of which occurred in an attempt to tackle the Delhi traffic. Our guide originally wanted to leave at 7am, but being a private tour, we felt we had the flexibility to request a later departure. I am not a morning person. The driver happily obliged, but it meant crawling through Monday morning Delhi traffic. It took about 3 hours to drive to Agra from Delhi, with a quick pit stop on the way. The highway is new, well paved,...
Traditional Indian Cooking Class in Delhi

Traditional Indian Cooking Class in Delhi

Our stop in Delhi was a little shorter than anticipated, but we managed to fill our bellies in several unique ways. In addition to being spoiled by the chefs at the JW Marriott Delhi, we took a traditional Indian cooking class, in a family’s home. We had been fed so much food in our first 36 hours at the Delhi Marriott, that I was looking forward to escaping the hotel for a Sunday night dinner that I hoped would not involve 10 or more courses. A home cooked meal with an Indian family was the perfect way to check out the local food scene. Being Invited Into a Family’s Home Any time we are invited into someone’s home in a new country, I start to get a little giddy. When the average tourist only sees inside a hotel room when traveling, seeing a local apartment or home, to see how people live, is a truly unique experience. We met our guide, Komal, a recent university student, in central Delhi. She escorted us to her family’s home, in a suburb of Delhi. I realized quickly that this was an area of Delhi we never would have seen otherwise, without our friendly escort. As soon as we entered Komal’s family home, her mother and grandmother greeted us enthusiastically. Komal’s mother immediately greeted us with a traditional Hindu welcome, placing a bit of red powder on our third eye, between the eyebrows. She also greeted us with a less traditional Hindu welcome – a big hug. I immediately felt like family. After a quick tour of the apartment, we squeezed into the...
Exploring Mumbai Through the Dabbawallas and Dhobis

Exploring Mumbai Through the Dabbawallas and Dhobis

Sometimes when I visit a large city, it can often seem like every other city I’ve been to before, loaded with high rises and chain stores. When I visit a new place, I try to find similarities in each new city to ones I’ve visited before. This was definitely the case when I arrived in Mumbai, and city unlike any I’ve been to before. During our driving tours of Mumbai, I looked around and tried to find the familiar in a place that is entirely unique. The auto-rickshaws reminded me of Bangkok’s tuk-tuks. The car horns reminded me of Hanoi. The elaborately designed and decorated trucks and buses reminded me of the chicken buses in Central America. Yet, Mumbai is a city that is unique, even among the large cities of India. Moreover, within Mumbai we saw two separate and unique enterprises, that helped to identify the city even more. Hardworking Dabbawallas Each day, over 6 million people travel the trains in Mumbai, coming in from the suburban sprawl for work. Some of them travel up to three hours each way to reach their office, so they need to leave very early in the morning. Many of them are men, with wives at home who prepare their lunches. To avoid the wives having to work all night to prepare a proper, hot Indian lunch to send off with their husbands at the crack of dawn, the Dabbawallas provide a much needed, and truly unique service. Wives will prepare the lunch when they wake up, often as the husbands head out the door for the morning commute. Once the lunch...
Mumbai Street Food Tour – Eating in India

Mumbai Street Food Tour – Eating in India

As much as I wanted to explore India in comfort, I did, honestly, plan on exploring more of the local food scene. I wanted to land in India and be ready to explore the Mumbai street food scene, and attempt to eat like a local. I did not want to eat all of our meals in the hotel, in a contained environment. I wanted to be the person who could claim to have explored the street food in India, or having ate with the locals, when traveling in India. Once we arrived in Mumbai, though, I became a lot more skeptical of this notion. Mumbai is like a smack upside the head, after a good shaking, while sleep deprived. I’ve seen movies and TV shows about India, but nothing prepared me for Mumbai. The traffic, the noise, the makeshift homes, the trash, the poverty. It was truly like nothing I’d seen before. I know people eat street food in India. And I am a proponent of eating street food all over the world. But, there was something different about India. Even the people we met in India talked about how they get sick too. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to slow down our travel over our 10 days in India, by being laid up in the hotel sick. I had too much to see and do in a short amount of time. I wanted to explore Mumbai street food, but I had no idea where to start. I felt uncomfortable walking down the street, with my head turning from side to side, trying to take it all in....
Traveling in India – You Either Love it or Hate It

Traveling in India – You Either Love it or Hate It

We left India exactly two weeks ago. As deadlines loom to publish posts about our trip, I am struggling to wrap my head around the experience. I’ve been slow on getting blog posts out from all of our recent trips, including Europe. I’ve been blaming it on writer’s block, or just plain exhaustion. But I do not think that is the full story. Instead, I blame traveling in India. There was a reason why we procrastinated on traveling in India. It is a place that is hard to travel and even harder to understand. From our very first experience taking a driving tour in Southern Mumbai, and escaping the comfort and safety of the car to see the Gateway to India. To the end of our trip, when we explored Jaipur on our own, and started to feel more comfortable with traveling in India. We felt like we understood India a little more by the end of our trip. That said, it doesn’t make it any easier to wrap my head around this experience. Our exposure to the outside world was somewhat limited, by design. Our hotels were mostly airport hotels, and we ate most of our meals in the hotel. We organized a few excursions on our own, and otherwise saw the cities and countryside on our tours with Viator Travel. This limited exposure was mostly due to two primary reasons: our prior conceptions, as well as the reality, of traveling in India. Prior Conceptions of Traveling In India Prior to traveling to India, I introduced the concept of #IndiaByMarriott as the theme for our trip. We wanted...
Traveling India – Traveling in Comfort

Traveling India – Traveling in Comfort

“India – you’ll either love it or hate it.” This is a refrain we have heard time and time again. It is why we’ve postponed traveling India until the time was right, until we saw a sign. Basically, it was our excuse to put off an India trip time and time again. We’ve dreamed of going to India for years. We first applied for an Indian visa in 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, but the timing was not right. And, I was not approved. Well, I wasn’t denied either, I just wasn’t approved in a timely manner. So, for our 2009 trip, we gave up. We applied again for an India visa in Washington, DC, before leaving the States in 2012. We were granted a ten year visa (they approved me this time), that’s been sitting in our passports untouched. It’s been valid for well over three years as we’ve struggled with a constant pull of should we, or shouldn’t we.  Part of it was not wanting the hassle of planning a trip to such a challenging country. As a result, we’ve talked about doing an easy trip, just heading straight to the beaches of Goa. See India. Leave.  But, it felt strange to plan a trip to India without seeing the major cities, without seeing the Taj Mahal. Backpacking India I continued to read travel blogs and news stories about India. Many of these stories pushed me into making all kinds of excuses as to why we shouldn’t go traveling India. When I’ve read travel blogs about India they all focus on the hardship, with a side dish of beauty. Bloggers are usually on...
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