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November/December--17 days in Northern India

November/December--17 days in Northern India

Old May 1st, 2010, 12:16 PM
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November/December--17 days in Northern India

I have been reading the India posts/trip reports/threads for a couple of months now, and like several others have selected Ajay at Yatrik as the agency to work with; I've also read a number of threads on India Mike and Lonely Planet, several itineraries from friends who have recently travelled to India, Alistair Sawtelle's suggestions and done research in the Rough Guide and some other travel guides. We're using miles for the trip and have been booked for a couple of months; when booking we tried very hard to extend our dates, but weren't successful. So as things stand now, we arrive in Delhi on November 27 and leave from Delhi early December 14, which gives us 17 actual days in India. We , however, still haven't firmed up our itinerary for various reasons. The tricky part is that we very much want to go to Almora/Kumaon, which will take up a few days at the beginning of the trip--and means that we get to Agra on a Friday.

Right now this is our itinerary:

November 27, 28--Delhi

November 29--overnight train to Kathgodam

November 30--Kathgodam--(2 1/2 hour drive to Almora)

December 2--Almora--staying at kalmatia-sangam

December 2-- 2 1/2 hour drive to Kathgodam/overnight train to Delhi/

December 3 (Friday)--Delhi arrival at 4:30 a.m./drive to Agra

December 4--Agra/drive to Jaipur

December 5--Jaipur

December 6--Jaipur/drive to Jodhpur

December 7--Jodhpur

December 8--Jodhpur/drive to Udaipur

December 9--Udaipur

December 10--Udaipur

December 11--Udaipur/Delhi/Varanesi

December 12--Varanesi

December 13--Varanesi/Delhi


I haven't seen any posts on this forum about the Kumaon area, but have read about the villages there AND about Kalmatia-Sangam, where we'll be staying, both of which sound quite special, and have seen excellent reports on Trip Advisor and Alastair Sawtelle.

I have tried juggling the itinerary just about every which way--trying to go first to Varanesi after return from Almora; after arrival from Kathgodam, rather than driving to Agra drive first to Jaipur then Jodhpur, Udaipur--fly to Varanesi and then to Agra--but flights don't work out; have tried cutting time in Delhi and Almora, but still doesn't avoid a Friday conflict in Agra so that we have more than one shot at the Taj.

And I've read the many opinions here about not trying to crowd too much into a first time India visit and understand and prefer that kind of trip (we've travelled a reasonable amount, high and low, almost all independently, but decided AND prefer to work with an agent for this trip). By leaving out Almora/Kumaon we would avoid the Agra Friday conflict--and time pressures, but haven't come up with anything else that has appealed as much. We're not going to try to go to the south this trip, although I'm aware some of the posters here strongly advocate doing so.

Also, it only works out to go to Almora at the beginning of our trip....

I may be missing a possible rerouting, and if anyone has a suggestion would love to hear suggestions...and if anyone has visited Kumaon region would be interested in your experience.
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Old May 1st, 2010, 12:52 PM
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I haven't been the Kumaon area, but since you seem to eager to invest a lot of time and energy in order to spend two nights at Almora, I looked it up. Now I'm really puzzled - what about it is so enticing you're insisting on including it in a first trip to India? Good to get off the beaten track, but why there?

However, if you really want to include Kumaon, I think you'd better think about dropping Varanasi. And probably Jaipur or Jodhpur as well. (BTW do you mean Alastair Sawday?)
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Old May 1st, 2010, 01:23 PM
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Why not fly to Varanasi on the 3rd? Then move everything else back, and take the train from Udaipur to Agra on the 11th or 12th? (or fly from Udaipur to Delhi, then go to Agra by car or train?)

Dec 3- Arrive Delhi 4:30 am, fly to Varanasi

Dec 4 Varanasi

Dec 5 Varanasi- Jaipur

Dec 6--Jaipur

December 7--Jaipur/drive to Jodhpur

December 8--Jodhpur

December 9--Jodhpur/drive to Udaipur

December 10--Udaipur

December 11--Udaipur/Agra on Night train 10:20 PM arr Agra catt 10:55 am

December 12--Agra, then leave for Delhi in the early afternoon by car or fast train

December 13--Delhi

If you prefer, you could delete that last day in Delhi on Dec 13 and add one more day to Varanasi. An added bonus to this one is you'll have one less hotel night, and can use the funds to splurge at the Amarvilas in Agra!
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Old May 1st, 2010, 01:35 PM
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I love these itinerary threads, because it helps me to think through my own, which I'm currently obsessing over!

That resort looks wonderful! But why does it work only at the beginning of the trip? My thoughts are as follows: Delhi to Jaipur and Agra. Drop Jodhpur and Udaipur. Down to Varanasi (either by overnight train from Agra or from Jaipur to Delhi and fly). Fly back to Delhi and then travel to the resort. And by dropping the two -purs, you'll have a few extra nights to tack on here and there.
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Old May 1st, 2010, 04:23 PM
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Just looked at your first section of the trip... I also wonder why you have chosen this place? There are many equally nice resorts that are a lot easier to get to. This looks like the kind of place that I would only go for four or five days minimum.
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Old May 1st, 2010, 04:47 PM
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We have just returned from India having spent twentyfour days there and basically covering a similar itinerary.
Firstly, it seems that you will be wasting a lot of time driving when, if you took night trains, you will save on accommodation and time. I would also recommend sticking with Jodhpur and maybe dropping Jaipur. If you are after three or four totally different experiences I would after Almor head by night train to Jodhpur,then Udaipur, back to Agra and then night train down to Varanasi and back to Delhi. The express from Varanasi to Delhi takes approx. twelve hours leaving at 7.30pm..perfect. Don,t think about missing Varanasi!
Good luck.
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Old May 1st, 2010, 11:01 PM
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Thursday's d: "Good to get off the beaten track, but why there?" (Yes, I meant Alistair Sawday. Thanks.)
********
Why Kumaon? The decision evolved from wanting to have a part of the trip include some time for "nature" walks--we were originally attracted to visiting the tea plantations, and also to taking one of the toy trains--the Kangra Valley one, particularly, but it really didn't fit in with the itinerary we were planning. Had considered Shimla--but a couple of the agents I spoke with nixed it, when I contacted Ajay/Yatrik--, he suggested the Kumaon Village Walks rather than Shimla. They sounded quite special--and when I looked into them, found reviews like this '07 review in the London Times:

"Until recently, visiting the Indian Himalayas meant staying in a hill-station hotel or in a tent on a trek. The first option means you’re a long way from traditional mountain life, but you have your creature comforts. The second gets you closer to the villages: you get plenty of creatures, just no comforts. Now, a local company has found a middle way, with a range of easy walks through spectacular foothill scenery, staying overnight in converted village homes.

At 9am [on the first morning], after porridge and tea, a young Indian arrived wearing a quilted body warmer and a polo shirt. He was our guide, Jaggart, a gentle and urbane chap whose easy manner made it feel as if he were taking us to see a new rockery planting, rather than into remote villages in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, just a few miles away from Nanda Devi (India’s second-highest mountain), Nepal and Tibet.

With our bags whisked ahead by porters, it was easy walking, downhill along the valley floor on dirt paths worn smooth by constant use. The first locals we passed were an elderly couple escorting a caramel-coloured calf up the valley. We stood to one side to let them by. “They are taking their animal to market,” Jaggart said, “and they will have been walking for many miles.” The happy couple cupped their hands towards their handsomely weathered faces and offered the traditional greeting: “Namaste.”

and it goes on in a very positive way--as do several other reviews. The photos we found also looked wonderful. However, for some medical reasons, decided against the walk (we're walkers and pretty fit, but were advised against the Village walks) and decided instead to use Almora as a base and do day trips/walks returning to K-S each night.
*********
lcuy: Flying to Varanesi on the 3rd works, but flying from Varnesi to Jaipur/Jodhpur or Udaipur requires flying through Delhi and none of the connections work for the same day. Flights to Delhi on the 5th are sold out at reasonable fares, so we would have to leave on the 6th, but wouldn't be able to make any of the connections. Perhaps we could take a late train to Agra on the 6th--hadn't thought of that--it would still leave us with only one chance to see the Taj on the morning of the 7th if we keep everything else...

I'm getting dizzy.
**********
Nutella: "why does it work only at the beginning of the trip? My thoughts are as follows: Delhi to Jaipur and Agra. Drop Jodhpur and Udaipur. Down to Varanasi (either by overnight train from Agra or from Jaipur to Delhi and fly). Fly back to Delhi and then travel to the resort."

It may get too cold to do it later in the trip; Ajay has assured us that the days will be about 15o--20o C. during the dates we've been planning to go, but the nights will be colder. The further into December, the colder the days I imagine.

My husband doesn't sleep well on overnight train trips and I think two is probably maximum for the trip. It would be hard to drop Jaipur and Udaipur...I've never once thought about missing Varanesi; have thought about extending time there--I have thought about dropping Almora several times. Ajay has continued to encourage going there--although he also presented alternative possibilities of Shimla or Darjeeling, neither of which sounded as interesting
.
I may be getting fixated, which I'm certainly susceptible to when planning a "big" trip. I keep, however, remembering our '04 Vietnam/Cambodia trip--the favorite part of which was Sapa, in northern Vietnam, near the Chinese border, doing day hikes from Sapa to the various villages nearby and going to great markets. Getting there and back was an overnight train trip each way. We only spent two nights and three days there, which worked out just fine. Almora/Kumaon sounds similar.

Grizelda: "We have just returned from India having spent twentyfour days there and basically covering a similar itinerary."

What was your itinerary? Were you in Uttararkhand--or in the Himalayan foothills? Where did you go? 24 days sounds terrifically luxurious from here! Yes, we are after three or four very different experiences. Doing several overnight trains, though, presents a problem, as I said above.
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 12:01 AM
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Fascinating post. I've been watching that Almora place/village walks biz for a while, so I hope you go. However, it's a madness, as you know. lol. Everything about it looks great! Except for the walking...

It's a madness - because you're spending all your time getting there and back, plus chucking yourself into the most -in-your-face Indian experience on arrival [train station/train], in a hurtle to find some calm, then, no sooner have you found it, it's back into the car, then the train... 5 hours [plus plus] car and 20 hours-ish train plus hanging around.. say 28 hours traveling all up to spend 36 at your destination, sixteen of which will be spend freezing, huddling under a doona. Some of which will be spent with a grumpy, tired husband. lol. {if he's anything like me] Mmm - why are you doing this to yourself? My rule of thumb is never to visit places that take longer to get to than you spend there. I'd say you were on the edge.

Actually, I'm NOT saying don't go. I'm saying GO, and stay longer. You'll achieve nothing with a rushed visit and everything with an extended one.

For two nights there you pay a steep penalty: two nights in a bloody train. So, on the numbers, it's not smart. With only 17 days, it's not an efficient use of your time.

That said, it'll be the BEST thing you'll do in India. Your experience there will be unique. The rest of your trip is standard shlep. Totally cool, but you're in The Zone and you won't be able to escape. I take your weather point [although two weeks won't make the slightest difference - it'll be freezing at night, really freezing, regardless] but you will appreciate what you're getting, and the train trip - way more if you do it at the END of your trip.

But, the more I think about it, the more silly it is. The others are right - there are a million other fantastic things to do without all that shlep to get there. You don't have time. Go rural in Gujarat instead. If you want mountains, fly to Kathmandu. It'd be quicker.

Despite thursday's enthusiastic championing of Indian trains, and regardless of all other good suggestions, I'd dump the overnight trains - and, regretfully, Almora. That frees up four days to have an amazing adventure somewhere outside Udaipur [my suggestion].
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 12:16 AM
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You know the temps you are quoting seem rather optimistic, as those were the temps we experienced in Shimla in mid-October. Looking it up, it seems you will really need some warm clothes!

http://www.bharatonline.com/uttarakh...a/weather.html

The hill station of Almora is located over a horse-saddle fashioned crest of a Himalayan mountain. Positioned at an elevation of 1,646 m (5,400 ft), Almora has an enjoyable but sometimes cold climate all the way through the year. ...... December to February sees the winters with lots of ice-cold winds, sporadic snowing and mist laden mountains.

The winter months are usually freezing and the temperature may go below 0o C. The best time to visit Almora is during the months of March to November. Though the months of March to June also favor picnics and outings. One will be very comfortable in Cottons and light woolen clothing during summers but winter will demand heavy woolens apparels.
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 06:23 AM
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520 - thanks for the explanation. I remember reading something similar recently (may have been a different area, though) and thinking it sounded cool. But you're not doing the village walk, and you're going in December. I'm planning to be in the same area a week ahead of you, and I'm having serious doubts about going beyond Shimla.

BTW dogster, didn't we just establish that you've never ridden an Indian train? (Aside from those luxury tourist things.) Don't knock it 'til you've tried it! I'm actually a bit surprised you haven't checked out the crowded life in sleeper class, although I'm happy in 2AC.
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 06:51 AM
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lol thursday, quite correct. Too horrible a prospect. I might add that 'Dont knock it till you've tried it' is an attitude that has got me in a lot of trouble. lol lol lol.

I'll tell you why I don't do it. It's simple, I realise - I don't want to share a sleeping cabin. If you give me a way of never having to share I'll go by train. Also, my luggage is not exactly a backpack. As you know, for a single traveler a suitcase, a carry bag and a 'puter can be a wee hassle in a train station. The silver Rimowa ain't exactly cool in a crowd.
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 07:19 AM
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Well, I travel with a backpack and a day pack, not a suitcase in sight, lol. I've only taken a netbook once, on a leisurely trip through France where it traveled in a bigger than usual day pack. Haven't decided whether to take it on the next trip.

It's true there's no way to guarantee a private cabin on an Indian train - you could buy two 1
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 07:24 AM
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Aargh, seem to have hit the wrong keys. To continue...

You could buy two 1AC tickets and hope to get the lone two-berth cabin, but there would be no guarantee. The one time I took a train with a traveling companion (the same one who shared the houseboat in Kerala), we got moved to the two-berth cabin.

And really, half or more of the point of riding an Indian train is meeting your fellow-travelers. Are you worried about the luggage or the sleep?
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 07:36 AM
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Actually, now I think about it, India is about the best place to travel by train with more luggage than you want to carry. Lots and lots of eager porters. And if you have a porter he'll save you figuring out where your carriage will be.

If you're worried about theft, take a cable lock. And if you're worried about shiny luggage, buy a cheap bag to put it in (checked plastic seems popular in Asia).
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 08:36 AM
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I'm too much of a wimp, my 20 night whirlwind itinerary - as it stands now - doesn't include a single overnight on a train. My lone sleeper train experience was from Milano to Palermo many moons ago where my discomfort threshold was much higher, and even then, the next morning I woke up feeling like I needed to find a bed and get a good night's sleep. Aside from that, keeping valuables safe while sleeping was a big concern.

It does sound like it would be an interesting experience in India. But I'm plenty satisfied doing it vicariously by renting the Darjeeling Limited
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 09:11 AM
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And if you're worried about overexposure just buy a nightshirt to go with your fancy socks...
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 09:53 AM
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"just buy a nightshirt" - yep. I take the top half of a shalwar kameez, change in the loo, and take my trousers off after I get into "bed". I also take a silk sleep sack, but it's not really necessary.
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 04:34 PM
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Just trying to avoid a replay of:

I was lying naked in my bed, the covers strewn around me in disarray, bits of Dogster sticking out uncovered, stark, white and skinny – I covered my vitals, still somewhat in shock.
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 05:36 PM
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520, I've been reading your struggle with your itinerary with interest. I'd suggest you pause and consider what the most important thing is that you want to do/see/experience. If it is the village walks from Almora, then build your whole itinerary around it. Agra, Jaipur, Jodphur, Udaipur and Varanasi will still be there next time you visit India.

We're planning our first trip to India for November and we're going to Sikkim and Darjeeling. I expect this will just be the first of many trips to India. Indeed, we're getting 10 year visas.

So do what is most important to you, and see what else fits with it rather than trying to fit the most important part of the trip into a standard Rajasthan itinerary.
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Old May 2nd, 2010, 07:15 PM
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The input from the various posts has turned out to help us focus our thinking. Thanks to all.

Dogster, your riff on all the negatives of getting to Almora, then concluding initially that it would probably be the most memorable part of the trip--but then, finally, deciding that the return on the time invested (although we would have about 56 hrs. there, not 36) just didn't make sense--given many of the negative possibilities--made me laugh and pretty much mirrored the back and forthing I've been doing over the pros and cons of Almora...but two things cinched the deal: when my husband read that we probably would have to share a cabin he lost interest in doing the overnight train rides (that, along with the likely cold weather and the clothing we'd have to bring for it)--then I, still not completely convinced, checked out Kalmatia-Sangam on Trip Advisor--again. I hadn't looked in awhile--and found two recent and pretty negative reviews, particularly about the service. Granted there are often a mix of reviews and experiences, but the combination of our limited time, overnight train in a four-person cabin, etc. etc. decided me to give up the ghost!

Kathie, I agree with your thinking and appreciate your thoughtful input, but the reality is that we're in our late 60s and although we may make another trip to Southern India, it's not likely we'll be doing ten years of India trips.

The researching and looking into possible alternatives to Almora, the twisting and churning of our itinerary took up so much time and energy, we're pretty much thinking of just sticking with our very basic itinerary but expanding our stays in Varanesi, Jodphur and Jaipur by a day each so that we can have the time to explore each place a bit...unless, of course, another tantalizing possibility presents itself....
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