After printing the wrong Visa confirmation, meeting the pilots of our flight at check-in, and almost missing the last boarding call, Ingrid and I knew our trip to India would be an unforgettable one! We arrived at JFK airport in New York City about 2 hours ahead of departure, which turned out to be a little too close for comfort.
Before arriving, Ingrid and I checked our paperwork: passport, check; hotel confirmations, check; entry visas… not so fast. We each printed what we thought was the correct visa confirmation to enter the country, however, each of us held a different piece of paper. Right then and there, we knew one of us was incorrect. Turns out, that person was me (go figure!). After applying for our Indian e-visas online, we received confirmations a few weeks later announcing we’d be cleared for entry visas, which is a requirement for most tourists traveling to India. I printed out the visa application, stating I was permitted. However, this was incorrect – what was needed was an official visa entry, complete with a seal and bar-code–don’t make this same mistake!
After officially realizing I had the incorrect visa to enter the country from the baggage check-in clerk, I went to print a new one at customer service. When I returned, Ingrid was chatting away with the 4 pilots of our flight. We had the opportunity to befriend and take pictures with the pilots, which made for the perfect start to our trip to India.
Once we bid farewell to the friendly pilots, we scurried off to the security line which, to our dismay, was uncomfortably long. Why is it that every time you are in a hurry things seem to operate painfully slower than usual? Oh, the irony! To add to the chaos, the boarding time noted on our boarding passes was incorrect, so we sauntered through JFK’s international terminal as if we had all the time in the world to spare. Little did we know, our flight had begun boarding and we ended up being some of the last to board! Hearts racing and frankly a little hot from all of the trouble we just went through, we finally plopped down in our seats on the plane. Safe and sound, our direct flight into New Delhi and adventure of a lifetime was about to begin!
Landing in the Belly of the Beast – Delhi
New Delhi is, by far, the most stimulating city I’ve ever been to: the colors, the designs, the aromas, the sounds. There is no city like it! After a 14 hour flight, Ingy and I felt it was time to stretch our legs and make the most out of our whirlwind, 10 day trip to India. Our third travel companion, Ashley, was waiting for us at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi already, having arrived earlier from Mumbai. She decided to continue exploring all the country had to offer by elongating her month long work trip to the North of India with Ingrid, myself, and our fourth travel companion (who was arriving the next day), Marie.
After locating Ashley, we were then faced with the challenge of finding our private driver, Dara, whom we merely had the pleasure of meeting via Whatsapp at the time. Now, locating someone you’ve never met, in a country you’ve never been to, where you do not speak the language and without cell service or pictures for help is not as challening as it seems I promise…
To our comfort and surprise, Dara Singh, of Real Rajasthan Tours, picked us up precisely on time and with bottled water ready for us in the car. We were referred to Dara by a one of Ingrid’s friends who had the pleasure of being a client of Dara’s prior to our trip to India. We were skeptical about booking private drivers online, as we had done extensive research on scams and fake profiles beforehand. By the time we finished, we knew every trick in the book! You might have seen some of this research live a few months ago, as I collaborated with Indica Jehman, of satyais.me, to write a post about traveling to India for the first time.
Dara, however, was referred to us by a first-hand reference and we could not have been more grateful. You will most likely here me say this over and over again throughout this series of posts but having Dara with us for those 10 days was the best thing that could have happened to us on this trip, by far! I cannot begin to tell you how many times he went out of his way to help us, answer our questions, ease our worries, and most importantly, provide us with un-biased information. If you are interested in traveling to India at any point in time, I highly recommend Dara Singh as your driver and friend.
Once we were in Dara’s car, we weaved through the city’s beautiful chaos and landed at the breathtaking Lotus Temple. Upon entering the area, we were greeted by vast, serene gardens surrounding an incredible structure. The temple resembles that of a Lotus flower, the National flower of India, which symbolizes the purity of the heart and mind. We explored the area in awe at the contrast of this contemporary structure against the historical parts of city we drove through earlier.
After a visit at the Temple, Dara took us on a quick detour to the Raj Ghat, a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.
Like the Lotus Temple, the gardens surrounding the memorial held a sense of tranquility. The memorial itself was a site to see, with many others visiting to pay their respects. Once we settled back in the car with Dara, the jet lag was beginning to set in and we knew it was time to head to the hotel.
Haveli Dharampura – An Artistic Gateway to Old Delhi
Dara pulled up to a narrow ally on a bustling street near the Jama Masjid and told us we would have to walk from here, as the street was far too narrow for cars to drive down. We waited for someone from the hotel to arrive until we bid Dara farewell for the night.
We booked two nights at the gorgeous WelcomHeritage Haveli Dharampura in Old Delhi and could not wait to see what was in-store!
Wanting to experience Old Delhi, the Haveli Dharampura was the ideal location to do so. The historical site recently went through a restoration and now boasts breathtaking interior designs with beautiful archways, textured walls, and intricate patterns. The restoration of the deteriorating building took an astonishing 6 years to finish, but once the Haveli was complete, it stood as a beacon for the belief, “if there’s a will, there’s a way” as their website states.
In order to adjust ourselves accordingly to the new timezone, we decided to indulge in a delicious meal at the hotel.
To our delight, we received dinner and a show! The classical Kathak Dance we saw is performed on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during a certain time but can be enjoyed from any of the three balconies within the Haveli.
After dinner, we wandered around the intimate hotel and stumbled upon the rooftop. I have a slight obsession with rooftops (if you couldn’t already tell!) so the fact that we had the opportunity to enjoy sunset views of Delhi and Chandi Chowk from above was the perfect ending to a perfect, first day.
The Haveli Dharampura is within walking distance from the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Delhi. We opted to take a morning stroll to see the Jama Masjid up close not only because we were too exhausted in the evening but because Dara strictly advised us not to walk around past sunset in the area. I had an incredible time in India and luckily had no uncomfortable encounters (despite the frequent stares and gestures) and I feel that this is almost entirely due to the fact that we are smart travelers and had Dara around to provide a local perspective of where to go and when. I’m going to be completely candid with you here – when Dara told us not to walk around the area whatsoever past dark as women, I was a little startled but not surprised. Of course, we complied with no questions asked and enjoyed the incredible views of Jama Masjid and the Chandi Chowk bazaar from our rooftop until morning instead.
I am pleased to stay we slept soundlessly that evening with full stomachs and after a long day of travel. The next morning, we woke early to re-pack and meet Dara at our designated morning meetup time. Before we left however, we went back up to the rooftop to sneak a few last peaks at Delhi before the work day below officially began.
After reluctantly departing with the lovely Haveli Dharampura, we grabbed our bags, scurried through Chandi Chowk, and met Dara. We were on our way to pick up Marie at the airport, who just flew in from Los Angeles, and head straight to Jaipur. More to come as our adventure continues…