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-   -   India itinerary critique please (https://www.fodors.com/community/asia/india-itinerary-critique-please-1473771/)

pasqualino Sep 17th, 2017 02:12 PM

India itinerary critique please
 
My husband and I are planning a DIY trip (with driver and periodic guides/ walking tours) to northern India at the end of February. We are well traveled but have never been to India. Quite honestly, we have reservations about doing so, especially after reading the Bloomberg article "Indian Travel Boom Is Sending Tourists Home With Superbugs." In any case, here's the plan. I think it is a little too rushed, however I don't know where to add an extra day – Jaipur? We could possible add two extra days and do Ranthambore Tiger Preserve. I've read mixed reviews; it doesn't seem worth it to me. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Day 1 NYC-> Dubai

Day 2 Dubai 14hr layover (08:00-22:00)
- Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountains, Mall, Dinner

Day 3 Dubai -> Delhi arrive 02:00
- New Delhi (Tomb of Humayun, Qatar Minor, India Gate)

Day 4 Delhi
- Old Delhi (Gandhi Memorial, Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk market, Sikh temple)

Day 5 Delhi -> Jaipur (very early start to avoid some traffic, at least 5hr car ride)
- Amber Fort

Day 6 Jaipur
- Sanganer, Palace of the Winds, Jantar Mantar, City Palace

Day 7 Jaipur -> Agra (via car full day drive)
- Monkey Temple, Chand Baori step well, Fatehpur Sikri

Day 8 Agra
- Taj Mahal at sunrise, Red Fort, Itimad-ud-Daulah (little Taj)

Day 9 Agra -> Khajuraho ( 2 1/2 -4 hr train to Jhansi, then 3-4 hr drive)
- possible stop at Orccha, evening dance festival

Day 10 Khajuraho
- temples, evening dance festival

Day 11 Khajuraho -> Varanasi (afternoon 1 hr flight) (hotel at ghats)
- temples at Khajuraho in morning, hopefully make it to evening aarti ceremony in Varanasi

Day 12 Varanasi
- sunrise at ghats, Sarnath, evening boat ride

Day 13 Varanasi -> Delhi (late afternoon or early evening flight) (airport hotel in Delhi)
- walking tour in Varanasi in morning

Day 14 Delhi -> NYC




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pasqualino Sep 17th, 2017 02:46 PM

Addendum: Forget Ranthambore Tiger Preserve, we could do a safari ride at Panna National Park (outside Khajuraho) the morning of day 10...Thanks again.

thursdaysd Sep 17th, 2017 05:03 PM

Have you considered taking the train instead of driving Delhi-Jaipur and Jaipur-Agra? For info on train travel in India see: https://www.seat61.com/India.htm and for schedules see: https://www.cleartrip.com/trains

You should plan to see the Taj at dusk as well as dawn.

I think your Delhi plans may be a bit ambitious, given the probability of jet lag and the assault on the senses that is India.

I have not read the article you cite, my recent concern with travel in India has been the incidence of gang rape involving foreigners, but trains and a car and driver should be fine.

sardarsamand Sep 17th, 2017 10:32 PM

I think I would add 2 nights in Orchha - drive from Agra after seeing the Taj, stop at Gwalior en route to see the fort/palace or both. You may even have time to call in at Datia. Have 2 nights in Orchha (Amar Mahal is a decent hotel), a good town to walk around/relax with wonderful chhatris (cenotaphs) & a palace. I would also add another day in Jaipur (I think you have enough time if you lose the second night at Agra & forget Ranthambore). Don't bother with trains - too risky with delays etc & no quicker than car - plus you have greater flexibility. Don't worry about safety - with a driver looking out for you & advising you, you will be absolutely fine. Indians are very respectful of foreigners and keen to promote tourism.

thursdaysd Sep 18th, 2017 03:17 AM

"Indians are very respectful of foreigners and keen to promote tourism."

Right, all one billion plus of them, what a sweeping generalization. I notice no mention of the beggars and touts to which tourists are subjected, most especially in Delhi and Agra, although perhaps if you are in an Oberoi bubble they are easier to ignore. (Don't happen to work in the Indian tourist biz, do you?)

Depending on the train and the traffic (not to mention the road!) a train can be faster than a car and the ride quieter and smoother. It will also get you out of that tourist bubble.

julies Sep 18th, 2017 04:00 AM

We are huge India fans, now having spent four months there spaced out between three trips. That said, I am not a fan of the typical tourist route such as yours because I think it misses the very essence of India--rural areas. An addition, you are planning to spend all of your time just sightseeing at all of the usual suspects. To really "see" India you need to have time for just aimless wandering through smaller town streets and market places. We love to do that. And, no, Chandni Chowk market is not a replacement for that type of experience. In fact, much as we love India, we were very put off by Chandni Chowk market.

We are also not Deli fans--just being upfront here.

Khajuraho, despite being a site of great artistic talent, left us cold. Orccha, on the other hand, was a place to wander and a place we wished we'd have tow nights rather than one.

To us, Varanasi in quintessential India. Take away the cell phones and plastics and many people are worshiping and behaving the way they were 1000 years ago.

We have both taken trains (another quintessential India experience) and used a car and driver. Both work. If you decide to do trains, you can always get someone from your hotel to both take you to the trains station and pick you up at the station.

thursdaysd Sep 18th, 2017 04:50 AM

Agree with julies.

I am not a fan of Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai, and I probably enjoyed Kolkata more than the other three big cities because I was there for a major festival. What I enjoyed most in Khajuraho was the neighboring non-tourist village, as the carvings, however impressive, became repetitive, but I was there in 2001 and I don't know that it would be so quiet now.

I found Rajasthan in general very touristy, aside from the Shekawati region which is not on your itinerary (is it your own, it reads a bit like an agency itinerary). Loved Orchha, and, of course, Varanasi. Some of my favorite experiences in India have been in Orissa, Coorg and Chettinad. Perhaps surprisingly I enjoyed Bhopal, from which I visited Sanchi and the prehistoric cave paintings at Bhimbetka. I'd also recommend the cave temples near Aurangabad.

I agree with mixing trains and cars, but I wouldn't want a car for more than, say, three to four hours, and do stay off the roads at night.

pasqualino Sep 18th, 2017 05:06 AM

Thank you all for sharing your ideas. I'm trying to work in an overnight in Orccha. However, the flights from Khajuraho to Varanasi may be the rate limiting step. Jet Airways has only one a day and is expensive. Air India has not even one a day and most days are sold out. So I'm looking at the overnight train as an option, which is really pushing my comfort level. Does anyone have experience with it? We have done overnights before – Beijing to Xian, Hanoi to Sapa, Krakow to Budapest – and had no problems, even enjoyed them. But this is India! Any insight? Thank you again.

thursdaysd Sep 18th, 2017 05:24 AM

The site I linked above has a lot of info on what it is like to take an Indian train:

https://www.seat61.com/India.htm

I have traveled overnight in 1AC and 2AC. You get less privacy in 2AC but more interaction with locals as 1AC rends to be populated with business and government types rather than families. If you book 1AC you <i>may</i> get the two-person cabin to yourself, otherwise you will be sharing. If you are in 2AC take cable locks for your luggage. (The Hanoi to Sapa journey was one of the worst I have done, I thought my carriage might have been coupled incorrectly....)

Buy your tickets ahead of time on cleartrip or through your hotels, Indian night trains book up. Otherwise use a local travel agency, or buy in the "foreigners" office in Delhi, ticket windows can be a zoo.

If you need to drop a location I would make it Khajuraho. I thought it was over-hyped, and if you are a woman there are only so many half-naked carvings of women you (or at least I) want to look at.

dgunbug Sep 18th, 2017 06:12 AM

Agree that you can easily miss Khajuraho. There are many beautiful Jain temples in India where you can see similar carvings and it is a long way to get there. We enjoyed our train experiences (including the overnights) in India, its all part of the experience. You should have no problems given your other train experiences. I happened to really enjoy our limited time in Delhi. There were many interesting sites to see there and I was not expecting to enjoy the city. I would definitely add a day to Jaipur and stop on the drive between Jaipur and Agra to visit the stepping wells and monkey temple. Contrary to most, we were not big fans of orccha, but enjoyed our overnight stay in Gwalior tremendously. We encountered far less begging there, enjoyed our interaction with the people and the variety of sites in town. Wherever you go though, you will have many unique experiences as India is absolutely amazing.

pasqualino Sep 18th, 2017 07:58 AM

I appreciate all the feedback - investigating it all. Dgunbug, I printed out your trip report (all 29 pages) and highlighted it extensively! The reason that we want to go to Khajuraho is that they have a week-long dance festival. One TA member said in addition to wonderful dance performances with the temples as a backdrop, they have a lovely craft fair going on. It's just an extra little perk. Khajuraho also gives us an opportunity to take a safari ride at Panna NP. While it's not high on my priority list, it does adds variety. That's really my goal for this trip - a variety of quintessential experiences. I don't want to over do temples, forts, and palaces.

Is the 1AC a two person cabin? I would never feel comfortable sharing. We always traveled with our children and had 4 person cabins. Thank you!

dgunbug Sep 18th, 2017 09:55 AM

I believe the cabins were all four people and we shared it. We were worried about not having privacy as you are, but sharing a cabin added to the experience.

thursdaysd Sep 18th, 2017 09:56 AM

See: https://www.seat61.com/India.htm#classes

As far as I know there is no way to guarantee a two person compartment although if you are a couple you have a fairly good chance. I have shared in both 1AC and 2AC since I travel solo.

One reason to take the train is to meet Indians not associated with the tourist industry. You will not do so in a private compartment.

Panna NP allows safari by elephant - please do NOT ride an elephant. (See: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...s-168996-2.cfm and http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...-elephants.cfm )

"a lovely craft fair going on" - I hope your bargaining skills are in good shape.

pasqualino Sep 18th, 2017 10:50 AM

Got it, thanks. I will look into the train some more. I'm sorry, but I would never feel comfortable sharing a cabin. If I pay for 4 tickets, could they still put other people in our cabin? (I recall reading this for other countries.)

Thursdaysd, definitely no elephant safari for us. We'll do a jeep. My bargaining skills are quite good, but my husband's are the absolute worst. He's learned not to open his mouth.

Dgunbug, I was looking at your TR again and read you went from Jaipur-> Galta Kund->Chand Baoli ->Faitehpur Sikri ->Tmad-ud-Daulah -> Mehtab Bagh for sunset views of Taj all in one day. Then you did Taj sunrise and the Red Fort the next day and were off by the afternoon. This plan would work perfectly for us. Did it feel too rushed?

Thanks to all!

thursdaysd Sep 18th, 2017 11:08 AM

"If I pay for 4 tickets, could they still put other people in our cabin?"

Probably. It is India. You might ask on indiamike, or email Mark Smith at seat61. I don't know whether the conductors take bribes, never having needed to find out.

Now I think about it I am not sure how you would do that, as I believe you need name and age for each ticket and will need to show ID when boarding.

julies Sep 18th, 2017 03:19 PM

We ended up with a 2 person cabin once in 1AC. But, it is what we were assigned as I recall rather than being able to select it.

As far as buying 2 extra seats, I agree with Kathy and highly doubt it. And, I think you would need to get an agency to help you do this anyway. India is so strict about security when buying train tickets I am not quite certain how you would go about buying two "dummy placeholder" tickets. I think I inquired about this once on a train for a daytrip where we wanted to buy a seat to make sure we had a place to put our luggage and was told it was not possible. The deal is with India when you buy a train ticket they even have your birthdate in addition to your name. (We had other passengers in our compartment even joke with us that they knew how old we were before we boarded because they had looked at the list printed out on the outside of the train car) I am not quite certain how you could make up all of this info.

In 1AC you would be just fine in a 4 person cabin because in 1Ac the cabins shut/lock..

pasqualino Sep 19th, 2017 09:45 AM

Thanks for the advice. I decided that the overnight train isn't for me. Instead, we'll fly probably with Jet Airways (Varanasi to Delhi). I am thinking about booking our flight to the US (Delhi to NYC) that same evening. There would be about 4 hours between the flights. I am a bit worried about delays out of Varanasi and missing our flight home. How reasonable do you think this idea is? Thanks

CaliNurse Sep 19th, 2017 11:19 AM

Your concern is well-founded. Account for the time to get off one flight, get through the terminal and international security, and be on board for the next flight. Maybe enough with 4 hours (I'm guessing you mean between posted arrival and departure times) but I would not risk it. I always allow lots of time between flight times on trips to India. It's just not worth the anxiety, Better to arrive into NewDelhi, relax, and spend the night at one of the many new (all built in last 5-6 yrs or so) airport hotels. Perhaps there's morning flight back to NYC?
Jet is the best of the local carriers, but it too is unpredictable. The VNS airport is quite a way from town, incidentally...account for traffic on the country road between town and the airport.

pasqualino Sep 21st, 2017 02:31 PM

Hi everyone!

I've been reworking my itinerary, taking into consideration not only your wonderful advice, but also the fact that I don't want to be in Varanasi for Holi. Initially, I thought this would be a great cultural experience, but I've read a few blogs stating it felt very unsafe –gangs of roving, intoxicated men, no women out. Please correct me if you think this is not so. Also is 2 1/2 days too much in Varanasi? I could easily fill 1 1/2 days (Sarnath, sunrise and sunset at Ganges, and a walking tour), but I not sure what to do the next full day...And lastly, I've been looking into the Shekawati region that thursdaysd mentioned. Any details here?.. As always, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

thursdaysd Sep 21st, 2017 03:11 PM

There's a little about Shekhawati in the "Deserted Kingdoms" piece here, although it's from 2001:

http://wilhelmswords.com/asia2001/

I have a very detailed book called "The Painted Towns of Shekhawati" by Ilay Cooper, you can buy it quite reasonably at abebooks.com (NOT amazon).

i would not want to be anywhere in India for Holi. If I were, I would plan to spend the day indoors.


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