India has been at the top of my travel wish list for many years now. There’s something magical about India’s colorful culture that has always intrigued me. So much so, I was willing to travel to the other side of the earth to visit. I had just 10 days to tour and get a taste of this beautiful country, which is not nearly enough time. Still, I was able to make the most of it with a customized private tour through the company Tour My India.
With so much to see in India, where should you spend your time? The Golden Triangle – which encompasses three cities in Northern India – seems to be the most popular choice. As a first-timer, I decided to go with this classic tour, but I also wanted to see some of India’s exotic wildlife. I asked the tour company to add on a few days to my itinerary in Ranthambore National Park, which is known to be a great place to spot wild tigers while on safari.
My trip to India was special in so many ways. The people, the culture, the architecture, and the history all blew me away. I was surprised by the noise and the constant movement in the city. As an introvert, it was a lot to take in, and a bit overwhelming at times. Still, this trip to India will forever remain monumental compared to the dozens of other countries I’ve visited throughout my adult years because it’s the place where I said “yes” to the love of my life.
Watch a video of our tour through India:
The tour company set up everything, even sending a private driver to pick my boyfriend, Nabil, and I up at the airport. Our driver, named Bisht, was the only constant we had on the entire whirlwind trip. He picked us up each morning at our hotel, drove us to each stop on the daily itinerary, deviating when asked. He would suggest a place for dinner and drive us there, waiting outside (he never accepted our offer to join, preferring to dine with other drivers and locals). Finally, at the end of a long day, he would drop us back off at the hotel. Bisht didn’t speak fluent English, but we were able to have a few conversations each day. He was all smiles as he told us about his daughter and general life in India, including politics, trash collection, weddings, the price of certain things (vegetables, haircuts, textiles, alcohol), the caste system, and the incredible amount of cows on the road!
At the end of the trip, we took a photo with Bisht so he could show it to his daughter. I asked for his address so that I could send him something from the USA. Honestly, meeting Bisht was one of the best parts of our trip!
Our 10 day India Tour Itinerary
Our tour was really fast-paced, with a lot of travel. I would suggest doing the same tour spread out over a few more days to allow yourself some time to relax. We saved a bit of time by not traveling back to Delhi (we technically didn’t complete the Golden Triangle), as we flew into Delhi and out or Jaipur.
Day 1: Arrive in Delhi
Day 2: Explore Delhi: Gandhi’s Cremation Site, Jama Masjid, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutb Minar, Laxminarayan Temple, & Lotus Temple
Day 3: Travel to Agra. Explore the Agra Fort & Akbar’s Tomb
Day 4: Explore Taj Mahal & Fatehpur Sikri. Travel to Ranthambore.
Day 5 & 6: Safaris in Ranthambore National Park
Day 7: Morning safari. Travel to Jaipur
Day 8: Explore Jaipur: Amber Fort (or Amer Fort)
Day 9: Explore Jaipur: Leopard Safari, Markets, Pink City Driving Tour
Day 10: Fly Home
The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle encompasses three major cities in Northern India – Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Each city has an amazing set of World UNESCO monuments that will blow every American’s mind. I couldn’t even fathom that these incredible buildings were hundreds of years old. Kings and Queens roamed the same halls and slept in the same rooms that I was standing in. They fought, fell in love, had children, killed, ruled, and died here. I loved walking the halls, imagining what it must have been like in those times.
Delhi – A Bustling City
Our tour began in Delhi, which is India’s second largest city (nearly 20 million people). As someone who thinks 1 million people is a lot, this city was almost unfathomable. India is the second most populated country in the world (after China), but they are quickly climbing in numbers and soon will be #1. The city is thick with history as well. We spent just one full day touring the most popular sites, and we didn’t even scratch the surface!
At each monument, we were met by an English-speaking guide that was hired by the tour company. They would lead us around, explaining the architecture, history, and fables. Nabil and I would ask questions and stop for photos. Lucky for us, we visited in April, which is at the beginning of India’s off-season for tourism. The days were hot, but not unbearable, and the sites were less crowded than normal.
It’s a good idea to visit the most popular monuments first thing the morning, or right before they close in the evening. This way you can escape the crowds and the heat. We woke up at 4:30 am to visit Taj Mahal, and I wish we had gotten up a little earlier! One of my favorite sites was the Agra Fort. We were one of the last people allowed entrance, so by the end of our tour, we practically had the place to ourselves!
The Taj Mahal at Dawn
The Taj Mahal was certainly the highlight of the tour. I’ve heard about this immaculate marble mausoleum, built for a Queen, my entire life. Still, I figured most of what I had heard was exaggerated, and that I would be disappointed. This is how I felt in Paris when I saw the Eifel Tower and the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. But, the Taj Mahal is different. I had no idea it would be so beautiful in person. No one ever told me how sunlight flickers off of the clean, slick white marble. Or how there are millions of tiny colorful gemstones carved into the walls. I didn’t know that monkeys take baths in the pools surrounding the giant white building, or how the interior is simple and dark, yet vast and echoey.
The Taj Mahal must be seen in person to appreciate it.
Nabil and I wandered off from our guide to take some photos of the Taj Mahal at dawn. In a particularly beautiful, secluded spot he bent down on one knee and asked if I would spend the rest of my life with him. I know it might be a little cheesy, but it was the absolute perfect proposal for a wanderlust addict such as myself. The Taj is a symbol of love, and I now share a connection with the many other couples that have gotten engaged here. Also, I like a little cheesiness in my romance.
There are so many gorgeous buildings in India that, like with the glaciers in South Iceland, I quickly became a little jaded. My brain can only hold so much historical information at one time! I was very much so looking forward to getting out of the city and into India’s more wild country by the time we headed to Ranthambore National Park.
Wild Tigers in Ranthambore National Park
India is one of the only places left on earth where there are wild tigers. April is a good month to spot tigers on safari at, as it’s hot and dry without thick bush that is a tiger’s favorite hiding spots. Bengal tigers can be seen bathing in their territory’s water hole or lounging around, trying to conserve energy. That being said, the weather can be rather uncomfortable for tourists. Afternoon temperatures are often above 100˚F and, without any shade for protection, the sun is brutal. It’s important to have a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and plenty of water.
All of the hotels on our tour would be considered luxurious, especially by Indian standards, but our accommodations in Ranthambore was by far the nicest! We stayed at an all-inclusive resort called The Tigress. All of our meals were included, and our air-conditioned suite was enormous (much larger than my house). The resort also had a pool, spa, and gym.
Each morning, at 6 am, a jeep would arrive at our hotel to pick us up for a morning safari. The National Park was only a 10-15 minute drive from our hotel, and it was a lot of fun driving through the small towns to get there. Each safari included an English-speaking nature guide, a driver, and usually, 6 tourists crammed into two bench seats. We went on 6 safaris in 3 days in order to increase our chances of seeing a tiger. Not every trip was “successful” (meaning, a tiger was spotted), but we did see animals on each safari. Monkeys, alligators, boars, deer, peacocks, owls, parrots, and other exotic birds are just a few creatures we saw! I was pretty happy, but I still wanted to see a tiger.
On our second safari, our guide took us to an area where – word had it – a tigress had made a kill earlier that morning. We found the dead deer, laying seemingly abandoned just 10 feet from the jeep road. Several jeeps were lined up, waiting to see if the tigress and her cubs would emerge for a snack. Tigers can feed for numerous days on one kill, so there was a good chance she would revisit this deer.
After 20 minutes of sitting silently in the jeep, with the blazing sun beating down on us, a beautiful tiger slowly sauntered down the hill towards the deer with two cubs bounding after her. I was in awe! We were only 20 feet away, and the excitement in the air was palpable. The tigress was unphased by the row of jeeps, and the dozens of humans, near her kill. Perhaps she is used to these safaris? She dug into her meal, sharp teeth plunging into a glutenous thigh, with her cubs knawing off chunks after she was finished. Then she laid down nearby for a nap while one cub nibbled on her ear and cuddled her ribcage.
The experience was absolutely incredible and unlike anything I had ever witnessed. I once bathed an injured elephant at a sanctuary in Thailand, but this was different. A tiger is a wild predator, much like the bears I’ve encountered on my hikes through Alaska. Somehow a tiger, being a carnivorous non-native American animal, seems more majestic and dangerous.
Jaipur – The Pink City
Perhaps because it was so hot, or perhaps because it was the end of the trip, but Jaipur was probably the least interesting place we visited (but the bar was high). The most popular site is the Amer Fort, which is absolutely stunning, and worth a visit to Jaipur just for that. We chose not to do the Royal Palace tour because it was so expensive. The Leopard Safari turned out to be a bust – no leopards – but perhaps our luck had run out after the tiger sighting.
Should You Book a Private Tour, Group Tour, or DIY Travel to India?
I rarely book tours when I travel, but I wanted to see A LOT of India in a short amount of time, so I needed a little help with my planning. Tour My India made everything very easy for me, and they were willing to customize their private tour options to fit my needs. I believe my tour was fairly affordable but, of course, it would be cheaper to do a group tour, and cheaper still to book everything DIY. Yes, you can travel around India on an extremely low-budget. But, if you are looking for privacy, ease, comfort, speed, safety, and a satisfaction guarantee, it might be worth it (like it was for me) to pay more for a private tour!
This tour cost is between $700-1000 per person for 9-10 days (or $70-100 per day depending on your hotel choice). This includes accommodation, transport via a private driver, six safaris, guides at each location, all breakfasts and some meals (at Ranthambore). This does not include tips, most meals, entrance fees to the monuments, or flights to and from India.
*This tour was partially sponsored, but the opinions in the article are (as always) my own*