If not Japan, then...India?!

Old Mar 19th, 2023, 09:04 AM
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If not Japan, then...India?!

With our spring trip finalized (if all goes as planned, we will be going to wandering among ancient Greek ruins in May), my attention is now turning to our annual time away in the second half of November and first week of December. Our first choice is Japan and more work needs to be done there. At the same time, I'm planning in the alternative, as I have for every trip we've taken in the age of COVID. The other places I'm considering at Vietnam (for another thread) and India. Yes, India!

India has always intrigued us but the "chaos" of things has put us off. Drawn to us are the architecture, tea, food, history, and culture, and, most important of all, a potential once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment. Holy Varanasi both tickles our curiosity and concerns us (particularly information that it is not the "cleanest" of places but I have no first-hand of how much hygiene is an issue there). We would love to see the Taj Mahal, visit the palaces of Rajasthan, go on a tiger safari, and wander any tea fields. We would probably need to allocate 2 to 3 months to accomplish all of this, so we will need to pare back as we do for every trip. This is where I could use your help.

I've outlined a rough itinerary, which adds up to 26-28 nights. We're aiming for 21, so this means eliminating a couple of places.

Delhi, 4 nights
Jaipur, 4
Agra, 2 or 3
Gwalior, 1
Orchha, 2
Khajuraho, 2
Varanasi, 4
Bodhgaya, 3 or 4
Kolkata, 4

Udaipur seems like an outlier so we already eliminated it. Jaipur would give us a taste of Rajasthan but it is also a possible outlier. The other outlier is Kolkata. Which of the two would be more different compared to the other places we're considering. Between Jaipur and Kolkata, which would you eliminate and why?

Does it make more sense to overnight in Gwalior or could we visit the fort on the way from Agra to Orchha? The main consideration is whether or not one full day in Orchha will be enough to see the highlights.

We've also concerned eliminating Gwalior, Orchha, and Khajuraho in exchange for Lucknow, which would be a logical stop between Agra and Varanasi.

Both Ranthambore and Panna Tiger Reserve are close to some of the places we would be visiting, but it would require further adjustments. What do you think?

Are there any tea fields near any of these places? Most of what I've read about are east and south of where we would go.

Thank you, as always.
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Old Mar 19th, 2023, 12:59 PM
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tripplanner,

My husband and I have been to India twice and we haven’t seen half of what you mention! Our first trip 10 years ago was focused on Rajasthan, and we loved that trip. It did include Varanasi, one of the most remarkable but intense places we’ve ever been. While visiting Varanasi, we also saw Sarnath, the site of the Buddha’s first sermon, so you might want to add that to your list.

We really loved our experiences in Rajasthan. I’m sharing my trip report with you in case you want to look at some other cities in that region. India is intense, maddening, frustrating and altogether remarkable.

Just returned from an amazing trip to India!
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Old Mar 19th, 2023, 03:02 PM
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One idea is to skip Kolkata as you already will be in a packed city, New Delhi and go to see a tropical part of India, Kerala. Maybe take a river boat cruise to unwind or try Goa as well.
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Old Mar 19th, 2023, 03:24 PM
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Do you think this will be your only trip to India? If so, I would keep Jaipur, otherwise I would plan a for more time in Rajasthan on another trip. I preferred Kolkata to Delhi, but i was there during the Durga Puja festival.

I don't think you need three nights in Agra, where you will encounter the worst of the tourist hassles. Also, what are you going to do with all that time in Bodhgaya? (I haven't been, because it wasn't safe in 2001.) Lucknow was disappointing.

You will find India intense - much of it is very noisy, very chaotic and very dirty. (But also fascinating, extremely diverse, colorful and with lots of Indian food...) You can, of course, insulate yourself to some extent by staying in upmarket hotels and using a car and driver. Both my trips to India I traveled mainly by train, but I think it has become less safe and I might not do it again.

For my first trip, which included most of the places you list, see: Travels Round Asia 2001 -- Wilhelm's Words

My second trip was almost entirely in the south, but started in Lucknow: https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...20/into-india/
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Old Mar 19th, 2023, 04:23 PM
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Progol, thank you. I don't expect to include everything on my list. With three weeks, we're looking at 6 or 7 places. The only must-dos for a first visit to India are Bodhgaya, Varanasi (including Sarnath), and Agra (for the Taj Mahal).

Jacketwatch, thank you. Kerala is definitely appealing, but we would be adding a lot more travelling to the limited time we have.

Thursdaysd, honestly, I am not sure. Concerns about general cleanliness and hygiene has kept us away for this long. If we are able to tolerate it, then we will likely be back, given how vast the country is. My only first-hand comparison is Sri Lanka, which was generally pleasant and enjoyable. Appreciate your feedback on Agra (we'll aim for 2 nights) as well as Lucknow (probably dropping). With Bodhgaya, we would use it as a base for Najgir, Nalanda, and the Barabar Caves. Will take a look at your reports. Thank you.
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Old Mar 19th, 2023, 05:04 PM
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I believe it was dogster who called Sri Lanka India-lite. It is also India-clean and quiet. When I first arrived, directly from India, I wondered whether I had gone deaf, or whether my taxi was sound-proofed.

WRT hygiene. No street food, no tap water or ice, no buffets, no salads, no hot food that's less than hot, eat vegetarian if you have doubts. Don't assume that posh hotels are necessarily safe - the only time I got sick on my last visit was at the most expensive hotel on the trip - chicken that wasn't as hot as it should have been. Unless things have changed, and it has been a while, you will see piles of trash in the streets, and men urinating in the streets - they apparently think that turning their back renders them invisible. (And no, these are not street people, although people live on the streets.)

You will also encounter a lot, and I mean a lot, of beggars. Most are likely being run by a local mafia. I give to Indian charities (preferably educating girls) before I go, and occasionally to the obviously old.
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Old Mar 19th, 2023, 10:14 PM
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a. IMO both Jaipur & Kolkata should be included. While Jaipur is more to do with architecture, forts, palaces, Rajasthani cuisine, festivals and some splendid hotels to stay in; Kolkata has a typical Bengali ambience! It is a very interesting place to be in for at least 3 nights – the fading grandeur of the Raj days, a morning visit to the Howrah Bridge is an experience in itself, Dalhousie square, the dead-letter office, the mansions in Chowringhee, the Indian museum 1814c, the Bengali cuisine, the theatres…it is a fabulous experience!!

b. The Gwalior Fort used to have an excellent Light & Show programme compered by the India actor Amitabh Bachhan, recounting the history & travails from the medieval times. It is a very powerful documentation of medieval history of this region. If you wish to do it, than a stay in Gwalior is recommended. The Shiv Vilas Palace run by the Taj is a good hotel, recently renovated.

c. The dusty town of Orchha has some intricately carved palaces and intriguing temples! Jehangir Mahal has some great murals, ornate entrances, peacock-patterned grills…a blend of both Hindu & Moslem styles. The Cenotaphs on the river Betwa are stunning. Orchha also has a couple of beautiful medieval temples. It would require 2 days to appreciate all these details.

d. Panna is quite close to Khajuraho, I think just about 45 minutes’ drive southwards. The Sarai at Toria is a fine hotel to visit the National Park. The sighting are good. I have seen Sambhars with record horns in this area.

e. From Kolkata one can fly to Bagdogra and stay in some great Tea Estates, in the Darjeeling area, about 4 hours north. My personal favourite is the Glenburn Tea Estate! This 19th century TE is ideal for a splurge at the end of your India sojourn. The suites are indescribably beautiful, with great views of Sikkim in the North and Darjeeling in the west! The tea factory remains busy from end of March to October / November. It offers some great walks around the Tea gardens.

Happy travels!
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 04:33 AM
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The OP only has 21 days, and doesn't say whether that includes arrival and departure.

Back in 2001 I found Orchha extremely atmospheric but the buildings I was there to see were in a sad state and certainly didn't require two days: "Vultures nest in the main palace, dark stains deface the chhattris, and the Lakshmi temple, with its murals, is locked. In addition, the audio guide to the palace is no longer available" Have they been cleaned up? I found the same situation in some places in 2010 - the Qutb Shahi tombs in Golconda, and Ibrahim Rouza in Bijapur, for instance.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 04:42 AM
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thursdaysd and vp_singh, thank you both. We would have 21 nights on the ground. Adding arrival and departure, it would be 24 days.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 05:44 AM
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I was just wondering, why India or Japan? It is hard to think of two more different countries. They are polar opposites: Japan is squeaky clean, quiet, orderly, polite, no tipping, never mind no beggars and touts... Even the buildings are so different you almost need another category for temples and castles.

BTW, if you want tea plantations go to Darjeeling and stay at the Windamere. Maybe ride the "toy" train. (See my 2001 trip, linked above.)

Last edited by thursdaysd; Mar 20th, 2023 at 05:46 AM.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 05:53 AM
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Originally Posted by tripplanner001 View Post
thursdaysd and vp_singh, thank you both. We would have 21 nights on the ground. Adding arrival and departure, it would be 24 days.
You could see Delhi in 3 days;
Agra in 2 days;
Jaipur in 3 days;
I havenít been to those other places so I canít say though I would think 3 days for Kolkata and Varanasi 3 as well is something to consider.

Good luck

Larry
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 09:55 AM
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Thursdaysd, we really enjoyed our trip to Japan in 2012 and have intended to return in recent years but couldn't because of COVID. India is on our list because the country seems fascinating in multiple ways and we hope to both get to Bodhgaya and see the Taj Mahal in our lifetimes.

Jacketwatch, thank you.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 10:44 AM
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Do folks have a suggestion for a stopover stop between Orchha / Khajuraho and Varanasi? Of all the places we're looking at, there does not seem to be flights between the two and the journey by train or by road is 10-12 hours.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 11:05 AM
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According to Rome2Rio, there are flights from Khajuraho to Varanasi, but like pretty much all flights you'll have to go via Delhi. Maybe you need to put Lucknow back on the list.

Are you willing to consider night trains? https://www.seat61.com/India.htm
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 11:23 AM
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Thursdaysd, thanks. Overnight trains are out, as we will be unable to sleep on it and will arrive tired; not the best way to enjoy our time in India. This is not specific to India; simply cannot sleep on trains, even if at home.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 01:18 PM
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Ahhh...India!

Random thoughts:
You're correct to be intrigued by India. "Intriguing"= understatement!!! There is NOWHERE like India, anywhere... at least in my experience.
Nothing in your specified area of travel would include tea plantations. That would require a quite different direction/ itinerary.
I've been reading your and other Egypt trip reports . (If going, I'll use the travel planning company you used there.) From what I understand, traffic chaos in Cairo, and tourist "buy" pressure at big sites, are similar to what you will encounter in parts India .
There's more to Agra than the Taj Mahal--e.g. a fascinating Red Fort (as well as in Delhi). That said, if you arrive by afternoon, then leave afternoon the next day, one night in Agra will suffice. That way you can see Taj Mahal at both sunset, then sunrise next day--though omnipresent Agra air pollution often causes a filtered, hazy view of the sun.
Since from Agra you're fairly close (4-5 hour drive?) to Jaipur, it seems reasonable to keep it in your itinerary. Its center is "touristy" (like us!) but there are also wonderful, more remote areas on the city's outskirts e.g. the Monkey Hanuman Temple.
If you keep Jaipur in your plans, consider a break of 1-2 hours en route from Agra, with an easy detour en route to Abhaneri Village with its ancient small "palace" and stepwell.

You're smart to ponder this now, as December is peak tourist season in India

Thanks to your post/thread, my mind is now happily swimming with memories of India, so will organize my thoughts and if anything else occurs, will post more.

Last edited by CaliNurse; Mar 20th, 2023 at 01:28 PM. Reason: typos
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 02:57 PM
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I agree that the Taj Mahal should be seen at both dusk and dawn, and also that the Red Fort is worth seeing. In the vicinity of Agra it's also worth seeing Fatehpur Sikri and the bird park at Bharatpur - I used a car and driver for both.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 07:34 PM
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CaliNurse, thank you. Glad you found my Egypt report helpful. I love how we get to share advice and memories with each other, who all enjoy travel.

Thursdaysd, thank you. I intend to visit more than the Taj Mahal in Agra. Hence, the 2-3 nights.
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Old Mar 20th, 2023, 11:42 PM
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It sounds like you have an exciting trip planned with many different options to consider! Here are my suggestions based on your questions:

Between Jaipur and Kolkata, I would recommend eliminating Kolkata if you need to pare back your itinerary. While Kolkata has its own unique charm and cultural offerings, it is quite far east from the other places you are visiting, and you may have to sacrifice some time in other destinations to make it work. Jaipur, on the other hand, is more central to Rajasthan and would allow you to experience the region's history, architecture, and culture.

As for Gwalior, it could be possible to visit the fort on the way from Agra to Orchha, especially if you have an early start to the day. However, keep in mind that this would be a long day of travel and sightseeing. Spending a night in Gwalior could give you more time to explore the fort and other attractions in the area. As for Orchha, one full day should be enough to see the highlights, but you could consider adding an extra day if you want to take things more slowly and see more of the town.

If you are considering eliminating Gwalior, Orchha, and Khajuraho in exchange for Lucknow, it could be a good option if you are interested in the city's history, culture, and architecture. However, keep in mind that Lucknow is quite far north of the other destinations you are visiting, so you may have to adjust your itinerary accordingly.

Both Ranthambore and Panna Tiger Reserve are great options for a tiger safari, and they are relatively close to some of the places you are visiting. However, keep in mind that visiting a tiger reserve typically requires a full day or more, so you would need to adjust your itinerary accordingly.

As for tea fields, most of the tea-producing regions in India are located in the east and south, as you mentioned. However, there are some tea gardens in the north, such as in Kangra Valley and Darjeeling, which are quite far from the places you are visiting. If visiting a tea garden is a priority for you, you may need to adjust your itinerary to include one of these destinations.

I hope this helps with your trip planning!
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Old Mar 21st, 2023, 06:54 AM
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Originally Posted by tripplanner001 View Post
CaliNurse, thank you. Glad you found my Egypt report helpful. I love how we get to share advice and memories with each other, who all enjoy travel.

Thursdaysd, thank you. I intend to visit more than the Taj Mahal in Agra. Hence, the 2-3 nights.
So true. I love exchanging information and chatting with people. You learn a lot.
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