South India/Kashmir

Mar 2nd, 2012, 09:38 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2008
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South India/Kashmir

We just recently returned from a 26 day trip to South India and Kashmir. Incredible India is a place either you love or hate. Obviously, we love it. The sights are unbelievable, the people are friendly, and we've always felt very safe. We booked with Mr. VP Singh of Legends and Palaces and had an excellent tour. It all began in Delhi where Mr. Singh's rep met us at the airport and took us to the guest house and then to an excellent restaurant where Mr. Singh and his family met us for a most enjoyable Indian meal. This is our third trip with Legends and Palaces and Mr. Singh and now his family have become friends. Our first trip was to Rajasthan and Varanasi, the 2nd to North India including the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Shimla, and Dharmasala. Late the next morning we flew to Cochin to begin a houseboat tour of the Kerala backwaters. We had booked a premium houseboat with 4 crew members and the 2 of us on a large houseboat. It was a worthwhile splurge as everything was about us including the whirlpool tub in our private stateroom with king sized bed. Our tour included 26 nights at mostly 5* hotels, a car and driver, and 7 internal flights on Kingfisher, Jet, and other airlines for a little less than $10,000 U.S. I get giddy looking at what you would pay on O.A.T. Travel for a lot less in a shared environment. Anyhow, on to the tour. After the backwaters, we drove to Madurai where Matu was our guide, who turned out to be the best ever guide! We planned to be in Madurai for the "Ponga" Festival. It was a combination of Indian Bullfighting, dance, and a celebration of the bulls decorated in colors, flower garlands, and bells. We stayed at the Taj Gateway Pasumalai(very nice). The Meenakshi Temple was o.k., but everything else about Madurai was just outstanding. We moved on to Tanjore where we stayed at the beautiful Ideal River Resort and enjoyed the Brihadishwara Temple that was a sight to behold. Next was Mahabalipuram with a fantastic BAS Relief :Arjuna's Penance and many other temples. This temple town was located on the Bay of Bengal where I swam and enjoyed the nearby fishing village. A good stay. On the way to Chennai we stopped at Kanchpuram and visited Ekambareswar Temple which was built and enriched by the Pallava, Chola, and Pandyan dynasties. This was our favorite U.N.E.S.C.O. temple on the tour. Very friendly priests who would allow photos of ceremonies, blessings (even of us non Hindus): 10 rupees, and other festivities. After flying to Banglore we drove to Mysore. Another good stop with great photos of the City Palace on Sunday evening with over 80,000 lightbulbs being lit. The Royal Orchid upgraded us to an extra large room and a candle-lit dinner in the courtyard was excellent. Next we drove on to Chikmaglur in order to visit Belur and Halebid. The Gateway hotel was good and the temples built by the Hoysala Dynasty were the most beautiful in all of India. It took the Hoysalas over 100 years to build the temple complex in Belur. Everything is so intricate (like lace) and still standing after many, many years. Just about every inch of the exterior of each temple is covered with carvings. Well worth the effort to see. Then we drove on to Hospet in order to visit Hampi. Another worthwhile site. The biggest surprise here was the temple of Virupaksha. It was a beehive of activity. We were greeted by a "Shiva" temple elephant who would bless us with his trunk for a donation(10rupees). There was a wedding taking place in an inner courtyard. Cows were everywhere. Outside there was a bazaar with vendors here and there. I was able to get a great photo of a man selling flutes stacked well above his head standing in front of the main temple tower. We moved on to Badami where the hotel(Badami Court) was not so nice. We called Mr. Singh and arranged to leave Badami a day early and to add an extra day in Goa. The caves in Badami were good and we visited Pattadakal and Aihole the following morning. We drove many hours on bad roads to Goa the next day. In all we went about 3,000 kilometers via roads on this journey. Goa was not white sand beaches we had expected and would have been a disappointment except for our hotel: "Casa Colvale". The best of the trip! A flight to Mumbai for an overnight stay. Mumbai was a pleasant surprise and I wish that we had another day there, but we were due in Aurangabad at the Taj Residency, a very nice hotel. We had a great guide and visited the Ajanta Caves the next day, but the murals were difficult to photograph without flash. The following day we visited Ellora Caves, Daulatabad Fort, and a Taj Mahal look-alike which was actually very nice. The stay here was most enjoyable. The people here, like all of the people in South India, wanted to have us take their photographs and pose with us for photos. We felt like Hollywood movie stars. In fact it got to be a little much! Oh well, on to Delhi and Kashmir. We arrived in Srinagar and it was snowing. Judy went shopping for a Kashmir coat and saved 50%. The next day it was still snowing and Farook, our guide came to the Taj Vivanta, and picked us up on time. We tried to drive into the country, but the car kept slipping so we decided to return to downtown. By the time we got back the snow had stopped, and we took a Sharaka ride on Dal Lake and stopped at one of the Chicago Houseboats (where Farook nornally worked in summer) for tea. The houseboats were luxurious but we liked the hotel better, especially in winter. Kashmir is very beautiful, and I'd like to return in the spring. Mr. Singh called and checked on us throughout the trip, but especially in Kashmir. We always felt safe and comfortable. We walked around on our own and local people were very interested in where we were from (America). It was snowing again on the day we left and the hotel manager said he would hold a room for us in case our flight was cancelled. He seemed to like having Americans stay at the Taj as all of the other guests were Indian tourists who had never seen snow before. The airport was security plus. No electronics in checked luggage. Nothing in hand luggage, except electronics. After about 5-6 security checks, we boarded our plane for Delhi. We stayed at the airport hotel (excellent) and had dinner and a massage before boarding our late night AA flight to Chicago. There were many Indian soldiers in Kashmir, but we always felt safe. When we were in Lhasa, Tibet there were many Chinese soldiers there too. After arriving in San Diego it took several weeks to get used to the time change. India is easy to do on your own as English is common in most places. At least 1 in 4 people you meet will speak English.
jstoll is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 04:04 AM
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 2,756
thank you for your report. I enjoyed reading it. I'm curious about how you enjoyed and compared southern India to the rajastan area and northern india and which you enjoyed more.
dgunbug is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 05:04 AM
Join Date: Aug 2006
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Welcome home and thanks for posting your TR. I am so happy to see this TR of southern India as I am in the midst of planning my southern India trip for Jan. 2013.

I recently asked Fodorites to review my first attempt at an itinerary and got mostly negative comments because I was trying to see too much in too short a time and would be spending too much time in the car. So I am now back to the drawing boards trying to cover a route similar to the first part of your trip (Chennai-Mysore with many stops in between).

I have several questions which might help me in planning my trip.

!-Did you or the travel agent plan the layout of your trip, once you told him what you wanted to see and how long you had to see it in? I've tried to do this on my own, and maybe I should be asking a TA to lay the trip out for me.

2-How many days did you stay in each hotel which covered the part of the trip from Cochin to Mysore?

3-What kind of car did you use? How many miles a day in the car did you average?

4-Anything you wished you had added or subtracted from the part of the trip from Cochin to Mysore?

5-We have no interest in seeing Goa. Do you think it is worth the time to fly to Mumbai just to see the caves?

We have no real time limit to do our trip but would like to keep it aroung 3 weeks.

shelleyk is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 10:16 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Thanks for your report. I also am interetsed in a SOuthern India trip, and Kashmir has been on my list of places I'd like to go for decades. Glad to hea you had a good visit there.
Kathie is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 03:43 PM
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Thank you all for your comments. Loved our 1st trip to Rajasthan and Varanasi. Can still hear the bells ringing at the night ceremonies along the Ganges in Varanasi. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is among the top 10 places we've seen in the world. It was truly beautiful and incredible how they were able to feed so many people each day who visited the temple. South India didn't have any blockbuster sights but overall it was an outstanding trip. The people were friendlier, if possible, but you can get "templed out". Each city had its own charm, but be advised that most locations are "temple towns" and that is the major highlight. Try to plan to arrive in a city when a festival is going to take place, like "Ponga" in Madurai. Holi on a previous trip we thoroughly enjoyed as well as the "elephant festival" both in Jaipur. We planned all of our India trips with our travel agent and I picked places we wanted to see based on the internet and the DK "Eyewitness" book on India. We stayed 2 nights at most cities which was about right. The one nighters in Tanjore and Mumbai were a mistake. We drove on all 3 trips in a Toyota Innova which is similar to a Toyota 4-runner in the states. Some days we drove for 2-3 hours and on others it was more like 5-7 hours. In the Hampi/Badami/Goa areas places to stop for a decent bathroom were few and far between which was bothersome for Judy. We haven't been to the caves (Elephanta) in Mumbai, but we have heard from friends that they were dark and hard to take photos in. The caves in Mahabalipuram and Ajanta would be more than enough. Badami would have been more worthwhile if there had been a decent hotel in town. Otherwise we had great hotels throughout south India which added to the enjoyment. Who wants to go back to a room with mold in the closet? I'm pricing Africa, including Uganda now, and all I can say is OMG. India is so reasonable, safe, and a photography bonanza. Im surprised there aren't more questions regarding Kashmir, as it is not really currently recommended by the state dept.
jstoll is offline  
Mar 5th, 2012, 12:10 AM
Join Date: Mar 2012
Posts: 1
Really, Kashmir is one of the best place to visit in india.
greenarth is offline  
Mar 6th, 2012, 01:09 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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Wouldn't be a travel agent, would you greenarth?

Seriously, the British Foreign office is a lot less alarmist than the US state Dept. and it says:

"We advise against all travel to rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir other than Ladakh; all travel in the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan, other than at Wagah; and all travel in Manipur." and

"We advise against all but essential travel to Srinagar and Imphal."

I'd love to go, but since there are plenty of other beautiful mountainous areas that aren't effectively war zones, it won't be soon.
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 7th, 2012, 06:13 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 4,388
Jstoll, thanks for writing your trip story. I enjoyed reading your impressions of places I've been (eg Amritar--YES!!) and part of the South of India, and other parts i want to visit. I loved Royal Orchid Mysore too--great food in lovely courtyard! Thanks for reviews of other accomodations. Tney prove you don't habe to spend $7--/night to stay in a grat place in India--$150 will do quite nicely!!
Wish I'd have stayed at Chikmagalur when visiting Halebid and Belur temples, instead of nr Hassan. I loved South India, but agree about that "templed out" feeling which we experienced in Himachal as well.

I too am planning trip to Uganda and had initial sticker shock compared to prices in India.
CaliNurse is offline  
Mar 7th, 2012, 06:15 PM
Join Date: May 2004
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Oops, re your accomodations, should be "They prove you don't have to spend $700/night" for great place in India Ah, for the days of $7/night!
CaliNurse is offline  
Mar 7th, 2012, 06:16 PM
Join Date: May 2004
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P.S. What guest house did you use in New Delhi, and do you recommend it?
CaliNurse is offline  
Mar 10th, 2012, 07:32 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2008
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Hello CallNurse-We stayed at Hotel Amarya Haveli in Delhi. It is very small and quiet and has theme rooms. Ours was the "Bollywood" room which was very cute. Breakfast was good and they would cook an excellent dinner for you on demand. We had Butter Chicken which was delicious. No massage available though. About 15-20 minutes from the Delhi Airport (which is very nice now).

I just got a quote on an African Safari that included Tanzania, Rwanda & Uganda. I see what you mean-major sticker shock compared to India!!
jstoll is offline  
Mar 10th, 2012, 07:50 AM
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Whoops! Sorry CaliNurse, but my eyesight on the computer is not exactly what it used to be. It turned out our travel to Srinagar was "essential"-Judy wanted a Kashmir jacket and I wanted to see Dal Lake and the valley. Just a little humor for thursdaysd. But you are right that the U.S. State Dept. is a little more conservative than the British Foreign Office. It is difficult to combine Kashmir with other parts of India because of the weather conditions in June/July in south India and Rajasthan. Who knows what Srinagar is like in the spring and summer. Maybe we were just lucky with our timing and everything was calm.
jstoll is offline  

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