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One month to explore India – practical advice needed!

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Aug 8th, 2015, 11:03 AM
  #1
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One month to explore India – practical advice needed!

Hi All,

I’m planning a month long trip to India (from mid-November to mid-December) and I’m looking for some sensible, practical advice.

From the UK, I’m an inexperienced traveller in my late 20’s and will be travelling with my partner. I have a basic to mid-range budget and I’m happy to explore and experience a variety of options with both accommodation and travel options in order to keep costs down (and research has given me an insight into what I can realistically expect)

From my initial research , I would love to spend time in both North and South India, but understand that will a combination of both appreciating what an area has to offer and planning travel around the country; a basic itinerary needs some careful thought

Is it feasible to look at spending time in across many key places across the country, or do I need to skim this down to just a couple of key areas?

It was suggested that I fly into Delhi, explore there; and potentially move around to other areas of the country from there. I do understand that I will need to make sacrifices to where I can visit, in order to practically get from one place to another, and appreciate where I am without having to move on too quickly.

I am purposely not suggesting any places on this forum that I want to go (as every area of India has something I would love to visit) and no doubt after I have been on this trip I will be booking subsequent trips to explore more of what country has to offer.

I’m a blank canvas and would love some of your experienced advice on what my trip could look like. Also any general feedback or tips would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance everyone!
kaxlee is offline  
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Aug 8th, 2015, 11:22 AM
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Being a "blank canvas" is not useful to those of us who might help you make choices between 1 area and another. The usual advice of spending time with guidebooks is more appropriate at this stage of the game.

Giving us clues in the form of particular reasons you chose India would be more helpful. For instance, what region of Indian food you enjoy, spiritual aspects if any, mountain or tropical, cities or smaller places. I like the tea-growing areas. How do want to travel?

In as diverse a place as India, where travel can be slow, depending on what you want to do, a month can be not as much time as it may seem to you at this stage. I like 2 months at a time but others can squeeze enjoyment from a week. More information, please.
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Aug 8th, 2015, 11:29 AM
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You will have to decide what you want out of this trip in order for us to be helpful.

Choosing a couple of main areas would help, like say, Rajasthan or the south or the northern mountains. I think trying to hop all over to see disconnected places will be less satisfying as well as more expensive.

You might find it useful to read some of the many trip reports on India here. Go to the top of the page and select India from the "view by country" dropdown menu and scroll down to the list of recent trip reports.
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Aug 8th, 2015, 01:01 PM
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I should add regarding the "south", there are several possibilities south such as Goa & Kerala coasts & backwaters as well as hill stations. And the southeast, including the former French colony of Pondicherry, now Puducherry, which I like very much. Also mountains - west or east?

There is no quick answer to your broad inquiry, unless you just want to follow the crowd. Then it is easy, and that may be, in fact, where you'd like to start. Nothing wrong with it.
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Aug 8th, 2015, 02:09 PM
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Greetings, kaxlee. As Kathie and Mme Perdu wrote above, the question to first ask yourself is : what do *you* want from this trip? You say you will return on subsequent trips. Do you want to regard this month as a time to see a lot initially, staying just a couple days at each destination in order to narrow down to what you most want to return to later? Or would you prefer to spend many days at one placmaybe 4-5 days at a variety of homestays-- in a more relaxed style? No judgment here--both are perfectly valid and wonderful ways to go about it!

It is certainly possible to see both north and south, for there are many in-country flights available. And/or, taking a train between places is a great way to "get a feel" of India.

Another idea is to search online, including here at Fodors, for recommended travel planning companies to give suggestions. I use the advice of Indianpanorama, but there are many others mentioned here and on other forums.(Check Indiamike and Tripadvisor forums if you haven't already.) Below is a link to a few "suggestions-to-get started" itineraries. The photos and descriptions will whet your appetite and help give ideas which you of course, whether using a travel planner or doing it entirely on your own, can change to suit what you want out of this first trip.

http://www.indianpanorama.in/tours.html
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Aug 8th, 2015, 02:17 PM
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Good suggestion, to consider an agency to put together a first trip. While I've always traveled independently, for my first reconnaissance mission to India I told an Indian agent ( http://www.indianmoments.com/home.asp ) what I wanted, stuck to my guns and ended up with a great personal package at modest cost. But sticking to one's guns requires having decided on which guns to stick to. Knowing what you want.
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Aug 8th, 2015, 07:15 PM
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To save hours of research and confusion, would recommend using a specialist for your first visit, both Crosscheck and myself used www.louisenicholsonandindia.com and you can read our trip reports.
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Aug 8th, 2015, 07:40 PM
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Louise Nicholson gets great reviews, but she doesn't really operate in the budget space.
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Aug 8th, 2015, 07:50 PM
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If you decide to look into using an agent, and as mentioned, I think it's a good idea for your first visit, do compare prices. Have a good idea of what you want to do, very specifically, and unless there's a good reason, don't let extras be added on. What I meant above by sticking to your guns.

You can often get better prices for hotels and guest houses through an agent so it can be cost effective as long as it's YOUR plan they give prices for and not theirs. But for that you must do your homework. Nothing about traveling in India is straightforward, but a good agent can smooth out the kinks and be available as you go, even if you discover a detour mid-trip you'd like to do. A good agent take care of it and there are lots of good ones. Talk to 2 or 3 before you decide. Give them each the same wish list and see what happens.
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Aug 8th, 2015, 07:51 PM
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Kathie--exactly, re "budget space." Not a criticism, just an acknowledgement.
Other recommended travel planners on FF (and elsewhere) do take budget into account--it is one of the first questions that should be asked.
Makes me miss Dogster and his sometimes barbed comments about the exclusive Oberoi type lodging trips. The point for Kaxlee is, you do NOT have to spend big to have a great time in India!
Mme Perdu--"Pondy" is one of my "gottgetthere" destinations!!
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Aug 9th, 2015, 12:30 PM
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Thank you for your responses so far.

As it is my first trip I'm looking to explore the more of the iconic (and admittedly more tourist features) that the country has to offer. As a foodie, I'm also keen to experience the wide range of cuisine that the different regions have to offer.

My reading so far has tempted me to the -
- Golden Triangle for the bazaars and markets, local culture and to visit the Taj Mahal, forts, etc (along with potentially an Elephant and or Camel ride/trip)
- Kerala - backwaters in Kerala, houseboats and the tea plantations

Could I squeeze other regions into the month in addition to the above?

From looking at transport it seems that the most popular options are trains or a taxi and driver... then a flight down to Kerala and then back to New Delhi - does this seem sensible?

I'd be happy to look into using a planner if this is the highly recommended option, but at the same time I'm happy to plan as much or as little as I need to be before I go.

Any further advice would be appreciated
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Aug 9th, 2015, 12:49 PM
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Please don't ride an elephant! Do a bit of research and read about why you shouldn't.

Other than the elephant ride, I think what you have outlined is reasonable. If you want a car and driver for part of your trip (and I expect you will) I think it is always a good idea to book via an agent. It will give you back-up in case something goes wrong (a bad driver, a broken vehicle). An agency will change out the car or driver as needed. Also, as mentioned above, a local agent can usually get better prices for you at hotels.

The best use of an agent is simply to book - and to give feedback about any things on your list that are not practical. I've used local agents in a number of places, but I've always planned my own trips. Sometimes local agents will press you to visit more places - don't do it! - as agents seem to think that visitors will feel they have gotten the best deal if they go more places. My experience in India and elsewhere is that spending more time in each place is much better value for money as you get to experience something of a place. Travel within India is hard travel - drives are long and roads are bad. You don't want too large a proportion of your trip to be in transit. My general rule is a minimum of three nights (that is only two full days) in a place, and I often schedule more than that.
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Aug 9th, 2015, 02:50 PM
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You don't necessarily have to fly back to DEL except as transit stop, if that-- from Cochin (if that is where you end up). For ex, I think Emirates flies from Cochin via Dubai, to London. Easily determined via a "multi city stop" online search.

Opinions are quite mixed re: houseboats in the backwaters of Kerala. It's become quite crowded, and you're going near peak tourist season. Research and decide! From many of the backwaters homestays, you can take smaller "country boats" for part of the day, into the narrower canals of the backwaters. The houseboats are too large to fit into some of those channels.

Do plan on (at least) a day/night in Fort Cochin, before or after a backwaters stay.
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Aug 9th, 2015, 06:12 PM
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Be very cautious about where you eat. Street vendor food is very risky, regardless of how delicious is smells/looks and how many locals are eating it. Don't eat sweets from the sweet shops. Milk based products may be contaminated. Not to be a party pooper on the "foodie" in you, but even the locals risk food borne illness.
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Aug 10th, 2015, 02:34 AM
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Kathie - Louise does operate to any budget, she is currently working on a 3 week trip for me for possibly up to 15 people next year who have a very basic to higher budget. Not sure why she has this reputation.
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