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Melbourne to Vienna (via South Africa, Namibia & India)

Mattg

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QR578 Doha 20:00 - Delhi 02:05 (+1 day)
Boeing 777-200LR
Business Class


For this flight, I was supposed to fly on an Airbus A350 with 1-2-1 seating in J. Instead, there was a last minute aircraft change to an older Boeing 777-200LR with 2-2-2 J seating. That was quite disappointing, but it didn't really matter for a 3.5 hour flight.

The service on this flight was fine. It was 'dine on demand' once again, but with a flight time of barely 3 hours there is only so much of a window to eat.

On the menu was a soup of the day, followed by a choice of appetisers - Arabic mezze or Saffron prawns. There were then three choices of mains - lamb chops, chicken tikka or an Indian vegetarian dish.

The in-flight entertainment was of the older variety but still good.

I napped for the last hour of the flight, and before long it was time to land in Delhi where the visibility was less than 1km due to the air pollution. Overall, another good flight on Qatar although I would have loved to try their A350!

It was the middle of the night when we arrived in Delhi, but the airport sure was busy and there was a huge line to clear immigration.
 
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Mattg

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I had booked a hotel in the city for most of my stay in Delhi, but given the 2am arrival time, decided to stay near the airport on the first night.

Those familiar with Delhi will probably know about Aerocity. This is a commercial development near the airport which has high security and is full of Western hotels. Compared to the average hotel prices in Delhi, the hotels in Aerocity are extremely expensive (although still OK by Western standards). While searching, I noticed that there was a hotel across the highway from Aerocity called "Aerocity Hotel" which was about 1/5 of the price compared to the cheapest hotel at Aerocity. I figured I might as well try it... for the price, how bad could it be?

Well, when I arrived at my room at 3am I found out exactly just how bad it could be! The room was dirty, full of mosquitos, had exposed wiring in the shower and there was a hole in the wall which had kind-of been filled in with a scrunched up piece of paper. Well, I guess you get what you pay for! At least I was only staying here for 1 night, and hadn't shelled out a fortune for the room. ;)

When I checked in, I was asked to write my name and a whole bunch of personal details including my home address, phone number and passport number in a guest book which was kept on the front desk. I thought it was quite strange that they would keep a record of everybody's personal information in a book that anyone could access - or even just walk off with if they wanted to. But this wasn't unique to that hotel - most Indian hotels I stayed with had the same thing. 🤷‍♂️
 

JohnM

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The next leg was to Delhi via Doha with Qatar Airways. I intentionally booked a ~21 hour layover in Doha along the way to break up the trip. But as I was technically only transiting through Doha, the check-in staff in Windhoek were either unwilling or unable (possibly both) to tag my checked luggage only to DOH. I had to do some last minute re-packing at check-in as my bag was getting tagged to DEL whether I liked it or not!
This is SOP for QR.

I'm guessing that it's for layovers <24h. No matter if you arrive in the evening, will clearly be going to a hotel for a night's sleep and back to DOH the next day for the onward flight, they will not check your bag to DOH - it's always to final destination.

The problem for the uninitiated is that it happens automatically and the pax may not be clearly aware of it. IME, to the checkin staff, it just happens that way and they don't seem to see the implications for the unaware pax.

Always pack a change of clothes and toiletries when transiting DOH.

QR has its own way of doing things...

Of course, the upside is that you don't need to wait to collect your bag and lug it to and from your hotel, so once aware of the system, it's not so bad. It's the awareness gap that is the biggest problem IMO. I can be off the bird, through the dedicated J arrival lounge immigration, meet the driver from the downtown hotel I use, and ensconced in my room inside 30 minutes.
 

JohnM

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Wow - the Al Mourjan Lounge sure is impressive! It's huge with two restaurant areas, an opulent water feature, a games room and tons of seating. I had some work to do, so headed over to the business centre and was the only person in there for around 2 hours. It's a shame that access is not given to Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald members flying economy class - although, then again, I'm not sure it would be so peaceful and/or QR would invest so much into the lounge if access was available to more people.
The Al Mourjan is a lounge of extremes in terms of numbers of pax. I, too have been in there with just a few others. Bliss.

I have also been in there when it's a zoo and just about impossible to find a seat.

There's clearly a lot of flight clustering at DOH.
 

JohnM

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I had booked a hotel in the city for most of my stay in Delhi, but given the 2am arrival time, decided to stay near the airport on the first night.

Those familiar with Delhi will probably know about Aerocity. This is a commercial development near the airport which has high security and is full of Western hotels. Compared to the average hotel prices in Delhi, the hotels in Aerocity are extremely expensive (although still OK by Western standards). While searching, I noticed that there was a hotel across the highway from Aerocity called "Aerocity Hotel" which was about 1/5 of the price compared to the cheapest hotel at Aerocity. I figured I might as well try it... for the price, how bad could it be?

Well, when I arrived at my room at 3am I found out exactly just how bad it could be! The room was dirty, full of mosquitos, had exposed wiring in the shower and there was a hole in the wall which had kind-of been filled in with a scrunched up piece of paper. Well, I guess you get what you pay for! At least I was only staying here for 1 night, and hadn't shelled out a fortune for the room. ;)

When I checked in, I was asked to write my name and a whole bunch of personal details including my home address, phone number and passport number in a guest book which was kept on the front desk. I thought it was quite strange that they would keep a record of everybody's personal information in a book that anyone could access - or even just walk off with if they wanted to. But this wasn't unique to that hotel - most Indian hotels I stayed with had the same thing. 🤷‍♂️
Haha - been there, done that, Matty 😜.

'Aerocity' can be misleading - there are clearly two sides of the tracks, as I also found out - thankfully also for a very brief stay.
 

Mattg

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The Al Mourjan is a lounge of extremes in terms of numbers of pax. I, too have been in there with just a few others. Bliss.

I have also been in there when it's a zoo and just about impossible to find a seat.

There's clearly a lot of flight clustering at DOH.
Yes, indeed! I was in the lounge from about 5pm to 7.30pm, which clearly isn't their busiest time. They seem to have a couple of large banks of flights coming and going between around 11pm-2am and 5am-8am.

I can imagine that the Al Mourjan Lounge would become a zoo if access was given to all Oneworld Sapphire/Emerald members during the peak times.
 

Mattg

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They say that India has the best and worst of everything, and I think this is fairly accurate.

I generally prefer to travel individually or with a small group of friends, rather than joining group tours which I find are overpriced and deliver a manufactured experience that's identical to that of thousands of other people sitting on the same bus before you. In hindsight, independent travel is not as easy in India as it is in most other countries. I managed to get by alright, but next time I'd consider using a private guide, as recommended by @Jacques Vert. (This is not expensive in India.)

Probably one of the biggest frustrations I had was that as a white tourist, I must look like a walking ATM to many people. I was frequently hassled while walking down the street (especially in Agra, but also elsewhere), with people trying to sell me things or get me into their tuk tuk. I must have had a hundred sales pitches from guides over the course of the week. And then there was the tuk tuk driver that followed me into a bank and waited awfully close while I withdrew money from an ATM, so that he could be the first (of many other drivers waiting outside the bank) to offer me a tuk tuk when I was finished. This is not unique to India, but I think it was worse than I've experienced in other (particularly south-east Asian) countries.

Whenever I was with an Indian person, though, people would hassle the Indian and not me. They would still be trying to sell me something, but instead of approaching me directly they would say things like "tell your friend to come into my shop" in the local language.

I should emphasise that at no point did I feel unsafe. As one Indian that I met in Delhi said, "India is a country with laws and anyone that attacks a tourist will be punished harshly. Nobody will rob you, they'll just overcharge you or try to trick you."

So, on to Delhi! It's a huge city, and there was no way I could have seen everything in the few days I spent there. But here are a few things I did see...

One morning a group of us visited the Qutub Minar complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring a tower built in 1193 and a mosque.

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The entry price for Indians was 40 rupees (just under $1). The entry price for foreigners was 600 rupees (about $12). This kind of price discrimination was quite normal.

To get there, we took a metro to the station of the same name. We had planned to walk the remaining 2km to the site, but being white tourists we were hounded by tuk tuk drivers when leaving the station. One of them was so insistent that we ride with him, and he was charging less than $1 for 4 people, so we gave in. After we got in his tuk tuk, he informed us that he would first take us to his friend's shop, and then to the complex. I told him to take us directly to the complex or we would get out. He didn't want our business unless we would go to his friend's shop, so we got out and walked!

Here are a few things we saw along the way...

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Although the air pollution had been quite bad on the day I arrived in Delhi, it dropped to a liveable level by the next day. (In general, it had been at dangerous levels for the previous month.) There were still lots of people wearing breathing masks, though.
 
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Mattg

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After visiting the complex, we took the metro to Chandni Chowk, which is in the old part of Delhi. That's when I first realised just how many people there are in this city! Getting out of the train station was almost like a stampede, and the entire old part of the city was just so crowded. I have never seen so many people in one place before. What made it worse was all of the pushing. There was no such thing as personal space!

At one point while walking through the old town, one of the people I was with became trapped in the middle of a busy intersection and was completely surrounded by cars. There was nowhere for him to move and he panicked as he thought he would get crushed. He was shaking for the next half hour.

That said, it was quite an experience and there is so much to see! Here are a few photos...

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Mattg

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It's part of the territory that as a foreigner travelling to India, you'll probably get sick. I only had a week there and didn't want to waste half of it feeling miserable with food poisoning, so was very careful with what I ate. I avoided meat for the entire time, and made sure any hot food I ate was properly cooked/heated (among other precautions).

That said, I was quite comfortable with eating street food as long as I could see how it was being prepared etc. For example, this lunch from a street vendor in Delhi was delicious:

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On my last evening in Delhi, I joined a food tour which would provide an opportunity to learn a bit about the food, and I figured the guide probably wouldn't take us to anywhere that wasn't "safe". Well I'm afraid the young guide was disinterested and didn't seem to know anything about food, but at least the food was delicious (and the other tour participants were great company)! Here are a couple of the things we tried:

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By the way, getting around on the metro in Delhi was very easy. The trains were clean, frequent and inexpensive.

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I bought a metro card and simply pre-loaded, tapped on and tapped off when using public transport. Getting around with Ola or Uber was generally also easy and inexpensive, although I had a few incidents which I'll get to later in this trip report.
 

Mattg

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After Delhi, I caught a train to Agra. For what it's worth, the process of booking a train ticket on the Indian Railways website was complicated, painful and took around 2 hours. But the train ticket only cost me around $16 for an AC second class carriage ticket. There are many different types of trains and classes of travel available, with some journeys taking around 2 hours, while others are scheduled at 3-4 hours. My journey was supposed to take around 3 hours, but ended up taking longer.

When I arrived at the train station, I wasn't sure which platform my train was departing from so asked one of the uniformed station staff. He tried to help, but when I showed him my ticket it became clear after a little while that he couldn't read it. I eventually worked it out and found the train.

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The front carriages were the non-AC chair carriages, which looked overcrowded and uncomfortably hot. Thankfully I'd spent a little more on an air-conditioned carriage, which was quite OK. I had been allocated a top bunk and was able to actually lie down for the whole journey. Pillows and sheets were even handed out by the conductor after we pulled away from the station, so it was reasonably comfortable. Unfortunately being on the top bunk, I had no view out the window and was never really sure where we were as no announcements were made.

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The trip was slow, with lots of stopping and starting. At various points throughout the journey, vendors came onto the train to sell tea and homemade snacks.

When I got off the train at Agra Cantt station, I was clearly the only foreigner around - which attracted the attention of lots of people trying to solicit taxi and other services. I'd already been approached at least a dozen times before I exited the station, with one guy even telling me that my hotel was closed and that I should go with him to his cousin's accommodation. (I hadn't even told him where I was staying!) I understand why people target obvious tourists, but I really dislike this, so decided just to go to the offical taxi booth and pre-pay for an official taxi. The fare for an air-conditioned taxi was about $6, which I paid and got a receipt for. The driver then took me to his vehicle while a small child (probably 3-4 years old) followed us the entire way across the carpark, begging me for money and even grabbing for my wallet a couple of times.

For some reason, two men joined me in the taxi - the driver and somebody else that I assume was a friend or business partner of the driver. For the entire drive to my hotel, I was subjected to an aggressive sales pitch with the second guy trying to pressure me to hire him as a guide while I was in Agra. I had already made plans for my time in Agra and didn't intend to change them. But according to this guy, the tours I'd already booked were all terrible, I couldn't trust anybody else, and so on. I tried changing the subject to cricket a few times - with some success - but this guy wouldn't take no for an answer. After the ride was over, he followed me into my hotel; by this point I'd had enough and had to ask the receptionist to tell him to leave.

I guess these kinds of tactics must work on enough tourists that they keep doing it. Unfortunately for them, I'm not that gullible and am willing to say "no".

Being the home of the Taj Mahal, there are obviously a lot of other tourists here. For the rest of my stay, I honestly felt targeted as somebody of European appearance. I couldn't walk down the street without being hassled or followed by tuk tuk drivers, etc. I guess that's just the way it is.
 

Mattg

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Apart from that, I found Agra very interesting and well worth visiting! The main attraction is the Taj Mahal, which was visible from the roof of my hotel.

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I was told that the best time to visit was first thing in the morning, so I got up at sunrise and was there at around 6am. There was already a bit of a line, but it wasn't nearly as crowded as later in the day!

The entry fee is 50 rupees for Indians or 1,050 rupees for foreigners, plus 200 rupees to enter the mausoleum.

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The Taj Mahal was really nice! The architecture was is stunning and there was something quite peaceful about walking around while the sun came up.

Photos are not allowed inside the mausoleum, but were tolerated everywhere else.

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Mattg

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The Agra Fort is also worth a visit.

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In the afternoon, I booked a free walking tour. But this wasn't your typical free walking tour! At the start of the tour, the guide asked us if we'd like to see some of the touristic sites or venture into some of the places where tourists don't usually go. We unanimously agreed on the latter, so our guide Amit walked us through some of the back residential streets, a local market and a temple, stopping many times along the way so we could try some of the food or learn about the more unusual things being sold at the market. At no point were we pressured to buy anything - this was purely educational.

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The streets of Agra are busy and crowded, but the guide was great at dodging the traffic and protecting us from rogue tuk tuks. At the end of the tour, the guide hired a rickshaw and we drove to the Taj Mahal sunset viewing point, where the guide also provided complimentary tea.

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I don't think I've ever taken such a fascinating, fast-paced free walking tour anywhere. The guide was so good that I tipped more than double the recommended amount.
 

Mattg

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My next stop was Jaipur. A flight from Agra to Jaipur on Alliance Air (a regional subsidiary of Air India) would have only cost $30, but there was no service on the day I wanted to travel so I booked another train ticket. The best option available was a 2nd class chair carriage with A/C for about $10. The trip was scheduled to take 4 hours, but actually took 6 hours.

Unlike the train I took from Delhi to Agra, this one had a lot more tourists on it. Some of the monkeys that were hanging around Agra Fort train station also joined us on the train for a while (before the conductor chased them out).

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This time I had a window seat and there was lots of beautiful countryside to look at. It was also quite eye-opening seeing the way people lived once we got out of the city.

The route between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur is known as the "golden triangle", and a lot of tourists take this route. But there's good reason for it. Like Agra, Jaipur had lots of interesting things to see. Here are a few pictures...

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You can just see the Amber Palace in the background:

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I’m told the Jal Mahal (floating palace) is also beautiful, but it’s a bit out of the way and I didn’t get time to see it.
 
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Mattg

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AI492 Jaipur 13:30 - Delhi 14:30
Airbus A321
Economy Class


I booked an Air India flight from Jaipur back to Delhi, where I would then stay overnight before my Finnair flight the following day.

I figured I was in for a pretty easy day of travel. I would just take an Ola to the airport, then take my flight. What could possibly go wrong?

The problems started before I'd even left the hotel. After checking out, I tried to book an Ola but the hotel wifi was not working. It took them 10 minutes to fix this.

With the wifi working, I tried booking an Ola but, after accepting the ride, the guy drove away from my hotel for 5 minutes. I cancelled the ride (which Ola charged me a cancellation fee for...)

Next, I tried Uber. The guy showed up after a few minutes in a rather run-down car, but couldn't accept the ride - for some reason there was a problem with the Uber App and it kept giving him an error message. I'd already wasted enough time and needed to get the airport, so I just offered the driver a fair cash price to drive me there. He agreed.

We were almost at the airport when the driver ran a red traffic light and got pulled over by the police. The policeman asked to see his licence, but it turns out he didn't have one. A very lively conversation in Hindi ensued, with lots of arm waving and the driver appearing to be begging the policeman to let him off. Eventually some money was surreptitiously exchanged and we were on our way.

The airport experience in Jaipur was terrible. After getting my bags x-rayed twice (which itself took ages), I had to wait for ~40 minutes in the check-in queue. With the amount of queue-jumping going on, I think I was further back in the queue after 10 minutes than when I joined it. I have Star Alliance Gold so should have been able to use the priority queue - and there was a priority queue - but it was not being policed so was just as long as the other two lines. On that note, 3 check-in staff to process the several Air India flights that were departing around that time was not enough.

At check-in I was offered a half-price upgrade to business class as a "gold card holder", which would have cost 4,500 rupees (about $93). For a one-hour flight, I decided it wasn't worth it. I was also given a lounge invitation, which was strange because I couldn't find any lounge anywhere in the domestic departures area!

There was a huge queue for boarding and priority boarding, although announced, was not enforced.

The reason I chose Air India was that I thought I would get some benefits as a Star Alliance Gold member. Ultimately, the only benefit I received (other than the upgrade offer) was a priority tag on my checked bag. (The benefit being the physical tag only, as it was not actually given priority and I waited an hour for it to arrive at the other end!)

This was our aircraft:

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Once on board, I found the seat incredibly hard and uncomfortable to sit in. The legroom was good, though.

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There was no in-flight entertainment, no in-flight service whatsoever (not even water) and the staff looked downright miserable.

All things considered, it’s safe to say that my first experience on Air India was not a positive one.
 

Mattg

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This time in Delhi I stayed within the Aerocity complex at the Ibis Hotel, and it was a world of difference from my "Aerocity Hotel" a week earlier. The Ibis was very good, with a clean, well-appointed room and a nice restaurant on the ground floor.

I booked a "mystery room" at the Ibis and got this:

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Within the Aerocity there are lots of Western food outlets, shops and restaurants. To get there, it's just one stop on the metro from Terminal 3 of DEL.
 

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Setting aside the hassles and so on, I'm sure you found your visit to the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort to be well worth the effort, and very memorable, just as we did. We were very lucky and had prearranged for all our airport to hotel to railway station transfers, and for a guide and transport in Agra. There were still suggestions from the guide that we could visit his friend's shop etc, but we avoided any hard sell and had a wonderful time.

We stayed at the Pullman Hotel at Delhi Aerotropolis, the Trident Hotel in Agra, and the Ibis at the Aerotropolis. The Ibis was a bit disorganised, but the others were excellent.
 

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Thanks Matt - a great report as always. I've just been showing MrsK your report and traveling to Europe via South Africa/Namibia might be the way to go for our next trip
 

Mattg

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Thanks Matt - a great report as always. I've just been showing MrsK your report and traveling to Europe via South Africa/Namibia might be the way to go for our next trip
Sounds like a good idea to me! Qantas can even sell you a fare along the lines of CBR-SYD-JNB/CPT-LHR, returning LHR-SIN-SYD-CBR at a reasonable price. Obviously the JNB-LHR or CPT-LHR leg would be on BA. Then, just book BA (Comair) to/from WDH on a separate ticket. (WDH-JNB-CPT in BA J is also quite a good status run!)
 

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Really enjoyed reading all of this. I've been to South Africa multiple times but I am planning my first very short (5 day) trip to Delhi for this coming May. You've outlined some of the things I was concerned about which were also outlined in multiple youtube videos that I have watched. I'll also stand out in the crowd unfortunately and I fully expect the multiple sales pitches and attempts to rip me off. I'm planning to spend a night at the Roseate which looks decent and then stay somewhere closer to the action. Instead of catching a train to Agra I'm considering driving very early in the morning to potentially catch sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Probably best to organise a tour for this in advance but I'm a very last minute person. Thanks again for the trip report. Its making me even more excited!
 

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