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Help needed in planning a long trip to India

Help needed in planning a long trip to India

Jun 2nd, 2009, 11:32 PM
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Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,282
Help needed in planning a long trip to India

I appreciate that this is awide raging request for help but any guidance would be much appreciated.

Having now been back home for nearly six months after our round the world trip we are beginning to get itchy feet again!! I am currently in the very early stages of planning another along trip and are seriously considering India. We have only ever been to Goa (which some would argue is not really India!) . The plan is to spend around six months travelling around the country mainly by train and bus staying in budget type accommodation with the odd splurge on something special.

The following is an itinerary I have compiled based on some initial research and I would be grateful for any comment/critique .

1. Fly to Mumbai
2. Auranabad
3. Jalagon
4. Omkareshwar
5. Mandu
6. Bhopal
7. Sanchi
8. Orchha
9. Delhi
10. Jaisalmer
11. Jodhpur
12. Udaipur
13. Pushkar
14. Jaipur
15. Bharatpur
16. Agra
17. Varanasi
18. Kolkata (fly to...)
19. Chennai
20. Mamallapuram
21. Varkala
22. Kerala
23. Kochi
24. Mysore
25. Hampi
26. Goa
27. Andaman Islands???

Does this look like a reasonable plan ?

Should I avoid any of these destinations?

Are there any obvious omissions?

Any good websites I should be looking at for travel within India?

How easy/difficult is it to travel to the Andaman Islands?

Any guidance or help would be much appreciated
crellston is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 02:53 AM
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Preliminary thoughts are:

1. Go in the cool season to the greatest extent you can, and as you have several beach and coastal areas, also try to avoid the monsoons, which affect the east and west coasts at different times. Luckily the cool season and dry season generally are the same (late October to late March), except on the east coast where they have rain in the late fall months. Refer to guidebooks and weather websites. In hot months go to higher elevations (as long as they are dry.)

2. Try to time your visits to places to coincide with festivals to the extent you can. Divali, celebrated nationwide, is in mid-October this year and early November in 2010. Ganpati is celebrated in Mumbai sometime between mid August and mid-September each year (depends on the moon phase). There is a huge Durga festival in Kolkata, but smaller ones take places elsewhere during other times (i.e., Agra). Holi is generally in late Feb or early March. The camel fair in Pushkar is famous, but there are lots of other things going on. Check guidebooks and websites.

3. It is quite easy to get to the Andamans these days, you can fly from Chennai and Kolkata to Port Blair, the island/city with the international airport. I don’t see any reason to go from Goa to the Andamans, as they are on opposite sides of the country, and generally when one is in good weather the other would not be. I would go from one of the east coast cities on your itin.

4. You might also consider going to the Lakshadweep Islands, which are Indian territory just north of the Maldives and are supposed to be similar (Maldives are sublime, esp. for diving, and I imagine these are too). You can fly from Kochi. There was an article in The Guardian (I think) a few months ago about a hotel there called the Bangaram Island Resort that looked quite interesting. Or just go to the Maldives.

5. I personally would include Ladakh as it is different from anything else on your itin both geographically and culturally and is quite interesting. You might perhaps cut out one or more of the places in Rajasthan in favour of staying longer in one place. The mughal forts can begin to blur into one another, so a bit longer in one town would give you a better chance to get a feel for the place IMO. I find Hyderabad to be very interesting and not on the tourist path and can be combined with your other southern itin; and you may be able to get a non-stop flight there from London which would make it a good entry or exit point for the trip. (It is also quite easy to fly from Bangkok to Varanasi, which may be another exit or entry point; it is not necessary to fly into Mumbai or even New Delhi.) Amritsar is also quite interesting and again different culturally than the heavy Hindu itin you have.

5. Many of the places on your itin are near (ish) to wildlife parks, you might consider including these if you have not already found out about them in your reading.

6. You might consider Sri Lanka as an add on.

7. A very useful website for hotels in India is http://sawdays.co.uk/, click on the book for India. You can also buy the book, Special Places to Stay India, but the website will give you a very long list of hotels to start with. A lot of these hotels are in the budget range, and all seem interesting and several, like the Imperial in Delhi, are outstanding (but it ‘s not a budget hotel by any means). Two good operators generally in India are the Oberoi group (http://www.oberoihotels.com) and the Taj group (www.tajhotels.com. ). The Aman group also has some properties open in India and is opening others that would definitely be worth considering if they are in your budget. Take a look at amanresorts.com. There is a small Indian chain called Neemrama which operates a number of unique hotels in palaces and other old buildings and could be something to consider if you want a different experience. Go to http://www.neemranahotels.com. Sheraton and Marriott run a number of good hotels in India as well, generally in the major cites.

8. Your itin lends itself to going by train a good deal, you can also hire drivers as you need them for shorter distances or for a few days when going around a smaller area like in parts of Rajasthan or parts of the south. I am not sure you will find that many buses will be necessary or as convenient, but see what works out.

9. Without knowing how long you plan to spend in each place, it appears from a rough count that you could easily add up to as many as half a dozen more places to this itin if you really intend to stay for 6 months. But perhaps you intend to base yourself for several months in one place.
Cicerone is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 03:10 AM
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Search through the Asia Forum for postings by Cicerone as she replies to various India questions - go back at least a year. Print or at least save her info that may be useful.

Then search all the various postings tagged India and just read and read and print the info you think is useful. Dogster has links to boutique hotels and other interesting places to stay and things to do (a cruise on the Hoogli).

Do you have a theme for you trip?
Are there specific things you already know you want to see?
How did you select these cities?
Apply for your visa now to make sure you are granted one that allows you to stay in India for 6 months.

What about Hyderabad, Lucknow, and Bangalore since you have the time? The first two are rich in Mogul history and archetecture.
Jaya is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 03:11 AM
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You've been blessed, Cicerone alreadt left a reply while I was still typing mine! Still go back and read her other replies as I stated above.
Jaya is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 05:57 AM
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Six months in India - should be a great trip! But do allow for down time every so often so you can recover from the craziness. I agree with Cicerone that adding Sri Lanka and Ladakh would be worth considering.

I'd also suggest Darjeeling if you're going to Kolkata (definitely worth trying to be in Kolkata for Durga Puja) and Orissa. But you could go to Shimla or Dharamsala instead for time in the mountains. While you're in Rajasthan, consider visiting the gently decaying painted havelis in the Shekhawati region.

The Oberoi and Taj are definitely in the splurge rather than budget category, but there's plenty of cheaper accommodation in India if you don't mind roughing it a little. I spent ten weeks traveling round India by train, although it's getting a bit dated you might find my TR useful (it includes a number of the places on your list): www.wilhelmswords.com/asia2001
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 07:17 AM
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We wanted to go to south India on our upcoming trip, but aren't up to that long a time away from home. I would very much like to see the Meenakshi Temples and the tea producing regions. Kerala is supposedly lovely.

Someone I met at a party recently recommended searching youtube.com postings of various cities and locales. I did so and found it very helpful to get a feel for what to expect as a first time visitor. "One picture is worth . . "
indianapearl is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 10:24 AM
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Look into unique train experiences such as the Toy Train in Darjeeling or the Palace on Wheels in Rajasthan.
Jaya is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 10:49 AM
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I couldn't help laughing at Jaya's post - those trains are such complete opposites!

I haven't ridden the Palace on Wheels, but everything I've read says that it's one of those expensive, super-luxurious, cocoon-type experiences like the European Orient Express.

The Darjeeling train, on the other hand, is dirt cheap, slow, a bit grimy when the cinders start flying, and full of locals - kids going to school on the one I rode. And fabulous - if the idea of riding a train (a steam train if you're lucky) up a mountain and down the main street of a succession of small Indian towns appeals to you. See www.dhrs.org. From reading crellston's posts I suspect he's more of a DHR type, but I could easily be wrong.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 01:12 PM
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LOL - OP hasn't offered up what kind of budget he's on, but being able to stay in India for 6 months not long after travelling around the world leaves it wide open!

While I'm at it, he should spend a few days relaxing at the Ananda Spa in Rishikesh (run by the Aveda company). The location alone is stunning.
Jaya is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 05:22 PM
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What great destinations you've already come up with! Omkareshwar is so unique, a mini-Benares, by train to Indore then bus, others like Gokarna should be on your list. It's a holy city with magic beaches. A hill station in October or March like Dalhousie is glorious. The most spectacular views of any hill station I've seen. Sikkim is wondrous, Orchha is so lovely with the Betwa river and the old palace.

The Andamans are fabulous. If you're a relaxed traveller with a yearning to see & experience island life then the Andamans are for you. Not much to do but laze on a beach & update your reading list. The ferry tickets need to be bought maybe a day or two before you want to travel so plan on at least a couple of days either side of your planned stay over there. The best time is before of after Dec/Jan. November or Feb would be perfect. They get a lot of Indian & middle Eastern tourists during the Xmas/New Year season. I got a train from Kochin to Chennai, then flew out. US250 return on www.makemytrip.com.

I will email you on the mail Bob gave me also as I've got some extra lovley places I'd like to share with you!! Train travel is the way to meet Indians. They open up & chat & you get so much more from your trip than just sitting in a car or a plane.

www.indiamike.com is full of great information. When are you going? Would love to meet up. I fly in to Kolkata Oct 22 and out of Trichy late January 2010. I'll return in March for my stint in Himachal at the village where I reside most of the fair weather months.

Footprint & Rough Guide are both good guidebooks to checkout at your local library. I'm through carrying them around though as they are too heavy! Will be in touch.
Lyndie is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 06:58 PM
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good that you two got to talk...

rhkkmk is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 11:32 PM
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Wow!! Thanks for the great responses so far!!!

Cicerone, what a fantastically comprehensive first response I am indebted to you! I have no idea what your occupation is but if it is not writing guide books then you clearly missed your true vocation!!

Jaya - I will look into your train travel suggestions and, although I have travelled on the Orient Express in Europe several times, as thursdaysd suggest , the Darjeeling train is now more my style (i.e. " dirt cheap, slow, a bit grimy "!) plus I do not relish the prospect of hauling a DJ around India for months LOL. As for the rec. To visit the Ananda Spa, judging by the amount of Aveda products on my wife's dressing table, she may have already been there!!

My primary reason for going to the Andamans is for the diving but the Lakshadweep Islands also sounds like a plan.
Your comment re flying to Hyderabad rather than Mumbai is well made as and I will consider this as and when we have decided exactly when we will start our trip (so as to make the best of the seasons/weather). Anybody had any experience of the diving in either place?

In answer to some of the specific questions raised:

1. We do not have a specific "theme" for this trip apart from a desire to see as much of the country as we can. We had never really considered India until we met up with a senior official at the World Bank in Argentina who had been based there and loved it so much was considering retiring there.
2. I took the easy way out in selecting these cities by consulting the specimen itineraries in LP and tour operators like Audley Travel, Intrepid etc. I would stress that they are a starting point only and the final trip l could look substantially different.
3. As for a budget, we try to constrain ourselves to $100 per day which we more or less managed on our RTW trip although this was an average figure and, e.g. Australia was a LOT more expensive than South America or SE Asia. I am assuming India to be at the cheaper end of world travel?? We tend to opt for guesthouses, homestays or hostels and have found some great places to stay at around $20 pn (there is not always a correlation between price and quality!).
4. As for how long we will spend in each place, although we want to see as much of the country as possible (and even 6 months is not long for a country the size of India) we are not in the habit of just ticking of destinations and would be quite happy renting a place and staying put for a few weeks.

Bob, I have emailed you separately, but thanks for putting me in touch with Lyndie (she sounds like my kind of traveller!).

Lyndie, I have just read your email and will respond just as soon as I have stopped laughing!!
crellston is offline  
Jun 4th, 2009, 02:04 AM
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I think US$100 a day would be more than adequate outside of major cities where frankly, you want to be in a good hotel. Hotels in major cities in India are expensive, at least good ones are, and the difference between a good and bad hotel in India is tremendous. (For example, a 2 star hotel is unlikely to have its own generator, and rolling power outages are an everyday, if not several times a day, occurrence almost everywhere in India. They don’t have a sufficient power grid. Private offices, homes and good hotels have their own generators. Otherwise you may be sitting in the dark at night. India really is not like any other place. I love it, but you have to take it as it comes.) So in large cities for food, transport and lodging you probably will be (or will want to be) over the US$100 mark, although you may find bargains here and there. But outside major cities and places like Rajasthan which are the most developed for tourism, while you won’t find luxury you should find much lower prices. I think that the Sawday book which I mentioned above would be a good source to try. So you probably can mix and match and stay very cheaply in small towns and then splurge in big cities and get some more luxury, soft beds, hot running water, 24-hour electricity, etc. If you want to rent, try vrbo.com or something similar, or once you have been someplace and like it, try asking around about short term rentals.

I was going to mention Rikisesh and the Ananda myself, but you had such a list to start with. I like Rikisesh a lot, its more accessible than Varanasi, IMO, and almost untouristed, and would say to consider it if you can; the Ananda is really quite a lovely hotel in a wonderful setting and is worth the splurge if you can bust that budget, great yoga lessons, good spa, nice rooms with views, and just a very nice relaxed atmosphere. (http://www.anandaspa.com/, however I don’t believe it is owned by Aveda), There is Rajaji National Park nearby as well. Haridwar and Dera Dun can also be included in sightseeing in this area.

I have dived in the Maldives (which are essentially Lakshadweep) and it is excellent, as is the snorkeling, which is really about as good as the diving because of the abundant fish life in shallow water. Clear waters, tons and tons of fish. The Maldives has large manta ray at certain seasons, generally the winter months, so Lakshadweep may be the same. I have not dived the Andamans, but have dived in the Phuket area, which is not too far really, and also the diving is excellent, IMO not as much fish life or coral in shallow waters as the Maldives, but the geography of Phuket is different from the coral atoll Maldives so that may explain it. I believe the Andamans are more coral and Phuket is karst.
Cicerone is offline  
Jun 4th, 2009, 05:09 AM
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Thanks for the extra info Cicerone. I am keen to factor in some diving along the way as well as some "downtime' i.e. staying in one location for a few weeks maybe I can combine the two in Lakshadweep or the Andamans. I would also like to factor in a few weeks voluntary work into the trip as we did in Peru on our world trip and prior to that in West Africa but I am sur ethere will be plenty of opportunities to sort something out along the way.

I feel I may have too many locations to handle even in the alloted time and will no doubt be seeking advice on which ones to cull once I have done more research.
crellston is offline  
Jun 4th, 2009, 05:15 AM
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thursdays and cicerone, thanks for suggesting the Sri Lanka add on. I really should have come up with this myself as my grandparents used to run a tea plantation there in colonial times. I must do some more research and who knows I may come up with some long lost relatives!!
crellston is offline  
Jun 4th, 2009, 05:28 AM
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"" dirt cheap, slow, a bit grimy "!" - truth in advertising, lol! But the DHR is a wonderful experience.

I would disagree with cicerone if she's suggesting that you skip Varanasi, that's another wonderful experience. I visited Amritsar as well, and enjoyed the temple complex, but it's a bit out of the way.

I experienced some of those blackouts in the north, as I stayed almost exclusively in cheaper properties, but I was there later in the year when it was a bit cooler, and I didn't find them a big problem. Everywhere I stayed had AC (when there was power) and an en-suite bathroom, even if sometimes the sink drained straight onto the floor. I used Lonely Planet, and Footprints after the LP author changed for central India. But that was before I discovered Sawday, and I'd certainly use him as well now.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 7th, 2009, 05:57 PM
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Was not suggesting that the OP skip Varansi. She certainly has time to do both. I would agree that Amritsar is out of the way for the typical tourist with only 2 weeks or so, but the OP has 6 months and therefore ample time to make the trip. Jet Airways used to fly into Amrtistar from London, which would have made it an attractive starting or end point, but I am not sure that they offer that flight any longer.
Cicerone is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 12:15 PM
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It's funny, you know, I would do the same as you, planning out my journey with all the stops, but today I feel compelled to tell you, 'Why not go with the flow, have an adventure and just see where you end up?' Sorry if that goes against the other advice!

If you need help with travel tips specifically for India, you can check out http://www.india-travel-secrets.com/...for-india.html
pj_livingstone is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 10:39 PM
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pj - I understand what you are saying and indeed our on our last trip which lasted a year we pretty much did exactly that especially in South America where we pretty much flipped a coin at each destination to see where we went next. I don't suppose for one moment we will visit all the places in fact after an off board exchange of emails with Lyndie (thanks for the intro Bob) I am leaning towards spending at least a couple of months in Himachal Pradesh possibly teaching English in one of the monasterys.

Thanks for the link BTW - some really useful stuff..
crellston is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 06:54 AM
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one lux splurge for you might be the neemrana fort palace hotel off the road from japur to delhi... fantastic spot to spend a couple of days...
rhkkmk is offline  

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