A day in Delhi and the road to Agra

These blogs from my India and Singapore trip at the start of 2017 are so far behind. As I’m now on my way back to South Asia, I thought it might be time to get them up! They’re written and ready to go – so here you are! I’ll also be posting everyday from Nepal – so it’s going to be a whole lot of South Asia on the blog right now.

After spending a lush night in the Holiday Inn, Delhi Aerospace, we had a half day of hectic Delhi sightseeing planned. We were meant to head straight off from Agra in the morning but the drive is just 3-4 hours. As Matt would only have this one night in Delhi, I thought it was important to see the capital of India. So, our half day tour began.

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Red Fort, Delhi.

Oh, a note. Holiday Inn knows how to do breakfast! This is just the pastry bar. Wonderful service and amazing chefs ready to make you eggs any style or your favourite Indian breakfast dish. They also had cold coffee on tap – heaven!

Our first stop with our helpful guide, Sanjeev, was one of the oldest and best kept monuments in all of Delhi, possibly India, Qutb Minar. I had been on my first ever trip and on another of my stays in Delhi. I just love the structure of this minuet and also the grounds surrounding it. It’s a magnificent sight to see and once you hear the history of the area, it’s even more impressive.

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This monument signifies the triumph of the Mughal empire over the Rajputs, the hindu kings of India. It was a new era and the Mughal kings wanted to make sure this was forever remembered. Construction started in 1192 and didn’t end until (date), three different dynasts added on the different parts. My partner Matt was blown away by the shape and the history of this area. I knew this was important for him to see.

 

We strolled around asking questions for some time and really enjoyed our time. We got there before the real crowds came. All students of Delhi at age 15 come to these important monuments as part of their schooling and history classes. All paid for by the government. I will write a blog on this area- it’s too fascinating not to. We were also quite fixated here on the wildlife. Fern squirrels (so cute!) green parrots, eagles and black kites all roaming the grounds

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Next stop was Jama Masjid, the largest Mosque in India. I don’t think I’ve actually been to this site before. It was very interesting and beautiful inside the main archways. Our guide didn’t come in with us so we just roamed around looking at the architecture and enjoying walking on the stones and marble with no shoes on. We got quite a few interested looks here. The mother of this little girl asked me for a photo and I was happy to oblige. So lovely!

The mosque is situated next to Old Delhi. This is one of the largest markets in Asia for electronics. Largest Spice Market in Asia. It’s got some modern parts, but a lot of it has the older buildings and markets are still structured in old alleyways as they would have 100’s of years ago. You can buy pretty much anything here, though there are sections for particular goods. We caught a battery powered rickshaw (trying to reduce the impact on the environment) and got a quick taste of the area.

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We hopped down at the Spice Market. You instantly can spell the wide array of spices on offer. Weaving through passageways past so many shops offering all the spices, nuts and sweets you could imagine. Whole stores dedicated to chilli. Another dedicated to turmeric. It overpowers the senses and definitely was an experience I hadn’t had.

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We went to one store where they could explain to us the different spices and they actually had pre-packaged spice mixes. They are made by the Master Blender A. Kumar who has been visited by World famous chefs including George Kalamatis from Australia. We couldn’t resist and decided our Indian cooking adventures start now! Aloo Gobi, Butter Chicken Masala, Dal Makhani and some Mango Tea.

Our hectic tour ended at the Red Fort. We weren’t going to go in as it’s reasonably similar to the Agra Fort which we would see tomorrow. It was also difficult to access due to Indian Republic Day the following day, January 26th. We got o see some concerts going on at the fort and some of the setup for the parades near the India Gate earlier too. Here we parted with our guide and started our journey to Agra.

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The road has been rebuilt since I last travelled to Agra and what was a seven hour journey can now take just 3-4 hours from Delhi. We caught the train the first time as it as much faster than car at the time and very possible to do a  day trip. WE did unfortunately pass an accident on the way which certainly had killed people. Many people stopped their cars and ran over to see – I couldn’t look even in the direction. The unfortunate result of a fast and straight road.

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We arrived to Agra by early evening, still in the daylight which was good. Our hotel, only built in the past two years, was the Four Points Sheraton. It was lovely and we were welcomed by our local tour operator and the manager of the hotel. Take Me To India really know how to care for their guests. Again a lovely room and a sweet welcome.

 

For dinner we went to Pinch of Salt, as recommended by our driver. It was certainly catering to the tourists as it was packed at 7.30pm (Westerners eat early, locals eat late.) The service was a bit odd, they seemed either distant and disengaged or there was the manager who kept creepily peering over customers shoulders to see if they were enjoying. The food was delicious, though there was A LOT of it. We enjoyed some meat which we had been abstaining from in rural parts. Very good.

Shattered again by night, we enjoyed the luxury of watching TV in the hotel room bed. I never do this at home, I’ll never allow a TV in my bedroom. Keep it as a treat when away.

 

Tomorrow…. TAJ MAHAL!!!!!!

If you would like to check out our journey on Instagram, please check out @Lovellyem and search the #tag #EmmaMattyIndiaSing2017.

Written on Day 10 of our 24 Day trip in India with stopover in Singapore.

 

Leaving Cherrapunjee and onto the next stop, Delhi!

We have loved our time in Cherapunjee so much. Exploring the state of Meghalaya and all its beauty has been an experience of a lifetime. The travel however, not so pleasant. Be prepared in this area for long drives, winding roads and a lot of down time in the car.

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We started our journey early from the hotel as it was at least a six-hour trip by car to the airport in Guwuhati. We did it in exactly six hours on the way. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is on our route and it can sometimes take more than one hour alone to get from one side of the city to the other. Our flight wasn’t until 5pm but it’s not worth risking it.

I had planned to spend the car ride diary writing and blogging. The scenery and my sleepy head wouldn’t allow me that. I just happily stared out the window and observed the daily life of the people in this region. It was so nice to just let my mind wander. It’s something I miss about commuting by public transport at home, the time spent gazing out the window pondering the world at large.

As always with me, a toilet stop was required. Fortunately, it also offered an excellent view and was an activity point we had passed many times but never stopped. Click the photo and back in the car.

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Random cows were spotted out the windows – spot the cow is a fun and fruitful game to play when driving along the roads of India.

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We made good time and were able to stop for lunch much closer to Guwuhati, giving us more time for the airport if we needed it. We went to a traditional restaurant filled with Bamboo scaffolding, furniture and even table mats seemed to follow the natural theme.

When ordering, I’m trying to mix up the dishes so Matt gets to try a wide variety of cuisines. We decided in the more rural parts to go veg only and stuck with that theme. Veg Pulao (a  rice dish), malai kofta (dumplings of sorts in a crème sauce – my friends absolute favourite so I ordered in honour of her) and aloo ghobi (potato and cauliflower curry). I over ordered, or perhaps they were too generous in their servings. Either way, all was delicious and the service, as so often it is in India, was wonderful! We also got to try Thumbs Up (I love the sugary indian version of coke) and water…. Fosters water!

 

We reached the airport well ahead of our 5pm scheduled flight. We farewelled our lovely driver Bablu and began the hustle bustle of the Indian airport experience.

Our flight on Jet Airways was wonderful. I’ve flown them so many times over the years and I think they have to be my Indian airline of choice. Lovely service, delightful food that comes around very quickly, and comfortable seats. It doesn’t look that great – but it tastes good!

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We reached Delhi and it was nice to see the familiar arrivals hall. I haven’t been to Delhi for quite some time but used to spend a large majority of my trips here staying with friends in their homes. I got to see the day to day life of Delhites. We only have one quick night here but I’ve arranged to do a half day city tour which our tour company Take Me to India kindly obliged. I think it’s nice for Matt to experience the history of the capital of India.

Our lovely tour operator Pankaj from Take me to India met with us. I cannot recommend them more highly and will continue to mention their wonderful service throughout my blog. If you would like to see a sample of my AMAZING itinerary, please do email me via the contact page. It was nice to meet face to face after so many emails and calls.

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We were put up in the Holiday Inn near the airport for convenience. It happened to also be a 5-star hotel. I am not complaining! We enjoyed a bit of luxury after our humbler, yet wonderfully serviced, hotel in Cherrapunjee. We dolled ourselves up and enjoyed a few cocktails and snacks at the hotel bar for an exorbitant fee. Go on, splurge a little! We collapsed into bed, ready for the Northern part of our adventure to begin!

(Yes, the pillows even said FIRM and SOFT! Luxury!)

 

If you would like to follow our journey on Instagram, please check out @Lovellyem and search the #tag #EmmaMattyIndiaSing2017.

Written on Day 10 of our 24 Day trip in India with stopover in Singapore.

A day trip to Lake Dawki and the border of Bangladesh

Our wonderful India trip has been organised by Take me to India, a tour agency in India. While preparing for this trip, I’ve been checking out the Facebook Page of Take me to India regularly. I spotted the below post and noticed it was also in the Meghalaya region where we were travelling. I sent it to our contact, he kindly added it in and arranged all of our plans so we could add this incredible lake to our itinerary.

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I got onto Take me to India after chatting to my friend who also loves India and partners with the company. I showed her the “brief” itinerary I was thinking of, she put me in touch with the local company. In one day I had back the most beautifully laid out itinerary with everything I wished for and some added bonuses. I booked it in right away!

The day started with a three-hour drive. It was a necessary evil to enjoy the beauty of the lake. Poor Matt struggles in the car so he tried to rest most the way. I took in all the incredible vistas and views the curving mountain path had to offer.

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We made a stop at an incredible valley viewpoint. The way the land here ebbs and flows is spectacular. It’s so nice to simply stand and admire all that is around us.

 

 

As you approach Lake Dawki, the traffic builds. It’s clear this is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. We soon saw the stunning blue of the water and the sun shimmering across it. We then noticed the 100’s, or possibly 1000’s, of people are splashing at the edges of the lake and walking across the sand banks. There are wooden boats paddling along with happy passengers and people selling their goods on the border of India and Bangladesh.

We hopped out at the Dawki Boating area and walked down to the water’s edge. We were instantly surrounded by boat paddlers wanting us to choose them as our oarsmen. Our driver was there to assist us and guided us in the right direction, before we knew it we were in a boat and heading out across the lake. It’s a beautiful spot filled with laughter as people splash in the water. The odd holler from the armed guards at the border alerts someone to the fact that they’ve crossed over into Bangladesh without an entry permit – woops!

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The waters are crystal clear. Deep aquamarine hews float across the surface but as you look down below the boat, you can see clearly to the bottom. The water fades from aqua, to green, to a loyal turquoise blue. It’s reasonably quiet out on the water and you can enjoy the peace as you float through high walled cliffs covers in lush green jungle at the top.

The boat floats towards a pebbled beach like area and the driver offers us a chance to walk around or go to one of the little pop up cafes. We take the opportunity to put our feet in the welcoming water, it looked so refreshing and cool. But no. It was bloody freezing. Icy, blood stopping, cold! Fresh is definitely one word. We soon left the water and decided to enjoy a juice in the little bungalow of a café. Not before being stopped by passing Indian tourists who wanted a picture with sir and madam.

The café owner was a hoot! I said one word in Kashi to him and he spent the rest of our time telling me about the area in Kashi language. He eventually clicked on that I wasn’t really keeping up so switched to broken English. He pointed to two little camping tents propped up on the pebble areas. “Home stay. One night. 2000 rupees. Small one. 1200 rupees.” Ohhh we said trying to seem excited and not shocked at the extortionate price to sleep on pebbles. He was very lovely and insisted we come back and tell our friends. He then wanted us to have a photo with him, but not on his camera, on ours. Matt sensed it was a marketing ploy and that we were meant to go out and share the photos of his business to the world. So, here they are! Call Nowell’s next time you’re in Dawki and stay by the lake.

We blissfully floated back with the sun on our faces and the calm waters around us. The hustle bustle grew as we approached the shores and it was back to the busy reality of India. We had a quick look at the offerings of the market – some sort of fermented cherries and Indian snacks, we passed.

Our driver then took us briefly to the border of Bangladesh and India. It was heavily guarded and I wasn’t quite sure what we were meant to do there or if we were allowed to take photos. I held my phone up and the guards didn’t seem to do much so we posed for a few pictures, looked over at Bangladesh and off we went again.

A little stop on the way home at a small home-style restaurant. We watched the cricket and some hilarious television show which would equate to “Indian Kids Got Talent” – super cute. So many restaurants here serve a mix of Indian and Chinese food. Today we mixed it up with fried rice and mushroom chow Mein. We’ve opted to stick to vegetarian only while in these more rural parts. The food has been super delicious and there’s so much variety, we barely noticed the lack of meat.

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Long drive home and I was surprised how much the day had taken out of us. We arrived just after sunset and we collapsed onto the bed. We’ve enjoyed our afternoons of rest and catching up on reading without the distraction of internet and TV. Another successful day of exploring beautiful Meghalaya.

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If you would like to follow our journey on Instagram, please check out @Lovellyem and search the #tag #EmmaMattyIndiaSing2017.

 

Written on Day 8 of our 24 Day trip in India with stopover in Singapore.