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Off to India—Learned my lessons from you (I hope)

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Well, after about six months of thinking, researching, reading trip reports, questioning, checking out every India guidebook published (not kidding here), more researching, and planning we (the no longer leery husband and I) are soon to be off. And, for six weeks. But, of course, some of you will see SIX WEEKS and tell me I didn’t properly learn my lessons!

Because of some things that came up in our lives, we weren’t able to depart in mid-January when we had originally planned, and so I now have planned a new and completely different itinerary encompassing only the northern part of the country because we are worried about getting caught in, as one B & B owner put it, “the big heat”. Last minute international plane booking (not quite two weeks before departure) didn’t cost us any more than the prices we were seeing six months ago, so this is good news for others who might also be making a last minute trip. But, we felt comfortable undertaking such a long trip on such short notice only because I’ve already done all of the research and leg work. So, the major difficulty I am having with this last minute planning is the stupid train tickets. Incredible what a PIA this can be. So, that leads to….

Lesson 1—If you want to travel by train, book waaaaaaaaay ahead, or play the waitlist game knowing full well your entire plan could be blown away by failure to get seats on a certain train.

Lesson 2—Plan an itinerary that focuses on what you like to do. Rather than doing the same things that most everyone does (although we are still doing plenty of this) we’ve planned a trip tailored to our interests. So, we are spending virtually no time in the big cities, some time in smaller cities, and most of our time in rural locales staying at a mix of small family-run places and the more reasonably priced heritage properties. We’ll be seeing some of the typical tourist attractions as well as spending time in nature-based, wildlife and outdoorsy endeavors and just seeing the rural countryside and how people live there.

Lesson 3—Find a good agent. Normally this isn’t our style because I’ve always planned all of our trips on my own, but I finally gave it up this time around realizing that at the very least I’d need help with routing and arranging for a car and driver in Rajasthan. For the Rajasthan part of this trip (and maybe a bit more) I am using a very good agent I found who knows all of the smaller places and back-road itineraries. He’ll do as much or as little as we want him to do.

Lesson 4—Slow down, plan in plenty of down-time, and don’t over schedule. We only have a couple one night stays (and a couple overnight train trip), and many places we will be staying are chosen specifically for their low-key local excursions and hiking/horseback riding and safari-type activities. Plus, our e-readers are fully loaded with reading material.

Lesson 5—Don’t try to tackle too large of an itinerary. We’ve got lots of quality time in southern Rajasthan (and Jaisalmer in the west), moving into Madhya Pradesh for Orchha, a brief stop at Khajuraho, and then Panna park while on our way to Varanasi. Then, we will take at least a good one to two weeks at the end of our trip to move up into the foothills of the Himalayas for some relaxation and to do day treks (and maybe some homestays) in the Kuamon and Binsar areas.

Lesson 6—Still struggling with this one. Booking everything ahead vs. winging it. In other parts of the world we’ve found some marvelous places on road trips by just exploring and checking out the area and seeing what appeals to us. But, my gut tells me this probably isn’t as much the case for India. In fact, finding lodging isn’t the problem with spontaneity because we’ll be in shoulder season, and my agent tells me that tourism is down this year due to the poor European economy. It’s the train and planes that preclude spontaneity. We will have at least the first ten days to two weeks completely scheduled and booked. After that ??????

Lesson 7—Plan for the unexpected. I guess we’ll see what happens with this one………….

And, finally, from ClarkB, Lesson 8—Bring snack bars.

Thanks for all of the time you have taken to answer my unending questions. And, in a separate thread I’ll be asking one more question of the females—that all-important question of shoes.

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