The Year That Was – 2017

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Sunset over Agra, first time ever witnessing such a beautiful sunset in our own backyard

We’re at work, winding things down and even though it’s the end of the year, things still feel a bit crazy. Last working day before the holidays is finally over and we start feeling just a tinge of excitement. Back home, last minute packing and cleaning up the house has been accomplished. Next day early morning at 5:00am,  we are off in a Grab taxi to Changi airport. After the usual drill of checking in, immigration and security, we warm up at the sight of a beautiful sunrise while waiting at the gate. We take off and a couple of movies and a hot indian breakfast later, the plane has landed.

Every year for the last 5 years we have celebrated new year in India. It has become a custom of sorts. Every year we look forward to experiencing north indian winters and welcoming the next 365 days surrounded by family. The days between Christmas and New Year are spent meeting friends and family, gorging over home made meals, sipping endless cups of adrak chai, mom’s tomato soup and shelling peas.

2017 was no different. While, it takes a couple of days to get used to India and its ways, by the end of the trip we know we’ll be homesick.

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Mustard fields in bloom, a common sight during North Indian winters

What made this trip special? Well it was a lot of things, as it usually is. In the 10 days we were there, we managed :

  • 1 road trip – from Delhi – Agra – Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway
  • 5 family get togethers – 1 breakfast, 2 dinners, 1 evening tea and 1 BBQ on NYE. And oh the home made food was just so comforting. And there is just something special about BBQ-ing in winters that you’ll never experience in tropical weather
  • 2 friends get togethers – both on roop top terrace cafes. Winters and open air cafes? Add to the list of winter experiences we look forward to
  • 1 indian wedding – where we dressed up, clicked more than necessary amount of photographs, enjoyed the indian wedding scenes and needless to say – the food
  • 1 excursion to Wildlife SOS elephant sanctuary – an NGO which runs centers for rescued animals which you can visit, volunteer at and also make donations to. Check out their website here
  • Ate out on several occasions – from breaking the fast with Agra’s favourite breakfast, Bedhai Jalebi to enjoying South Indian food at Dasaprakash. From relishing north indian dhaba food to the popular indian street food … it was all a gastronomical adventure
  • Getting important stuff done – adult stuff like managing our finances and investment 😀
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Foggy morning in Agra, -8 degrees centigrade

We’ve come to realise how fortunate we have been – for friends, family and their love in our lives. Every time we leave from our house in India, we feel overwhelmed by how loving and selfless so many people around us are especially, our parents. Beyond that, we have travelled. As much as our working lives allowed us to. And it has been great!

Here is a recap of the Year That Was – 2017. Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoyed the video

Happy Twenty Eighteen folks. Here’s wishing you the best of everything 🙂

Here is the Year That Was – 2016, just in case.

 

Give Agra 2 days, at least

If you are travelling all the way to Agra, you should give the town at least 2 days. Visiting The Taj Mahal could be the top of your agenda and understandably so, but there are more things you can do which are so worth it.

Here is our suggested itinerary.

Day 1: The Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Mohabbat the Taj show

The Taj Mahal on a december afternoon

The best time to visit the Taj is early morning as there are less crowds. It’s open from sunrise to sunset and there is no limit to the time you want to spend there once inside. See more info here

A lot has been said about this monument of love so we won’t elaborate but it is a beautiful structure so do queue up, go up-to the main platform and visit the tombs inside.

The Taj Mahal, up close

Once you’ve visited the taj, have your breakfast/lunch depending on the time you visit. Then head to Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This fort was built by Mughal ruler Akbar in red sandstone. It served as the royal residence as well as a military strategic base. The fort is well maintained so you will be able to admire the structure. You also get views of the taj from the fort. More info here

Inside Agra Fort

In the evening, catch a song and dance show called Mohabbat The Taj at Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center. A retelling of the story of emperor Shah Jahan and the love for his queen Mumtaz Mahal leading up to the construction of the Taj Mahal.

Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center

Day 2: Fatehpur Sikri and Mehtab Bagh

Head to Fatehpur Sikri, the first planned city built by the Mughals and a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. It was also built by emperor Akbar and served as the Mughal capital for 10 years. It houses different buidings within the compounds so give the place at least 2 hours. It’s an hour drive away from Agra so plan accordingly. More info here

One of the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri

If you are yearning to get another unobstructed view of the Taj without the hassle of queuing up and getting inside the main compound, head to Mehtab Bagh where you get clear views of the monument. Best time to go would be the sunset which also gives a great photo opportunity.

Taj Mahal in the backdrop from Mehtab Bagh

If you have an appetite for more architectural marvels, here are our suggestions:

Sikandra – the mausoleum of Akbar

Itmad-ut-Daula – a beautiful mausoleum made entirely of marble

A few other things to note:

  • When to visit: Best time to visit the town is in the months of Nov – Feb while Oct and Mar are passable. Besides, do not to visit on a Friday as most monuments are closed for public viewing
  • Getting around: Public transport is not great, best is to hire your own car rental with a driver. Trust us when we tell you, you don’t want to drive yourself in Agra if you are a foreigner.
  • Accommodation: Agra offers all types of accommodation – from 5-star hotels, airbnbs to budget stays. Look for a stay around Fatehabad Road as it’s closer to the monuments
  • Food is great in Agra, especially the north indian mughlai food. Think tikkas, kebabs and garlic naan.

And lastly, this city has been long neglected by the authorities even though it is rich in history and culture. So go with an open mindset, ignore some inconveniences and admire it for what it does offer.

Have a happy journey! 🙂

Taj Mahal compounds

 

Road Trippin continued

Jeep safari Ranthambore

Jeep safari Ranthambore

After Udaipur, we were headed to Sawai Madhopur also in the state of Rajasthan in India. The main motive for going all the way was to be able to do jeep safaris in the Ranthambore National Park, home of the Asian tigers!

After a point from Udaipur, the road quality deteriorates so the going can be quite slow. The roads also get narrower, poorly lit and quite isolated so its advisable to do the entire run in daylight.

Well we did have to cover some distance after the sky lost its color and it wasn’t the best drive we’d had. The drive further becoming treacherous with the invasion of dogs, cows and camels right in the middle of the highway. And a near miss from a head-on collision with a discarded piece of machinery carelessly left on the side of the road.

Packed up for the jeep safari

Packed up for the jeep safari

The place we stayed at was quite nice and after a piping hot dinner on a wintry night, we called it a day. The next day, in the wee hours of the morning, we mustered all our will power to go out in an open jeep exploring wildlife on a winter morning, in the middle of a jungle surrounded by hills. As we started out, we were chilled to the core but as the sun descended the weather became better and turned to a cool sunny that we actually enjoyed.

Jungle stopover at Ranthambore

Jungle stopover at Ranthambore

We went for three safaris in three different forest zones. The zones are allocated based on availability as the authorities do not want to crowd certain areas only. Zones 1-4 are known for the best tiger spotting and its advisable to book these zones 3-4 months in advance. Online bookings are supposedly available which we weren’t aware of.

The safaris turned out to be pretty great. The early morning crisp air, the sunrises and the jungle terrain, plant and wildlife spotting, the interesting and at times amusing conversations with the jeep guides and drivers, stopovers in the middle of the jungle, and the unbelievable ease with which the 4×4 jeeps navigated through almost any ridge and depression of the stark jungle terrain.

Spotted deer at Ranthambore

Spotted deer at Ranthambore

Bird feeding at Ranthambore

Bird feeding at Ranthambore

For three days straight, we sloshed about in the jeep exploring the zones and always on high alert for any tiger trails. At the end of it all though, it was worth it as we did spot the elusiver tiger. Tigress actually. We considered ourselves lucky as there are only about 60 tigers in an area of 392 sq. km. On top of that tigers are known to be one of the most lazy animals. So that doesn’t help either. The hot and dry months (May-Jun) are said to be best for animal spotting in Ranthambore as the animals laze around the man-made water holes to beat the heat. Besides the big cats, there was a decent dash of other wildlife – deer, sambhars, boars, gazelle, neel gai, monkeys, bird species and plant varieties.

Tiger at Ranthambore

Tiger at Ranthambore

The third day, after our safari and a satiating breakfast of aloo poori, we bundled up once more and headed for our last road trip destination – Agra, where friends and family awaited us.

We reached Agra well in time that day, unwound and ate a lot over the next few days and enjoyed one of the most memorable New Year celebrations.

And did I mention the most delicious dhaba lunch we had on our way to Agra? Still makes my mouth water 😛