24th JANUARY – 11th MARCH 2024

Tour Managers Reviews

England Tour of India 2024

Why not read our customer testimonials, or check out the packages we offered for the India 2024 tour…

Nick & Carole Joyce

Rajkot, Ranchi & Dharamsala Test Matches, Kerala & Shimla

Nick has travelled to India several times before, but it was 42 years since my last trip. A very good Indian friend said, ‘go with an open mind, Carole,’ and how rewarded I was by following his advice. Whether our fellow Not Out Travellers were experienced Indian adventurers or first-time visitors, I am sure we all came away richer, happier, and with hearts and minds buzzing about one of the most amazing countries on the planet. It’s not just the landscape that makes a place special but also its people – and of course, in our case, the cricket.

Our tour started in Kerala, Southern India, and after six days spent there, we didn’t think anything else or anywhere else could surpass the experience. Our small group, wonderfully accompanied by our guide Shine, explored the life and history of Old Kochi. We also dipped into the creative culture, being enthralled by a Kathakali dance show (the uniqueness of this cannot be captured in words), and then ate supper together on the rooftop of our lovely colonial hotel, the Fragrant Nature, with its 360-degree views of the water. Our next day journey to Periyar felt daunting at 160 km but was, in fact, a sensation with fields of tea, rubber trees, pineapples farmed between settlements; there wasn’t time to close your eyes in case you missed something. If we reported fully on these six Kerala days, we’d need a further two chapters, but none of us will ever forget our overnight stay on the houseboats in the backwaters. Serene, beautiful, almost spiritual, we sat at dusk drinking chilled beers… chatting cricket! How more perfect does it get?

Well, the ‘perfect’ carried on… we finished the tour with two nights in Kumarakom, a peaceful haven where we could sit out on our room terraces in the sunshine overlooking the lake, a perfect recoup for those who had started their adventures at the First Test. Some of us ventured out for an early evening walk to the local village with Shine and truly felt the kindness of the people here who welcomed us with smiles and blessings. Every meal we ate in Kerala was a delight; how proud the chefs were to cook for us and the staff, making sure we enjoyed every mouthful and every minute of our stay. Believe us… we did enjoy every minute!

We flew from Bangalore to Rajkot excited for the Third Test. Our hotel, the Fern Residency, was business-oriented but with truly excellent food (Rajkot has very little tourism) and was certainly on the right side of town to get to the ground. This became very obvious when we experienced the traffic and driving on day one! It looks like complete chaos, but somehow it all works albeit with a few ‘close your eyes moments.’ Blend Tuk-tuks, motorbikes carrying families of four with sari-dressed mums riding side-saddle pillion, the odd trip of goats, and a few cows all going across each other and you’ll understand why the journey was a sheer delight to be part of! There’s not much calm in Rajkot. Seeing the daily life here in contrast to Kerala was quite a shock initially, but the sense of community with its hustle bustle and constant smiles told a story of much family happiness amongst the poverty.

The ground was another surprise, impressive on approach and didn’t disappoint inside either. We had great seats in the shade, another huge plus for Not Out Travel doing full inspections before a tour. The cricket was just as diverse and contrasting as India is as a country to visit. We all celebrated Ben Stokes’ 100th Test; we would have preferred to win the toss but enjoyed some class batting from India followed by a superb rapid knock from Ben Duckett ending in a century. We couldn’t maintain any pressure, however, and in the end had a crushing defeat. The last day was intensely hot in the middle with dust galore in the air which didn’t help the bowlers one bit. During the Test, we had an evening of good friendship and entertainment with Paul Collingwood – fortunately, it followed Ben Duckett’s blazing innings rather than the day of defeat! As the Test finished early, we were able to visit some local attractions; a personal highlight was the Gandhi Museum, housed in a beautiful old school building, it told his story from birth in the most gripping way and we certainly came away enlightened.

Between Tests, we had two nights in Mumbai which offered the opportunity of a day tour to dip into the sights and daily life of the “Bollywood’ city, which certainly put hustle and bustle on a new level. Some of the architecture was magnificent; you could spend a whole day at the main railway station!

Our thoughts now turned to Ranchi for the Fourth Test, with England needing a win as we were now 2-1 down. Ranchi seemed more prosperous as a place and certainly far less arid than Rajkot as we approached another appealing cricket ground where we had great seats in the MS Dhoni stand, which felt historical in itself. We won the toss and Joe Root treated us to a proper Joe hundred. We had a hospitality lunch provided, an array of curries but a definite highlight was the cooking of rotis in large frying vats just behind the seats. Honestly Irresistible! More cricket up and downs came our way with some seriously gripping moments but by day four we needed a miracle performance by someone. India only needed about 150 to win, we took 5 wickets and optimism stayed high for most of the session, but it wasn’t to be. The early finish gave another opportunity to explore the area on a tour or to take a rest and enjoy our hotel, the Chanakya, which must have one of the friendliest hotel staff possible, they couldn’t do enough for us.

Onto Delhi and yet more contrasts to feast on… every one of your senses gets highlighted here in India, be it in the most peaceful places or the full-on mass of people places! We had just one day to see this vast city before heading off to Shimla, but we came away having seen something of the magnificence of the ancient history and buildings and enjoying the huge open spaces that spread this city out far and wide.

We took an early flight the next day to Chandigarh, another huge contrast in front of us between Delhi airport and the little Air Force base airport there. We then had a long morning drive to Shimla, but the magnificence never ceased, helped in comfort by our excellent drivers at the wheel of spacious SUV cars. When the landscape became hilly and then mountainous, the houses and many temples appeared to be suspended in the trees and lushness… there are some seriously clever engineers in India. On arrival at our hotel, Elysium, it was truly a fairytale view that stopped you in your tracks. Not for the first time, India had shown us something beyond special.

On our first day of exploring here, the heavens opened which somewhat curtailed our experience at the Viceroy’s house; at over 2000 meters altitude, any rain means no view at all. Thankfully it stopped for our later trip on the Toy Train, called so due to its narrow-gauge track, and what a delight it was to travel on. The rest of our time in Shimla was free for people to explore at their leisure or simply absorb the area’s beauty. Six of us travelled further up the mountains to have tea at Lord Kitchener’s home, Wildflower Hall, which was stunningly beautiful, in both the afternoon sunshine and the early evening snow. Another long drive ahead, this time to Amritsar traveling further north, was yet again hugely enlightening from start to finish. By now, we knew what to expect of rural Indian roads with their steep drops and winding corners, some smooth and some like farm tracks, but by choosing road travel, you see so much that imprints on your heart and mind.

Our full day in Amritsar will never be forgotten. We visited the emotional Jallianwala Bagh Garden, which is a memorial to those killed in the 1919 massacre. The story told there made hard reading. The gardens are next to the Golden Temple, a place we all know about, but to visit in person is almost life changing. A large sign welcomes you with the words “You come here to seek tranquillity,” but with tens of thousands of people there each day, you smile to yourself at that impossibility. How wrong can an impression be? A spiritual tranquillity embraces you and transcends the sheer beauty of the surroundings, famous for housing the Sikh sacred book. And beautiful it is, beyond what any picture or photo can capture. We were shown the area where meals are prepared, and some of us helped to roll out the rotis ready for cooking – 200,000 are made each day! In the early evening, we attended the Wagah Border retreat ceremony on the border of India and Pakistan. Full of noise, colour, and partying, it is an event held in high regard by visitors on both sides of the border.

We left the wonders of Amritsar to drive to Dharamshala for the last of the five tests, the excitement building at the thought of witnessing a match at probably the most beautifully set ground in the world. Cape Town has Table Mountain, but Dharamshala has the Himalayas! Yet again, our hotel had outstanding views, superb food, and staff who were delighted to cook for us and serve us. A beer on the terrace felt as if you were sat in a light aircraft it was so high up. And there was more to come…

We knew we would get to see the local points of interest, including the Dalai Lama’s temple and wonderful museum here, but we had no idea how the test match was going to pan out. Everyone was buzzing about it. Day one arrived, and words fail to describe what this cricket ground gave to us. Our magnificent seats were accessed through the pavilion entrance, decked in local woods and chandeliers. Our eyes didn’t know where to look first when we reached our seats. A blend of northern Indian architecture and multi-coloured buildings set in the mountainside, backdropped by the snow-capped Himalayas… And the cricket hadn’t even started. We won the toss and batted so well until the collapse. It was Jonny Bairstow’s 100th cap, also Ashwin’s, and it was Jimmy Anderson’s chance to take wickets number 699 and 700. Ben Stokes bowled for the first time since his knee op and took a wicket with his first ball. We saw it all.

Following the Test Match was the Not Out Travel Farewell Social, a great way for all our groups in Dharamsala to get together and cheers to a wonderful tour. Held just a few hundred metres from the ground, we enjoyed the views, the great food and wonderful company! Nick Hoult and Graeme Swann entertained us that evening, telling us his tales of inside knowledge added to the cricket buzz and was thoroughly enjoyed.

Sometimes, experiences on tour are way beyond what you anticipated before setting off, and we’re sure many of our fellow Not Out Travellers will feel the same in saying, “India delivered.” For all its contrasts of places and society, the smiles and waves of the Indian people, especially the children, will be remembered forever. The company and friendship of our groups were as wonderful as ever, enjoying all the different experiences and coping so well when the path we planned may have taken a less straight route!

There truly were many precious “we were there” moments.

Des Newton

Hyderabad, Vizag & Dharamsala Test Matches & The Golden Triangle & Goa

Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” The best of India is fabulous, while the worst can be tough, but never boring.

The sheer size of the country makes it large enough to be called a subcontinent, forming the peninsula of the continent of Asia, bordered by the sea to the east, south, and west. The highest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas, rises to form the northern boundary.

India is a vibrant and diverse land offering a rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty. Additionally, it is renowned for its passion for cricket, a sport deeply embedded in its national identity and holding a special place in the hearts of millions of Indians. The same can be said for millions of England’s supporters who have helped spread this game far and wide. The various tours offered by Not Out Travel certainly provide the ultimate cricket adventure with five test matches and many exciting excursions.

India holds a certain fascination. It is different. The weather, climate, temperature, food, beer, people, social hierarchy, attitude towards animals, most religions, scenery, bureaucracy, traffic rules, and driving styles are all different. Traveling by coach, taxi, tuk-tuk, or walking is a sheer adventure. We were surrounded by so much history, culture, and the huge diversity of nature, architecture, scenery, and wealth and poverty at all levels of survival. I miss it already!

Hyderabad was the host city for the opening test match of the tour. It had a military feel to it, which was demonstrated to us by the security at the entrance to the ground on day one. Cameras, binoculars, pens, pencils, parasols, water bottles (even empty ones), sunscreen, etc., were not allowed into the ground. It was a blazing hot sunny day. Bottled water was not for sale, but owing to the stoic resilience of our group, things got better, overcoming all obstacles. Good times happened on the field of play with England providing a great win in extra time on day four, so all tough times were forgotten.

An excursion to the magnificent Golconda Fort high up on top of a granite hill was a highlight. The acoustics were wondrous. A clap inside the grand portico under the dome can be heard in the Bala Hisar pavilion almost a kilometre away! The architects are believed to have created it so that an army chief could listen to what his sentries were doing. The climb to the top was reasonably stiff, but the view was worth it. We could see our next port of call in the distance, so we made our way to the Qutub Shahi Tombs. There are seven gigantic dome-like constructions built as a resting place for the original seven Sultans of Hyderabad. Other tombs have now been built, so the area holds about twenty. Well worth a visit it was, as was our evening meal of biryani, a dish for which the area is famous.

A short flight took us to the southeastern shores of India to a place called by the lovely name of Vishakhapatnam or Vizag for short for test match number two. The Novotel, across the road from the beach, offered superb views of the bay and the surrounding city. Both cricket teams were residents there too, so it was fun to mingle with some of the players. Walks along the beachfront were popular, as was the swimming pool area overlooking the sea. Excursions took us to the wonderful gardens on top of a hill with great views of the city and surrounding coastline while some of us played tennis ball cricket with some of the locals. We moved on to a film studio followed by a visit to a local popular beach for a paddle in the warm water. The Sea Harrier Museum and the Submarine Museum were very interesting to some.

In a closely fought contest on the field, India won by 106 runs. Most cricket experts agreed the result could have gone either way. The series was now level at one all, and it was with careful optimism that our punters were looking forward to the next test. But first, my group was looking forward to their next excursion touring The Golden Triangle. We flew to the capital of India, the city of Delhi, to begin…

The Golden Triangle tour starts in the thriving metropolis of Delhi. Our tour took us on a journey of charm from Old Delhi to the modern India of New Delhi. First up was the awesome Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the land, followed by a bicycle rickshaw ride. We went through the narrowest of alleyways, seeing up close the way the Chandi Chowk, Asia’s largest wholesale market, operates. The smallest of shops with a frontage about the same size as a normal door seemed to be making a living. We travelled along, narrowly missing pedestrians, carts, and bicycles by millimetres. Our hard-working rickshaw peddlers returned us to the coach as happy clients, leaving us with a memory imprint of an intimate view of the tough conditions these folk considered normal, all the while wearing optimistic smiles.

We then drove past the imposing Red Fort on our way for a gentle walk to see Raj Ghat – Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial. It was a peaceful place, much like the man himself. Suitably inspired, we set off for New Delhi, which reflects the legacy the British left behind. The Qutub Minar was fascinating, sporting the second-tallest building in India. Most of the ornate structures were built using red sandstone and marble. We drove past the Gate of India, the memorial arch, the stunning Parliament House, and the Vice Regal Palace, which is the official residence of the President of India. One had a sense of wide-open spaces with tree-lined avenues, large lawns, and beautiful architecture, mostly designed by Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker. It was an impressive sight.
After a visit to the Fatehpur Sikri edifices built in the mid-sixteenth century by the Mughal Empire, we searched for greener pastures. We found them in Jaipur. It is surrounded by imposing mountains and the colour of the stone buildings has given it the name of The Pink City. This salmon-pink hue is certainly beautiful and is everywhere to be seen. After a photo stop at the Palace of Winds, we took a short drive to the ancient city of Amber to visit the fabulous Amber Fort situated high up on a hill. Elephants used to take visitors up to the fort entrance and would trudge up and down this lengthy climb. I used to feel very sorry for them. Now I am thrilled to report that jeeps have taken their place. One can still take a short elephant ride once at the top. The views were splendid, one could clearly see the walls that surrounded the old city lining the hills like a miniature Great Wall of China. We strolled through this vast structure learning about the influence in tradition of the Hindu and Mughal empires.

We moved on to another gem; the Jantar Mantar or astronomical observatory with fascinating shapes and sizes to be able to read the secrets of the stars and moon and sundials accurate to within a couple of seconds. It was built in the eighteenth century and still makes accurate predictions to this day.

This wonderful tour had to come to an end, so we bid farewell to the Golden Triangle and flew off the huge city of Mumbai.

This mother of a city lives up to all the images one might have of India. Of the 22 million people living there, 52% reside in slums, but the conundrum is that it is the richest city in the land leading with a GDP of USD 310 trillion. Delhi Leads the way in per capita income. Mumbai is a city that is always busy day and night. The airport is as busy at 2 am as it is in the daytime. Spreading along the West Coast and bordering the Arabian Sea one can go for a stroll along the seaside promenades to take taxi to see such sights as the iconic Gateway of India, marvel at the best hotel in India, the Taj Mahal, the wonderful architecture of the Victoria railway terminus, see huge tall office blocks and upmarket apartments cheek by jowl with old and magnificent buildings of days gone by, visit the biggest open-air laundry in the world- the Dhobi Ghat-The highly informative Prince of Wales museum, take in the emotional visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s house and much more. Of course, the world-renowned Bollywood has its home there. We managed to see most of the sights on our day tour which was thoroughly enjoyable.

This was where I would briefly depart the tour for a quick jaunt back to Cape Town, eager to return for the grand finale…

Our sojourn to the beautiful seaside destination of Goa proved to be the best of times in our busy schedule in bustling India. It was a haven of tranquillity, with our splendid hotel well-placed in a village enabling easy access to shops, restaurants, and bars, and a splendid beach that stretched as far as the eye could see.

Every day, the group would gather at noon at the aptly named “Baywatch Beach Shack” for drinks and a light lunch, interrupting the sun-tanning to catch up on the latest news. The temperature was pleasantly warm, as was the sea, and much walking and dips in the ocean were enjoyed. Ian Stone, our daring man of adventure, thoroughly enjoyed his jet-ski ride and parasailing! At the end of the day, the sun sets into the sea, changing colour to a deep red. Stunning.

In the evening, our second rendezvous point was a pub adjacent to the hotel where we would all meet before heading to nearby restaurants. Everyone agreed that this break in the touring schedule was an absolute blessing, and we said goodbye to Goa refreshed and contented, sporting a healthy suntan.

Carole said that when she saw the view from our stand at the fifth test match towards the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas, she had to pinch herself in case she was dreaming. It was that beautiful. It is the most beautiful test ground I have seen. This venue at the end of our tour turned out to be the best of days once more.

The test match ended early with England being soundly beaten for India to win the series 4-1. It gave us the opportunity to tour the delights of the area. McLeod Ganj is a quaint town clinging to the edge of a mountain with many bars and restaurants with narrow streets, shops, taxis, tuk-tuks, and pedestrians. Many monks could be seen wandering the streets in their red robes.

This hillside village, surrounded by cedar forests on the edge of the Himalayas, is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. We visited the Tibetan Museum, to be informed of the atrocities committed against this tiny peaceful nation, the sacred and impressive Dalai Lama Temple, the St. John Anglican Church in the Wilderness, and the enjoyable cable car ride. On the way back to our superb hotel with vast views of the valleys around us and the ever-present snow on the mountains, we stopped at one of the monasteries, home to about 500 Tibetan monks and families. It was fascinating to see how they were coping in exile.

After much effort, one of our touring party actually managed to make an appointment to meet the Dalai Lama himself at an early morning hour. Ann held hands with him and smiled. He smiled back. She giggled, and so he giggled in return. She had to move on. Ann said his hands were very soft. Well done, Ann; not many people have done that.

All in all, this India tour was the best of times. I’m sure we all agree.
Yours in cricket and touring,

Maggi Gibson

Rajkot, Ranchi & Dharamsala Test Matches & The Golden Triangle

Our wonderful tour of India has come to an end, and I am sad to be leaving this great country after an absolutely fantastic tour with so many indelible memories. Congrats to the Not Out Travel Team for putting together this very memorable tour during which I have met some wonderful people, seen some interesting, if disappointing cricket, and visited the most unforgettable sights. I was very lucky to accompany Not Out Travelllers for the last three test matches in Rajkot, Ranchi, and the stupendous Dharamsala with a sightseeing trip to the Golden Triangle and Amritsar in between. Having never seen the Taj Mahal in real life, this sightseeing tour was the opportunity of a lifetime.

My stay in India started off in the ‘dry’ (alcohol-free) and mostly vegetarian northwestern state of Gujarat. It was wonderful to be at the airport to welcome our customers – many familiar faces and many new ones! After the great England win in Hyderabad and the test series level, everyone arrived with mounting excitement for the start of the third test and hoping for a repeat performance of the first one! Rajkot, being the city in which Mahatma Gandhi spent much of his youth, had many Gandhi-related museums to visit when there was no cricket to watch. My colleague, Andy Tyler, and I were lucky to have a very easy-going group who were almost all experienced visitors to India. Rajkot is not visited by many foreign tourists, so there was little English spoken, and trying to make oneself understood by the local tuk-tuk drivers was not an easy task, but somehow, we managed and got out to a couple of local restaurants in the evenings after the cricket. Walking around the city was a challenge with no real pavements and crazy traffic, constant hooting, and very dusty streets. Many Not Out Travellers were quite stoic about the lack of alcohol and just embraced an alcohol-free week while others rushed off to buy their ‘liquor permits’ and stock up for a bit of in-room drinking! I won’t say which group I fell into, but most people that know me would guess!

The stadium in Rajkot was quite impressive, and we had great seats in the VIP area which, on the first day, had cushions and lovely covers on them. We managed to convince them to let us out during tea breaks/lunchtime so we could stretch our legs. There was limited food on sale but some of us eventually managed to find the samosa sellers, and almost all of us partook of the most delicious butterscotch and chocolate ice cream cones on sale. The Barmy Army kept us entertained with their trumpet playing and songs although they were seated quite a bit higher up than us. The first and second days of cricket were full of promise and on the evening of Day 2 we had a wonderful get-together with all Not Out Travellers at the Fern Residency with a delicious buffet dinner and some soft drinks thrown in. Paul Collingwood was interviewed by Nick Hoult and gave some interesting insights into the behind-the-scenes world of the England cricket team. He was lucky to be speaking to us while everyone was so upbeat about the cricket, but things were looking a bit gloomy by the end of Day Three. Despite a sterling effort by Ben Duckett and some of the other England players, we ended up with Team India securing the 434-run victory by the end of the fourth day, India’s biggest win by runs and England’s second-biggest defeat. The disappointed England fans took comfort in having had the privilege of watching an outstanding performance by the young player Yashasvi Jaiswal as well as some great cricket from Shubman Gill, Sarfaraz Khan, and player of the match Ravindra Jadeja.

With no cricket to watch on Day Five, we arranged for some people to visit the splendid Rajkumar College. This college is a private school created for the children of the Maharajahs in the style of the top British public schools – one of only two of these schools in the whole of India. Going through the entrance to the college, we left behind the crazy busy streets of Rajkot and entered an oasis of calm. We were warmly welcomed by the staff and given a very comprehensive tour of the beautiful grounds and buildings, astounding facilities both educational and sporting, and were given access to the lovely cricket pavilion as well as being offered cups of tea in one of the student dining halls. A very pleasant distraction for the morning. Some had a walk around Rajkot visiting the Jubilee Gardens with its quaint Wilson Museum and Lang library while others visited one of the Gandhi museums located in the previous private home of the Gandhi family where the Mahatma spent some of his formative years. The main Gandhi Museum is located in the buildings that housed the school where he was educated. This was closed on this particular day, but most people managed to visit it the following day before our flight to Mumbai for a couple of nights en-route to Ranchi.

In between the Rajkot and Ranchi tests, Not Out Travellers spent two nights in the modern Indian luxury at the Trident hotel in Mumbai with a full day of optional sightseeing/leisure. This was thoroughly enjoyed by all and we soon arrived safely in Ranchi, the hometown of MS Dhoni, situated in the northeastern state of Jharkand, about 400 kilometres west of Kolkata (Calcutta). We checked into our hotels with a bit of time to get settled in before the start of the fourth test the next day. Again, the Not Out Travel group was split between two hotels. Our group was in the business-style Capitol Hill hotel which, although it didn’t look much from the outside, was very well run with a good bar and a huge range of delicious food. Breakfast was excellent as were the dinner offerings in the evening. The staff could not have been more helpful and willing to please. The other Not Out Travel group was in a heritage-style hotel near the train station with attractive grounds and some good dining options including a great Chinese restaurant.

A great welcome event was held for all our customers at the Chanakkya hotel with a full buffet dinner. Our guests were Ali Martin and Jeetan Patel and it was a great way for our large group of over 90 people to get together to reacquaint old friendships and make some new ones.

Day One of the fourth test match saw an early start for our transfers to the JSCA stadium about 20 minutes from Ranchi’s centre. Gaining entry was slow due to the stadium administrators losing a very large key to open the main gate! This was the first test match played here since 2019 and only the third test match ever played here. We enjoyed delicious tea-time snacks and a wonderful lunch buffet each day from our hospitality seating, while many enjoyed walking around the ground to enjoy the hustle and bustle and wonderful food stands in the concourses.

As far as the cricket was concerned, after high expectations on Day 2 of the test our tour group felt complete dejection by the end of Day 3. Once again, our players couldn’t gain any traction over India’s splendid spin-bowling performance, and with Shubman Gill and Dhruv Jurel’s fine batting performance Team India had won the test and the series by mid-afternoon on Day 4. With a free day in Ranchi, some of us went for a drive around Ranchi visiting the state museum and a pleasant rock garden, whilst a few other customers had a private car to visit the nearby Patratu Valley and Tagore Hill.

The next day, we all set off for Delhi, Goa or Lucknow for our various sightseeing options. One large group embarked on the Golden Triangle and Amritsar tour, while another popular option was a tour to Shimla and the Golden Temple. Another group ventured off to visit Lucknow and a tiger reserve, a few others opted for rest and relaxation time in Goa, while another small group stayed in Delhi and went straight to Dharamsala for some exploring before the start of the cricket. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the sightseeing trips.

Andy and I accompanied a great group of customers on the Golden Triangle tour, and after some long drives, we were rewarded with visits to some incredible cities, forts, and temples. Agra and Taj Mahal were, of course, the main attractions, but other visits such as the Amber Fort in Jaipur and the Golden Temple in Amritsar were also unforgettable. Part of the Golden Triangle tour was done in two very comfortable coaches with fantastic local guides who helped us gain a lot of insight into India’s fascinating history, culture, and traditions, and also made the tour a lot of fun. Once we reached Amritsar, we were transported in luxury sedan vehicles, which were also used for the six-hour drive from Amritsar to Dharamsala, a journey that became more and more interesting with unbelievable twists, turns, and climbs up to the lofty area of Dharamsala at an altitude of 1457 meters. Eventually, we were all reunited in this spectacular place with stunning views of the Dhauladar mountain range – foothills of the Himalayas.

Dharamsala is a fascinating area situated in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh and is home to a big population of Tibetan exiles, the Tibetan government in exile, and, of course, the Dalai Lama. One of our group was lucky enough to arrange a private audience with the Dalai Lama, which was a very special experience for her.

Once we were all checked in and settled into our various hotels, the anticipation grew for the start of the cricket in the most beautiful test cricket ground in the world. We got up early for Day 1 and began the winding descent to the stadium. When we arrived at the stadium, we were first of all ‘gobsmacked’ by the incredible views of the mountains and the beautiful cricket ground. Being a South African, I am immensely proud of Newlands stadium and the views of the slopes of Table Mountain, but it is no comparison to the views here! Next, we were astounded by the quality of hospitality that we had. We were in the ‘club lounge’ area of one of the two pavilions with catering stations offering tea, biscuits, and proper coffee. The lunch offering was fantastic too. Well-stocked fridges of water and soft drinks were at our disposal and later in the day, we were surprised to see beers, wine, and spirits on sale – a first for us in any cricket stadium in India – it was heaven!

Although our cricket team was not quite so heavenly, we were still treated to some amazing cricket – hundreds from Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, some good bowling by Bashir, a surprise wicket from Stokes, and, of course, Jimmy Anderson’s 700 wickets. In spite of the result, everyone thoroughly enjoyed Dharamsala, and most people made several visits to McLeod Ganj with its wonderful variety of bars, restaurants, street food, and shops.

With the cricket over in three and a half days, we were able to really appreciate the fantastic sightseeing opportunities of the area and managed to visit the Dalai Lama temple, St. John in the Wilderness (a beautiful English church built in 1852 with beautiful stained glass windows donated by Lady Elgin whose husband, Lord Elgin, Governor General and Viceroy of India is buried in the churchyard), the Norbulingka Institute (a lovely Tibetan cultural and crafts centre with a great tea garden and coffee shop), as well as the beautiful Gyuto monastery.

On the evening of what should have been Day 4 of the cricket, we had a Farewell Social evening with drinks and dinner included. It was held at the Infinitia Hotel close to the stadium – we had thought that everyone would walk there straight after the cricket but, alas, that was not the case! Even so, we had a great evening together and were entertained by Nick Hoult and Graeme Swann, who was highly entertaining with great stories.

To end our tour, we all flew to Delhi in different groups, airlines, and even trains and were eventually all reunited at the Pride Plaza hotel in the very modern enclave of Aerocity close to the Indira Gandhi airport. All customers were flying back home from there with a variety of international flights. Local airline Indigo managed to leave about 25 pieces of luggage in Dharamsala – half of them belonging to customers who were flying out in the early hours of the following morning. We were eventually assured that the luggage would be transported by truck to Amritsar and flown to Delhi in time to make the early morning flights. The luggage did indeed land in Delhi but with not much time to spare and after much stress and logistical difficulty, the suitcases all made it onto the international flights by the “skin of their teeth” and everyone was successfully reunited with their luggage on arrival in the UK. Some of the Not Out Travel staff were still retrieving and relocating luggage at 3am the following morning! But all is well that ends well. A few of us Not Out Travel Tour Managers had a pleasant farewell dinner at Virat Kohli’s One8 commune restaurant in Aerocity once the majority of the Not Out Travellers had safely boarded their flights home.

What a tour!! A big Thank You from me to Not Out Travel for the great opportunity of accompanying our wonderful Not Out Travllers on this unforgettable trip.

Andy Tyler

Rajkot, Ranchi & Dharamsala Test Matches & The Golden Triangle

I left home on a cold Monday morning and boarded my train to London with a sense of excitement. The Tests were beautifully poised at 1-1, and I also had the Golden Triangle to look forward to. I was looking forward to the sights, sounds, smells, and flavours India had to offer, and it did not disappoint!

Having arrived in Mumbai, I was reassured by the speed I got through immigration and passport control. I had soon exchanged some Sterling for Rupees and had booked onto my flight to Rajkot. After arriving in Rajkot, I checked-in to the Hotel Sarovar, joining the early-comers who had already arrived and eagerly anticipated the new arrivals. The hotel staff were wonderful and could not do enough for you. Rajkot was a busy city, full of hustle and bustle, which appeared to carry on 24/7. The beeps from the scooters, tuk-tuks, and cars will be stamped on my brain forever. The locals were charming and engaging; we must have posed for hundreds of selfies with the curious youngsters of the city. Rajkot is within a vegetarian and dry state… I know, that worried me! The food was fantastic and flavoursome, and for those die-hard meat eaters, some restaurants did serve meat (including our hotel). Being in a dry state was fine, until the cricket started!!

Day 1 of the Test had us all in anticipation with India batting and England taking 3 quick wickets. Then Sharma and Jadeja got centuries and put India in a good position at 445 all out. England had a great start with a century from Duckett, finishing day 2 on 207-2. At this stage, we were very optimistic and excited for an England mega-score. We had a great evening with Nick Hoult and Paul Collingwood, where you could not disagree with the BazBall strategy… until day 3. England horribly collapsed and were then batted out of the game. On day 4, we witnessed another batting collapse. Bad loss. With the spare day, we took advantage of the local culture, which included visiting the Gandhi Museum and the Rajkumar College (established in 1868, based on the British system, it was like looking round Eaton).

Our next stop was Mumbai, where we spent a very pleasant two nights. The city tour was amazing. Our guide was knowledgeable and engaging, which helped us all to understand the sights and sounds of the city. These included the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Hotel, the National Museum, and the local launderette!!! (A sight to see – unbelievable). We also took advantage of being out of the dry state with a well-earned drink or two.

Early on February 22nd, we flew out of Mumbai to the eastern side of India, arriving in Ranchi. Also known as the city of waterfalls, Ranchi was more laid back than Rajkot. The locals appeared to start slowly in the morning, but I was amazed by the pride they took in their city – cleaned every morning. The side streets held an electric atmosphere, and the smells of the spices filled the air. Similar to Rajkot, Ranchi was not a tourist hotspot, so the locals took extra interest in us as we explored their city. We were staying at the Capitol Hill Hotel; a spacious hotel which included a restaurant and a lively bar. Again, the staff were incredible, and their hospitality was second to none.

The Test match was frustrating for us all. England won the toss and decided to bat. Joe Root scored a thrilling century, and we were well poised at 353 all out. India posted 307 all out, and England were set well, but we managed a day 3 collapse again and India capitalized on this. England managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…oh well. We filled day 5 with a city tour of Ranchi. This included the State Museum, where we learned about the tribes in the region and their specific employment to add value in the state. It also included the Rock Garden, which also gave us spectacular views over the Kanke Dam.

We then flew off to Delhi to commence the Golden Triangle and Amritsar tour. We were again joined by new Not Out Travellers who were keen to sample the culture and sights prior to the final test. Words cannot explain what we saw on the tour. It was the most emotional, unbelievable, and fantastic tour I have experienced, and these adjectives were used on multiple occasions by all of us that witnessed the sights. Starting in Delhi we visited Gandhi’s cremation gardens, the Red Fort, The Jama Masjid Mosque (one of the largest mosques in India built in 1650), Humayun’s Tomb, and the Qutub Minar (a minaret and victory tower built between 1199 and 1220). All sights to behold. We also enjoyed a hair-raising rickshaw ride through the old town of Delhi which took in the hustle and bustle, the smells of the spices, and the small local shops selling anything and everything.

We then moved to Agra where we visited Fatehpur Sikri, the abandoned city and former capital of the Mughal Empire. We also visited Agra Fort, which was the precursor to the Taj Mahal. The weather was not kind to us for our sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal, but that did not matter. From the moment you got your first glimpse through the archway, the emotional wave that took you over will never be forgotten. The architecture, the scale, the soothing explanations from our guide, through to the Princess Daina photo opportunity. The cricket performance did not matter at this point; this wonder of the world was living up to its name.

How could we cap this? Well, off we went to Jaipur, probably one of the most amazing places architecturally I have ever been. The hotel set the benchmark and it got better and better. The Amber Fort was unforgettable – how they built it, I will never know. The Floating Palace was equally spectacular. Later, we visited The Jantar Mantar Observatory, which is a collection of 19 astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, Rajasthan. The monument was completed in 1734. It features the world’s largest stone sundial which keeps better time than my Apple iWatch (other makes of watches are available).

Continuing to Amritsar, we visited the Golden Temple, the pre-eminent spiritual site of Sikhism – spectacular. Our group of tourists were amazed by the scale of the Temple. This is another location that words cannot do justice to. When we went back at night to witness the evening ceremony, the way the gold sparkled off the lake that surrounds the Temple was breathtaking. The visit to Amritsar was completed by a visit to the sunset flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah Border crossing point between India and Pakistan, AKA the ministry of silly walks ceremony. This was a brilliant display of patriotism from both militaries and very entertaining to all of us present.

Departing Amritsar, we all entered our cars for the spectacularly breathtaking drive to Dharamshala. Staying in the Fortune Hotel, high in the foothills of the Himalayas, the views were spectacular. This was only surpassed by the view from our seats in the stadium. England may not have provided us with much cheer, but the spectacular view just put a smile on your face. Despite the loss, we did see the ‘I was there moment’ when Jimmy secured his 700th wicket – Amazing.

Well, as far as bucket lists go, this tour has ticked quite a few off. It was an honour and a privilege to Tour Manage for such a great group of people. Old friendships rekindled and new ones formed. We were wowed by the food, culture, sights, and sounds, and we were privileged to watch cricket in stadiums we could have only dreamed of visiting.

Georgina Anthony

Dharamsala Test Match & Mughal’s, Taj & Tigers

My tour began in Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh. Our city tour took us to two magnificent Mughal-era Imambaras – building complexes comprising courtyard gardens, tombs and assembly place where the mourning of Muharram or ‘Azadari’ was performed. The imposing Bara Imambara, was commissioned by the Nawab of Awadh/Oudh in 1784 and the later Chota Imambara, commissioned in 1838, contained a magnificent collection of Belgian chandeliers. The tour included a stop at the city laundry on the banks of the river Gomti and a visit later in the day to the ruins of the Residency, a poignant reminder of the 1857 mutiny against the British occupiers serving the East India Company, known in India as the First War of Independence.

Our trusty bus driver and his co-pilot (more than necessary when negotiating the chaotic streets!) then delivered us to the Red Fort in Agra. Here our guide worked his knowledge of the Mughal dynasty hard amid the vast and impressive fort as courtyard gave way to courtyard, all built in red sandstone and marble in the elegant and decorative Mughal style. We paused at the octagonal tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son, living his last years gazing across the river Yamuna at the beautiful tomb he built for his much-loved third wife and where he would join her in death – Taj Mahal.

Some on the trip had seen the world’s most famous building before but many, like me, were seeing it for the first time. Taj Mahal did not disappoint even if the sunrise was damp and overcast after a dramatic storm the night before. Began in 1633, it took 20 years and 20,000 people to complete this marble masterpiece of grace, symmetry and luminosity. Only when seeing it close up can you appreciate the stunning and intricate friezes of colourful pietra dura inlay and calligraphic inscriptions. Together with the other buildings that make up the complex and the pools and gardens it did inspire wonder, despite the huge number of tourists sharing the experience.

Lucknow and Agra had certainly delivered on what was promised but the next stage of the tour – Tigers – was by no means guaranteed. Five canter safaris were planned from our comfortable base, the Ranthambore Kothi. Setting out with muted expectations and Mick’s book on Indian birds to keep us alert we stopped for deer, crocodiles, peacocks, ibises, kingfishers, owls and many bird species trying to measure our expectations of seeing the elusive tigers. I still cannot believe how lucky we were – on our first safari a tiger’s roar was heard close by and out of the undergrowth prowled a magnificent fully grown male, marking his territory and then lying down in a puddle in the road in front of us. Truly amazing! We had tiger sightings on subsequent safaris, what an incredible experience for us as a group to share together.

On to Delhi and up on the very civilised train to Amb Andaura where we said farewell to our guide (and his idiosyncratic measurements of time) and were driven to Dharamsala for the 5th Test. The ground was stunning, nestled among the lower Himalayas, as was the Indian batting to which England had little response. The five days of cricket with the mountain backdrop and excellent food provided became two and a half which was disappointing, but it meant time to explore Dharamsala and Macleod Ganj. On what would have been day four, we took the Tata-Skyway up to Macleod Ganj and enjoyed the markets there prior to the end of tour dinner and event with Nick Hoult and Graeme Swann. The Infintia Centric Hotel laid on a delicious buffet before these two friends got stuck into their highly entertaining Q & A session. On our final day Not Out Travel put together a day which included visiting the Norbulingka Institute which had been set up to preserve Tibetan Arts and Culture where we saw painters and other craftsmen in action, the Gyuto Tibetan monastery, the church of St John in the Wilderness where Lord Elgin, a former Viceroy of India is buried, the Dalai Lama Temple Complex where we witnessed the monks and nuns engaged in their demonstrative debates and finally the Tibetan Museum where we learned the sad history of Tibet’s takeover by China and the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama.

So how lucky was I – fantastic company, great sightseeing, knowledgeable local guides, awesome experiences, history lessons, delicious food, comfortable hotels, cricket in one of the most picturesque grounds in the world – all on my first ever trip to India. Thank you to all of you who made it so special.

Bob Buckler

Hyderabad, Vizag & Dharamsala Test Matches & India’s National Parks

We have all seen the slogan “Incredible India,” and after 59 days of traveling the length and breadth of the country, I can vouch for that. The sights, smells, and sounds are like nowhere else in the world. The love of cricket here is amazing; every open space you see people playing. I even witnessed Tibetan children in a monastery using a pile of stones as wickets with a knotted cloth for a ball!

I’m in a few days early, with my colleague Des Newton who arrives from Cape Town and MD Charlie Baker. We find a great bar called 10 Downing St just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel; it’s our recommended watering hole. Exotica rooftop bar restaurant becomes a firm favourite, although the name gets interpreted differently by a few “tuk-tuk” drivers! Welcome drinks reacquaint old traveling guests plus the opportunity to introduce new ones into our touring party. What happens over the next few days is a never-to-be-forgotten test match.
The issue with entry into the stadium has been well documented by the media. Enough to say, it was an unacceptable way to treat traveling supporters. The cricket, on the other hand, is utterly absorbing. Falling 190 runs behind on the first innings, Ollie Pope literally swept us to a 231 lead in the second. Up steps debutant Tom Hartley, who was thumped for 131 runs in the first innings, to finish with 7 for 62 in the second to win the match in an “I was there moment” in English test cricket.

Vizag (Visakhapatnam)
Overlooking The Bay of Bengal, our hotel is also home to both teams. It’s noticeable the England team happily stops for the odd chat or selfie while the Indians are somewhere under strict security. Ali Martin, the chief cricket correspondent of The Guardian, came to talk to us on the eve of the test, not only sharing his thoughts on the current state of the game but also explaining how his job reporting on cricket has changed over the years.

Last year at Arundel Cricket ground while working for the ECB, I had the opportunity to watch Jaiswal; his potential was evident then and now, contributing 179 out of 336 runs on day one. On day two, we rattled India out for 396 in less than 90 mins. After an encouraging start, we crumbled to 253 all out. On day 3, it was a commendable effort by England to dismiss India for 255, but with a lead of 399, it was a bridge too far on day 4, and we batted about a par score of 292, short by 106 for India to level the series.

The evening of day 4 is our farewell dinner with guest Marcus Trescothick, who needs no introduction, and Vithushan Ehantharajah, an experienced sports journalist.

India’s National Parks (Mumbai – Kanha – Pench)
I’m heading with a small group to two of India’s national parks, which are famous for tigers, but first, we have two nights in Mumbai with an excellent local guide to show us the sights. With only one day, it’s a full program.

The following morning, we fly to Nagpur, the nearest airport to Kanha Earth Lodge, our home for the next three nights. It’s a long seven-hour drive, but in the end, we are rewarded with a local welcome, excellent rooms, supper, and it’s early bed. Each day is a 5:30am start with coffee and biscuits before setting off for the entrance gate formalities into the park an hour later. We are all wrapped up in blankets with hot water bottles to keep us warm; it’s cold, but the early mornings are absolutely beautiful as the sun rises, burning off the mist. We have some very keen “twitchers” with us who keep the guide/spotter on their toes with sightings and questions. We fall into a pattern over the next few days: early rise, two game drives, and early bed. We are rewarded with three Tiger sightings and a Leopard at Pench where we stayed for two nights at Pench Tree Lodge.

It’s been a memorable few days with great company. We are now heading to Rajkot for the 3rd test. Personally, it’s time for me to hang up my Tour Manager shirt for the next two test matches, which I enjoy as a ‘punter’, but I will return for the finale in Dharamshala.

Delhi – Dharamshala
I’m back on duty. Unfortunately, the last two tests have not gone to plan for England, losing by 434 and 5 wickets, respectively. India now with a 3-1 lead in the series. We have various sightseeing options between the 4th and 5th tests: Goa, The Golden Triangle, Shimla, but to name a few. I’m in Delhi with customers who have chosen the option to head to Dharamsala early, and to meet new guests arriving for the final test.

We arrive at Dharamshala in the middle of a hailstorm; the ground crew is on hand with umbrellas. It passes quickly, and we depart to our hotels, climbing towards McLeod Ganj at just over 2,000 meters; it’s a chilly 5°C. In the morning, we awake to a view that can only be described as stunning: fresh snow has fallen just above us on the foothills of the Himalayas. Arriving two days before our main touring party affords us the opportunity to explore the town of Mcleod Ganj, also known as Dhasa because of its large Tibetan population and the government in exile headquarters. The town is amazing with alleys, markets, restaurants, and rooftop bars. A Skyway (aerial ropeway) with the backdrop of the snow-capped Dhauladhars links McLeod and Dharamshala.

The roads are narrow and twisty up to our hotel, which requires a fleet of cars to transport our guests for the 30min drive to the stadium. Our seats overlooking the snow-capped mountains are the best in the house, including coffee, lunch, afternoon tea (and alcohol available!); this is not only the highest test stadium in the world but without doubt the most picturesque (sorry Newlands!)
England’s bid to scale the heights on their tour of India descended into an innings defeat here in Dharamshala and a 4-1 series loss. I’m not going to dwell on this; there are far better-informed commentators who can do this over the coming weeks. Undoubtedly the highlight of the match for England was James Anderson’s 700th test wicket, the first seam bowler to achieve this milestone.

Our farewell event takes on a slightly different format from the normal; it’s held at one of our hotels close to the ground, a rooftop bar setting where guests can relax with the buffet restaurant a few floors down for dinner to take at your leisure. We all meet up later for an entertaining evening with Graeme Swann and Nick Hoult, cricket correspondent of the Telegraph. From the feedback, it’s been a relaxing, enjoyable evening with a highly entertaining guest.

On the final day in this picturesque setting, we lay on a fleet of cars with guides for sightseeing to cover the many interesting places. One of our number, after many emails and gentle persuasion, has an audience with the Dalai Lama.

We all board flights (a few by train) back to Delhi for onward connections back home, some with luggage and a few without. That’s another story in itself that ultimately has a happy ending. The cricket started on a high over six weeks ago, ultimately to end in a series defeat. The tour has been, I hope everyone will agree, a resounding success. It’s been a pleasure being your tour manager for this tour and hope to see you again soon.
Bob NotOutTravel