Our tailor-made India specialist, Suzanne McLaughlin, spent two weeks exploring India’s Golden Triangle. We ask about her favourite moments from handing out chapatis to hundreds of pilgrims, to watching the sun set over the Taj Mahal from the balcony of her room…
Where did you go and why?
Essentially the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur with a few detours to Amritsar, Shimla and Ranthambore. I think first-time visitors can be overwhelmed with the sheer size of India and this itinerary is a great intro to the country. The aim was to get a snippet of Northern India ticking off the main highlights. Aside from the big hitting attractions (like the Taj Mahal), we discovered that this route can be wonderfully diverse (if you know what to do) whether you want to learn about religion and culture, get a taste of India’s wilderness or dive into the renowned food scene.
Most memorable moment?
The community kitchen in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, Sikhism’s most sacred temple where every day some 150,000 devotees come to worship. You can imagine the incredible scene of feeding hundreds of pilgrims at a time. As tourists, we tend to spend the majority of our holidays ticking off the main sights, so it was great carve out time to give back. We helped serve many, many chapatis before touring the kitchen to understand how this huge operation works so seamlessly. It was truly eye opening.
Any advice for visiting the Taj Mahal?
Seeing the Taj Mahal is always spectacular no matter how many times you’ve been and despite the huge crowds there are ways in which you can enjoy it a bit differently. Your guide can point you to a quieter corner of this huge complex where you can sit, take it all in and just enjoy the view. Otherwise, I’d always recommend an early start (or rather the crack of dawn) when the visitors are fewer and you can see its ivory white facades lit up and glittering.
Name your standout meal
The lachha paratha – crispy, flaky flatbread – in Amritsar was delicious. You can get it all over Northern India but it originates in Amritsar so it’s a must-try when you’re in the city. On the other end of the spectrum, I went to a fine dining restaurant called Indian Accent in New Delhi for a five-course tasting menu. Think delicately spiced dahl kachori and fragrant crab curry. For only £45 per person, it’s worth a stop for any foodie. We also managed to squeeze in a cooking class in a family home where I learned how to make local food while exchanging stories with newfound friends. Don’t forget to buy some saffron from the spice market in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market to recreate some of the local dishes at home.
How can you get off-the-beaten track?
In Shimla, go for a walk in the surrounding Himalayan foothills. Whether it’s a meander or a hike, there are treks for every ability and the wilderness is simply beautiful. One of my favourite experiences was an art-focused tour from Rudyard Kipling’s former home to the studio of Him Chatterjee, a legendary Shimla artist. He’s in the Guiness Book of Records for creating the world’s longest painting (up to 100 feet long). I couldn’t resists buying (a smaller) one.
Did anything surprise you?
In Rajasthan, there’s a tradition where all the truck drivers paint the front of their vehicles with colourful murals and quirky slogans. They even decorate the wheels with tassles! It’s almost like a competition between the drivers to see whose truck is the most elaborate.
Top 3 hotels please!
You can’t go wrong with The Claridges in Delhi. It’s a classic, luxury hotel that also really cares about the surrounding environment using its own water filtrations system and bottling plant. In Amritsar, Ranjit Svaasa is a small heritage haveli that feels like an oasis in the middle of the city. They even have the cutest golden retriever to welcome you. If you only stay in one five-star hotel on the entire trip though, make it the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra. There are views of the Taj Mahal from every room with such optical illusion you feel like you can touch it! Top tip? Upgrade to a balcony room to enjoy cocktails while watching the sun set over the glistening marble.
What’s the Alfred& difference?
Our Indian team on the ground are fantastic and the guides are so happy to tailor whatever activity to suit your personal interests. Special spotlight on Aakriti from GoVacation who helped us choose every meal which never disappointed! Her team members, Anant, Shubhang, Anurag and Joyanto were like guardian angels making sure we were in the right place at precisely the right time and were on hand 24/7 for any queries. Our drivers, Silbagh and Rana (featured below), always made us feel special, holding the door open as well as making sure the car was stocked with drinks and snacks for longer journeys.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Malcolm, who's travelled extensively in your chosen destination. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - guides who can give you genuine insights into local life and culture, chefs who can teach you how to rustle up the local cuisine and safari rangers who'll ensure you'll spot the best wildlife.
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