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India--My husband was leery, but I think I have convinced him...

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And, we'll maybe go for six weeks! Are we nuts? I need some advice. We have never taken a trip of this length before, and we've never visited India, but this is a unique time in our lives to have the option to do this, and at the right time of year for optimal weather for tourism in India--January into March. And, we are getting older (yikes, early mid-60s), so we are starting to watch the clock tick as far as how much longer we'll really be able to tackle exhausting, physical travel.

Background: We are experienced, independent travelers who have visited many international destinations, including developing countries. Other than a couple trips where we used agencies to arrange short parts ( 4 or 5 day segments) of our trips for activities that are impossible to arrange on one's own, I make all of the arrangements on my own. Our profile is more eco-tourist (budget to moderate range) than upscale, and we prefer the authentic to manufactured-for-tourists. We have done enough traveling to know exactly what we like and what we don't like to do and the types of activities and locales that will catch our interest. These are the types of things I am planning--very little time in big cities, lots of rural locales with opportunities for active pursuits, not a ton of temples and forts, and a mix of types of the usual tourist activities but also possibly including cycling, fishing, horse-riding, along with lots of walking. And, of course, we don't plan way too far out into the future since we are actually contemplating leaving in mid to late Jan. (Yes, that is 2012, not 2013).

Here is roughly what I am contemplating, if we do take six weeks, to get a taste of three very different areas of India: About two weeks on the south--Kochi, the backwaters, some hill country like Munnar or Coorg, and Mysore. You get the drift--exact locales and # of days yet to be decided upon.

Then, I want to fly to Indore to visit Mandu (supposedly a fabulous but little-touristed location). From there we'd dip into southern Rajasthan to visit some of the lesser-touristed locales and Bundi and probably also Udaipur and maybe the area around Jodphur. (And, yes, we are skipping the Taj Mahal because neither one of us has a burning desire to visit it.) We'd take about another two weeks here and limit ourselves to 4 (or max 5) different locations because we hate to just pack up and go all of the time. We are definitely the type of travelers who believe less is more and don't go frantically rushing around to tick another place off our lists. Normally we like to do bases we operate out of, but this just doesn't seem to work for India.

Here is where it gets iffy, and I can't figure out the logistics. (Or, maybe I've already messed it up as far as possible itinerary ideas.) My one absolute must-visit place is Varanasi. I can't figure out how to logically get this into our itinerary.

The last hunk of India we want to visit is Assam in far NE India, and we'd fly there. There we want to go see the rhinos at Kaziranga national park, and I've found a fabulous sounding organization up in the hills that does a homestay with day treks to local villages so we'd spent 3 to 4 days there. And, maybe another area called Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya where there are some fascinating walks in the hills to incredible living roots bridges. From there we would fly back from Assam to our city of departure. ?? Calcutta and stay there for a day or two before flying out. This would be the only one of the big 3 India cities we'd visit.

So, for transportation we'd have a couple of internal flights. And, we'll have something arranged ahead of time, so that someone is holding up a sign with our names on it the first second we arive in India. We aren't averse to taking the train (including 1or possibly 3 overnight trips), but we'd only do this if it is the most logical way to get between places. We'll hire drivers part of the time, but we wouldn't sign up ahead of time for drivers for the entire trip. In Peru and Nicaragua we were easily able to find drivers after we arrived working with our hotels or local agencies or free-lancers. Vietnam we had it arranged before we arrived.

Question #1. Are we crazy to contemplate this trip? I think I have learned from reading other people's experiences how to avoid India burn-out (I think). And, I have read blogs by other people our ages who have traveled for 3 months in India and kind of winged it and lived and enjoyed it.

Question #2. Am I being overly ambitious and cramming too much into each of my 3 locales?

Question #3. How do I get Varranasi to work into this?

Question #4. I can't quite figure out the international airport entry and exit points. I've been looking at internationsl airfares, and there are quite a few variations I can play with. I could go right into Banglore and from there head to Mysore for our first few days. Or, I could fly into Kochi directly, unfortuntely arriving at 3:00 am. If I want to get FF miles and have the quickest trip, the best bet is to do Dehli and then move on from there with an internal flight to the south. At the end of the trip we could fly into Calcutta from Assam and then fly home from there. But, I don't even know if Calcutta is worth a day or two. Or, we could fly from Assam to Delhi and just sit in the airport until our flight home (separately booked flights). Obviously, I am trying to get all of this sorted out as far as length of stay, itinerary etc. before booking tickets from the US. Thoughts on airport entry and exit points?

Question #5. Is Kolkota worth a day or two? Or, should we just skip it as we are also skipping Delhi and Mumbai?

And, I still have to run the entire plan, including pricing, by my husband! I think he is now with me on the idea of this trip, but I'm the one who has spend a gazillion hours reading and researching and planning. And, as he says, he doesn't want this trip to bankrupt us right before we head into retirement. So, we won't be staying at the places many of you more high-end travelers have stayed.

Thoughts? Thanks.

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