Hi Big Five,
We just wanted to let you know how impressed we were with the treatment and tour arranged by Big Five Tours. Every step along the way, things ran smoothly and efficiently with the only hitch being my leaving my camera bag with camera and iPad in one of the transfer cars when returning to the ship in Mumbai!
We were met in Cochin as expected and the tour of the city although fast (because of time constraints) was good. We were dropped off at the airport in good time and had no problems getting onto the plane to Delhi.
We were met in Delhi by the guide and driver and were driven to our hotel. The guide was very informative and gave us a running description along the way and made all the registration arrangements in the hotel. The accommodation was excellent and after dinner we strolled down the street to observe a religious celebration on the street beside a Temple! We were not bothered and found it interesting to see all the action.
We were met the following morning by our guide, and driver who were very helpful getting us checked out of the hotel and on the road. The guide spoke excellent English and we were at the Presidents Palace when they changed the Guard! We spent some time in Old Delhi and had the experience of a bicycle driven rickshaw trip through the Silver Street, which was quite an experience! Both guest & I were amazed that the driver could pedal a bike with the two of us heavy weights sitting in the seat and guide riding along on the back of the rickshaw! The rickshaw driver earned a well-deserved tip!
We then started the driving trip to Agra during which the guide gave us a detailed description of the Moghul Dynasty and history. Although the drive was on the super highway, we were able to see and view the countryside and observe the many women working the farm fields with very few men in view! The drive through Agra on the way to our hotel was an eye opener as the city is quite crowded and very dirty. I believe we expected more of the same in Cochin & Delhi but Agra was two or three steps behind them. We checked into our very comfortable hotel and had a couple of hours on our own before the driver and the guide were back to take us to the Taj Mahal.
We spend the rest of the day at the Taj. It is quite a structure and the history is amazing. There were many many visitors that day but the guide knew where to go and what to tell us so things worked out quite well. I believe both guest’s and my index fingers on our right hands were sore from taking so many pictures! Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate completely as it was quite cloudy so we did not see the sunset on the Taj Mahal but the day had been so successful that we were not disappointed. Because the same cloudy conditions were predicted for the following morning we decided that we would not go to the Taj for the morning sunrise but spend more time at the Agra Fort. We returned to the hotel, which was as close to Five Star as you could get and had a quiet night with a couple of glasses of wine before we turned-in.
The next morning we were met with the guide and driver early and headed off to the Agra Fort. The Guide knew his stuff and we had a great three hours at the Fort before we started the return trip to Delhi. The one interesting thing at the Fort was that 4 or 5 different Indian females wanted to have their picture taken with the guest – I’m not sure if it was the white hair or white skin that was the attraction! The trip back to Delhi was good and I am glad we asked for and received a guide for the car trips. He was quite informative and tried to answer all our questions. We arrived back in Delhi a little early so the guide decided to give an unscheduled side trip to the Slave Mosque on our way to the airport. This is an old Mosque where they used some Hindu Temple artifacts when building the Mosque. It was very busy with many visitors but the guide did a great job of explaining the history and showing us the defaced Hindu artifacts that were part of the Mosque. From there we headed off to the airport and were dropped off in enough time so were able to go through the process of getting to the gate! Since we were travelling on an Air India international flight (a continuation of the New York through Delhi to Mumbai), we were assisted through the airport, security and customs by an Air India employee which made the check-in quite easy. I know the guides were speaking to each other over the two day period and it all seemed to work like a fine running watch.
We were met with a driver and guide at the Mumbai airport and they drove us to the port. There was a little bit of confusion at the port gate as the first car could not continue onto the Cruise Terminal. We had to get out of the first car (with the beggars tapping at the window and junk sellers showing their wares), go through a couple of stages of security, get into the second car and then drive 250 meters to the Terminal where we got onboard for the night. It was after dinner that I realized I had not brought my camera case with camera and iPad onboard. I contacted the Big Five emergency service (White Glove Service® guest assistance) by email and asked for the name of the company who had driven us from the airport to the Port. Fortunately, the lady who had met us at the Port Gate in the evening and had driven us to the terminal was scheduled to meet us in the morning. She arrive at the ship the following morning to transfer us out of the port to the Mumbai driver and new guide and she had my camera! They realized I had left it in the car the previous evening but did not have permission to re-enter the port so brought it back in the morning. This was my entire fault but the reaction from Big Five and the transfer people were all that you could expect and I appreciate that I still have my camera and iPad even though I lost a fair amount of sleep worrying about the misplacement!
The guided trip through Mumbai was quite memorable with the traffic being the greatest excitement! Unfortunately for us, the Dabbawala workers were on strike so there were no lunches delivered the morning we were in Mumbai! We did see the Dhobi Ghat and guest was amazed that after washing all the clothes in that toxic water, the workers jumped in for a bath after the washing was completed! We were returned to the ship by early afternoon and we decided that we would rest onboard rather than venturing out into the city on our own for the rest of the day.
The arrangements you & Big Five made for our 4 days in India were just excellent and I am happy that we did not rely on the cruise ship to make the more expensive and less detailed arrangements. We had a great time seeing that part of the world and I am not too sure we will be returning any time soon. The tour with Big Five not only met our expectations but exceeded them by a wide margin. You are more than welcome to pass this note along to your contact at Big Five as we thoroughly enjoyed the India experience.