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Our India Trip Planning Progress

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I've been using this forum for years and have scored invaluable advice for trips over the years, but I'm feeling pretty bad ... despite my good intentions, I have been totally rubbish at doing trip reports ... to the point I haven't actually done one! We go to India in 5 weeks and I'm determined to make it up to you all, and keep a diary while I'm away so I can post a report when I get back. Feel free to hold me to this, and beat me if I don't follow up!

So in preparation for this, I thought I would just update you with my planning preparations even though I have no questions!

Thanks to advice from lots of you, our itinerary now looks like this:

ITINERARY

Thurs 20 Dec Fly Brisbane - Kolkata (Singapore/Silk Air) Arr CCU 20:45
Stay 3 nights - Oberoi, Kolkata
Sun 23 Dec Fly Kolkata - Varanasi (Jet Airways)
Dep CCU 15:25, Arr VNS 17:10
Stay 2 nights - Radisson, Varanasi
Tue 25 Dec Fly Varanasi - Delhi (Spice Jet)
Dep VNS 11:30, Arr DEL 12:50
Stay 1 night - The Imperial Hotel
Wed 26 Dec Take Train to Agra
Dep Delhi Station 11:30, Arr Agra Station 14:25
Stay 1 night - ITC Mughal
Thur 27 Dec Drive Agra - Jaipur
Stay 3 nights - The Raj Palace, Jaipur
Sun 30 Dec Drive Jaipur - Jodhpur
Stay 3 nights - The Ajit Bhawan, Jodhpur
Wed 2 Jan Drive Jodhpur - Udaipur
Stay 3 nights - Leela Palace, Udaipur
Sat 5 Jan Fly Udaipur - Mumbai (Air India)
Dep UDR 15:05, Arr BOM 16:20
Stay 2 nights - The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
Mon 7 Jan Fly Mumbai - Brisbane (Singapore Airlines)
Dep BOM 23:55

BOOKINGS

I did all of the hotel and flight bookings myself. Where I could I booked with the hotel's website unless I got a better deal elsewhere. I booked our flights both international and domestic online myself too.

TOUR

We did a lot of research into using a tour company, and having read many trip reports, particularly Bob and Crosscheck, got lots of quotes. We wanted to use a tour company for transfers and sightseeing between arriving in Delhi to leaving Udaipur. We contacted TGS Jaipur, Castle & King, Yatrik, Indian Panorama, Legends & Palaces, Louises India and an Australian company called India Unbound.

Indian Panorama and Legends and Palaces said they would not quote as we had already booked all of our hotels. Louise wrote a lovely email saying that as we are experienced travellers we do not need guides, we had already booked our hotels and flights, and knew what we wanted to do, so she felt we did not need her help, but gave us some wonderful tips for things we might like. She also suggested we buy her guidebook - National Geographic Traveller - India (3rd edition). This was impossible to get in Australia but we ordered it from the UK and it's a great guidebook (In addition to my lonely planet and rough guides - yes I could actually open a travel bookshop with my collection!). Yatrik, TGS and Castle & King all provided comprehensive quotes and were all pretty helpful. TGS and Castle & King were in the same ball park for an Innova SUV for 12 days (approx 800 USD), but Yatrik were $1200, which ruled them out. India Unbound sent me loads of information on specialised activities and included guides almost everywhere (which the others didn't but we didn't mind upon Louise's advice) but they wanted $4000! So it came down to Castle & King and TGS, and we've booked with Castle & King. They were a little cheaper than TGS but not enough to worry about. TGS required an upfront deposit as we weren't booking hotels, whereas Castle & King were happy to pay on arrival. To be honest they were both quick to respond and helpful in providing more information I would have been happy to book with either. Castle & King it is. They will collect us from Delhi Airport and we'll have the use of a car and driver 24/7 until we leave Udaipur.

HEALTH

My husband is a Type 1 Diabetic and has Coeliac Disease, so health is a big concern for us. I was very excited at reading about Crosscheck's doctor visit, so went off to the travel clinic last week. I was covered for Hep A, Tetanus, Polio, but my typhoid was due so I had that. I asked about Rifaxamin and was told that prescribing prophylactic antibiotics is common practice in the US (apparently you're a very risk-averse nation), it is not recommended in Australia, and she would not prescribe. Instead she prescribed antibiotics for treatment of travellers diarrhoea and anti-sickness pills. She did recommend a Cholera injection - the risk of cholera is very, very low but apparently it provides protection against e-coli particularly for the first 3-6 months after the vaccine, so I'm going to be risk-averse and take that one. With regards to Malaria, all of the places we are going are considered low-risk and the recommended option is prevention of bites, rather than anti-malarials. This is the advice I've always been given and have enjoyed not taking anti-malarials now for many years. However, Kolkata is apparently a medium risk zoo she recommended Malarone (least side effects) for the period while we're in Kolkata. You only have to take it 1 day before and 2 days after the period you are there. I really didn't want to take any anti-malarials because of the side-effects and the length of time you have to take them but we decided that if we got a bite, we'd spend the rest of the trip wondering if we had malaria so we're going to take her advice on that one. I have also heard really good things about a probiotic here known as Travel Bug. Unlike most probiotics it can be kept out of the fridge for up to a month. You start taking 1 a day the week before you go and for the duration of the trip. I also bought a sterile needle kit for $9 and lots of 30% deet mosquito lotion. I know I probably sound paranoid but with my husbands health it is really important for him to stay as well as possible, or his diabetes will cause all sorts of problems. So I think we've been as risk-averse as we probably can. Just need to work out which breads use wheat-flour so he can avoid them and we'll be sorted! Now we can get on with the fun part!

CLOTHING

This has been a hard one for me - where we live is tropical and I live in shorts and vest-tops - so I've had to rethink my wardrobe. I don't actually own any trousers (other than tight jeans) and none of my skirts cover my knees, I have very few t-shirts which cover my shoulders and all of the dresses I would normally take for eating out at night are strappy! I can't buy a whole new wardrobe that I'll never wear again, but I certainly don't want to offend anyone with nakedness! I also haven't quite worked out how warm or cold I'll be. Being originally from the UK where 25-30 degrees is considered summer, but here in Queensland that's more like our winter and I would wear a jacket under 25 degrees! Any hints and tips on this appreciated!

VISAS

We applied for our Indian Visas last week (yes, they do tell you not to make bookings till you have your visa but we'll just have to cross our fingers). I almost had heart failure when they said they didn't think I could apply as my passport is nearly full and they needed two empty pages together (I still have 3 years before it runs out). I did actually have 2 pages which I showed them and they conceded. We should get them back this week, but when i get back from India I'm going to have to get a new passport (this time I'll order the one with the additional pages)!

So we're almost there. Still need to do some research on places we want to visit on our travels, and I still need to weed some of the forts out of there as there are just too many for my liking. But it's getting very exciting now, and thanks again to all of you who haven't been as lazy as me and posted your trip reports and answered my questions. You're all legends!

Steph

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    You don't mention it specifically, but I assume your travel agent booked your train tickets already? There's no such thing as just turning up and getting a seat in India, especially those routes. I have done a lot of train travel in the world but I must say Indian Train Travel is EPIC. :)

    Looks like a great trip...I recently did basically the same route going the other direction, if any specific questions, would be happy to help.

    Of all the forts I think the one in Udaipur might have been the best and of all the cities in Rajastan I truly loved Jodhpur.

    I too live in a tropical climate and do not own a pair of trousers except the jeans I wear on the plane on my annual trip to the states where my winter clothes live :) I did the India trip in capri pants and t shirts; once in India I bought several lovely embroidered cotton tunics and wore them pretty much the whole time. It is a very bad idea to dress immodestly in India, it will get you a lot of unwanted attention. Having laundry done anywhere in India is a major treat by the way so don't be afraid to pack light~!

    If you like textiles, you'll need extra suitcase room in Rajastan.

    I did not take antimalarials on that trip but did stay covered in 30% DEET. Avoidance of street food altogether kept me from gastrointestinal incidents during 3+ weeks of travel. I also chose to be a vegetarian on that trip, which was no hardship with such a wide range of excellent vegetarian food and that decision possibly eliminated some potential problems. I did not bring enough handwipes with me which was a tactical error and actually had problems locating some. I always think we get sick from our own nasty hands more so than from the food we eat.

    There is a heavy use of wheat in breads in India, (naan, chapati, etc) but you can also get everything served with rice. Also curd is on every menu as a side dish. A big believer in the benefits of probiotics, especially when traveling, I ate curd with every meal.

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    Wow! Remind me not to type my trip report on my iPad! I just typed a long reply, hit my backspace delete and lost everything!

    So, here goes again ...

    Thanks for your reply that's really encouraging, especially as you've done a similar trip :-)

    Yes, train tickets being booked by agent, in fact they helped me decide which train was our best option as we'd opted not to do the 6am fast train so we could have an easier start to the day, given our dawn starts the day before and the day after.

    With regards to the forts, your comments are noted :-) However, what concerns me more are the forts/temples which require a long journey to or going out of your way to visit then being underwhelmed when there are so many other things we could see or do. For instance, these places have all been recommended to visit and I have a feeling it is too much but which ones not to miss and which to cut? The Red Fort, Sikandra, Agra Fort, Fatehpursikri,, Ranakpur, Bharatpur, Jaipur City Palace, Amer Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh Fort, Galta Temple, Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, jodhpur Clock Tower, Mandore, Udaipur City Palace, Saheliyon ki Bari, Eklingji Temple, Nagda, Nagaur Fort ...

    Great suggestions re clothes I like the sound of the embroidered tops, but do they tend to do small sizes (I'm only 5ft and a US size 2, European/Australian 6)) and don't want it to drown me!!

    I have been debating the street food issue ... Everyone says try it (including Louise's India) but I'm not sure it's worth the risk. My intention is to try and go down the vegetarian route, I know it makes sense but I am probably the worst person in the world to do this as I am a huge meat eater and tend to grudgingly eat vegetables alongside, rather than a whole meal, but I will try!

    Funny, today I bought 4 packs of hand wipes to take, and my husband said he'd thought I'd gotten carried away! perhaps not!

    It would be very easy to avoid all breads and battered items, but it would be a shame to miss out on so many items made from lentil or chickpea flour, so if anyone has any advice on what does and doesn't contain wheat flour that would be great. As far as I know pakora and Bahji are made from gram/chickpea flour and dosa and popadoms from lentil flour. I think naan, chapatti, roti, parratha and puri are all made from wheat flour, but I guess there will be lots of food there that we just won't know. As my husband has coeliac disease, he can't even have a trace of gluten or he will become very ill, so we need to be very careful. Great advice about the curd!

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    Interesting that your doctor recommended malarone for only two days after leaving a malarial area. The usual recommendations is 7 days. Have a great trip. We'll be looking forward to your trip report.

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    Hi violetm, Thanks for checking in. As a travel junkie, I find the planning process as fascinating as the trips themselves.

    A few thoughts/comments:

    Antibiotics - Yes, Americans are notorious for antibiotic abuse, but the Rifaximin prophylactic study came from France and was just approved in the US. We chose to take it because the travel doc seemed so thrilled with the patients' results. And we had an anecdotal report from a friend working on a film in Mumbai who said everyone on the crew who took Rifaximin stayed healthy, while all the others became ill.

    Malarone - I wonder if our dosage is overkill. Don't worry about side effects!

    Clothing - Your first stop is the Oberoi - they will certainly have a fabulous shop there. But you should probably get a few new outfits before going: Tee shirts plus capris or cotton yoga pants and a cotton cardigan will work for the day. You'll want your jeans at night, but also take one longer skirt or dressier outfit (as offwego said, everyone wears ethnic tops). You will probably need a fleece, light jacket or pashmina for the evening - not necessary when we were there, but December will be cooler.

    Street food - Was very tempting, but I would avoid. (And we routinely eat street food in Latin America and other parts of Asia.)

    Forts - The word "fort" is a turn-off (particularly to women). They're actually architectural masterpieces, most well worth seeing, no need to spend a lot of time. Udaipur City Palace is a must. More like a museum than a fort. We liked the Red Fort, gave the Agra Fort a pass but did see the exterior (we loved our hotel too much to sightsee...details coming up in the next installment trip report), adored Eklingi (living temple, go for a service!) and Nagda (cool ruins) - This would be a nice quick rural excursion for you from Udaipur, you can then have drinks at Devi Garh, (where we stayed) and visit the cool village next door. I've heard Ranakphur is really worth seeing, but sadly we did not.

    Make sure you allow several hours for relaxing every day and you'll be fine.

    Avoiding gluten - We too were vegetarians for the trip, and remained so (just adding fish and seafood) for about a month after we came home. Didn't miss meat at all. There didn't seem to be any hidden wheat in the lentil or vegetable dishes, so your husband should be okay if he skips the bread in general.

    Extra passport pages - I had to pay an expeditor to do this before getting the visa.

    Your trip sounds fantastic...I'm sorry we missed Kolkata and Jodphur. Will have to return!

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    I agree that the "forts" were overwhelming in their numbers and underwhelming in their delivery. An exception is the Palace at Udaipur which is a must. The audio guide there was quite good.

    The best thing about the rest of the Forts (for me) was gazing up at them in the nighttime from a rooftop lounge with a kingfisher in my hand :) They are majestic and positively stunning.

    PS I live in Cambodia and eat street food every day, but India is this whole other thing, my body just said "oh no you don't" every time I thought about it. :)

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    Cholera is not caused by E. coli, but by Vibrio cholerae, FWIW.

    Best fort in Rajasthan is the one in Jodhpur. The maharaja has installed an elevator so guests can go to the top, then take a leisurely stroll downward.

    Vegetarian vs. omnivorian makes no sense. What matters is the hygiene of the food preparation. Vegetarian food can be just as unhygienic as food with meat. If the food is fresh and hot, it should be safe. I saw some questionable stuff on buffets.

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    Re: forts --Agra Fort and Red Fort in "Old" Delhi built in same style and time , so visit only only one.. I loved the Agra Fort (Red Fort i saw many yrs ago and dont recall much about it).

    I too stayed at ITC Mughal and loved it. Smart you are staying overnight in Agra, instead of as a day trip.

    A little detour off the main Agra-Jipur road is to tiny, completely non-tourist oriented village of Abhaneri, for its stepwell, and small palace overlooking it. There was an archaeolgical study in place when i was there in January this yr. Slightly off the beaten track, but not sofar off so that it will affect your itin (esp'lly as you have three days in Jaipur)

    There is a company recommended by both my usual TO for India (Indian Panormama-- too bad they couldn't help in your situation) and the infamous Dogster, called Calcutta Walks. Check out on line, they have some great walks.

    In Jaipur, don't miss Galta JI, the monkey temple--on a hill thru a village, about ten minutes drive form Jaipur, I actually enjoyed it far more than the better known places in Jaipur. Read about it on line. You will be one of the few Westerners there.

    NIX street food--i'm with CC on this one!! Even if risk is small, why chance being miserable for even one day of your trip? Re; roadside dhabas (tea houses/cafes often int he middle of nowhere ,which I love for chai,---go with your drivers recommendatiSHOULD on-they know from experience which are safe!

    I don't agree about completely avoiding guides. A great one can really MAKE your viist special!! I would do someresearch online (here and on tripadvisor) for recommended guides, at least fora few places.

    Re Varanasi, havent been in decades, BUT everyone recommends staying right by one of the ghats. Radisson is not. Welcomeheritage just opened a hotel on one of the ghats-WHEN i return, this would probably be my choise.

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    Thanks guys, for the info ... I'm slowly compiling my list of 'must do' forts from your replies :-)

    Crosscheck - I'd be up for the Rifaxamin, but its just not an option here so I'm doing everything else I can to stay healthy. You're right about the word fort being a turn-off, that did make me giggle :-) What's the village at Devi Garh called? We wanted to book Devi Garh after watching Anthony Bourdain but unfortunately its fully booked when we are there :-( Thanks for the clothing tips - I hadn't even considered taking jeans - I never do to Asia, its usually too warm, hmmm, now you've got me thinking ...

    Indianapearl - I know that Cholera is different to e-coli, but the doctor tells me that the vaccine for cholera also gives protection against some types of e-coli. She reckoned it would decrease our risk of contracting e-coli by about 20% - any percentage is useful in my book :-) I guess people recommend the veggie thing because there's more chance of illness if the meat is old, hasn't been stored correctly or isn't fully cooked - whereas veggies are safer in that respect, You take your chances with hygiene on any type of food though ...

    Marija - I noticed about the 7 day thing with Malarone - my guess is there's a minimum and maximum time and perhaps most doctors err on the side of caution.

    CaliNurse - those are some great tips I'll definitely look some of those things up. Re Varanasi, I debated the hotel long and hard and read lots of reports with pros and cons on both sides, and quite a few people said they preferred to escape the noise and the hustle and have some refuge in a hotel a bit further away. Also Bob's hotel experience in Varanasi was enough to put me off staying near the Ghats - I do like my comfort! We did look at Welcomeheritage and it was booked up, as were any of the other hotels in that area that I might have considered (there were only a few- guesthouses scare me!). Maybe when we get there we'll regret it but for now I'm pretty comfortable with the Radisson.

    Regarding the gluten-free dilemma, I contacted Coeliac Australia today who sent me an information sheet on travelling to India, with a list of breads and other foods which are safe, and others which are not, which is fantastic!

    I've also been to the walking shops and bought some capri pants, hiking pants, and a micro-fleece jacket, so feel I am almost there :-)

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    malerone is 7 days after you leave the area for usa residents.

    i'm delighted you are using C&K, you will be very pleased... i hope you get krishna, he is fantastic as a man and as a driver...

    i'm concerned about agra... when will you visit the taj and baby taj? you can skip the fort if you go to any other one..

    have a great time..

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    Great information, thank you, violetm! I leave 2 weeks after you return, so I'm looking forward to hearing all the details! I've already planned my itinerary and will be using TGS (much earlier posts), but the preparation for traveling (what to eat/not to eat) and shots, especially antimalarial, is extremely helpful right now. And, perhaps this time, you'll even get to the trip report (which I'll be following very closely!).

    Enjoy the trip! It's getting close!

    Paule

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    Hi Bob - even on the little booklet I got from the travel clinic it says 7 days - but my doctor said 2 days, I wasn't planning on taking it at all so I'm going to with her advice :-) Baby Taj? You've lost me! Our plan is to see the Taj at sunset the day we arrive, then again at sunrise the following morning before heading to Jaipur - I'm not unduly concerned about Agra Fort (which may surprise you!).

    Paule - hope you have a great trip too, I'm not going to promise to do my trip report until after I'm back - I doubt very much I would be able to keep it! Please don't follow my advice on drugs etc, as yr doc may advise different, just thought it would be useful to know what others ate doing.

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    Thanks for sending out all the details! Our family will be leaving in 12 days and I am taking notes about the forts and what else are must sees as well. We are also using Castle and King. They have been very flexible and quick to respond.
    I hope you and Paule too have a great trip!
    Evelyn

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