Castle & King tour operator review

Apr 28th, 2015, 03:59 PM
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Castle & King tour operator review

Hi everyone,
Eventually I'll get to an actual trip report, but I wanted to share a quick review of Castle & King, for those of you who are looking for guidance.

Just returned from a 12 day trip to the Golden Triangle organized by Castle & King, a tour operator based in New Delhi. I’d read about them from numerous sources on Fodor's and they’d always gotten good reviews for quality and cost effectiveness.

I knew what itinerary and most of the hotels I wanted and contacted Arvind, the owner, for costs and his recommendations for hotels when I wasn’t sure. He always responded in a very timely manner and often the hotel rates he could get were better than what I could get directly.

Based on prior reviews (mostly from Bob), I requested some specific guides and a driver and he met all my requests. We had the same driver throughout the trip, Krishna, and then picked up local guides as needed. The Toyota Innova that we used was in great condition, comfortable, and Krishna supplied cold water, soda and snacks, as needed. We were given the use of a cell phone with contact numbers in case of any problem or change in plans...very helpful to us!

Most times when we changed localities we were met by a company rep or tour guide who expedited our check-in process. We were always given a wonderful room or an outstanding table, the one time they made a dinner reservation for us. When we attended an evening dance performance in Udaipur, our guide walked us right past the long line to our seats and got us a great seat on the boat ride. In Agra, our guide knew when to get in line for the Taj Mahal so we got in before the crowds for a serene experience and had ideas for great photos.

All of the guides were knowledgeable,without being overwhelming with facts, personable, helpful and professional. Our driver, Krishna, drove excellently and safely in the chaos that is India’s traffic and was fun to talk to on our sometimes long drives or was quiet if we wanted to do something else.

Amazingly, Arvind booked all of our accommodations without requiring any money upfront, and we paid him at the end of the trip in New Delhi.

The price we paid was much less than if we’d booked through a high-end US tour operator and I feel the only thing we sacrificed was a fancy itinerary book. To give you an idea of where we stayed: Raas Haveli (Jodhpur); Devi Garh; Fateh Prakash (Udaipur); Shahpura Bagh; Samode Haveli (Jaipur); Oberoi Amarvilas (Agra); Leela Palace (New Delhi). Based on our experience, I would highly recommend Castle & King.
barefootbeach is offline  
Apr 28th, 2015, 04:16 PM
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Good to know. I've always done India independently in the past, but if I go back I think I may want a bit more support.
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 28th, 2015, 07:51 PM
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Sound like you had a marvelous trip! I'm so glad that Castle and King was so helpful.

Like Thursdays, if/when we return to India, i think we wall opt for this kind of on the ground support.
Kathie is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 05:15 AM
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Glad it all worked for you

kmkrnn is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 12:34 PM
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Been looking forward to this!!

Glad it all worked out for you. If I read your report correctly, you're saying that C&K is now doing airport handling now (guiding you through airport, check-in, etc.)? If so, that's a very welcomed things to here as it was sadly missing from our experience with them and would've alleviated a ton of unnecessary stress.

Were you able to get out of the restaurant "circuit" also?

Curious to hear more!
filmwill is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 02:01 PM
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Hi filmwill, No, I should clarify that they didn't do the airport thing like we experienced in China….just met us when we got our luggage and dropped us off in the right place. But, we only had a flight from Mumbai to Jodhpur and they contracted with a driver to pick us up from the cruise port ……and then again leaving through New Delhi. Drove the rest of the time.

thursdaysd & Kathie….nothing to lose when you travel with C& K except aggravation.

Bob & Karen…you two are famous in their circuit. Thanks for being "trail blazers"…but Karen, I failed in your shopping prowess…my only disappointment about India!
barefootbeach is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 03:35 PM
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We enjoyed using castle & king as well. Can't speak highly enough of arvind. He is a real gentlemen.
dgunbug is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 03:36 PM
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Barefoot - did you visit southern India as well on this trip? If so, what were your impressions?
dgunbug is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 05:32 PM
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hi dgunbug,
We only had a shore excursion in Cochin, where we drove an hour and a half on a bus to board a a large thatch-roofed houseboat in Alappuzha for a meander up the fresh backwaters of Kerala and could observe some homes along the shore, women beating their laundry, guys fishing. It was relaxing with a welcome breeze, but I thought the water would be more twisty, narrow rather than a wider channel which was less wild. Vacationers do rent out these boats to sleep on.

Did have a great buffet lunch and our first taste of Indian food at a beach resort, Marari Beach, where we were annoyed when we were stopped by staff from walking to the beach after lunch…"for hotel guests only." A woman who made it there said there was no one on the beach and it was only a narrow strip of sand and not particularly scenic. When we got back to the ship, we were treated to a local dance drama unique to this area called Kathakali, with elaborate costumes, makeup,expressive eye movements…reminded me of the Aspara dances we saw in Cambodia.

The next cruise stop was in Mangalore, which didn't look appealing at all to me in my trip planning. I booked a local tour guide/driver for several hours with low expectations. It was a Sunday, so some things weren't open, but we first toured the Gokarnath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, which was very picturesque and extremely hot. We were thankful that we were allowed to wear socks here, unlike Myanmar, because our feet burned even through those. A wedding reception was taking place in the complex so our guide led us in to watch the receiving line for awhile and were offered wedding boxes of sweets by some young women at the door. fun to see. Next, we drove out to the Artisan Village complex, a touristy thing with locals demonstrating their handicrafts. Didn't care much for that although watching an old man on an ox brace going in circles to make oil was fascinating, and I enjoyed the hand loom weavers. Finally, we went back to town to a large Jesuit complex to tour St. Aloysius Chapel, "the Sistine Chapel of India", with every surface of it's walls and ceiling painted in a colorful, charming style, and the marble floors have a 3-D effect that looks like stepped boxes. I was given a palm as it was Palm Sunday (forgot, had lost track of time) and our guide was surprisingly a Christian, since this area of the South has a large Christian population. The beautifully painted chapel was probably the highlight. I wouldn't go out of my way to visit Mangalore though.

So, sorry I can't be more helpful because when you're on a cruise stop there's a limited amount of things you can see.
barefootbeach is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 05:58 PM
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I made the mistake of staying in Mangalore. It's no better if you're land based. Kochi, on the other hand, is a lot more interesting. When I went to a Kathakali demonstration there we got to watch the performers put their makeup on. Also, Chinese nets, Christian churches, Jewish synagogue. The backwaters used be peaceful and interesting, but I gather the houseboats have metastazied.
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 29th, 2015, 10:01 PM
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Barefoot, lol about the "fancy itinerary book"! Agreed!! Yes, I've seen those--Audley Travel for one does a glossy itinerary book for its clients. In the end--who cares if it is in a book form or on sheets of paper? The proof is in the day to day details once there. Glad you had a great time. C&K/Arvind's approach to touring sounds very much like the India-based company I use.
CaliNurse is offline  
Apr 30th, 2015, 10:07 AM
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We also had a great experience....Krishna was the key.
FromDC is offline  
May 26th, 2015, 03:48 PM
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Hello to all of you. As always thank you for all of the suggestions. As a refresher we are four women traveling to India in February of 2016. Not soon enough.

We have booked with Castle and King and Arvind has been wonderful. You can imagine the emails up and back as four opinionated women plan a trip.

Our first hurdle was all four using mileage with two using the same company and the other two on different programs, all wanting to fly business class. After hours working on this we have finally all secured seats on the same airplane from LA to Seoul and then on to Delhi.

We have finalized our itinerary with Arvin and now just need to pay his requested 50% tour deposit plus our internal air. Barefootbeach you indicated that you did not pay any money up front. Please explain this to me . Also what method of payment have any of you used prior to arriving in India and how was this payment processed.

Looking forward to your responses.
ladyrep is offline  
May 29th, 2015, 06:40 AM
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Hi ladyrep,
I don't know why he didn't require a deposit upfront, but maybe because he didn't pay for our internal flights or anything else of note other than making hotel reservations, which possibly didn't require deposits. Or, perhaps because when I made the initial contact, I referred to Bob's recommendations on this site, whom he knows and trusts.

When we were on our cruise prior to our land tour, and I booked a private tour operator in Mangalore, I also didn't pay a deposit but just paid US dollars to him when we arrived.

Also during our cruise, I had booked a hotel in Yangon, Myanmar and had to give them a credit card for the reservation, which I did without incident.
barefootbeach is offline  
Jul 26th, 2015, 10:15 PM
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I was very pleased to read your report on castle and king. We are four women traveling next February and have been working with Arvind for over six months planning the trip. He has been great - endlessly patient with changes, good advice and responds immediately. It is reassuring to know that the execution is equally good. Very exciting to read your reports. Can't wIt to leave!
amylin is offline  
Jul 31st, 2015, 05:30 PM
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I'm sure you'll have a great experience with his company. Please write of your experiences in India…looking forward to reading of them!
barefootbeach is offline  
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