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...or maybe India?

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Dec 18th, 2013, 04:46 PM
  #1
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...or maybe India?

So as some of you know, I've got another thread going about a trip to Sri Lanka & Maldives in December of 2014.

In grand tradition, I always have to throw that itinerary and destination--against some others--against the wall and see what bounces back. I've been doing a lot of throwing and there's this nagging feeling that I still have to explore some other ideas first before booking anything.

As a result, I've been meditating the past few days on the idea of scrapping SL and Maldives in favor of the ultimate: a trip to India. Something we've avoided for so long -- with no real good reason -- seems like it'd have more of an impact on us. So, yes, perhaps no India "lite" and direct to full-tilt, make my head spin India. Just need to kick the tires on a this a bit to see which trip seems like a better fit for us.

I need to come to a conclusion soon (tix need to be purchased in about 3 weeks) as to which destination we'll choose.

In stark contradiction to SL, there's a staggering amount of information about India here. I guess I'm looking for those of you who know us fairly well (and those of you who even don't) to give me an idea of an "ideal" itinerary -- or at least places to look at visiting, or something to get the planning wheels in motion -- if we were to have just shy of 3 weeks on the ground.

The Golden Triangle seems interesting and obviously the thing I feel most people would recommend -- but also somewhat cliché. I find all those places intriguing, please don't get me wrong. But I also find Varansi, Goa, The Himalayan area and Kerala just as interesting...and those are only the places I know something about. I'm sure there's a treasure trove of places I don't even know. It's SO overwhelming, I have no idea how anyone here ever planned a trip there!! I liken this to going to the US for the very first time and trying to choose, out of so many amazing places, where you're going to visit.

I'm hoping on this trip too to get a mix of local, interesting hotels and also--admittedly--some really jaw-dropping "wow" hotels. I'm a big hotel whore, so I've been looking forward to that aspect of India very much.

Looking forward to getting this dialogue going!
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Dec 18th, 2013, 05:31 PM
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Well, obviously, you are talking about very different places even though some term Sri Lanka "India Lite." As you know we love visiting Buddhist countries, which made Sri Lanka a great match for us. It is predominantly Buddhist, but with significant Muslim and Tamil (Hindu) populations. Sri Lanka feels more manageable as it is smaller and therefore easier to cover more of the country in a limited amount of time. We loved our time in Sri Lanka and intend to return.

Like you, when we went to India, we opted not to do the Golden Triangle area, but instead went for the Himalayas, specifically, Sikkim. We loved Sikkim. As dogster says "It's not India." So true, and in a good way. One of the first things you will notice about India is the trash everywhere. You don't see that in Sikkim. Sikkim is more ecologically conscious. We felt like Sikkim was a place where we could see Tibetan Buddhism still practiced, as Tibet has been so brutalized. Indeed, that was true. And the views of the mountains were just incredible. There are areas of Sikkim we didn't get to that would be interesting, We added Kolkata to our itinerary, and enjoyed it a lot.

We met a Brit ex-pat family when we were at Glenburn, who were living in Delhi, and she described going to Sri Lanka and saying "This place is so clean, you could eat off the floors." I don't know that SL is that clean, but I do understand the contrast she experienced with India.

You might find it useful to review some of our photos at www.marlandc.com

As far as hotels are concerned, I felt that Sri Lanka had the best boutique hotels of anywhere I've been.
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Dec 18th, 2013, 06:21 PM
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Not only is SL cleaner, it's quieter! When I arrived there from India I though I had gone deaf. But southern India is cleaner than the north.

I'm another fan of the mountains and of the hill country.

It occurs to me that you could combine SL and southern India - the temples in Tamil Nadu are spectacular, Kerala is good for a rest, and you could visit either the Nilgiri hills or Coorg.
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Dec 18th, 2013, 11:06 PM
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Completely understand they are VERY different experiences. I know India will be nuts. But, honestly, I think I'm on a bit of a high from Japan and I haven't felt that travel "buzz" since our first trip to Thailand. Sri Lanka seems like it'll be wonderful, relaxing, charming, etc. India seems like it'll be hectic, crazy, beautiful, disgusting, and ASTONISHING. I think that last part is the thing I'm looking for again. Transformative travel experiences are really high on my list right now--I almost forgot what it felt like to feel astonished by being in a country again until Japan.

I know India will be that. I worry Sri Lanka will be very similar to other experiences we've already had in SE Asia--magnificent in its own right, yes, but similar nonetheless.

I wanted to start the thread not to compare SL and India so much as to get folks' takes on what would constitute a astonishing 3 week India trip.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 02:22 AM
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filmwill,

My husband and I chose to go to India last year for similar reasons, only we had begun to feel that way about our European trips. This was our first, real Asian trip.

I have to say that India more than fit the bill for our need for a deeper, or, as you say, "transformative", experience - it sounds like you really do need to go to India, at least, to get it out of the way! If you don't go, you won't know what you are or aren't missing.

We were in Rajasthan, Agra, and Varanasi. Without a doubt, Varanasi stands out as a highlight, with all the activity surrounding the experience of dying -- but traveling through Rajasthan was incredible, too, with an amazing assault on the senses in every possible way.

I would love to return and go to the south at some point (it's on my "someday" list), but we loved our trip to India and embraced the chaos as part of it.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 03:33 AM
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Billy, you are correct in assuming that while SL would be similar to other Asian travel experiences. We enjoyed our time there, but it certainly wasn't transformative. With 3 weeks, you can cover a lot of northern India. IMO, Udaipur, Agra and Varanasi are musts. I would suggest a game park (probably not Ranthambore) to break it up a bit. You'll end up doing some time in Delhi - we appreciated our few days in the city, but not everyone does. I am not a huge fan of Jaipur, but it is worth 2 or 3 nights and relatively easy to get to. We have not been out west to Jaisalmer etc., but others will chime in. Do pace yourselves. Traveling in India is even slower than other parts of Asia. You can get around via car/driver, train or air - do what makes the most sense to you. India is astonishing but it will also frustrate you. Take it as it comes and let it assault your senses. You will not regret it.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 06:28 AM
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I was just searching for an old thread where we all contributed our "wow" experiences and those that were disappointing. My wow my be your disappointing and vice versa.

Sri Lanka was a "wow" for us. Japan, as much as we enjoyed it, was not.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 07:35 AM
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Such dilemmas...we are anguishing over our next Asia trip as well. India (northern plus Varanasi) was a tremendous wow for us. China was not. Yet now we are debating between south and southwestern china or southern India, Sri Lanka or maybe a combination of the two. We loved the foreignness if India, which is vetoing d fascinating.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 08:34 AM
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Here's the "wow" thread:

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...tor-or-not.cfm

IMHO Go to India!
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Dec 19th, 2013, 09:17 AM
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Thanks for finding the thread, Marija. I searched for it, but had to give up and get to work.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 09:38 AM
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Thanks for pulling up the old thread. I re-read my list of wows from back in 2008 - before my first trip to Asia. I've got lots to add now!
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Dec 19th, 2013, 10:55 AM
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Next question: is there an advantage (as there is in places like Sri Lanka or Burma) to using an agent to plan our trip? Things I'm wondering about are drivers, internal airfare and discounts/better prices on hotels.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 11:34 AM
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In India, yes, you want an agent, at a minimum, to provide a car and driver. That protects you should either the car or driver prove unsatisfactory. The agency will send you a new car or driver as needed. I've heard stories where people needed one or the other. If they used an agency to hire the car and driver, it was taken care of immediately. If not - they were stuck.

You will also get better hotel prices through an agent, and they will able to get you reservations at prime places when other sources can not.

I'm not sure there would be any difference in airfare, but if your flight is cancelled, your agent will take care of you.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 12:07 PM
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Thanks, Kathie! Is there a go-to agency that other Fodorites love? I can imagine there are hundreds to choose from in a country that size but are there any that get high praise on here often?
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Dec 19th, 2013, 12:18 PM
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Bob loves Castle and King, many like Legends and Palaces, and there is another called Panorama, I think that gets good reviews here. As you can see, I've been paying attention. Our 2014 Asia trip is up in the air other than time in Bangkok.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 12:22 PM
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On our second trip to India, we made all of our hotel and air bookings directly. If you plan on booking Oberoi's or other upscale hotels, you may realize some savings by going through an agent. We hired drivers only when needed and did it through our hotels. This worked out well for us. If you plan to drive multiple locations and use your driver for daily touring, it may make sense to book through an agent. An agent can also help you with train reservations. We had no problems booking flights over the Internet - we did use an on line agent (Travelocity, I think) for one flight.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 12:24 PM
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Castle & King and Legends & Palaces are the ones most frequently mentioned on this forum. Both have had great reviews.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 12:45 PM
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An agent isn't needed for train reservations either. I had no trouble booking through cleartrip.com.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 01:04 PM
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We had a very positive experience with castle and king. The owner, arvind is truly a gentlemen and couldn't help us more. We would definitely use his services again.
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Dec 19th, 2013, 01:10 PM
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Forgot to mention...we booked all our hotels on our own and traveled 8 days with a driver through castle & king. We were in India for 3 1/2 weeks and spent much of the time traveling independently using trains and planes. The hotels are a good source for local drivers which are extremely cheap. Even when we had access to our own driver, we often dismissed him for the night and hired a tuk tuk to get around locally.
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