Traveling to India
I knew that traveling to India this year was going to be full of surprises. A new country, culture, religions, transportation and people. I was setting off on a trip with a unique and dear friend. My friend Gabi, is quite a bit older than me and came into my life over 20 years ago, just as my mother’s chronic illness was slowly causing my mom to fade away. So Gabi has become almost a surrogate mother, matron of honor, confidant, advisor, partner in crime, best friend, crazy girl, and everything in between. After my other passed away in 2015, I decided it had been too long since Gabi and I had spent a lot of uninterrupted time together. She brought up wanting to travel to India, and 6 months later we were in India on the girls trip of a lifetime!
One of the most popular sightseeing itineraries for India is called the Golden Triangle. It forms a triangle on the map starting in New Delhi, then Agra, and finally Jaipur. So we started with that rough outline first. In the end, we included a few days in Udaipur, before flying home from New Delhi.
First, a visa is required for US citizens to enter India. The new e-visa makes the entry visa for India easier to obtain, although it still takes a few days to get approved. Make sure you print out your visa and carry it with you, we needed to present it in the US and India many, many times. Luckily, I was up to date on all of the suggested immunizations since I had traveled to Thailand less than a year ago. But make sure you get all those shots…ouch!
Getting there: Using miles and points, we booked our outbound flight on United and Turkish Airlines in business class. We actually used my miles and points this trip and she got several sessions on how she can do better with travel hacking in the future. We used 80,000 United miles one way per person and about $30 in taxes. Anyway, there are a few direct flights from the US to India on other airlines, but none of those worked out for us. So we routed through Chicago and Istanbul on the way to New Delhi. Unbeknownst to me at the time, changing planes in Istanbul rather than Paris or London, meant a shorter flying time to New Delhi. And the layover in Istanbul meant that we could spend time in the world renowned Turkish Airlines departures lounge.
While our flight to Istanbul was almost 2 hours late, the business class service on Turkish Air was so fantastic, I’m not sure we cared. Being served Turkish delight and champagne before takeoff was just the beginning. The on board chef for business class meant that the food was great and plentiful. We were even given a bedding menu. It also seemed like the bathroom was larger than the normal economy area bathroom and they had great lemon scented toiletries. We were given different amenity kits on each flight (Cerruti and Furla). I love to use the amenity bags when I get home, to carry electronic chargers or other small items in my purse. I have a really hard time sleeping sitting up, so the lie flat seats allowed me to sleep for almost 6 hours of the 10 hour flight. Thank goodness!
The Turkish Airlines lounge for business and first class passengers was unlike any lounge I had ever seen. Spread out over two floors, the expansive space and multitude of offerings truly make it one of a kind. There were different food stations everywhere. It almost felt like I was at a wedding reception since they had so many choices. Dessert, hand made turkish ravioli, loose tea varieties, fresh baked flatbread varieties, a dizzying choice of fruits, the usual beverages. There was even a player piano providing background music. Amenities were everywhere, so I’ll list what I can remember: virtual golf station, a library, pool tables, mac computer stations, kids video game stations, a large remote controlled car course, and luggage storage. The only downside is that our flight was reallyf ar from the lounge and we didn’t have more time. We ended up running to our gate because the lounge only posts boarding for flights and ours listed as last call after it was listed as boarding for about 30 seconds.
Considering our flight arrived in Delhi at 5am, I was glad to have the lie flat beds so that we were somewhat rested upon arrival. We had arranged to check in to our room upon arrival, so we took a short nap, showered, and headed out for a jam packed day.
Coming Home: Our trip home was a little less fancy. Our flights home were on a combination of Air France and Delta. We used 62,500 miles one way per person and about $500 in taxes and upgrade fees. We upgraded our flights to premium economy, but that was the best we could do with our points and miles on the flights home. Gabi vowed to have a good balance of usable points the next time we travel together! The upgrades allowed us to sit in the bulkhead and have extra leg room, but it was still pretty rough. I have a hard time sleeping sitting up, so it was a long 28 hour trip home.
The Air France seat was one of the skinniest seats I have ever been in. I felt like a sardine. The Delta flights weren’t much better. We were allowed to board with premium class passengers so it made the boarding process a little smoother. And with the connecting flight in Paris, the actual flight time was about 4 hours longer than our trip out there. That’s just something to think about if you are contemplating whether business or first class is worth the extra miles and points. If you can only fly in front one way, I’d pick the way TO India. At least when I got home from India with little sleep, I could crash at home.
One interesting thing was that there was a noticeable lack of children present on all of our travels. I’m talking about to and from India, as well as within India. I know we were not traveling during a school break, but it seemed like it was more than that. We did see a few babies, but that was about it. While Gabi and I had a fantastic time in India, I don’t think I’d drag my kids on those really long flights to visit India. Another friend of mine that lives as an ex pat in Asia said that her tween kids hated India. I’m not surprised. I know I’ll get comments stating the opposite viewpoint, I’d just do a heck of a lot of research about India with kids before I made that jump.
In the coming weeks, I’ll post about our fabulous travels in India. I’ve heard there’s no welcome like an Indian welcome. How right they are…