Agra/Rajasthan trip March 2009

Old May 21st, 2008, 01:37 PM
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Agra/Rajasthan trip March 2009

I would love to get some advice for this itinerary I'm planning:
1)March 14 -arrive Delhi, probably in early am (I haven't booked our international flights yet)
--should we just stay at an airport hotel, which one?
2)March 15-take Shatabadi Train to Agra, arrive 8am and start tour
(will stay in Oberoi Amarvilas)
3)March 16-travel to Jaipur by private car/driver (visit Fatehpur Sikri)
--stay at Taj Rambagh Palace for 2 nights
5)March 18--fly to Jodhpur, stay at Umaid Bhawan Palace(1 nt)
6)March 19--drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur (visit Kumbalargh and Ranakpur on the way)
--stay at Taj Lake Palace for 2 nts
7)March 21-take early morning flight from Udaipur back to Delhi, do sightseeing of Delhi until catch international flight home (probably early am March 22 flight, therefore will check-in at airport late on March 21 night.)

This is a very special, once-in-a-lifetime anniversary trip for us so we'd like to stay in the best hotels (I chose palaces because where else would you get to live like a maharajah?)

Can anyone share their experiences with good tour co. So far I've heard good things about Castle and King as well as Caper Travel.

Also, is it too early to book my international flights now ? I was wondering if rising fuel surcharges, etc, might mean higher prices later on. The cheapest flights from Vancouver, Canada to Delhi are about $2000 incl. tax. Do they get lower or higher the closer to departure date (March 2009)?

I'd appreciate any suggestions or advice anyone might have. Thanks!
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Old May 21st, 2008, 06:32 PM
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Some random thoughts:

1. Only a week in India for that long a flight might be quite wearing on you between jet lag, distances to be traveled within India, etc. If there is any way you can go for longer, you could see a bit more and may enjoy it more. Generally, your itin is good in that you are not trying to do too much in that short a time, but that is a lot of money to spend for only a week. Also, from what I can see of your flight schedule, if you want to arrive into Delhi on Saturday, March 14, you probably have to leave on Thursday afternoon or evening March 12, not sure if that works for you.

2. You may start to encounter some warmish to hot weather in mid-March, see weatherbase.com for some ideas. It should be bearable (it’s not April), but just go slow and drink water. Otherwise, I think March is good, it’s more of the shoulder from the really high tourist months of Nov-Feb, so hotels may be a little bit cheaper (note the “little”, hotels overall of the class you are staying in are expensive).

3. Unless you can arrive into Delhi during the day (see below), I would suggest that you consider staying in Delhi fist for a night (i.e., not including the night you arrive). If you are arriving into Delhi at like midnight or later, you may not especially feel like getting up at 5 am to get to the train station for the 6 am train. Also from that point on, you will have a VERY LONG day ahead of you to get through with jet lag. If you are arriving into Delhi at like 1 am, there is every chance you will not be at your hotel until 3 am or a bit later, and therefore you may not get any sleep your first night, on top of a very long flight during which you may also not have gotten any sleep. I would therefore really recommend a day or two in Delhi to relax, adjust etc. There is a lot to see and do in Delhi.

4. In either case, I would stay at a hotel IN Delhi. If you are going to go right to Agra from the flight, then you will want to be nearer to the train station (the Shabtabi departs from the New Delhi station in downtown Delhi, about 45 minutes to an hour from any airport hotel). If you decide to stay in Delhi for a day or two, you will of course want to be in Delhi. There is no point in either case in staying in an airport hotel (you may do that on the return, see below). The Imperial is a very good choice for tourists, lovely hotel, great location. I also like the Oberoi a lot. The Shangri-La gets good reviews from what I hear. There are other choices as well.

5. You might read reviews on the Lake Palace in Udaipur. I have stayed there, but not in several years, and love the faded charm and location, but I believe there are complaints abut things like service, worn rooms, etc. You might look at the Udaivilas, or other hotels.

6. I am not a huge fan of the Umaid in Jodhpur. I have not stayed, but have been in the public areas and restaurants. I understand service can be an issue, it’s also a bit out of town. I like the Taj, it’s perfectly fine, and in a good location in town. I don’t think you would have a terrible experience at the Umaid, but I don’t think it’s the luxury hotel experience you may be expecting. It is independently run, and you won’t have the same treatment as you will be getting at the Oberois, or even the Taj who generally run good hotels, if of a lesser luxury standard than Oberoi. (Taj is like a perfectly nice 4 star, sometimes rooms can be a little old, but I think their Jodhpur property is nice.) Just my view.

7. Love, love the Rambagh, again not quite as luxurious as the Javilas, but man, the history and ambience cannot be re-constructed by Oberoi. I would suggest you look at several rooms before settling on one (unless you love the room they show you first), as they have many different kinds of rooms all over the hotel (including some in the basement), so speak up if you don’t like the room you first see. If you have not read it, get a copy ofA Princess Remembers by Gayatri Devi and read it before or during the trip. This is the autobiography of the third and favorite wife of the late Maharajah of Jaipur, and the Rambagh was their home. She was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. When Jackie Kennedy went to India in 1961 or so, she stayed with the Princess and in the pictures, Jackie looks dowdy compared to her. You can always buy it in the hotel’s book store and read it on the hotel’s verandah over looking the gardens, which I have done, a surreal experience to read this woman’s story of the home she loved so much while you are IN it.

8. On your last day, I would fly back as late as you can from Udaipur. Jet Airways has several daily non-stops from Udaipur to Delhi, and you can go as late as 6:30 pm arriving at about 8:30 pm, which may work well for a departure later in the evening, and would give you a whoel day in Udaipur. See the Jet Airways schedule at http://www.jetairways.com. If you have an afternoon, then check into an airport hotel so you can relax before the late departure. I would not bother too much with trying to sightsee in Delhi on your last day, too much rushing around, and again a long day to wait until the late evening to get on a flight. That is why I recco that you do Delhi on the first part of the trip. You will not be allowed into the airport until 3 hours before your flight, and there are no facilities at all at the airport, so don’t expect to spend any time there. I would choose a place with a spa and pool (the Trident is marvelous http://www.oberoihotels.com/ or http://www.tridenthotels.com/home/index.asp, but the Crowne Plaza Gurgaon has a nice pool (http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/)) and just relax. A somewhat cheaper alternative might be the Radissons (there are two, either would work Radisson (http://www.radisson.com/) If you only have a few hours in the evening between flights, then arrange for a car/driver or a prepaid taxi, and go to a local hotel for a meal, keeping the car with your luggage waiting for you and then go to the airport as late as possible. The Delhi Radisson has the Kebab Factory (kind of like of TGIF for Indian food), the Crowne Plaza Gurgaon has a nice casual restaurant (http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/), the Park Plaza in Gurgaon also has a Kebab Factory (http://www.parkplaza.com/gurgaonin, and the Trident Gurgaon has a very good formal Indian restaurant and a good more casual buffet style restaurant.

The pricing of flights is a complete mystery to me, so I can offer no advice. My favourite game to play on airplanes is to ask the person sitting next to me what they paid and when they bought their ticket…..As for the flights, the shorter flight times seem to go via Europe and would require 2 days on the calendar (but you are not flying for 2 days, just 20 hours or so). There does seem a way to go via Hong Kong, which is about 22 hours and which would put you into Delhi at 1 pm, which would be quite attractive in that you could get right to Agra that same day (I would use a car and driver from the airport), but that requires leaving Vancouver at 3 am Friday morning, i.e. very late Thursday night, see CX 889 to CX 639. The return looks decent too, you depart in the afternoon from Delhi and arrive into Vancouer at about 9 am, the same day (you “gain” a day flying back via the Pacific, see CX 638 to CX888)



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Old May 21st, 2008, 06:59 PM
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I think Umaid is now run by the Taj, I've stayed there when it was just independently run, but I hope it is better now.

I've never stayed at Raj vilas, and I am staying there on this trip. However, I have stayed at Rambaugh the past 4 times. Try to get a historical suite on the first floor - they were amazing. And yes, stop by the book store, they have an original picture of Jackie hanging there....Cicerone does know his India..
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Old May 21st, 2008, 07:02 PM
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Cicerone,

Since you are so knowledgeable about India... here is my post from another thread I didnt get a response from... I'd appreciate it if you could take a look and give me your thoughts/suggestions.

Best,

Bob

"Hi all,

I am an experienced Indian traveler (been there 10+ times), but I am bringing my girlfriend - who has never been to India for the first time and I have some questions.

1. What is the best hotel to stay at in New Delhi? I usually stay at an apt, but will splurge this time. I have narrowed it down to the Oberoi or the Taj Mahal hotel as they are the same price. Which of these two is better? I can go to the Imperial, as well, if you really think it is worth it.
(you've answered this question Cicerone in the other post - I'm staying at the Oberoi)

Also, has anyone taken the Continental nonstop from Newark?

Here is my suggested itinerary:

1. Sat July 26 - Arrive 8:25, Delhi
2. Sunday July 27, Delhi
3. Monday - Agra, Amarvilas
4. Tuesday - Drive to Jaipur, Rajvilas
5. Wednesday - Jaipur
6. THURS - OPEN?
7. FRI - Delhi
8 SAT - Delhi, Depart 10:15 PM

I've been to all these places before several times and also have friends in Delhi. So, in those cities things will go smoothly.

Do you think I should squeeze in Udaipur or Jodhpur in my trip? I've also been there...but I want to get most out of her Indian trip. I was going to take her to Vanyavilas (for which I have also been), but it is closed when I am going there.

Any comments welcome, please.

Thanks,

Bob


"
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Old May 21st, 2008, 08:03 PM
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I saw your other post, and my thoughts were these:

1. If you are taking the CO flight you arrive at 8:30 PM on Saturday, which means you have 7 days in India. A long way to go for a short trip, as I have noted above. You are also a brave man taking someone to India for the first time in the heat and the monsoon.

2. It will be very hot in July, so I would take it slow. Temps will be in the 90s F for like a low average, plus it will be humid as the monsoon will have broken in June. You will also have many cloudy days and rain, which may help with some heat issues, but not so much with humidity. As you probably know, virtually none of the sights you will see are air-conditioned as most are outdoors, therefore, you may not in fact feel like doing too much in any one day, let alone moving after only 1 night. I would not try to “squeeze” in either Udaipur or Jodhpur in the very short amount of time you have, unless you decide to cut out Delhi. I personally think that there is a lot to see and do in Delhi, but can appreciate that others may want to see other things. You may have been to Delhi before, and may want your girlfriend to see it, or you may think she may find someplace like Udaipur more interesting (its hard to beat that place for romance I have to say, I personally would choose it over Jodhpur for that reason). I think you know best, but IMO with only 7 days, I would not “do” more than 3 places. With your arrival time on Sat, you could overnight and take the train or drive down to Agra on Sunday. Spend 2 nights there, then to Jaipur for 2 nights. From Jaipur you could fly to Udaipur (there is a 7 am Jet flight), spend 2 nights there and then take the early afternoon Jet Airways flight from Udaipur back to Delhi, leaving you some hours before your flight but certainly doable. Or skip Jaipur if you want to include Jodhpur or Udaipur. With a week in the heat, I don’t think I can emphasize enough not to overdo it, esp with a first time visitor (you might be able to do it, whether you would enjoy it is another question.)

3. Personally, I would spend 2 nights in Agra. The hotel is lovely and they have a nice pool and a very good spa, you can see the Taj in different lights, I love wandering the old town parts, there is the fort and the quite impressive Sikandra, and you can just relax for some down time at the hotel and stare at the Taj as well from your room or the bar or lobby lounge. Also ask about local festivals, I went to a great Durga festival in Agra in October last year.

4. I would also spend two nights in Jaipur, don’t know why you put that other day as ‘open”. There is a lot to do and see there, the City Museum itself could take a whole day. I would also assume that you would stop at Fatephur Sikri on your way up from Agra, giving you actually only about 1.5 days in Jaipur even with 2 nights there. Between the Amber Fort, Palace of the Winds, City Palace, etc, that is not really possible to do in a day in the cold weather, let alone the hot. I also think your girlfriend would really like the shopping there (keep her away from the Gem Palace possibly…) I am not sure if an overnight camel trek is feasible at that time of year, but you might look into that, but you could also just do a desert day trip. Again, with the heat, you may want to really go slow and not do too much in any one day. the pool at the Rajvilas is quite nice, and they have a good spa. Stay in the tents if you want a sort of tent experience (I belive they are quite similar to Vanavilas, have not been to the latter).


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Old May 22nd, 2008, 07:41 AM
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1. Yes, true. I suppose I could extend my trip by a day possibly. I will have to check with CO.

2. Thank you for your advice. I think I will do two days in Delhi (plus the first and last day), two in Agra, and two in Jaipur...the next time I go to India with her I take take her to more adventurous places... I have been to Jodphur, Udaipur, Goa, Cochin, Trivandrum, Shimla, Calcutta, Mumbai...what is your favorite place?

I like Delhi and there is a ton to do there, plus I have friends there. I will take her on the tour, and perhaps add in Raj Ghat, the Indira Ghandi House, Doll Museum, etc to make it more interesting for her.

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Old May 22nd, 2008, 09:14 AM
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Thank you for the advice! I will definitely get a copy of that book. Also, do you think I should do this all through a tour co. or try to book the hotels,domestic flights, etc. myself? Do the travel agents get better rates than I would ?
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 08:23 PM
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Msmango, I haven’t used a travel agent in India in more than 15 years. I am quite lucky in that much of my travel in India is on the front or back end of business trips and my int’l airfare is already paid for. I do the rest myself. I have always been of the view that working directly with a hotel gets you as good a deal as an agent; many of the hotels in the range you are looking at do not discount significantly in any event so I don’t know that an agent is going to be able to get you any better deal. Whether this costs me a bit more overall is possible, that is not a big concern to me, but I get convenience and flexibility and never a snafu (i.e., showing up a hotel and they don’t have a booking for me). If you have a platinum or gold credit card you may get other perks as well. E-mail and fax are very easy ways to communicate, and the level of English is excellent in India.

However, if you can find an agent that can get you a good deal on an int’l airfare (including perhaps some domestic flights) and which lets you choose your own hotels, I think that might be a good option. It’s the international airfare that is always the big piece, and I do think agents can get deals on that. Outfits like Cox & King may be able to do that, and can set you up with guides and drivers; the guides may be worth it, the drivers are easy to arrange yourself once you get there if you don’t want to bother. However, with some agents, I have seen people on this board being forced into strange hotels in weird locations, so I would stress that if you use an agent, YOU should be able to pick your hotels. Agents get a cut from some hotels, and therefore have a preference for booking their clients into them. (You have done well so far, albeit you are in the very top end, also try this book called Special Places to Stay India by Alistair Sawday. This has literally hundreds of very interesting places to stay, many in the range of less than US$60 a night and several in the range of less than US$30 a night. They also have a website at http://sawdays.co.uk/, click on the book for India. The vast majority of these hotels are not in the luxury range and some are in the very low budget range, but all look interesting.).

For many sights in India, IMO you do not need a guide if you have done background reading and have a good guidebook or two. Books like the Eyewitness Guides have excellent maps and cutaway diagrams of sights. Guides for the day or for a particular sights can be useful, like the City Palaces in Jaipur or Udaipur, or the Red Fort in Delhi. You do NOT need a guide for the Taj Mahal (and personally I think they would spoil the experience). I don’t think you need a guide really in Agra at all (at the red fort there I suppose a guide would be useful, but it is not on the same scale as Delhi and I have never in fact used one there); I would be wary of guides in Agra generally as the main thing they seem to want to do is take you to their “friends/cousin’s/uncle’s” marble shop…..You can hire day guides through your hotel if you don’t want to arrange one through an outfit like Cox & Kings. I have found these day guides for the most part to be quite good. I will say that I am not a person that needs (or wants) a guide to be with me for the entire trip, and am not a person that would ever take a guided bus tour. I don’t think either is necessary at all in India, but some people feel more comfortable with them. It’s a personal choice. Both are certainly available. But I find it very easy to book my own internal air, arrange hotels and hire day guides and drivers on my own. Your hotel can help as well (esp with getting train tickets). Arrange for the hotel to pick you up at a train station or airport, they will assist with luggage, etc, definitely worth the bit extra you pay not to have to hassle with taxis, and the thousands of offers you will get to “help” you with your luggage, etc.

Besides the autobiography of the Maharani of Jaipur, there are just a ton of excellent fiction and non-fiction books out there by Indian authors and others. From time to time there have been posts on reading lists for India, you might search this board. If you can’t find it, I can do a search. I would also recommend films like “Monsoon Wedding” and “Bride and Prejudice” (the former is I think a good representation of modern India, the latter a bit more stylized view, but just a hilarious interpretation of Austen’s classic novel.) There are more serious films out there, but those two are very entertaining.

rivesair, I am not sure I have a favourite place. I like Kerala a lot, I would live in Bangalore or certain parts of Delhi (a whitewashed bungalow in the Diplomatic Enclave with a big garden is my dream…along with the 20 servants necessary to run it!), I went to Ladakh for the first time about a month ago and that was really, really beautiful, I find Hyderabad very interesting. I love Goan food. I think Jodhpur is quite magnificent, and the Taj I can always look at again and again. I have been to Ranthambore 3 times and would certainly go back again, even if I never saw another tiger. It would be hard to choose.

Shimla would be a good idea for you climate-wise except I think in July they get a ton of rain. Ladakh would be another thought, but with your short time, it would be hard to work that in, because the elevation may be an issue and you need time to adjust before you can do much, and you would basically only be there for like 2 days, not really worth it. But put that on your own list for another trip I would say.

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Old May 23rd, 2008, 12:18 PM
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Cicerone,
Thank you again for your advice. Very helpful for a first-timer to India. I am now re-thinking the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur and considering the Taj Hari Mahal as you suggested (my husband will be very happy to stay in a better-reviewed hotel for a lot less money).
And yes, I have seen Bride and Prejudice and agree it was hilarious. A long long time ago, I read Far Pavilions and fell in love with that whole bygone era. Maybe that's why I picked all these palaces to stay in. Also enjoy the more modern Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, etc. I'll definitely try a search for that reading list you mentioned.
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 01:42 PM
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We stayed at the Taj Hari Mahal in Jodhpur and liked it a lot. It was a very friendly hotel with good evening entertainment that was actually attended by Indian families. We thought the food was good and enjoyed dinner there more than dinner at the Umaid Palace. For more details:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=35111329
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Old May 24th, 2008, 07:54 AM
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Marija,

Thank you for the recommendation. I need all the help I can get. I'm getting a little flabbergasted planning this trip. And thanks for directing me to your thread--I enjoyed reading your very eloquent trip report! Tons of useful advice and quite a few chuckles to boot!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2008, 09:37 AM
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msmango-we did a similar trip 2 years ago. If you are still considering hotels in Udaipur I'd like to put in a strong recommendation for Udaivilas over the Taj Lake Palace. Udaivilas was the best hotel we have ever stayed in or, probably, ever WILL stay in. It is listed now in Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the top hotels for service. It is truly a beautiful place and I can't speak highly enough about the food & service.

One day my son was feeling a little under the weather (he had eaten only real Indian food for 4 days with little regard for what was on the plate so he probably picked up a little stomach thing). Anyway, we left him to go with our guide for the day and I asked the hotel to check in on him, just to be sure he hadn't gotten very ill. They delivered flowers to his room and a get well card signed by the staff!

We did go to the Lake Palace for dinner one night and while I really enjoyed looking at the building, the food was the worst of our trip. It seemed very "westernized" with little spice or flavor. Our last night at Udaivilas we had dinner in their restaurant and it was incredible! And I haven't even mentioned the butler service, box lunch packed for our departure day, etc. We also stayed at the Rambagh Palace and loved everything about that hotel so this isn't a knock on the Taj properties. Just IMO, Udaivilas was fabulous.
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Old Jun 16th, 2008, 11:04 AM
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Thanks for the advice. I must say that my toughest choice is in Udaipur, between the Taj and the Oberoi property. I'm glad you agree with Cicerone on the Rambagh Palace-- at least that's one easy hotel decision !
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Old Jun 18th, 2008, 03:14 PM
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msmango, I appreciate Cicero's remarks about not using travel agents or tour guides as I rarely if ever do. However, India is the one place I was thrilled to have the help of both. I do not know how much you travel but I would suggest that India is one of the places where I think only more seasoned travelers will feel comfortable finding their way around. I also actually had the opposite experience as Cicero in being able to negotiate good rates with the hotels in India. You may have luck doing so with the American chains or possibly with the fancier ones like the Udaivilas but my agent in India was able to beat every deal I was able to find and that included the Amar Vilas (Agra) which I very very highly recommend. A good driver can also save you massive headache in trying to get around even if it is just to get you from your hotel to the right platform and actual train car at the train station. If you had more time to waste or lose and are a pretty experienced traveler I would consider trying it all on my own but since your trip is so short I would recommend emailing Arvind at Castle & King. Ask him for his advice and for drivers and for guides at places that you are most interested in learning more. He will make the plan totally individualized for you. Then you can decide if the price is right. Arvind's email: [email protected] or [email protected]

I would also agree that the Lake Palace in Udaipur is very pretty but that the rooms and overall property at Udaivilas far surpasses it. One thing to consider is the # of mosquitoes and other bugs you will find everywhere at the Lake Palace. I also did like the Imperial in Delhi but honestly did not think it was worth it compared to what you will get for the same or less from the Amar Vilas, Udaivilas etc. So maybe in Delhi you can stay at another more moderately priced place. Good luck.
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Old Jun 19th, 2008, 09:35 AM
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Thank you, Paulo59, for your thoughts. I plan on pre-booking car/driver service with a reputable company such as Four Wheel Drive India and to hire sightseeing guides from them or from the hotels for each city.
But I think I might try booking the hotels myself for flexibility in changing schedules, etc. IF I can get prices similar to the travel agents. Plus I was told that in cases where bookings get bumped (which might not occur since I'm not travelling in peak times, but in mid-to-late March which is more "shoulder" season) that individual clients get preferential treatment over group bookings from tour co. Anyone have any opinions on this?

Thanks for the tip on mosquitoes. It never occurred to me, but that alone might sway me toward the bug-free Udaivilas.

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Old Jun 19th, 2008, 04:53 PM
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A few more thoughts. I am not particularly trying to push Arvind and his company but my guess is that you will get a much better rate and probably better guides by booking both drivers and guides with someone like him rather than booking guides from a hotel. Arvind would also plan an individual booking for you; I don't even think he does large groups but I may be wrong. And there are others who would do the same for you. We had a different guide in each city as except for being driven from Agra to Jaipur and also being driven to the train stations or airports by Arvind's drivers, we traveled on our own by train and plane w/o any group or guide. So it was not really like a package tour. Hope that helps. And you have nothing to lose by asking Arvind what rates he can get you. He told em what each hotel cost so it was not a lump sum for the whole thing. Good luck.
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