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Really early India (+?) planning for 3 month trip - some random questions

Really early India (+?) planning for 3 month trip - some random questions

Mar 26th, 2011, 03:30 PM
  #1  
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Really early India (+?) planning for 3 month trip - some random questions

We go away for the winter - India has been on the list and we are now considering it for next year. Warning - this is a very early posting - many of the questions are of the how long is a piece of string variety.

We have 10-12 weeks - leaving early January. This will be our 7th winter away and we have a good sense of the style/pace we enjoy. We like to travel around for 3 weeks or so, then stay in a villa/apartment for 3 or 4 weeks, then finish up with another 3 weeks (+/-) of travel.

We very much enjoy history, art and architecture, wildlife....but probably most of all food! Eating/shopping/cooking/dining is a very important part of our travels - we learn alot about a culture through its cuisine. Needless to say we are very excited about Indian cuisine.

(A side note on the self catering portion of the trip - we would be very interested in a situation that has a cook who we could work with - i.e. shopping/cooking/etc - as we are less familiar with Indian cuisine and would love to learn, and not sure if our market skills would be good enough, i.e. language, lack of familiarity with ingredients, etc. We think we might get a lot more out of working with a cook/chef than going it on our own and would love opinions on that).

I've read many trip reports here and elsewhere, and have the Fodor's India guide (won at a GTG). Have a lot of thoughts/questions:

- we assume a visit in the North/Golden Triangle - that could be our first 3 weeks - apart from the usual (which will be the subject of separate posts) we are interested in the Himachal-Pradesh area (Shimla?) - could it be our 3 week self catering stay?

- Darjeeling is a serious consideration - we would like to take the narrow gauge train. Also a view of Everest would be fantastic (I think I have every book written about Everest...well, in the last 25 years anyway). Is this area a possible 3 week stay?

- Tigers! (and birds, for that matter) I have read many trip reports where people went to the various national parks and didn't see tigers, I wonder if we should focus more on other wildlife experiences - alternatives?/thoughts re tiger parks?

- boat cruises - having read all of Dobgert's trip reports....no thanks!

- Moving to the south... we are not beach/sun people so those areas aren't a consideration for us. I have seen some wonderful private houseboats in Kerala - is a week too long on a houseboat in that region?

- Tamil Nadu (and Sri Lanka) are also considerations although I wonder about the temperature/climate in February having read some recent trip reports where flooding was an issue.

- other suggestions re areas to visit and comments/suggestions regarding places for a 3 to 4 week apartment/villa location would be great.

For the latter part of the 10-12 weeks away we are also considering Bhutan/Kathmandu (although we are not trekkers, which is blunting the reason to go there, I think) Burma is high on our list but we are not sure whether it is appropriate to visit (have to do more research on that - have read conflicting opinions as to whether it is good to support tourism now or not).

Thanks for any suggestions.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 03:45 PM
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I can respond to a few things...

We did a trip to Sikkim and Darjeeling
http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...p-to-india.cfm

Sikkim was just incredible and it had the best Himalayan views of anywhere we've been. It would be a good spot for some of your traveling time. It is located between Bhutan and Nepal, and you could spend some time in one or the other as well. After Sikkim, Darjeeling was a disappointment. And our short trip on the narrow-gauge railway was not worth the couple of hours of our time. I know everyone is different, but unless you are a railroad buff, it is not a highlight.

About Burma... take a look at my Burma report
www.fodors.com/community/asia/burma-at-last.cfm

I planned and cancelled trips repeatedly over a nearly 20 year period before going to Burma (because of the politics). It was an incredible experience, and I'm now convinced enough about the value of traveling there (consciously, aware of your impacts) that we are planning another trip for this Nov - Dec.

Also, take a look at our photos, as they may help you decide... www.marlandc.com

There are lots of photos there... let me recommend our Sikkim photos, Nepal photos and Burma photos as being of special interest to you.

What a luxury to have that much time to travel! We are looking forward to retiring in a few years and having fewer constraints on our time.
Kathie is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 03:52 PM
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Just want to chime in say that AFAIK the floods in Sri Lanka are not the normal weather pattern for February. I wouldn't want to in the region during the Monsoon, but if you're looking to escape winter in January, February, and March you'll be leaving the region before the Monsoon starts. While is not possible to predict the weather I wouldn't hesitate going to Sri Lanka in those months (Jan, Feb, March). I had thought Sri Lanka would be similiar to India and hadn't visited because of the political situation, when I finally got a chance to go I perferred SL to India, but that's just my opnion and obviously there will be people who prefer India. In short, don't consider omitting Sri Lanka because of the floods earlier this year.
RJames is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 04:06 PM
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I forgot to address the Sri Lanka part, but I'd highly recommend Sri Lanka, and it would be a great place to rent a villa. Boutique Sri Lanka, who arranged our trip, could recommend a villa for you. The villas they rent are all rented with staff.
Kathie is offline  
Mar 28th, 2011, 01:13 PM
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Thanks Kathie and RJames - Kathie, what time of year did you travel? (to Sri Lanka as well).

Pictures are lovely - the early morning shot of the Himalayas is breath taking!

More questions to follow - any other opinions?

TIA
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Mar 28th, 2011, 01:33 PM
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We traveled to all of those places in Nov/Dec.
Kathie is offline  
Mar 28th, 2011, 05:13 PM
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The style of cooking changes region by region as you move around India. The only cooks I know are the domestic servant kind of cooks that cook in private homes. Generally, they don't speak English. Maybe Cicerone or someone else has more info on a tourist contracting with a cook.

If you hire a cook, you may need a different one as you move about the country. Also, you will want to make sure you educate them about how YOU want your food handled while it's being cooked, their hands washed, etc. It's not unusual for families to have the cook shower and change clothing upon arrival to their house before starting cooking. The cooks have a set of clothing that is kept at the house where they work. Why? Because the servants travel by rickshaw or bicycle and you don't know where they have been before arriving for work. It's safer to be clean.
Jaya is offline  
Mar 29th, 2011, 07:55 PM
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You have a very nice chunk of time, but you are considering a large area, so even with that amount of time, I think it will be a matter of cutting things out to fit the time.

I think you may have a hard time finding “self catering” in India, if by this you mean an apartment or small house/villa you would rent with its own kitchen facilities. Other than “serviced apartments’ in larger cities, and most likely Goa (see below) I don’t think you will find many of these options. (Kitchens in city serviced apartments can consist of a microwave and fridge, so may not be great for cooking in any event.) You can try vrbo.com, but last time I looked there were very few for rent in India (although there was one in Kerala which looked interesting, this was a few months ago so I am not sure it is there.) There are some B&B family home stays (try http://sawdays.co.uk/,) but to the best of my knowledge, none of these will give you access to their kitchen to cook your own meals. (A goodly number of Indians in the middle class and above consider the kitchen to be only a place for servants, and many a housewife hardly sets foot in her own kitchen.)

I agree that finding a cook to hire could be difficult, given language and other issues; however taking cooking lessons in each region should be quite possible. The food varies vastly from region to region in India, and a northern cook is not necessarily going to be able to teach you southern recipes anyway; so again taking cooking lessons in each region would be a better way to get exposure to the regional cuisines. I would think something like Phillip Kutty’s Farm on one of the backwaters of Kerala, would be ideal for you, see http://www.philipkuttysfarm.com/. Some of the five star hotels in the cities offer cooking lessons as well, or restaurants like Bukhara I believe may offer them. There are cooking tours of India, you should do a search or look at the Fodors book; I don’t have any personal reccos.

I don’t think you would find flooding in Tamil Nadu in the winter moths to be typical (after early December that is, as the east coast is rainy in the fall). Such marvelous huge temple complexes in the south, and the people are much more religious (to a mystical level), so the south has a very different feel from the north. You might consider including Pondicherry, where you learn some French/Indian cooking. It’s also a charming city with a good bit of colonial architecture.

If you like food, please don’t leave out Goa, which has a fantastic mix of foods. As you like history and architecture, it is hard, IMO, to beat the old Panjim area and the marvelous churches and cathedrals. Self-catering in Goa would be more possible than other areas, as quite a good number of Europeans have apartments there which they let on a short-term basis. Vrbo.com or holiday let sites may be helpful for that.

A week on a houseboat may be a bit much, I would say 3 nights, and then perhaps do a stay at Kutty’s farm for cooking lessons. I think Brunton’s Boatyard hotel also offers cooking lessons.

With regard to wildlife viewing, bird life is quite abundant in my experience, and as for the rest, if you go with the attitude that “if I see tiger this will be an extra, not the objective”, I think the experience is quite good. There are some parks in the north and the south so look at all your options. You have a good bit of time and could consider places like Corbett, which is harder to get to and therefore people with a short time generally don’t get there.

I don’t see Varanasi in the itin, but perhaps you consider that part of the Golden Triangle. As an architecture fan, I would definitely say to put Chandigarh on the list (assuming 20th century architecture is part of your range), this is easy to reach from Delhi, and you could consider going on to Amritsar from there. Rikisesh or Shinmla could also be included in this itin. I like Rikisesh quite a lot, and there are some wildlife parks nearby. I think cooking lessons in a small place like Rikisesh would be quite possible.

I think Bhutan is quite interesting, and don’t think you have to be a trekker to enjoy the culture and the lovely scenery. I am not such a fan of Katmandu, but if you get outside that large city, then the area is pretty. But I would still pick Bhutan over it.
Cicerone is offline  
Mar 30th, 2011, 12:58 PM
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Thanks Jaya for the insight, and thanks Cicerone for your thoughtful comments - much to mull over.

In answer to a couple of comments - yes I was considering Varanasi part of the Golden Triangle as it is so often lumped into that itinerary. Pondicherry was also of interest....it's funny, I find I am really interested in the south (of course we would visit the north) ... but it seems there are so many wonderful things to see.

Re tigers - yes, that is the way we would approach it...when we went to Africa we did not attempt to see the "Big 5" or a specific list - we find it changes the experience such that you are always chasing some elusive thing.

Re self catering - I have found a handful of places in the north that might fit the bill...they already come with cooks and there seems to be willingness for us to be active participants, but the timing works better for the south. So perhaps the cooking school route is better.

Of course the main thing we will want to do is transit via HKG so we can try some of your new restaurant suggestions - have some fond memories of Yellow Door!
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Apr 21st, 2011, 12:58 AM
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You should go to goa. And kumarkom. Good hotels are the Leela and Zuri. Mumbai is kinda boring. Or it's probably because I live here. Go to calcutta and Delhi. Jaipur is a good place too. We have a home there. In the north travel to Sikkim and Jammu.
Vihan is offline  
Apr 21st, 2011, 02:58 AM
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As an india newbie found best experience with

small group travel tucantravel.com affordabletours.com

India independent travel possible but more problematic.

Certainly you can do that if a savy traveler.

insuremytrip.com always wise

mdtravelhealth.com for health food water precautions

Delhi Belly no fun from personal experience.

Happy Planning,
qwovadis is offline  
Apr 21st, 2011, 05:18 AM
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Dogster, an intrepid India traveler, has compiled a list I've bookmarked. I don't think he would mind if I shared it with you:

fodors.com/community/asia/dogsters-list-of-secret-treasures.cfm

I like the idea of homestays. We stayed in a B & B in Delhi and enjoyed spending the day with an India family.
indianapearl is offline  
Apr 21st, 2011, 05:20 AM
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By the way, Elizabeth_S, my best friend from childhood and I enjoyed your Egypt report as we planned a trip for next spring. That's on hold due to the political upheaval.
indianapearl is offline  
Apr 27th, 2011, 08:46 PM
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Hi Elizabeth-I popped in this because a friend at my pool otday just told me of one of her friends going on thehouse boat in Kerala-she said it was the most wonderful experience-food cooked for you just relaxing and reading a book.
indianpearl-I too was impressed by Liz & Dicks report on Egypt/Jordan. We used her guide and had a wonderful time. Another Fodorite was just there end of March & used Ahmed also and there were no problems. (I think she said on Fridays they had to stay in. Egypts people are wonderful.
Have fun planning Liz
BeniciaChris is offline  
Apr 28th, 2011, 12:16 PM
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Elizabeth, re: Phillip Kutty's...we LOVED it--a fantastic place. Three nights/four days there was lovely, and perfect, and we could have happily stayed longer, However, the "cooking lessons" were not very detailed--it was more like three people taking notes while watching Mummy cook .. If cooking lessons are the main reason you'd go there, better off doing it somewhere , where there is actual hands-on practice. If you want an absolutely wonderful place with beautiful peaceful surroundings, great food 4 times a day, great company, that was worth every rupee we paid (it's not cheap) then PK should be on your list for Kerala.

I'll write more later about the rest of your thoughts, particularly the safari.
CaliNurse is offline  
Apr 30th, 2011, 12:32 PM
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Thanks again to all who have commented - it's very helpful.

My planning horizon has been somewhat shortened as I might have to firm up our flight portion sooner than I wanted to...so this weekend I'm immersing myself in trip reports/etc to try to wrap my arms around this trip.

Right now I'm thinking the following:

- spend the entire 9-10 weeks in India (and possibly Sri Lanka) rather than adding in Nepal/Bhutan/etc
- start in the south in early January touring Sri Lanka, Kerala, possibly Pondicherry for 3 weeks or so; then 2 or 3 weeks in Goa in a self catering style place and then to the North for the final 3 weeks or so
- Mumbai is still a question mark (although it may well be our arrival or departure point) - opinions are very polar

So...does that roughly work? Thanks for any comments.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Apr 30th, 2011, 01:30 PM
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If you're going to do south India you really, really need to spend some time visiting temples in Tamil Nadu. I'd also recommend some time up in the hills.
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 30th, 2011, 03:23 PM
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travelaw, who traveled in south India in winter, has a trip report you might find useful, especially with regard to the weather: fodors.com/community/asia/travelaw-escapes-the-iz-for-rr-in-south-india.cfm

It looks like you'll be spending more time in the south than in the north. Although I've not been south, I've heard that it's like a different country.
indianapearl is offline  
Apr 30th, 2011, 08:38 PM
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Liz-I know you are just working on air portion but I have 2 web sites for you on the Kerala rice boats. http://www.thestar.com/travel/asiapa...article/107034
www.riceboatskerala.com
Everyone that has gone to India I have spoken to wants to go back. It has not beconed me but as a traveler my interest has piqued. Have fun
BeniciaChris is offline  
May 1st, 2011, 08:50 AM
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Thanks indianapearl and Chris - great links!

I have been talking to a lot of people this weekend who have traveled to India - some very extensively - one is first generation Canadian (family in Goa) and another a long time resident who returns frequently. They and another person have raised a flag about the time we are considering spending in India "since this is your first trip". They are concerned that some people find India overwhelming and that 10 weeks might be too long. Do others here share that point of view?

Thanks again.
Elizabeth_S is offline  

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