Day 5: Ranthambore National Park 🇮🇳

Asia, India

Our pre-booked train from Agra Fort to Sawai Madhopur (#12948 / Azimabad Express 1225-1625) (click here to read about travelling by train in India) was running late, so it eventually arrived around 2pm. This meant it was going to run late and we eventually arrived into Sawai Madhopur around 7:30pm. Our hotel had a driver waiting at the train station to collect us (very good considering we were 3 hours late!) and we eventually made it to the where we were staying. We visited an off-license nearby to buy some beer for the night, and then ate at the hotels onsite restaurant for dinner.

We stayed at the Ankur Resorts, Ranthambore and sorted all of our safaris through them. In hindsight, we may have taking more time to book these ourselves to have more control over what zones and where we were heading. It certainly is easier to book through your hotel, and you do have to book months in advance to really get to pick your excursions, but booking online or in person is tricky!

The main takeaway from our stay here was that it was too quick a turnover. We stayed for just one night, and completed two safaris over one day, and then rushed to our train onto Jaipur after a very quick dinner. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any elusive tigers, and completing more safaris would certainly increase our chances of spotting one! You can read below some helpful hints and tips to make your Ranthambore trip extra special!

When is best to visit Ranthambore?

Of course, most people don’t have the flexibility to arrange their India trip around a trip to spot a tiger, however if you find yourself in Rajasthan during these months, an excursion is definitely worth it. The greatest number of tigers are spotted in Summer – March to June – as this is when it is hottest, and big cats and other mammals will be spotted at water holes and rivers, and less foliage on trees will make these animals easier to spot. Visiting in March and October is better as it can be quieter due to fewer crowds. The park has been traditionally shut from 1st July to 30th September due to monsoon season however for the last few years, zones 6-10 have been kept open during these months (the chances of seeing a tiger in these zones are however much slimmer).

Where should I stay when I visit Ranthambore?

The main town closest to Ranthambore National Park is Sawai Madhopur, and here you will find many hotels and hostels, as well as restaurants, bars and ATMs. The train line is linked nicely to major cities such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Agra and Delhi, so getting here is very easy! The nearest airport is in Jaipur, where you can grab a train to Sawai Madhopur or a taxi for a 3 hour journey. We stayed at Hotel Ankur Resorts, but there are many other hotels in the area to choose from.

Which safari zone is best to spot a tiger?

Ranthambore National Park is divided into 10 zones: the original zones 1-5 and (newer) buffer zones 6-10. Most blogs suggest that the buffer zones 6-10 have limited sightings, however the expanding number of tigers in the area has proven that mostly wrong. Zones 1-5 are also shut during monsoon season, so if visiting during this time 6-10 might be your only option. It’s useful to also know when planning your trip that zones 1-5 share the same main park entry gate just outside of Sawai Madhopur, where you will likely stay. The entry points for zones 6-10 are all spread out further away and could take you up to 45 minutes to get there.

You can read more about Ranthambore’s zones here.

What type of safari should I go on?

Ranthambore offers three types of safaris: regular safari, half-day safari, and full-day safari. By far the most common (and most affordable) is the regular safari. These typically last 3.5 hours and you stay inside a single zone in the park. You can book either a 6-seater gypsy jeep or a 20-seater canter truck. All vehicles are open-topped, and the cost is on a per-seat bases (no canters are allowed in zone 2). The exact timings for the morning and afternoon regular safaris change based on the season but you can generally expect your morning safari to start 30 minutes after sunrise and your evening safari to end 30 minutes before sunset. If booked through a hotel, you will generally have pick-up and drop-off to and from your hotel arranged for you.

Prices for regular safaris have gone up in recent years. We paid ₹2500 (£30) per person per safari for a gypsy ride (canter safari was ₹2000) when arranged through our hotel, but our travel guide lists the price as ₹1470 and ₹1250 respectably. The park’s official website now lists the fee as ₹2900/₹2300.

You should plan at least two regular safaris. Most people will recommend more as it takes on average three to get one tiger sighting (of course you might be lucky and see one straight away!). We did two regular safaris (a morning and a evening) in two different zones, and were unsuccessful in our sightings.

Half-Day and Full-Day Safaris

A higher cost, but a more flexible option is to take a half-day (6 hours) or full-day (12 hours) safari. These longer safaris can only be booked in-person at the booking office or through a local agent (hotel or travel agent). You will have the park nearly to yourself outside of the normal morning and afternoon safari times. Only 5 full-day safari jeeps and 5 half-day safari jeeps are allowed each day. A big advantage of these safaris is that you can go into ANY zone. The guide can use other sightings that day to choose the zone and you can switch zones part way, if you want. Half-day and full-day safaris are booked on a “per-vehicle” not “per-seat” basis. All half-day and full-day safaris are in a 6-seat gypsy (no canters). For a full-day safari, expect to pay at least ₹100,000 (over £1000!). For a half-day safari, plan to pay at least ₹60,000 (£650). These costs include the safari permit, entry fee, vehicle, and guide charges for 1-6 people.

How should I book a Ranthambore Tiger Safari?

The online booking process is quite complicated, and often wouldn’t work when we tried before our trip. We were happy to pay a minimal commission for our hotel to arrange the safari for us. It is certainly a lot easier, and they will also arrange transport to and from the gates. Make sure you do your research into zones though, and when you book in advance through you hotel, try and request the zones you want along with what type of safari. Of course there is no promise of a tiger sighting so any zone is fine for the experience – you will definitely see something! Bookings open a year in advance now (it used to be 90 days), so as soon as you know your travel plans, make your booking to ensure the best zones!

Blogger ‘Ivan the Intrepid’ has a very good in-depth post about booking your safari online & in person. You can read this here.

What should I bring to my safari?

  1. Warm jacket and hat for chilly winter mornings
  2. Hat and sun cream for the summer
  3. Lightweight scarf to cover your face (roads kick up lots of dust, and jeep fumes can be overpowering)
  4. Water and snacks. Lots of water
  5. Binoculars to view and search for wildlife
  6. Passport to check against your booking

One last thing…

I totally understand that you’re probably in Ranthambore to see a tiger, but try to enjoy the landscape and other wildlife too. You should see lots of other animals and birds. You would hate to come away disappointed that you didn’t see a tiger having forgotten about all of the other wonderful things you did see. Enjoy the experience, and a tiger is the jewel in the Ranthambore experience.


Travelling by train in India 🇮🇳

Asia, India

Rail travel in India is like no other country you will experience. Home to one of the world’s largest rail networks, the journeys you will complete and the stories you will have to tell will be the jewel on the crown to your India itinerary. No trip to India is complete without at least one train journey, but here’s a few things you should prepare yourself for.

Trains will get fully booked; book online in advance

If you are on a fixed itinerary, or short on time, you are best to book ahead to make sure you can get the service you want, as India trains (especially on popular tourist routes) get fully booked months in advance. You can also book train tickets in person at the station, but this will leave your travel plans up in the air if a train is full. We booked the majority of our trains using the official IRCTC website. A lot of people suggest booking through a third-party such as, but personally I found that not all trains were listed on these third-party sites. We ended up booking one train with, and everything else through IRCTC. Trains come online for ticket sales roughly 120 days before the date of travel – keep checking if it’s getting close to this date. IRCTC website may be a bit fiddly (it might take you a few attempts to successfully process the payment, but I found paying in rupees through the Payment Gateway service with our American Express or debit card worked the best. You also have to submit passport information as well as visa information – keep this handy! Often you need an IRCTC account number to be able to book through third-parties. has a very useful page on how to buy tickets online using the IRCTC website.

A day before travel and then running up into your journey, you can check the details of your train journey in live time. Tracking the train number through the NTES (National Train Enquiry System) will show you of updated arrival times, and logging into the IRCTC website to track your train through your booking will show you any updates to your seat allocations. When purchasing, you will receive an e-ticket which you can print out to have on you but generally onboard we found that the conductor will have your name and will just ask you to confirm your details. This e-ticket sometimes won’t always show your seat allocation – use the IRCTC website to check this closer to your travel date.

Understand Classes

There are multiple classes on the majority of Indian trains, and not all trains have all classes. There are eight general classes of travel, and what class you choose depends on what level of comfort you wish to have, and how much you want to spend. In the grand scheme of things, a “first class” journey will not break the bank, but it is often the lower classes, where you are bundled up between two families, that provide the most fun.

Air-Conditioned First Class (AC1): The most expensive class of train travel; two-or four-berth compartments with locking doors, plug points, reading lights, linen and meals included (although we still had to pay for our meals, but I think that was the staff taking advantage of their seeming lack of English and getting a little tip from us). It’s the most expensive class, but is best for overnight journeys if you want somewhere to stretch. On most trains, some of these booths have 4 beds and some only have 2. If you are 2 travelling, the 2-bed cabins are great, but we generally found these classes were quite empty. If we were in a 4-bed cabin, and somebody had a bed within reserved, they often moved to another cabin that was empty. All bunks change into seating during the day by folding up, so you have space to sit up. Only trains completing long journeys will have this class. We generally booked this class for long journeys.

Air-Conditioned 2-Tier (AC2): Two-tier berths arranged in groups of four and two in an open-plan carriage. The bunks convert to seats by day and there are curtains for some semblance of privacy. The most luxurious on shorter train journeys. We generally booked this class for long journeys that didn’t have AC1.

Air-Conditioned 3-Tier (3AC): Three-tier berths arranged in groups of six in an open-plan carriage; there are no curtains so journeys can become slightly awkward if thrown into a large family.

AC Executive Chair – Our first train experience, from Delhi to Agra

AC Executive Chair: Comfortable, reclining chairs and plenty of space (think most western trains) usually found on Shatabdi express trains. No lay-flat bed, so this class is good for quick day journeys as you get a reservation and meals included in your fare.

Sleeper Class: Open plan carriages with three-tier bunks and no AC; open windows afford great views, but get tiring for a long journey. Sleeper will be much more crowded, so not great privacy.

Unreserved 2nd Class: Uncomfortable wooden or plastic seats, and no reservations plus a lot of people, means this class isn’t luxury at all, but it is very cheap! Buying a 2nd-class ticket and piling into the next available train is a flexible option if you are stuck on options – you may regret your decision after a long, delayed train journey having had to stand the entire way… (if this is the case, use your travellers backpack as a pop-up seat!


Travelling through India, you might experience a lot of people staring at you. This can be particularly noticeable in cabins without privacy. The majority of the time, it is just people who are interested (especially children) in seeing something different. Also be on the lookout for pickpockets and people in general who might be trying to scam you. It is very easy to feel uncomfortable when you are in a situation where you don’t speak the language, and not exactly sure of what’s happening. If there is an issue, there will always be a guard.

Indian Time

You’re in India now – be prepared that your train service will be running late. On our travels, we had many trains running extremely late, and once you are slightly delayed it will only get worse. Have things to hand to keep you entertained. Also be aware that if the service is running late, when it arrives at stations it will not wait its full time on the platform and instead leave as soon as it can. This means you need to be prepared to depart if your station is coming up.

Be prepared to wait a long time…

Stay alert

There are no announcements on the trains as to your location. Be prepared that if you are departing a station, especially at night, you will have to keep an eye on the map to know where you are. Too many times we had a heart attack when we thought we were at our destination and weren’t ready to get off.


Many stations have signs marking the approximate spot where each carriage stops (again, ask station staff for assistance if not). Trains won’t stop at stations for long, especially if running delayed, and so the last thing you need is to be the wrong end of a 15 carriage train when it arrives onto the platform. Most of the time, you can’t then get through to the correct carriage as it is too crowded or blocked off by other non-passenger carriages. Be prepared for some running with your luggage if you aren’t in the right place!

Day 3-4: Agra and the Taj Mahal 🇮🇳

Asia, India

We had pre-booked our train (#12002 / Bhopal Shatabdi Exp 0600-0805) from Delhi to Agra (click here to read our post about train travel in India) so we were up early and at the station in enough time for our 6am train. It was only a couple of hours long, and so we had booked in the standard seating area. We spent the majority of the journey asleep to make up for the 4:30am wake up!

We had also managed to be sneaky and arranged for our hotel to pickup our luggage from the train station to store it at the hotel so that we didn’t have to travel all the way to the hotel to then go to the bus station for our half day trip to Fatehpur Sikri. The bus to Fatehpur runs from Idgah Bus Stand, which is only a 15 minute walk from Agra Cantt train station, so once our luggage was safely collected, we walked to the bus stand and was directed onto a bus to Fatehpur that was the next to leave. We waited only 10 minutes and it cost us ₹40 (about 40p) per person for the hour trip.

Fatehpur Sikri

Once the capital of the Mughal empire in the 16th century, this magnificent fortified city is easy to visit on a day trip from Agra. Once we had arrived at around 10am, we made the most of our time and were only really here for a few hours, but mostly because we were excited to get back to Agra to get a glimpse of the Taj! Depending on how long you are visiting though, you may wish to stay to experience the red-sandstone palace during sunset and stay in one of the decent hotels in the village.

We got off the bus just before the last stop, as the entrance to the site began. The beautiful mosque, Jama Masjid, sits at the top of a huge flight of stone steps and the main entrance is a spectacularly high gate which you will see as you start to ascend the hill up from the main road. Once you make it up the steps and through the daunting gate, you will find courtyards and palaces inside, as well as the tomb of the Mughal saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, where women hoping to have children come to tie strings for fertile luck. This entire area is charming, and usually very quiet, so it’s perfect for contemplation and your first experience of ancient India outside of Delhi.

We ate at Ajay Palace for lunch atop the rootop, which served great homemade curries and chapati (note that it’s not ‘Ajay Restaurant By Near Palace’ – it’s 50m further down the road and also a hotel – walk through and up the stairs.

By spending a little too much time enjoying the views at lunch, we had just missed a bus Agra-bound. Our travel guide advised buses ran every half hour, but it seemed to be more like an hour than half hour. The bus station is on the main road and once we saw the bus arrive from our lunch perch, we rushed down to make sure we got on – they don’t see to wait long! Again, ₹40 (about 40p) per person for the hour trip back to Agra.

Agra Fort

Rather than heading all the way back to Agra’s bus stand, we got off the bus on the main road towards Agra fort and flagged down a tuktuk to take us to the entrance of Agra Fort. The Amar Singh Gate to the south of the fort is the only entry point and you can buy your entrance ticket here ₹550 (about £6) per person (foreign tourist charge).

Agra Fort is easily forgotten about, considering the countries most famous landmark is just downstream, but travellers that visit here will witness one of the finish forts in India within these walls. Courtyard after courtyard, and the many fairytale palaces and audience halls, it will take some time for the sheer scale of this fort to really sink in. You can also grab your first glimpse of the Taj from here.

The hotel we stayed at in Agra was the Hotel Taj Resort. We have already mentioned the pickup of our luggage which was very helpful, but the main attraction to this hotel was that it was only 500 metres to the entrance of the Taj Mahal. This would really help us out in the morning for our early morning visit to the sight. In fact we were so close, the road the hotel sits on is cycle tuk-tuk only – you aren’t allowed to ride a loud engine through this area!

The hotel also offered free breakfast, and a lovely pool. We ate in the hotel restaurant for dinner that evening, with silhouette views of the palace.

Taj Mahal

The magnificence of the Taj when you first see it is quite overwhelming. There is something magical about seeing one of the most famous buildings in the world, something that most have only seen in TV shows or films, right in front of you in the hazy morning glow.

I knew to be in with the best chance of seeing the Taj at it’s quietest we would have to leave pretty early. Matt was adamant we would would be fine getting there at 7:30am but as sunrise was around 6:30am, I knew we would have to there by then! We left our hotel at 5:30am, and as we were close it was around a 10 minute walk to the entrance. We entered at the East Gate, and the ticket booths were quite obvious once we reached the gate. You walk through the gate and towards the ‘Great Gate’ and the Taj will be right in front of you.

Entrance into the Taj Mahal is ₹1000 for foreign tourist (note the Taj is closed on Friday’s for prayer, so plan your trip accordingly). Tour groups tend to enter through the east and west gate, and therefore the south gate (where we entered) usually has less queues. This works well for you, as it is closer to the more budget hotels for the budget conscious traveller. Again, the gates have separate entrances for male and female, and then foreign tourists (a perk of your expensive entry price!).

Spend some proper time exploring the site – it really is beautiful. Pace through the ornamental gardens and then make sure you get a picture in front of the reflective pond, and on the Princess Diana bench – everybody that knows the Taj will ask to see this! You can climb up the steps and go inside the Taj (no photos allowed in here), and this is fascinating – look out for the “Pietra Dura” – 35 different precious stones used to create the marble inlay on the building, as well as the calligraphy that surrounds each side of the building (the calligraphy gets larger as it gets higher, giving the impression of uniform size when viewed from the ground!). The Taj Museum opens at 9am, but we were there at 6am so we were unable to go. Free entry so worth a look!

Tips for the Taj
  1. Leave your bag in your hotel – backpacks are not permitted, and the only storage facility is at the West Gate. Use a bumbag to keep money, phone and passport.
  2. Small cameras or phones only – use a small camera or camera phone (instead of bag with multiple lenses that you won’t get in). Video is only allowed in certain places, and you can’t take any pictures inside the mausoleum. Tripods and drones are banned.
  3. No food or drink in the site – but a bottle of water is included in your entry fee.
  4. Closed on Fridays – important in your itinerary planning! You wouldn’t want to get here and not be able to visit the site!

We then went back to our hotel for breakfast (it was too early when we left to see the Taj!) and then spent some more time around the pool as we were getting a lunchtime train, but if you have more time, it is worth visiting the following places:

  • Mehtab Bagh – relaxing gardens that have the perfect view of the Taj – go for sunset for the most awe-inspiring sunset view of the Taj
  • Akbar’s Tomb – further out of the city, but worth seeing this huge tomb of the greatest Mughal emporer
  • Kinari Bazaar – one of India’s most hectic, but mesmerising markets is worth a visit if you are the shopping mood

Our pre-booked train from Agra Fort to Sawai Madhopur (#12948 / Azimabad Express 1225-1625) (click here to read about travelling by train in India) was running late, so it eventually arrived around 2pm. This meant it was going to run late and we eventually arrived into Sawai Madhopur around 7:30pm.

Day 1-2: Delhi 🇮🇳

Asia, India

Having travelled on an overnight flight, we were really ready for a shower, some food and a relaxing start. Arriving into a completely different culture can be a bit of a sensory overload sometimes, and Delhi was no exception.

Instead of fighting our way through the crowds to find a public transport option, we had picked a hotel that included a free airport taxi – invaluable in a new country when you are just off a nine hour flight – and they had sent their driver to collect us and drop us straight to the hotel. Our room was ready when we arrived at 10am, and so we were able to have a nap (needed to help adjust to the timezone and the climate change!), shower, and be on our way to explore!

We stayed at the Hotel Tara Palace. Situated really close to the Red Fort, it was easy for our early starts. The free airport shuttle was a huge reason for our stay here too!

Our 2-day itinerary 

Humayun’s Tomb

This spectacular series of structures is thought to have inspired the Taj Mahal, which it predates by 60 years. The nearest metro stop is the JLN Stadium (yellow line), and we paid ₹50 for a rickshaw from the metro stop to the entrance. 

Qutb Minar

Considered part of ‘Greater Delhi,’ the Qutb Minar complex is a must-see in Delhi. If you only have time to visit one of Delhi’s ancient ruins, make it this one – and more than that, try and visit for sunset as we did. Nearest stop is Qutb Minar (purple line) and you’ll want to get a rickshaw the 1km to the ruins. Our rickshaw ended up picking up a few locals on the way too – this seems a way of life – and the driver still insisted on going very fast!

We used the metro (actually very simple to use and to understand) to get around Delhi. We bought single tickets which were cheap enough (only around ₹20-40), but when boarding the train, remember the back carriage is ladies only!

We then headed straight for dinner, and had read about some recommendations of actual restaurants (rather than street food vendors). We ate at Karim’s (one of Delhi’s most famous restaurants, as featured here in The Independent), just off the lane leading south from Jama Masjid (India’s biggest mosque). We had decided to go veggie whilst in India, but the meat here is so tempting, we ended up with curries, dal, and a chicken tandoori! It was delicious (but far too much food!).

Our fantastic tandoori chicken at Karim’s

Red Fort

One of Delhi’s top sights is this fort which predates the Palace of Versailles in France, and it doesn’t disappoint. During the struggle for independence, nationalists promised to raise the Indian flag over the Gate, an ambition that became a reality in 1947. Every building here is worth seeing, and is home to some very interesting museums detailing the way forward through the wars of independence. We had trouble finding the entrances here (there are multiple gates) as during our visit one gate was only open for nationals, and another gate was hard to find. We ending up having to walk back on ourselves to find the ticket hall, and then back again to the main entrance. Keep an eye out for the ticket booths, and the security entrances.

At most attraction, there are separate queues at ticket booths and security for tourists and Indian nationals. Keep an eye out – sometimes there are also even separate entrances based on gender. We generally found that the tourist entrances were a lot quieter and so you should be able to get through quite quickly!

Jama Masjid

India’s largest mosque can hold a whopping 25,000 people and was built between 1644-1658. Entrance is free (legs covered) but there is a fixed price of ₹100 if you want to climb the stairs to the top of one of the towers (well worth it for views of Delhi). Visitors should remove their shoes at the top of the stairs – you can take them with you, but you won’t be able to take them to the top of the tower. 

For dinner on our second night, we visited Mughlai restaurant Moti Mahal. This was a truly excellent restaurant which has been here for six generations. Again, we had meat here – considering there were pictures of Gordon Ramsey cooking here recently, we thought we might be okay!

We headed for another early night, as we were getting a 6am train to Agra for our next step. 

Scribblings from an Indian sleeper train 🇮🇳

Asia, India

Our two tiered sleeper train is quiet as I start to pen this blog. Of course, I’m using my iPad to type rather than pen and paper, and the irony of the complete contrast between rich and poor, Western & Indian, is not lost on me. Matt is in the upper bunk having a nap – we have had a week of 5am starts, which has made adjusting to the time difference even worse, and again another early start tomorrow. But more about that later… we are on a short train (only 2 hours for us but the entire journey is 36 hours,) to Jaipur, where we have a very busy weekend planned, having already visited Delhi, Agra, and a national park!

We have been waiting for this trip for a very long time. It’s our honeymoon, and we asked for contributions for our wedding gift list. We have a whole itinerary made up from activities gifted for us by our closest family and friends, and day five into our schedule, we have already witnessed so many different experiences.

So for now, a thank you to everybody reading this who contributed in some way towards this trip. I am sure you will see your personal thanks soon as we tick off the India bucket list! Having celebrated Kris’s birthday with our nearest and dearest in London, we flew with British Airways from London Heathrow direct to Delhi, with our trusty rucksacks from our last big trip to Central America, and arrived into Delhi at 7am Monday morning.