The Taj Mahal in Agra was even more beautiful than I expected and we had ample time to explore and enjoy on our own.
India is a destination that has enticed and enthralled me for ten years, ever since I read Gregory David Robert’s epic novel “Shantaram”. People I know came back from trips to India full of stories of exotic markets, palaces and forts, intriguing people and a staggeringly rich culture and history.
Yet it was the phrase “biggest culture shock ever” that had me really paying attention. After all, why do we travel if not to experience new cultures and other worldly craziness?
A street side Paratha vendor fills and rolls this delicious snack to order and the high cooking temperatures mean no Delhi Belly.
This year I discovered India for myself – at last – and I did it differently to how I ever would have expected, for one I was working as a travel photographer and for two my client was Intrepid Travel, I went on a group trip!
Intrepid believe in giving a balance of activities and free time so you can get out and find your own adventures, like I did here with one of my travel companions.
You see I’ve always considered myself a pretty savvy and adventurous traveller, bravely throwing myself into the public transport system of Bangkok, eating street food with my hands in Bali (that one landed me with salmonella) and poring over well-thumbed copies of Lonely Planet to research the latest scams.
Traveling with a local guide means you’ll always catch the lesser-known sights like this palace in Delhi.
I didn’t need help, you see. I was a strong independent female traveller. And yet I took the job because I really wanted to see India and I read some great literature on Intrepid’s travel philosophy. Why not, I thought, let’s see what this group travel fandangle is all about.
Karauli was my favorite stop because it was so friendly and the sights were so uncrowded and untouched. This is the old city palace of Karauli.
Wow! What a trip. Imagine a cool destination with great sights and a wicked itinerary and now add in a group of like-minded travellers and minus 99% of the stress of navigating a new destination and you’ve basically got an Intrepid tour.
Our guide was not only experienced and professional but super cool, I gave him the nickname “Indian John Travolta” because of his swagger and confidence on the streets. At times he felt like my dad and at other times another cool travel companion, the perfect mix!
Local ways and stray dogs
Learning about local ways helps to prepare you for sights you might not be used to seeing at home, like stray dogs.
Having a guide, and a local guide at that, made the everyday challenges so easy. I didn’t have to think about how much to pay for public transport, what is safe to eat on the streets (no salmonella this time around), who to tip and how much, what is fine to take photos of, the list goes on and on.
The road leads to Tiger Fort in Jaipur.
One of the other things I loved about the tour was that Intrepid pride themselves on ethical and sustainable travel practices and this includes educating their customers on the destination.
The itineraries have plenty of time for you to do your own thing but they’re super flexible so you can all stick together if that’s what you want.
I travelled on an “original” tour, Intrepid’s mid-tier standard, and I found the accommodation and activities absolutely fine. (And believe me, I’m accustomed to some pretty luxurious travelling, ha-ha)
I loved experiencing the same tourist sites that the locals visit, such as the Agra Fort in Agra.
Let’s talk about India! I did the Golden Triangle route, which takes in Delhi, Jaipur, Karauli and Agra. Delhi was the first culture shock it’s so busy!
Our fearless leader Badam successfully navigated the group through old Delhi, the spice markets, delicious street vendors and the public transport system.
This is not an easy feat with eight clueless tourists in tow but I always felt confident and perfectly safe.
Why travel to India?
Travel is all about experiencing and there’s no greater experience than laying eyes on something for the first time.
Jaipur was such a fun stop because we not only explored ancient forts but we also caught a Bollywood movie, the best of both worlds! In Karauli we experienced rural India and had the pleasure of being swamped by curious children during afternoon prayer at the temple.
Finally we reached Agra and saw the Taj Mahal, possibly the coolest structure I have ever seen. I never felt rushed throughout any activity, there was always time to digest and enjoy the trip.
Indian food won me over on day one; if you’re a vegetarian like me you won’t be displeased!
If you’re like I was and want to experience India, or any destination really, I would recommend considering Intrepid.
My job is to take pictures with no obligation to verbally indorse my clients but I have felt compelled to spread the word since I came back.
I couldn’t resist the obligatory mirror selfie in Karauli.
Lauren Bath was a guest of Intrepid Travel