Combining India and Bhutan into a Trip

We are often selling combination packages to Bhutan with Kathmandu and/or Dehli-Agra-Jaipur.  Although we have a lot of experience with Kathmandu having visited many times in the past we decided that this year we needed to get ourselves to Agra to help us better plan the trips for our guests.  

I won’t be going into detail about most of the actual attractions other than a brief description of what we visited. The history of each place is easy to obtain from various Internet sources, I am more interested in the experience of the attractions like the hassle of getting the tickets and the hassles of the people trying to “help you” by becoming your guide.

Photo Gallery

As usual on my posts, I’ll put the photo gallery here but please keep on reading below!

Flight from Bhutan

We flew Drukair KB200 from Paro to Delhi direct leaving Paro at 7:15 and arriving in Delhi about 8:15. Today was a bit different for summer time because the skies were fairly clear for the morning flight.  The people on the right side of the plane near the window got some nice views of the mountains before we climbed a bit too high into the clouds.

A breakfast meal was served about 30 minutes into the flight.  The options were veg and non-veg; we tried one of each.  The non-veg contained scrambled egg and chicken sausage with some assorted vegetables.  The vegetarian selection contained some rice with some assorted vegetables mixed in along with emma datsi.  In addition to the main meals we were served a small dish of various melons, a small chocolate/white cake, a container of plain sweetened yogurt and of course a box of “Jumpy Mango Juice”. 

The flight arrived into Delhi airport and parked in a location that took us at least 15 minutes of walking to reach the immigration area.  The immigration area in the airport is very well organized with Indian nationals going to the left along with the VIPs and First Class/Business Class passengers and the rest of us going to the right.  There were at least 3 sections of immigration counters marked “Sticker Visas”, “VOA” (visa on arrival), and e-Visa.  We split into our respective groups with me heading towards the e-Visa line.

At the e-Visa line I had to look into the camera for a photo and do finger printing. The officer only asked from where I was coming from and how many times I had entered India on the current visa.  He also asked the details of the most recent trip that I had made to India.  The process took about 10 minutes; not hard difficult questions, I think maybe just slow computer processing on the other end.  However, there were at least 20 counters processing e-Visas so the wait was not long.

After rejoining with my family (they took about 10 minutes longer) we proceeded into the baggage claim area.  Here is a tip about getting into the baggage area: open your passport to the page where the visa stamp has been placed, if you just hand the passport over the guy needs to search through one page at a time looking for the stamp and seems sort of grumpy doing it.  If you open the page he smiles and waves you through.

Baggage collection was simple then we headed outside to find our guide.  We visited one of the ATMs to get some cash.  At the ATM was a guy trying to take out money and not having much luck. I noticed him entering 50,000 as the amount. I told him that the limit in India was 10,000 in a single transaction.  Yes, it is possible to withdraw multiple times but I think the limit is 5 times.  If you think you will need a lot of cash and don’t want to deal with the ATMs, bring USD cash but don’t change it all at the airport due to the miserable rate you will get there.

The Road to Agra

To be honest, I had always pictured the drive from Delhi to Agra in my head as being a horrible experience on a crowed and noisy road.  It did take us nearly one hour to clear the traffic in Delhi, but once we were out of Delhi we entered a toll road with 3 lanes in each direction along with a hard shoulder and a speed limit of 100km/h.  This looked just like any expressway in North America and it was an easy ride all the way to Agra city.  We stopped about 90 minutes into the drive for a quick bite to eat.

Reaching Agra city, the situation with the road turned into the expected road conditions with the dirty surroundings, lots of honking cars and just general chaos.  The unpleasant part of the drive took about 30 minute and we reached our first stop of the day.

Akbar’s Tomb

Our first task was to get a ticket.  We reached the window and Chandra asked if there was a discounted price for SAARC countries.  They asked for the passports and because all the passports were blue they charged even me the SAARC rate so the three of us got in for 90 rupees!  The regular entrance fee for foreign nationals is 300 rupees.  

A bit beyond the ticket booth was a person asking if we needed a guide. We tend to get frustrated about having to pick up these guides but we know walking through a place without any information is okay but since we are not carrying a guide book we entertained the idea of a guide.  The guide had a small laminated card showing that we was a “licensed” guide and the card showed a foreigner fee of 975 rupees and an Indian fee of 657 rupees.  We said no to the foreigner price and he offered the Indian price.  We also balked at the Indian price and offered 400 and he agreed. In the end he did a good enough job that we paid up 500 which is a reasonable rate for the 1 hour that the tour took us.   If you are using a local site guide remember that the price is completely negotiable regardless of whatever is printed on some piece of paper.

This particular attraction is the burial site of Akbar, the 3rd Mogul Emperor.  He started the construction as a burial site for himself but apparently was killed during the construction.  Although the site was constructor for 40 tombs in total only 4 of them were actually used.  Although it is believed that Akbar was Muslim, he tried to unite Muslim, Christian, Buddhism, and Hinduism together and it certainly shows in the designs on the gates.  You can see from the photos the Arabic writing and the minarets, the swastikas, the lotus flower and the cross all appearing on the gate to the tomb.

The tomb itself has a chamber supporting about 16 seconds of echoing.  There are usually some people (or the guide himself) will sound a note and you can hear it continuing for what appears to be a very long time.  Hearing the sound of course will cost you a tip!  Make sure to keep a lot of small notes (10s and 20s ready for this type of thing).

In the unused tomb areas, there are several places where you can stand and hear different things.  If you have two people get them to stand in the corners (marked A + B) and face the wall.  If one person speaks you can clearly hear them but nobody else can. If you stand in the center (marked C) you will hear yourself…a fun exercise is to clap loudly.

By this time, the thunder has started to roll quite frequently so we headed back to the car.  Just like any other place in India, there are hawkers who will irritate you trying to buy their souvenirs.  The hawkers are the things that really make visiting most places in India quite unpleasant.  The best thing you can do is just ignore; it may feel rude to do this, but trust me there is no explaining your way out of why you can’t buy something; they already know how to deal with every possible response.

Sarovar Premiere Hotel

This is our first hotel stop during this trip.  Like any other higher end hotel in India, you will be met by a large group of people ready to help you and your luggage into the hotel.  We are escorted in and provided with a welcome drink while the luggage and our check-in was processed.  We can tell that they don’t get a lot of Bhutanese passports here because the hotel was concerned when they couldn’t find the visa. 

The hotel attempted to convince us to attend a show that evening about the construction of the Taj Mahal but we elected not to attend simply because the price was between 2000 and 2800 per person and I knew that I would run out of cash if I spend it like this.

We were taken to the room.  The hall on the 5th floor stunk of kerosene but the smell dissipated within a couple of hours so we guess it was used for some cleaning purpose and not some typical smell from the hotel.

The room was called a suite but I wouldn’t describe it as anything beyond a deluxe.  However the bed was very comfortable and the size of the room was good.  There were a couple of bottles of water which were complimentary along with a few minibar items for reasonable prices.

We did try the Italian restaurant for a light second dinner.  I say second dinner because in India the restaurants open for dinner quite late (7pm) and we were hungry at 5 so we visited the KFC beside the hotel. I tried the Caesar Salad which was good but a bit weird containing capsicum and peas, but things were still okay for price given that it was a hotel. If we had consumed an appetizer, a main course and dessert we would have been looking at a bill of about 1500 rupees per person.  You can certainly eat for cheaper if you head into the town.  There was a buffet available for 900 per person in the restaurant on the main floor but we did not try this option.  Breakfast had a great variety of items and the restaurant was bright and clean.

Taj Mahal

At 8am we headed out to the Taj Mahal with our guide.  We reached the East gate with about a 10 to 15-minute drive.  We transferred to an electric cart to make the short drive to the ticket counter.   If the entrance fee is not included on your tour package the regular foreigner rate is 1300 and the SAARC rate was 600 with children under 15 being free.

The ticket comes in the form of an electronic token coin (similar to a metro token like the one used airport rail link in Bangkok).  The token is used to track the entry and exit timings because they are now putting a limit on the amount of time that you can spend inside; don’t worry it is not for the typical tourists but rather for the people who spend the entire day there.  There was brief security check today and the guide said that during the busiest times the line could take 30 minutes.

After getting into the complex you are now in the grounds and looking in the right direction you can see the main dome appearing behind the wall.

There is a small army of “photographers” inside ready to accompany you with their camera.   They claim that they know all the right places to take photos.  We didn’t bother with this; I was told that the photos were 100 each but we really don’t need printed photos. I did observe one of the photographers directing people on the inside of where to stand and how to pose so I guess it might be a reasonable service if you wanted it.  Mostly I wanted pictures of the Taj Mahal for our marketing purposes rather than photos of me standing in front of the Taj Mahal. If you don’t take the photographer, your guide will probably take several photos for you with your camera but do be kind and give them some tip for this at the end.

The actual history and background of the Taj Mahal is easy to find online, so I won’t even attempt to try and cover it here.  There were a couple of interesting things that were pointed out.  The minarets are not perfectly vertical but rather tilt outwards.  You would probably never notice this this from any photograph unless you were looking for it. The reason for the outward tilt is in case of an earthquake so that the minarets fall outward rather than inward on the actual structure.

Some of the most impressive parts of the structure are the small details. When you get inside, you find many large pieces that were carved of a single piece of marble and there is a lot of inlaid stonework that took an enormous amount of effort and time to get correct.   There are some signs of theft of the precious stonework.

The grounds were a bit crowded at the time that we visited.  It was possible to get photos in all of the good places and even getting photos directly in front of the mosoleum was possible as long as you didn’t mind waiting about 4-5 minutes for the others to finish.  All the visitors were quite polite and would move quickly after getting their photos.  If there were double the number of visitors, this would have been quite a bit more frustrating.

The weather was probably in the low 30s with a mostly overcast sky.  We easily consumed the two complimentary bottles of water during the 90-minute visit.  If you come here during the hot times, you want to make sure that you wear sunscreen and maybe buy a couple of more bottles of water for the visit.

We were warned as we exited that there would be a lot of hawkers, but we ended up not seeing more than 1 or 2 at the last few seconds just before we got into the car.

Marble Works

I didn’t look, but I suspect that there are dozens of “marble carving shops” in Agra and chances are that you will end up in one like we did.  You will be given a small demonstration of how the marble is cut and how the small pieces are created.  After the demonstration you will end up a shop with very nice but rather expensive items.  The work is absolutely stunning, but we were not looking for anything.  The shop that we visited was at least polite and we didn’t feel that it was necessary to buy things.  We picked up a couple of small things that we are giving as gifts and we talked about getting some coaster sized items with our logo.

Since the guide was included in our package the only thing that we provided was some tips.  Normally we tend to be a bit generous to our guides so the amount that you give is entirely up to you.  We would normally give about 500 for a tour of this size but since he didn’t force the photographers or the hawkers then we gave the 1000 for his time.  I wouldn’t recommend giving any more than this.

Drive to Fatehpur Sikri

We elected to skip Agra Fort because we had picked only a single day for the visit to Agra.  If you really want to see Agra Fort, you are advised to add a second day to your stop here.  The drive to Fatehpur Sikri was maybe 2 hours on a more congested road than the expressway we took to reach Agra.

We picked up our local guide and paid the fee to enter the ancient city.  It was okay but was getting quite hot for us. At the end of our trip, our local guide pushed us into a souvenir shop and by this point we were just tired and hot giving us a bit of a bad feeling.

After another 30 minutes or so of drive we finally ate a very late lunch meeting up with a number of groups who were also at Fatehpur Sikri at the same restaurant.

Stepwell of Chand Baori

This place looks like something from Escher’s sketchbook and it worth the small price of entrance.  The price was just 300 for the foreign passport and 30 for the SAARC passport.  It is a small enough attraction with a limited amount of history that you probably should just push away any person asking if you want a guide. 

We spent about 20 minutes going around to take photos from different angles and then we got back into the car to continue our drive to Jaipur.

We reached Jaipur quite late at around 7pm.   Normally if somebody is staying in Agra for a single night, they are advised to visit Taj Mahal for the sunrise, then return to the hotel for breakfast followed by the drive to Jaipur.

Alsisar Haveli Heritage Hotel

Tonight’s hotel is the Alisar Haveli, a heritage hotel in the middle of Jaipur city.  The name “heritage” means of course that it is in old style and probably actually old as well.  It is a really interesting place with a lot of neat looking architecture.   Once inside you find yourself in a relatively quiet spot away from the bustling crazy Jaipur city outside.

The staff were very pleasant and there is the owner’s dog named Stella wandering around the place. It seems a bit weird at first to see a dog in a hotel but you get used to it.

On the first night we sat outside in the court yard having a beer with our tour agent discussing the things that we’ve experienced so far to try and figure out how to better write up the itineraries for guests doing combined Bhutan and India.  While we were talking, there was a small performance going on near the pool and while the performance was not happening there was a musician playing.

The breakfast in the morning was fine and we did try dinner during the second night.  We didn’t like the food very much with most things being sort of bland. It is possible that the hotel was trying to accommodate a “Westerner” taste but they didn’t really pull it off. If you do stay in this hotel, we would recommend getting to some other place for dinner.   We ate in a regular tourist hotel the next day and it was considerably better tasting and considerably less expensive than the hotel’s restaurant.

The rooms themselves are nice but we disliked the ants.  The room had a lot of large ants crawling around mostly on the floor in the toilet but finding a few dozen ants on the floor in the morning can make some people a bit uncomfortable. We don’t know if the ants are just seasonal or if they are around all of the time. As such, this is probably not on our planned suggestion list.

Jaipur Fort

We started the day by heading to the old city and just after entering the first gate we stopped at Hawa Mahal to take some photos of this magnificent facade.  In fact a friend on Facebook just posted a picture of the façade about a month after my visit.

The next stop was the Amber Fort where we were dropped at the loading area for the elephant ride up to the fort.  Despite all of the warning signs about tipping, the elephant driver will probably request some small tip (100 is fine).  There are a lot of hawkers trying to get your attention to buy hats and other things, but the most irritating part is the photographers along the way.  These photographers will snap your photo and then try to sell it to you at the other end.  We were quite successful in not looking at any of them, so we managed to avoid these people. The ride is 1100 per elephant if it was not already included in your package.

Hoping off the elephant at the other end we headed halfway up the steps and stopped in a Hindu temple were the priests are offering alcohol as the blessing (in Bhutan the monks pour water, here they were pouring brandy!).

The fort itself is a nice place and I recommend going here.  It took us a couple of hours to finish and we got some very nice photos of the fort and the massive walls around the city.  You could probably get away without a guide and we certainly saw that most people were going without. As most other places in India there are very few informational signs tell you what you are looking at. So if you want the history, bring a guide book or pick up a guide.

After driving away from the fort, there was an observation point where we stopped to get a couple of quick pictures on the opposite side of the lake.  To my shock, there was a snake charmer there playing and we got some pictures of him and the snake. Even more surprising was the 500 rupees he asked as the performance fee!  I offered him 50 for which he wasn’t impressed but eventually he took it. I think he was worried about the police nearby and wanted to get out of there without raising much suspicion.

Jantar Mantar

This is a Unesco World Heritage site and was the coolest thing that we saw in Jaipur. If you have a science background then this one place is worth the trip to Jaipur.  There are a lot of ancient (circa 1735) sundial like structures giving you everything from the time of day and the date.  The main attraction here is the world’s largest sundial with a 2 second accuracy!

The only disappointing part of this trip was the weather…. if its cloudy then there is nothing to be viewed.   This is the problem of traveling during the monsoon season!

Delhi Tour

Today was a bit of a long day as the drive from Jaipur to Delhi is about 5 hours.  The road between Jaipur and Delhi is a typical Indian road but was mostly arranged as a dual carriage way.  We stopped at a small road side dhaba eating area.  This type of place is quite cheap compared to a standard tourist hotel but some people might be uncomfortable in this type of place.

We continued into Delhi and checked into the hotel and headed our on our tour of Delhi.  This tour was a bit rushed due to our limited time so it was less than ideal

Pride Plaza Hotel

Delhi has arranged a number of hotels in an area called Aerocity.  This is a “gated” part of the city where a lot of people use hotels as the first or last day of their trip because it is located just 10 minutes from the airport.

Once you are in this area, you are going to find yourself a bit trapped in terms of what to do or eat.  if you really wanted to get out of this place you would have to get down to the Delhi Aerocity train station and then you could get into the city.  For us it was fine because the 6 am flight meant that we could put off getting up as late as possible.

The Pride Plaza Hotel was very nice and modern and clean.  The food was again a bit lacking but perhaps this is the hotel trying to make Indian food for foreigners; it just doesn’t have the same types of flavors as the food in the smaller hotels would have.  There was a buffet going on but at 2000 per person we thought it would be better to order from the menu.

The hotel agreed to keep our extra baggage for the short excursion up to Amritsar.  The staff were extremely friendly, but this place was a downer compared to any other hotels that we’ve stayed at in India.  It is a typical sterile hotel environment with a huge marble lobby where you can stand in a queue to check-in and checkout.  You could easily mistake yourself as being in North America or Europe; not at all like the other hotels we’ve stayed at.

We had to skip breakfast in the morning due to our early departure to Chandigarth but that turned out to be a good thing.  In our last morning we managed to get to drop down for breakfast but perhaps we should have skipped breakfast and went to the airport early instead.  We walked in at 5 minutes past opening and there were 16 tables filled with dirty dishes and they didn’t get cleared for the 30 minutes while we were there.  There was an omlette station and some other station that remained unmanned during my breakfast and we had to go hunting to find things like milk and tea cups. There was just one person in the restaurant which is clearly not sufficient. Overall it was a rather unpleasant experience and I let the staff at the desk know.  If the hotel cannot provide staff for the restaurant then I probably wouldn’t include this hotel as part of our packages.

Mini Delhi Tour

I call this a mini-Delhi tour because we really didn’t have that much time to move around because of the drive from Jaipur leaving us only a few hours of daylight.

We visited the Qutb Minar to get some photos and learn the history of the tower.    The tour through this area took about 45 minutes. We managed to find a bit of rain while we were there.

Then we drove to the India-Gate and to view the President’s home.  We didn’t have time really to stop at either of these attractions and literally just did a drive by photo shoot.  Our guests from Australia happened to reach Delhi early in the morning and because of the rain had the entire India Gate area to themselves…that could be secret to enjoying Delhi.

I’ve been to a number of other cities in India like Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai.  They all have their old buildings and museums which are probably worth checking out if you happened to be there for a couple of days.  Our main targets were Jaipur, Agra and Amritsar for this tour.

Flight to Chandigarth

We elected to fly to Chandigarth instead of Amritsar because we needed to visit the children studying in a university in Phagwara…not the typical tourist destination so it is unlikely that we would ever been sending guests to that location or even that airport.

I will still comment on the flight because it was our first time using Indigo.  When I think of budget Indian airlines the first thing that comes to mind is a chaotic mess at the airport but that idea turned out to be completely wrong!

Perhaps it was because the flight was early but getting through the check-in process was an order of magnitude easier than I would have expected.  Once through the main doors of the airport we were pointed towards the ominous self-serve kiosk.  I was expecting the worst, but within a second of keying in the booking reference I could see our names and I accepted the seating arrangements and a few seconds later all 3 boarding passes were printed.  I have always found that the self-serve kiosks in most airports are slow and barely responsive making for an agonizing 10-minute ordeal to get checked in.

While in the line there was somebody going through asking if we had packed power banks or other dangerous goods in the suitcases; this is a good time saver because there it is one less thing the actual check-in staff need to ask.

We were carrying one box of food items to be dropped at the university and the box was getting a bit weak from its constant shifting into and out of the car and the airline just grabbed a roll of plastic and wrapped it for us!

Even getting through security in the airport was relatively quick.  From door to ordering our breakfast post-security was only 30 minutes.

The plane itself was absolutely spotless and the onboard staff were excellent. I wish that full-service airlines in North America were this clean and easy to deal with.

If you are thinking about using Indigo and are skeptical about the experience, it gets full thumbs up from us!

Wagah Flag Ceremony

Although I have written before in a previous article about being disappointed with some popular sites of the world that I visited, there have been occasionally a few things that just surprised me and this particular day had a great surprise in store.

When I saw the Wagah flag ceremony on my itinerary, I was excited to see what I thought was going to be a very small but official looking ceremony where the gates between India and Pakistan would be opened for a few minutes while the guards took down the flags.

Instead of some small ceremony it turned out to be by far the most interesting thing that I’ve got to experience on this trip.

We reached the Wagah border at around 5:00pm and thought that this was going to be just too long of a wait.  The guide explained to us that there was a special line and a foreigner gallery near the actual border fence.   The good news for my wallet that was nearly running out of cash is that there is no charge for attending the ceremony. 

We hopped into the relatively short line that took me about 15 minutes to go through the security check.  The girls managed to get through in about 2 minutes but of course they had no choice but to wait.  Remember to bring your passport as it will be checked and make sure not to take too many things with you.  They allow a camera and a mobile phone but no extra hard drives, battery banks, etc.  The security guy took a long hard look at my Entrust security token on my keychain before waving me through.

After I got through my security check, we walked down to the “stadium” where we were ushered into the seating gallery at the far end as close as we could get to the Pakistan border.

It was sort of like looking into a mirror on the opposite side of the border, but the other side was considerably quieter and smaller.  The Punjabi and Hindi music was pumping out of huge loud-speakers on the Indian side with one of the border patrol people acting as an emcee getting the crowd more and more pumped up with excitement.   The crowd had maybe a 2000 people today on our side of the border but a much smaller crowd on the other side.  What I found online suggested that the crowd could be 20,000 but there is no way you could fit that many in.  You could feel the excitement in the air as the huge India flag was passed around from one end of the stadium to the other and of course eventually the song Jai Ho played and at this point you can get a sense of how much pride the Indians have for their country.

The ceremony itself still gives me goosebumps thinking about it as the two sides coordinated their dances and eventually opened the gates and shook hands.   Once the flags were lowered and put away and the gates closed up the huge crowds started to move out.  It would be a very good idea to discuss with your group where to meet after the exit before you get into the stadium.  There is a huge push of people and there is almost no way that you are going to stay together with anybody.

Ranjit Villas Hotel

Our final hotel (with the exception of the second stay in Pride Plaza in Delhi) was way beyond our expectations but it wouldn’t be until the next morning when we really got a chance to check out what was happening.

The food at the hotel was the best that we experienced through India.  Our only disappointment was the fact that it was only India food on the menu so again if you are looking for a small break from India food, this is not the place that you are going to be able to do this except for some pasta (which was actually not on the menu).

The next morning we got to sleep in a bit late and had a somewhat late breakfast.  Then we headed to the lobby where we got to dress up with some local clothing for a photo and they tied a turban on my head that we decided to leave for the upcoming trip to the Golden Temple.  We then went on a small 10 minute tractor drive to visit a local farm; the trip out was quite fun and took about 30 minutes. We returned to the hotel just in time to head out to the golden temp.

The hotel gave us as much time in the room as possible, but we had to vacate the room for cleaning by around 2pm giving us 3 hours to hang out in the library where we slept for a bit, did some photo processing and played carom.

This hotel is definite on our package tours and we wished that we could have stayed for another night. 

Golden Temple

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is just another temple in India right?  This is one time that you would be wrong and even if you are sick and tired of visiting temples, make it a point to get to this place!  If the only thing that you know about India is the Taj Mahal and was going to be the one and only thing you visited, consider skipping the Taj and go here instead!

Reaching the parking area, you have to walk through a fairly crowded street down to the entrance plaza.  Your first stop is to drop your shoes at one of the windows and pick up a token so they can find your shoes when you are done.  Next you head towards the main gate and grab a head scarf to wear and walk through a foot washing station. 

The temple itself is very nice but this is not really the cool part of the tour; the kitchen however is fascinating!   The temple is like the Mecca of Sikhism with tens of thousands of pilgrims ending up here each day.  The kitchen provides free meals for the visitors (between 50,000 to 100,000 per day).  It is an amazing operation all running on donations and volunteer effort.

Since there are absolutely no fees charged to visit this place, I strongly encourage you to reach into your wallet and pull out 500 or 1000 rupees per person and put it into one of the donation boxes.  This is a small fee compared to the 1300 for Taj Mahal and probably more of an interesting place. Seeing the volunteers do the work required to make this kitchen run 24 hours per day non-stop is really something spectacular.

Getting into the actual temple in the middle of the lake was not really going to be possible as we visited on a Sunday.  The guide suggested that it would take about 3 hours to get inside, but other days of the week would only take 30-40 minutes.  If you are scheduling your tour, try to avoid this on the Sunday or be ready to skip getting inside the temple itself.

Flight to Delhi

The airport in Amritsar seems to be undergoing some serious renovations and it looks like it will be a very nice airport when it is finished.  The trip on Air India was about as expected and considerably less impressive than the Indigo flight a couple of days ago (staff less friendly, equipment old and not well cleaned). 

The odd thing about this flight (and it seems like many of the Air India flights) is that it operates out of and into the international areas of the terminal.  You are given a boarding pass with a big letter D on it that lets you get into and out of the international areas of the terminal without going through customs. It is a bit of a concern that they allow for people to mix like this.

The biggest problem with such flights is the driver who is likely to be waiting for you at the domestic doors while you are standing near the International doors wondering where they are.  We luckily had a phone number to call and we eventually found out he was just in a completely different door at the domestic arrivals like he should be. This is the second time in my journeys where I couldn’t find an organized driver due to a confusing domestic flight operating through the international terminal…previously was a flight from Sao Paulo to Rio in Brazil.

We drove directly from the airport to a hotel in Delhi where we had guests who had just arrived that day from Australia who were doing the Agra and Jaipur part of the tour then moving to Nepal and finally to Bhutan.  Since our trips overlapped by a few hours in Delhi we wanted to meet them to at least greet and provide a small gift.

Our hotel was back at Pride Plaza Hotel near the airport.  The room was fine but the breakfast service the next morning provided us a bitter taste on our way out as described in the previous section.

Final Remarks

If you are traveling to Bhutan you really should consider including either Nepal and/or India as part of the trip. You really get to experience the contrast between the three countries.  Our Australian guests who we met in Delhi pointed out that Bhutan was very different and slow compared to the other countries.

The order in which you visit the countries does not really matter and now that we have had the chance to see the types of things and the quality of the service by our partners in each of these places we can make some better suggestions for the guests about what is worth seeing and what extra expenses and potential hassles they can expect.   By combining the trips, we can actually lower the overall cost by quite a bit.

The hawkers and pushy shop sellers are the downsides to visiting India as well as the expected tips from the local guides. Although in our tours, the guides are already paid for, they do seem to expect some tips on top of this.

I would recommend that if you do travel with an organized tour, make sure that you have the phone number of the operator (get the local contact numbers as well) and if possible have a phone with you that you can call just in case. The driver at the wrong airport door; easy to fix but would certainly be frustrating if we didn’t have the phone. Even if you don’t have a phone, at least have the contact number, chances are somebody will be willing to lend you their phone to make a quick local call.

We were incredibly impressed with the Indigo flight and found Punjab (Amritsar) to be a very nice part of India that we had never visited before.

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