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Really early India (+?) planning for 3 month trip - some random questions

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We go away for the winter - India has been on the list and we are now considering it for next year. Warning - this is a very early posting - many of the questions are of the how long is a piece of string variety.

We have 10-12 weeks - leaving early January. This will be our 7th winter away and we have a good sense of the style/pace we enjoy. We like to travel around for 3 weeks or so, then stay in a villa/apartment for 3 or 4 weeks, then finish up with another 3 weeks (+/-) of travel.

We very much enjoy history, art and architecture, wildlife....but probably most of all food! Eating/shopping/cooking/dining is a very important part of our travels - we learn alot about a culture through its cuisine. Needless to say we are very excited about Indian cuisine.

(A side note on the self catering portion of the trip - we would be very interested in a situation that has a cook who we could work with - i.e. shopping/cooking/etc - as we are less familiar with Indian cuisine and would love to learn, and not sure if our market skills would be good enough, i.e. language, lack of familiarity with ingredients, etc. We think we might get a lot more out of working with a cook/chef than going it on our own and would love opinions on that).

I've read many trip reports here and elsewhere, and have the Fodor's India guide (won at a GTG). Have a lot of thoughts/questions:

- we assume a visit in the North/Golden Triangle - that could be our first 3 weeks - apart from the usual (which will be the subject of separate posts) we are interested in the Himachal-Pradesh area (Shimla?) - could it be our 3 week self catering stay?

- Darjeeling is a serious consideration - we would like to take the narrow gauge train. Also a view of Everest would be fantastic (I think I have every book written about Everest...well, in the last 25 years anyway). Is this area a possible 3 week stay?

- Tigers! (and birds, for that matter) I have read many trip reports where people went to the various national parks and didn't see tigers, I wonder if we should focus more on other wildlife experiences - alternatives?/thoughts re tiger parks?

- boat cruises - having read all of Dobgert's trip reports....no thanks!

- Moving to the south... we are not beach/sun people so those areas aren't a consideration for us. I have seen some wonderful private houseboats in Kerala - is a week too long on a houseboat in that region?

- Tamil Nadu (and Sri Lanka) are also considerations although I wonder about the temperature/climate in February having read some recent trip reports where flooding was an issue.

- other suggestions re areas to visit and comments/suggestions regarding places for a 3 to 4 week apartment/villa location would be great.

For the latter part of the 10-12 weeks away we are also considering Bhutan/Kathmandu (although we are not trekkers, which is blunting the reason to go there, I think) Burma is high on our list but we are not sure whether it is appropriate to visit (have to do more research on that - have read conflicting opinions as to whether it is good to support tourism now or not).

Thanks for any suggestions.

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