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A Little Late: Fabulous 3 weeks in India

A Little Late: Fabulous 3 weeks in India

Mar 5th, 2012, 12:03 PM
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A Little Late: Fabulous 3 weeks in India

I have been remiss in reporting on my trip last April, for which I received much helpful advice on the forum. I just wanted to give a quick post to let you know how my first trip to India turned out, in the hope that I can be at least a little helpful in return for all the help you all gave me.

Flew business class on United from Newark to New Delhi. Flight was great--got a full 8 hours of sleep! A driver from the hotel picked us up. We stayed at the Le Meridien because that was the hotel selected for my husband's business engagements. We had a suite, which was modern and spacious with a fabulous view of the city. The service was very good, and I was able to practice my Hindi with them! The guys at breakfast taught me something new each day. I took a tour of Delhi with a driver from the hotel while my husband was working; he drove me around to the places I wanted to see (the red fort, Jama Masjid, Gandhi's memorial, some markets). I was by myself and didn't have any problems. I am a tall, blonde, California girl, so people did want to take pictures with me (I said yes to children, women, and families, no to groups of young men), but no real harassment. I wore a salwar kameez some days, western clothes other days, and soon enough was wearing casual sarees during the day and fancier silk ones in the evening. Indian clothes rock. Maybe I exude confidence, but I didn't really have any major issues and felt totally comfortable telling people (politely but firmly) to buzz off in Hindi when they got too close for comfort.

Then I took the Shatabdi express from Delhi to Haridwar to spend 4 days at the Ananda spa, in the foothills of the HImalayas above Rishikesh. This was extraordinary, perhaps my favorite part of the trip. Food, ayurvedic treatments, hiking, the staff--everything was heavenly. The ganga aarti in Rishikesh was practically life-changing. I also saw about 20 wild elephants, from crazy close up (and the only person there!) in Rajaji Nat'l Park. If you can afford Ananda, don't think twice, GO. I had my requisite Indian train experience on the way there, so I flew Kingfisher from Dehradun back to Delhi.

My husband and I then hooked up with our fabulous driver Ram, from India by Car & Driver, an EXCELLENT suggestion we got from you all. Ram is simply the best. He drove us to Agra, where we stayed at the Oberoi for one night. The building, pools, and, of course, view are gorgeous, but we didn't feel the service was up to snuff. We got up early to see the Taj, which was nice, and then got out of Agra.

Ram next drove us to Jaipur and the Rambagh Palace, which we ADORED. We stayed in an amazing suite, enjoyed the food immensely, loved the indoor and outdoor pools, the spa, the polo bar, the people, the peacocks--everything. We felt like a member of the (royal) family immediately. In fact, the Maharajah of Jodphur arrived at the same time we did! Ram is from Jaipur so he showed us around to the usual sights, as well as introduced us to some of his friends and took us to his tailor shop where we had a gazilion things made--very high quality and fast. But we had a hard time leaving Rambagh palace at all!

Our next stop was Udaipur, staying at the unparalleled Taj Lake Palace. I can't imagine staying anywhere else in Udaipur. So magical. We went to see the palace in town, but honestly, it was getting to be so hot we spent much of our 3 days there exploring the Lake Palace. My husband and I also had a truly special experience--a spiritual wedding on a candlelit platform that the hotel arranged. (We were married a year earlier in a non-religious--but beautiful!--ceremony.) Ram's friends in Jaipur picked out this exquisite turquoise with gold sequins saree for me, and the platform was covered in flowers and candles. Two holy men conducted a ceremony for us, which was very moving. Then, the hotel brought us out a dinner for two (which we had preselected), and, though they checked on us from time to time to see if we needed anything, left us out on our truly romantic platform to enjoy dinner and wine in private. Totally, totally amazing.

We stayed next at the Oberoi in Ranthambore. It was lovely, but in retrospect, I wish we had stayed at the Aman-i-khas. However, we had an incredible tigress sighting on our second day! Spent a few hours with her, first from afar when she was in the lake, and then she slowly cam toward us, until she passed right in front of our jeep, climbed up a little hill, and then rolled over on her side with a leg sticking up and took a nap. Breathtaking (and kinda cute--her cute paw reminded me of my pup!). I had food poisoning for the only time on my trip here, but with antibiotics, I was better in a day.

We stopped next at Ram's suggestion at Amanbagh, a place out in rural Rajasthan. We were only there one night, so I can't speak to the surrounding area. The hotel itself was extraordinarily beautiful. We stayed in a suite with a private pool, which was great fun. We would sit with a drink, hanging in the pool, and watch the monkeys play in the trees. The management was a little annoying, but I'm just being picky.

Next we stayed, because we couldn't stay away at our beloved Rambagh. Ram took us to a local restaurant, where we were the only non-Indians, I think so I could show off my improved Hindi skills and saree wearing elan. The food was excellent, as it had been throughout our trip. As a vegetarian, I was basically in heaven.

Other than Ananda, where it could get quite cool, it was pretty hot, but not unbearable. It did mean that we didn't have jam-packed daytime sightseeing for the most part, but that was part of the reason I tried to book historical hotels. I mean, I would have made a special trip to see the Lake Palace, so why not just stay there and explore at our leisure? We did a lot of yoga, at great food, had fabulous ayurvedic treatments, met many local friends with whom we remain in touch, and basically had an awesome time. I didn't experience significant harassment, even when I traveled or went sightseeing by myself, and while there were signs of extreme and cruel poverty, if you aren't aware of that already, perhaps you should be jolted by it. I work in a non-profit intended to promote human dignity and justice, and I always look for organizations in the local areas I'm traveling to donate to before our trip, since the advice is usually not to give to folks who ask you for money on the street. India was a wonderful, unforgettable adventure, and I can't wait to go back! Thank you all for your very useful suggestions and advice.
ebonniebikegirl is offline  
Mar 5th, 2012, 08:38 PM
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thanks for the report
rhkkmk is offline  
Mar 6th, 2012, 04:59 AM
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Nice report. Thanks for posting. I am curious as to where you "did a lot of yoga".
shelleyk is offline  
Mar 6th, 2012, 08:03 AM
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Shelleyk, we mostly had private sessions with the yogis employed by the hotels' spas (at Ananda I also did the daily morning group class). I have been practicing yoga for a long time, so the sessions were not terribly challenging for me physically, but it was interesting to chat with the teachers afterward about where they trained and the sessions were always held in amazing settings. I also, of course, had my daily self-guided practice, which seemed a lot more fun being in India. Nothing like being in a headstand watching the peacocks strut by....
ebonniebikegirl is offline  
Mar 6th, 2012, 01:35 PM
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Ebonnie, thanks for the write-up.

This trip report's aka:

"India on $1,000 Per Day"

Seriously, the hotels you stayed at start at $500/day. You can't imagine staying anywhere other than Lake Palace; I and many other visitors to India can ONLY dream of it.

i hope other readers know you can love and enjoy India with a budget that is 1/5th of yours.
CaliNurse is offline  
Mar 6th, 2012, 02:00 PM
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I didn't mean to suggest one can enjoy India only by staying in expensive hotels. Re Udaipur, I was trying to say that if one were going to choose within that category of hotel, I would go with the Lake Palace, hands down, over, say, the Oberoi. Sorry if I offended anyone, just thought I'd report back on my trip after getting so much great advice from people on this forum.
ebonniebikegirl is offline  
Mar 7th, 2012, 10:50 PM
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Hi ebonnie, I've been thinking about the Ananda - Did you think four days was the right amount of time?
crosscheck is offline  
Mar 8th, 2012, 05:26 AM
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Dogster, you know I value your comments on travel to India, but aren't your comments, especially "wallet wide open, eyes wide shut" a little judgemental? Would this report have had more value if she stayed in hotels that were $150 per night? This is ebonniebikegirls first TR. Do you think she will ever write another one? BTW, hope you are feeling better.
shelleyk is offline  
Mar 8th, 2012, 05:59 AM
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I too find dogster and Cali's constant refrain that staying in luxury hotels debases travel quite tedious and often inappropriate.
Marija is online now  
Mar 8th, 2012, 07:01 AM
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Well this is one India trip report that made me really think about going to India so I guess I know what category we fall into,lol.

Thanks ebonie for writing this report and know that most out here appreciate your taking the time to do this. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Mar 8th, 2012, 07:16 AM
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Thanks for your report ebonnie. I am envious -- you were able to stay in a number of places I can only dream of staying one day. There are many, many Indias to experience and it is all incredible. I do hope you got to see some of the non-luxury side as well. As someone who has used Ram for a driver, I agree that he provides wonderful service for whatever level of travel his clients want. It sounds like you had a wonderful time -- we all deserve a little luxury once in a while and dogster is right -- no one does it quite like India.
travelaw is offline  
Mar 8th, 2012, 12:14 PM
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Marija, please specify where I said that staying in luxury "debases" travel. Tedious, constant inappropriate refrain ?

I agree with travelaw that you can "find India" everywhere. I've written it on other ppsts. It's all incredible--the great , the terrible, the ugly the beautiful, everything in between

But Bonnie wanted to be a "a little helpful" to Fodors folks, so I commented
"i hope other readers know you can love and enjoy India with a budget that is 1/5th of yours"

Looking at the prices of bonniebikegirl's palatial digs, inexperienced readers--who seek help here--might by implication think they have to spend $1,000 per night to have "a wonderful, unforgettable adventure " in India.

That is why I rarely came to Fodors first for India advice. Unlike most of the other Forums, on first look, the "experts" seemed to be exclusively wealthy people. And it's why I still recommend an additional search of Indiamike for "the rest of us." That is inappropriate ?

Travelaw, Bonnie does say she went out and saw some non-luxury as well, which Ram took her to... but she "had a hard time leaving the hotel at all"

Dog and i have had our disagreements (as all know, and all have) but on this, I'm in complete agreement. Knowing Dogster, i respect his restraint, which mirrors my own. I don't find his comments about open wallets judgmental, but factual. That is exactly what this trip was. Read the TR again. There are some great LOL moments. A one-word description of Taj Mahal: "nice"--before getting out of Agra --but paragraphs of gushing over $1,000 hotels built and run for the very wealthy.

You want "judgmental"? This report could be called "The Valley Girl's Guide to Totally Awesome India, Like Basically"

Sure, I would love to stay in one or two of these magnificent places (although right now, $200/night is my upper limit for a "splurge" unless Starwood Points are contributing). But a steady diet of it for 3 weeks? A daily dessert menu of melting chocolate cake plus eclairs plus cream puffs would leave most folks feeling overstuffed, unhealthy and nauseated (yoga notwithstanding); refusing to mix the desserts with fresh fruit might be called clueless.
CaliNurse is offline  
Mar 8th, 2012, 12:38 PM
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"I am a tall, blonde, California girl, so people did want to take pictures with me "

I am a short, auburn (with grey roots) California-by way-of-New York and London woman, and golly gee, people wanted to take pix even with me!!
CaliNurse is offline  
Mar 8th, 2012, 02:13 PM
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Good heavens, no need to get so personal and nasty! All I wanted to do was tell folks whether/why I liked certain hotels and places. If you aren't considering staying in any of these hotels, that's fine with me. CaliNurse, I only mentioned my appearance because I read many posters here and on India Mike who were concerned about possible harassment of women tourists, and some suggested blondes stand out particularly; I was simply saying that, even as someone who "stood out"--a very tall person with light hair--I did not feel "harassed." And not that I need to justify it at all--after all, it's my travel time and dime--but we got much better deals than $500-$1300 per night on our magnificent hotels. Finally, based on the experience of my Indian friends and colleagues who live in India (although I'm sure some of you will think they and their ancestors must be from India-la-la-la), it is clear that, just as tourists who travel to India have different experiences and stay in varying levels of luxury, so do people who live in India, some of whom have a lot of money and many who do not. As a Californian, I don't think someone gets a less authentic "California" experience staying in Malibu and eating at Nobu than if they stayed in a low-income part of California's central valley--it is just a different experience, both equally "real." You can "LOL" at my report--I mean, geez, nobody needs me to go on and on about the Taj Mahal to know it is beautiful and they should see it--but to assume that I am somehow naive and willfully ignorant of my surroundings, India's culture, and the socio-political forces that shape a country like India and its people seems to be unnecessary.

Now, finally, to crosscheck: I did think that 4 days at Ananda was a good amount of time. I felt like I was able to experience most of the ayurvedic treatments I was interested in, go hiking up to the temples, be a part of the ganga aarti in Rishikesh, and even see the elephants at Rajaji in that span of time. I could certainly see the benefit of staying longer though! In fact, I met a couple from Mumbai who were staying a month for health reasons. Btw, the ayurvedic food was exquisite (and despite all the warnings you read in travel guides not to eat salad, etc., I ate many raw veggies and salads at Ananda and was totally fine). I would have liked to have done more hiking in the Himalayan foothills, but I'll just have to save that for next time! I recommended Ananda to one of my best friends who lives in Delhi and he and his wife loved it, and they were only able to go for a weekend. Let me know if you have any other questions; I'd be glad to help if I can.
ebonniebikegirl is offline  
Mar 8th, 2012, 07:33 PM
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Thanks, ebonnie, I love Nobu - maybe we can meet there to discuss the Ananda while dining on *overpriced* sushi.

Sorry, Cali and Dog, I'm in agreement with Marija on this one. Not cool to criticize other people's travel styles. The OP took the time to post a report that included solo train travel, a life-changing aarti, yoga, ayurvedics, tigers, elephants, a new Indian wardrobe and a vow-renewal ceremony. How is that not real enough?

I, too, have many "real" Indian friends and colleagues who frequent and recommend the hotels where the OP stayed - most with deals are way less than $500-$1000 a night. But that's not even the point. This is not Lonely Planet - why can't we discuss high end places? (Take a look at the Africa board - $1k a night won't cut it there.)

Also, in the hypocrisy department, you're all fans of the BKK Peninsula...why is that on the approved list and not the Oberois/Amans?

And, frankly, after reading so many trip reports with ghastly details/TMI about gastrointestinal issues in India, the higher end places DO sound more appealing.
crosscheck is offline  
Mar 11th, 2012, 11:58 PM
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Great from the heart report,ebonnie.

You all fodorites have made excellent points.....the one thing that clearly came through to me is that India has everything---India can be enjoyed in all price ranges. It has poverty, a growing middle class which is causing strain on India's resources and development, and immense wealth. And Hotels to meet all levels of tourist needs and desires. India has old cultures, and modern upto date technology. You have to look for it, but everything is possible in India. It is an amazing country. So, for people who cannot look beyond the immediate poverty and cleanliness, it is ghastly. But for the majority of travellers, from mid-range to top shelf, India provides amazing adventure. One can never say that India is not interesting.

As for the 5 star hotels in India, I find them to be 5 star quality with, sometimes, 6 or 7 star service.
Then there are many restaurants and hotels in India who proudly hang banners proclaiming they are recommended or mentioned in Lonely Planet, the bastion of the backpacker.

As for gastrointestinal issues, I get them in EVERY country, usually, on the 9th or 10th day of the trip. In my opinion, when people change diets, which happens when one is travelling AND willing to try local foods, that is why GI issues occur. Ofcourse, I am careful about drinking water everywhere I travel.

So IMHO, travelling in India, whether one is staying at expensive hotels or midrange hotels, is all possible. Main ingredient needed is to make sure to have fun. The point is, just because India is considered a poor country does not mean that exquisitely comfortable hotels are also available.
magical is offline  
Mar 18th, 2012, 10:31 PM
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Thanks very nice posting.
sanjidah is offline  
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