India is not a destination for the faint of hearts- it is a country filled of depth, passion, and the unexpected. It is a place that is guaranteed to provoke a reaction. It is a country that if done right- will be a magical, life changing experience. A memory that cannot be duplicated.

For the first-time traveler to India- a trip to New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur (better known as the Golden Triangle) is an absolute must- and that is where I traveled with Eastbound.

Important Information:

Visa Requirements: You are required to have a visa when visiting India from the US or Canada. Your passport must be valid for 6 months. Eastbound India will send you necessary directions, or you can fill out the online form and follow the directions at https://www.e-touristvisaindia.com/.
Currency: The Indian Rupee (INR) conversion rate was 0.15 USD to 1 INR as of October 5th, 2016
Official Language: Each region/state has its own specific dialect. English is spoken and understood by the majority in India
Country Code:  +91
High Season: October to February
Do’s: DO make sure to book this destination with a travel agent/DMC- it is an amazing country but there is a lot of planning that goes into making sure the trip runs smoothly.
Don’t: DON’T plan on eating the food from street vendors. Eating the food at the hotels and at other Eastbound approved restaurants is encouraged. Also be cautious about the water- drink only that which comes from a bottle!

Flight:

It is actually very easy to fly from the states to India as there are a lot of carriers that fly direct. Air India offers direct flights from JFK to Delhi and United offers direct flights from Newark to Delhi. There are also direct flights from O’Hare airport to Delhi and flights from Newark to Mumbai. American Airlines is said to add direct flights to Delhi as well. The airport is large so definitely leave yourself enough time to get to your gate- also make sure you have a print out of your ticket when departing India back home, as they won’t let you into the airport without it.

I flew Emirates to Delhi but had a layover in Dubai. The accommodations on Emirates are top notch thanks to Emirates’ service, staff, top of the line equipment and comfort. Flying business in their flatbed seats did not hurt either.

Expedited Check in:

Arriving to New Delhi I was greeted at my gate by two members of airport security, set up by Eastbound. An expedited check in is a feature that can be included in each and every itinerary created by Eastbound. I was picked up at gate, driven by golf cart to the immigration desk, and escorted to the front of the immigration line. Two gentlemen helped me claim my luggage at baggage claim and walked me out of the airport, where a member of Eastbound was waiting for me. The whole ordeal took about 25 minutes. Talk about service!
Transportation in India:

In India, a driver is a necessity. The drivers hired by Eastbound are some of the best. I felt extremely comfortable, safe, and relaxed whenever I was in the car. Even after I insisted my driver (Manoj) not get out of the car to open my door, he continued to and that is because the service in India is the best, like no other.

The nice thing is that you have the same car and driver throughout the entirety of your trip. That car becomes your second home where you can leave extra pairs of clothes, sneakers, head pillows…you name it. There are options to fly within the country and private air travel is also an option. For VIP clients, Eastbound can set all of that up for the client.

Touring with a guide in India:

I was fortunate enough to travel with a member of Eastbound named Abhishek for the full five days I was in India. Having a guide with you the entirety of your trip is optional- and I have actually toured the Golden Triangle once without a guide and now once with one. I must say my experience this time, with Abhishek, was significantly better.

Seeing India through a native’s eyes and hearing how knowledgeable and passionate he was about his country made my trip that much better and will make clients trip that much more memorable. The guides are so well trained that he knew when I needed moments to myself and would try to give me my space but to be honest- I wanted him around. He was like having my very own encyclopedia of India.

Jaipur:

Jaipur, named after Sawai Jai Singh, is the capital of Rajasthan and is most commonly referred to as the Pink City. From Agra to Jaipur takes about five-and-a-half-hour by car which might seem like a lot but it is a very enjoyable ride.

About forty-five minutes before entering the hectic city of Jaipur, we stopped for a leisurely lunch at Dera Amer. Dera Amer is a picturesque property tucked behind the impressive and beautiful Amber Fort. Dera Amer is a camp, located at the foothills of the Aravali Range, surrounded by the Nahargarh National Park. The property was created as a stopover for travelers to eat, go on an elephant trek, and partake in a safari ride around the estate.  The family that owns the camp will take you by jeep to see the local villagers farming on their fields and on a tour of the Anokhi textile museum where travelers will learn about and practice hand printing, which is a dying art.

The impressive buffet lunch of Rajastani classics was cooked for the Western pallet- not as hot and spicy. Dera Amer also has tents on property if a client wanted to “glamp” for the night- but really Dera Amer is a perfect stop over for travelers to take in the green, lush outskirts of the bustling city.

After lunch and our safari, we picked up our local guide and made our way into the city. Our guide took us on a tour through the chaotic, colorful streets of Jaipur to see the highlights: a visit to the City Palace, the Jantar Mantar Observatory, and my personal favorite the Hawa Mahal. If you or a client is looking to buy precious stones- Jaipur is the place. They have an abundance of rubies, emeralds, diamonds and more. You can pick the stone and then design the piece you want which can be ready for you in 24 hours.

That evening I checked into the Sujan Rajmahal Palace. This boutique palace transformed into a hotel is a special property and very intimate with only 14 rooms. The palace has royal apartments, royal suites, palace suites, and palace rooms, each one decorated completely uniquely. The Rajmahal Palace also offers three restaurants, and a bar for coffee and drinks. The service is over the top- if you have clients looking for an intimate, one of a kind experience this hotel is for them. Foodies will also love this hotel. The spa only has one treatment room- when you walk into the Rajmahal they want you to feel like you are home and you are the queen/king of the Palace.

OTHER HOTELS IN JAIPUR: 
47 Jobner Bagh– This luxury homestay hotel is a real gem located in the center of Jaipur. It is a true oasis outside of the cities madness. Perfect for a solo traveler, family, or someone interested in a long term stay in Jaipur, the property is family run, clean, and has a homey feel. The décor consists of pieces of furniture and artifacts from all over India that the owner, Shiva has collected. This hotel is just truly magical!

Rambagh Palace– This Taj property is a 5-star property that offers excellence everywhere you look. The grounds are massive and the service is wonderfully over-the-top. This palace turned hotel is nothing short of amazing and I would say, the most revered property in Jaipur- a must visit for your luxury clients.

Sambode Haveli-This is another special property in the old city of Jaipur. A Haveli is the term used for a mansion lived in by the top class in India. The building is more than 200 years old and has been run as a hotel for 30 years. The hotel has 39 rooms: 15 deluxe rooms, 15 suites, 7 Haveli suites and 2 Hishma suites. The spa and gym are amazing and a complimentary yoga class in the morning is a perfect way to start the day. This property had a more “bed and breakfast” feel to me. Base rooms are comfortable with more than enough space and the suites have so much character- possibly more charm than the other hotel’s suites (except for the Rajmahal).

Agra:

After an included a-la-carte breakfast at the Rajmahal Palace, I was back in the car to Agra. Usually we recommend staying two to three nights in Jaipur but since my trip was only five days, I was only able to spend an evening in Jaipur. The four-and-a-half-hour drive to Agra is again broken up with a stop, this time to the Abhaneri Village, which is a huge step-well, an architectural marvel that natives built to work as a water reservoir. Agra is a must-see destination for first time travelers because Agra is the home grounds of the Taj Mahal- the most iconic jewel of Muslim art in India.

In Agra I stayed at the ITC Mughal which is a good hotel- very nice lobby, pool and one of the top spa’s in India. The rooms are standard- nothing special. But the suites are amazing- lots of room and recently renovated. The service is great and the restaurant in the hotel is supposedly excellent.

People think the only reason to visit Agra is to see the Taj but that could not be further from the truth. I went on an evening tour of Agra. Some of the tour was in the car, some on rickshaw, and some on foot. I got to eat local street food that is safe for Westerners, see the fort lit up at night, go to a Hindi temple and partake in an evening prayer.  This is another great addition for adventurous clients looking for a unique travel experience. When planning a trip for a client I would say 2 nights in Agra is more than enough, some people only stay for 1 evening.

Of course, a visit to Agra without an early morning tour of the Taj Mahal is unheard of. The story of the Taj is a story of true love: The Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Taking 22 years, 20000 workers, and 2000 elephants the Taj was erected in Mumtaz Mahal’s honor after she passed giving birth to her 14th child. No picture of the Taj Mahal can do it justice- one must see this work of art for their own eyes. I would recommend seeing the Taj Mahal with a guide because there is so much detailing, history, and an interesting story behind the mausoleum. The guide will also take clients on a tour the Agra Fort- where Emperor Shah Jahan was kept captive by his own son after the Taj was built.

OTHER HOTELS IN AGRA: 
Oberoi Amarvilas– When staying in Agra, the Oberoi Amarvilas is the hotel to stay in for luxury. Each one of the rooms has a view of the Taj Mahal. We ate lunch at the Oberoi Amarvilas and like all the Oberoi in India- the food is one of their many attractions. Not only that, the hotel will take guests by golf cart to the Taj Mahal for the sunrise and sunset. Coffee and a light breakfast is set up for guests prior to leaving the hotel at 5:30AM for sunrise. Each room also has a balcony so you can sit and enjoy the view of the Taj from right outside your bedroom.

New Delhi

New Delhi is a city that surprised me. I went for two incredible dinners in Delhi- one was a 19 course tasting menu, using gastronomy to recreate Indian classic dishes from not only Rajasthan and the northern states but also the south. I was shown how forward India has become, which most people do not know about. Eastbound does the work on the ground to make sure clients and visitors see the newest tours, restaurants and sites. Eastbound offers seamless communication with their contacts on the ground and can even act as a concierge service during the planning stages of the itinerary and thereafter.

I stayed at my two favorite hotels while in New Delhi- the first was at the Lodhi Hotel. This elegant hotel is sleek and sophisticated. Each room offers a tranquil plunge pool. I think the Lodhi is a great hotel for a client who is looking to ease their way into India- the chic rooms, restaurants, gorgeous spa- you could be in the Lodhi in any city in the world, it has that new of a feel. The next night I stayed at the Leela Palace. All I have to say is wow. The rooms, service, the lobby- everything about the Leela Palace feels Indian and over the top. 14,000 roses are delivered a day to the hotel and displayed. When the flowers die, they dry them, and use them to make dyes used during Holi. You can find both Le Cirque and Megu restaurants in the Leela Palace, as well as 1400 artifacts around the property. You feel like royalty when staying at the Leela Palace!

I think exploring Old Delhi by Rickshaw, watching the locals have their coffee and opening their shops, gives a great snapshot into the city.  Going to see the Jama Masjid Mosque, India Gate, the Presidents Palace is also a must when in New Delhi. A few hours spent at Connaught Place, one of the largest business centers, with tons of shops and restaurants could be a great option for a client looking to shop. If you are looking for pashmina’s and clothing- New Delhi is the place to shop and a guide can take clients to purchase clothing.

OTHER HOTELS IN NEW DELHI:
Le Meridian: I actually stayed at Le Meridian my first night in India after landing in Delhi at around 8pm. The lobby at 10pm on a Friday night was surprisingly buzzing. Le Meridian has entry level rooms, club level suites and superior suites. I was upgraded to a Club Level Suite which had a modern feel- with a separate room, living room and one and a half baths. The room color was beige, white, and black with green accents which created a restful and comforting environment. The white rugs and a beautiful marble bathroom and kitchen gave the room a luxurious feel. The club level was on the top floor and offered complimentary tea/coffee and soft drinks along with some light appetizers during different times of the day. The hotel had a great gym and an outdoor small circular swimming pool. The spa looked inviting decorated in a rustic, Indian theme. Ayurveda treatments were available.

Imperial Hotel: The Imperial Hotel is right by Janpath and Cannught place. Thanks to the location a guest can leave hotel and walk around the streets of Delhi. The hotel has 235 rooms including 21 heritage suites which can connect a second room, great for families. They call this property the “museum hotel” because they have over 4500 pieces of arts and artifacts. They offer a special art tour in hotel, which adds another activity for travelers, especially those interested in history. They offer yoga classes 5 days a week (except Tuesday’s and Sunday’s). The Imperial also has one of top 10 restaurants in Asia called Spice Route. They also have an Indian restaurant and a beautiful sitting area to have high tea. In addition, you will have a lovely spa and gorgeous Colonial pool on property to use at your leisure

The Claridges: The Claridges does offer great service and is very centrally located. I wouldn’t recommend this hotel to travelers looking for 5 star experiences but for a traveler who is looking to cut costs in some areas and splurge others, The Claridges is a great option in Delhi. The rooms are acceptable for the price point but still the service is top of the line. The dining options and the art in the lobby are nice- they have a buffet breakfast and dinner offered daily for guests to dine in, in addition to the restaurants.

Oberoi Gurgaon: This property is near to the airport and Cyber City, making it a great hotel for business travelers or those looking for accommodations close to the airport. The property is extremely modern, with very clean lines, and a bright atmosphere. The service is excellent and the restaurants are inviting and impressive, offering a wide selection of sushi, Indian, Chinese, and more. The rooms are spacious and the suites are really unique.

Eastbound created an innovate and exciting itinerary for my journey to the Golden Triangle. The passion they have for these destinations was seen in each tour, within each guide, and throughout each city for the entirety of my trip. A visit to India is unlike any other place in the world and thanks to its rich history, customs, and traditions it could take you a lifetime to explore.

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