This is the third of my series on where we've stayed - if you haven't already you might want to check out my first post on where we stayed in France and Italy, and my second post on where we stayed in Morocco, Jordan, and Nepal.
India (December 1-January 4)
Jaipur - Prity Guest House (December 1-14)
First on our agenda for India was to volunteer for 2 weeks with Elephants in Jaipur, which we did through an organization called Volunteering With India. The cost of the program included our program fees, transportation (a kick-ass tuk-tuk with a driver named Totoram), and a home stay, which was at a small guesthouse in Jaipur named after the youngest daughter of the family, Prity.
This was probably the most basic place we stayed on our trip: the second-floor room included a bathroom with a shower that sometimes had hot water, seemingly hadn't really been cleaned, and was not cleaned during our two week stay. Food was included as well, which was also very basic - most meals were a vegetarian curry, often-times cold rice, and the highlight of the meal, Chapati. During our stay the middle sister (there were 3) got married, which happened at the guest house, so we were invited to attend the wedding, which was a fascinating experience. On the flip side this meant that the house was frequently filled with loud music till all hours of the night, which was tough when we needed to get up at 4:30AM for work with the elephants at 5:30AM (we were picked up at 5). This, combined with the spartan living conditions, made for some pretty hard living for two weeks.
Ranthambhore - Ranthambhor Regency (December 14-15)
Our first stop post-Prity Guest house was at a resort in Ranthambhore, an animal reserve where we went on safari. The hotel was very nice, which ordinarily would have felt posh, but following our Prity stay felt like we were staying at the St. Regis! We had a very nice room, with a large clean, comfortable bed, and all toiletries included (at Prity we needed to buy our own soap).
All meals were included at the Ranthambhor Regency, and the meals were very tasty, with plenty of fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits. The manager even made a spicier version of one of the dishes for me as I mentioned I liked spicy foods! We felt like kings!
On a related note, our safaris to the Ranthambhor park were amazing - we did 2 trips, which last about 3 hours each - one in the morning, and one at night. The weather can be quite cold (so we brought our jackets) as you are in an open air jeep, but you drive through virtually untouched scenery and have a great shot at seeing animals - we didn't see a tiger, but spotted the black sloth bear, crocodiles (baby ones as well as large), eagles, and tons of peacocks and deer.
Agra - Howard Plaza (December 15-16)
We stayed in this solid hotel for 2 nights when we visited the Taj Mahal. This hotel was well positioned with a number of restaurants in walking distance (though not a lot else here). We did have problems on check-in as the key for the room didn't work several times, and I had to go up and down to talk to the staff at the front and get a working key.
One incident at the hotel: on arrival at the hotel our driver, Anand, pulled our car in the unloading area, and as my mother was about to exit the car a driver backed his car up right into her door area! How he managed to miss the parked car was beyond me, but even after hitting the car it didn't seem like he was too worried about it - after some yelling with Anand he departed. I asked Anand who was going to pay for it and he said he would, and grumbled about "local people" with a laugh. I was amazed, as I could imagine that the damage would cost over $1000 in the US, though our driver said that it would probably be around $100 in India.
Mathura - Radha Ashok (December 16-17)
After visiting the Taj we headed to a town called Mathura, where we saw some old temples and such (I had mistakenly told our tour operator that we wanted to see holy sites without specifying that my Mom wanted to see Buddhist ones, not the majority-faith Hindu ones that constitute the majority of spiritual sites in India).
This hotel was empty and drab, and had a sad breakfast. I wouldn't recommend either Mathura or this hotel (though when I mentioned the hotel to our tour operator he mentioned that Mathura just doesn't have any nice hotels).
Haridwar - Hotel Ganga Lahari (December 17-20)
This hotel on the banks of the Ganga (in English the Ganges) River was quite nice: the rooms were spacious and clean, and the (not included) dinners were quite good, with some musicians playing nice music outside the dining room. Haridwar was another city that we visited because of the mix-up in Holy Sites, and was really not very interesting other than the temples (which we didn't really enjoy), and the city itself didn't really have much geared towards foreigners (there were lots of local restaurants with street food, but outside of the hotels not a lot geared towards tourists).
On the other hand, we really liked Rishikesh, a town about 30 minutes north (also on the bank of the Ganga). This yoga-crazed town was very comfortable for tourists, with great little restaurants and cute shops. I'd highly recommend you visit Rishikesh with it's comfortable town and rafting on the Ganga and skip Haridwar unless you are really into Hindu temples.
Delhi - Avalon Courtyard (December 20-21)
This hotel in South Delhi was off a main street, but fine for a brief stopover in Delhi as we really only arrived late and took off for Kerala the next morning. The hotel is geared towards Japanese travelers (likely business travelers), and thus had a Japanese restaurant in the hotel which we really enjoyed (My Mom was ecstatic as she was over Indian food). The hotel also had a pool which I used (though a few Indians stared at me as it was next to the elevator, I guess not many people use it), and supposedly sauna as well (didn't get the chance to use it).
Our room was large, clean, and seemed like a condo as it had a kitchen, which would have been really useful if we had stayed longer.
Kochi - Dream Kochi (December 21-23, December 27-28)
We arrived in Kerala at the Kochi airport, and drove an hour south to Ernakulam where we met Nisha's parents at the Dream Hotel. This hotel seemed really fancy at first blush, almost W-like, with lights down low and modern decor. However, this seemed to be more of window-dressing than reality, as we found the carpets to be a bit dirty and some of the interior to be shabby. Additionally they charged a hefty fee for wifi, which we passed on as we had found every other place had included internet.
Ernakulam is the newer area across the water from Fort Kochi, where most of the interesting tourist attractions area. We ended up spending most of our time in this area, which was about a 45 minute drive (more in traffic) from this area in Ernakulam (we actually took a local ferry one day to avoid driving across the bridges). Fort Kochi is where most of the tourists are, and has the restaurants and hotels that we were looking for, and I would highly suggest anyone visiting the area stay there.
Munnar - Fort Munnar (December 23-25)
After a day of sightseeing in Fort Kochi we headed to the hill town of Munnar in Kerala. This area is famous for tea (the British built it out to grow, and locals have taken over the business) and lush hills, and we enjoyed spending our time here visiting a tea plantation (very interesting), and a national park (where we saw the Nilgiri Tahr, a rare mountain goat).
We were here during Christmas, and the hotel required us to pay an additional $50 each for a gala dinner. This dinner was bizarre, as instead of a simple family dinner they had a (ghetto) vegas-style production (The MC kept saying "Come on everybody, you aren't at home, you're in Muuuuunnaaaaar"), with a stage and loud dance music culminating in the arrival of a strange Santa Claus and dinner served. For someone used to a family-focused Christmas I was quite surprised to see this bizarre spectacle.
The grounds of this hotel were very nice (it had a great little park in the backyard), but the rooms had very thin walls and the furniture was literally coming apart - see the picture of the box in the room in pieces.
Allepey - Vasundhara Sarovar (December 25-27)
After the relative unpleasantness of the Fort Munnar hotel, the Vasundhara Sarovar was a spectacle to behold. This hotel was located in the backwaters of Kerala, a peaceful place of little inlets of water which are navigated by boat. The Vasundhara's rear faced the backwater, and the resort was gorgeous across the board, with incredible grounds, beautiful large rooms, and a number of included activities. The large pool was great to swim in, and we also enjoyed the included boat tour of the backwater, paddle boats, and afternoon chai.
The restaurants at the resort were very tasty (and pricey), which was good as it was very far from anything outside the resort. This is really a place to come and relax, and I would highly recommend it.
Anand - Casa Patel (Devam) (December 28-January 4)
Our final stay in India was with Nisha's cousin's family in the province of Gujurat. Nisha's cousin Sanjay had invited us to visit and stay with them to see an Indian wedding when we saw them at our wedding, and we took advantage of this and stayed with them at their 3-bedroom house in Anand. The space was a bit tight as we had Nisha's parents, Sanjay and his family (his wife Grishma, and their children Devam and Suhanhi), Grishma's Sister Honey and her Husband and baby, and Grishma's brother (the groom) all in the house. Nisha and I slept on the floor of the living room, which was relatively comfortable, and very normal for India.
It was fun to spend time with the family and see a non-touristy side of India, but their house was a bit isolated as the town of Anand doesn't have a ton of infrastructure, and the movie theater and shopping were located on the other side of the city. The wedding itself was over the course of 5 or so days, with events scattered between Anand and another city an hour away.