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Please Help First-Timers to India!

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Dec 15th, 2017, 03:47 AM
  #1
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Please Help First-Timers to India!

Greetings Fodorites,

I need your help! My husband is taking our two adult daughters on a father/daughter trip to India and I’ll join them for the second week. This will be the first time in India for all of us. We’re independent travelers and I was a travel agent many years ago in my former life, so part of the fun for me is planning our trips, but I think I may have met my match with India! I’ve done some research, but not enough because work has been very busy. Other than the ghats in Varanasi and the Taj Mahal, there are no particular sights we need or want to see; the goal is to get a taste of India. Here is the itinerary so far. The long haul flights are booked from the US but we haven’t made any other reservations yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this itinerary!

March 16 Arrive Mumbai 12:20 a.m.
March 17 Mumbai
March 18 Mumbai
March 19 Mumbai to Varanasi via plane
March 20 Varanasi
March 21 Varanasi to Delhi via plane (I arrive at 11:55 p.m.)
March 22 Delhi
March 23 Delhi
March 24 Delhi to Agra via train
March 25 Agra
March 26 Agra to Jaipur via train
March 27 Jaipur to Delhi via train
March 28 Leave at 3:45 a.m. to return to US

Do they have too much time in Mumbai? Daughter #2 thinks they need that time to adjust, especially with the anticipated tummy issues. Are we trying to cram too much in with Jaipur? Of course, Agra is a must-do. Can we wait until we (i.e., husband and daughters) arrive in Mumbai to ask the hotel concierge to make our train reservations? The Indian train sites are a bit intimidating! We love train travel, but should we hire a driver for any of this rather than go by train (even first class)? Are we pushing it by arriving back in Delhi just hours before our flight leaves for the US? What am I not asking or considering that I should be?

Again, I would appreciate any advice you can give. Thanks in advance!

Ellen
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Dec 15th, 2017, 06:43 AM
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Put Delhi at the end, you do NOT want to risk missing your flight.

I would fly Varanasi to Jaipur, train to Agra, train to Delhi, although you could consider a car and driver from Jaipur to Agra rather than hiring one in Agra to see Fatehpur Sikri and the bird park.

For train info see https://www.seat61.com/India.htm

You MUST book ahead, Indian trains fill up. If you are only taking day trains 2AC is fine, and I prefer it for night trains but you may not. Try cleartrip.com, but read seat61 first.

You should not get stomach problems if you are careful. No street food. No buffets. Do not drink tap water or anything that may contain tap water, including ice. No raw fruit or veg unless you peel it yourself. Some people go vegetarian in India, where much of the population is also vegetarian.

India will be an assault on all your senses, your daughter is sensible.
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Dec 15th, 2017, 08:26 AM
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Yes, you are pushing it to arrive by train just hours before your flight leaves Delhi.

The other thing to know about Delhi is that the air pollution can be so intense there, that it is impossible to enjoy the city. On a bad day, the visibility is extremely limited, and breathing that air is scary. When I was there two years ago in February, on the first day, I was ready to just leave - fortunately a breeze came up the second day and cleared things out enough that I stayed. But - you should read up on the air pollution situation there, and perhaps be prepared to alter your plans if necessary.

Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer (alcohol based) in your pockets at all times. It's very useful for cleaning hands after touching anything. You can buy pocket-sized containers just about anywhere before you leave. Bring lots of them!

Also - one thing that I figured out while in India was to wear shoes that can slip off and on easily for the temples and mosques - and also that can be left either just outside or inside your hotel room door. You won't want to walk around your room in shoes you've been wearing on the streets.

As far as the water goes - don't drink it or brush your teeth with it or even open your mouth in the shower. thursdaysd is right - vegetarian is a good way to go. My husband did that and never had any problems; I ate fish and chicken, and I did suffer a few times.

India is wonderful - definitely an assault on all your senses!
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Dec 15th, 2017, 11:26 AM
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Though I've spent about 5 months in India on 3 trips, I confess to never having been to Mumbai, Varanasi or Agra. Shocking, I know but none of those has called to me. Which is to suggest there are so many things to see & do in India that I don't believe in the must-see rule.

I know why people go to Agra but I'm not sure why, on a 1st trip, one would necessarily go to Mumbai. Especially for such a big chunk of a short trip. So, why are they going to Mumbai? I assume there's a reason so to answer your question, the reason would help. If the answer is "because it's there," I'd eliminate it altogether, fly on to Varanasi unless there's a particular reason to stay, and allot the time to smaller a place or places, which I found easier & more interesting, closer to the culture I guess I could describe it, than the big cities.

As balance to scdreamer's description of the air in Delhi, I've never had that experience.
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Dec 15th, 2017, 01:33 PM
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@MmePerdu - when were you last in Delhi?

See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/12/o...elhi.html?_r=0

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/08/w...pollution.html

There are similar articles for other recent years. If you don't like the NYT try:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-41925067

Of course, this likely depends on the time of year. The OP is traveling in March. I have no idea whether it will have cleared by then.
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Dec 15th, 2017, 02:45 PM
  #6
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Thank you all so much! This is just the type of information we're looking for and I need to digest it. Thursdaysd, I started to read Seat61 and will get back to it. He has such good information. Please keep the thoughts and advice coming!

Ellen
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Dec 16th, 2017, 06:06 AM
  #7
 
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We have made three trips to India for a total of four months. We have not yet made it to Agra. I know for many it is a must see, but I am with MmePerdu; it hasn't really called to us that much yet. But, on our next trip we will probably add it to the itinerary.

Varanasi, on the other hand, we visited on our first trip and we found it to be quintessential India. It is an example of living, breathing religion as it has been in India for centuries. Take away the plastics and cell phones and one could have a picture of India as it was 500 years ago. I'd love to revisit.

It is going to be hot! Starting about March 15 Rajasthan really heats up. We were in Varanasi almost exactly the same dates you plan to be there, and we headed to the foothills immediately afterward to get away from the heat. That trip we flew home April 2 from Delhi where it was 104.

We much preferred Mumbai to Delhi, and I think the amount of time you will have there (really only two full days) is fine and will be easy to fill with interesting things.

If I have one major criticism of your plans it is that you are filling your entire trip with larger cities and the major places on every tourist itinerary. I am with Mme Perdu in that I think smaller places are really much more interesting and give a much more true flavor of India that what you have planned. Take a look at spending a couple nights in a heritage property in Rajasthan that is owned and run by the former minor royalty. It really gives one a glimpse of the life of the rich in the past.

For us, part of the experience of traveling in India is using the trains because it gives us the opportunity to meet and mingle with Indian citizens. But, I assume you know by now from reading Man in Seat 61 that the standards of Indian trains are much different from other places, even in 1AC (first class). The first time we took one of those trains (and we have only taken 1AC and 2AC), I said to my husband I think I may have taken this train 40 years ago in Europe, and it hasn't had a thorough cleaning since.
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Dec 16th, 2017, 08:32 AM
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You might want to consider one of the highly recommended travel agents in India to organize your trip. Off the top of my head, Castle and Kings, Panorama, and Legends and Palaces are all agencies that Fodorites have used, There ever others as well (and I'm sure someone will add them). An agent can get you train tickets, a car and driver and often, they can get hotels for less than you can.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 09:36 AM
  #9
 
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Hi Ellan,

Though i am a little late but you can do your itinerary something like this:
March 16 Arrive Mumbai 12:20 a.m.
March 17 Mumbai
March 18 Mumbai
March 19 Mumbai to Udaipur via plane
March 20 Udaipur
March 21 Udaipur to Jaipur via train
March 22 Jaipur
March 23 Jaipur to Agra Via train/Car. If you will use car you would be able to visit Fatehpur Sikri & Abhaneri Step well on the way to Jaipur.
March 24 Agra to Varanasi via train
March 25 Varanasi
March 26 Varanasi to Delhi via flight
March 27 Delhi
March 28 Leave at 3:45 a.m. to return to US
Some of the fellow members were talking about the pollution level in Delhi which is absolutely correct. It was pretty bad a few days back & it has started showing some signs of improvement. Usually the level of pollution gets bad in winters but it starts getting better as the temperature starts rising up. So i hope by the time you will be here in Delhi it will be good and you will have amazing time.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 09:54 AM
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Ignore that itinerary. Far too much moving around.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 03:50 PM
  #11
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Again, thank you all. You've given me a lot to think about. Kathie, I've come to the conclusion that India is my Achilles heel and that I need to put this trip in the hands of a capable travel agent. I will research the three names you gave me and we'll contact one of them.

This is why Fodors is so valuable; please keep the ideas coming!

Ellen
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Dec 17th, 2017, 04:02 PM
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In my experience, it's a good idea to have in mind what you most want to do and the pace you're comfortable traveling before you begin serious negotiations with an Indian travel agent. They, understandably, have routine itineraries and will plug their clients into one of those before taking uncertain requests seriously. So be certain of what you want, unless the usual suspects will satisfy you.

I prefer a slower pace and unusual accommodations in smaller places and found I needed to be quite firm, but ultimately got what I wanted and was very satisfied (none of the agents others have mentioned but I any recommended will do). I booked things myself toward the end of that first trip and on subsequent trips, which you'll find you can do if you want to return and want to make your own arrangements.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 04:14 PM
  #13
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I do have another question...to scdreamer's point about the water...are you including 5 star hotels in that warning? Also, do we have to be careful about which bottled water to buy? I read that it's possible to buy bottled water that appears to be legit but that's actually tap water.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 04:23 PM
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Assume the water isn't safe everywhere, because it probably isn't, no matter how much you're paying for your room.

I suppose it's possible to buy bogus bottled water but where you'll be it's probably unlikely. I've never gotten water-borne illness as far as I know. Illness, yes, but from food, as far as I can tell.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 04:34 PM
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I agree with MmePerdu about the water, unless the hotel specifically states that it has its own filtration system, and even then i'd probably stick with bottled water. Also, don't assume that food is necessarily safe in expensive hotels. If it is meat and it isn't piping hot, don't eat it.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 04:36 PM
  #16
 
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MmePerdu is absolutely right about knowing what you want to do.see before you start negotiating with an Indian travel agent. Basically, when I use an agent, I use them for booking only - i draw up my own itinerary. If you haven't used an agent before, you may find the process a bit intimidating. But remember the agent is working for YOU and wants you to be happy with your trip.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 06:54 PM
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Buffets are risky - even in the best hotels.

And, yes, always assume the water is not safe to ingest. Teeth brushing, in the shower, etc.

I've seen bogus water bottle-filling in films and online, but never observed anything like that in my travels in India.
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Dec 17th, 2017, 08:05 PM
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I have twice used TGS (headquartered in Jaipur although I have never visited Jaipur) as an agency and have been very, very satisfied with them. I also typically never use agencies, preferring to plan everything on my own, and only used Nikhil there to help me figure out logistics of the route.

We basically used the agency to arrange a car and driver for us. Nikhil was also very good in that he'd tell me if a train was a better option than a driver for certain routings. He would book or not book hotels for us; with a few exceptions, I mainly booked my own. He would also book trains and flights if desired; I booked my own once I had the routing and itinerary figured out with his assistance. Both trips we did our own very unusual and quirky itineraries and routes, frequently staying at out of the way, smaller, less-visited places. And, the one time we had a big problem, he saved me at the last minute because of the contacts he has. However, TGS are primarily Rajasthan specialists.

As far as water, I agree with what everyone above has said. We never ever stay at 5* hotels so I wouldn't know about that.
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Dec 18th, 2017, 06:53 AM
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Talking about the water, some of the hotels including the 5 star hotels have RO treated water, but i am not sure that all the hotels will be supplying filtered water to their water tanks from where you get in bathrooms etc. Though the water used by 5 star hotels in most cases is ground water so it is usually safe but for you people if you want to be on a higher level of safety avoid washing tooth brush, gargling etc. For that use bottled water.
Fellow members are correct on the bogus water bottles. In some places hawkers usually the ones selling on the street have those tap water filled bottles. When buying a bottled water either buy from good store of big brands like Kinley, Bisleri or Aquafina or ask your driver / guide to arrange one for you. Also, when you buy water buy in packs, you get a pack which normally have 12 bottles in it.Big packets rules out the possibility of refilling bottles as you can easily see the packing done by a company rather than an individual bottle.
When you talk to some Indian travel agents always give them your itinerary and then see what they are coming up. Travel agents always want to give you the things of your interest so when you ask them that you want to go offbeat, they suggest you accordingly. One thing that you have to keep in mind is that not all the agents have the interest in going offbeat places that's why they suggest normal itineraries. In that case look for other agent.
One thing that you can also do is to book the flight and hotels by yourself and ask the travel agent to provide you only car-driver and guide. When you have all the possible suggestions with you it becomes really easy for you to decide.
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Dec 18th, 2017, 05:03 PM
  #20
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Again, thank you for this valuable information and advice. I did write Castle & King after reading reviews and have received a detailed response with a proposed itinerary. I don't have a problem telling them what we want to do but I'll also take their suggestions seriously. There's a lot to consider - more to come as we sort it out. I'll be back with Proposed Itinerary #2!
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