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A Life-Changing Visit to the Slums of Delhi

November 9, 2016
Delhi Slum Tour PETE review

It’s funny how something as simple as walking through a city can change your perspective so significantly.  India was amazing, eye-opening and at times confronting, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like our visit to the Slums of Delhi.

Initially we were hesitant to visit the slums – the idea of walking though peoples homes felt very intrusive, especially when we considered the level of poverty that so many of these people experience.  The last thing we wanted to do was to take advantage of them or to seek entertainment by sitting in on their daily lives.

One blog turned everything around for us though – if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend you have a nosey at Andrew Roams.  The decision was made and we booked ourselves in, still a little unsure of what to expect but hopeful.

Organised by PETE (Providing Education To Everyone), local guides escort small groups through the slums of Delhi – in particular the Kathputli Colony of street performers in one of the poorest parts of Delhi, near the Shadipur Depot.  To be shown around by someone who lives in this remarkable community was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one that we won’t easily forget.

For the past 60 years, this colony has been home to families of magicians, singers, painters, puppeteers, dancers, acrobats and storytellers and it is now estimated to house over 20,000 people in close quarters.

My initial trepidation quickly melted away as I found myself incredibly surprised by the slums in the very best of ways.  We were amazed by the positive outlook that each and every person we encountered shared with us – how is it possible that people with so little can appreciate life so much?

With that said, I am mindful of over-romanticising the slums.  Cramped alley ways weave their way in between the small shacks that house entire families.  The buzzing televisions and charging cellphones sit in stark contrast to the rest of the environment.  Women sit outside washing clothes and cooking meals whilst children bathe in buckets.  Goats are scattered throughout the colony and cats stalk rooftops.  Water gushes in between shacks and all manner of smells drift up and over the community.

I do not doubt that life in the slums is challenging…

But it is also clearly rewarding for its many citizens.  I’ve never met a group of people as warm and welcoming as I did that day and all for no reason other than to welcome us into their lives for a brief point in time.  Colours, beauty and kindness abound, turning any doubt I had into a distant memory.

Mothers greeted us with warm smiles, men treated us with the upmost of respect but, what will stick with me forever, were the beautiful Indian children.

Racing around, following us through the maze of alleyways, these gorgeous kids wanted nothing more than to shake our hands, high five us and, to their great delight, have their photos taken.  We took with us some snacks to hand out and though they were graciously accepted, the kids really did just seem excited to see us – even now, a month on our trip, thinking about my morning with them brings a massive smile to my face.

Some experiences affect you at your very core and our visit to the slums of Delhi did exactly that.  Humbling, eye opening and enlightening, I can’t imagine anyone walking away unchanged.

The biggest question for me is how those of us fortunate enough to have everything we need in life and more can hang onto lessons like the one I learnt that day.  It’s all too easy to slip back into old ways of thinking… to forget how fortunate we are.

I don’t have any answers but I do know that the more I travel the more I feel fortunate for what I have in every sense.  I have shelter over my head, food in my belly, all the personal possessions I could ever need, my personal safety and the ability to explore other parts of the world.

Without doubt, I am lucky, but my visit to the slums reminded me that although I’m fortunate, there’s plenty I can learn from others… there is so much more to life than what we all-too-often place importance on.


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Delhi Slum Tour PETE

A visit to the Slums of Delhi (the Kathputli Colony specifically) can be organised through PETE for a minimum donation of 750 rupees each.  The funds raised from these ‘slum walks’ gets put directly back into the community through the schools and programmes that they run – money well spent in my books.   Throughout the ‘tour’ you’ll have the opportunity to visit different artists in the community but the decision is entirely yours.  Our group of five elected to enjoy a traditional puppet show (for a small additional fee) but to be honest, the highlight of the day for all of us was simply walking through the community, interacting with the locals and gaining a small insight into their lives.  There’s no right or wrong way to go about your visit, as long as you do so in a respectful way.

For more information or to secure your spot on a tour in Delhi, get in touch with PETE.  We cannot recommend it enough – don’t leave India without connecting with its amazing people.

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Four Nights Around India’s Golden Triangle: Plan Your Trip

November 4, 2016
India Golden Triangle Itinerary 4 nights

There are some places I’ve always dreamed of visiting – but interesting enough, India was never particularly high on the list.  It’s not that I didn’t want to visit (I’ll go almost anywhere) but there were a lot of other spots that appealed more for some reason.

With a potential four day weekend on the horizon though, India suddenly became an option for me.  After hatching a last-minute plan with my friend, Tracey, we booked our tickets and began planning.  Less than a week later, we set off for India, a little unsure of just what would greet us on the other side (though reading a guide like this beforehand would have been handy!)

The good news?  India totally surprised me!  It was only a few weeks prior to our departure that tourists were warned off wearing skirts for their own safety and we’ve all heard the horror stories of the awful things that periodically happen to women alone on late-night buses.  The truth though, is that India is a remarkably large country (which makes the likelihood of anything happening low) and all of the people that we had encounters with were nothing but warm, welcoming and pleasant – even as woman, we had nothing at all to worry about.

Both Tracey and I were pleased with our decision to head to India – the sights and sounds were unlike anything either of us had experienced before.  Though our visit was short, it was a fantastic taster to the country.

If you are planning to spend more time there, we’d suggest you get an Indian SIM card to make communication easier – as it turned out there were a few times when it would have been handy to call someone (like when we were on our tour).

The following guide will hopefully help you plan your trip to India’s Golden Triangle too!

India’s Golden Triangle Timeline

  • Day one: Arrive Delhi early morning + sightseeing.
  • Day two: Delhi sightseeing + late train to Agra.
  • Day three:  Taj Mahal + mid-afternoon train to Jaipur.
  • Day four:  Sightseeing + Elefantastic
  • Day five:  Early morning flight.

Transport

Planes

Jaipur to Delhi on Jet Airways.  This flight was on a relatively small plane but was comfortable and unremarkable; exactly what you want a flight to be!

Trains

Though we were told by almost everyone inside of India to hire a private car and driver, we made the decision to use the infamous train system and were pleased with our decision to do so.  Not only did we save money but we got a better feel for the ‘real’ India in the process!

We were told to book only first or second class on the trains and ended up with one of each – the trains from Delhi to Agra and then Agra to Jaipur worked out at about 2400 rupees per person (NZD50 or GBP25) so not bad value considering the distance covered.  First class included heaps of food but we would happily have booked only second class had we realised just how similar everything else was.

Trying to book the tickets was a bit of a challenge in itself though – the online booking system really only works if you have an Indian phone number (which of course, we didn’t) and and for some reason the travel agents in India were adamant that there weren’t any train tickets left and that we should hire a car.  When they understood that we would not be hiring a driver suddenly tickets became available on the system and upon boarding each train, we found they were practically empty – funny that!

Rickshaws

If you decide on a self-guided tour of the Golden Triangle then rickshaws will be one of the best ways to get from A to B within cities.  Not only are they cheap and plentiful but their open nature lets you really take in all of the sights, sounds and smells around you.  Be sure to set a price before you jump in and enjoy the ride!

Subways

Though only an option in Delhi, we found the subway to be a great way to get into town from the airport and to cover longer distances in the city without the potential headaches that come from the manic Delhi traffic!  To use the subway system, buy yourself a single-ride token and make your way to the right line.  If you find yourself a little confused, you won’t be for long – we found the men to Delhi to be incredibly helpful and we were appreciative of the way they so happily assisted us, wanting nothing in return.

Accommodation

Delhi: Hotel City Star

Fairly well located, Hotel City Star is within walking distance of the main Delhi train station and not too much further to the subway station you’ll arrive in on if you catch the airport rail service.  Breakfast was pretty average but the rooms were comfortable and the hotel modern.  Be sure to ask for a room on the upper floors – we were on the first floor and ended up with a pop-up market under our window and dogs barking through the night… probably to be expected in Delhi, but not ideal!

Agra: Hotel Taj Resorts

A comfortable option nice and close to the Taj ticket office.  Located in one of the nicer parts of Agra, we were happy with our choice to spend a night here.  Breakfast was included (and adequate) but the butter chicken they served up in the restaurant at lunchtime was the real highlight!

Jaipir: Pearl Palace Heritage

By far the best accommodation we experienced during our time in India (and without doubt, the best boutique hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in) – read here about the how amazing the Pearl Palace Heritage Hotel is!

Activities and Sightseeing

New Delhi

Delhi is exactly the busy, hectic city that you imagine when you think of India but amongst the chaos, there’s a sense of beauty and plenty to be learnt.

Having read another travel blog we decided that we wanted to visit the slums and though we initially had some reservations, I look back on it now as one of the best things I’ve ever done.  We booked in through PETE (Providing Education to Everyone) with a local guide and were blown away to see just how happy they were – a life lesson on what is really important for sure.  Stay tuned for my upcoming post!

Whilst in Delhi we explored both the newer and older areas (though mostly New Delhi) by rickshaw.  India Gate, the Parliament Houses, Connaught Place, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the Red Fort and the madness of the Old Delhi markets, we spent our time in Delhi immersing ourselves in the madness of this huge city, awestruck by just how different to anywhere else we’d experienced.

Agra

We’d heard such mixed things about Agra and the Taj Mahal before visiting – well to be honest, let’s make that fewer mixed reviews and more negative ones!  With that said, both Tracey and I were really impressed by how gorgeous this symbol of love is in real life.  There’s not a whole lot in Agra to warrant spending more time there, but for the Taj, it’s definitely worth making the stop.

Jaipur

Jaipur is one of India’s cultural gems – gorgeous buildings thanks to its strong colonial ties, a more relaxed pace of life and culture in spades, it was one of the highlights of our time there.  We hired a taxi and made a quick trip into town to see the infamous Hawa Mahal (Palace of Wind) before heading out to Elefantastic.

We had planned to see and do more in Jaipur but off the back of three busy days and a lot of travelling (not to mention we were both a little tired from a full week at work) we elected to take it easy and relax a little.  Should you have more time, there’s definitely more to do there than we managed.

India is a beautiful conundrum, at times confronting, at times, full of life.  I saw poverty on a level I never have and came away with a fresh reminder of just how fortunate we are but also of what exactly is important in life.  I’m not quite sure what I was expecting but I think looking back on our flying visit, I’ll remember India for it’s beautiful people and life lessons as much as the place itself.  If you have the opportunity to visit, snap it up with both hands – even if a trip to India isn’t on the top of your list, the life lessons you’ll learn whilst there should be.

Thanks India, until next time!


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Pearl Palace Heritage – India’s Best Little Hotel

September 25, 2016
The Pearl Palace Heritage Jaipur review

Occasionally you walk into a hotel as it instantly takes your breath away – the Pearl Palace Heritage is exactly one of those places.

With each room thoughtfully themed and offering a different experience to the next, there’s no such thing as a ‘dud’ room at this hotel.

Our suite, the Viceroy was modelled on British architecture, a throwback to this point in time.  Many of the buildings around Jaipur reflect the period during which India was under the English monarchy and the same inspiration was used in the design of this particular room.  The fixtures and fittings are, of course, new, but the room itself had a beautiful old-world charm about it.

Not only were the rooms gorgeous, exceeding all our expectations, but the service we received was out of this world on every occasion.  Never have I stayed in accommodation where the service was so friendly and personal every step of the way.

Upon checking in, we were offered drinks – I asked if they had any Coke Zero (which they didn’t) and presumed that was the end of it.  Little to my knowledge, the fabulous Pearl Palace team were hard at work behind the scenes and thirty minutes later, two ice-cold cans of fizzy were delivered to our room, at no charge!  This is exactly the kind of service that is typical of the Pearl Palace Heritage – nothing is too much trouble and the team frequently go above and beyond with the most genuine hospitality that we have ever experienced.

Everything about this hotel was spectacular – the breakfast was generous and oh-so-tasty, the service was outstanding, the beds comfy, the shower hot and high-pressured and best of all, the price was right.

For approximately what we payed to stay elsewhere in India, we were treated like royalty whilst staying here.  A gorgeous suite, like the Viceroy in which we stayed, is normally 2990 Indian rupees a night (+ 9% tax) – that’s less than USD50 a night for a room that sleeps four people in absolute luxury.  Included in this price is an airport/train station pick-up and of course, wifi and any additional offerings are charged at a fair and reasonable price.

We spent two fabulous nights at the Pearl Palace Heritage whilst in Jaipur and wish we could have stayed on much longer.  It was one of the real highlights of our visit to the Golden Triangle and an absolute must-visit for anyone visiting this part of the world!


Pin the following picture – trust me, you’ll want to keep a record of the Pearl Palace Heritage for your next India visit…

Pearl Palace Heritage Jaipur review best hotel

Thank you to the Pearl Palace Heritage for upgrading our booking from a room to a suite for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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Ethical Elephant Tourism in India? Absolutely – Elefantastic

September 13, 2016

When thinking about India, few animals, if any, spring to mind faster than the majestic elephant. For centuries these beautiful creatures have been adored by Indian people and use in many different ways to support their way of life.

Upon deciding to visit India with my friend, Tracey, we were both determined to hunt out a local company that would allow us to spend time with these general giants in an ethical way. This is precisely what we found when we stumbled across Elefantastic.

Rahul, the founder of the company opened Elefantastic in 2012 out of a desire to ensure the Indian elephants were well cared for. With a long history as an elephant rider and an even longer family history of working with them (his daughter will be 5th generation!), there is no doubt that he has an innate understanding of what his elephants need and his love for them shines through in everything he does.

From the delicious home cooked lunch (made with care by his mum no less) to the constant supply of ice-cold drinks on offer, the team are on hand every step of the way to ensure your day is amazing.

When you’re introduced to your elephant, you’ll spend some time learning about what they like to eat before being taught how to bundle up a food package for them.  Then off you set to work feeding and patting them in a bid to gain their trust.

Once you’ve finished feeding and snuggling the elephants, the natural paints are brought out (elephant friendly, of course) and off you’ll set, painting them up in bright, bold patterns.  This process is unique to the area of Rajasthan and dates back centuries to when elephants were decorated for special occasions.

I had grandiose ideas as to just how gorgeous my elephant-for-the-day would look but in reality, it was much harder to paint Shaku than I had imagined.  Elephants are always on the go and their constant movement, combined with their rough skin, makes it difficult to get good coverage and clear lines from the paint – with that said, we had a tremendous time trying!

Once the elephants are painted up and looking even more beautiful than normal, the option is given to ride these giants bareback, followed by a splash about with the hose.

The elephants absolutely loved playing around in the water; filling their trunks, they playfully squirted themselves (and anyone else in their vicinity) time and time again.  The pure joy we witnessed was a real pleasure to be a part of.

The centre currently has twenty four elephants and at most, half of them are with guests each day.  This ensures they always get at least a day off in between visitors to enjoy the things elephants like to do most.  When the ellies are with guests, much of the time is spent feeding and washing, key parts of their everyday routine, ensuring they live a happy and relatively natural life.  Of course, they’re not in the wild, but as these elephants were born in captivity they are reliant upon human care, and they certainly are well cared for!

From the moment we were picked up in our complimentary air conditioned car (which was a real treat in itself after riding around in rickshaws so often) to arriving back at our accommodation, we were treated like long lost friends… And who better to make friends with than someone who has the pleasure of caring for 24 elephants?!

If you too would like to spend the day getting to know your very own elephant, bookings can be made directly with Rahul at Elefantastic – be sure it’s him you’re booking through as there are other operators in the area that don’t meet the same high standard in elephant care. Oh and while you’re there, give Shaku a big pat from us!

Pin the following image to come back to this post later…

elefantastic ethical elephant experience jaipur review

Thank you to Rahul and the team at Elefantastic for having us along as their guests.  As always, all thought are our own.  Don’t take our word for it though – check out the other awesome feedback they receive on TripAdvisor!

If you’re worried about the treatment of these elephants, don’t be.  The team genuinely do an amazing job and you are given the choice to ride them or not.  At most, each elle is ridden for 45mins, every second day and only ever bareback.  If you have any questions about the care of these beautiful creatures, Rahul and his team are more than happy to discuss your queries directly.

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