This is it! I am getting away. Buoyant by the feeling of finally taking the first big step to trod the halls of the world. Big word, I know. I was locked up like forever in this ‘arid’ land that left me teeming with pregnant thoughts and what not. Boredom surely kills your soul. It will eat you up inside until you are friggin’ skin and bones and no marrows. Years – in my idle minutes of solitary silence I already have gone up and explored the world. Now, is the first time I do it for real. Travelling alone is one big crazy step for a regular-deskjob-man who finally yielded to the battle of the 9-5 corporate world — much less getting the means to finally board that plane. But looking back, I realized that you do not need to be rich to get lost in the world. Not lost and stranded like Tom Hanks of the “The Terminal” though it would have been a cheaper stay. Not rich – you just have to have enough. Though I just do not know how enough is enough.
Why INDIA? Yeah, I asked it myself too. Many have asked the same. Idle minutes at the office gave me more than enough time to search for a travel itinerary that was easier en route to my final destination – home. I was thinking of short lay-overs between India – Thailand then swing by Cambodia all in 10 days. That would eat up 10 days out of my 42 PTO days from work – and I would not be home yet. So, Why India? Well, I love Indians! Laughs. I love curry and I love the dry and extra spicy biryani. I just love spices, man! No asking again. Seriously, India is the most reasonable stopover – not to mention that I would get to see one of the most famous destinations and world heritage sites – the Taj Mahal. So India it is!
First timer blues. Call me one friggin’ chicken but man, you do not mess with your first ever trip. It cracks you up thinking what will happen to you in a strange far away place. Being stranded a thousand miles from home is one sure horrible idea. So, I booked GetsHolidays Travel and Tour that is based in Delhi to arrange all the hotels and itineraries for my 4D/3N (August 13-16, 2015) Golden Triangle Tour that covered Agra-Jaipur-Delhi routes in Northern India. I found out later though that 4 days are not enough for India. If given the chance again, I would rather stay there for a year or so. LOL. Anyways, I found GetsHolidays on Tripadvisor when I read through all related stuffs about getting to the Taj Mahal. Reviews were good I decided to ask for a quotation for a budget tour. Responses were prompt. Their sales agent would guide you through their travel packages that meet your interests and your budget and would try to squeeze in any possible itineraries relative to your stay in India. Mr. Ankur Chauhan was very detailed and patient up to the point of hotel choices and changes. If you want to avail the same luxury for a hassle-free vacation, please visit http://getsholidays.com/ and I’m pretty sure they have travel packages that meet whatever you have in mind for a dream vacation. Mind you, I am not getting any commission for the referral. Laughs.
DAY O: DEPARTURE – 4:00 PM- August 12, 2015
Bags, camera, tripod all boarded up; passport and ticket copies, receipts of payments all tucked in my backpack and I was all set to go. I rechecked my boarding pass and reminded GetsHolidays of the change of ETA in IGI Airport. I boarded Etihad Airways around 4:00PM from Riyadh KKIA bound for Abu Dhabi on a connecting flight to Delhi. Arrived in Abu Dhabi 6:50PM for a short layover until 9:55PM for a final leg to Delhi by JetAirways. And oh, I had my first brew at the airport in Abu Dhabi – a much needed kick and just a little hammered to do the trip. Zzzzz.
DAY 1 : ARRIVAL – 4:30AM – August 13, 2015
Touchdown Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.
I have a pre-approved E-Tourist Visa which I applied online. I paid $60 nonrefundable application fee for a single entry tourist visa. Please note that you can only apply for an e-tourist visa online at most 34 days or at least 4 days prior to your arrival to any port of entry to India. The website will not process your application beyond that time limit, so needless to say you can only finalize your ticket reservations once your application for a tourist visa is approved by the Indian embassy. Luckily, my tourist visa was approved after 24 hours from application in my email with details of the inclusive dates where I am allowed to be in India which normally take at most 30 days from date of arrival. For more information on how to get an E-Tourist Visa to India, please click this link https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/. Luckily for me, no other requirements were asked by the Immigration officer aside from a copy of my itineraries and the hotels where I would be staying for the whole duration of my visit. Few other tourists were at that hour so I got out the Immigration in around 30 mins after all my fingerprints and photo were taken. IGI airport is quite big but I managed to have found my way out. I was met by a GetsHolidays representative and was introduced to my driver, Mr. Singh, on the way out. That was expected since I booked a private tour with a private car and a driver for the whole duration of my visit. After all the introduction, me and Mr. Singh were all set to start the Day1 – Delhi-Agra. On the other hand, if you wish to do it on your own way, I understand there are other options for you to get to Agra. You can always take a train or bus or even a taxi from Delhi to Agra. Either way, it all depends on your travel budget and your spirit of adventurism. Personally, I would recommend that you contract your transportation to a local travel agency so you won’t have to haggle to local touts and/or drag your luggage, if you have many, around your way in a very very crowded city. And oh, India is a right-hand drive country.
6:00 AM – 11:00 AM – Delhi – Agra
Part of the Delhi itinerary was to visit the Gandhi Smriti. Unfortunately, India was to celebrate their incoming Independence Day so all government buildings and offices were closed for some kind of opening ceremony. Mr. Singh called GetsHolidays and the agent explained that they did not foresee the event. I was devastated. So, the driver informed me that we need to proceed directly to Agra to begin the Taj Mahal plus Agra Fort tour. It should be noted that Taj Mahal is closed during Fridays. We stopped around 8AM for breakfast on our way to Agra. It was an approximately 4-5 hours travel from Delhi. Unlike other reviews I read, the road to Agra is generally good and well-paved. You have to pass through several toll exits/expressways so there was no traffic whatsoever. There were wide expanse of rice and corn fields on both sides of the road. I was glad I was inside an airconditioned car since the sky was covered with smog for the whole trip from Delhi to Agra.
11:00 AM – Arrival in Agra
We arrived in Agra past 11AM and drove directly to the hotel – ITC Mughal Hotel.
I was greeted by another Gets rep, a young 21 year-old gentleman who assisted me in the hotel check-in and called to arrange for the Agra tour guide. I had 3 hours to relax at the Mughal room – a comfortable and spacious room for one guest. Call time was 3PM to begin the Agra tour.
3:00 PM – Agra Fort
The 95 acres Agra Fort was a formidable red sandstone fort! You can only imagine how it withstood the Mughal enemies way back in the 16th century India. From a certain point inside the fort you can have a good view of the Taj Mahal. The walls of the fort were surrounded by a moat, now waterless, which made it hardly impossible for attacks from outside. Entrance to the fort is a high arched gate, now used as a ticketing gate. You have to pay INR250 to enter the fort – open from sunrise to sunset.
4:00 PM – The beautiful TAJ MAHAL
After info overload about all the Mughal buildings inside the Agra Fort complex from the very articulate tour guide (which the name I forgot, shame!) in the middle of a humid weather in Agra, we both proceeded to the south gate of Taj Mahal complex by a Tonga ride – a horse-drawn cart. The guide ushered me to the queue ramp for foreign tourists alongside the ramp for locals. Entrance to the complex is INR750 for foreigners and INR20 for locals. The upside of having to pay more was that you wouldn’t have to fall into a long crazy line on your way to the entrance wherein security would rummage all your belongings before you could get through. Well, you could pay INR20 fee if you could pass as an Indian. LOL. Your ticket would include your gate pass, a pair of disposable socks which you will use inside the Taj Mahal mausoleum, and a coupon for a bottled water. Cool! Mind you, if you go on a hot humid day in August, a bottle of cold water is heaven!
Getting through all the security stuff and off you go to the southern part of the Taj complex. From there, you will be greeted by a huge archway or the Great Gate – the main entrance to the Taj. Walked through past the gate and there lo and behold, the Taj Mahal in all its magnificence! Throngs of foreign and local tourists would be there to get that coveted photo shot with the Taj in the background. Be prepared to get that beautiful experience in the Taj Mahal where you would not want to leave the place. Just BEAUTIFUL!