Thursday, December 13, 2018

India (New Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Sarnath, Bodhgaya, Raijir, Nalanda, Patna, Lucknow, Amritsar) Nov/Dec 2018

" My Cuti Cuti (Vacation), Jalan Jalan (Walkabout) & Makan Makan (Eating) 24 days free & easy visit to Northern India with my travel buddies from Singapore (Lam) & Malaysia (KC & Lana) from 19 Nov to 12 Dec 2018 - my last backpacking visit to Northern India was in 2007 "  

Image result for map of capitals of northern india
Map of Northern India - The cities I visited ie New Delhi, Amritsar, Agra, Varanasi, Sarnath, Bodhgaya, Lucknow, Patna, Raigir & Nalanda
Image result for map of northern india
Map of Northern India 

Why northern India visit ? My 1st visit to Northern India was in July 2007 (24 days) with a group of overseas Hospitality Club members (8 people) focusing my visit to Kashmir (Srinagar),  Leh & Ladakh (Land of High Passes), Keylong, Old Manali, McLeod Ganj, Shimla & the Golden Triangle cities of New Delhi, Agra & Jaipur. 

For this trip in Nov 2018 (24 days), both my Singapore & Malaysia travel buddies focused our visit mainly by trains following the Buddha trail (Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Rajgir, Nalanda & Patna); visitng the Sikh's Golden Temple in Punjab & the Hindu pilgrimage city of Varanasi & Ganges river. What a real eye opener, an enhanced understanding & appreciation of the religious faith of Buddhism, Hindu & Sikh for our group as a result of this visit in India !

In 6 of the main cities (New Delhi, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Patna, Lucknow & Amritsar), our group had the opportunities to visit the major tourist sites in each city within the time frame ( average stay was 3 nights in each city except New Delhi, a total of 5 nights and 1 additional night on our final day). Using New Delhi as the starting point, our group was able to visit Agra (by day train) & moved on to Varanasi. From Varanasi, using auto rickshaw, it was quite convenient for our group to undertake a half day visit to Sarnath. Next, our group visited Bodhgaya and did a day tour (private car hire) to Raijir & Nalanda. After Bodhgaya, our group visited Patna and Hajipur. Lucknow & Amritsar were the last two cities our group visited before returning to New Delhi thus successfully ended our 24 days visit in Northern India. All these accomplishments were achieved through our group's careful planning & time management ! 

However, there were major challenges our group had to face along the way ie buying of train tickets, a train delay of 15 hours, a long train ride of 17 hours from Lucknow to Amritsar, hotels check in after mid-night (Patna & Amritsar), stomach upsets & diarrhoea after eating spicy Indian food, last minute cancellation of our hotel booking in Patna, tour guide scam in Agra, air / dust & noise pollution in major cities etc. But our strong mental, physical & spiritual strength had helped us to overcome these challenges - when the going is tough the tough gets going ! 

As newbies & first time travelers to India, it was a great experience for my travel buddies and as for me (a senior citizen), I am glad that I was able to accomplish this "hardcore" India trip & kept my spirit high throughout this visit ! One up for me in the world of travelling ! 

Enjoy reading my blog and wish all my readers a Merry Christmas & may the year of 2019 be a productive & fruitful one for the globe trotters who enjoy travelling ! 

UNESCO World Heritage sites our group visited in this trip:

1) Qutub Minar & its monuments, Delhi
2) Red Fort Complex, Delhi
3) Agra Fort, Uttar Pradesh (2nd visit)
4) Taj Mahal, Uttar Pradesh (2nd visit)
5) Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodhgaya, Bihar
6) Nalanda, Bihar 

In addition to the above, I had also visited the following UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Northern India during my backpacking trip in 2007: 

1) Humayun's Tomb, Delhi
2) Mountain Railway of India - Kalka Simla Railway, Himachal Pradesh
3) Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

One funny liner contributed by hotel guests in New Delhi

Total expenses incurred (24 days): Rs26,443 + Rm1,377 = Rm2,910 (US$692)
Air Asia Airlines (KL>New Delhi): Rm826
Indian Visa: Rm465
Travel Insurance: Rm74
Skybus (KL Sentral): Rm6 x 2 (senior)
Airport pick up (New Delhi) : Rs193 per pax (cost sharing of 3)
Hostels / Hotels (19 nights) : Rs10,872 (Rm630)
1) Hotel Smyle Inn, New Delhi (6 nights +1/2 day) - Rs450x5 + Rs683 + Rs225 (Quad room)
2) Stay Inn, Varanasi (3 nights) - Rs325 x 3 (dorm)
3) Bodhgaya (3 nights) - Rs671 x 3 (Quad room)
4) Patna (3 nights) - Rs550 x 3 (Quad room)
5) Lucknow (3 nights) - Rs842 x 3 (Twin sharing)
6) Amritsar (1 night) - Rs550 (dorm)
Trains: Rs4,647 + Rs500=Rs5,147 (Rm298)
1) New Delhi >Agra - Rs705 (reserved seat -inclusive of service fee)
2) New Delhi > Varanasi - Rs721 (3AC sleeper- Senior)) + Rs100 (service fee)
3) Varanasi > Gaya - Rs90 (unreserved seat)
4) Patna > Lucknow - Rs803 (2AC sleeper-Senior) + Rs100 (service fee)
5) Lucknow > Amritsar - RS1,728 (1AC sleeper-Senior) + Rs100 (service fee)
6) Amritsar > Hazrat Nizamuddin - Rs580 (3AC sleeper-Senior) + Rs100+Rs100 (service fee)
7) Hazrat Nizamuddin > New Delhi - Rs20
Long distance Bus (Bodhgaya > Patna) - Rs285
Town Bus (Patna>Hajipur): Rs50 
Entrance fees: Rs3,270 (Rm190)
1) Red Fort - Rs600
2) Taj Mahal - Rs1,050
3) Agra Fort - Rs550 + Rs50 (Tour guide)
4) RS100
5) Bodhgaya Museum - Rs20
6) Mahabodhi Temple - Rs100 (camera)
5) Xuan Zang Memorial - Rs200
6) Nalanda University - Rs600
Metro: Rs690 (Rm40)
Auto Rickshaws: Rs700(Rm40)
Day Tour (Rajgir & Nalanda) : Rs750 per pax (cost sharing of 4)
Day Tour (Agra) : Rs1,470 per pax (cost sharing of 3)
Boat Tour (Varanasi): Rs200
Food & groceries (own prepared meals): Rs2.804 (Rm162)

Exchange Rate: Rm1=Rs17.41, US$1=Rm4.20; Rs100=Rm5.77

Travel Itinerary: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia > New Delhi > Varanasi > Bodhgaya > Patna > Lucknow > Amritsar > New Delhi > Kuala Lumpur 

Weather in New Delhi in Nov / Dec 2018 - average day temperature 16c-20c

My travel buddies from Singapore (Mr Lam) & Malaysia (KC & Lana)

India Gate, New Delhi - My travel buddies - Lam, KM & KC 

Jama Masjid, New Delhi
Lotus Temple, New Delhi
Red Fort, New Delhi 

Travel Highlights

1) New Delhi, India

Red Fort (UNESCO), New Delhi

2) Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Taj Mahal (UNESCO), Agra

3) Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Varanasi (voted one of the 100 Best Cities in the World by Lonely Planet in 2009)  & Ganges River, Uttar Pradesh

4) Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh

The Giant Buddha, Sarnath

5) Bodhgaya, Bihar

The Great Buddha Statute, Bodhgaya

6) Raijir, Bihar

Vishwa Shanti Stupa, Giriyak Hill, Rajgir

7) Nalanda, Bihar

Nalanda University Archaeological Complex (UNESCO)

8) Patna, Bihar

Golghar Canary for grain storage, Patna

9) Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh 

Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Memorial, Lucknow 

10) Amritsar, Punjab

Golden Temple, Amritsar

One funny liner contributed by hostel guests in New Delhi 

Incredible India - Nov /Dec 2018

1) It only happens in India ! Incredible India ! When you think positive, good things happen ! 

It's only words expressed in India ! No dull moments to what I saw, I heard and I ate for my 24 day trip in India ! 
Smaller amount - please do not show up ! Bring a bigger amount of Indian coins for exchange ! 
Travelling on roof of the train, why not ? No train inspectors to check on you at the roof top ! So sleep well ! On this note, I wish you all a happy and incredible train journey in India ! Roof top always give you the best view of India's countryside ! But beware of high voltage electricity cables ! 
The hotel our group stayed passes this alley in Paharganj, New Delhi  ! Smelly but I am not jealous ! 
The poor kid was sandwiched while the father was too engrossed into photo shooting !
A new style of taking pictures if you have a kid with you ! 
These twin brothers had a jolly good time travelling together with his dad on a bike ! 
Toilet for a bearded man with a turban ? 
Indira International Airport washroom for males & females - Smiling faces & attractive personalities greeting you at the toilet's front entrance 
Get rid of the quota and you have many high flyers ! 
In whatever level of education you pursue, do not go for a PHD (permanent head damage) !
If you are a school dropout, you can become a Guru one fine day ! 
The Chhatisgarth Express train was delayed by 16 hours - no sleeper beds to board but a floor in Lucknow train station to rest your tired bodies ! My group members sat in a train restaurant from 4pm to 8am next morning ! When the going is tough, the tough gets going ! 
It's winter now in India. This goat put on a warm clothing too ! A simple way of feeding the goat ! 
Stictly Prohibited ? I spotted this notice when taking a cable car ride in Rajgir. Stickly or strictly, most important is safety when you take a chairlift in Rajgir ! 
A Royal visit in April 2016 ! A down to earth visit by Prince William & Kate passing by the hotel our group stayed in an alley in Paharganj, New Delhi ! Our group is proud to have stay in this particular hotel in Paharganj, New Delhi  ! Are you a down to earth traveler ? If the answer is yes, the world is your oyster ! 

Our hotel in Paharganj, New Delhi served this gorgeous complimentary breakfast at the Roof top - highly nutritious. The family room for 4 people, each paid only RM28 (US$7) ! This is what I meant value for money ! Incredible ! 
Exchanging your dollars, pounds etc trust this stand alone white board in Paharganj, 
the rates quoted are realistic based on today's exchange ! Yen = 0 ? Yuan = 0, Taka = Don't Know ! 
White feathers, black feathers, brown feathers or peacock feathers - we all flock together wanting to see the world of today ! We are children of the world ! Make your incredible  India's visit a memorable one - forget about the hardship when travelling in India ! 
Two cows dropped by in Lucknow train station and said hello & good night to locals "camping" in the station due to the incredible 16 hours train delay & as for our group, to endure another  17 hours train ride to Amritsar ! My backside was hardened after "squatting" for 16hrs at a train restaurant from noon to the following morning ! KM, do you dare to take Indian trains again ! Why not, it was a real test of my mental, physical & spiritual strength as I jolly know a better day awaits us after this bitter episode in Lucknow ! I saw the incredible Golden Temple of Amritsar the following day, Wow ! From an incredible journey to a credible sight of Golden Temple. I strike gold in Amritsar ! 
Auto Rickshaw ride - A mini Metro ! Charming to look at ! Spare tyre to show off ? 
Auto rickshaws - the Queen of the public transport in India ! If you are a qualified auto rickshaw driver in India, your motor bike license could easily conquer the whole world, horning all the way to Rome ! Incredible the moment you sit in front with the driver for any of your city rides ! 
Entrance fee for locals to enter a Memorial site is Rs10(Rm0.58) whereas foreigners 
has to pay Rs200(Rm11.60). Incredible the huge ticket price difference ! 
Modern hair saloon signboard vs Old barber shop. Keep your Hippie hair style 
if you do not want an Indian hair style to show off in Pahar Ganj ! 
Deluxe Toilet - a hidden "Gem" behind the New Delhi Railway station ! McDonald standard ?
Pure & Safe Water (Only for Drinking) - Free water to quench your thirst inside the Red Fort, New Delhi ! 

India (New Delhi) Nov 2018 - Part 1

Day 1-6 (first 5 nights in New Delhi) 19-24 Nov 2108; took a day train from New Delhi to visit Agra (Taj Mahal & Agra Fort) 

Air Asia Flight departing KLIA2 19.00 > arriving Indira Gandhi International Airport (T3), New Delhi 23.15

KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2)

Dinner on board the Air Asia flight

Indira Gandhi International Airport (T3), New Delhi

Airport pick up arranged by our hotel in International Arrival Hall T3, outside Red Exit Gate No 4 (Rs580=Rm34)

One funny liner - It happens in India - one of the pics contributed by hostel guests in New Delhi 

Hotel accommodation (5 nights) in New Delhi - Hotel Smyle Inn, 916, Gali Chandi Wali, Main Bazaar, Pahar Ganj, New Delhi Tel No +91-11-2358-4076 - 4 bed family room ensuite Rs2,050 (Rm118) per night + complementary breakfast

Our daily breakfast at the Roof Top of the hotel
Hotel Reception, Smyle Inn
View of Pahar Ganj from the Roof Top of our hotel 
Hotel's Roof Top 
Hotel's Travel Desk office 
Royal visit (April 2016) to a lane in Paharganj where our hotel was located

" Paharganj, and particularly its primary thoroughfare Main Bazar is a bustling backpacker enclave full of budget hostels & tiny shops selling everything from hippie clothes to incense. There is a mix of casual bakeries, no nonsense eateries serving classic Indian dishes and rooftop restaurants whose menus feature global fare like pasta & falafel. New Delhi station is a major railway hub "

1) Paharganj, New Delhi (a must visit like Petaling Street of Kuala Lumpur or Orchard Road of Singapore, each of these places have her own character) - Backpacker's haven, walking distance to New Delhi Railway station, Airport Express Metro, Connaught Place, New Delhi Metro

Pahar Ganj by Night ! 

2) New Delhi Railway Station, Pahar Ganj 

3) New Delhi Metro / Airport Metro Station, Pahar Ganj, New Delhi  

4) Street Food & drink in Pahar Ganj - do you dare to eat or drink ? Why not, if your stomach is strong or prepared for a few bouts of stomach upsets in case things go wrong ! Your appetite grows day by day if you are adventurous to taste Indian deep fried & spicy food ! At times, it is better to go hungry a bit than simply grabbing some street food to bite and if the food are un-hygienically handled & prepared, stomach upsets could occur anytime ! Two of my travel buddies enjoyed drinking fresh promenade juice ! 

5) Fruit & vegetable market in Pahar Ganj & nearby places - our group's favorite fruit ie apples & bananas as for vegetables for cooking, our group chooses  carrots, radish, tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers & broccoli.  

6) Metro Train Rides in New Delhi - bought a daily Metro card for Rs200 (Rs50 refund) for our daily train rides within New Delhi & suburban places - most efficient way of using a Metro especially for foreign tourists to get around & visit tourist sites & places in New Delhi - all Metro trains are air-conditioned and comfortable to ride ! 

Most of the New Delhi tourist attractions are linked to the city Metro Lines !
New Delhi Metro has 5 Lines and some of these lines take you to  major tourist attractions 
If the Metro is jam packed - wait for the next one - just a few minutes waiting
Pink Line, Red Line, Blue Line, Yellow Line & Purple Line - so travel with ease using the New Delhi Metro
Ladies have a special car and seats marked for disabled & senior citizens 

7) Auto rickshaws - most popular mean of public transport in New Delhi - locals paid a nominal charge of Rs20-30 for a short 2-3 km ride, expect foreigners to pay double & vary depending upon the time of the day, number of passengers, your negotiation skills & mood of the driver ! You will observe superb driving skills demonstrated by auto rickshaws in high traffic junctions, narrow roads or lanes so have fun and sit tight in all your rickshaw rides ! Our group used the auto rickshaw to major tourist sites which are normally located 3-4 km from Metro stations !

8) Connaught Place & Central Park, Rajiv Chowk, New Delhi - 10-15 minutes walk from Pahar Ganj