Wednesday, September 30, 2015

INDIA 2015 - Delhi, Agra, Hyderabad

As promised, this is my first trips&departures entry. I trust my experiences will be beneficial to those who are contriving to travel to India. I was advised to be deliberate about food in India to avoid getting diarrhea. With this in mind, I was really careful and chose not to eat/drink at the stalls but stick to restaurants. I am happy all my friends traveling with me doesn't need any diarrhea treatment.

Airline tickets were bought departing KUL-HYD-KUL (AirAsia) and HYD-DEL-HYD (Air India). To visit India, we (Malaysian Passport holders) need a valid Visa which can be applied online here. Once completed, we need to print the form and bring it to the visa office at the following venue. Please arrive early as the queue can be really long. The visa is processed and ready to be collected in 3 working days. The cost is RM161.56.

We have also booked our accommodations at The Taj Resorts Hotel in Agra and Arrow Lake View Apartments in Hyderabad through booking.com. For our tour in Delhi, Agra and Hyderabad we chose Holidayz Mart, which was booked online as well. An upfront payment of INR5,000 was made from the total cost of the tour, which was INR23,999 (A Date With Taj - 2 Nites & 3 Days Tour) for 8 pax. The balance payment was cleared when we arrived in Delhi. For the Hyderabad 1 Day Tour the cost involved was INR23,250. 50% of this tour (INR11.625) was paid in Delhi as well.

Day 1
On 10 September 2015 we departed KUL-HYD by AK69 at 2115hrs and arrived Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGI) at 2315hrs (local time). Flying time was approximately 4 hours 30 minutes and the whole journey was smooth. Visitors are required to fill out the arrival card carefully with a full local address. We did not fill out the customs declaration form as mentioned in some blogs I read. Anyway we did not face any problem going through the security/customs.

As it was still early and while waiting for our connecting flight to Delhi we had coffee at Café Coffee Day, RGI. At 0500hrs we checked-in our flights.

Having coffee at Café Coffee Day HYD while waiting for flight AI559 to DEL
Day 2
We departed HYD-DEL by AI 559 at 0640hrs and arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 0850hrs.Thus began our tour of India. A word of advice though, PLEASE TAG ALL HAND CARRY ITEMS WITH AIRLINE TAG. We experienced a hard time explaining to the security personnel screening us because of not holding an Airline Bag Tag for our hand carry luggage as we were not told of this regulation. Luckily we manage to resolve the issue. If not, those hand carry items without luggage tags will be confiscated.

Hand carry item tag with security clearance stamp
On board AI 559 to Delhi
View of Delhi upon landing
Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi
Towards arrival hall and luggage collection.

The distinctive airport's signature
Tour agents waiting for guests

We landed safely, on schedule and had to wait a while for our tour operator from  Holidayz Mart as he was caught in a massive traffic jam coming to pick us up. Finally we began our scheduled tour of Delhi-Agra-Delhi.



Our transport - the Tempo Traveller
One common practise in India (and Bangladesh) is using the vehicle's horn for whatever reasons. In Malaysia the horn is usually used in certain situations but not in India. And the traffic jam is made worse with the attitude of those 'auto' drivers. The pictures below were some traffic situations we encountered during our visit.





Our first stop in Delhi was Qutb Minar. The entrance fee for foreigners INR200 compare to locals INR10.

Entrance ticket


Qutb Minar main entrance







After visiting Qutb Minar, we had lunch at Karim's which was nearby the Jama Masjid. It's a famous restaurant frequented by tourists and locals. As it was on Friday, it was packed with customers mainly those after performing the Friday prayers. The menu for us, definitely Biryani. A plate of Biryani can be eaten by 2 people actually.

The signature plate
The Menu
After lunch we visited Jama Masjid, Delhi. Had to pay INR300 to enter the place. Sadly the place was not as we expected. The surrounding was quite dirty.  This was made worse when we used the toilets.

Jama Masjid
Entrance ticket
After visiting the Jama Masjid we started our journey to Agra which was about 200 km from Delhi. It took us nearly 5 hours due to traffic jam out of Delhi and also the speed limit imposed on Yamuna Expressway. For public transport the speed limit is ridiculously 60 km/h whilst for private car its 100 km/h.

Yamuna Expressway
Toll Booth
Speed Limit
Those found violating the law will be dealt with at the next toll exit as shown below. Malaysia should follow this.

Speed cam warning!!!!

Yamuna Expressway R&R. Malaysia's better.
We arrived at Hotel Taj Resorts, Agra around 2000hrs. Checking-in was smooth and greeted with courteous staff. Room was clean and comfortable. Breakfast was a mix of local menu and cereal, bread and half boiled eggs.

Our Hotel in Agra
Double Room

Night view of our hotel entrance
Hotel's rooftop restaurant. Beautifully lighted.

Day 3
The next morning we began our tour of Taj Mahal. Included in the tour package was a short Tonga Ride. The entrance fee for Taj Mahal was INR750 compared to the locals which was INR10. What a tremendous difference!!

Tonga Ride
Taj Mahal entrance ticket

Below are some photos of the Taj Mahal. Security was tight. No food was allowed only bottled water, hand phone and camera. We entered through the East Gate.


Tight security screening
East Gate
One of the Wonders of The World

The Majestic Taj Mahal




Shoe covers to enter the mausoleum
Guests can keep their shoes here for free.

Different routes for foreigners/local ticket holders.
Going to Taj Museum??
During our visit to the Taj Mahal we engaged a professional photographer to snap our pictures there at no extra cost BUT were charged for the photos, 35 photos for INR2000 (not that expensive). Have to bargain to get a discount. Pictures taken were excellent and beautiful. A word of reminder, please check your photos as some of them may be duplicated!!!

After visiting the Taj Mahal we had lunch at Priya Restaurant. We ordered 2 menus each consisting of 4 dishes, rice and roti. The 7 of us could only consume 1 menu and the remaining we took back to our hotel because the 2 menus could easily be consumed by 10-12 pax (for us normal Malaysians). Priya Restaurant is clean and comfortable and the service was OK.

Pray Restaurant, Agra
A menu for 5 pax easily.
Day 4
We checked out of our hotel very early the next day at 0630hrs to proceed to Delhi for some shopping at the Sarojini Nagar Market. Then off to Indira Ghandi International Airport for flight AI 126 to Hyderabad. Departed Delhi on board Boeing 777 at 1650hrs and arrived RGI  at 1905hrs.

We were met on arrival by our tour agent (Holidayz Mart) and straight away went  for dinner at Hyderabad House, definitely for Biryani.

Hyderabad House.



After dinner, we were transported to our accommodation in Hyderabad - the Arrow Lake View Apartments, Banjara Hills. The apartment's location was confusing even to our tour guide and the driver. It took them nearly 30 minutes to find the location as it is situated in a residential area and no visible signboard of the property was found. Finally, at around 2200hrs we managed to check-in. To our surprise, the property requested us to pay the whole amount of our stay during check-in which was quite bizarre and unusual but we paid in full.

We booked 4 rooms and were allocated 2 rooms on the 4th floor and 2 rooms on the 2nd floor. It's a 3 bedroom apartment, but only 2 rooms were used on each of our designated floors. The apartment was clean and spacious and the beds were comfortable but the bathroom was a bit small. Complimentary breakfast  i.e. puri/parata and tea/coffee was included in the room rate, but guests can order other room service menu at a cost.

Arrow Lake View Apartments
Our apartment on the 4th floor.
Day 5
After breakfast we were taken to visit some of the interesting places in Hyderabad. First stop was Golcondar Ford. The entrance fee was INR100 for foreigners and INR 5 for locals. We were approached by many tour guides insisting us to engage them for the tour which turned down. It's a huge complex and require a lot of energy to finish the tour especially to the top. It's amazing how this fort still exists even though it was built centuries ago. Some parts of the building were damaged though.








Then we went to Salarjung Museum.



After visiting Salarjung Museum we went to Charminar by taking the 'auto'.






We had a very late lunch around 1530hrs at Paradise Food Court - World's Favourite Biryani. Just look at the bill, which included 5.6% service tax and 14.5% VAT. These taxes are very much higher than Malaysia GST of 6%.

Paradise Foodcourt, Hyderabad

Service tax 5.6% and VAT 14.5%

After that sumptuous late lunch we went back to our apartment.

Day 6
Today was our last day in Hyderabad. Since we have some time before our flight back home at 1155hrs, we decided to book a tour to Ramoji Film City (RFC). The cost involve was INR3,000. After breakfast we checked out of the apartment at about 1030hrs and proceeded to visit RFC, a landmark in Hyderabad and a must-see. The journey from Hyderabad to RFC was about 90 minutes. Entrance fee is INR900 for foreigners. It's the world's largest integrated film city which spread across a sprawling 2000 acres. Due to time constraint as we had to be in RGI, Hyderabad for our flight back home, we only managed to spend about 3 hours there as we had to skip several places. A whole day should be allocated to visit RFC as it is huge with many attractions and places to visit. We manage to see a few shows and a short movie making scene.













At about 1530hrs we left RFC towards Hyderabad via the Jawaharlal Nehru Outer Ring Road. Leaving early was to accommodate the ladies for some last minute shopping along the way to Hyderabad. We reached RGI quite early at 1700hrs. Had our dinner early at Kohlani The Taste of Nizam, Food Street at RGI.

The Food Street at RGI
At 1900hrs we entered the check-in area passing through security. We were informed not to enter earlier as our flight was later in the night. Please print your boarding pass to enter the check-in area as those with no boarding pass may not be allowed in.

At 2100hrs we checked-in our luggage and proceed to gate 23A for our flight AK68 to KUL. The flight was on schedule and left HYD at 1155hrs. The flight home was a little bumpy and we landed safely at 0632hrs. Thus our journey to India ended. Overall, we enjoyed the trip as a group and discover some new experiences.

Experiences

The most important experience and lesson learned was the use of luggage tags for hand carry items/luggage at the airport in India. I have traveled elsewhere in the world before but this was my first experience encountering this situation. So for those traveling to India please bear this in mind and be prepared.

Only those with boarding pass are allowed to enter the airport.

I have also seen that the Yamuna Expressway imposed a speed limit which was ridiculously slow for public transport 60km/h compare to ours which is 90km/h. Violators for this offense will dealt with at the next toll exit. I don't know whether other highways/expressways in India imposed the same regulations.

We were very vocal in criticizing our government when 6% GST was implemented. Look elsewhere such as India. It is imposing a 5.6% service tax and a whopping 14.5% VAT.

Even though our Ringgit is depreciating/weaken, it is widely accepted in India. This was evident when we use Ringgit to shop in Delhi, Hyderabad and Agra. 





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