Tuesday, June 5, 2012

INDIA 11/2011

November/December 2011:  Amsterdam--Mumbai--Ahmedebad--Jaipur--Alwar--Delhi--Lucknow--Varanasi--Calcutta--Bangkok--Shanghai

Nick and I are not big 'sightseers'--I managed my first trip to India without seing the Taj Mahal! We prefer what our friend Kathy calls 'the museum of the streets', wandering through residential neighborhoods, back alleys, taking the metro when possible.

Click here to look at our photos of India:

Nick's food photos of India and Shanghai:

IndiaEating2011 | 104246863253554777215


http://www.indiamike.com/  all kinds of information

http://www.cleartrip.com/ for train tickets using a US credit card, flights too.  Also try:


http://www.yatra.com/ For flights within India.

www.neemranahotels.com Old houses, palaces, forts, etc. turned into hotels--prices vary.

Driver from Jaipur, can meet you in Delhi: Jai (pronounced Jay), email jai_sita_ram@yahoo.com.in Be sure to negotiate money very clearly before (advice for all drivers)

Kareena Kapoor, voted Asia's sexiest woman for the 2nd time while we were there.

http://www.shadi.com Website for arranged marriages


Hotels in Mumbai are expensive for what you get, 2x more than the rest of India. We stayed in 3 places. The best of the lot was www.landmarkhotels.in --in Fort area, near train station.

Hotel Moti International--in Colaba. We did not stay there, but it looked good.

Hotel Residency, good location in Fort, fully booked when we arrived.

I had the card for this place:  http://regenthotelcolaba.com/

www.realitytoursandtravel.com Tour Asia's largest slum--don't miss this (they also offer other interesting sounding tours).

Elephanta Island--closes at 6pm and the boat takes an hour, so plan accordingly.

In Colaba, eat at simple veg. place Kamat (opposite Electric House) and get the
lemon ginger soda.

Mahesh Lunch Home, 8B Cowasji Patel Street (Fort area)--seafood

Sher-e-Punjab Restaurant, 261 Shahid Bhagat Singh Rd., near main post office and train station.

www.burrp.com is a foodie website.


Hotel Volga, acceptable option if you don't want to splurge on the MG house next door. (not too many choices here). www.hotelvolga.in

www.houseofmg.com--fancy hotel and excellent 2 restaurants.

Take the Heritage Walk Tour offered by the Municipal Corporation (there's a private tour company that seems to offer the same thing for much more money). Begins daily at 8am at the Swaminarayan Mandir--just show up.

Don't miss the Calico Museum of textiles, amazing Art Deco mansion, must reserve:

Dada Hari Wav, step-well and temple, take taxi.

Food: Law Garden night market, walk to the end of the clothing stalls to find food--amazing textiles along the way. Be sure to try pani puri, little puff balls filled with chick peas and soup--eat in one bite!


Jaipur had more garbage on the streets than anywhere else we went. We mostly walked and walked and walked, visited few 'sights'. I would skip the City Palace--not that great, very touristy. Do visit the Jantar Mantar observatory next to it, however.

Bissau Palace Hotel--don't miss this one! www.bissaupalace.com Good location near the Chandpol Gate into the Old City. When you enter gate, take first left and wander through the residential neighborhoods--very interesting.

Next best choice: Hotel Royal Sheraton (neither Royal or a Sheraton), good location within the walls of the Pink City, few western tourists. Be sure to walk around the residential area away from the tourist sights. Go for the more $$ rooms, others have no windows! The Venus Continental Restaurant just next door was good.


Hire a car and driver to go from Jaipur to Alawar as the hotel is 18km from town in the middle of nowhere. Stop in Abhaneri on the way--great step-well, temple and village.

Stay at the Hill Fort Kesseroli, 14th C. fort now a hotel. Be sure to visit the village below. Magical! http://archive.neemranahotels.com/kesroli/index.html.htm?

We found the town of Alwar charming. You can get a map from the tourist office near the train station. Walk from Hope Circle down Bajaja Bazar street which eventually takes you to the Sagar City Palace--you may want a guide here. The side streets north of Bajaja Bazar were wonderful. We took a public bus from the fort to town (very crowded) and got a policeman to help us get a cab back (about $10US).


We did not visit a lot of museums on this trip, but we loved the Crafts Museum (the inside part),
esp. the textiles. Much more interesting than the National Museum.

Came across a brochure for rickshaw tours of Old Delhi (we spent 2 full days there) that looks interesting:

www.wheninindia.com Old Delhi is chaotic, crumbling--totally fascinating!

Don't miss the Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi. We found the Purana Qila better than the Red Fort if you need to choose.

Hauz Khas Village is an area south of central Delhi (20 min. cab ride) that has some wonderful old Muslim ruins and chic shops.

Great Kashmiri shawls at Studio 5, 30 Hauz Khas Village (inside)--we never saw anything this good elsewhere.www.weavers.co.in

Also in HK Village saw a stunning bedspread---too heavy to lug around since it was the beginning of our trip--at Mi Casa

at #9A, Ground Floor Bistro Complex, N.D.-16 (ask around to find it--the area is small).

Tana-Bana is a little shop specializing in antique textiles, 2 Hauz Khas Village (mobile 981-188-1847)--impressive!

Jyoti Mahal Guest House, www.jyotimahal.net--excellent choice, recommended to us by a French guide book writer  (We returned here in 2013 and were less impressed. Moved here and liked it better:

Veda restaurant, chic $$$, 27 connaught circus, www.vedarestaurants.com

South Indian food: Saravana Bhavan, Janpath 46 (nr. Connaught Place)

The Shop, http://www.theshopindia.com/our-stores, best block-print fabric bedspreads, etc.

Anokhi, 32 Khan Market, more great block print fabric stuff

Wenger & Co. great old bakery A-16 Connaught Place

We took the metro a lot--very crowded, but better for women as they get their own car.

Best Delhi food blog http://eatanddust.com/


Take the guided tour of the old city (Heritage Walk) offered by the state tourism board. Ask for Ashish--he was great.
The office is at the Gomti Hotel, 6 Sapru Marg (the hotel looked like a good option too).


Be sure to spend as much time as possible walking along the ghats. You'll be bugged by people selling things (boat rides,explanationsof cremation rites, e.g.) in a few spots.

Wandering through the gallis (narrow twisting alleyways) is great--get a guide if you're not comfortable by yourselves. We just got lost and asked for the 'Ganga' whenever we needed to orient ourselves. The area is full of street markets, temples, cows, vendors of all sorts and interesting architecture--no tourists.

The 6am boat ride they seem to push is totally unnecessary. Go later. But don't just settle for seeing the ghats by boat as I think many tourists do.

Milk products are excellent in India. If you see big bowls of whipped cream, get some! It’s calledmaleyu or something like that. Excellent lassi, too. If you can find this one in the photo it really isthe best in the world. I think it was in the alleyways behind the main burning ghat, Manikarnika--a good area to explore.

We ate twice at the New Keshari Ruchikar Byanjan restaurant (upstairs) on Dasawamedh Ghat Road. Try the tandoori cauliflower. Otherwise we often ate at hole-in-the-wall places. Had a good lunch at the Taj.
We did not find Sarnath, a Buddhist village outside Varanasi, all that great—only if you have extra time.

Kedareswar Guest House, www.kedareswarguesthouse.com. Excellent choice. Book on Agoda.

Keshari Ruchikar restaurant (2nd floor, Dashashwemedh Rd. not far from ghat). We went twice. Try the Tandoori stuffed ghobi (cauliflower)


Kolkata is fabulous and surprising--not at all what I'd expected. There are lots of sights in Kolkata and we didn't get to many of them, mostly because the street life was so exciting. We were out walking between 8 and 13 hours a day.

Stay at the Bodhi Tree Guest House, Best choice in Kolkata, book on Agoda.

Click here to see what's on google for walking tours--we just did it ourselves, but in one day you might want help.

I would recommend you get a guide without a car, using taxis and public transport instead (you can't park easily anyway).
Do take the metro, which is clean and orderly (women have their own seats in the middle of each car)--and then you can drop the line, "Something funny happened when I was on the metro last week in Calcutta" when you get home.
Also do take a rickshaw ride for an hour or two. They still have man-powered rickshaws--I never felt so heavy in my life!
There's also a wonderful old trolley system to ride.
Based on this great book I found there, 'A Jaywalker's Guide to Kolkata' we started around theShyambazar (an area called 5 points, busy market area), then went down Rabindra Sarani (you can visit Tagore's house on a side street).
Go down Pathuriagahata street where there are lots of old crumbling mansions.
Any guide should know these things and may have others to suggest, but from what I've checked out, this is one of the richest areas for 'old Calcutta' (i.e. north Calcutta) viewing. There's abeautiful book about it that you might want to check out (Chitpur Road of the title has been renamed Rabindra Sarani)

Another interesting sight not far from all this is the Jain temple complex at Pareshnath, a sort of Hindu-Liberace experience.

The other great Bengali meal we had was at Oh!Calcutta, in the Forum shopping mall, 4th floor, Elgin Road. Phone 2283-7161. But if you only have time for one go to Aaheli. Go hungry--the food is rich.

We went to the Botanical Gardens, but I was not that impressed (at it's far out of town). We tried to go to Eliot Park in the center of town, which looked lovely from the outside, but was closed when we arrived. They have something called a 'musical fountain' that sounded intriguing.

You don't need to spend much, if any, time at the New Market, which is full of touristy stuff and is suggested by most guides and books. Lots of pesky touts.

We had seen one of Mother Teresa's homes in Lucknow, so did not go in Kolkata, but I would recommend it.