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Trip Report Lcuy's Second India Trip - Dec 2005

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After my “once in a lifetime” trip to India last August, I didn’t expect to return for a few years, if ever.

Surprise! My daughter had two weeks to travel at the end of her semester in India, and I was invited to be her buddy again.

The planning for this trip was much more rushed than our August one. Not only did I have only a couple weeks notice, but because she was no longer a rookie, we had to discuss the details together. Not a simple task when she was travelling in India and often out of reach. In addition, winter is high season in India and I was very worried about getting hotels and flights.

Because of this, I tried to do much of the planning without using an agent in India. While I was happy with Compass Tours last time, one issue had been some delayed responses. Since I had so little time, I decided not to risk it.

We started off planning to visit Varanasi, Darjiiling, and Ranthambore Park. Getting to Darjiiling proved quite difficult, so our final trip ended up being Delhi-Varanasi- Udaipur- Ranthambore. I was able to book flights and hotels, and the hotels all included airport/rail pickups.

I finally gave up on the trains and overnight hotel in Delhi. My daughter and her classmates had used a Delhi agent to arrange all their travels in India and we ended up having him fill in the gaps for us. I can recommend him very highly; Vini at VINstring holidays Pvt Ltd.
Email: India@vinstring.com or http://www.vinstring.com./main.htm

Here is a quick summary of our trip:
Flew Continental, Honolulu - Newark - Delhi $1650 RT-Nice planes and service
3 Days at Imperial Hotel
$259 night w/ breakfast Excellent!

Jet Air #723 Delhi to Varanasi
$156 Good planes and service

Palace on the Ganges, Assi ghat, Varanasi. $75/nt Looked nice, but not recommended!

Air Sahara # S2 115 Varanasi to Delhi
$150 Great airline also

Hotel Radisson, New Delhi
$250 -Very expensive and forgettable

Jet Air #9W 709, Delhi to Udaipur $134

Oberoi Udaivilas
Fabulous! Worth the $375/night

Over night train #2964- Mewar Express 1st class sleeper. Udaipur to Sawai Modhopur
$92 for this and the Kota Jan tickets.
Cheap and relatively comfortable

Sher Bagh at Ranthambore Park
$275 night w/3 meals. Really enjoyable

7am Train “Kota Jan Shatabadhi Exp”
AC car to Delhi. Comfortable seats, good people watching

½ day at the Imperial Hotel pre-flight
$150/ eight hours

Now the full report:
I flew Continental Airlines non-stop Honolulu to Newark (10 hours)and then Newark to Delhi (15 hours) with an eight hour layover at Newark, and all in economy seats. I thought I’d kill time during the layover by taking a train into NYC, but once I got there it was too cold and I was too tired to leave the airport.

I went to Continental’s President Lounge to see if I could sneak in. I explained that I was new to the airline, but would have two college kids in NYC and Boston for the next four years, and the kind woman at the door waived the fee. What a treat! It is a huge lounge with lots of free food and drinks, showers, TV room, lockers and desks with internet hookups. Much nicer than my regular lounges!

Both flights were in new planes with seatback movie/game players. They fed us two full meals and a couple of snacks. The FAs on these eastbound legs were quite nice.

We arrived in Delhi at about 9:30 PM. I cleared customs very quickly, got some cash at the counters inside, then found the driver from the Imperial . It is always so much easier when you’ve done it before! At the Imperial, I was pleased to be assigned a huge heritage room (#307)for my $259 a night. Despite the fact that there were three weddings in the hotel that night, my room was very quiet.
Had their wonderful buffet breakfast in the morning, then was picked up by one of Vini’s drivers to go pay my bill at the office of Vinstring in the YMCA. Vini booked all the trips for my caughter’s college group, as well as their free travel and post-semester travel. The kids and instructors had been very happy with his services and sugesstions, so I had turned to him to tie up all my loose ends.

Vini was quite an interesting guy; we chatted had tea, and he gave me a hysterical essay on Indian drivers. When we were done, his driver dropped me at the Cottage Industries Emporium. I shopped a while, walked back to the Imperial, then took a cab to my daughter’s apartment. The cabs in Delhi rarely have meters, but the doormen at the hotel would always tell me how much my trips should cost. The taxi was Rs100; when I returned by auto-rickshaw with my daughter it cost us Rs30.

DD and I love the Spice Route restaurant in the Imperial so we had an early dinner there and she ended up spending the night in my room. After breakfast, she headed back to class and I went shopping in Fab India at Greater Kalish Market. Fab India has several shops; one is three floors of clothing, another with linens and curtains and another with rolls of fabric. The fabric was mostly upholstery/curtain types. I think the Cottage Industry Emporium has a much better selection of cottons and silks.

The clothing shop was great though. Lots of westernized styles in silk and cotton upstairs and a huge selection of Indian styles and scarves on the ground floor. Very busy place with lots of local and ex-pat types. The sales people were really great; no pushiness, but they were quite nice at helping match pieces and styles. All the things are sorted by type and then stacked on the shelves by size. I bought several blouses, scarves, a caftan, and salwar kameez . All were incredibly cheap. There were some other nice shops with jewelry and household items in the market, which is really a collection of shops around a little park.

I’d been to Santushti Market in August, and was eager to return. I had a nice lunch at Basil & Thyme, and spent a couple hours buying gifts and stuff for me.

I headed straight back to my daughter’s apartment for their farewell dinner this evening. I was able to wear my new Salwar kameez as all the girls were dressed in the saris they’d bought over the course of their travels. We walked to the India cultural center about ½ mile away. Lucky I had a new wool shawl on-- It got very cold once the sun went down.

This weekend in Delhi had apparently was a very auspicious time for weddings. The paper said there were 20,000 in the city. All day I had been seeing white horses on the streets, and there were two weddings at the center as well. Lots of very well dressed Indians wandering about!

We walked home after the dinner, then my DD packed all her stuff to come back to the Imperial with me, as we had an early flight out in the morning.

Another Imperial breakfast, then we were driven back to the airport for our Jet Airways flight to Varanasi. I had booked this online for $156 pp. Found out, too late, that young people (under 25 years old) get a 30% discount. Her other flights booked through Vini had this discount.

After three times at the airport, this was the first time I’d seen it during the daylight. You travel through an area of army lands and police housing, then into what looks a bit like a village. The domestic terminal is a little low rise building. You need to show your tickets to get in, but never do they ask for any ID. Baggage x-ray, quick check-in, and then thru personal security. There is always a separate line for women to go into a curtained booth for a pat down. Often the airlines will have you go outside and identify your checked bags before boarding.

Jet Airways was pleasant. New planes, very friendly attendants, and clean bathrooms. The flight to Varanasi was only an hour and a taxi was waiting for us. My daughter spent two weeks in Varanasi earlier in her trip, so I had been warned that it was the dirtiest city anywhere. The airport is quite a ways out of town. We zipped through the countryside with horn honking, then came to a virtual standstill once in town. Our driver was very creative though and we did a lot of careening through shortcuts. I was happy to know the trip was pre-paid...I might otherwise thought we were being taken for the proverbial ‘ride”.

Varanasi streets are narrow and crowded with vegetable carts, cows, piles of rubbish and millions of cycle rickshaws. The buildings tend to be tall and narrow and ornate in an Italian sort of way. There is a newer part of the city- the Cantonment- where all the nice hotels are located, but it is quite a long drive from the actual town and the river. Based on DD’s previous stay, we were down at the Assi Ghat on the south end. It is a less congested and there are several newer mid-range hotels.

I had originally looked at the “Temple on the Ganges” and the “Palace on the Ganges”. Both are newer, right on the river and looked quite nice online. I was able to get rooms at the Temple for Rs960 a night and at the Palace for Rs2990 including airport transfers. Don’t know why, but I decided the higher price must mean better rooms at the Palace and booked it.

I really liked the location...It is right above the ghat. We were given a choice of several rooms - none had a river view, but all were on the side away from the road, so we assumed it would be quiet and took one of these on the second floor. There was a bar with free Indian music in the basement and a café of sorts on the 5th floor rooftop. Our room was very clean and nicely decorated, and had a TV. The beds were hard, but decent. Main problem was that it was right above the generator. In India, every building has a generator for the inevitable loss of power. The Palace lost power for several hours at a time, all night long. It was like sleeping next to a truck with its engine idling! Luckily I had earplugs and my daughter slept thru it, so the next morning we decided against asking for a room change. We should have, as the next night, she was kept up much of the night. Oh well.

Our first afternoon, we wandered around the neighborhood. There is a terrific little shop called Silk Paradise that was about 3 doors up. My daughter had made friends with the shop owner when living in Varanasi, so we went back and she ordered some custom pants. I bought a huge number of cotton scarves for RS 50 each and some silk fabric as well. He was an exception to the aggressive Indian shopkeepers and gave us a free scarf every time we stopped in!

We took a cycle rickshaw (RS5) up to Bread of Life, a bakery up the main road, and had some wonderful soup and Nachos- different, but tasty! Afterwards, we walked along the river from Assi Ghat up to about Tulsi Ghat. Saw a wedding on the river, and had a lot of fun chatting with and taking photos of the little children selling floating candles with marigolds. My daughter refuses to support the use of children as salespeople, but I ended up sending two candles out on the river. We did not do any touching, as several of them had obviously been making cow patties and had cow dung up all over their hands and arms!

From Tulsi Gaht we headed up from the river into the winding little streets and walked back part of the way to Assi Ghat, then took a cycle rickshaw the rest of the way.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn to take a boat ride up the Ganges. Our friend at Silk Paradise had told us to pay no more than 150 rupees, so I was proud my daughter got a boat for Rs125. It was a large rowboat with one guy, two oars and a seat for two in the back. The sky was light enough to see when we started, and then the sun rose a litlle later.

As American tourists, we saw wonderful old 17th/18th century buildings that are quite rundown and an extremely dirty river. When we put on our “India goggles” we saw a vibrant, active community filled with blissful pilgrims and locals doing their business along this holiest of rivers.

There were dhobis standing in the river beating laundry, people doing yoga on platforms above the ghats, and all along the way people stripping down and washing in the river. We saw several men swimming in the water...one was just jubilant and spitting water into the air like a whale. We also saw the funeral pyres and a body of someone too poor for a $20 funeral floating in the river.
About half an hour into the 90 minute trip we were treated to an incredible pink and gold sunrise.

Our boatman spoke no English except to say “no pictures” as we passed the funeral pyres, and the little boats selling music CDs and religious icons ignored us for the larger boats full of tourists coming in the opposite direction. The whole experience was very surreal...beautiful, gross, quiet, noisy, peaceful, unsettling. I felt like this was the real India.

After we returned to Assi Ghat, we went up to the roof to get breakfast. It was so cold, we asked the guy to bring toast and tea to our room instead. I had a secret stash of sharp cheddar cheese from home, crunchy pears and pomegranates from the Imperial Hotel, and even some candy. We had our own breakfast feast, then took a nap before venturing out again.

We were waiting for a college acceptance email, so we headed to the nearby SIFY café. These are great internet places. You can buy prepaid SIFY cards and use them in many cities in India. The phone is about 7 cents a minute for international calls and the internet access about 2 cents.

We then took a cycle rickshaw up to the marketplace. This is the best way to get around Varanasi, and even a 10 minute ride would run about RS 5 or 10cents ( “Paunch Rupees”).

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    At the market, we bought a lot of little stuff like Ganges water sealed in copper pots, tubes of henna, and these funny little boats made out of aluminum cans. They had little pipes which you fill with water, and a tiny pan with wax inside. You light the wax and it propels the boats by steam! RS 20 each! The shop keepers here were eager for business, but not rude or aggressive like in other places. We saw very few western tourists here. There was one really nice shop with a lot of new and reproduction metal work, and we bought several small art pieces.

    From here, we headed back to find a particular sari shop. My DD had directions from her friend who runs a women’s weaving coop in town. Unfortunately, the friend is not very good at directions and we wandered up and down the streets for a looooong time looking for “Anwar’s clinic” which was really a pharmacy with no sign. Finally found it, and the friend’s brother took us to the shop. It was down a lot of little alleys in the Muslim neighborhood, but well worth the trip. If anyone is interested, I’ll find and post the actual name later.

    The sari shops are usually just a plain room with shelves or cabinets full of folded saris on all the walls. The floors are padded and covered with white sheets and a pillows against the wall. To get started, you indicate one or two colors and a price range. They then start opening up the saris and tossing them into the middle of the room. There are all sorts of variations in saris- the fabric itself, the colors, the patterns, the way the patterns run. Some saris need to be draped on a person so that you can see how the pattern ‘works’. You’ll find colors or fabric you like, but the embroidery won’t be quite what you want. By the time we were done, the entire family from Grandparents to infants were in the room watching us, and the young man of the family was translating for us. There must have been a pile of silk three feet high. We just couldn’t decide, so ended up getting three for RS 5200 ($115). Didn’t have enough cash, so the two of us and the friend’s brother walked back to the road and squished into a rickshaw up to the ATM for our cash. Back to the shop, pictures all around, and we were set!

    Next stop was the Benares Art Center, a new gallery in an old Haveli. Again, they were very upfront about which pieces were reproductions, old pieces, or new art. We were given a tour of the building and then bought a few pieces. Prices are fixed, but they’ll give a 30% discount if you ask and will ship stuff. They have another shop in the Cantonnment area. I loved some carved stone pieces, but didn’t trust that they would get safely to Hawaii. Now I regret not chancing it.

    After eating dinner at a little place she liked, we picked up DD’s custom pants (RS 250 total!) , and chatted for a while at Paradise Silk until the mosquitoes came out.

    In the morning, we checked out and asked about our airport transfer. We were told it would be there at 1:00, so we headed out to the ‘Mother India’ temple to see a carved marble map of the country. It was a long rickshaw ride out through the newer part of the city. Was a little more scary as the roads were wider and there were more cars. If we’d known it was so far north, we’d have combined the trip with our trip to the airport. As is was, we paid the driver extra to rush us back to the hotel, and but still had to wait for our car.

    It was another hour long drive with a particularly obnoxious horn, and when we got to the airport, the driver insisted we owed him 400 rupees! We were equally insistent that the hotel was paying for it, so the driver let us go. About 10 minutes later, after our bags were checked, the airport manager came up and asked that we pay the driver. When I refused, he got the hotel on the phone and they said I did owe him! As my email confirmation was in my checked bag, I ended up paying after a long argument. Later I checked and transfer was definitely included, so now I’m getting my nine dollars of revenge by letting you all know not to stay at the Palace on the Ganges! Noisy generator, hard beds, no view, and management that was willing to cheat me out of a taxi fare. Oh well....

    One of the problems with flying inside India is that almost all flights out of Delhi leave in the morning and flights into Delhi fly in the afternoon. All the competing airlines do the same thing, so flying from Varanasi to Udaipur means you have to overnight in Delhi. We arrived in Delhi on Sahara Airlines at about 4pm and had a room at the Radisson, which is the closest hotel to the airport. Radisson takes advantage of this and charges accordingly...our room with two airport transfers was $250 for the night. The hotel is not really bad; just totally inforgetable and certainly no more than a 3 star hotel.

    Had a 7:00 am flight in the morning, again on Jet Airways. Another nice flight, and we were greeted by a host and shiny SUV from the Udaivilas. They took us through town to the lake, where we transferred to a motor boat. The boat was open and cold, but they had blankets and gave us a nice tour of the lake on the way to the Udaivilas. Once on the property, we rode a golf cart up the hill to the reception area. We had stayed at the Amarvilas in Agra, so were looking forward to this hotel. Even at $375 per night, it did not disappoint us. It looks like a palace- with turrets and domes and all marble floors and walls. All the employees are in gorgeous silk uniforms with turbans. Because one of India’s richest families was having a wedding that weekend, there were big floral arrangements outside every room.

    Our room was huge with two beds, a sitting area with couch and loveseat, a huge window seat filled with pillows, and a bath with spa type bathtub and separate shower. Big TV, free DVD movies, and fresh fruit. My daughter wanted to have tops made for Varanasi saris, so the hotel sent up the tailor whose family does all the hotel uniforms to help her.

    First order of business was a massage. The hotel uses the same Banyon Tree spa as Amarvilas. The facilities were beautiful, but DD and I agreed the girls were not as well trained as the ones at Amarvilas. Nice, but their technique was a little too casual.

    Right about this time, I got a full-on case of ‘Delhi Belly’, and I spent the next three days in bed. I only got up one morning at dawn and walked out to see the sun rise over the lake. It was a great place to be sick, and my daughter loved spending time by the pool, getting massages, watching movies in the room, and trying all the really nice foods on the room service menu. After four months in India, she was in heaven! We were both disappointed to miss a scheduled day of horseback riding to tribal villages and waterfalls though.

    The last day, we were scheduled to catch a train at 9:45 pm. There was no way we could stay in our room, as the entire hotel was sold out for the wedding, but I was still much too sick to kill time elsewhere. Bob, I blame you for this one...I had misplaced my Pepto Bismol in Varanasi, but remembered you saying it doesn’t work, so didn’t bother hunting for it!

    My lomotil and Cipro were not working either, so the concierge called a doctor, who treated me on a couch in the bar. He prescribed different antibiotics and other drugs, some nasty rehydration drinks, and the bill came all to $18 !

    Still, I had nowhere to go, so the hotel made up a rollaway bed in one of the spa rooms and let me sleep for the next eight hours for free. Even brought me chicken soup and juice!

    I was feeling much better that evening, so we headed off to the train station. Leaving the hotel, you go in a car the whole way. It was faster and warmer than taking the boat.

    We were lucky that the train was on time, but still had to run up and down the station to find our car. We had first class AC sleepers, and they post your name, age, and berth assignment on the outside of the car. We had been told we’d either have a cabin for two, or would share a quad with two women or a couple. Surprise! We had two 50 year old men. They did not get on till midnight, so we got a few hours of private sleep. After that, their snoring reminded us that they were also sleeping.

    At 5 am, we arrived at Sawai Modhopur. The driver from Sher Bagh was waiting and led us to our (open) jeep. It was bitter cold, and pitch black, but luckily they’d brought blankets. Once there, there was no waiting for our tent; they put hot water bottles in the beds and told us they’d wake us for breakfast at 9.

    We really enjoyed Sher Bagh. At $275 a night, it includes a double canvas safari tent and all meals. Our tent had two beds, night stands, bookcases, reading lamps, and a separate, but attached bathroom with granite sink and stone shower with a huge showerhead and lots of hot water.

    The whole resort is set up to be friendly to the environment. They have an organic garden and all the food is washed in purified water. We had wonderful salads and vegetables. You can go watch the cook to learn if you want, and they also offer a chance to see the new community school and womens cooperative. Both the managers- Usha and Denish- were very friendly and spent time visiting with all the guests.


    The breakfasts were served on tables out in the sun, as it was very, very cold in the shade. They were buffet style with cereal, fresh fruit, juices, and made to order eggs and toast. Lunches were all Italian, and dinner, traditional Indian Thalis. Lunch and dinner were served in a big tent, with little charcoal stoves by each table. There was tea each afternoon, dinner at 8, and Indian music by the campfire every other evening. Also had a bar on the balcony upstairs. I think there were eight tents total.

    Most people are there for the tigers and wildlife. You can do either morning or afternoon rides. A certain number of people are allowed in on jeeps, the rest ride in open cantors that hold about 20 people. Placement is determined each day by lottery. Sher Bagh, because they are small and because they send several employees to the auction, got us a jeep 3 times in two days. We could have even taken a fourth one, but were ‘safari’d” out by then. I know some people at the Aman and Oberoi resorts were not as lucky.

    The morning ride was at about 6am, so they’d wake you up with hot tea, then pack you into the jeep with hot water bottles and blankets. We had brought ski jackets, mittens and hats as well. After the first ride, I brought cotton scarves and hand towel from the bathroom to make dust masks. I saw one smart family who’d brought surgical masks!

    The rides are quite bumpy, and a lot depends on your driver and guide. Our first guide was great- he knew every bird and animal and a lot of history. The driver was a real daredevil and at the end of the day we got a flat tire. The next day we had one jeep with no guide, but he was a really considerate driver and it was very pleasant. We even stopped to visit with all the game wardes who were sunning themselves by the side of the road. We kind of wondered why they were resting there, until we smelled the marijuana.

    The third time, we had a brand new driver and a very outgoing adventurous guide. He was determined to find a tiger for us, as we hadn’t sen one yet. Just before we had to leave the park in the evening, all the monkeys started going wild and barking, meaning the tiger was there. We could see the fresh footprints, so the jeep went and checked out of the park, then whipped around and drove back inside. Several others did the same and we all went chasing the tiger until it was hiding by a bridge and it got too dark. I knew we really weren’t supposed to be there as the driver kept putting on his hazard flashers when cars came up. He could be banned if he was caught in the park after hours.. not that a few rupees probably would n’t have solved the problem. Anyway, lots of fun and excitement, but no tiger.

    The next day, we walked up to the women’s coop. The road up to the coop and the park is unpaved and there were lots of little homes and settlements beside the road. It was very interesting. The coop had a lot of hand printed fabric items and pillows at very good prices. The camp sent a car from the local Anokhi as well. As these shops are both fixed price, the salesgirls were really friendly and chatty. All felt that the tourists have made life a lot better by creating ‘clean’ jobs.

    After lunch, we wandered the Sher Bagh property and climbed over the wall (it had steps) to the pond next door on the Aman property. There was a beautiful rose garden, and meditation platforms beside the pond. There was also a big crocodile across the pond...no signs but the guard pointed him out. We laid in the sun on some padded meditation platforms for a while before checking out the Aman resort’s tennis courts and pool. Hmmm. I bet their tents have heaters!

    The last night, I woke up around 3 in the morning and heard a short drum message, then some shouting in the distance. This repeated several times over the next hour or two. My imagination was really running wild on this one (tiger nearby?? Community warfare alert? House fire?), but no one else had even heard it when I asked in the morning.

    We headed off at 6:30 am for our Kota Jan express to Delhi. The camp packed us some sandwiches and water for the ride, and sent us off with blankets and water bottles again. This station was much more confusing and the train barely rolled to a stop before starting again. Luckily the driver stayed with us and found us our seats.

    These were standard AC seats, and we had a window without tinting, so we could see the scenery. The sandwiches were really nice compared to the food being peddled on the train.

    Our destination was the Nizzamuddin station in Delhi. I had arranged with one of my earlier taxi drivers to pick us up and take us back to the Imperial, and to take uus to the airport in the evening. At the Imperial, they agreed to give me a room for eight hours for $150 dollars- they wanted $200 at first. As I was facing my 35 hour trip to Hawaii, I would have paid anything for that room and the showers! It was a nice room with a big fruit tray. My DD’s friend had planned to meet us there in the evening for the ride to the airport, but luckily called early and was able to also enjoy the room.

    After lunch, we headed back to Cottage Industries Emporium. We bought a lot more stuff, as we knew the prices really were the best here. I took an auto rickshaw to Hanuman Temple to get my hands done with henna, then walked back.

    Then all the last second jobs. We needed to weigh our bags– and the scale was broken. A new one was delivered. My daughter went online to reserve a room in Chaing Rai, and then the three of us and our eight bags squeezed into the Ambassador cab for our final ride. The airport, so chaotic my last time, was practically deserted, and all the employees were positively cheerful!

    Continental FA’s were not nearly as nice on the westbound trips, but I didn’t care. I was exhausted and slept most of the 15 hours. In Newark, I paid for a day pass to the CO lounge and killed seven hours eating, reading and sleeping in the TV room wrapped up in a sari. Another 10 hours to Honolulu and I was home!

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    What a great report..I love your description of Varanasi, isn't it amazing there?? I remember booking my first trip to India in 2004, thinking it was my one and only trip to India, and now we are going for our 3rd time in March..and I could see ourselves yet going maybe a 4th time!!

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    great report.
    I loved Varanasi. Wasn't that Mother India temple cool? Did you see the Monkey Temple/

    I am glad you were able to put on your India Glasses and see how amazing Varanasi was.

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    What a great trip report! I've taken notes for my upcoming trip and am getting my travel companions to read it! Thank you for taking the time to provide the wonderful details. Can't wait.

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    lcuy

    Thanks for the report. I have two questions that I would like to ask, if I may.

    You said you had difficulty making arrangements for Darjeeling; was that a logistical problem, or were you unable to get transportation and lodging or was it something else?

    Also, do you know if there are any “left luggage” facilities at the Delhi airport? I know that security is tight and that there are both a domestic and an international terminal. The reason that I ask this question is that we would like someplace to store some of our luggage (purchases, etc.) when we fly domestic and pick them up again when we leave international. Maybe you or someone has some ideas on this. Thanks!

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    I meant to ask you, Lcuy, if you have any idea how you got the 'Delhi Belly'? Being knocked out of commission for three days is pretty major. I got sick like that on a trip to Mexico and swore I'd never go back. I've read all of the precautions (no raw fruit/vegies, only bottled water etc) but is it still a matter of luck if you eat in public places? I had been encouraged with the lack of stomach sickness in other trip reports I've read here.

    By the way, if we stay at the Palace in Varanasi, I'll verify up front that transfer to the airport is included before we leave. thanks again for your trip report.

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    Thanks everyone! I hope it helps with your trips, as I know I really made use of others' reports.

    Parker- I don't know where I got the bug..The only place that we ate where my daughter hadn't eaten sucessfully in the past was our hotel breakfast, and there it was only toast and tea. Two things I did differently than my previous trip were:
    1) I didn't take a daily Pepto Bismol, as I 'lost' them in my bag for a week, and
    2) I wasn't as fanatical about using Purell and handwipes.

    Who knows? Sometimes even the best restaurants have a careless worker.

    I would not stay at the Palace on the Ganges after our experience, especially since Temple on the Ganges was 1/3 the price and the lobby and hotel looked almost identical to the Palace OTG. Both are new and right on Assi Ghat.

    Agtoau-
    Udaivilas was the kind of hotel against which I will judge all others. It would be a hard choice whether Oberoi's Udaivilas or Amarvilas (in Agra) is the better hotel. Both are true 5 star hotels and the best I've ever stayed in. Amarvilas may win a few more points due to the views of the Taj Mahal and the spa staff were a lot better, but Udaivilas is in a much nicer town and seemed a little more glamorous? or perhaps lost in time?

    You really feel like you could be in ancient India, yet with all the modern comforts. Either one could inspire me to return to India just to stay there!

    Tatersalad-

    Although we really wanted to visit Darjiiling (DD had spent a week there in October), it presented several problems- We couldn't fly to Bagdogra without overnighting in Delhi, flights on the day we needed were full, and the mandatory 100 km jeep ride from Bagdogra to Darjiiling on narrow mountain roads in the winter kind of put me off. We originally couldn't find the overnight train schedule and we knew the weather would be extremely cold. To cap the deal, the two hotels we wanted were full.

    I know if we had still wanted Darjiiling when we engaged Vini, he could have done it, but by then we had focused on Udaipur and Sher Bagh.

    I'll save Darjiiling for a future trip when the weather is warmer!

    Sorry,I don't know about left luggage at the airport. We left ours at the Imperial as we had plenty of time to go back there.

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    Oops, I see you've already mad res at Palace, Parker! Just be aware of the taxi thing, and the Generator is on the north side of the building. Get a room on the side facing the river, closer to the reception desk.

    Also stop in at Paradise silk. As you leave the hotel and walk toward the main street, it will be about 5 shops up on the left had side of the steet. Tell them the students from America recommended him, especially the japanese girl with her mother! She loves the pants that she had made by his tailor...wishes she'd ordered several more. He has lots of sik and cotton scarves starting at RS 50 each!

    Also, if you again head towards the main street then turn left and go down a block you'll see the sign for the internet cafe on the corner...a great place to go online or make calls.

    Rickshaws from Assi Ghat to Godalia market shouldn't be more than 10 rupees. If the first one refuses, there will be another who will take you! Both Bread of Life and the Benares Art center are on the way towards Godalia (sp?) should be no more than 5 rupees.

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    Well, don't forget that hotels in December are much more expensive than the rest of the year. And, I booked them less than two weeks before going, so I was lucky to even get such nice hotels!

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    Thanks Isis!

    It sounds like you're having a great trip now too. We missed you at the GTG tomorrow, but since you have a valid excuse, we didn't feel slighted!

    Hope your New Year's Eve was happy. We just put the champagne in the fridge and stacked the fireworks on the porch. Can't wait till it gets dark!

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