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Your Thoughts on India??

I could use some high-level advice from folks who’ve been to India or at least researched a trip there.

I’m 95% sure I’m taking a tour to India in February 2021 with a a friend. The tour covers Delhi (3 nights—just 2 days), Jaipur (3 nights), Ranthambore National Park (2 nights), Kalakho (1 night), Agra (2 nights) and Varanasi (3 nights). I will add independent travel before and after the tour—maybe 2 weeks before (including some extra days in Delhi) and 1 week after. Post-tour options will be somewhat limited because the weather will be getting very hot by then except up in the mountains

I need to have a vague plan quickly, because I want to arrange flights as soon as possible (probably in March). I know zip about India and cannot simply focus all my energies on it for the next 6 weeks because I have a 2020 trip to Europe that needs attention (flights not even booked yet for probable May departure).

So: Does anyone have some destinations they’d suggest I investigate as a first step? I have resources (some tour brochures, magazine articles, NYTimes articles, TV shows) and will of course take a look at the TripAdvisor forum and buy at least one guidebook, but it would normally take me many months to do the preliminary research for a trip like this. I need to take shortcuts so I can figure out the flights soon. Details and final decisions can come much later.

I see that both Rough and Lonely Planet have full-county guidebooks published in late 2019. There are a bunch of regional guides as well.

Thanks for any input you can offer on potential add-on destinations, guidebooks or other matters.

Posted by
927 posts

I’ve wanted to go to India for years but keep putting it off. My only thoughts for you is to go with a reputable tour operator.
Check with your primary care provider for required immunizations. Be careful what you eat and drink.
A local medical group sent physicians and nurses there recently and they all got very sick.
I’m sure people travel there and return home without any illness suffered.

I’m going to bookmark this to see what info you get from those who have spent time in India.
I really want to go.
Good luck!

Posted by
16765 posts

Thanks, Diane. The tour is marketed by the Smithsonian. That's several steps ahead of the independent travel I did in Morocco back in the 1980s, from which I returned unscathed. I've already hit the CDC website for preliminary info and will consult both my GP and my gastroenterologist at my next appointments. If they suggest a traveler's clinic, I'll go there as well. I think my GP is from India, which could be very helpful in this situation.

The things you learn on the Internet: It turns out that people with Type O blood (that includes me) are much, much more likely to get significantly ill if they contract cholera. It might be smart in my case to get the cholera vaccine, though it's not necessarily recommended for casual visitors. The CDC does make more stringent recommendations for folks going to India to provide medical services.

Posted by
2707 posts

If you need cheap flights for May, fares to China are the cheapest I have ever seen.

I think a tour may be good for a first timer.

Comments:

3 nights in Jaipur, 1 full day is probably enough (2 nights), maybe you are seeing something near the city also the other day

What is Kalakho? Is this interesting? I suspect it has a reliable hotel that happens to be on the way.

Ranthambore: I haven't been but I suspect this popular park is busy and less satisfying than a more remote park for seeing wildlife, just saying that by instinct not experience. Seeing tigers is always rare no matter where you pick, although tiger sightings at Bandhavgarh NP southwest of Varanasi used to be virtually guaranteed.

Varansi: very interesting but breathtakingly diseased, just so you are prepared, best and worst of the country side by side. Open air cremations common all day so be prepared for that too. How do you feel about seeing stray dogs root through cremation ashes and then run off with odd bits of partially cremated people?

It would be nice to try to add Udaipur and Mt Abu primarily for the Jain temples but you should also visit at least one hill station, both SW of Jaipur. Something in the south, in Kerala would be great, or Hampi which was recently in the NY Times travel section.

Try to avoid Bombay, not interesting. I've regretted not visiting the rat temple near Bikaner.

Health: I wouldn't worry about cholera and get the vaccine. Unless there is an active outbreak which would be on the news since rare, you can safely skip the vaccine, which used to be only 50% effective anyway. You are so much more likely to have common gut issues, so get bactrim or equiv antibiotic and something like lomotil or imodium so you can ride a bus. Read up on giardia and maybe buy tiniba locally so you have it, do not follow the directions on the foil label, follow the directions in Lonely Planet.

Posted by
927 posts

I figured you probably had the health and tour issues in your back pocket. I’m retired from Disease Control and Prevention and dealt with enough returning travelers and immigrants over the years to question if I wanted to risk a visit.

We had far more issues with imported illness from other countries than India, though.

Posted by
16765 posts

Thank you, Tom. I'm glad to know I don't have to press to squeeze in Bombay. That's a big help right there. The places you've mentioned positively are now targeted for immediate research.

This is what the tour brochure says about Kalakho: "Early today depart for Kalakho and the Dera Village Retreat. Enjoy an afternoon camel safari to meet the local Meena tribespeople in their homes." Then on the next day: "Travel to the village of Abhaneri to see the fortified Chand Boari stepwell (c. 800), whose 3,500 steps descend some 13 stories into the ground." Then the tour heads to Agra.

One of the Jaipur days has this description: "...enjoy a traditional yoga demonstration and chanting. In the nearby village of Sanganer, learn about traditional block printing and handmade paper industries, then experience the colorful sights and sounds of a local market. Enjoy an invitation to be dinner guests in the home of a multi-generational Rajasthan family."

There are three game drives at Ranthambore, but the brochure specifically warns that tiger and leopard sightings are not guaranteed.

I usually travel independently, in penny-pinching mode, and at a more leisurely pace, but this tour appears to offer a lot of experiences it wouldn't be easy, if even possible, for a solo traveler to arrange. I think the trade-offs will be worth it, and at 68 I really shouldn't be delaying trips to challenging destinations like India.

I have chronic gastro issues as it is and will certainly travel with all the appropropriate supplies. I didn't realize giardia was a particular issue in India, but it falls in the "been there/don't want to do it again" category (thanks to the tap water in Leningrad), so I'll add that to my list of topics to be discussed with my doctors.

Here's a link to the tour brochure if anyone is interested: Smithsonian Tour -- Mystical India.

Posted by
16765 posts

Thank you. I'm sharing all this information with my travel mate.

Posted by
1289 posts

Some thoughts.

Booking tickets now for a trip next Feb is way too early. Tickets to India for travel at that time should be fairly reasonable since you will not be traveling around the school holidays/Christmas when a lot of Indians will be going home. I have been going to India about 3 times a year for the past few years for different reasons. Just today i found flights from Chicago to Mumbai and returning from Bangalore for $740 for an upcoming April trip which is fairly cheap. You shouldn't have any issues getting a ticket for <$1,000 from the E coast. A few weeks back when i was checking I was seeing RT tickets on Air China to Delhi for around $580 from NY (this was before the virus issue came up). You have plenty of time to do your research and look to book a ticket in Oct/Nov. I have never paid more than $1100 when not traveling either over the summer holidays or Christmas - and flying out of Denver is normally a lot more expensive that flying from the E Coast where you have so many more options.

I would think Feb in the N of India would still be fairly cool - but do a check on the temps.

Looking at Google Maps - the Chand Baori Step well is fairly close to Jaipur (~2 hrs and <100 KM)

The one medicine I do take is malaria pills. Note that a lot of drugs including generic ones sold in the US are manufactured in India and hence are v cheap (pennies) in India and are easily bought without a prescription just in case you need some. Not sure how bad the mosquitoes will be in the N at that time so plan accordingly.

Posted by
4128 posts

I hope that India has revised its lawful visa process. We have been to Russia and China, but the Indian visa was the worst.

We did four ports in SW India and enjoyed it. India is a fascinating country, but be aware, it is very third world. The drives we were on the Indian highways were even more frightening than the roads in Egypt. We thought we would collide with another vehicle every minute or two. The people are friendly but begging is terrible. Be careful where you eat.

I would never go back unless we took a tour.

Posted by
16765 posts

The current e-visa process doesn't sound onerous: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html. Still, with the cost of a tour hanging in the balance, I promise I won't leave that task till the last minute.

Arnold, I'm glad you've found the airfares generally reasonable. Unfortunately, from my origin many of the flight options are dreadfully long. Normally, I might consider a stopover in each direction to make the trip less unpleasant, but with my time limited due to a commitment in mid-January and worsening weather in much of India after the tour, I want to go with the fastest transportation available that doesn't involve risky, too-short connection times. There's one non-stop a day from Washington-Dulles to Delhi, but apparently no non-stops to any of India's other major cities. I suspect Delhi won't be the best airport to use at either end of the trip, but I want to be sure I don't get stuck with one of the nightmare routings for whatever gateway cities I end up needing to use.

The whole situation is complicated by the fact that I don't take commuter-airline flights in the US and am not about to take unnecessary ones in India, either. There's a round-trip flight (Delhi-Varanasi) embedded in the tour, so I'll just have to tolerate that one, no matter what name is on the outside of the planes.

Posted by
2707 posts

Some additional comments:

Delhi is the most interesting large city. If you really wanted to see 1 more then Calcutta (I’m lazy, using the old names) would be number 2, despite the crushing poverty there’s history here and the Bengali culture is distinct and interesting. But Calcutta is not for everyone. Hyderabad is another candidate for a large city with historical sites. I visited India before air pollution and excessive urban crowding were the issue they are now.

I think warm temperatures in the day are typical all winter in your tour area, only nights are cool.

Begging near temples is a part of the culture. If you want to give there’s often a table where real money is exchanged for piles of old worthless coins so you can give to all the beggars (good karma). Then the beggars must sell these back for real money. Are you familiar with the physical ravages of leprocy to hands and noses?

The floors in Jain temples are scrubbed clean and sparkling.

If you don’t want to fly look at the air conditioned first class overnight sleepers. A lot of middle class Indians travel with all the food they need carried with them, maybe to save money but also maybe to avoid illness.

If fares can be as cheap as stated above, I’d really like to visit Hampi which used to be difficult to reach. Take a relaxed week, find a good room and reliable food sources and leisurely tour around.

Posted by
16765 posts

Thank for the additional tips. They are much appreciated.

I don't know how I'll react to some of what I'll see in India. Two of my aunts spent a bit of time in India as part of an around-the-world tour when they were about the age I am now. One of them was appalled (I guess by the poverty, crowding and dirt?); the more adventurous one found it fascinating. I'm not finicky and hope I'll be like the second aunt. I hadn't thought about the ravages of leprosy; that could be tough.

Posted by
2707 posts

Even more additional tips:

If you want to avoid flying, you could try to string together sites by first class rail between Delhi and Bombay: Udaipur and Mount Abu already mentioned (they run day tours from Udaipur to Mount Abu so you could base yourself at Udaipur), the Ellora and Ajanta caves near Aurangabad where you could base yourself and hire a car/driver or pick up a tour, then on to Bombay to fly home or return to Delhi by train. The extreme west of Rajasthan is also popular, Jodphur and Jaiselmer, and then you could go down to Ahmedabad and visit the Gandhi ashram and then on to Bombay to fly home. You may have to reposition yourself between trains and sleep en route at a hotel to get the just trains approach to work.

A note from the past: the one time I was unsuccessful with the tourist quota or a bribe to get a sleeper ticket I went unreserved 2 class and the car of wooden benches was so crowded the conductors didn't bother to enter to try to check tickets.

Posted by
1526 posts

@acraven-I hope you have a wonderful trip and would love to read about it when you return. It’s not a country for me and I consider myself somewhat adventurous. I would go on a tour, but have too many other places ahead of it.

Posted by
16765 posts

I don't object to long train trips but don't sleep well on trains, so night trains are not my first preference. I may need to go that way, though. I confess I'm a bit nervous about some passengers' habit of actually cooking food on trains. There have been at least two incidents with many people dying when those cooking fires got out of control on moving trains. That could be an issue on any long-distance train, not just night trains.

I'm glad to hear there's lots to see in Delhi since the tour begins there. I'll be happy to have an excuse to spend a good bit of time there, as opposed to zigging and zagging all over the country, changing hotels every 2 nights for my pre-tour time.

Posted by
1289 posts

I'm not sure why you wouldn't consider flying inside India - flights are plentyful and cheap. Most of my internal segments have cost me between $30 and $50. Sometimes a little more. And these are all modern aircraft - generally Airbus 320s or Boeing 737s.

Direct flights from NA to India - as far as I know, UA flies direct daily from Newark to Bombay and Delhi. I believe Delta has recently restarted their flights from JFK. Not sure if AA has any direct flights. Air Canada also flies to Delhi and Bombay from Toronto but some of these maybe seasonal. Air India also flies to lots of cities in the US (Chicago, SFO, etc.) but I haven't heard great things about their service and aircraft. A quick check shows the only direct flight from IAD is on Air India to Delhi and they fly on certain days of the week. Your alternative is to connect somewhere - either in the US or Europe. I either fly via Newark or more often fly Denver to Munich and then onto Bombay - this is quick and easy for me - just 1.5 hours connection - so v efficient. Or you can connect in the Middle East.

Re: flights being long - there is no way around this given that India is exactly half way around the world from Denver. You will have it easier as you are about 4 hours closer. I generally have a 10 hr flight to Munich followed by another 8 hrs to Bombay and this is not counting the time to get to the airport and the connection time. Overall, it normally takes me around 26 hrs to get where I am going, and almost 32 hours on the way back due to the connections.

Posted by
2707 posts

I think you misunderstood. In the upper classes of the trains some people bring cooked food in circular, covered tins stacked up and fastened together, and eat it cold, there's no cooking. I don't remember ever seeing passengers cooking on trains. Most people eat the train food or whatever fresh food they get passed through the windows at stops.

Posted by
16765 posts

Arnold, I didn't say I wouldn't fly. I said I don't take commuter flights in the US and will avoid them in India. I like planes flown by well-paid, experienced pilots. I haven't researched Indian aviation and don't at this point know whether there are airlines other than Air India I'd be comfortable with.

I suppose I can consider breaking the return journey somewhere for a few days. I'll have extra time then.

Tom, I'm quite sure you aren't allowed to cook on Indian trains. Nonetheless, people do it. There have been horrible tragedies. This one may have been related to cooking, though the article doesn't specify that: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/at-least-38-feared-dead-in-indian-train-fire-1.477265. I know there was at least one earlier incident caused by cooking. It was quite some time ago, probably more than 10 years ago. Last year there was a similar disaster in Pakistan, with cooking implicated; over 70 people died. There are always risks to travel, but one shouldn't have to worry that a passenger in the next compartment is going to set a can of Sterno alight.

Posted by
2707 posts

As expected Man in Seat 61 has good info on the trains. Pakistan is a poorer and dirtier country so not exactly comparable to India. I can’t see cooking happening in first or second class, and the first class cars (Indian English “bogie”) will be several cars removed from unreserved 2 class.

Posted by
2707 posts

Picking at the itinerary I suggested, Udaipur to Aurangabad would be a 24 hour train journey with a change at Chittorgarh (which i haven't seen but it is a famous place), but there is an Air India flight in an airbus that does this run W-F-Su, so overnight train Delhi to Udaipur, then flight to Aurangabad, then overnight train to Bombay, fly out from there with a stop somewhere in Europe, Persian Gulf, or New York (this way it's all Delta).

Edit: There's only a local train from Aurangabad and it stops in Dadar (?) not all the way to central Bombay, 6 hours, don't know the condition of the train. There would be plenty of choices from Jalgaon north of the Ajanta caves because this is the main Delhi/Bombay line. You would just arrrange the driver to take you there instead of back to Aurangabad.

2nd edit: Maybe Dadar is as far as the long distance trains go now, since the Jalgaon trains also stop in Dadar. Maybe the central station is commuter only?

Posted by
1289 posts

If you are looking for stopovers, consider some of the airlines that give you a free stay for minimal extra $. I have been considering Qatar Airways - you can stop in Doha for a day or two and I believe they will provide the hotel. Definitely go visit the Museum of Islamic Art if you go this route. Turkish Airlines may also have a similar program.

Check out this recent posting https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/the-best-stopover-deals-worldwide/?utm_source=BoardingArea&utm_medium=BoardingArea

Posted by
4128 posts

I lived in Saudi Arabia from 81-85 and at the old Riyadh airport you could see the shell of an airplane off the runway. Was told it was a destroyed by a fire, started by a Pakistani trying to cook something on their way home to Pakistan.

Posted by
612 posts

India is one of my favorite places to visit, although I do agree with some of the other posters, it is sensory overload. A tour is a good way to explore India. You can travel independently there, but it is a big challenging to navigate and I would recommend that if you do travel independently that you hire reputable guides to help you navigate the cities that you are visiting.

A couple of additional thoughts for you trip:

  • The tourist visa process is really easy. I have entered the country from the US in Bangalore, Dehli, and Mubai using this visa process.
  • Fly, don't take the train if you are going any substantial distances. Trains in India are not for the faint of heart, nor is any public transportation.
  • Try to carry small dominations of rupees in addition to larger bills. It will be easier for you to buy things.
  • The biggest issue when I have take a tour group is the other group members who don't use common sense when the take out their money. You will be accosted on the street by beggars and they will leave you alone if you say no firmly and walk away. If you are with a group of people who show any money, they won't leave you alone. It breaks my heart to see people begging and if it does yours, there are reputable charities that you can give to, but I don't give money on the street.
  • Walking in India is an adventure, especially in the cities. As short stroll can be a hazard between cars, cows, and stray dogs. Keep your eyes open and be extra cautious as you cross the road.

In terms of different places to visit, it looks like your tour takes you to Northern India, so I would consider Southern India for the rest of your trip. I have never been to Kerala, but that is on my agenda for the next time around. There are two other places that I have been to, however, that I enjoyed and would go back.

  • Goa: It is 2 hour 30 minute flight from Dehli. It is a blend of Indian and Portuguese cultures, with beautiful beaches, great food, and a different side of India that you will see in the North. It is not someplace I would spend the full 2 weeks, but if you want a vacation from your vacation, Goa is it.
  • Orange County/Coorg India. I went to an offsite here a couple of years ago at a coffee plantation and you could easily spend a week. You are near jungles, coffee plantations with the ability to do both land (jungle hikes) and water. The resorts here are so relaxing, again another place if you want a vacation from your vacation. In addition, because you are in smaller towns/villages, while the towns are busy, they are not the chaos of what you will see in Dehli, Agra, etc.

Enjoy your travels to India.
Sandy

Posted by
665 posts

My thought is that if Coronavirus hits India its going to kill thousands.

Posted by
329 posts

I've been to India once. 3/4 years ago. Pretty much the same itinerary you are doing. I absolutely adored India. Would love to go again, but have so many other places I haven't been at all, that I haven't managed to get back yet.

I went with a UK tour group www.justyou.co.uk. Its their holiday called "Spirit of India". And I did their Amritsar add-on. Amritsar was really the icing on the cake - just fabulous, only 5 of us did this add-on and we had 2 guides between us.

At Varanasi we did 2 trips on the river, at twilight and then the following morning at sunrise. It was an incredible experience. Even getting to the river side by mad bike rides through the town was amazing.

Jaipur, which I had thought I would really enjoy, didn't really live up to expectations (for me anyway).

The Taj Mahal, which I had thought would be a bit of a, been there, seen that, experience was really surprising - I think its the only big sight I've seen that has exceeded expectations when I got there - don't know why. Several of my group got emotional just to see it - cant explain, it just does that.

Loved the tiger hunts at Ramthambore. For the early morning trip it gets surprisingly cold, so take lots of layers to add on - really wish I taken more, I was frozen. We were split up into different jeeps. Some were very lucky and saw tigers on all three trips, some none at all. I saw tigers on one of the trips, but unfortunately my photographic skills are so poor that I only managed a back view.

Would love to go again, I have a friend who is doing 2 of the tour companies trips back to back shortly, including their tiger trail trip, I'm so jealous.

Another quick point to mention. Don't do too much rail travel. Its hard work. We had a trip during the main tour for a few hours and it was a great experience. However, we went to our Amritsar add-on (from Delhi) by train (flew back) the journey took 6 hours by rail. We were knackered by then (end of 2 weeks touring), all had Delhi belly to some degree and it really wasn't fun. We'd done a train trip earlier and that last trip really was too much. (And we were in first class.)

Yes there are some challenging sights and sound and smells …..

But India is a wonderful experience. I'm sure you will have a great time.

Katy

Posted by
1 posts

If you are looking especially for temples and architectural places you can visit Madurai- Rameshwaram- Kanyakumari and Trivandrum places. These are very beautiful places with a rich history associated with it. Generally, tourists take 4 days trip to these places but if you are looking to read and understand the history behind these places you can spend a week or so. you can get more information about these places on the mentioned link. Madurai. Some of the famous places of the above cities are Madurai Meenakshi temple, Ramanatha swamy temple and Kanyakumari temple and Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple (second richest god in india).

Posted by
16765 posts

I appreciate everyone's comments. I've been reading an old, photo-rich guidebook I bought ages ago. Every area sounds fascinating, but I think I'll have to choose no more than two areas for my pre-tour time and one for the shorter post-tour stay, so it's going to be frustrating--sort of like going to Italy for two weeks. India is just so large.

Like all tours, this one rushes through places a lot faster than I would choose to. I'll need to show up in Delhi (the starting point) a few days early, and I think I'll have to make my own visit to Agra to see Fatehpur Sikri, because there doesn't seem to be enough free time during the tour's Agra stop to get out there. I suspect I could spend all my pre-tour time (roughly two weeks, I'm guessing) in Delhi and Rajasthan. I'm not usually that typical a tourist, but there just seems to be so much to see in that area. Maybe this won't be my only trip to India.

Posted by
4 posts

Gulmarg- tourist town for the British during the Raj. Highest golf course in world. Cool in summer at the foothills of the Himalaya. Nicest people.

Posted by
48 posts

India is one of my favourite countries, however I did not like Delhi at all. I regretted spending extra days there. Loved Varanasi and Jaipur. It was one of those places that is so completely overwhelming that it took me weeks after my trip to finally absorb it all. I have been to many other countries and none affected me like India has!
One of the most valuable pieces of advice we were given was this: Normally when we travel and encounter beggars/scam artists/vendors is to say "No thank you" in the native language and keep walking. This did not work for us in India. We were followed and touched relentlessly. "No" did not seem to mean "no". When we met up with our tour group, the guide said that "No" means "maybe". He said when people come up to you, you have to "look through them" and ignore completely. Don't talk, don't engage, pretend you don't even notice them. Worked like a charm. But felt awful doing it. So far we have only needed to use that tactic in India. When we went to Nepal later on it was completely different (no meant no).

Posted by
16765 posts

Thank you; that sounds like a good tip. I've been though something a bit similar in Morocco, where everyone wanted to be our guide, to the point that it as impossible to have a conversation with you travel mate as you walked down the street.