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Off to India—Learned my lessons from you (I hope)

Off to India—Learned my lessons from you (I hope)

Feb 11th, 2012, 11:54 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Off to India—Learned my lessons from you (I hope)

Well, after about six months of thinking, researching, reading trip reports, questioning, checking out every India guidebook published (not kidding here), more researching, and planning we (the no longer leery husband and I) are soon to be off. And, for six weeks. But, of course, some of you will see SIX WEEKS and tell me I didn’t properly learn my lessons!

Because of some things that came up in our lives, we weren’t able to depart in mid-January when we had originally planned, and so I now have planned a new and completely different itinerary encompassing only the northern part of the country because we are worried about getting caught in, as one B & B owner put it, “the big heat”. Last minute international plane booking (not quite two weeks before departure) didn’t cost us any more than the prices we were seeing six months ago, so this is good news for others who might also be making a last minute trip. But, we felt comfortable undertaking such a long trip on such short notice only because I’ve already done all of the research and leg work. So, the major difficulty I am having with this last minute planning is the stupid train tickets. Incredible what a PIA this can be. So, that leads to….

Lesson 1—If you want to travel by train, book waaaaaaaaay ahead, or play the waitlist game knowing full well your entire plan could be blown away by failure to get seats on a certain train.

Lesson 2—Plan an itinerary that focuses on what you like to do. Rather than doing the same things that most everyone does (although we are still doing plenty of this) we’ve planned a trip tailored to our interests. So, we are spending virtually no time in the big cities, some time in smaller cities, and most of our time in rural locales staying at a mix of small family-run places and the more reasonably priced heritage properties. We’ll be seeing some of the typical tourist attractions as well as spending time in nature-based, wildlife and outdoorsy endeavors and just seeing the rural countryside and how people live there.

Lesson 3—Find a good agent. Normally this isn’t our style because I’ve always planned all of our trips on my own, but I finally gave it up this time around realizing that at the very least I’d need help with routing and arranging for a car and driver in Rajasthan. For the Rajasthan part of this trip (and maybe a bit more) I am using a very good agent I found who knows all of the smaller places and back-road itineraries. He’ll do as much or as little as we want him to do.

Lesson 4—Slow down, plan in plenty of down-time, and don’t over schedule. We only have a couple one night stays (and a couple overnight train trip), and many places we will be staying are chosen specifically for their low-key local excursions and hiking/horseback riding and safari-type activities. Plus, our e-readers are fully loaded with reading material.

Lesson 5—Don’t try to tackle too large of an itinerary. We’ve got lots of quality time in southern Rajasthan (and Jaisalmer in the west), moving into Madhya Pradesh for Orchha, a brief stop at Khajuraho, and then Panna park while on our way to Varanasi. Then, we will take at least a good one to two weeks at the end of our trip to move up into the foothills of the Himalayas for some relaxation and to do day treks (and maybe some homestays) in the Kuamon and Binsar areas.

Lesson 6—Still struggling with this one. Booking everything ahead vs. winging it. In other parts of the world we’ve found some marvelous places on road trips by just exploring and checking out the area and seeing what appeals to us. But, my gut tells me this probably isn’t as much the case for India. In fact, finding lodging isn’t the problem with spontaneity because we’ll be in shoulder season, and my agent tells me that tourism is down this year due to the poor European economy. It’s the train and planes that preclude spontaneity. We will have at least the first ten days to two weeks completely scheduled and booked. After that ??????

Lesson 7—Plan for the unexpected. I guess we’ll see what happens with this one………….

And, finally, from ClarkB, Lesson 8—Bring snack bars.

Thanks for all of the time you have taken to answer my unending questions. And, in a separate thread I’ll be asking one more question of the females—that all-important question of shoes.
julies is offline  
Feb 11th, 2012, 12:17 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,599
Great that you're going! Sounds like you've taken all the info to heart. Will eagerly await the TR - will you be posting from the road?
thursdaysd is offline  
Feb 11th, 2012, 01:09 PM
Join Date: Jul 2008
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Have a wonderful time. If you are going from Agra to Orchha, may I suggest spending a night in Gwalior? The fort there is very different from all other forts we saw in rajastan and the palace was also unique. It is a smaller town which we enjoyed very much and it surprises me that more people do not go there. There were also fabulous stone budhas carved out of the rocks on the pathway leading to the fort and several interesting temples nearby.
dgunbug is offline  
Feb 11th, 2012, 03:08 PM
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Have a wonderful time! I am looking forward to your report.
Kathie is offline  
Feb 11th, 2012, 03:30 PM
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Have a wonderful trip, Julie! Congratulations on getting it all organized after your long journey to the journey!

Your lessons are wise and will seem even more so AFTER the trip-- (e.g. how do you know now what you will like?) although i am sure they are based on your previous travel experiences as well.

I would book one night at a place, instead of winging it. If you dont like the place, you can always change the next day. What are sone of the places you've chosen? Tripadvisor may or may not be a good predictor of what a place is really like--which is why the "one-night" only for initial reservations, can be a good idea.(Example_-my experience at Sunbird Lodge at Bharatpur--which you read about)

As for "just seeing the rural countryside and how people live there"once you are on the road, you will see it...you dont have to searchfor it. One block of a village , one quarter mile of driving on the roads and you'll see how people live. this is what i like about travel by car (vs train). YOu can stop where you want. YOu'll see "genuine" everywhere, including the train tracks, as you watch people start the morning fires of rubbish, using the outdoor toilet, having a bucket bath, etc. As i've said before--it's ALL "the real India"

There is a bit of modern highway on the jaipur Agra Road--a bit of a shock to see cars sticking to the assigned lane. But it made me miss the more usual chaos and close-up looks at people along the road.

After your research you of course have preconceptions .Some will inevitably be different from what you are envisioning -both good and bad. Be prepared to be elated,delighted, energized, invigorated..and occasionally dismayed

Agree with Dgunbug's rec for Gwalior. Havent been (yet) but in Karauli where i stayed, the Maharani said it is wonderful to visit. (Having seen the amazing renovations she did at Karauli Fort and Palace, i trust her!)

If you are near Abhaneri in Rajasthan, it is IMHO a do-not-miss. Not just for the stepwell, but for the marvelous old palce, where an archeolgical survey is in progress, and the tiny village around it, the old man making little pottery tea cups that are used in the dhaba there, etc.

CaliNurse is offline  
Feb 11th, 2012, 09:47 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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This is the first post I've seen where the OP delivers lessons about travel in India BEFORE they go.
dogster is offline  
Feb 12th, 2012, 05:02 AM
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I appreciate the comments and will be checking out some of the places you have mentioned. Gwalior I already have tentative plans for. Karauli I had thought about but just don't know about fitting it in. Cali please tell me more about your experience there. Abhaneri is a place I haven't heard of,so I'll have to do more research.

As far as the question of how can I know ahead of time what we'll like. We've traveled enough all over the world to know which types of things we like to do. Obviously India is different, but I can make categories based on our travels in Peru, Vietnam, Europe, Central America, Mexico and the US.

Our current plan is to spent 1 night in Delhi (at Delhi B & B which someone on this forum recommended). Then the overnight train to Jaisalmer (could only get ticketes in 3AC so should be an experience) where we'll have 3 nights. From there to Mandore Guest House (small and connected with a NGO) on the outskirts of Jodhpur. From there our plans differ from most peoples' because we will be staying in the rural areas. Bhadrajun and Fort Dhamli for a taste of the smaller heritage places and their villages. Castle Bera where the owner takes guests out on night leopard spotting expeditions, probably dipping down to Poshina in Gujarat (thanks Dogster for the recommendation), Udai Bilas in Dungapur for our big splurge. Probably one night only in Udaipur because many travelogues I've read where epeople did the quieter, smaller, rural-type trip have mentioned that the noise etc. in Udaipur turned them off. But, we'll see; I am still flexible. Then, more of a traditional itinerary again for a while--Bundi, Gwalior, Orchha, an afternoon visit to Khajaraho on our way to a 3 night stay at a lodge on a river right by Panna park. On to Varanasi. Then, up to the Himalayan foothills in the Kuamon area.

Someone asked me about posting from India. Well, I have no idea about internet availability at the places we'll be staying, so we'll see.
julies is offline  
Feb 12th, 2012, 05:40 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
You've learned the important lessons even before leaving home.

Lesson 9
Share what you've learned in the field when you return.

These are good lessons for traveling just about anywhere!
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 12th, 2012, 01:22 PM
Join Date: May 2004
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you might want to reconsider the length of your stay at some places. It's fine to settle in for a bit, but also, three days in the middle of nowhere can be LONG! Just a general tip.

Some of the "heritage" places are in the middle of nowhere, and (having stayed ina few that were surrounded by the local village) there is only so much of interest after a day or two. Yes, hard to believe from afar, when the exoticaness of it all is enticing..but true.
Admittedly, I dont know anything about Panna, but three days on alodge on the river? What makes you want to stay that long (honest curiosity--teach me!!) . Well, u can switch plans for shorter or longer stays.

I have actually heard NOt good things about Delhi B and B from someone who stayed there (she also posted on this forum before her trip) I just stayed at Saubhag B and B, which was wonderful. You can have owner Meera's bicycle rickshaw driver Ghopi drive you for a look at a typical busy and interrsting city street (Karol Bagh) I think you are short changing yourselves in your avoidance of cities when you have the time to see them. One night in Delhi??? At least try to drive through parts of the city after the sun sets .There is something magical about the lit up dhabas and shops and people around the fires on the roadside.

I sense you think have to search for a certain type of experience (wherever in India) but you don't. Just a one hour drive down a road in either the city or country will show you that. Again, I am glad you have mostly NOT locked yourself into a set in stone itin.Very wise, julie.

Abhaneri is amazing, not just for the step well, but for the small surrounding 9th century palace/fort and TINY village.

Karauli--NOT one of those refurbished $500 night heritage places. This is the real thing , with a sense of its age. SOme of the plumbing looks like it is the original from the "modernization" of the 1930s No granite countertops! The Maharani and Maharajah and their son live in the palace (a commonly used word in India--mansion is more what i would say) IF you stay, request a suite, not one of the basic rooms. And the town of Karauli, with its amazing old fort/place--incredible!!- and winding market streets.. But it is a long drive perhaps off your planned itin, although as you get closer (after Hindaun town) the roadside becomes increasingly rural, friendly and staring people, mud plaster houses and farms, the usual camels, horses, cows, goats, everywhere. But, again, this is a scene you will find in many of your travels.
CaliNurse is offline  
Feb 14th, 2012, 07:58 AM
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Oooooh. Not good things about Delhi B& B! They've been quite prompt in responding to my inquiries. I haven't finalized my payment yet, so I'll also look into your suggestion for an alternate. And, I was kind of surprised when their website asks guests NOT to post reviews about them on the internet. Definitely different from most places in India who seem dying to get their name out there. Actually, I have left the tail end of our trip open thinking if we like what we see in our brief overnight in Delhi we can add it on before we fly home.

Our plan is to see Khajuraho during the day and then arrive for 3 nights at Ken River Lodge which is 30-45 minutes from Khajuraho. http://www.kenriverlodge.com/ It's rustic (right up our alley) rather than luxurious and right by Panna's entrance. The place offers the typical land safaris into the park but also offers boat rides and outings on the river to see things from that vantage, plus some walks. It is a lesser visited park because the focus isn't on tigers. Plus, supposedly it has a nice location for just sitting by the river and relaxing with a book and a drink. Since we have so long, we are definitely trying to build in some down time.

Actually I don't have any 3 night stays planned in rural areas other than when we are up on the Himalayan foothills specifically to do hiking from a base. No, I don't think I need to specifically search out the flavor of rural India since I know it will be all around. Rather, I am looking for places that offer different types of activities and experiences. The agent I am using has been very good about telling me if a place will be repetitious and provide basically be more of the same as other places we are visiting.

Thanks for your help.
julies is offline  
Feb 14th, 2012, 11:50 AM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 4,392
Have a great time Julie!!! Your explanations make lots of sense--well thought out. And you are VERY smart to have some flexibiliy in there.

I envy your tip up to the Kumaon hill area. I've loved the "hill sations" i've been to in Himachal and Tamil Nadu. So looking forward to your reports of that area.

Who is your agent? He sounds excellent. Is it someone from this forum, or have you rec'd other recommendations and chosen. If you are happy with the service thus far, definitely get his name out to us!
CaliNurse is offline  

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