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Solo or group tour for first trip to India?

Solo or group tour for first trip to India?

Nov 14th, 2017, 01:15 PM
  #41  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
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I flew into Cochin, and out of Chennai, so yes, it worked out fine. My itinerary took two weeks, and my driver told me that it's a typical time frame. Chennai had the biggest traffic mess I have even seen, so unless you are visiting relatives, minimize your time there.

Ditto with Sartoric about the two walking tours in Madurai, arranged by Indian Panorama. They were the highlight of my trip.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Nov 14th, 2017, 03:22 PM
  #42  
 
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Hi"Princess" CalifLady!!! I thought Saneesh was also a highlight?
Based on your and Sartoric's recommendations, the Madurai walking tours are on my list when finally getting to that part of Tamil Nadu.
Annhig, in earlier discussion of solo vs group, and related to my statement about lodging costs, the one disadvantage of traveling solo is not having someone or a group with whom to split cost. Hotels and transport will be essentially similar, whether with one to a room and vehicle, or two to a room or vehicle. Still, worth the additional one-person cost I think, depending on who travel mates are!
If you decide on Tamil Nadu and Kerala, there are many, many wonderful reports, as you've seen. If you wNt more photos, check rje's trip report (the south India segment) which details in a fun and interesting way, and includes many pix.
CaliNurse is offline  
Nov 14th, 2017, 05:31 PM
  #43  
 
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Ha ha CaliNurse, Saneesh was the Kerala highlight, and the Madurai walking tours were the Tamil Nadu highlights. Got out of that one, didn't I?

I agree that there is some guilt associated with travelling solo with a driver--it seemed so bourgeois. In fact, my driver, who had been taking tourists around for nineteen years, told me I was his first solo client. However, I did ask for the smallest car to save money (the equivalent of a Toyota Corolla), and I also stayed in non-fancy hotels.

I ran into an American tour group near Chettinad, and there was a lady whose husband felt uncomfortable travelling to third world countries, so she decided to join a tour. I don't know whether or not she was enjoying the tour, but I prefer the independence and I doubt it cost me much more.
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Nov 15th, 2017, 10:11 AM
  #44  
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Annhig, you've not yet bought the round-trip ("return" as you Brits say ) plane tix, correct? >>

Correct, calinurse. I have spent quite a lot of time playing with round trip tickets to LHR to Chennai, into Chennai and out of Kochi [you have to be careful as there's a Japanese city of the same name!] and into Kochi and out of Chennai. As others have noted, all long haul flights into and out of Kochi require a stop off somewhere anyway, and the round trip to Chennai is by far the cheapest option, [with no stop offs] so it seems to me to make sense to do the round trip and take a cheap internal flight a couple of days before the end of the trip so that I can do some ferreting around in Chennai when with any luck I will have acclimatised myself.

Based on all the reading I have done, and with many thanks to all for the tips, advice and invaluable TRs, I've come up with the following itinerary: [arriving Chennai at about 6am] drive to Pondicherry via Mamallaprum, stay 2 nights, then Tanjore - Chettinad - Madurai - Periya - somewhere in the hills - Cochin - Chennai - early flight home. At the moment I have 2 nights in every place, but there may be some where a 3 or a 1 night might be better. [in the hills for example] I don't want to stay on a houseboat or even by the waterways in Kerela; I think that would get quite bored being there by myself. I would rather stay in/near a town and go out into the countryside for day trips.

today, BTW, I heard from the tour company who were quoting me an extra £2K for an upgrade to "business class" when I know I asked them to quote for premium economy. Am I looking for excuses to cancel? yes, probably.

My worry is that perhaps I am doing this too soon, and that I should wait till next November/December but Jan/Feb in Cornwall is grim and I'm not sure that I will get through the winter without a trip somewhere, and this is something I've always wanted to do. Doth the lady protest too much? And yes, I know that this is something I have to decide for myself.
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Nov 15th, 2017, 10:46 AM
  #45  
 
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Your trip plan looks good. Makes me want to go again.

However, if you are afraid you are doing something too exotic too soon, how about somewhere warm and more familiar... Canaries are the warmest place in Europe for January/Feb. Save India for when you have more emotional energy.
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Nov 15th, 2017, 11:17 AM
  #46  
 
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Nice might be good, too - that's where the rich Brits (and Russians) used to spend the winter. Along with Pau.

With your suggested itinerary I would urge you to reconsider all those two nighters. India is exhausting, and travel is slow. Remember those roads in Sri Lanka? Indian roads can be much, much worse, and definitely much noisier.
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 15th, 2017, 09:22 PM
  #47  
 
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"...this is something I've always wanted to do."

In that case..IMHO. go for it! I know, easier said than done, accompanied by the inevitable second-guessing which is part of every pretrip period. As you acknowledge, only you can say whether it's too soon, but in fact, you won't know for sure 'til you're there. Always with trips, there's the gambling element! But I'll wager you will not regret going. Sure, a day of "I'm really here??!!"but after that, I suspect it will fall into place, however and whenever you do it. India always lifts my spirits. It's all-encompassing and intense (usually in good ways!) its people warm, welcoming, protective, and interested in talking. The atmosphere takes you out of yourself. It's impossible to not smile at the sight of Indian school kids squashed together in a tuktuk or donkey-drawn cart, as they wave to you. Or a family approaches and asks "What is your good name?" and then wonders if you'll be in a multi-generation photo shoot with them! Everyone has places that "grab" them emotionally. For me, and I hope for you, India is one.

Because my first India trip was with friends, then decades later, two fantastic trips with daughter, I wondered in the following trips if I'd still love the country and should spend time and effort to be there alone. For sure there were and are times where the great enjoyment leads to "Oh, if only I could be sharing this moment!" But I never regretted the decision to proceed alone. My most recent trip was earlier this year to Gujarat and again, I didnt regret the "solo"ness, despite having moments of " ....would love this!"

Re: concern you might be bored on the backwaters (idea for a novel title?) ...check CaliforniaLady's trip report where iirc, she talks about how much she enjoyed having a wander in town alone, and to the local village, during her two night/days in a homestay along the Alleppey area's backwaters/canals. (Speaking for myself, I had three nights at Philipkuttys Farm in a section of the backwaters called "Lake Vembanad" and not a dull moment --although granted, that was with my daughter.) In two nights only--which means only one one full and parts of two days, I doubt you'll be bored anywhere on your described route. Another iirc--Sartoric thought two nights along the backwaters was plenty, but that might have had something to do with beer availability

I don't think on your tentative itinerary, two nights per place is too rushed given the total number of nights you have, and sonce you have concerns about boredom. There may even be places that are fine with only a one-night stopover en route between other areas. Thursdaysd mentions the state of Indian roads (especially considering the drivers!) and she's correct, but in two trips to Kerala, and the northern part of Tamil Nadu (which is not on your current itin) the roads between towns were easier than within big typically chaotic cities. There are not a lot of super-busy huge cities on your route, although you'll certainly get a taste of craziness.

Speaking of roads, there are some wind-ing sections in hill areas, so when /if you go, if prone to motion sickness, bring meclizine (generic) or take Fodorite Progol's oft-stated travel advice to place a scopolamine patch.This saved my head and stomach in northern Kerala!

Interesting that you have a stop in Pondicherry, as one of the Indian Archives offices (I think for TN state) is there. Would its archives contain helpful Information for you? Perhaps "Google" or one of Loncali's links will have better leads.

Finally, apologies to CaliforniaLady, as I apparently wasn't clear about a possible drawback to traveling solo. I feel happy and fortunate, but neither guilty nor bourgeois, traveling alone. I meant only (but may not have expressed it well) that one disadvantage of traveling solo is that there's no one with whom to split costs for lodging and transport. In India there's quite a mixture of lodging prices and types, with family-run heritage places and homestays, or small restored hotels/guest houses.
CaliNurse is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 12:09 AM
  #48  
 
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Everyone is different but I personally gained a lot more than I would otherwise have done from my trip to India because I had had the chance to read around some of the history and religious beliefs etc and watch various videos etc [e.g. Michael Woods story of India that has already been mentioned.]

So, in the event that you decide to delay your trip to the back end of 2018, you can still have all the fun and enjoyment of doing lots of leisurely background research throughout the year thus motivating to get through the winter !

Maybe also a short weekend [or in between choir rehearsals] trip to somewhere cheap and cheerful in the early spring to keep you going? Bilbao fits that brief well if you have not been there !
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Nov 16th, 2017, 05:51 AM
  #49  
 
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You must, of course, decide yourself when the best time to go will be. I'm a no-time-like-the -present sort of person, as we all know well what happens when we don't give our hearts' desires top priority.

I write this from Luxor with the sound of children playing in the alley below my apartment window. After thinking about Egypt for 45 years, since my son was a year old, reading trip reports earlier this year convinced me it was the perfect time. Weather-wise the choice came down to November or for my birthday in March. But having decided to go, I simply could not wait. I think in the back of my mind was the idea that something could intervene to stop me, though nothing has ever stopped me going anywhere before. I simply did not want to wait. I don't think patience is much of a virtue when it comes to taking a trip, especially at this stage of my life.
MmePerdu is online now  
Nov 16th, 2017, 06:18 AM
  #50  
 
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There is always the possibility that something may happen. I have been unable to travel this year, and it looks like I may not be able to next year either. That said, India is not easy travel, and if you are feeling sub-par it is not the best place to visit.

CaliNurse's view of India is more rose-colored than mine, but that may because I have not traveled there with a dedicated car and driver.

This is a pretty good summary of my view of India:

"Distance lends enchantment to the view… You remember the pleasure and forget the pain… Cliches are cliches because they’re true. December 2001, after ten weeks in India, traveling mostly by rail and rickshaw, I couldn’t wait to leave. Now I was going back, remembering just the incredible diversity, the vibrant colors and tastes, the magnificent forts and palaces and temples, and the long, long history. Almost immediately, everything I hate most about India brought me back to the reality that all is not good any more than all is bad. The ridiculously chaotic traffic, with constant honking and no lane discipline. The dirt and trash in the streets, with the fragmentary sidewalks used as public urinals. The ugly concrete buildings with hole in the wall shops. Dubious sanitation."

I should add the beggars and the incredibly persistent touts although they are not as bad in the south. The attempted scams. And the misogyny. A dedicated car with the right driver will protect you from a lot of those issues.
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 07:15 AM
  #51  
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Thank you all for all your very thoughtful responses. Thursdays - you are perhaps the most dedicated [female] solo traveller I have come across here [apologies to others if I've got that wrong] so I value your advice greatly. There is no way that I could do what you have done however, and having done a trip in SL with a car and driver, I think I have a reasonable idea of what to expect from that aspect. Drives in SL though rarely boring were often long and arduous, even when the distances were short, and I'm not expecting India to be any better. There was some begging there, usually by people who thought that you ought to be using their guiding services, but I shall have my own guides when I want them [which I suspect will be more often than when travelling as a couple]. My main concern is about the evenings - spending 15 evenings by myself does not seem like a lot of fun, hence my original idea of doing a group tour, which would give me ready made companions. But I think that I have read enough about that to realise that it's probably not for me; the long cash journeys are very off-putting.

Loncall - the idea of waiting a while appeals, while I get used to my single state and feel more comfortable with it. Also more time to plan, though I already have as good an idea in my head at this stage as I often had when we were travelling together.

And Calinurse and gertie - thank you for the encouragement. You both make excellent points.

Which brings me to Mme P - Egypt! what sort of trip are you doing? A Nile cruise would provide interest and companionship [and a possible brush with M. Poirot!] another thing I always wanted to do, but DH wasn't interested. Great idea!!!

[and yes, I do know that I'm a bit "all over the place" at the moment, but I hope you understand why. Thank you all for your patience].
annhig is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 09:10 AM
  #52  
 
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As usual, I've planned & booked this one myself, with a guide 2 of 3 days in Cairo which turned out to be a good idea for a variety of reasons, though I rarely have in the past. Also a variety of accommodations depending on where, not unlike my India trips actually, apartment as mentioned, also guest house, botique hotel, mid-range hotel and a one fancy one. Plus the boat and I have no idea what I'll find in the way of company there. I really just want to float, literally and figuratively. There will be more guides before I'm through, for information & context and sometimes just so I'll be left in peace to take my photos for the website.

Having spent some months in india on 3 trips, I really couldn't begin to guess which might be better for you in your circumstances. The monuments are one thing here, the state of the country another. As I haven't been here when the tourist cash was flowing it's difficult to say whether the appearance of things has slipped, though I suspect it's always been rough off the tourist path. I'm particularly interested in historic houses everywhere, you may remember, and my Cairo guide was horrified at the state of some he hadn't seen in years.

All to say india may be a more cheerful place all in all or if you did think of coming here I'd suggest staying in top end places and not wander around too much as I feel compelled to do. In another couple of weeks I'll have more perspective and will post a link when the blogs go up. Writing them helps me sort out how I feel about what I've done.

it seems to me that 2 weeks isn't a great deal of time to be away from the comforts of home. Easy for me to say, I know, but I suugest you not be afraid to use it as a sampler trip to see somewhere, like India, so stimulating as to make you forget sadness if only some of the time. I'd go with your first thoughts which are good ones, I think.
MmePerdu is online now  
Nov 16th, 2017, 10:58 AM
  #53  
 
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Annhig. I think that at this stage you should feel really very proud of being as you write "a bit all over the place".

Every different scenario you are considering gives you a tiny glimpse of various exciting future options that you might, or might not, want to pursue. It must feel a little chaotic and scary but I feel it is so much better than if you were having no thoughts about future possibilities at all.

On the 'eating alone for 15 nights' front I would suggest you factor in some upmarket homestay type places where you would typically eat very good local food with other guests around a single large table. Even for a real intorvert like me this can turn out to be most convivial with people from different countries and with different langauges all chipping in, but if it irritates, you know you only have to tolerate your fellow guests for one or two nights !

Whilst it is many years since I traversed South India solo my more recent experience suggests that small hotels in India such as Jas Vilas in Jaipur felt very homely as well. Whilst in these venues you might have your own table I suspect it is likely that both the servers and the owner would have a friendly word with you so that you felt part of the general social ambience rather than set aside as a solitary diner.

Also don't forget that in this day and age you will be able to have a good 'chat' with friends and family [and fodorites] via the internet on your smart phone/tablet over your pre dinner drinks.

I cannot wait for your trip report regardless of whether it is in February or in November !
loncall is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 12:12 PM
  #54  
 
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Yes, the evenings are the make-or-break point for the solo traveller. Especially if you have been on your feet all day tramping round the sights.

I tend to eat my main meal at lunchtime when restaurants are more relaxed, and snack in the evening. Sometimes in the hotel bar area or sometimes in my room. Good idea mentioned above about joining in with other guests in upmarket homestay places... have done that too. You can always get away when they start to drive you crazy.

Another evening activity I like is finding concerts/recitals, often in local churches. They are often advertised by small local notices or leaflets to pick up in the tourist office. Or full-blown performances at opera houses or concert halls which you will find by googling What's On wherever you are. Or ask the hotel.

Another thing is Guided Walks... they have them in most cities I have been to. Not always in the evenings, but some are, especially the Ghost Walks or when the evenings are long and light.

And of course the internet: write a Fodors Trip Report as you go. I've done that too! Gives a great sense of immediacy.

Plus of course keeping up with e mails, sending pictures to family, skyping, reading about where you are/where you are going. Sometimes there is just too much to do.

Long soaks in the bath to get over the afore-mentioned tramping, something there is rarely the time for at home.

Do let us know what you decide!
gertie3751 is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 12:32 PM
  #55  
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Thank you both for your patience! Mme P - i don't see me exploring Egypt in the same sort of way as you - that sort of adventure is definitely not something that I'm looking for at this stage. River cruising is something that I have done once before, albeit in the company of friends, but it's something I feel comfortable with, and there would be plenty of activity in the company of others [which might I know be a mixed blessing, but on a reasonable sized boat, that should not be too much of a problem]. I have found a 7 day cruise followed by a couple of nights in Cairo that looks very attractive, and even with the single supplement, quite affordable. And I could prebook tours in Cairo that would provide me with more than activities there.

That said, I've also done a private tour in Asia before, in Sri Lanka, albeit with DH; very often we said very little to each other for hours at a time, but we didn't have to - being in each other's company was enough. At times the slightest glance [or lack of it] was all that was needed. I am more and more thinking that a whole 2 weeks without anyone much for company save a driver and a succession of guides and the odd fellow traveller might prove a bit much at this stage. But the research and time I have taken [I cannot speak for the time you have all taken of course!] will not have been wasted as it's definitely a trip that I intend to make in one shape or form in the not too distant future.

And if the Nile cruise doesn't come off, who knows, I may end up going anyway!
annhig is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 12:41 PM
  #56  
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[gertie - our posts overlapped - you make some good points too!]
annhig is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 01:47 PM
  #57  
 
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[Thanks for the compliment, but there are other solo female travelers around who really get out there.]

On the solo dining thing. I am an introvert, so it really doesn't bother me, but I can see that it might be a problem for an extrovert. I like a leisurely dinner with wine (or beer/sake in Asia) and these days I usually listen to an ebook on my phone, which lets me watch the action at the same time. I used to write up my journal, but that depends on how tired I am.

Where else is on your wish list, Ann?
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Nov 16th, 2017, 08:31 PM
  #58  
 
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I must be honest, I found Cairo unbearable for 2 reasons (keeping in mind I've had satisfying stays in some big cities in the developing world and would happily return). Cairo traffic is indescribable and I found the city dirtier and more depressing/demoralized than any other place I've been. I'll never go back and if I return to Egypt I'll fly directly on to another smaller place. I was glad I saw what I did but felt it was at a cost that for some may not be worth it. If a cruise is why you go, go on to Luxor and make it and Aswan the focus.
MmePerdu is online now  
Nov 16th, 2017, 08:55 PM
  #59  
 
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Ann, regarding your itinerary, I would add a night in Madurai. If you decide to book via Indian Panorama, then the two walking tours will take quite a bit of time. Also, the main Madurai temple is huge, and you will need to go back in the evening for "chanting and drums." Also, Tim at Indian Panorama discouraged me from going to the hill country, because he felt it was redundant with what I was going to see in Sri Lanka, so you may want to take that advice under consideration. I enjoyed staying at the Emerald Isle in Alleppey, as it is unique to see people dependent on the river. I mentioned in my trip report that I walked extensively in that area, but the hotel can arrange a tuk tuk for you, for as long as you need it. The hotel family was really friendly, and kept fussing over me, so I felt less lonely there than in a hotel. It was also nice to be in a part of India with little traffic.

Regarding the evenings during my two week trip, my driver picked me up typically at 7:30 PM for dinner. At many of the restaurants, the waiters were intrigued by my being alone, and wanted to chat a bit. I always like to discuss the dishes being served, as we have many Indian restaurants around Los Angeles, but the names often vary by region. On a few of the nights, my driver did not escort me to dinner, such as one night in Madurai when he asked me for the night off so he could stay with his family. On those nights, I tried to walk around as much as I could in well lit areas. If I visit India again via Indian Panorama, I would ask Tim to arrange evening eating safaris in each town, or perhaps an evening guide for just walking around to people watch.

MmePerdu, I always tell people that of all the places I have been, Cairo is the only place to which I will never return. I agree with all your comments. During our visit, my son was walking ahead, as I was tired, and a group of teenage boys started throwing pebbles at me, for no reason other than to be mean. I did like Aswan and Luxor, however.

Ann, I hope you will take this trip when you are ready. I have taken five solo trips in the last six years, and the first one was the hardest, for sure. On the day I was leaving, I had to run an errand, and I was so nervous, I scratched my cheek against the car door. When I look at my Vietnam pictures, I can see the cut, now healed, and I realize how far I have come in my courage.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Nov 17th, 2017, 03:05 PM
  #60  
 
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Hi Ann,
I am originally from India and I suggest you take a group tour primarily for safety reasons which should not be underestimated at all. I grew up in India and know the language and still never will travel alone there simply to be safe. I know there are many who do so but why take a chance.
Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan (Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur) are all good. For a first visit North India may be better. India is a big country and the weather, crowds and spicy food can all be a bit overwhelming. Personally I would not even recommend train travel for foreigners unless you are taking the "Palace on Wheels". You are better off taking flights. When I go back to India, I no longer take trains. Although if you take a tour, all that will be taken care of. And the North Indian Golden triangle can be done by road. Hope you have a wonderful visit to India.
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