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India itinerary: critique and suggestions pls

India itinerary: critique and suggestions pls

Old Nov 12th, 2006, 07:57 PM
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India itinerary: critique and suggestions pls

I have rec'd some great advice here before for my son who is studying and traveling in India and he has called tonight with his basic itinerary for some solo travel- wondering if anyone has any thoughts/ideas to pass along to him as he finalized it over the next few days - pls excuse any spelling errors !

12/14: jeep ride from Kalimpong to Bagdogra - about 3 hrs.
Then the 11 hr. Darjeeling Mail Express Train, a single room, at 5:30pm arriving in Kolkata around 4:30am on the 15th.

One day in Kolkata (b/c he will see more of that on his return) and take the 7:30pm , 2810 Mumbia Mail train - for 32 hours in a sleeper car to Mumbai arriving around the 17th at 5am.

Thinking of staying in the Hotel Prossers on Henry Rd or the Hotel Outraw on Margiban Rd and spending 3 days seeing the temples, taking the ferry to the island, seeing caves, Modern art gallery, gateway of India, Gobegat -

on the 21st leaving to Delhi or taking the Tapava Express, a 6 1/2 hr train to Jalgaeon and seeing the ellor and ajanta caves - staying at the Hotel Plaza Galaxy or Angela Guest House ( not sure if he will do this then, or go straight to Delhi and go to Jalgaeon after Delhi)

A few days in Delhi: perhaps the Armritza/ golden temple - via a 6 hr express train -

Hotel Victoria Delux/ or Majors Den

On to Agra: stay at Shanti Lodge or Hotel Kamal

Varanasi: getting there around New Years and staying at Scindhia Guest House or HOtel Alka

Then train back to Kolkata on the 3010 Doon Express
and from there make his way back to
Kalimpong by January 3rd or 4th where he will pick up his things he has left with the family he has been living with about 40 minutes outside of Kalimpong, spend a few days with them before flying back home.

Any thoughts to pass along? other suggestions for lodging -
appreciate any ideas and thank you.


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Old Nov 12th, 2006, 08:22 PM
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Not sure what you mean by a single room on the Darjeeling Mail. 1AC (most expensive class) has one two-person compartment per train, but no guarantee you'll get that rather than the four-person compartment (see http://seat61.com/India.htm for lots of info on Indian trains). Also, I don't recommend back-to-back night trains, but he may be young enough not to mind staying dirty. Tell him to ignore the porters in Kolkata - they are very pushy and overcharge.

Definitely recommend seeing Ajanta & Ellora, although I based in Aurangabad rather Jalgaon, both are reachable by train. The Golden Temple in Amritsar was pretty amazing too. It might work better to do Agra as a day trip from Delhi, take the train to Amritsar and then there's a direct train from Amritsar to Varanasi.

The only hotel I recognize is the Alka in Varanasi, which is a fine budget choice - great location overlooking the Ganges and evening prayers.
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Old Nov 13th, 2006, 02:29 AM
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I donít understand going from Kolkata in the north east coast all the way to Mumbai on the south west coast, THEN to Delhi in the north, then BACK to the south west coast to see the caves at Elora/Ajanta/Jalagon. I think he should do the caves with Mumbai, otherwise he is backtracking. If he does not want to fly (see below), then the logical order would be to take the train from Kolkata to Varanasi, then Agra, then Delhi, then Amritsar, and then go to Mumbai and Elora at the end. The train trip from Amritsar to Mumbai should not be 32 hours (may still be about half that), as he will have already worked his way in bits across the country. Look at a map and see how far south and of course completely west Mumbai and Elora/Ajanta are compared to the rest of his itinerary which is really north India. Varanasi , Delhi and Agra are logical stops on the train from Kolkata going west. (He will certainly be changing trains in Delhi at least, if not in the other cites above, so why not just get off?)

If he really has to stick to this itinerary order, then you might really consider paying for him to fly from Kolkata to Mumbai. I canít imagine doing that trip, esp after the 3 hour jeep ride and the long train rides to/from Darjeeling. Really 32 hours on an Indian train even for a young person is a LONG time and that is if all the trains are right on time...

I am not a huge fan of Mumbai for tourists, and with traffic he wonít see a lot in 3 days but it is an experience I suppose. I thought he was going to Goa? The modern art museum is quite small, the one in Delhi is better, although small as well, but it has a better collection IMO. I assume you are getting this itinerary over the phone, because your spelling is cracking me up (itís Dhobi Ghat for example).


For flights to Mumbai from Kolkata, try Jet Airways or Kingfisher, even Indian Airlines would be better than the train IMO. I love Indian trains, but thatís a long haul.

I would never do Agra as a day trip, sorry sunrise and sunset are just too beautiful, and seeing the old city is really interesting.

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Old Nov 13th, 2006, 06:21 AM
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Thursdaysd thank you for your thoughtful response and good questions, he is 21, doesn't mind being dirty, is all into the 'total experience' and writing about it for his final paper....youth !

Cicerone, I'm glad my spelling is cracking you up - and glad you were around to answer, or if you are in trave,l have your laptop ! - I almost headed this 'Cicerone, where are you?"

Yes, I was trying to have him spell everything but people also wanted the phone, - he has to walk 40 min to a phone so it appears to be a popular one -

- I am willing to help him by paying for plane vs. train, step up his lodging in a few spots, etc - he is the type that fights me on that, but I did forward him this information -and impressed upon him again the joys of a plane ride.....and a nice solo room with hot shower I think I'm convincing him b/c since he won't be here for Christmas, he can look at it as his gift.

i rec'd another email from him early this morning that said he was having trouble getting trains online and went to a local travel agent recommended by one of his professors and his proposed new itinerary looks like this - but hopefully now I will get him to fly one or two of the connecctions, but I know he wants to experience the train.


DEC 14: Bus from Kalimpong to Siliguri Train Station
Train from Siliguri to Kolkata (gets in dec 15 morning)
DEC 15: Train from Kolkata to Jalgaeon (gets in dec 16 night)
DEC 17, 18: day trips from Jalgaeon to Ellora Caves & Ajanta Caves
DEC 18: Night train to Mumbai (gets in dec 19 morning)
DEC 19-22 in Mumbai (bombay)
DEC 22: Night train to Delhi (arrive dec 23 morning)

DEC 23-29 in Delhi
DEC 23-24: explore Delhi
DEC 25 Jamie arrives Delhi Airport
DEC 26: Jamie sleeps - explore
DEC 27: Day trip to Amritsar (Sikh Golden Temple)
DEC 28: Delhi
DEC 29: Train from Delhi to Agra in morning (2 hours)
DEC 29/30: Agra, taj Mahal
DEC 30: Night train from Agra to Varanasi
DEC 31-Jan 2 in Varanasi
JAN 2: Night train from Varanasi to Siliguri (gets in jan 3 morning)
JAN 3: Bus from Siliguri to Kalimpong
We will be in Kalimpong on the 3rd mid-day.
Spend the night with my family. on the 4th take Jamie to Ghandi Ashram School.
JAN 4-7 in Kalimpong, with family, Jamie, etc
JAN 7 or 8: go to Bagdogra, fly to Delhi.
JAN 9: Fly Delhi to USA

Any thoughts on this one to pass along? And I really do appreciate, as my son does, all your ideas and suggestions - I don't know what happened to Goa, but I asked him when I forwarded him your thoughts posted so far - he always enjoys hearing what my 'anonymous friends' have to say -

thanks.
* He has Lonely Planet, but if anyone has a favorite good inexpensive dinner spot or lodging, shopping find, off the beaten spot type of thing, etc in any of the areas he will be in, please share ! Although he seems to be finding many hidden gems on his few short breaks already , as one monk said to him at one spot where he gave him a room for a few days, 'just don't tell lonely planet you found us!"
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Old Nov 13th, 2006, 07:19 AM
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escargot - I agree with Cicerone that Mumbai is not that great a tourist destination. If he is going to Ellora and Ajanta, he'll find the Elephanta caves in Mumbai very disappointing, but I see this part of the itinerary is gated by meeting his friend in Delhi. Maybe he could visit Pune or Bhopal on the way to Mumbai? Bhopal is a base for Sanchi and Bhimbetka (see www.wilhelmswords.com.asia2001 - Middle India for my visit to Bhopal.)

Since he's staying in Kalimpong I guess he's already been to Darjeeling? Has he ridden the "toy" train up from Siliguri? I think he'll be fine on the train, no need to spend money on planes - better to spend it on food and lodging. I spent 10 weeks traveling round India by train (just one plane and few cars) and I was early fifties at the time. My one plane (Agra to Khujaraho) left 2 hours late, much worse than the trains! I did make sure I had single rooms with bath, and usually AC, but enjoyed sharing space with the locals on the trains - I much preferred 2AC to 1AC because the people were more fun, but lots of backpackers ride sleeper class.

Although I swear by Lonely Planet, I did find the Footprint guide to India, (which I actually bought in Mumbai) very good as well. I wouldn't recommend my lodging in Mumbai, I stayed with a family in Delhi, and don't remember my hotel in Agra, so the only place I can recommend is the Alka in Varanasi, but I think http://specialplacestostay.com/ has some good recommendations for Varanasi - but I would absolutely advise staying on the river. Must leave for lunch - I'm getting homesick for India!
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Old Nov 13th, 2006, 07:48 AM
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thursdays: thank you SO much for more info and reply. I have forwarded your thoughts to him, as today is the day he is trying to finalize his best options and meet tomorrow with the local travel person who will assist inbooking trains, but other than that I'm not sure he's been a huge help....
but the fodorites have once again !
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Old Nov 13th, 2006, 01:08 PM
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escargot: you're welcome! I loved India (except when the hassles got to me!) and am excited for your son. He does know about http://www.indianrail.gov.in/ for train timetables, right?
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Old Nov 13th, 2006, 03:19 PM
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I would think he should know about the rail site, but I am forwarding just in case. thanks again!
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 05:29 PM
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This schedule looks much more doable and not so exhausting. For hotels I have already suggested the Sawday site and book as has Thursdaysd. For Delhi and Agra I think he definitely would want a booking as that is the high season then. Probably Varanasi too. Mumbai has more hotels so maybe not, but it doesnít hurt to have a reservation as the last thing you want to do after a night train is wander around town with a tired, dirty and lugging a backpack while trying to find a hotel.... For restaurants, run a search here, as myself and others have posted before on Delhi and Mumbai, not really on inexpensive places, but maybe for a special occasion. Otherwise, I always find the Lonely Planet to be excellent, the ďhigh endĒ reccos are actually getting expensive IMO in their most recent issue, so if those seem too much go with the middle end reccos. My only recoo would be to avoid Chinese food in cheaper restaurants which I always find pretty awful, even in places recommended by Lonely Planet. The Oberoi in New Delhi is the only place I have had good Chinese food in India, but it isnít cheap. (sometimes you just have to take a break from the curry...) Mumbai has a lot of good restaurants which is one thing I do like about the city. A great US style deli is below, in the event he needs a fix (they even have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the menu):

Indigo Delicatessen
5 Ground Floor
Pheroze Bldg
Ground Floor
Chatrapati Shivaji Mahrishi Ma
Apollo Bunder
Tel: 22- 6655-1010

A book which might interest you, and perhaps him (esp for the train rides) is Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. Its about Mumbai and may give you a bad impression of the city, but you will certainly see another side of India from it. A book I am just in love with is Curry by Lizzie Cunningham which is partly a history of India, partly world history, partly food history and partly a cook book; I just canít look at a tomato in the same way now...For Kolkata, you and he may want to read The Post Office by Rabidranath Tagore, or any of his poetry. Finally for the Kalimpong area, a really wonderful book is The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, it just won the Booker Prize. If you are interested in other India reading, there are various Indian reading lists on this board, you might run a search.

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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 06:40 PM
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Sorry, the author of Curry is Lizzie Collingham
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 06:57 PM
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Cicerone thank you sooo much - he is a philosophy and language major so he will love the books you recommended and I will forward to him and / or surprise him with one - and esp the poetry one, he has taken several poetry/lit courses and whatever country we are in he gets a book of poetry from their laureate or adored poet - !!! great
and for the food recs.
he is finalizing today, he has sent me an email, I won't bore you with hit, but he did make his itinerary so he isn't back tracking and he is very excited -
he has his train,
he is looking at lodging options today
he will love food recs

unfortunately, he is a bit disappointed, the person who was going to travel with hiim the first leg of the trip from Kalimpong to Delhi is not going, so he will do that solo and meet up with other friend in Delhi for return trip to Kalimpong - oh, well, things happen, but he will be fine as he has travled alone before and is doing a good job putting this together from what i can tell

I will do those searches you suggested.

Cicerone, one more question - language wise in the areas he is visiting - seeing as he is alone - in most places will he be able to find someone if he needs sto communicate in english - he speaks nepali - but i am sure that is not spoken out of the region he has now been in - am i being naive to assume it is like most of the foreign countries we have visited and english is spoken in most areas ?

thanks a million Cicerone - you're a gem.
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 07:27 PM
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English is extremely widely spoken in India. Signage in train stations and airports is in English as well, announcements over PA systems are made in English as well as local languages. English is basically the second language there, and is the first language for millions of people. More so than any other country in Asia in my experience. That's why all the call centers are there....
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 07:47 PM
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I figured, since so many business are there, call centers, etc,but having not been adn hearing from you makes me feel better, I can't help but worry a tad as a mom even tho he is a young man now, traveling alone when he does, which is often enough you think I'd be used to it : here's my mom brain in action: he was bitten by some spider last week in the hill farm / station - 24 hour raging high fever - now is fine; now tells methis is the second time it happened - thse are stories he should save for when he is home b/c now I think, but what if it happens when he is alone.....
he'll deal I know, he is resourceful and mature....
but still...yet I know such a wonderful journey for him !

You've been a great help several times, thank you , sincerely, Cicerone for your patience.
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