Four days in Agra

Agra city

We started the fourth and last week of our Funky India trip, with the amazing Uttar Pradesh city of Agra, considered one of the most visited and unique tourist destinations in India.  Indeed the city is home to one of the 7 wonders of the world, the famous Taj Mahal as well as other world heritage site including the Agra Fort and the Fatehpur Sikri.  Agra which is now part of North India’s golden triangle, along with New Delhi and Jaipur, was once at the heart of the Mughal Empire, today best remembered for their architectural legacy with fascinating forts, tombs and other majestic buildings. This is the story of our four days spent discovering this magnificent city while staying at the excellent value for money Taj Plaza Hotel, with its breathtaking view of the Taj and the city.


Topics

  1. Agra day 1: arrival, Taj Plaza hotel and the roof top restaurant
  2. Agra day 2: Tajganj area and Fatehpur Sikri
  3. Agra day 3: Taj Mahal and Agra Fort
  4. Agra day 4: Jama Masjid, Baby Taj, China Ka Roza, Ram Bagh Gardens, Akbar’s and Mariam’s Tomb
  5. About the Taj Hotel

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Agra day 1

We woke up before 6 in Rishikesh, had a last glimpse of the Ganges view, before jumping into the pre booked rickshaw which took us to Haridwar junction, the closest major railway station.  As we were waiting for the train, I observed a family with numerous luggage-carriers transporting all their belonging.  When I started counting, I ended up with more than 20 large suitcases and many smaller ones.   As a believer in minimalism, I am always curious about what people carry in those suitcases, and most importantly why so many stuff. 

Agra city

The train soon arrived and pretty much on time, which would take us to one of India’s most visited cities, Agra within the country’s most populated state of Uttar Pradesh.  We hoped into it, installed ourselves on the lower side seat (the 2 separates seats facing the window) and observed for a while the country life passing by.  We soon had an Indian breakfast, some chai, coffee, followed by a delicious vegetarian thali, always reminding myself how excellent and affordable is the Indian railway food.  After a succulent meal, it was time for a small nap, which ended up being a couple of hours.  Rested, I caught up on some Funky India articles, before we slowly arrived to Agra Cantt, the city’s largest and most important station, from where we paid for a prepaid AC taxi but got a cab without the AC (and instead of the cheaper rickshaw). 

View of the Taj Mahal from Hotel room

Some 20 minutes later we arrived to our destination, and were delighted to have chosen the Taj Plaza Hotel, as you could clearly see the Taj Mahal, less than one kilometre down the road.  When we saw the standard of the normal room we’ve booked (it was indeed relatively cheap paying about 30£ for three nights), we soon opted for the superior 305 offering spectacular views of the Taj Mahal as well as the Oberoi Amarvilas Agra Hotel, one of the most sought after hotels in the world.  Indeed from the bed I am currently sitting and writing, I can see the large dome of the grandiose marble structure surrounding by its minarets. 

Roof top restaurant

Once installed, we decided to try the roof top restaurant, which as its name suggest offers breathtaking views of Agra and its most famous landmark.  We enjoyed a non-vegetarian thali, which was the first time we ate meat in the last couple of days (both Rishikesh and on the train the meals were strictly vegetarian) as well as a refreshing cold kingfisher beer.  Only later did we discovered that they charge an enormous 200INR per bottle, but then again it is small price to pay to be in such a unique destination.  We went to sleep that night with the view of the shadowed Taj in the background and dreamed about the worlds’ wonders.

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Agra day 2

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We spent the second day of our stay in Agra, in a more laidback fashion.  We woke up late and went for a walk around the Tajganj area, passing by shopkeepers, the Taj Eastern Gate and numerous rickshaws drivers begging for business.  As we passed the end of the Southern gate street, we looked for a cafe recommended by almost every guide book, but when we actually saw it we hesitated to get in, as it really didn’t look anything special.  We were wrong, as the Jonny’s restaurant is really an institution, a very popular destination with international travellers.  The joint is very small, only 4 tables and a small kitchen (where all the dishes are freshly prepared), but the food is excellent, have a friendly service, the prices are cheap and most importantly it has a laidback student vibe.  All the yellow coloured walls are packed with various messages and notes from travellers, and as for the review book, I never saw anything like it with hundreds of positive reviews, from people from  all around the world, from Canada to Sweden, Poland to South Korea, expressing themselves about how they enjoyed their Jonny’s experience.

Fatehpur Sikri

After a lovely breakfast we went back to the hotel for a while, before deciding to visit one of the most important sites around Agra, the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri, located some 40kms west of town.  We negotiate a rickshaw ride for 600INR (way below what some taxis wanted to charge) and took us about an hour and half, including a good portion of the journey just trying to get out of the traffic packed city. 

Agra day 3

Taj Mahal

We woke up at quarter to five, quickly got dressed and walkout of the hotel, passing by the sleeping receptionist and headed in the direction of our main event in Agra, the one and only Taj Mahal.  Our hotel the Taj Palace is strategically located on the East road, just at the entrance of the pedestrian only street where only special electric cars, mounted police and touristic camels are allowed.   This normally very busy street with its marble, clothing and souvenir shops, was unusually quiet and deserted, covered in an enigmatic morning fog, giving it a dream like feel.  As we  passed the Eastern gate, which we believed opened a 6AM (as was suggested in numerous guide), were told  by the policeman on duty, that it only opens at sunrise, which in our case was at about 7AM.  We walked pass the various checkpoint before we reached now our favourite  breakfast spot, the small Jonny’s place, where we had some coffee and toasts.  When we came back to the Eastern gate two long queue had already form (one for men and another for women), and moment later we were entering this remarkable landmark.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal proudly sitting next to the sacred Yamuna river is consider one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.  It is a breathtaking mausoleum built over 20 years, between 1631 and 1648, from beautiful and rare white marble.  It was constructed by the grandson of Akbar, Shah Jehan, one of the greatest Mughal emperors, as the mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.  It is therefore, universally considered the monument to love.  The Taj Mahal is today a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is one of the most photographed and easily recognisable Indian attractions. It is considered one of the world’s best preserved and architecturally interesting tombs, putting India at the forefront of the top cultural destinations.

Agra  fort

The second part of the day was spent visiting the Agra fort, the second most visited attraction in Agra.  This red sandstone palace and defensive structure is a remarkable piece of architecture, often considered a much better preserved version of the Delhi’s Red Fort.  It was built by the Emperor Akbar between 1565 and 1571 as a testament of his power.  The fort was later improved by Shah Jahan, the grand child of Akbar, but ironically ended up as a prisoner. 

Agra day 4

Jama Masjid

During the last day spent in Agra we decided to rent a rickshaw for half a day, so we could explore the rest of the key sights of the city.  We started with the Jama Masjid site within the northern part of the city , a large mosque famous for its unusual dome and absence of minarets built in 1648 during the reign of the father Shah Jahan. 

We then moved further north and crossed the Yamuna river on to the Eastern side to first explore the Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb, best known as the Baby Taj.  This beautiful white marble mausoleum which indeed is a smaller version of the Taj Mahal was built by the Empress Nur Jehan for her father the Chief Minister of Emperor Jahangir.   Not far from the Baby Taj we quickly visited the China Ka Roza memorial famous for its dome of blue glazed tiles.  It is dedicated to Allama Afzel Khal Mullah Shukrullah of Shiraz, the Prime Minister of Shah Jahan.  Finally our las stop on the eastern side of the river was the Ram Bagh Gardens, best known as the first Mughal gardens.  It was built by the Emperor Babar, known as the  Mughal founder.

Akbar's tomb

We came back to the other side of the river, where we got stuck in traffic for a while on the main road before heading to the western part of  town, a place  known as Sikandra and famous for being home to the Akbar’s tomb.  The mausoleum complex dedicated to one of the greatest Mughal Emperors is located at the heart of a beautiful garden and surrounded by four red sandstone gates.

Finally our last stop of the day was Mariam’s Tomb, situated only a few meters south-west of the Akbar’s tomb.  This beautiful white marble grave, was built by Jahangir for his mother Mariam Zammani.  There is also a school and a church near the tomb, built by Akbar in memory of his Christian wife.

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About the Taj Plaza Hotel

Taj Plaza Hotel

The Taj Plaza Hotel is perfectly located near the Taj Mahal, only a few hundred meters south of the Eastern gate.  The hotel’s biggest asset is its spectacular views of Agra’s most famous site from both the rooftop restaurant and some of the rooms. We initially booked the standard room which was not up to scratch, but we were really impressed by the upgraded luxury room we got offered, with some of the city’s best views of the Taj.  All the staff was pretty friendly, especially the security guard at the front desk.  Moreover the rooftop restaurant is quite a nice place to chillout especially at sunset after a day of sightseeing.  We recommend the special Veggie thali if you are really hungry.  They also serve beer but it is well overpriced compared to the rest of the items on the menu (alternatively there is a beer shop not far from the hotel).  Overall we would definitely come back to the Taj Plaza as it offers great value for money and breathtaking views of one of the World’s Seven Wonders.

Book a room at the Taj Plaza Hotel, best prices guaranteed.

Rishikesh images

Following our article about Rishikesh, our second destination of the northern part of our incredible 28 days Funky India journey, comes the complete image gallery.  These are photographs taken during our 3 days visit in the charming hill station and include some of the Rishikesh  most important sights such as Lakshman Jhula bridge, the Ram Jhula Bridge, the  Swarg Ashram, the Trayambakeshwar Temple, Hindu temples and the Ghats next to the Ganges river.



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Three days in Rishikesh

Rishikesh

We left the busy Indian capital of Delhi to move to the more peaceful northern state of Uttarakhand to get to the small town of Rishikesh best known as the Gateway to the Himalayas.  This charming hill station is perfectly located at the foothill of the world’s largest mountain range and sitting on the bank of the holly Ganges River.  For many Indians, it is one of the most important pilgrimage sight in the region, with a variety of religious temples, as well as being the first stop of the Char Dham Yatra Sacred Journey.  As for the international travellers, it has become a sought after destination, ever since it was visited by the Beatles some decades ago.  Rishikesh is also considered the World’s Capital of Yoga with plenty of ashrams, meditation and fitness centres to be found.  The following is an overview of the three days spent discovering this fabulous mountain town , exploring some of its most important sites such as the two amazing bridges, Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula, the various temples and the Ghats and hindu ceremonies next to the river Ganges.


Topics

  1. Rishikesh day 1: arrival, Haridwar Junction, Ganesha Inn, Lakshman Jhula bridge, night ceremony, night views
  2. Rishikesh day 2: Lucky restaurant, Ram Jhula, local market, Landsowne
  3. Rishikesh day 3: Duraj Coffee, Ram Jhula bridge, Ganga view restaurant, Honey Hut, Lakshman Jhula bridge
  4. About the Ganesha Inn Hotel

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Rishikesh day 1

We woke up before 6 this morning, as we had to catch an early train to the North.  We had a small issue at checkout where they ask us to pay the three nights we already booked and paid.  After we managed to retrieve the hotel voucher from my emails, we hit the road to the New Delhi Railway station arriving only a few minutes before the train departure.  We got the first class ticket this time (as it was the  only option left for that date) and it’s definitely a whole different experience.  Indeed not only there is a lot more space, with very comfortable reclining chair, but they were constantly serving food and beverages, starting by a nice cup of tea, followed by a bowl of corn flakes with warm milk, then the main omelette dish with rotis, and followed by coffee and juices.  This comfortable environment combined with great service, enabled me to catch up on some overdue Funky India articles.

Ganesha Inn Room View

We arrived to Haridwar Junction surprisingly precisely on time (which can be quite rare for the huge Indian railways).  We quickly went to the nearby bus station politely avoiding the numerous rickshaws and taxi drivers with their astronomical fares.  A few moments later we were sitting comfortably in the back of the crowded bus heading to Rishikesh and enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains.  The town is located less than 30 kilometres away but took us close to an hour to reach our destination.  At the Rishikesh main bus station we took a large shared rickshaw to get to our hotel.  We arrived at the Ganesha Inn at midday and we were automatically impressed by the views from the ground floor, until the owner invited us to check the rooftop balcony and the famous 401 room (if you can afford it, it is by far the best room out there).  We have booked the standard room through Agoda, but after a glimpse of the presidential room and it’s amazing view from its private balcony, we just couldn’t resist and opted for a negotiated upgrade.

Rishikesh Lakshman Jhula bridge

Soon after we descended by the narrow street of Rishikesh, way up to the town’s most symbolic Lakshman Jhula bridge, where we sat on a bench observing the locals, tourists and the monkeys.  Captivated by the colourful street action, we ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon, enjoying the sun and looking at the cheeky monkeys hanging from the entrance tower and various cables of the bridge. By mid afternoon we decided to head back up, stopping in a small charming restaurant on the way, which offered unprecedented views of the Ganges river and the surrounding.  It is the perfect place to hang out around a cup of tea or have a nice meal.  The place has a Beatles theme, and had been renovated since the last time I came, with a new design, much cleaner but with the same large view of the mountains and the surroundings.

Rishikesh night ceremony

After our late lunch, we came back to base and had a little snooze.  As dusk, I went for a solo walk around town, chatting with the local merchants before crossing the bridge towards the eastern Ghats and assisting to the night ceremony on the beach, right on the bank of the sacred river Ganges on the backdrop of the magnificent sunset.  It was a very Zen and peaceful experience, with a mix of chants, bathing and traditional music.

By night fall, I was back at the hotel, spending the last moments, enjoying the views from our room balcony and being grateful to be able to experience such an enchanting Indian destination.

Rishikesh day 2

I woke up from my partner’s excitement of having a new guest, a small monkey visiting our balcony.  I barely saw his tail before he magically disappeared towards the neighbouring building.  Soon after we were heading down the village, crossed the bridge and settle for the Lucky restaurant, where we had a lovely breakfast platter while enjoying the view of the Ganges.  After the meal, we went down the eastern side of Rishikesh, until we reached the second pedestrian bridge known as Ram Jhula, passing a variety of animals including dog, ponies and monkeys.

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The Ram Jhula bridge is an attraction in its own rights , with a mix of fish food vendors, local and international tourists, motorcycles and orange dressed Brahmans.  Back on the western side of town, we passed through a small local market, where we bought some souvenirs and stopped for a refreshment break, before getting back on the main road, from where we caught  a 5INR rickshaw that took us to the heart of Landsowne.  In town we went to the bank (as there are no ATM in Rishikesh) and got back to base taking two other rickshaws, the first up to the Ram Jhula bridge and the second to the top of Rishikesh.  Back at the Hotel Ganesha Inn, we chilled on the balcony, before taking a an afternoon nap.  As you may see, this was by far the most relaxing part of our Funky India trip, a bit of peace in between the  more hectic cities of new Delhi and Agra.

Later that afternoon, we went for a lunch/dinner meal at the Pizza Italiano place in front of our hotel, before heading to the Ganges river, to assist once again at the religious ceremony.  Soon after nightfall, we had a walk through the narrow street next to the bridge, before getting back to our room with its magnificent views and enjoy a nice cup of comforting chai.

Rishikesh day 3

We woke up relatively early that morning and soon after we went for a small walk around town, before stopping at the constantly busy Duraj Coffee and its spectacular view of the Lakshman Jhula bridge and the Ganges river.  The food and the service was a bit overrated, and a typical tourist hangout, but still a good spot to get some sunshine and enjoy the laidback Rishikesh lifestyle passing by.

After breakfast we came back to the hotel and spent some time catching up on some web task (we had complementary internet and wifi at the Hotel Ganesha Inn) including booking our last night of our Funky India Trip in Mumbai.

Market next to Ram Jhula bridge

Half noon we decided to hit the road, and jumped into a 5 INR multi person rickshaw up to the Ram Jhula bridge.  We soon realized that it must be a special day for Hindus as the bridge was packed with local tourist.   We dropped some postcards at the post office, crossed the bridge and only then, by the bank of the river, did we find some peace, with cows and ponies resting on the  greyish sand.  We walked back on the Eastern bank of the Ganges, passing the various temple, ashrams and meditation centres, until we reached the Rishikesh beach, where we stopped at the Ganga view restaurant for lunch, which as its name suggest offers a close up view of the river, the bridge and the other side of town with its boutiques and houses hanging on cliff tops.  Quite a remarkable view and with the food quite good as well (we shared the special Ganges thali), it is definitely a place I would recommend.  It even had a lounge section where guest can sit on the carpeted floor surrounded by colourful pillows.

Lakshman Jhula bridge

Early afternoon we were back at the hotel, sunbathing from the balcony while enjoying the Ganges flowing by.  A quick power nap and we were back on the streets of town where our first stop was the modern and very clean Honey Hut, a unique Health cafe which as its name suggest, offers a wide selection of natural honey products including sweats, teas and coffees.  With our sweet tooth satisfied we headed once again to the Lakshman Jhula bridge hopping to get on a boat for a river tour .  However  as we enquired, we realized that the option offered was by no mean good value for money (250INR for 2 minutes and 1500INR for a 25 minutes ride) and we decided to go back to our favourite chilling spot, the western entrance of the bridge.  If you love monkeys, it is definitely the place to be, as there is no other place where those funny animals with human traits interact so naturally interacts with the environment.   Some are acrobats, some are mothers carrying their babies , other fatter elders, but all of them are always very hungry, knowing from a distance if someone has any food.  We managed to get some pretty nice shots and footage right on the bridge, while giving bananas to the smaller monkeys.

At night fall, we ordered a vegetarian (all the town is strictly vegetarian) from the joint across our hotel, and spent our last night contemplating the view from our balcony, that we will be soon missing.

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About Ganesha Inn Hotel

Monkey on the balcony of the Ganesha Inn Hotel

The Ganesha Inn is one of the best value for money hotels in Rishikesh.  It is centrally located on one of the highest part of town, only a short walk to the sought after cafes and boutiques, as well as to one of the town’s key attractions, the Lakshman Jhula Bridge.  The hotel’s biggest asset is by far its magnificent views of the Ganges River and mountains packed with various temples and ashrams, which can be seen as soon as you enter from the reception floor.  We originally booked the standard room but we had to upgrade to the presidential option (room 101) once we saw it with its private balcony.  The top floor 401 room is also worth considering if it’s available and you have the budget.  As for the standard of the rooms, they are nothing special, but nothing to complain, being very clean.  Finally both the owner and manager and all the other day and night staff where very polite and helpful with any request we had.   The Ganesha Inn offers free wifi and computer with internet on the ground floor, which is always a nice bonus.  I would definitely recommend the hotel and hope I will have the chance to enjoy it once again someday.

Book a room at the Hotel Ganesha Inn, best prices guaranteed.

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Delhi images

Following our article about Delhi, our first destination of the northern part of our incredible 28 days Funky India journey, comes the complete image gallery.  These are photographs taken during our 3 days visit in the capital and include some of the Delhi’s  most important areas such as Old Delhi, Connaught Place and the Rajpath, as well as the most sought after sites including the Red Fort, Jama Masjid Mosque, the India Gate, Lodi Garden, Qutab Minar and Purana Quila.

Learn more about Delhi, the best places to stay or view the Delhi interactive map.



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Three days in Delhi

New Delhi

We continued the northern part of our incredible Funky India trip with the amazing state capital city of Delhi, one of the country’s most important business, political and touristic destinations.  We spent three nights at the Ajanta Hotel at the heart of the very busy Pahar Ganj district next to the New Delhi Railway station.  The following is an overview of those three days spent discovering this fabulous metropolis including exploring some of its most important areas such as Old Delhi, Connaught Place and the Rajpath, as well as visiting the most sought after attractions including the Red Fort, Jama Masjid Mosque, the India Gate, Lodi Garden, Qutab Minar and Purana Quila.


Topics:

  1. Delhi day 1: IGI airport, metro, New Delhi Station, Pahar Ganj
  2. Delhi day 2: Old Delhi, Chawri Bazar, Jama Masjid Mosque, Lal Qali, Chandni Chowk, Rajpath, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan and Lodi Garden
  3. Delhi day 3: Connaught Place, Qutab Minar,  Humayun’s tomb, Purana Quila
  4. About Ajanta Hotel

Learn more about Delhi, the best places to stay or view the Delhi interactive map.

Delhi day 1

We arrived to the Delhi domestic airport from the southern city of Trivandrum (passing by Mumbai) travelling with Indigo known as the best low cost carrier in India.  From the Terminal 1 we took the shuttle bus to the magnificent terminal 3 where the latest addition to the city transport network is located.  Indeed the airport express Reliance line was only released in 2011, and is by far the fastest way to get to the centre of New Delhi in a comfortable, air conditioned and stress free way while having a glimpse over the heavy traffic.  It takes exactly 18 minutes at 105 km/hour to get from the IGI airport (Dwarka sector 21) to the New Delhi Railway station, located east of the vibrant Pahar Ganj where our hotel is located.

Pahar Ganj - Delhi images

A bit disoriented by all the crowd and the chaos at the station (with plenty of security checks), we took the southern route through Indira Chowk  (the ring road around Connaught place) before heading back north to Chelmsford road, instead of passing through the station or the Gupta road over the rails.  We finally reached the very busy Pahar Ganj with its numerous hotels, huge neon lights and plenty of street action especially in the evening.  We were a bit overwhelmed at first, but we soon found the Ajanta hotel (learn more about the Ajanta hotel below) once we reached the Arakashan road, one of the most important commercial street in the area.  We checked in, had a nice long chat with one of the reception lady about our Funky India trip and went to refresh ourselves in our room, located on the last floor of the hotel, right next to the lounge and its huge terrace.  

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Delhi day 2

Jama Masjid Mosque - Delhi images

As we slept in total darkness for the first time of our trip (our room didn’t have any windows) we woke up later than usual, and only around 9 we were back on the very busy Arakashan road.  We skip breakfast and walked east over the rails through the Gupta road bridge into Old Delhi.  We first passed the western Ajmeri Gate, one of the few remaining of the original 14 gates of the once fortified city, and then entered the chaotic and very crowded Chawri Bazar, where locals were selling everything from fruits to construction equipment.  At the end of the road, helped by an improvised local guide we reached the beautiful Jama Masjid Mosque, one of the largest construction of its kind.  We sat down on the stairs of the southern gate (gate 1) while enjoying the sunshine of this chilly morning.  We then turned into the pedestrian market to reach the eastern gate, escaping the annoying bicycle touts.   From the Mosque we could see the wall of Lal Qali best known as the Red Fort, where we soon reached it by foot passing by another clothing market.  The fort is as impressive as in the various photographs we saw and the story we heard.  We stayed there for a while blending in with the waves of local kids coming in on a day visit and other local and international tourists.

Red Fort - Delhi images

From the Red Fort, we crossed the street to enter Chandni Chowk, one of the most important roads in Old Delhi, which goes up to the famous Khari Baoli spice market and Town Hall in the West.  It is said that this important artery once had a river flowing at its heart, known as the “Stream of Paradise”.  As we haven’t eaten all day, we soon got away from the crowds, and entered the very clean and hygienic vegetarian Vineets restaurant, where we had their delicious speciality, the tandori Platter.  After our nice meal, we decided to jump into a rickshaw to go south into the Rajpath area, the city classiest district, with is prestigious Political and administrative monuments, wide streets and huge roundabouts.

India Gate - Delhi images

We started our Rajpath discovery through the east, with the magnificent India Gate, filled with numerous local tourist and plenty of school kids, who came to admire one of the county’s most important landmark.  After a couple of photographs with young Indian boys and girls, we headed West on the magnificent Rajpath Road, where after numerous times being asked, we hopped into a rickshaw, where our first stop was the very impressive Rashtrapati Bhavan at the end  of the road.  We then passed through the Parliament of India, the country’s supreme legislative body, and continued south to the splendid Lodi Garden offering a variety of historic remains such as old mosques and small fortress, as well as an abundance of birds and beautiful flowers.  After some peace and quiet in the charming park, we moved back north through the prestigious Janpath road, first passing by the National Museum and later through some of the city’s most prestigious hotels such as Le Merdien and the 5 Stars Shangri-La New Delhi.  We finally reached Connaught Place at the end of Janpath road and walk around the various shops of Indira Chowk, before getting back to the hotel.

Indian wedding - Delhi images

Later that night, after some rest at the Ajanta Hotel we went for a small walk around the area of Pahar Ganj, passing by the preparation of an Indian wedding with horses and the band decorated in colourful traditional costumes.  We went looking for a nice restaurant but we ended up coming back to the Ajanta Hotel Vagabond, where we enjoyed the vegetarian thali which included various veggies curries, lentils, rice, naan bread and even rice based sweet dish.

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Delhi day 3

Our third and final day in Delhi started much earlier than the day before, with some catch up work from the rooftop terrace while enjoying the sunrise.  For breakfast we headed to Connaught Place where we opted for the Cafe Coffee day Indian chain (a mix between Starbuck and Subway), where we enjoyed some freshly made sandwiches and real cappuccinos.  The area, even the coffee place, is packed with various touristic touts  that all seem to want to be your best friend but all ask you the same questions in the same order, so the best thing is just to ignore them as it can become really annoying repeating the same things over and over. 

Qutab Minar complex, - Delhi images

From Connaught Place we decided to move to the southern part of the city and got the One Day Tourist metro Pass for 100 INR (plus the 50 INR deposit).  Our first destination was the Qutab Minar complex, a fabulous piece of Islamic architecture.  With its 379 stairs and 72.5 meters (237.8 ft) height, it is considered the tallest minaret in India and is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Purana Quila - Delhi images

We came back to the Qutab Minar station by rickshaw and took the metro up to JLN Stadium station, where we passed through the magnificent sport complex and then stopped at the Humayun’s tomb, a UNESCO world heritage and model for the Taj Mahal.  From the tomb we continued north by foot, up to the lesser known but splendid Old fort known as Purana Quila.  Exhausted by a complete day of sightseeing we decide to call it a day and entered the Pragati Maiden metro station and got back to the Ajanta Hotel for a good night rest before our early departure to Rishikesh the following morning.

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About Ajanta Hotel

The Ajanta Hotel is conveniently located only a short walk from the New Delhi railway and metro station, in the heart of the busy and very lively Anya Magar area.  It is by far one of the best value hotels within the accommodations packed Arakashan road.   It is a 5 floor building offering a large terrace on the top floor with great views of the city.  The room we got offered didn’t have a window, but was fully equipped with a queen size bed, a comfortable desk ideal for writing, a white marble floor and a huge LCD plasma with plenty of international channels.  The reception staff was very friendly and helpful, giving us some special advice about the neighbourhood.  Another plus side of the hotel is free computer available with internet both on the ground floor and the top floor.  Ajanta also houses the lovely Vagabond restaurant offering tasteful food but with an expensive price tag for the area. The only downside was the booking confusion at checkout.  Overall I would definitely recommend the Ajanta hotel while staying in New Delhi. 

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South Kerala images

Following our article about South Kerala , the last destination of the southern part of our incredible 28 days Funky India journey, comes the complete South Kerala image gallery.  These are photographs taken during our 3 days visit and include some of the region’s most sought after destinations such as Kovalam, Kochupally and Trivandrum.

Learn more about Kerala, the best places to stay or view the Kerala interactive map.


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Three days in South Kerala

South Kerala

Our last destination, terminating the Southern part of our Funky India journey was the southern part of the beautiful state of Kerala, home to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and most sought after resorts such as the Abad Harmonia Ayurveda Beach Resort in Kochupally where we stayed.   The following is an overview of the two days spent in Kovalam one of the region’s most sought after holiday destinations and one night in the heart of the city of Trivandrum, known as the economic and transport hub of the state.  


Topics

  1. Introduction
  2. South Kerala day 1: train journey, Trivandrum Central, Kovalam and Kochupally
  3. South Kerala day 2: Vizhinjam, Kovalam Beach and Kochupally coast
  4. South Kerala day 3: Trivandrum, Indian Coffee House and Mahatma Gandhi Road
  5. About the Abad Harmonia Ayurveda Beach Resort
  6. About Trivandrum Keys Hotel

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South Kerala day 1

We woke up at 7 with the buzz of the alarm clock and less than an hour later we were on the ferry boat back to Ernakulam, leaving behind the quiet and peaceful fort Kochi.  Back in the city we slowly walked back to the Railway junction passing by unusually many closed shop (perhaps because it was Sunday).  With some extra time on our hands, we stopped at the busy Mughal restaurant, a few meters south of the station, where we had some freshly prepared sweet coffee, a couple of samosas and onion bahas, while observing the locals enjoying their morning breakfast, many of whom took the long pancake like cheese or vegetable dosa.  Half ten we were at the station and about an hour later we were on the train, direction Trivandrum, the capital city of the state of Kerala.

About half way through the train journey, at one of the short stops, I decided to pop outside to get a bottle of water  and some snacks.  There was a food stop right next to our wagon, but it was extremely busy and chaotic, and you had to push yourself through, as queuing was definitely optional.  Once I managed to squeeze myself in and got what I wanted, the train was already moving.  With no time to get to my respective wagon, I jumped into the following one, only later realizing that there is no passage to my respective section.  I therefore spent a good part of the trip next to the open doors enjoying views of lush forests and numerous backwaters.  At the following station I managed to get back to my seat, where we had a nice cup of comforting chai before arriving to Trivandrum Central.

Abad  Harmonia Ayurveda Beach Resort - perfect tropical oasis

At the station we quickly jumped into a local red bus which was coincidentally leaving as soon as we got in.  Although quite empty when we entered, it soon got very crowded on our way to Kovalam.  At destination we jumped into another much comfortable AC bus to travel the couple of kilometres distance to the Kovalam Beach.  Only then did we realise that our resort was located some 12 kilometres south of where we were (internet maps, especially in India not being always 100% accurate).  After some negotiations with the local rickshaw driver we manage to get a fairly good price to our hotel, which was indeed a bit of a struggle to reach by bus or by foot.  Our resort ended up to be a pretty remote place inside a small village known as Kochupally within a dense palm tree filled forest next to the coast.  The longer then planned journey was well worth it as when we finally arrived at the Abad Harmonia Ayurveda Beach Resort, it was the perfect tropical oasis surrounded by large coconut trees.  We received a magnificent room with a large balcony facing the huge swimming pool and the huts.  As we barely eaten all day, we first had a delicious snack from the hotel restaurant and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling in the pool and enjoying the sunshine.

In the evening, when the sun went down, we went for a walk towards the end of the coast, in total darkness, as neither the road nor any of the houses were lighted.  We went looking for a nice place to dine, but we soon had to go back to the hotel restaurant as the only thing opened in the area was a beautifully illuminated chapel and a small local shop at the end of the road.  Back at the hotel we had a lovely mushroom and cottage cheese curry with some fried rice, before spending the last hours on the balcony contemplating the surroundings.

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South Kerala day 2

Kovalam Beach

Our second day in Kovalam was another beautiful, hot and sunny day.  After a complete buffet breakfast we left our resort and went for a walk around the village before taking the local bus towards the main road.  We then took another very crowded bus towards Kovalam, but mistakenly got off a couple of stops before, in a town called Vizhinjam, and completed the last part of the journey by rickshaw.  When we finally reached the destination, we were very impressed by Kovalam Beach, by far one of the nicest within the southern part of Kerala.  It offers beautiful turquoise waters, white sands and is surrounded by cliffs and hills with large palm trees reaching the sky.  It comes to no surprise that the idyllic coast is home to some of the region’s most sought after resorts including the Leela Kempinski Kovalam Beach and the Vivanta by Taj Kovalam.

Pool chilling

We spent a good part of the day, just chilling on the beach, swimming, sunbathing and walking along the coast.  At around mid afternoon we decided to head back, stopping for a lovely vegetarian platter at a local restaurant.  We came back to our resort village by rickshaw, where we explored the Kochupally coast packed with various fishing boats. We then spent the rest of the afternoon next to the pool, before ordering some Indian chicken wraps to our room.  We went to bed quite early, exhausted by all the beach sport of the day.

South Kerala day 3

The third day in South Kerala was our last day completing the first part of our Funky India journey (from Mumbai to Kerala passing by Goa).  Indeed the next day we were flying to the north of India from the Trivandrum airport.  We woke up late that  day, had a nice Indian breakfast, did some work from the room’s balcony, and just before noon we checked out from the hotel.  We walked to the main road of Kochupally, where we jumped on board a local bus and before we knew it we were in the heart of the action, next to the Trivandrum Railway Station

From the station we walked north to reach the uniquely designed modern Trivandrum Keys Hotel.  It is  the perfect business hotel, equipped with an office centre, a gym, a restaurant and even an entertainment section.  With a high speed internet connection and a very comfortable table chair setup we decided to spent a good portion of the afternoon in the room, catching up on some web tasks and observing the street action from our 6th floor window.

Mid afternoon we left the hotel and went for a nice snack at the Indian Coffee House next to the station, with its unique spiral floors architecture and simple and cheap Keralan specialties.  We spent the last part of the day, doing some shopping on the commercial Mahatma Gandhi Road, before having a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Early the following morning we jumped into a rickshaw to get to the domestic airport, before boarding our plane to the Indian capital Delhi, leaving the remarkable state of Kerala behind us.

About Abad Harmonia Ayurveda Beach Resort

The Abad Harmonia Ayurveda Beach Resort is a beautiful resort located in Kochuppally some 12 kilometres south of Kovalam (as opposed to being in the heart of Kovalam beach as shown on some internet maps).  It is the perfect oasis surrounded by the lush vegetation, ideal to get away from the crowds. The hotel main feature is the enormous pool located at the heart of the resort and surrounded by very tall palm trees and charming huts.  The room we were given was very impressive, fully equipped with all the needed amenities, including a very large bed and a modern bathroom.  The resort offers 2 restaurants, one for snacks during the day and the other for the morning and evening buffets.  The only downside of the resort is that it is quite isolated and is away from the region’s best beaches, but easily accessible by rickshaw or taxi.  It offers enormous value when it comes to quality price and I would strongly recommend it as long as you are not looking to be in the heart of the action. 

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About Trivandrum Keys Hotel

The Keys Hotel is by far one of the best hotels in the city of Trivandrum.  It is centrally located only a short walk from the railway station and a short rickshaw ride from the international airport.  It is situated within a unique and beautifully shaped building, with a contemporary and classy interior design.  The rooms are quite small, but are fully equipped with LCD TV, an office desk and a very comfortable chair, and both a cable and wifi internet connections.  Not to mention the complementary bottle of water, coffee and tea, always nice to have while catching up on some work.  Moreover our room offered great views of the city from the hotel huge windows. I would definitely recommend the Keys as it was by far one of the best hotel experiences in India.

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Fort Kochi images

Following our article about Fort Kochi, our second destination of our incredible 28 days Funky India journey, comes the complete Fort Kochi image gallery.  These are photographs taken during our 2 days visit and include some of the region’s most sought after destinations such as the Santa Cruz Church, Jew Town, the Dutch Palace, the Hockey tournament the Backwaters and the famous Chinese Nets.



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Learn more about Kerala, the best places to stay or view the Kerala interactive map.

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Kochi Kerala
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Two days in Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

After two days in Mumbai and six days in Goa, we continued our Funky India trip further south entering the lush coastal state of Kerala, best known as God’s Own Country.  The following is an overview of the two days spent in Fort Kochi, one of the region’s most sought after destinations.  Once an important trading-post, it is today packed with various cultural and historic sites including plenty of colonial buildings influenced by Portuguese, Chinese, Jewish, Syrian, Christians and Muslim merchants, visitors, traders and settlers.


Topics

  1. Fort Kochi Day 1:  Ernakulum, boat ferry, Good Karma, Talk of Town
  2. Fort Kochi Day 2: Tea Pot, South Kochi,  Jew Town, Dutch Palace, Chinese Net, Dutch cemetery, Kochi Hockey
  3. About the Good Karma Hotel

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Fort Kochi Day 1

We arrived to Kochi in late afternoon, a bit exhausted from a long night and day journey from Goa.  Indeed we embarked the day before at Madgao, Goa’s primary railway hub, on the Kerala S Kanti overnight train.  After a rough night sleep, we started the day with a comforting 5INR chai.  Moments later, we got off at Shoranur Junction, in the heart of the state, where we ended up spending half a day on platform 3, observing the in and out of local travellers and railway staffs, while waiting for our next train.  As  usual the railway personnel was very  helpful, constantly updating us on the train delays.  Patience is a virtue that you must developed while visiting India, as most things take by default longer than expected.

When the train finally arrived we soon realized that the seats were already sold, as we officially had tickets starting from a couple of stations before.  But as most thing in India, a bit of patience will resolve the issue, and moments later an old couple were taking off at the next station and left us their seats.   The rest of the train journey went pretty smoothly and we arrived to Ernakulam Junction a couple of hours later.

Boat to Fort Kochi

From the central station, we took a nice walk across the city to the boat pier, stopping on the way to grab a freshly prepared samosa.  At the pier, we bought the couple of rupees ticket (cheapest boat ride ever) and we were on our way to the peninsula of Fort Kochi.  This was the shortest and local way to get to destination, alternatively there is the longer route through the southern bridge by taxi, rickshaw or bus.

Arriving to Kochi, is like being transported to another area, a place where time stay still, where people and religions cohabited peacefully, and where the streets are filled with splendid multi coloured flowers and perfumes of the exotic spices of local merchants.  It is a huge contrast with the much busier Ernakulum, with its hustling merchants and vibrant street life.  A short walk later we arrived at the Good Karma Inn, where another pleasant surprise awaited us with the warm hospitality of this family run bed and breakfast (view the About the Good Karma Hotel section below).

Santa Cruz Church

Quick refreshment, a small chat with the owner and we were back on the streets of town, where our first stop was the much praised with travellers upper floor Talk of Town, offering a splendid view over the street action with a mix of locals and tourists, large no window red buses, all sorts of two wheelers and rickshaws.  After a good Indian meal, we had a quick glimpse of the Santa Cruz Church opposite the restaurant, and headed west to one of the town busiest corner where we enquired about the houseboats and backwaters.

Later that night we stumbled upon the Hockey tournament within the town’s Parade Grounds next to the charming St-Francis Church.  We were impressed by the whole event management with its live band, music, lights,  and even a VIP section where we got offered to sit.  We returned to the hotel for a good night sleep exhausted by the long day.

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Fort Kochi Day 2

Tea House

Our second day in Kochi started with  a relaxing walk around town, passing by the charming colonial houses, small boutiques and kids playing crickets within the numerous green fields.  For breakfast we went to the Tea House, set within a beautifully building with yellow inside walls, a loft section and various old coloured kettles hanging from the very high ceilings. After enjoying some delicious tea and a snack, we went back to the hotel, where the reserve scooter was waiting for us.  Definitely not the latest of models, but was good enough to get around town. 

Kerala backwaters

We first headed to the south of the island in search of the world famous Kerala backwaters, passing by charming villages with smiling and waving children. A few kilometres on our way,  our motorbike engine stopped and we couldn’t get it started again, before realizing we were out of petrol (the fuel indicator wasn’t working properly).  Used to our Goan experience of having bottled petrol in almost every street shop, we were soon told by the locals that the closest petrol station is a couple of kilometres away.  We were lucky enough however, to have the perfect example of the Keralan generosity, with an old man helping us with our bike issue by extracting a bit of petrol from his own tank, using a straw and mouth suction to blow it into a bottle.  He didn’t even want any money and we manage to reach the pump station to fuel up.  We then realized that our waterboat plans have to be postponed as the best spots are much further south, around the city of Alleppey and not easily accessible with a two wheeler (especially since we got use to drive without a helmet), and decided to return back to the heart of Fort Kochi.

Jew Town

Back in town, our first destination was the once Jewish neighbourhood on the eastern side of the island, best known as Jew Town.  It is a charming place packed with small boutiques with middle eastern looking shopkeepers selling amazing objects from jewellery to handmade clothing passing by sculpture and magnificent carpets.  After being invited for tea inside one of the shops, the friendly vendor told us that albeit that name of the area, there was only two Jewish family left in the area and all the salesmen where now Indian with some Arabic ancestors. 

We first went down to the northern end of the pedestrian street where the Paradesi Synagogue, often referred to as the  Old Synagogue is located.  The complex which comprises four buildings is considered the oldest  active Synagogue within the Commonwealth, built in 1568 by the Malabar Yehudan Jewish community.  It was unfortunately closed on Friday, so we decided to move back to the main Jew Town road and head to the bank of the river, where the Dutch palace proudly sits.

Dutch Palace

The Dutch Palace, housed within a beautiful colonial building, is a popular museum showcasing the history of Fort Kochi. It displays a variety of artifacts such as magnificent royal clothing’s, beautifully decorated swords and private containers use to transport royalty.  The Palace also displays fabulous coloured wall paintings as well as having a section explaining the unique Kerala martial of art known as Kalaripayattu, one of the world’s oldest fighting style.

We then left Jew Town to get to the northern tip of Kochi, home to numerous street vendors selling colourful vegetables and fruits.   We bought some delicious purple grapes and went back to the hotel for a small power nap and avoid the hottest mid day sun.

We started the afternoon with a refreshing ride on the eastern coast of town passing by the Indo Portuguese museum and the Maritime Museum with all its various planes and other military equipments, before stopping at the beach.  We joined the local families, kids and friends on the boardwalk from the southern Fort Kochi Beach to the northern Mahatma Gandhi beach, stopping for ice cream and some photographs with young boys and girls. 

Chinese fishing nets

We passed by the Chinese fishing nets, where I was invited by the old local fisherman to join them on the wooden construction and help them pull the large net out of the water.  For a healthy tip, he proudly showed us the catch of the day, introduce me to crew and showed me around.  Those nets are now less used for commercial purposes as  modern fishing technique has proved more effective but remains today a key symbol of Kochi. 

After our unique fishermen experience, we went back to the Kochi beach where we parked, and had a quick glimpse at the unique Dutch cemetery with its large standing tombs, remaining us of the town rich European heritage.  We enjoyed a long chat with a local rickshaw driver about the town economy in relation to the seasons, and ende up helping him out with a small favour (the rickshaw driver get paid in fuel for each customer he brings in).  We indeed joined him to visit a large high end souvenir shop selling beautifully handmade carpets , silky smooth Kashmir scarves and jewellery.

hockey tournament

As the previous evening we ended up at the town most important event, the inter city field hockey tournament, surprisingly India’s most popular sport.  It was my first time watching non ice hockey as well as the first time as part of such a well organised event in such a relatively small town.  We assisted to both the semi-finals and finals, enjoying the game from the VIP section.  We had a nice chat with the really friendly local kids.  Some of them spoke only Malay, but most of them spoke very good English, going to catholic schools where they even have IT classes.  The winners of the tournament were the yellow shirt team from Chennai, by far the better athletes.  We managed to get back to the hotel before it started pouring rain heavily.  We went to bed that night with the sound of rain in the background, the first time since the beginning of our Funky India trip, and definitely less frequent than the last time I came to India during the peak of the Monsoon season.

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About the Good Karma Hotel

The Good Karma is by far one of the best budget hotels we stayed in India since the beginning of our Funky India trip.  Located in the heart of beautiful Kochi, only a few minutes’ walk from the Santa Cruz church and the central area packed with restaurants.  We were surprised by the warm welcome of the owner, of this family ran guest house.  Indeed he took the time to show us the town’s key attractions on a map, as well as giving us a complementary bottle of water and his business card insisting to contact him at any time.  The room itself was quite small, but well decorated, very clean and with a tiny balcony.  They also offered scooter rentals, a good way to discover Fort Kochi and the southern backwaters area. 

Good Karma Hotel offers a full day House Boat package for 650 INR which is definitely worth taking.

Book a room at the Good Karma Hotel, best prices guaranteed.

South Goa images

Following our article about South Goa, our second destination of our incredible 28 days Funky India journey, comes the complete South Goa image gallery.  These are photographs taken during our 2 days visit and include some of the region’s most sought after destinations such as the sought after beaches of Agonda, Palolem and Patnem, as well as exceptional historic sites such as the Cabo de Rama fortress.

Topics

  1. South Goa images  
  2. Agonda images  
  3. Cabo de Rama images
  4. Palolem images
  5. Patnem Beach images
  6. Madgao images

Learn more about Goa and the best places to stay, view the Goa interactive map or view the complete Goa image gallery.

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South Goa

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Agonda images 

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Cabo de Rama images

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Palolem Beach images

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