In the first of a series of articles about holidays around the world, STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, describes his experiences on a Saga Holidays’ India Tour that he undertook with his wife earlier this year.
We were looking for a tour of India to visit famous sites, including the Taj Mahal and Agra and Amber forts. We have organized many of our own tours, but in this instance we decided that it would be beneficial to join an escorted tour. We chose to travel with Saga Holidays on their 15 day ( 13 nights in India) Moghuls and Palaces escorted journey. We left the UK in January, to have the additional benefit of escaping some of the English winter. This was our first Saga holiday.
The holiday got off to an excellent start. With Saga’s door to door travel service, which is included in the price. We were met a few minutes before the allocated time by a smart courteous driver, who drove us to Heathrow, (collecting two other couples on the way) and dropped us off outside the terminal entrance. I have tried to avoid Heathrow for the last 20 years, due to unpleasant experiences and hassle. This time everything went smoothly.
Unfortunately, about half of us had not received the detailed itinerary and costs for the optional tours, so on arrival our tour guide ( Abie) photocopied this and supplied us with it. This gave us a couple of hours for consideration, before he briefed us in the afternoon. Abie gave us detailed information about the tours and optional tours and we were requested to book optional tours at that time. If there were insufficient numbers for any tour it would not run. We opted for the majority of the optional tours, but for those members of the group who did not want such a full itinerary, it enabled them to have additional time to rest and recuperate.
Prior to our arrival it had been colder than usual in Delhi/India. In Delhi, whilst the temperature (which we had checked prior to leaving the UK) reached 200C by lunchtime , what we had not been warned about were the early morning starts. Most mornings we left the hotel at 8.30, to enjoy well organized trips. Unfortunately the temperature was 100c or less and we all resorted to wearing our fleece/ jacket / jumper which we had packed for the UK ends of the holiday! One lady even wore her long winter coat every morning. Of course by lunchtime we were in the anticipated ‘summer outfits’. In Delhi we enjoyed touring the city and visiting temples and the Red Fort.
On our third morning, we had an even earlier start for our Indian railway experience . Morning call was at 5.00 to catch the 6.00 train to Agra, with tickets and seats well arranged by Abie. Unfortunately it was very misty, so when it did get light during the journey, we could only see mist, no views!
The highlight of the tour was the Taj Mahal, which we first saw from across the river from the Maahtab Bagh Botanical Gardens. The following day we were due to see sunrise on the Taj Mahal with a visit again later that day. However the forecast was mist and so Abie announced in the coach that we would not visit the Taj Mahal before breakfast, but after breakfast. He was noticeably surprised when his announcement of a wake up call at 7.30 was greeted with a cheer for the first ‘lie in’ of the holiday. We all thoroughly enjoyed our two visits (morning and late afternoon) and the splendor and scale of the Taj Mahal was beyond our expectations.
Another magnificent site was the Agra Fort, which we visited in the afternoon. I must say the the early morning calls (normally 6.30) did not pose a problem. We all adjusted, going to bed earlier (10.00 ish??) and the early starts really made the most of the visits to the temples and palaces.
We were driven to Jaipur, with a stop at the fascinating ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri on the way. This abandoned capital was a big surprise to us – much was in remarkably good condition and the scale and splendor amazing. The coach and driver stayed with us for all of the tour. The coach was comfortable and we had an excellent driver. He always drove safely and remained calm, despite traffic jams, some very challenging maneuvering and some awful driving by others!
In Jaipur we went to the Amber Fort, yet another magnificent building with outstanding views. We also went to the Samode Palace, where we had a lovely meal, and were astounded by the magnificent interior. One excursion here was to a pottery, a batik work shop and a ‘sale’ of carpets, pashminas etc. The salesman was very good. We bought nothing, but we think that some of the group regretted some of their purchases ( e.g. ‘antique’ rugs?).
After three nights in Jaipur we were driven to Jodhpur breaking the journey at the Ranakpur Jain Temple. At Jodhpur we found the Meherangah Fort to be stunning .
Our final town on the tour was Udaipur with more phenomenal sights: the City Palace complex, Lake Pichola and Chittorgarh.
Throughout the tour, Abie was highly organized and arranged the entrance tickets for the visits. This saved us queuing and helped the tour to flow smoothly. He also provided us with knowledgable, interesting and sometimes humorous talks about each site.
The tour had been excellent, and we had chosen to fly to Goa for a week’s relaxation before returning home. This extension to the holiday was an option offered by Saga. We found the he Hotel Zuri White Sands Resort at Varca beach to be an excellent way to finish the holiday. The Gardens were large and pleasant, and lovely swimming pools – plenty of places to relax, read, sunbathe etc. Moreover it was not completely isolated, having some shops nearby and it was a short walk to the local town of Varca (with a very friendly bar/restaurant on the way back!). We also took a taxi one day to the busy town of Margao.
After our weeks relaxation we returned to the UK and the cold weather. At Heathrow, we were pleased to be driven back home, and had some needed sleep on the journey. Even better, it turned out that we were the only ones in the Minibus!
It was our first holiday with Saga. To sum up, the tour was well organized and well staffed. It enabled us to see far more than organizing it ourselves and it was also hassle free.
We will be using Saga Holidays again!