I’ve been on many holidays with exodus and similar companies and can without doubt say this was one of the best. Having been to India once before and leaving feeling that i had not experienced the best of what the country had to offer you can’t say that about this trip, in quiet back waters and not seeing many other westerners until the last couple of days. Much of the success of this trip is due to the attention to detail and personal choices of Philippa our guide and her husband Jeremy.
We went the end of February into early march 2014, it was chilly in the hills at night and we did see a little rain on one day, but the views were clear and a light sweater was fine for during the day. it was very different by the time we got to Agra, still clear and sunny, but very hot. You can not book your luggage all the way through and have to collect it in Delhi, through customs then drop it off again for the flight to Amritsar. it was very straight forward and Delhi airport is now modern clean and user friendly (very different from my last visit).
Starting at Mrs Bhandari’s guest house is novel, clean and functional. it was still chilly at night when we were there so getting into bed and finding a hot water bottle was fab. We visited the Golden Temple and in what became a theme for the holiday Philippa knew what time to have us at various places to get the best view, best experience and seeing all the back of house stuff.
Then onto Pragpur and 2 nights at the Judges Court, where they have built some extra accommodation in the grounds that is very good. The heritage village sounds a bit naff and twee, but is really worth the visit as its a living working village and gives you a first chance to do a bit of shopping. From here on in until traveling back to Delhi I really felt like I was in a Himalayan country and the area has such a different feeling to any other part of india.
We had a bit of change in itinerary next and went to Norbulingka next. I would have loved 2 nights there just to sit and drink in the Tibetan cultural centre and spend more time at the Tibetan Nunnery. Phillipa showed even more of her generosity and we all went to her home to sit on the balcony and have lunch of fresh squash soup with home made bread.
Up to McLoud Ganj for 2 nights next, this was just link been in any Himalayan bazar, full of back packers, monks and car beeping horns. The cafes on the roofs of the shops are the best place to relax and take in the views of mountains, snow and eagles. A quirk of feat meant we had an experience of a life time whist here, not only visiting the Dali Lama residence but having a private audience with him.
On to Andretta where we spent the afternoon in the pottery workshop of Minnie, whilst Mary prepared a wonderful home cooked lunch. Then onto the accommodation, that night was not the best of the holiday and a bit damp, but the bedding was clean and showers hot. The setting was again amazing in the middle of no where with snowcapped mountains down to tea plantations and rolling crop fields.
Then the long drive to Mandi. We arrived in the middle of the Holy celebrations with paint been thrown everywhere and a big party in the town centre, which we watched from the Maharajas Palace where we stayed avoiding getting covered in lead based paints. The Maharaja had lunch, dinner and breakfast with us, this elderly character entertained himself telling us jokes that were nearly as old as him, he was a pleasure to meet.
On next to Shimla, which was much bigger than I expected. this is where we has one day of showery rain. This is a sightseeing, cultural and shopping opportunity not to be sniffed at with material and cloths at silly prices. On both nights we stayed there we had breakfast at Indian Coffee House, full of locals its like no other coffee house you will have ever experienced., google it on Mall Rd.
The next day it was on the toy train. A really enjoyable day we had clear views and wonderful sunshine. The carriage is a bit crammed as all the luggage goes with you. that night in Pinjore the accommodation was fine but not a good as the start of the holiday. the grounds and gardens of the hotel are well worth a visit.
the train journey to Delhi is an early start, but they put Uk trains to shame, with the tea, papers and food service that is included in our ticket price. This day is not only an early start but a long day as its straight off the train onto the coach and off to Agra. This is where you become tourists, in with the throngs of sight seeing coach loads. The forts and temples visited were wonderful and Philippa did her best to avoid the crowds. on the morning we visited the Taj Mahal we went to the less popular entrance as its 5 mins further to walk and we were first in the queue, well worth it to get those people free shots.
The food for the whole holiday was really good, no dodgy tummy and a wide variety of flavours. the price of a meal varied from £2 per head to an average of £4, then £10 on the last night (Delhi Prices), all including drinks.
I would recommend this trip to anyone to see the north of India, we had all age groups and levels of fitness. The only reason its tiring is long journeys and regular changes of hotel. If other companies appear to be doing the same or similar trips don’t be taken in, without the insight and passion provided by Philippa (or Jeremy) the experience will not be the same.