Discover India in Jaipur

 

Contributor:
Andy Marty

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andympics
Facebook: @andympics

Age Group:
 30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
 Photography
Casual

 

Destination: Jaipur - Rajasthan, India. December 2018

There are few cities in India regarded for their beauty as much as Jaipur. It was founded and named after Maharaja Jai Singh II and was where the family ruled over Rajasthan. 

Jaipur is affectionately known as the “Pink City”, owing to the original color the walls of many of the buildings were painted. These days, the city buildings are mostly painted in earthy red colors, which was done in preparation for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1876

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

 Getting In:

The international airport (map) is only just outside the main city area and a relatively short drive to most hotels. International flights arrive from several destinations including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Sharjah – we flew Air Arabia from Sharjah to Jaipur. There are also domestic flights from several cities within India.

International visitors arriving into Jaipur will require a Visa. Check online to see what category of visa you require and most can be applied for and processed online in less than 1 week. You will need scans of passport photos and your travel history.

Many visitors will arrive to Jaipur via train, with lines linking the popular destinations of Delhi, Agra, Jodpur and Jaipur. There are many options and classes of travel on trains in India. Be sure to book a carriage with air-conditioning if travelling in warmer months! 

Travel by car/taxi is possible for long distances in India and surprisingly cheap. However, be warned that certain cars (including Uber drivers) are often not permitted to cross state boundaries – they will accept Uber requests and then only inform you of this once they arrive to collect you. If they are able to cross, they will often need to get paperwork completed, which can take a long time, especially if there is traffic – definitely check this information before you agree to travel with them.

There is also a bus service from Delhi to Jaipur. Again, be sure to book a ticket on the air-conditioned bus in the warmer months (it is around USD15 one way). Only book through Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation as some other companies are unreliable in terms of service and vehicles.

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

Getting around Jaipur:

Once in Jaipur, it is relatively easy to book Uber drivers where needed and this is a very convenient way to get around, especially if you have some distance to travel. 

There are private “chauffeur” cars, which can be booked per trip or per day. If you are looking to spend a day visiting the highlights of Jaipur this is probably your best option. It will cost you around USD50.00 for a day. Many of these drivers will be in front of the hotels or can be arranged by your hotel. Most can speak English quite well and communicate via Whatsapp. It is a very convenient way to visit places around Jaipur, as many of the highlights are some distance away from each other.

In the city centre there are large numbers of rickshaws waiting to take people around. Trips in rickshaws are certainly far cheaper and in most cases the price can be bargained. 

The chauffeur probably offers a safer and more comfortable mode of transport, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars or enjoy the authentic experience, certainly give the rickshaws a go!

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

 Fairmont Jaipur: (map)

We stayed at Fairmont Jaipur, a luxury hotel on the North of the city. It is a stunning property that is immaculately presented with traditional architecture and furnishings. The layout and service is designed around providing guests with an authentic experience, with many small touches capturing elements of the region’s fascinating history. 

Guests are welcomed on arrival with a traditional greeting complete with drums and rose petals – you will be transported back to the time of the ruling Maharaja as you enter the large wooden doors. Inside the music will continue and you will become immersed in the atmosphere of Rajasthan. 

The Travel Hub Jaipur-7798.jpg
The Travel Hub Jaipur-7900.jpg
A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

 In the evening belly dancers will perform in the lobby and guests are encouraged to join in. The hotel frequently hosts local weddings and if you are in the hotel it is almost impossible not to be drawn to the arrival of the wedding party – complete with painted elephants and horses.

Join the belly dancing

Join the belly dancing

 The rooms are elegantly furnished and all have enormous  bath tubs suitable for relaxing the weariest of travellers. The beds maintain the high standard set by Fairmont properties around the world.

 

The hotel serves breakfast from 2 restaurants, both providing buffet style service. There is a selection of traditional dishes and global cuisine, but when in India, I would definitely recommend sampling some of the local delicacies! If the weather is nice, a perfect spot for breakfast is outside the Zoya Restaurant overlooking the pond.

The Travel Hub Jaipur-7695.jpg

 There are also several dinner options including a wonderful in room dining menu (I have had many, and the butter chicken on this menu stacks up very well). However, to truly appreciate the local cuisine, I don’t think you can go past the Thali – literally a meal fit for a King. Served in Zarin Restaurant, the Thali arrives as many small dishes on a large silver tray. You are able to sample a variety of flavors and textures. The meal is enormous and an experience in itself.

 There is also an elegant high tea served in Anjum – a beautifully decorated room that takes a golden glow in the afternoon as the sun sets out the window.

The Travel Hub Jaipur-8472.jpg

 Exploring Jaipur:

1.    Panna Meena Ka Kund: (map)

These ancient stepwells or “baoris” were common in the North of India for centuries. They would collect water and fill up in the rainy monsoon season. As the dry season progressed and the level dropped, people could walk down the cascading steps cut into the sides to access water. Now, they mostly serve as tourist attractions, creating unique photo opportunities.

The Panna Meena Ka Kund stepwell is located close to the Amber Fort. I would suggest going early in the morning if you want a photo without people in it. There is a security guard stopping people from entering the stepwell as the water has become a source of infection and people are not allowed to go into the water. If you are extremely nice and assure the security that you only wish to go onto the steps, they may allow you to take a quick photograph.

There is another larger stepwell around an hours drive out of Jaipur – Chand Baori (map) that is meant to be incredible. If you have time when you visit, it might be worth taking a drive to see this.

The Travel Hub Jaipur-5014.jpg
The Travel Hub Jaipur--4.jpg

 2.    Amber Fort (Amer Fort): (map)

One of the highlights of Jaipur, Amber Fort is a large fort palace built on the side of a hill in 1592 from red sandstone and marble. Although it is roughly amber in color, the name does not come from this, rather it is named after the town of Amber. The main section of the fort consists of 4 courtyards.

The popular photo opportunity is of the steps leading up to the large colored facade of Ganesh Pol (Ganesh Gate) in the first courtyard. If you want the iconic picture at the top of the steps, without hundreds of tourists, you will need to come as early as the fort opens (8am) and then hope it isn’t crowded.

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

Entering through Ganesh Pol, you will reach the equally impressive Sheesh Mahal – a large room covered in thousands of mirrors and colored glass which would reflect candlelight to create a mesmerizing glittering effect.

Entry to Amber Fort is R500 for foreign tourists (around USD7) and gives you access to the entire complex. You can pay extra for guided tours (R100).

The fort is also the site of a light show after dark, that is best viewed from the lower sections of the fort.

Many tourists travel up to and from Amber Fort on the elephant rides that are offered. However there is significant concerns over the standard of treatment many of these animals receive and tourists are encouraged not to support the practice.

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

 3.    Jaigarh Fort: (map)

Only a short walk up from Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort is the “strongest” of Jaipur’s 3 main forts. It is also the home of the world’s largest cannon! Entry is R85

 4.    Nahargarh Fort: (map)

You will definitely need to get a car up to Nahargarh Fort and the road up is quite windy and narrow. There is an area to stop close to the fort that has a pretty good view of Jal Mahal (The Water Palace in the middle of the Mansarovar Lake). 

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

The first section of the fort walls is free to visit and explore with some nice, albeit restricted, views across parts of Jaipur. 

The main section of the fort requires payment to enter (R200) and this includes a drink from the restaurant at the top of the fort. The gates and just inside is quite touristy with several small stands. Lots of people hang around the first few hundred meters, but the best views across the city are seen from the top of the fort which is around a 15 minute walk (there are also rickshaws that can take people if they prefer). Scenes from several Bollywood movies were shot on the walls of the fort and it is a very popular place to view sunsets – if you are lucky enough to be there on a day without intense haze!

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

 5.    Jawahar Circle: (map)

A huge roundabout on the south of Jaipur, with a park area in the middle. Probably the cleanest and nicest place in the city to go for a walk. There is a small street-food bazar (great for refreshing ice cream), a rose garden and a children’s play area. But the most popular and iconic is the entry at the northern end of the park – Patrika Gate (map). The huge archways are impressive and on the inside are colorful murals depicting the local history of Jaipur. It is a hugely popular photo spot, so again, if you want to avoid crowded photos, you will need to visit early in the morning. The Patrika Gates are open 24 hours, so get there as early as you can and you will have it almost to yourself! We visited around 7am and it was pretty much empty.

The Travel Hub Jaipur-5926.jpg
The Travel Hub Jaipur-6256.jpg

 6.    City Palace: (map)

Much of the City Palace is now a museum and there is still a section which remains the residence of the Royal Family – Chandra Mahal. Entry to the palace is R500, however if you want to access Chandra Mahal you will need to pay R3000 per person which includes a tour guide. There are some sections of the residence which are certainly worth seeing and it’s a fascinating insight into the life of the ruling family. If you can spare the money, walking through the residence is really interesting, especially with the informed guides. 

One of the highlights of the City Palace is a courtyard with 4 elaborately decorated doorways depicting the 4 seasons of the year – each one draws on elements of the season that are significant in Rajasthan culture.

The Lotus doorway

The Lotus doorway

The Peacock doorway

The Peacock doorway

 

The Diwan-i-aam or the Hall of Public Audience is where the King used to sit and listen to the issues of his subjects. 

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

 Chand Mahal has a total of 7 floors, with each floor serving a different purpose or giving respect to a different season or special holiday in the year.

The Chhawi Niwas is a beautifully decorated blue and white room, and was used to celebrate the monsoon rains.

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

On the 5th floor is a room decorated all over with concave mirrors (similar to the Sheesh Mahal at Amber Fort). When you visit they will close the doors and light a cangle causing each of the small mirrors to reflect the candle light and the entire roof illuminates.

The Shobha Niwas is a sitting area for the Maharaja and is elaborately decorated.

On the ground floor is the dining room used to accept and entertain guest and dignitaries. This is still the room used to host many of the world’s important political figures. It is one of the rooms inside the Chand Mahal where photography is not permitted.

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

 7.    Hawa Mahal: (map)

Probably the most iconic building in Jaipur with its unmistakable terracotta façade – which is actually the rear of the building! The façade of the Mahal is close to the street, which makes it very difficult to photograph! The best views of the building are actually from across the street in 2 small cafes. Whilst most people pull up in a car and take a quick photo from the street, I would recommend visiting either the Windview Café (map) or The Tattoo Café (map). Both have much better views directly at the façade. Even better, you can sit and enjoy some local staples while enjoying the view. We visited with Indian locals and they told us that the dishes at Windview Café in particular were the typical dishes they would eat as snacks – Masala Maggi Noodles, Aloo Tiki burgers, etc.

Hawa Mahal was built as part of the City palace to give the women a place to watch life going by outside. There are 950 windows looking out on to the street and the breeze circulating through the windows kept it cool and provided the building with its name - Hawa meaning breeze in Hindi.

If you wish, you can enter the Mahal for R50.

 The street in front of the Hawa Mahal façade is worth taking a walk along, with many small bazars, local shops and street sellers. If you are interested in streetscapes and local culture it is certainly worth half an hour or so.

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

The Travel Hub Jaipur-5273.jpg
The Travel Hub Jaipur-5248.jpg

 8.    Bapu Bazar: (map)

I love visiting local markets in any city I visit, so I always try to seek out the authentic places where locals shop. Bapu Bazar in Jaipur is a typical Indian street market with loads of shops selling anything from textiles to samosas. Naturally they will quickly identify a tourist and look to bargain at far higher than normal prices! It’s a great place for a photo walk or to sample local street food. Quick word of warning – steer clear of the Panni Puri unless you have a far stronger stomach than I do!

The Travel Hub Jaipur-7171.jpg
The Travel Hub Jaipur-7248.jpg
The Travel Hub Jaipur-7297.jpg

 9.    Jal Mahal: (map)

The iconic “Water Palace” of Jaipur sits by itself in Mansarovar Lake. In the winter the lake can dry out, but summer monsoons quickly fill it again. The Palace is not accessible to visitors, but there are several places to get a nice view. Because the water is usually very calm and flat, the Palace often creates a nice reflection in the right light. It is also illuminated at night, which makes it look great against the water.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

 Places To East:

We ate the majority of our meals at Fairmont Jaipur and certainly even if you are not staying at this hotel, I would thoroughly recommend visiting for dinner to try the Thali.

 Plan to have a bite to eat at Windview Café when you want to take photos of Hawa Mahal – the Aloo Tiki burger is really good and the food is really cheap!

 One other place we went for dinner was Palladio Café and Bar (map). The food and service are “ok” without being outstanding and the prices are pretty steep for India. But the décor and atmosphere is really impressive! The bar area is decorated similar to the Chhawi Niwas in the City Palace, with elaborate blue and white walls. Outside, tables are seated around small fires and fairy lights. The food is Italian cuisine.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

 Traveling In India:

India is one of my favorite destinations for travel, but there are some things to take into consideration.

Be sure to check your visa requirements, as all foreign visitors require a visa. Check your requirements online and you can often get your visa processed online.

Speak to your doctor before traveling to India as there are some important diseases to be aware of. In particular some visitors may require proof of yellow fever vaccination as part of their entry requirements. It would be worth making sure your vaccinations for Hepatitis, Diptheria, Tetanus and Typhoid are up to date.

“Traveller’s Diarrhea” is common for visitors to India. Whilst most people think it is the fault of eating something, it is far more common to be caused by water – drinking water, even ice in drinks, poorly washed salad and foods that contain water (like Panni Puri). Be cautious of what you drink or check that what you’re eating doesn’t have water in it. I always travel with a small medical kit that includes anti-diarrhea medication and rehydration tablets.

Malaria and Dengue Fever can be significant problems in India, especially around the monsoon season. There are prophylactic medications for malaria, most of which have side effects. However there isn’t for Dengue Fever and the prevention of avoiding mosquito bites is probably the best way of avoiding both. I always use insect repellent and mosquito nets. It’s a good idea to spray your room when you leave to prevent mosquitos waiting for you when you get back!

Staying connected in India can be a bit of a challenge as it isn’t as easy as most countries to pick up a SIM card at the airport. In order to get a local mobile sim, you need paperwork from your hotel (a police letter). You will then need to present this, copies of your passport and entry visa when you purchase a sim card. It will take at least 1 business day for the sim to be activated. If you are visiting only for a couple of days, you are better off using roaming.

There is an undeniable level of poverty in India and some people find it confronting. But there is also an incredible beauty in the country. Travel to India is an “experience”. There are few places so deep in culture and where you can truly immerse yourself. It is a place to explore and certainly Jaipur is one of those cities that has an amazing amount to offer to visitors looking to experience authentic culture.



























 

Incredible India Part 2 - Mumbai

 
thetravelhub_india_gateway of india sunrise.jpg
 
 

Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andymtravel

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Mumbai, India - May, 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My second stop on a 18 day tour around India was India's biggest city - Mumbai.

Getting There:

I flew into Mumbai on flydubai before getting a car to Pune. I then came back to Mumbai the same way. Getting around India with Uber proved to be really easy, clean and not expensive when converted into foreign currency. There are definitely cheaper ways to travel internally through India, but if you have a schedule to keep and just want to get from one place to another, Uber or private taxis is a great option.

Getting around Mumbai was a similar story. There weren't anywhere near as many rickshaws as there are in other parts of India, but Uber worked well and there are loads of local taxis. I didn't have any great issue catching the local taxis - they were relatively clean and very cheap.

Local Knowledge:

I was fortunate to meet someone living in Mumbai over Instagram before I travelled and made a good friend - local photographer Atul (Instagram, @atuljoshiphotography). It's always great when travelling to meet new people along the way and Atul was able to give me a few insights not Mumbai and take me to the Mumbai Press Club for dinner, where he has access through his job with Times of India

Where To Stay:

I chose to stay at the Taj Vivanta (map)- it is close to Whankhede Stadium for the cricket and in a nice area of Mumbai on Nariman Point - close to places like Gateway of India, Colaba Causeway and Girgoan Chowpatty.

The Taj Vivanta was a breath of fresh air compared to Sagar Plaza in Pune. It is a genuine 5 star property and the staff are wonderful. I couldn't fault the service of the staff and they helped me arranged shipments to Delhi, booked cars and sorted out issues with my sim card.

There is a very nice pool, fitness centre and spa - which in the Mumbai summer of 44 degrees and high humidity is a welcome sight to com back to.

The rooms are excellent and the buffet breakfast was one of the better ones I had in India. There are certainly cheaper options to stay in Mumbai that you may consider, however if Taj Vivant is in your price range, you wont be disappointed.

What To Do:

There is a small observation deck (map) close to the BMC Commissioner building that looks directly at the facade of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Its a great spot to go and visit at night when the BMC building an date terminus are both brightly lit up. The BMC building changes colour each night. Its a great spot for some night photography in Mumbai.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

The Colaba Causeway (map) is a busy street (Shahid Bhagat Singh Rd) that is lined with shops, restaurants and street sellers. At night especially it becomes very busy and there is plenty of street life. You will get hassled by people trying to sell all sorts of different things. It isn't clean by any stretch, its Mumbai.

The Gateway of India (map) is probably Mumbai's most iconic landmark. It is on the water's edge in front of the Taj Palace Hotel. The structure was commissioned to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It overlooks the Arabian Sea and for many years it was seen as a ceremonial "gateway" into India. Following Indian independence in 1948, the last British soldiers left India after marching through the giant arch. It is a very popular tourist attraction and becomes extremely busy later in the day. Entry is free, but you do need to pass through a small security check point. If you want to get photos without a crowd, you're much better off coming early in the morning. Boats leave from the docks close to the Gateway to go on tours of places like Elephantra Island.

thetravelhub_india_gateway of india.jpg

There is an enormous outdoor laundry known as Dhobi Ghat (map). Its a functioning laundry that does the washing for hotels and hospitals in Mumbai, but it has also become a popular tourist atttaction. To get a good view of the vast rows of "Dhobis", go to the flyover bridge at Mahalaxmi Station (map).

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

An obvious highlight for me was attending the IPL game at Whankede Stadium (map) - a famous cricket ground on Marine Drive. It was incredibly hot and humid, with the game starting at 4pm. We spent a lot of the first innings trying to find a spot to watch that wasn't in the sun. The crowd in Mumbai was one of the most intense I have ever seen at a sporting venue and something I will never forget. The team owners supply a flag to everyone, so when Mumbai scored a boundary or took a wicket, the entire crowd was a sea of blue flags.

Eating:

I had a great meal after the cricket at Mumbai Press Club (map). If you know someone working in press in Mumbai who can get you access to this restuarant, the food is really good and a great price.

Mumbai was the first place I tried some genuine street food. The beach area known as Girgoan Chowpatty (map) is extremely popular in the evenings during the summer, with lots of families, couples and groups of friends coming to enjoy the water. Lots of food vans set up near the beach making all sorts of local fare. I had a dal and a fresh mango juice. There are all different sorts of fried samosas, burger type things and grills that I have no idea what the names are. If you want to venture into a bit of street food, this might be an option!

thetravelhub_india_girgoan chowpatty food.jpg

Just off the main road of Colaba Causeway is a place called Bademiya. There are actually 2, one is a sit down restaurant, the other is more of a street shop. It had been recommended as a good place to get a grilled kebabs. You order from the street shop and they will cook your meal literally in front of you. The chicken and lamb kebabs come with a small amount of salad and some sauces. I ended up waiting next to a man from Saudi and we ended up spreading our meal out on the bonnet of his hire car and enjoying a street side picnic! Not far from here are some other more western restaurants like Leopold Cafe that is very popular for tourists. If you ant to try some authentic Indian in the Colaba Causeway area, go to Delhi Darbar - the original in what has become a chain of popular restaurants.

Must Do:

Mumbai can be an overwhelming city - the sheer number of people is intense. On a warm evening, go down to the foreshore of Girgoan Chowpatty (map), where thousands of locals flock to enjoy the beach. Its a place where young couples come and are free from displaying affection in public. Families bring children to swim and play in the water. Large groups set out rugs and blankets up closer to tech road and sit for hours enjoying the food and lights. For a tourist, there is simply an overwhelming volume of people! It is not recommended to swim in the water and I wasn't interested in finding out, but many locals do 

thetravelhub_india_girgoan chowpatty swimming.jpg

Must See:

My must see in Mumbai was somewhere that I doubt features in many tourist brochures! I stumbled across a really nice sunset spot by pure accident, which is why its my "must do" - because sometimes just being spontaneous when you travel leads to some of your best memories. I didn't have much luck finding a good sunset at either the Girgoan Chowpatty or Gateway of India, so on my last night in Mumbai just started walking from the hotel, waiting for a rickshaw to drive past and go looking for somewhere along the water. No rickshaws came and I just ended up waking to a little place called Kasav Point (map). The road came very close to the water and a really small "bay" with lots of fishing boats. The beach area was absolutely filthy, covered in rubbish and worse (perhaps one of the reasons it doesnt feature in tourism brochures). There was a group of kids playing football, who all wanted their photo taken. Along the "beach" were some building and a group of young boys were making dinner up on the rooftop of one of the buildings. They invited me up to get a better view for photos and have something to eat. I went up for the photos, but politely declined the food. Was a really great spot to take some unique sunset photos in Mumbai. Whilst I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, if you are into trying something a bit different, this is a for you. The area along the street is a small local market selling fresh fish and other foods. I later found out that this was also the site where the people involved in the Taj Palace bombings entered Mumbai.

thetravelhub_india_mumbai sunset.jpg

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Many people had warned me about security and safety in Mumbai - theft, assault, etc. For me personally, I did not find this to be an issue. However, I met up with 2 ladies travelling from Northern India who did say that were subjected to frequent insults regarding their "asian" appearance, as well as sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it certainly appears that as a Western male, travelling in India is more comfortable than for a females. As general advice, based purely on my experience, I would suggest travelling in a small group with at least 1 male companion.

5 Word Travel:

An overwhelming number of people.

Excess Baggage:

Somewhere that didn't have a chance to visit was the Dharavi Slums. It is possible to do "guided tours" of what is regarded as the worlds largest slum/informal settlement. I've read some people suggesting that visiting the slums is unethical and that seeking "entertainment" from the unfortunate situation of others is poor taste. I tend to believe it is entirely personal preference and it is more to do with one's intentions. Probably the biggest thing that struck me in India on the whole was the overwhelming poverty and in particular child poverty. It put a lot of things in perspective for me and I hope influenced my life in a positive way. I believe that visiting these slums, if done in a way to gain a broader undetsanding of teh situation huge populations of people find themselves in and to educate yourself, then it is both worthwhile and ethical. I did a similar tour of the informal settlements in Soweto, South Africa. It was confronting, somewhat depressing, yet at the same time inspiring. I do feel that I spent a lot of time in India out walking the streets, markets and local areas to see and understand the enormity of substandard living and poverty. I didn't do that for entertainment, rather to get a better understanding of the situation so many people have found themselves in. This is only my opinion and I respect the opinion of those who do not want to visit these places.

Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa - African Safari

 

Contributor  : Andy
Nationality   : Australian
Social Links  :  Instagram: @andrewmarty_
Age Group    : 30-40
Gender          : Male
Travel Style   : Leisure, Family, Photography
Destination   : September 2017, 3 nights.

Inspiration:

We travel to South Africa each year to visit my wife's family. Previously my son had not been on safari before, but is obsessed with animals and wildlife. Having turned 7 years old, we decided he was old enough to join the experience. Phinda Mountain Lodge is close enough to Durban to drive, so we booked here for myself, my son and my father-in-law. Located within Phinda Private Game Reserve, it provides some of the best game viewing in South Africa. The Lodge is part of the highly rated &Beyond group, which has a number of properties throughout Africa and Asia that provide unique safari and adventure experiences. 

Getting There: 

We flew directly into Durban from Dubai on Emirates airlines. You can also fly via Johannesburg with internal connecting flights. Phinda Mountain Lodge is just over 4 hours drive North of Durban, passed Jefferies Bay. It is a relatively easy drive and the lodge sends straight-forward directions. Close to the property it does change to unsealed roads, but they are not difficult to navigate. You can also drive from Johannesburg, which is roughly 6 hours.

On the drive in, you will start to see many species of wildlife, so have the camera handy and not packed away in the trunk of the car!

Some guests, especially those short on time, can arrange for small domestic chartered flights directly into the airstrip at the reserve. I spoke to one couple who were visiting several game parks in a short period of time and they suggested the time saved made up for the costs involved. This may be worth looking into if you are tight on time.

The small air-strip at Phinda Private Game Reserve

The small air-strip at Phinda Private Game Reserve

Local Knowledge:

Different game reserves throughout Africa vary in terms of the services they offer, the accomodation options and the variety of wildlife. Many visitors are desperate to see either a) a certain species of animal or b) the largest variety possible. Phinda is renowned for a great variety, with all of the Big 5 in the reserve. Of particular interest, Phinda has significant populations of White and Black Rhinoceros and cheetah. It is worth asking around and getting advice on the likelihood of sighting particular species at various reserves if you have a special request. If you are looking for a great variety, somewhere like Phinda is an excellent choice!

The cheetah populations in Phinda Private Game Reserve are a highlight.

The cheetah populations in Phinda Private Game Reserve are a highlight.

Where To Stay:

Phinda Private Game Reserve is a massive reserve of 170sq km and has 6 separate lodges, providing a variety of accomodation options. We chose the Mountain Lodge as it is a family friendly lodge, with great accomodation and access to excellent game viewing.

The private huts are extremely comfortable - essentially 5-star accomodation in the bush. The interiors are beautifully fitted out and full amenities are provided. We had a private plunge pool which was great for cooling off during the day.

5 Star Luxury in the African bush

5 Star Luxury in the African bush

The lodge has large common areas that are great for socialising with other guests and chatting with the guides. There is an swimming pool and a spectacular view out over the bush.

Mountain Lodge has a "kids room" and structured activities for children. Children over 6 years are allowed to go on game drives, which our son loved. In between time, he also went out making plaster casts of animal footprints and made traditional african crafts.

You are personally welcomed on arrival by extremely friendly staff and this carries through to the time they say goodbye. The atmosphere they have created at Mountain Lodge is honestly something that will leave a lasting impression - truly genuine hospitality.

Travel to South Africa, with the current conversion to the Rand, is relatively affordable for the most part. The luxury game reserve safaris however are one thing that is quite expensive. That said, if you are travelling to Africa, doing a safari should be really high on your list and spending a little extra to stay somewhere as nice as Phinda could certainly be seen as money well spent. 

What To Do:

For me, there are few things that compare to the magic of African safaris. Each drive has the excitement of what you might see and each interaction is completely different to those before. It was particularly special to share this experience with my son and father-in-law.

I have been on drives at many game reserves in South Africa and would have to say the variety at Phinda was probably the best I had encountered. Whilst we didn't spot any leopard (the only member of the big 5 that continues to elude me), the range and quality of other species was out-standing. The complete list of species we saw across the 4 days would be too long to list and the photographs in the gallery barely do justice. Personally the highlight of my experience would probably have been the amount of time we were able to sit and watch a family of cheetah. Or maybe it was the lion cubs? Or the enormous bull elephant? Its really impossible to choose.

For those who haven't been on safari before, most lodges operate in a very similar way. You start each day with a morning drive around sunrise, there is always tea/coffee and some cakes at the meeting point so you don't leave hungry. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, you will also stop for a morning tea break, with snacks and drinks all provided. The vehicles are comfortable and provide great viewing. We had a tracker, Cebu, whose knowledge of the bush was incredible and had an innate ability to spot even the most camouflaged animal. Our guide, Andy, was fantastic in explaining all that we needed to know about the lodge, the animals and the conservation work undertaken by &Beyond across its many properties across Africa.

Morning tea stop

Morning tea stop

You will return to the lodge for a well earned breakfast that the chef prepares - the meals are served in a common dining room which is a great opportunity to share stories with guests from other vehicles. I really enjoyed the social atmosphere at Mountain Lodge and the guides also made an effort to get around and talk to everyone.

There is some down-time to have a dip in the pool, catch up on emails/photo editing or have a nap. There is also an option on one of the days, to go for a walk through the bush, which can put a completely different perspective on watching the animals - actually standing next to a lake with hippos or walking through grassland only 50 meters from grazing giraffe. 

The chef prepares a gourmet lunch back in the dining area, then, its back in the vehicles for an afternoon safari drive, with a quick stop for afternoon tea and sundowners.

If you enjoy nature, wildlife or animals, you will absolutely love safaris in South Africa. It is truly the best way to see these animals. There are no guarantees regarding which animals you will see or what they will be doing - but for me, that is probably the greatest part. You will see the animals in their natural state - sleeping, playing, hunting. Some will be so close you are convinced they have no fear of humans, others will be almost impossible to see, they are so timid. When you go on drives in reserves like Phinda, you do get an incredible opportunity to sit for extended periods of time and watch some of thee animals just go about their daily lives.

Viewing these animals in the wild is an amazing experience 

Viewing these animals in the wild is an amazing experience 

The lodge does offer a number of other activities that you can look into doing. These include; rhino tracking on foot, scuba diving at nearby Sodwana Bay, leatherback sea turtle nesting, photographic safaris and spending a night out under the stars in the bush. Essentially they are capable of tailoring a safari experience to suit your needs.

Eating:

All meals at Phinda Private Game Reserve are provided, including breakfast, morning/afternoon teas, lunch and dinner, with consideration to any dietary requirements. The chef prepares wonderful dishes, using a lot of local ingredients and recipes. On one of the evenings we had dinner by candlelight at a bush camp, which was a memorable experience.

If you like to have some of your own snacks, you can bring them also, but generally speaking there is plenty and even during the day the common areas have something to snack on. 

Must Do:

It goes without saying that going on safari drives is the "must do", however there are some huge advantages of going on drives in places like Mountain Lodge. The guides at reserves like Phinda are experienced to know where the animals are likely to be and have an incredible eye to be able to spot them from a distance. Many people opt to go for cheaper self drive options in South Africa, but you will potentially end up missing out. I have always found that going on drives with the experts gives you a much better chance of seeing animals, getting in great positions to watch them and also learning a lot more about them. The staff at Phinda are really committed to ensuring you get the most out of the time you spend with them and the guides especially are fantastic. If like myself, you have limited time available when you visit South Africa or even if you are living in SA and have a set amount of time, it is well worth speaking to the team from &Beyond about the lodges and packages that best suit your situation. We dealt with Susie from their booking team and she was fantastic from arranging the best accomodation options through to ensuring we had the right directions to get us to the lodge.

The guides at Phinda Mountain Lodge make sure you have an incredible time.

The guides at Phinda Mountain Lodge make sure you have an incredible time.

Must See:

The obvious answer here are the stars of the show - the animals. But I would also encourage you to ask about going out early for a sunrise. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, there is a beautiful lookout not far from the accomodation that has a stunning view over the bush at sunrise. It is an incredible way to start your day!

Coffee at sunrise with our great group.

Coffee at sunrise with our great group.

5 Word Travel:

Safari
Wildlife
Luxury
Bucket-list
Africa

TravelTip:

When visiting the African bush, people become safety conscious of the obvious lions and hyenas, however, it can be some of the smaller creatures that can be a concern. It wasn't until after returning home that we discovered a small tick had hitch-hiked on my son. As well as being uncomfortable, ticks can be carriers of disease. To avoid any issues, you can take measures to prevent ticks (repellants, sensible clothing) and also be vigilant in checking and removing any ticks that do climb aboard. It isn't recommended these days to burn off ticks. Rather, correct manual removal or actually freezing them off using the nitrogen wart sprays were the methods recommended to us.

For those looking to stay in contact, I did find the wifi connection at the lodge was relatively poor. You may wish to look into 3G mobile phone coverage as the reception was adequate. Whilst nobody enjoys peoples phones ringing out on safari, if you like to be contactable for work or family reasons, then you will get local reception around the lodge.

Excess Baggage:

One of the many things that I was really impressed with at Phinda, was the significant work they do in conservation. The &Beyond group is fully committed to supporting both the local community within which their lodges operate as well as the animals that have made their reserves famous.

In all of the &Beyond lodges, they make a concerted effort to employ members of the local community, as well as invest back into those communities through purchasing of produce and leasing of land.

Africa has long had issues with illegal hunting and poaching of wildlife, to the point where certain species are on the brink of extinction. &Beyond puts significant efforts into breeding and conservation work, to promote the sustainability of species that are currently threatened. At Phinda, the rhino and cheetah conservation projects have been particularly successful. Whilst it is sad learning of the situation populations of these animals are in, it is encouraging to know groups like &Beyond are working on solutions. They place an emphasis on educating guests during their stay and then carry this through to breeding and anti-poaching programs on the ground. It is nice to know that some of your money spent staying at these lodges is being re-invested back into the conservation of the animals!

Declaration:

I did not receive any financial discount or benefits from &Beyond or Phinda Mountain Lodge to write this review. The information provided is completely independent of &Beyond.