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Jun 14th, 2015, 03:28 AM
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Finally got round to writing this but have now forgotten the names of the guides and the shops plus this is the first trip report I have ever written so sorry if not detailed enough!

After looking at various countries for a surprise 50th Birthday trip decided to go with India purely based on Jon loving Shantaram and wanting to go to Kathmandu! I must admit it has never been on my wish list but memories of seeing houseboats in Kashmir on the TV and watching Jewel in the Crown years ago started the search although we did not go to Kathmandu or Kashmir! Through this site I found a trip report which sounded very close to what I was looking for so I contacted Louise Nicholson and below is the final itinerary we sorted out. Jon knew he was going to India about 2 weeks beforehand but had no idea throughout where we were heading next.

I cannot recommend Louise highly enough, she listened to what I wanted, changed things around to suit and made sure that every hotel was checked that they could provide smoking rooms and areas. Nothing went wrong with what she had arranged, it was a couple of my choices that proved a problem and the company she uses in India dealt with these problems quickly. We never felt pressured to go on all the sightseeing, places were recommended and it was left with us to discuss with the local guides. Louise also provides detailed information on what to pack, tips and a wonderful shopping guide which gave us the opportunity to purchase some beautiful items.

We live in Phuket, Thailand so getting the visas was not straightforward but managed to pay to have someone deal with them in Bangkok, the saving grace of living here! I am told the procedure has now changed again but will find out later this year when we try to get them again for another trip through Louise, hopefully the UK will be added to the visa on arrival list.

Throughout the trip we were met at each airport by a guide and driver but we had a separate guide during our stay in each place, all were excellent.

We flew Jet Airways (see below) and Air India on internal flights, there was not much to chose between them.

Mumbai - 3 nights
Agra - 2 nights
Delhi - 1 night (airport stopover)
Nagaur - 1 night
Mihir Garh (outside Jodhpur) - 2 nights
Jodhpur - 2 nights
Udaipur - 4 nights
Goa - 5 nights
Mumbai back to Bangkok

Day 1 - Bangkok to Mumbai

I choose Jet Airways for the flight from Bangkok to Mumbai as Malaysian had just had the missing plane and reports on Air India were not good and Thai business is not up to much. The flight out with Jet was good, the seats in business were not as advertised as it was a small old plane but the food was excellent as was the service. The return flight was dreadful, even older plane with bad seats, food was poor but the service was good.

Driving through Mumbai was an experience and the city was very different from what we imagined, lots to take in!

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel - Tower wing (we smoke so this wing has a smoking floor and the room has a balcony (small) overlooking the Gate of India - love this hotel and the location is great and very glad Louise persuaded me that it was the best choice!

The first night we just checked out the hotel and had a quick walk outside. The swimming pool area is really nice and all very colonial.

Day 2/3 - Quick excellent breakfast and met our guide for the next two days who was excellent as was our driver.

Our sightseeing included a walking tour of downtown Mumbai, visits to the markets, V & A Museum, boat trip to Elephanta Island some shopping as I had requested a stop at M & S to stock up. Favourites were the park above the Parsees’ Towers of Silence (Jon spent ages trying to see vultures) and we were accosted by people from the south all wanting to have their photo taken with us, Victoria Terminus and the Buleshwar Market. In general everyone was friendly although we did get stared at a lot and I was glad we had a guide especially when negotiating the traffic to get to the car. We were very surprised at the number of old colonial buildings still in use, the wide streets and parks. Elephanta Island was interesting but it will take half a day at least. We also went to the washing area, good for photos!

We ventured out into the streets at the back of the hotel to get supplies but there are no 7 elevens here, just a very small local version selling soft drinks and the beer/lager you have to get from the bars.

The area behind and to the side of the Taj has a number of boutique type shops and restaurants, unfortunately we did not have time to check out all of them but I did spend a few hours in one selling beautiful embroidered tops at silly prices.

One of the best meals we had was from a very busy street restaurant a few streets back from the front entrance of the hotel …..was just a bit hesitant carrying take away bags through the security at the Taj!

Would certainly go back to Mumbai as I think there is much more to see, especially for shopping.

Next - Agra
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 14th, 2015, 10:46 AM
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nice start
rhkkmk is offline  
Jun 14th, 2015, 12:11 PM
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I am following. Thank you.
jacketwatch is offline  
Jun 14th, 2015, 12:15 PM
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Nice to read another review of a Louise Nicholson trip. Looking forward to more.
Kathie is online now  
Jun 14th, 2015, 01:02 PM
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Thanks for taking the time to write the! looking forward to more!!
CaliNurse is offline  
Jun 14th, 2015, 01:26 PM
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So thrilled my trip report influenced you to choose Louise and not surprised at all that your trip was amazing. There are so many places to go, but we're strongly considering a return to India on one of her organized tours. Can't wait to hear about Mihir Ghar, on our short list.
crosscheck is offline  
Jun 15th, 2015, 05:25 AM
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Yes Crosscheck, so glad I found your report, I had quote two quotes before Louise's and was beginning to give up! We are just trying to sort out another trip covering the north and Bhutan plus Varanasi as again this sounded great in your report but we could not fit it in last year.
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 15th, 2015, 05:49 AM
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Day 4 - Flight up to Delhi and drive to Agra

Note: The guide was with us up until we entered the airport and he arranged for luggage handlers to then take us onto the check in desks as guides are not allowed in. We were not aware that this had been paid for in advance so we ended up paying the two luggage handlers again plus we got hit for excess luggage which was a nightmare throughout the trip! The luggage handlers in Goa tried the same trick.

On arrival in Agra we met up with our guide and were taken to the ‘baby’ Taj…The Tomb of Itmad ud Daula and then onto the Mehtab Bagh garden to see the sunset looking at the Taj Mahal from the other side of the river. I would recommend both especially the gardens, the views are superb of the Taj and Agra Fort, lots of photos taken.

On to our hotel, the Amarvilas - changed to this hotel at the last minute and it was worth every penny. Beautiful room and balcony looking straight at Taj Mahal - service and food excellent and the wonderful hamper provided poolside.

The first night we ate in the Indian restaurant and the food was so good.

Day 5 - Taj Mahal at sunrise….what can I say…stunning. I did ask to miss Agra as thought may be too touristy but in May it wasn’t very busy, hardly anyone there and no queues. Even with masses of tourists it definitely should be done!

Back to hotel for a very good breakfast then onto the Agra Fort and again I think this is worth doing. I liked how our guide explained everything although Jon did get bored with the information so went off taking photos.

We then visited a Pieta dura crafts shop in town and bought a small box as a reminder, it is quite expensive. Agra itself was dirty and dusty and I was not impressed at the state of the horses pulling the carriages and I saw horses and donkeys just left in the road in a terrible state. Unfortunately could not get any answers about rescue centres etc.

Don't bother asking if any other local crafts here, we were taken to an obvious tourist shop (not on Louise's lists) and it was very difficult to get out of there politely.

Day 6 - We were due to go to the Bharakpur bird sanctuary and Fatehpur Sikri today before heading back to Delhi but unfortunately went overboard on the free cocktails and sparkling wine the night before (they kept serving after happy hour is my excuse) plus the guides advised that not many birds this time of year and that it would be quite a few hours drive in the wrong direction….so back to Delhi. This really is a boring journey so if any other option to driving I would choose that.

Day 7 - Not enough time to see anything of Delhi so spent the night at the J W Marriott near the airport, another very nice, modern hotel and excellent breakfast. We met up with the owner of the tour company here as he wanted to check all was going as planned and he insisted on refunding the cost of the luggage handlers.

Delhi airport looked good (M & S store) but had to rush through to catch the plane, Jon put my make up bag in hand luggage and they are very strict so had to go back to check in, security were helpful though.

Nagaur next
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 19th, 2015, 06:04 AM
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Nagaur and Mihir Garh

We were met at Jodphur airport by a tour representative and our driver for the next few days for a two hour drive north to Nagaur. This is a straight road going through a few busy villages, the driving is interesting, a bit like Thailand. Very nervous of the cattle that would just appear in front of us but obviously they are used to this.

Nagaur was the one place Louise had thrown in that I had not asked for and it looked so unusual that I agreed. The hotel Ranvas is set within the walled palace of Nagaur Fort and you drive in through a dusty busy town and suddenly turn into narrow arched gate into the fort. The palaces are set in the middle surrounded by trees and a dry dusty grass area so I did get a bit concerned! At the entrance you are taken through courtyards and narrow alleys to the Queens’ palace which is now the hotel. The room was really nice with big outside balconies but no TV which was not an issue for us. They brought tea and biscuits, very civilised!

We were the only guests and as this was end of the season they had taken down all the awnings and the pool was green but even so I would not have missed staying here. We were given an early eveing guided walk of the fort walls and it was very strange to be standing in this quiet oasis in the middle of a noisy bustling town with neon signs everywhere. I could not go all the way round (fear of heights) but Jon did while I followed the dirty road, not a good idea as it got dark! We decided to have room service, Jon went indian and I had sandwiches were fine.

Day 8 - The next morning we had breakfast on the terrace with peacocks surrounding us…amazing! Then a tour of the rest of the fort which was very interesting but I had difficulty following what the guide said and it was very hot, even for us! Apparently the music festival that they hold here every year should not be missed, artists come in from all over the world.

The previous evening we had noticed what looked like a shrouded body close to the fort entrance, this was confirmed as we drove out!

After lunch we started back to Jodhpur stopping at the Animal Hospital which takes in ill and injured cows, deers etc and works from donations. A quick stop for wine and beer and onto Mihir Garh which is about an hour the other side of Jodhpur.

This place was mentioned in a trip report on here and it looked wonderful, Louise checked that it was up to scratch.

The hotel is a newly built fort in the desert with nine rooms and they also breed Marwari horses. From the town of Rohan you drive out into the desert through a local village and suddenly a fort appears!

What can I say….wow, wow, wow.

The room was huge and beautifully furnished plus the terrace had a jacuzzi and the whole place is so peaceful, no sounds of traffic and no lights in the distance.

Jon went off for a walk around the grounds and said it was one of best parts of the whole trip. Dinner was good and there is a lovely area to sit and look out over the surrounding countryside. They also had local musicians playing.

Day 9 - We had booked a royal picnic but again due to the season this was not available but we could go riding if we were experienced! Jon dislikes horses but I spent most of my childhood on a pony so I was given permission. You are taken back to Rohan where they have another hotel and stables, then you ride out into the desert area.

This was an amazing experience BUT I soon realised that this old body could remember how to ride but could no longer do so! Just about managed to slide off without collapsing at the end and was in total agony for the next 5 days! Spent the afternoon in bed but managed dinner which again was good, not brilliant but good enough, this could possibly be due to less staff in the kitchen at this time of year.

Day 10 - We went on the village safari this morning which was very interesting….visit to a local family for tea, and then onto the village to sit with a group of village elders and do drugs but unfortunately no effect on the aches and pains! We were given some unusual cigarettes by the elders so stopped at the local village shop and were immediately surrounded by children so finally got to distribute our postcards of Thailand which they loved. Louise had suggested bringing these. Also this was a great photo opportunity.

Again we were the only guests for most of our stay here so were very pampered (slightly too much attention) but if you have a chance to stay here do, we would love to go back.

They did have a problem with the credit card machine so good idea to take cash to settle up.

The staff also told us that there is a luxury tented area close to the stables where Madonna stayed when she flew in to ride the horses!

Although it is called a desert it is not sand but more like scrub land that is looked after by the local people but as said nothing in sight.

Next - Jodhpur
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 02:40 AM
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Following along too... Your hotel in Nagaur sounds wonderful.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 04:45 AM
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yes, me too.

interesting report especially the parts less visited.

more please!
annhig is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2015, 05:56 AM
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Jodhpur and Udaipur

After lunch we went drove back to Jodhpur to stay at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, this was a last minute change as the Raas was undergoing renovations. We had the most spectacular welcome here which was hilarious as we were both still in shorts and T shirts from the morning safari so we were overwhelmed with the entrance steps filled with the brass band and what appeared to be every member of staff waiting to greet us but apparently one of the managers did comment that we were dressed for the Jodhpur weather! Luckily I had persuaded Jon to take off his bandana beforehand.

You definitely feel as if you are in a palace, a very beautiful hotel with wonderful gardens looking down over Jodhpur. The rooms are large and furnished Art Deco style with all amenities, but lots of portraits staring from the walls and the balcony is very enclosed so gets hot and stuffy. The pool area is great, big hamper and ice cream plus sparkling wine served.

Breakfast and dinner are served on the terrace restaurant, Pillars, which overlooks the gardens and the service is impeccable, the food was also excellent.

Day 11 - Morning sightseeing started with a trip out to an excellent local dhurrie weaver, bought a rug as the designs were very good plus although we were out in the middle of nowhere you can pay by credit card. This guy was such a character and there were the usual photos of celebrities visiting. We decided to miss out the village elders and partaking of drugs again! Stopped at a large shop selling some great furniture and ornaments, bought an elephant and would have loved to ship stuff back home but this is almost impossible living in Thailand.

We then went onto Mehrangarh Fort, started at the top and worked our way down with the best guide of the trip, he made everything entertaining and this fort is well worth visiting.

Bought a load of leather coloured slippers, shirts and picture from the Fort shops. I found out later that we should have continued walking down into the city but it was felt that would not have been good for me as at this point I was still in agony! We also missed the Batman bit so good excuse to go back!

Returned to the hotel to chill round the pool and then an early evening trip to the markets with cocktails and dinner at Pal Haveli. This was the best market area so far, bought far too much, bangles, bedcovers and runners. Pal Haveli was closed although it had been booked so went to a suggested alternative which was okay.

Day 12 - Last morning relaxing by the pool before moving on. We were both given lovely gifts when leaving the hotel and we really enjoyed the stay here but I would still like to stay at the Raas if we come back.

Time to drive to Udaipur with a stop at Ranakpur, the stunning Jain temple, where we meet our next guide, again he was very good if somewhat of a character.

I had chosen The Leela Hotel overlooking Lake Pichola as tomorrow would be Jon’s 50th birthday, had also booked the club package to get a trip on the lake and a special evening meal. The hotel website looked really good plus there were excellent reviews but.....

You have to catch the boat over to the hotel (although there is a back entrance) and again were greeted with rose petals and a musician, not quite up to the standard of the last one! We were shown up to our room which was nice but small, we had a lake view but it was non smoking. We also had a lovely cake waiting congratulating us on our anniversary! A few phone calls later and they decided we could smoke on the balcony which was not big enough for a chair. A room with a bigger balcony would be available in a day or two!

Without going into detail, the evening meal was a disaster and the service was dreadful so after sightseeing the next day it was arranged for us to move over to The Oberoi Udavilas which is far superior in every respect, beautiful room overlooking the pool and lake and again the service was impeccable, the staff made us feel extremely welcome and they even managed to give Jon a birthday gift.

Day 13 - Both our guide and our wonderful driver presented Jon with presents and flowers and we had a relaxed day visiting recommended local craftsmen and galleries and were finally taken to a local bar for drinks (interesting experience....then a stop for booze and medication and back to the Leela for 2 hour confrontation with the manager and move to the Oberoi.

Happy hour was included in the rate and we were taken to a small enclosed room at the back of the hotel but they were happy to let us have drinks in the main front area when we asked. Dinner was excellent and in a wonderful setting overlooking the lake.

The hotel has a wildlife sanctuary which Jon really enjoyed plus whilst having drinks we spotted a mongoose roaming the grounds.

Day 14 - Morning sightseeing at the City Palace including the royal car collection and the cut glass collection. By this time we were a bit jaded so probably did not appreciate the Palace and the glass collection was not really quality cut glass, apparently they had never seen anyone go round so fast, but the cars were interesting. Also visited another shop selling bedcovers etc and picked up some great designer handbags plus more cushions etc so it was arranged for everything to be fedexed to Mumbai to pick up before the flight home. Managed to finally find an open Anokhi store as well, more clothing!

It was our intention to drive out to Devigarh for dinner but was advised against this so booked a restaurant overlooking the lake, again good but not as good as the food at the Oberoi.

Day 15 - relaxing day with a drive round the lake with a stop for very sweet local coffee and a chat with locals who wanted to know all about Phuket property, then a wander round the town again and back to the hotel for an afternoon tea boat trip …wonderful, best afternoon tea we have had! Dinner at the hotel was again very good.

Day 16 - very sad to leave this amazing hotel and Udaipur but on to the airport for an afternoon flight down to Mumbai and connection to Goa. Udaipur airport is small and not much in there plus security was strict.

Goa next....
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2015, 06:12 AM
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I chose Goa over The Maldives for relaxing at a beach destination at the end of the trip mainly because Jon had been before years ago and has always raved about the food and how much he enjoyed it, I have never been!

We arrived late at night and were driven to The Leela which I hoped would be better than the last one, unfortunately not! A very large impersonal hotel, no greeting or drink even..... the room was very nice and large but bland plus quite a walk from the beach. Breakfast was a nightmare and poor in comparison to what we had experienced to date, service was also poor. I should have trusted Louise and gone for a smaller option or even the Taj.

We had two days of sightseeing arranged for Goa and to be perfectly honest it was a waste of time, the place is extremely dirty, rubbish everywhere, I did not find the food that good and a lot of things had closed down for the season. The Portuguese mansions were closed except for one which was in a dreadful state, missed out the seminary, went to Panaji and Margao (not much there) and then onto a spice farm which was about the most interesting thing to do.

Did pick up some T shirts, cotton clothes and silver but other than that it is much the same stuff as in Thailand although cheaper in Goa!

The beach was bleak and lots of oil around plus the hotel did not provide anything, not even water. We ate at a local restaurant a few minutes walk from the hotel which was good but not brilliant.

So in general very disappointed in Goa and really wished I had not chosen to go but at least it is now off the list.

We flew back to Mumbai 5 days later to catch the flight back to Bangkok. We had a few hours to kill and decided to just go straight to the new airport which is great, the business class lounge is very good and there are some nice shops.

Hotel wise our favourites were the Oberoi in Udaipur and Mihir Garh, the rooms and particularly the service is far in front of Thailand and even possibly better than Singapore and KL comparing similar standard hotels (with the exception of The Leela brand which I will not use again).

Cash wise we found most of it went on the tips for the driver and guides plus excessive luggage charges, we changed either dollars or baht at the hotels and we only used a currency exchange in Udaipur. We used credit cards to pay the hotel bills and you can use them for the luggage charges as well.

It was easy to get any required medication plus wine and beer with the help of the guide or driver. We are very used to be able to buy almost any medicine etc over the counter in Thailand and it seemed the same there.

Dress wise - although you can dress up in these hotels it did not seem to matter if you didn't, perhaps again it was due to end of season. We did take too much luggage but if you are happy to pay the steep charges then no issue.

Internet we got free at all hotels but some only gave an hour free and we did not bother getting a sim, it was great to stick the phones in the safe and forget about them!

We would certainly go back to Mumbai, Jodhpur and Udaipur but many more places to see in India first... we are hooked and now planning to go further north this year again through Louise, although I am looking at Africa for the end of next year and Myanmar has been on the list for a while.

End of report!
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2015, 10:06 AM
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I am not a fan of Goa, because I am not a beach person, but I certainly like it more than you did! I suspect your problem was the hotel/beach choice. In 2001 (yes, a shockingly long time ago, lol) I stayed at north Vagator, and in late 2010 I stayed at Palolem (https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...retty-palolem/ ) and in neither case did I find the beaches dirty - in fact it was a pleasant change from the rest of India. Perhaps it was because I was there for the beginning of the season.

I did not stay in Panaji last time, but I liked it well enough in 2001, and loved my hotel there (http://www.panjiminn.com/ ), plus I enjoyed visiting Old Goa (once for a major festival and once just for the elaborate church interiors). There's also a rather nice waterfall, but it is rather a trek to get to.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 27th, 2015, 04:45 AM
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Yes I think the hotel/beach choice was totally wrong....how it is set up does not make it a relaxing beach holiday as you are not provided any sun beds on the sand and have to walk quite a distance to get to the sea, not that you would want to swim once you got there.

The guide did talk about the rubbish problem and from what she was saying the whole state seems to have a lot of problems in general and was hoping the new government would change things.
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 27th, 2015, 10:57 AM
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Did Louise recommend that hotel in Goa? It sounds like Goa really didn't work out for you.

Thanks for your report.
Kathie is online now  
Jun 27th, 2015, 09:37 PM
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No she didn't recommend it, her suggestion was Vivenda Dos Palhacos and I also looked at Amarya Shamiyana which checked out okay.
Cyansiam is offline  
Jun 28th, 2015, 08:53 AM
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Thanks for that info
Kathie is online now  
Jun 28th, 2015, 09:06 AM
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I think Goa is the kind of destination where you're better off staying in smaller places away from the bigger beaches. Of course, I go a lot lower-end than Louise is suggesting! But since I don't want a swimming pool or room service, I am happy not to pay for them.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 30th, 2015, 05:47 AM
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In hindsight I would agree.....

I think Louise will work to any budget, I get the feeling she has stayed in so many places in India and if she doesn't know the place herself then the tour company she uses will find out. Everything she recommends is based on what you want from the trip. I was just particularly picky on hotels for this trip as it was a special occasion plus we have the where can we smoke issue.
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