India group or private tour?

May 17th, 2015, 05:41 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2015
Posts: 63
India group or private tour?

I'm sure a lot of people here will say to go solo but I'm not feeling up to the challenge.

I was looking at Intrepid and G Adventures because I've heard good things about them but I have never been on either of their trips. Here's one I was looking at because the estimated travel times seemed low: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/us/ind...dventure-83502 I admit it's not a great way to pick one out. All these tours seem to jump around a lot.

Posts here speak highly of Castle and King (are these the same?-- castleandkingindia.com or castleandking.com). I've never enlisted someone to create a trip for me so I don't know what to expect. Budget? Public or private transportations?

Being my first time in India, I would do the golden triangle and a couple other places in the region... about 2 weeks.
flyingbaran is offline  
May 17th, 2015, 07:08 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,829
That is the agency that often gets recommended here. The physical addresses listed on the two websites are identical.

How to work with an agent to set up your trip? First of all, remember they are working for you and want you to be happy with your trip. When I've used local agents, I go to them with an itinerary already outlined. If I know particular hotels I want to stay at, I will name those. Otherwise, I give them a nightly hotel budget. I also outline what kind of transport I want (flights, car and driver, train) and if and when I want a pre-arranged guide. Where you aren't certain, ask. Expect to go back and forth a bit before coming to agreement on an itinerary and price.

Be aware that the beginner's error is trying to go too many places. And agents often will collude with you on this, thinking that is what is wanted. Be aware that travel is slow and exhausting in India. It will take most of a day to get from one location to the next (from the time you check out of your lodgings until you check into the next. So it takes three nights in a place to get two full days to sightsee.

Happy Planning!
Kathie is offline  
May 17th, 2015, 08:08 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,858
I have traveled with Intrepid, although not for several years. I have not traveled with G Adventures (they used to be GAP but changed the name after one of their boats sank in the Antarctic).

I have always been impressed with Intrepid's itineraries, and this looks quite good - I did something very similar on my own in 2001, although I did not camp.

There are some things you should be aware of. They apply to Intrepid, and probably to GA and similar outfits like Explore and Exodus. The tour leader is not a guide. The tours use local transport. The accommodation will not be high end. This is an "original" level tour, so it won't be as bad as basic, but it may be more basic than you are used to. But on the other hand the trips are not expensive, and tend to take you to some places (such as Shekhawati on this tour) that more mainstream companies skip.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 17th, 2015, 09:34 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 678
Going with a group or solo is of course a matter of choice. Even if you wish to travel alone, India is not a place where you would ever get bored. There is plenty of spectacle whether you are in a city, on the road or simply waiting on the platform, to take a train!
Kathie is absolutely correct about the pace one needs to take in a temperate climate that India has. It wears you out quickly and 2 nights at most destinations should be a norm. Otherwise, at the end of the trip you will notice you have spent so much to simply sit in the cab!!
One thing that distinguishes an individual tour, as against a group tour will be the itinerary that can be controlled by yourself.A group tour somewhat precludes this possibility. And an Itinerary should depend upon your individual interests and not on an aggregate of interests.
While going to Varanasi will be an experience, rural Rajasthan at its colourful best, will remain etched in memory.
Happy travels!
vp_singh is offline  
May 17th, 2015, 09:55 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 895
Hello flyingbaran,

I looked at both your proposed tour company itineraries, and they made me dizzy just looking at them. There is too much running around from place to place. Since you are against doing your own planning, can you perhaps find a local travel agent in India that can help you? We did our own planning, so I don't know of anyone, but perhaps others here can chime in with suggestions. We ran into some other Americans in Udaipur who had used a local agency, and they were very pleased. You may be surprised to find out that you can do a private tour with local guides for the same price as the tours, or maybe even less.

If you decide to use an agency, you should listen to Kathie's advice. You need to formulate an itinerary based on your interests, and seek an itemized cost proposal from the agency, which you should critically review. Also, thursdaysd makes a good point about hotels being basic on one of your proposed tour companies. I would not stay in anywhere lower than a Hyatt or Marriott in India (room cleanliness standards are, shall we say, different?), so you could be disappointed by the accommodations they provide.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 05:07 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,163
There have been excellent reviews here for Legends and Palaces:

http://www.legendsandpalaces.com

If we go to India again they would be first on my list to consider.
Marija is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 05:50 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,858
Of course, it would help to know what kind of budget the OP has in mind. Since s/he is looking at Intrepid and GA, it is likely not high end.

"I would not stay in anywhere lower than a Hyatt or Marriott in India (room cleanliness standards are, shall we say, different?),"

I had a hard time believing I was reading that. Western chains in India? No. If you must do chains, at least do Indian ones (I stayed in a very nice business chain hotel last time, the Keys). But you would miss out on some wonderful independents: the Windamere in Darjeeling, the Panjim Inn in Panaji, the Green in Mysore, the Malabar House in Kochi, the B&B I stayed in in Coorg... Of course, the Marriott wouldn't be much help for Rajasthan, unless you wanted stick to the business district in Jaipur.

I am puzzled about the reference to cleanliness. I have now spent sixteen weeks in India, staying in Indian hotels, and I have a hard time thinking of more than one or two hotels where I had an issue with cleanliness (the disastrous Shashinag Residency in Bijapur, mostly, but how many westerners even go there?) and a couple with insects. The fact that the streets OUTside are dirty has nothing to do with the state of the INside.

It's true there can be trade offs. In Jaisalmer I had a big room with a cozy window seat with a wonderful view, but the sink drained onto the bathroom floor. That's the kind of place you might stay in on an Intrepid tour, but it was certainly clean.

Staying high-end doesn't necessarily help. The only time I got sick on my last trip was in the most expensive hotel.

I agree that the Intrepid itinerary is fast paced. I travel more slowly these days, but for a first trip it can be good. I went to Cambodia the first time with Intrepid. Turned out two and a half days in Siem Reap weren't enough and I went back for more. But I also got to take a boat trip across the Tonle Sap to Battambang where we rode the Bamboo Express, and visit Bokor National Park above Kompot which had only seen 1,250 foreign visitors the year before.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 07:49 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 895
thursdaysd:

"The fact that the streets OUTside are dirty has nothing to do with the state of the INside."

Well, of course it does, it's INDIA! In Mumbai, I made the mistake of booking a local "boutique" hotel, and we found: Filthy sheets (the room pictured on the website must have been fake), an olive pit in the sink, a nasty manager that yelled at me when I called him out on it, other guests who threw their dinner leftovers in the hallway, and three men that guarded the room door when we left, to prevent us from "stealing" from the mini bar.

"I had a hard time believing I was reading that. Western chains in India? No. If you must do chains, at least do Indian ones.."

Our favorite "Western chain" hotels in India include: Le Meridien New Delhi, ITC Mughal Agra, and the Radisson Hotel Varanasi. These hotels are Indian owned, with authentic Indian employees, and authentic Indian food. They are simply managed by US companies for financial and marketing purposes. They do not import employees from Iowa, for example. I viewed the profile picture of the OP, and she appears to be a lovely young lady. If she were my daughter, I would advise her to stay in these type of hotels, particulary for safety reasons. India is so very inexpensive, that she could probably find some great deals.

That being said, I also wanted to add that the OP would likely not feel isolated if she can arrange a custom tour through a local operator. The local guides in India will take care of her, by inviting her over to meet their families, and making drivers available for her in the evening if she should decide to go out to dinner. The driver will wait for her directly outside the restaurant door, and escort her safely back to her hotel.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 08:21 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,858
So, you had one bad experience. Did you read the reviews beforehand? I have had a couple of bad experiences too, but they are a pretty small percentage of the nights I have stayed in India. I have never paid anything close to the $150 Le Meridien wants for a random date in November, either.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 08:45 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 895
Hi thursdaysd,

The reviews on the Mumbai hotel were fabulous, perhaps they were fake too. We stayed at a couple of other boutique type hotels in India, and I was not too thrilled either. I would not hesitate to stay in these type of hotels in Japan, or SE Asia, but for some reason, they were a total gross out in India. For Le Meridien, my son exchanged some AA upgrades for a free night with someone on flyertalk, and I paid $109 for the other three nights, including an elaborate buffet breakfast. I wrote directly to the hotel, and found this rate.

We all have different experiences. but India is the one place that I would advise a young lady travelling alone to stay in a nicer place.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 09:11 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,858
Well, actually, although I have done it, I'm not sure I would advise a woman to travel alone in India at all, these days. Alone as in independently, that is. With the gang rapes that have happened over the last couple of years I think it may have become too dangerous. So either a tour or a car and driver from a company that has been recommended here (NOT a random company off the internet...) I may do that myself the next time.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 01:50 PM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2015
Posts: 63
Some background about this trip. I'm planning a long trip and India is one of the countries that I'd like to visit. I’ll be solo the whole time unless I decide to take a group tour for a day or hire a guide at a site. I already picked a cumbersome country to travel through (can’t wait for those long train rides in China!) so I’m looking for something a little easier on my sanity. : ) The other reason is the violence that keeps coming up. I don’t want it to prevent me from visiting but at the same time it doesn’t make me comfortable to travel there alone.

I don’t have any issues with what tours picked out. Camping, camel rides, etc are awesome as I miss them when traveling solo because those type of activities are always packaged for a group. I just worry that I’ll be on the bus for 5 hours every day. There are other tours but similar issues with cramming in so many places.


For budget I’d hope to be around the same amount as the Intrepid tour. Is that realistic? I still have to look more closely at my guidebooks to really form an itinerary. I imagine I'd go to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur and maybe a day trip or two from one of those places. Maybe that's too much "city" time? Kumbhalgarh Fort seems neat and google optimistically lists it 3.5 hours away from Jophpur. That’s already jam packed for two weeks but I can add in some more days.
flyingbaran is offline  
May 18th, 2015, 02:03 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,858
Well, Intrepid is using trains as well as buses... It would be a shame to go to Rajasthan and skip Jaisalmer.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 19th, 2015, 09:52 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 2,870
I love independent travel and I love India, but I would NOT advise traveling around alone if you are female. The only exception would be if you're doing a yoga retreat (ubiquitous in India and frequented by many solo female travelers -- you can find out about these programs at any yoga studio in your home country). But I'd even be concerned about traveling to and from the program.

A young woman we know just traveled around the world and India was the only place she chose to go on a tour. I believe she chose Intrepid and loved it, although I know she was also considering Gecko.

FWIW, if you do choose a car and driver, we did not find the traveling in India exhausting at all. If you're flexible and don't plan too much every day, it's fun, adventurous -- and mindblowing -- rather than tiring. But I think as a solo traveler I'd enjoy a group tour more than 24/7 with a driver and guides.
crosscheck is offline  
May 20th, 2015, 05:47 AM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2015
Posts: 63
Hiring a personal driver seems over the top but then again I haven't travel to a country where I was actually concerned. I usually stick to public transportation, even taxis are rarely used and that's mostly to go to the airport. I guess I need to get use to adjusting my travel expectations.

I was interested in Gecko but reviews are so so. I'm not sure if the tours are bad or if it's because the tours mainly cover accommodations and transportation and not much else.

It would be a lot better if I could convince a friend to meet me there but the stars need to align for that to happen.
flyingbaran is offline  
May 20th, 2015, 06:21 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,858
I have the same travel habits you do, but a car and driver in India (and some other parts of Asia too) is not that expensive. However, I would encourage you to use one recommended here. I have found that drivers in India (all male) are liable to think they know better than their female passengers what route to take and/or where to go. I have always won the argument - eventually - but it gets annoying quickly. Also, do not agree to pay by distance, unless you are willing to keep a very close eye on the route. (Note that rickshaws very rarely use the meter, and you are better off bargaining for the fare.)

I would take a second look at the Intrepid tour. There is a TR on this board from someone who did India with Intrepid, maybe screen name amy? A search may turn it up.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 20th, 2015, 04:21 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 895
Hello again flyingb,

Given your interests and budget, you can figure out a way to approach this with a happy ending--either with a custom tour (either through an agency, or one you design yourself), or wih a group tour. I suggest maybe doing some further investigation..

Tours: Thursday makes an excellent point about obtaining further feedback on Intrepid. Will Intrepid release to you the names of some former customers? If so, send them an email with your phone number, and ask them to call you back. I have done this on both sides, at it is so informative.

Also, you seem interested in the outdoors. Are there any specialized outdoorsy trips suited for you? Thorntree (Lonely Planet) forum is good for that.

Custom Tours: Judging by the cost of the Intrepid tours, it looks like you are targeting about $100 a day, all inclusive. And yes, as thursday told you, you would be surprised how cheaply you can put together an independent tour. For example, our Jaipur/Udaipur guide is a well known master guide, and he charges $15 a day, plus $15 a day for the car and driver. And food is so very cheap in India.

Your point about missing out on fun stuff as an independent traveler is not true in India if you are resourceful--we rode an elephant at the fort in Agra, and our Jaipur/Udaipur guide has put together camping trips.

With two weeks, I would find four cites, and use them as a base. Then, I would find four fabulous drivers in each city, and maybe guides (maybe not necessary in Delhi, for example). Then, I would price the flights on Jet Airways, and see what the total is.

By the way, all drivers arranged through our guides, and any taxi driver that we got DIRECTLY from our hotels were sweet and polite. We did have trouble with other random drivers (trying to double the fare, wanting to take us to gift shops). The point is, do not get in a random taxi.

Hope this helps--let us know what you decide.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
May 20th, 2015, 04:28 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 895
Correction: We rode an elephant at the Jaipur fort, not the one in Agra.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
May 20th, 2015, 04:51 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,163
Intrepid tour report:

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...h-intrepid.cfm
Marija is offline  
May 20th, 2015, 05:19 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,858
Unfortunately, it turns out that riding elephants is a really bad idea.

See: http://journals.worldnomads.com/resp...ur-Bucket-List

I thought there was another Intrepid TR for India, but I can't find it.
thursdaysd is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 11:22 PM.