India Trip Report

Old Mar 20th, 2012, 07:59 PM
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India Trip Report

India Trip Report

We traveled to India in January for 3&1/2 weeks , split into 3 parts .

The first was a 7 day train tour on the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels leaving from Delhi. This was very enjoyable and covered all the highlights that I wanted in northern India. It is expensive but comparable to what you would pay for a similar itinerary by bus/plane in 2 weeks . The train does it in 7 days and you always have the same room while traveling overnight and sightseeing during the day. It also avoids road travel which in India can be a challenge.
The itinerary was Delhi, Jodephur, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Ranthambhor, Jaipur, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Agra then back to Delhi.
Breakfast and dinner is on the train while lunch was at a good hotel such as the Taj.
The rooms on the train are comfortable but compact with a bathroom and shower, the food and service was very good.
At each stop we would have a local guide and travel by air-conditioned coach. I won’t get into details on each place but just to say that Varanasi, Jodephur and Udaipur were highlights for us.,mostly due to the fantastic visual impact each makes At Varanasi you have to go out in a boat to see the scene from that good perspective what with the cremations, the people bathing, washing laundry and all with reverence to the holiness of the river. The whole itinerary was exactly what I wanted and really covers the main attractions of the so called golden triangle of northern India.

Part 2 was with Castle and King Tours a local Indian company, and customized to my requirements and choice of accommodation. Their prices were good compared to other companies I looked at and their service was OK but not without a few glitches which I suspect maybe par for the course in India, at least I will give them the benefit of the doubt.
It started in Delhi with 2 nights at the Saubhag B&B which is fantastic. More like a homestay at a very reasonable cost, the owner Meera Doss provides a very personal service with meals if you want, she even took us out shopping !
Then we flew to Bandhavgarh Park for 3 nights at the Nature Heritage Resort. This resort was a disappointment, not bad but I would choose another place if returning. In the park however we were fortunate to spot 2 tigers . The park itself is very attractive, full of game such as deer, wild boar peacocks, monkeys etc. In January the mornings are surprisingly cool so you need warm clothes for the outings in the open jeeps.

Next a long drive to Kanha Park where we stayed at Chitvan Lodge which was very nice, great rooms , restaurant, good jeep, drivers , well managed. Here we were also fortunate in 3 days to see 2 tigers plus a lot of other game. This park is also very nice , somewhat flatter terrain, a bit more genteel as compared to Bandhavgarh in that the driving is better,not as busy, there is a stop for breakfast and bathroom facility. There are some large open areas of grassland interspersed with Sal tree forests. Of interest also was the drive between these parks in that it passes through a largely agricultural area of India with smaller towns and attractive scenery.

A long drive to Nagpur (truly an anus of a city) and a flight to Cochin brings us to Part 3 , the southern state of Kerala.
Immediately we see a difference compared to northern India. Here it is greener, warmer, full of coconut palms, the streets cleaner with somewhat less traffic and human congestion. and as you leave Cochin city eastwards towards the Spice Hills and Western Ghats it becomes distinctly rural, with many luxurious new homes , apparently there is much affluence in this state. In Cochin we stayed in the Fort area in the Old Harbour Hotel, a heritage property, comfortable, very charming and with a good resto. The Fort area is where the Chinese fishing nets are and the Jewish quarter with many touristy shops and restos, it is pleasant to explore and walk in.
Another difference here is finding beef and pork on menus !
Our travel arrangements here were subbed out to Marvel Tours who I was quite impressed with: email [email protected] and especially our driver Sunil, tel 09496888081 email [email protected]
With the insanity of driving in India it is very important to have a good driver !
The Western Ghats and Spice Hills is a very scenically attractive area with the tea and spice plantations, mountains, lakes, rivers, forests. You can tour the plantations and shops selling tea and spices abound. Here too is a large park called Periyar which is popular for outings on the reservoir lake to view game such as elephant, deer etc which come to the shore to feed.
Our hotels were: Windemere Estate –near Munnar, very good, up in hills quiet area in cardoman plantation, rooms in cottages with lodge style resto serving good food.
Spice Village- near Periyar, large grounds with many cottage style rooms, nice pool, spa, special Kerala dance show, cooking demonstations.
Lake Song Resort on Lake Kumarkom, nice rooms in 2 story villas, a bit impersonal, no warm welcome although staff in resto very nice. Good pool and lakefront views.
Houseboat – through the so called backwaters from Kumarkom to Alleppey. It was supposed to be a premium houseboat and perhaps was but should have been cleaner and better furnished. however the 3 men running it were very nice, the food good and the overall experience was fantastic. These are unique Kerala style houseboats and there are many traveling these waters. I highly recommend this experience to anyone traveling here just be careful about which company you use as we saw a range of boats from pretty scruffy looking to luxurious in varying sizes. Most have generators and AC which is nice in this hot and humid climate.
We finished our India tour at Varkala Beach staying at the Hindustani Beach Retreat, for 3 days - an OK hotel with a great view out to the beach below. This is a beach popular with local people as it has some sort of holy significance. It is in a smaller town, somewhat touristy with many shops and restos on the cliffs above the beach. The beach itself is OK, the water OK for swimming but I would not rate it as highly as those in Thailand or the Caribbean

In summary we enjoyed India and were somewhat surprised at how much we did because we were apprehensive about traveling there. Arriving at Delhi airport is good as it is new , modern, efficient, and Delhi itself has the advantage of being the capital with all the nice government buildings, embassies, wide boulevards etc. We found the people to be very good, yes even the carpet salesmen ! Notable is the absence of road rage in spite of the horrid traffic congestion and driving conditions. In all our time there we never got sick which we were expecting after hearing about so many cases of Delhi belly.

We flew from Trivandrum to Colombo Sri Lanka only an hour away which I hope to get a report out on soon.

Bon Voyage. Christo
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Old Mar 21st, 2012, 03:59 AM
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Thanks for writing, Christo. Glad you had a good trip.
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Old Mar 21st, 2012, 05:11 AM
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Glad you enjoyed India.

Did you get some kind of deal on the Royal Rajasthan, and if so, how? Their website says it costs US $590/person/night in a double and $825 in a single, plus taxes ($24/p/n + 2.58%). I would have no difficulty whatsoever at beating that price traveling on my own, and at a rather higher level of comfort than my usual trips.
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Old Mar 21st, 2012, 04:46 PM
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Hi Thursday,
No deal on the Royal Raj I'm afraid, it is expensive but was still fully booked, other lux trains there are even more.It is a complete package however, with all sightseeing, meals etc included.
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Old Mar 21st, 2012, 08:11 PM
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Christo, loved reading your report, and glad you enjoyed India more than you'd expected to.

If you get a chance, can you write what sorts of glitches you experienced with Castle and King?

I too stayed at Saubhag and loved it. Arrived right after Republic Day . We must have missed each other by just a few days. I agree: Meera is great, fun, took me shopping for wedding clothes, and her cooks made the most fantastically delicious food! Did you get a chance to ride with Ghopi the local bicycle rickshaw driver?

LOL re the "anus" of India.There could be a competition for that moniker.

Thanks for writing.
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Old Mar 21st, 2012, 09:08 PM
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Glad you enjoyed India. Great report.
Seems you did it just right for the way you like to travel.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2012, 07:10 AM
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good reports.. i note you were not thrilled with many of your hotels... was this based on the price paid or the poor choices by the tourist companies?
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 08:22 PM
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Good report. I also would be interested glitches you experienced with Castle and King.
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Old Apr 1st, 2012, 08:33 AM
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Hi folks, sorry for the delay in responding, I missed the earlier questions.
Cali, we were at Saubhag Jan 29 & 30 nights, did you drink the rest of my Irish whiskey !?

Re. Castle and King glitches, I do want to be fair with them because overall they were OK but the first was right at the beginning so very bad first impression - when we arrived at Delhi airport they were to meet us with a car/guide/driver but were nowhere to be found. We had to engage the help of a nice agent from Taj Hotels (Sandeep)to help us out. After many phone calls and 2.5 hours late they showed up without much excuse. The driver again made us wait when he left during a lunch stop ! They did not recheck our flight out, which they had booked for us, so consequently they took us to the airport 3 hours too early. They also have not responded to an email I sent, which they requested, to provide a detailed feedback with photos. For our second flight they only rechecked after I engaged the manager of the Chitvan Lodge to contact them. So not as proactive as I want.
Is this the norm in India ? I don't know, even our luxury train trip had some bad faux-pas at the outset !

Re. hotels, there was only one that I thought was less than OK, The Nature Heritage in Bandhavgarh Park. The house boat was OK but the room not clean, I would want to choose another one next time. The Hindustan in Varkala was OK, not more. The prices were all good and I chose the hotels or at least approved of their suggestions although my first choices were not always available. Please note that I can be a fussy client! and this being our first time in India we may be judging based on standards not appropriate for India.

In summary for Castle and King I would not give them a failing grade on service but maybe 6.5/10 and 9/10 on price.
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Old Apr 1st, 2012, 07:07 PM
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Thanks for the explanation. We were seriously considering using the company, but your experience gives me pause.
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