Back from India: Tips & Recommendations

Old Dec 8th, 2006, 05:13 PM
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Back from India: Tips & Recommendations


We just returned from our first trip to India. Thanks to many of you on this forum for answering my many many questions before the trip. Notable among you are: Cicerone, lcuy, Craig, Jeremie, FanofIndia, Bonita, and I'm afraid many others that I have inadvertenly left out in this acknowledgement.

We spent 15 days in India and the rough itinerary was as follows:
* Hyderabad (5 nights) -- DH had business meetings
* Jaipur (3 nights)
* Agra (2 nights)
* Delhi (3 nights)

We booked everything on our own and traveled on our own. We hired a tour guide in some places but toward the end of the trip felt more liberated to just explore on our own. We rented a car several times in different cities, and tried different modes of transport--domestic airlines, autorickshaw, cycle rickshaw, the Delhi metro, and of course walking--lots of it too.

We tried eating at different places--personal chef in Hyderabad, hotel, touristy restaurants, less touristy restaurants, even on a street and at a truck stop (well, we had them clean and cook everything according to our specs!). We didn't get sick, and had a great time.

Instead of going thru the day by day itinerary, I thought it might be more useful to future travelers to India tips and recommendations based on our experience.

Anyhow, thanks again for all your help during my trip planning!

More to come...
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Old Dec 8th, 2006, 06:26 PM
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Can't wait to read your tips!
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Old Dec 8th, 2006, 08:05 PM
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looking forward to it!!
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Old Dec 11th, 2006, 12:19 AM
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Glad you had a wonderful first trip and hope India got into your heart! Namste bonita
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 11:13 PM
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Which travel agency did you use for Agra sightseeing? Were youhappy with them?
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Old Dec 17th, 2006, 09:19 AM
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Also looking forward to your tips. Am headed to India in January and will be in many of the places where you were.
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Old Dec 17th, 2006, 10:14 AM
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Sorry, I better start writing these promised tips and recommendations! I was waiting for the frenzy on Bob's immensely popular thread to die out first, if that's possible.

Some recommendations, in no particular order or organization.

Mr. Jaimini Shastri. Email: [email protected]

We learned about Mr. Shastri from Frommer's and he turned out to be an excellent guide. He's very knowledgeable about the sights and particularly India/Jaipur's history, art and architecture, and was able to present the material in a lively manner and in excellent English.

Our 1 day tour of Jaipur with him was very well planned out, with careful considerations for the best time of day to see a certain monument (best lighting for photography), etc. He met us at our hotel promptly at 8 a.m. Stopped at Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) and then started with Amber Fort because the elephant ride stopped at noon. We then went to the cenotaphs (tombs) of the Maharaja, not commonly visited by tourists. Very interesting area. Lunch. Then the Palace Museum to get out of the heat. And ended perfectly at Jantar Mantar (astronomical observatories) at sunset. The lighting was perfect for photography then. Jantar Mantar was his passion. He went into detailed explanations and demos of how the instruments worked. It was way over our heads sometimes w/ all those technical details, but it's all great! We noticed other tour guides merely stated some brief functions of the instruments w/o knowing much about them. (In fact, at every monument, we see many younger tour guides come up to him and greet him w/ almost veneration. They're probably his disciples!)

The tour wasn't rushed at all, quite leisurely according to what we liked. We took our time absorbing the sights and taking photography. He explained everything in context starting with the overall history of India during that time, and he answered all our questions very well.

Mr. Shastri was very pleasant to be with. He had a warm, smiling demeanor and was almost like an old world gentleman (he's probably in his late 40's or early 50's). Very courteous. And he never took us shopping!

We had booked him for 2 days, but since we'd finished all the major sights in the first day we decided we wanted to go to Galta (Monkey Temple) outside of Jaipur and shopping later on the 2nd day on our own. His 2nd day itinerary was supposed to be a few more forts (Jaighar, etc.) and some art villages. He was very gracious about our change, and he said he had other people on the wait list the next day anyhow. Lucky of us to have got him for our tour!

We spent the 2nd day rather inefficiently, and wished we had Mr. Shastri w/ us instead!

BTW, he also can arrange for a car rental. We did it with him. But you could arrange your own car, and he'll just charge for the tour fee. The cost for the whole day of guided tour was very reasonable -- only 600 Rs (~$13USD).

TIP: Picking a random tour guide at the monument is mostly a miss affair. We had some bad experiences in other places, where we paid like 250 Rs for an incompetent tour guide for just 1+ hour. Even those who seem to speak OK English only have memorized knowledge of the monuments. They repeat the same stuff over and over -- lotus design is Hindu, zigzag is Persian, etc. And could hardly answer your questions. I'd read some of the stuff on my own and tried to quiz them, and they were clueless!
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Old Dec 17th, 2006, 11:28 AM
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Vacation1, we didn't go with any travel agency for this trip. We arranged everything on our own. Before the trip, I was nervous about going on our own on our first trip to India, but it worked out fine.

In Agra, we tried to get the tour guide recommended by Frommers, but he wasn't available on that day. (BTW, Frommer's has very specific recommendations in their guidebook, which I found useful for the trip.)

So, we asked our driver to get a tour guide. The guide spoke good English and was reasonably knowledgeable about the sights. But by half day, we learned how greedy he was! He took us to some "marble factories" right outside the Taj, but the prices were ridiculous and we didn't buy any. When we walked out of the 2nd shop, the price of an item we were lookin at suddenly dropped from 7000 Rs to 2000 Rs (!), but we didn't bother because we didn't know whether that's still a ripoff or not.

Anyhow, after seeing the Taj and Agra Fort, he wanted to dump us (excuse was he had to study for some exam in the afternoon, yeah right) when we had booked him for the whole day. We bet he was trying to get another client that afternoon, someone who could be duped into shopping foolishly. (He was on his mobile all the time while we're taking photos, etc.)

He noticed my husband kept on reading the description plaques in some monument, and he said we could go on our own in the afernoon. Actually, we felt good and more liberated w/o a tour guide. By then (it was toward the end of our Indai trip), we've pretty much heard the same stuff on Mughal history and architecture many times. And it turned out we had a lot more fun visiting on our own Sikandra (Akbar's tomb outside of Agra-cool geometric designs! The tour guide kept on dissuading us to go there because it was too far out.), Baby Taj, the backside of Taj Mahal at sunset from supposedly the foundation of the Black Taj that never got built (saw Bollywood filming there, but security was so high they were chasing everyone away from a particular area).

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