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Tour of Northern India with a stop in Nepal

Tour of Northern India with a stop in Nepal

Old Jan 18th, 2011, 11:24 AM
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Love, love , love your report of Punjab!!!!

I've written on FF before that my theory of head bobble is an instinctive preparation for inner-ear fluid balance, to protect from car sickness in the crazy traffic and on winding mountain roads
Glad you had a wonderful, wonderful, awe-struck time. Yes, India gets into your heart and mind!
Re: the three things you need in india, it's probably the most oft-said thing we tourists hear--from drivers, tour guides, etc. After a couple times, it gets old,but is still sooo true you have to laugh!!
Your driver sounds wonderful. Yes, one's driver makes a huge difference to the experience. On both our recent trips, we loved our drivers, who were with us the entire time , and who made us feel safe and protected, among many other things (fresh water, translation, explanations, checking out toilets, etc. I daresay having great drivers can make or break the trip, if you chose the car and driver way of traveling in India.
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Old Jan 18th, 2011, 12:37 PM
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loving the report and look forward to more...

our driver was the best experience we had in india, so i'm glad you are having the same experience..
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Old Jan 18th, 2011, 06:50 PM
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Also loving your report. Can't wait to hear more. What a great experience visiting relatives!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 09:31 AM
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Hi Everyone,

Thanks for reading. Yes, the visit to my husband's family village was a real highlight for us and so unexpected since we really hadn't planned it.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 09:32 AM
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November 30, 2010


We were up for a breakfast in the ‘palace’ before being on the road about 9 am.

Driving from Patiala to Delhi was about a 6 hour drive.

Ram found a very clean ‘toilet’ as they call it in India – they don’t say washroom. We pulled into the parking lot of a little strip mall – looked very modern for what we had seen so far in India. As we got out of the car there were some men dressed in costume dancing and playing drums. They soon coerced MJ into dancing with them – we all had a giggle – but they then demanded a tip from MJ. Welcome to India....but hey, everyone needs to make a living.

We stopped at a busy roadside dabba. We had some paranthas and chai. It was delicious, a meal for under 500 rupees for all 5 of us. We are getting braver I think – we eat and drink happily after we wipe our cups and cutlery with our ‘wet naps’.

There were lots of villages along the way, small and large towns bustling with people, cows, camels, rickshaws, trucks and buses.

Delhi was a nightmare for traffic, it was 1.5 hours to get from one side of Delhi to the other. It was so busy with carts pulled by cows and Honda racing motorcycles sharing the roads. Ram called the big green buses, the local transportation, as killers. Many people have supposedly been killed by these buses.

We arrived at our b&b, Chotti Havali, late in the afternoon. Surinder, our hostess, who spoke english as if it were her first language, arranged with Ram, now in Hindi, to take us to a mall where the SJ and I could buy some clothes.

It had been our plan to have clothes made when they arrived in India. That, however, didn’t work out so well. We had one outfit made in Amritsar, but it was a bit of a disaster. We have been wearing the same two things every day since our arrival in India – hence we were a little desperate to find something to wear.

We arrived at a very modern mall. Similar to ones you might find in Vancouver. This particular one had an outside walkway joining two malls together.

We had something to eat in the food fair before the shopping really got started. NG and I had Indian fast food and SJ and MJ had a pizza.

We split up – we had some serious power shopping to do.

MJ bought a kurta (SJ called it a dress and seemed quite concerned that he may actually decide to wear it), and NG bought a shirt at FabIndia.

So....I had the most frustrating hour and a half I have ever had. I have seen many large Indian women, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out where they shop. I tried the whole mall and could not find any tops that would fit me. I found a couple of things in my size at Marks and Spencers, but they just didn’t do the trick.

I was very tired and very frustrated when I met NG and MJ at the ‘meeting’ spot. SJ was in Pantaloons and MJ said she had finally found a couple of items that she was buying. NG and I waited and when they didn’t come out I went in to look for them. SJ was purchasing a couple of things and had a young man helping her. She said that he told her they had some things in my size so...I was back trying things on. Well, I finally bought one t-shirt – like that was going to help much.

We finally got out to the van to meet Ram about 20 minutes late. He was worried and was just about to call the b & b.

Back to the b&b to turn in for the night. Tomorrow is going to be a 7:00 am start to Agra.

Random thoughts....

- Security in the malls in India is tighter than an International Airport. You must go through a metal detector and then the men are frisked out in the open and the women go behind a curtain to be checked. They also check your purses and bags. When you go into a store you must check any bags of purchases already made

- Love our B & B in Delhi – it felt like coming home even though we had only been there one night before
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 09:45 AM
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December 1, 2010

We were up early today so we could get an early start for Agra before the Delhi traffic builds....is that possible? Surinder got up and made us breakfast for 6:30. She made us our favourite – aloo (potato) stuffed parantha’s. We have been rating them, and so far – hers were the best. We really need to learn how to make these.

Ram was there to pick us up – prompt as always!! The drive is always eventful with crazy drivers, trucks going down the road on the wrong side of a divided highway, and the ever present honking of the horns. Of course, you also have the cows, the carts, and the people.

We saw our first monkey’s as we were leaving Delhi. We were all very excited!! When we got to the border of Utter Pradesh – the state that Agra is in, we waited in the car while Ram went to pay the toll. We were not very pleased to be harassed by a man with a trained monkey on a leash. He really wanted us to pay him to have pictures with the monkey. The monkey looked like he would love an opportunity to make the man do tricks.

We arrived early at Sikandra, a town in the suburbs of Agra, to go to Akhbar's Mausoleum. (Akhbar was the Moghul Emperor 1542 – 1605.) The mausoleum itself sits in the middle of a beautiful garden. We hired a guide to show us around. He had a brief history lesson for us and then onwards to the red castle-like structure that surrounds the tomb. We had to either take our shoes off or put on shoe coverings (5 rupees) to enter the holy area of the tomb. The crypt was in a domed room, man stood near the raised crypt and was burning incense . The guide instructed him to chant a muslim prayer. It was eerie how it echoed around the room. Of course he was expecting to be paid for his 5 seconds of work, so we gave him 10 rupees. Next, the guide showed us how the pillars, which were flat sided, appeared indented, an optical illusion that we subsequently saw in many of the sites in Agra.

Next we headed into Agra to the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, or the baby Taj. This was located on the east bank of the Yamuna River. The tomb is made of white marble with four pillars surrounding main pavillion. The central dome is shaped like a canopy, not unlike the Taj Mahal's central dome. The marble is inlaid with smaller stones forming a mosaic along its walls. There are marble screens that have been cut out of a single slab of marble stone.

These building are just amazing to me – how they were constructed without the modern ‘tools of the trade’ and heavy equipment is a mystery to me. I remember this same sense of awe in Rome.

We were all hungry so we headed to the Taj Mahal Restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner. We had some vegetarian dahls and, of course, roti. The guys had their usual Kingfisher beer.

We debated, but decided to go to the Agra Fort before heading to the hotel so we didn’t feel the need to rush the Taj Mahal the next day.

Ram dropped us at the entrance. Again I thought how great to have him as he stayed with the van – and all our stuff. At the entrance we met an elderly gentleman who explained he was an ‘official’ guide. We had been warned about the need to be careful when hiring a guide in Agra – I guess it’s easy to get scammed. We decided he was pretty old and since we ‘could take him’ we would be safe.

It was a little frustrating because he wouldn’t tell us how much and that we could just ‘pay him what we want’. We’ve been in India long enough now to know it’s not quite that simple.

Anyway, he turned out to be great. He was very knowledgeable!!! Very intense and at times I felt like I was in school again and that there was going to be a test at the end and that I might fail!

The fort was amazing – what a time it must have been. One of the highlights was when we got to the section that looked over the river at the Taj – it was getting close to sunset so it was quite a sight. If only there wasn’t such a ‘haze’ to look through.

We had a wonderful day and all really enjoyed seeing the sites.

As we were just about at the exit of the fort there were dozens of monkeys that were headed across the path of the people. Wow, they are fun to watch. These ones were really ugly though with their red back ends. It was dusk and we didn’t have our mosquito repellant on and I got bit by a mosquito – I wasn’t happy and kind of yelled – ‘I got bit’ – NG and MJ thought I got bit my a monkey, I guess I kind of over reacted as it was only a mosquito!!!

Leaving the fort we got to experience the very aggressive ‘touts’ that I had read where so troublesome in Agra. We made it to the van unscathed and ready to head for our hotel.

First – a stop at the English Beer and Wine store. Again, thank goodness for Ram – he saved NG and MJ from paying the ‘foreigner’ prices!! We were again reminded that NG may look like an Indian, but he is ‘not a real Indian’.

Well, the hotel in Agra left a little to be desired – but this is India – the price has nothing to do with the quality. Thank goodness for those tents and sleeping bags!!!

We stayed up working on our pictures that night. Just before we headed to bed – about 9:30 - it got to be quite noisy with music being played very loudly.

NG and I were tucked into our sleeping bag in our tent when there was a knock at the door. NG, my protector, was sound asleep and only said ‘oh is there’ when I told him someone was at the door and promptly went back to sleep. It turned out not to be anything too sinister – it was just MJ. SJ had sent him to find out what all the noise was about and he found a wedding party going down the street. He was all excited and wanted to go take pictures, but SJ didn’t want him to go alone, so told him to get NG to go wish him....no such luck, the protector was sound asleep!!! Off MJ went on his own. SJ and I were standing in her room when the phone rang in her room – OK, MJ's out in the street, the protector is sound asleep – who could be calling. Only in India....Susan answers the phone to find the man from the front desk asking if we’d had dinner yet (it was 10 pm), when she said yes, he asked her where we had eaten ....I guess they wanted to close the restaurant, but didn’t want to miss any business. We sure would have been ticked if we had been sleeping.

Another great day!!!

Random thoughts....

- Haven’t found the touts as bad as I anticipated

- Weddings – man are they noisy....and what a production

- We saw our first camel and monkey today

- I had read a lot about what an awful city Agra was, but I didn’t think it was bad

- SJ and MJ went to the post office to mail a parcel – said it was a lot like the bank experience in Mukundpur
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 01:15 PM
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Well Misty, just when i thought your report couldnt get any better...it does!!!!! Thank you!!
I love sharing your reactions, i keep thinking," So true, so true!"
Like you, re: Agra I didnt udnerstnad all the negatives i'd read and its "touts" I think many are at the train sation and b/c you arr by car, it wasnt as bad?? ANd yes, the Fort is marvelous! I love your story of the guide turning out to be excellent!

Ah yes, the post offices!!! Great source of interesting stories, and the need for patience! Did you know a tourist was arrested ecently in India for losing her cool at a post office?!!

Did i miss it...at which hotel did you stay in Agra? Had you considered a homestay, there are supposed to be some good ones there. (We were lucky, used Starwood points for the lovely ITC Mughal)
Chhotti Haveli--soooo glad to have a first-hand Fodors feedback. I was attracted to it for a long time--b/c of the owner's description of why she set up a b and b in ND after USA travels. Sight unseen, i had twice mentioned Chhoti in this forum( in Nov 2009 and Sept 2010) Very glad your experience confirms an instinctive sense of it being a good place.
How did you come to chose it?
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 01:21 PM
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Still reading along and taking notes. This is great!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 04:52 PM
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Hi CaliNurse, thanks for reminding me that I didn't include the hotel in Agra. It wasn't so great so I really should pass the info on.

Hotel Amar Yatri Niwas
www.amaryatriniwas.com

It looked good on the website and the reviews were OK, but I really didn't like it much. Very worn, tired looking and noisy.

I loved the Chhoti Haveli and am so glad we ended up there. I had tried to book the Delhi B & B based on the reviews I had read here, but they only had one room available and we required two. I think I found Chhoti on Trip Advisor. The reviews were great and I liked that it was south and closer to the airport. It turned out to be the perfect choice. I highly recommend it.

In the future, I will definitely look for more 'home stay' or small B & B type accommodation.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 04:53 PM
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dgunbug - I hope this is helpful for your planning. Have you planned your itinerary yet?
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 05:17 PM
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December 2, 2010

After a night in our tent we were up early this morning to get to the Taj before sunrise. We arrived at the ticket booth around 6:00 am, unfortunately it didn't open until 6:30, so we waited in the queue along with all the other tourists who were crazy enough to get up this early. After buying our tickets we boarded some electric buses that transported us to one of the gates leading into the Taj, no petrol burning cars due to pollutants that may damage the building. We hired a guide at the ticket stop and he met us inside the security gate.

We saw some puppies on the way through the gardens and I must admit, I was tempted to skip the Taj and stay to rescue all the shivering puppies along with the malnourished mother. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and NG was able to drag me away. I have had a really hard time dealing with the stray dogs. It breaks my heart and I would love to try and save them all. Someone was quick to remind me though, that there were many, many children that needed rescuing before the dogs. How true!

After a brief explanation of the reason why the Taj was built, (it was built by Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan, for his deceased wife, Mumtaz), we headed towards the gate. This was our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, and it is a spectacular site.

We learned many interesting facts about the place, specifically that it is symmetrical on all four sides and the pillars are at 95 degrees so that if there is an earthquake the pillars will fall outwards. If you are looking at the Islamic script on the vertical sides of the entrance to the Taj the size of the script is constant, because as the script is read higher up the wall, it increases in size to give the illusion it is of constant size.

I put this detail description in to satisfy my husband. I’m more of a feelings girl and not much into the technical stuff…. It was kind of interesting at the time though.

There are lots of tourists around and the grounds are becoming busier, not to the point of being overcrowded but we are glad that we came early in the morning. We walked around the Taj; you require shoe coverings or shoe removal to be allowed up to the base of the Taj. Inside the Taj our guide pulls out a flashlight and presses it against the stone inlaid petals of a flower motif embedded in the wall. We are amazed on how the petals glow. He tells us the stone that was imported from Iran has these unique properties.

As many pictures as you may see of this monument, nothing even comes close to the sense of ah you get when you are standing looking at it for real. It really is one of the wonders of the world!

Even after seeing many, many pictures of the Taj Mahal, it still amazed me!!! Nothing even comes close to the sense of ah you get when you first see it. What an incredible monument. SJ and I decided that MJ and NG should start working on their monuments for us!

After we took an enormous number of pictures we headed out with our guide. Of course he took us to a shop just outside the gates of the Taj to see a demonstration of how they inlay the marble with design. It was really interesting to watch, but of course we were then taken into the shop to see the finished products and have the usual sales pitch. The tables were quite beautiful, but we didn’t buy anything.

We headed back to the ticket office to meet Ram and go back to the hotel to pack, have a shower, and check out.

We headed out of Agra on our way to Bharatpur with a planned stop to explore Fatehpur Sikri.

When we arrived in the parking area for Fatehpur Sikri, Ram had arranged a guide for us. His English was excellent and he was very knowledgeable. If my memory serves me correctly, he was working on his history masters on Fatehpur Sikri.

We took a bus from the parking lot up to the fort – thank goodness, as it was a long way up.

Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar between 1573 and 1585 and served as the Mughal capital for 14 years. The capital was eventually moved back to the Agra Fort because of the lack of water at Fatehpur Sikri

It was an interesting tour and great to use your imagination to picture how it would have been during the time it was inhabited. SJ raised a good point when she said it would be great if they had an area of the fort done up with the hanging carpets and furniture that would have been present in the past.

Back down on the bus, and of course our guide never left us until after he had taken us to the shop of his ‘cousin brother’. This is a term that we have heard often in India and we think it means ‘close friend’. I am now calling SJ my ‘cousin sister’!

Back in the car and on our way to Bharatpur. This was a one-night stop for us on the way to Rathambhore National Park. Bharatpur has a world-renowned bird sanctuary with the gates just a short distance from our hotel.

We arrived at the Sunbird Hotel and were just thrilled. We each had a very cute cottage set in a garden. It was really nice; the only drawback was the mosquitoes. Luckily we were not in a Malaria risk zone and the cottages had the ‘good night’ mosquito repellant plug-ins. We were tired and hungry, but had to wait about an hour and a half before the restaurant was open for dinner.

Finally it was time – and dinner did not disappoint us – we had our usual Indian Veg dishes with rice and roti and it was delicious. We even went all out tonight and order desert – rice pudding – Yum!

During dinner we began to hear the now too familiar sounds of a wedding! We were all exhausted and wanting some sleep so we weren’t too thrilled. I cannot believe what goes on when there is a wedding in India – and we were right smack in the middle of wedding season. They go up and down the road playing music over loud speakers and set off fireworks all night long. It was so loud at one point when they set off what sounded like firecrackers it actually shook the cottage. I slept with earplugs for the very first time ever. It took me a while, but NG and I finally got to sleep. SJ and MJ weren’t so lucky – I don’t think they got much sleep.

Accommodation:

Hotel Sunbird
2500 Rupees per night
Includes breakfast

www.hotelsunbird.com

I loved this place and would highly recommend it!!!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 05:32 PM
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December 3, 2010

We awoke at the Sunbird to quiet – sometime through the night the wedding celebration must have ended.

NG and I didn’t want to get up early to visit the bird park, but SJ and MJ did. MJ had arranged a cycle rickshaw the night before to take them through the park. They didn’t have as much time as they would have liked, but really enjoyed what they saw, and the rickshaw driver was a great guide for them. They had a little trouble getting him to take them back to the hotel as early as they wanted, he finally did. NG and I ordered them breakfast while they packed up their suitcases and joined us.

Back in the van and on our way to Rathambhore National Park. This is a stop we have all been looking forward to. It was quite the drive through several small villages and over some pretty bad roads. It was slower going than usual, but full of wonderful sites. I’m really struck again by the amazing colour. The women here seem to wear the more traditional saris rather than the pantsuits seen most often in the Punjab. It’s quite amazing to see the women working in the fields or working on the roads in these beautiful coloured outfits.

It can’t be an easy life for these women living in the villages. They work very hard! Not to say the women at home don’t work hard, but these women are doing jobs that we are more used to seeing men do. They are working on road crews, working in the fields – by hand, not with machinery, and carrying very heavy loads down the road. And they are carrying these loads on their head. SJ wondered if they end up with neck problems, as they get older. I know I couldn’t do what they do. They have incredible posture and balance.

We see men often at water taps or pumps along the road washing themselves and women at these same pumps doing their laundry by hand.

We are also often surprised by the number of small children we see along the side of the road playing. Now these are very busy roads, and it’s India – they are crazy roads. We would never even let our children that age outside alone, much less playing on the side of the road. But, I must remind myself – this is India!

It’s too cute – these small children often have forgotten their pants so they have a t-shirt on and are happily playing with their bare brown bums exposed.

We arrive at Rathambhore and are surprised to see that there is actually a town here. For some reason, we all expected it to be just the hotels outside the park gates.

The property of our hotel was very nice with a swimming pool and nice outside gardens. The rooms however, were not so nice. No worries – we have our India sleeping bags and our Mosquito tents
.
I think the bedding was probably clean; it’s just that there were stains on them, so it left you wondering. The rooms were large and quite nice. All they needed was a coat of paint and some new bedding.

SJ and I decided it was because it seems to be all men that work in the hotels. They need a woman to come in and fix things up. I don’t think the men notice the stains on the white duvet covers and sheets.

It has been a very different experience for SJ and me, seeing men working in jobs that at home are more predominately women.

We got settled in our rooms after saying goodbye to Ram. We have two nights in Rathambhore so we told Ram to take the time to go home to Jaipur for a couple of nights. We had the next day booked with tiger safaris and really wouldn’t need him to take us anywhere.

Dinner at the hotel was great – we were the only people in the restaurant and wondered if there was anyone else in the hotel.

We set up our tents and sleeping bags and turned in for the night early. We had to be ready for our first safari at 6 am.

Accommodation:

Raj Palace Resort

http://www.ranthamborenationalpark.c...nthambore.html

11000 Rupees included two nights accommodation for two with all meals and two jeep safaris - one morning and one evening.

I have mixed feelings about this resort. At first glance, we were not happy, but it really was a nice place to stay. It was comfortable and the grounds were really nice. I felt the bedding was iffy, but we had our own sleeping bags so that didn't end up being a problem. Like I said - with a little paint and some new bedding - it would be great!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2011, 05:44 PM
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Mistygirl - we are still working on our itinerary. I think it would be rather simple if we were to hire a driver throughout the trip, but my husband wants to take trains when possible and thinks we should hire drivers as we get to destinations or as needed between cities (hiring them in India rather than ahead of time). I am trying to convince him otherwise. I've read so many good things about your driver and would love to use his services.
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Old Jan 24th, 2011, 05:50 AM
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Misty - interesting your comments about women wearing pantsuits in Punjab. Our experiences in Rajasthan were that nearly all the women wore saris all the time. I don't recall seeing anyone in pantsuits. It's surprising the difference given the proximity.
(Still loving your report.)
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Old Jan 24th, 2011, 02:24 PM
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Misty - just rereading your report more carefully. I have never heard of anyone bringing sleeping bags and mosquito netting with them, unless they were really rugging it. Did you find you really needed them? Do you do this usually when you travel abroad and should we consider doing this since we will likely not be staying in 5 star hotels?
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Old Jan 24th, 2011, 06:21 PM
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dirty beds---see me as i run out the door...
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Old Jan 25th, 2011, 05:22 AM
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I think even my husband who likes inexpensive would go running! To me a bargain comes with clean sheets, air conditioning and no bugs.
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Old Jan 25th, 2011, 05:41 AM
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By pantsuits do you mean salwar suits? I found them more common on younger women rather than older ones, but on this trip (mostly Dec 2010) through South India I've seen much more variety in dress than I did in 2001, when hardly any women wore anything other than saris or salwar suits.

I travel with a silk sleep sack, originally intended for overnight trains, which I have used on occasion when I had serious doubts about the bedding. Have never taken mossy netting, though.

Nothing wrong with only hiring a driver when you need one. Trains are better for longer distances, cars for shorter.
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Old Jan 25th, 2011, 06:01 AM
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Ah, yes, we did see salwar suits. When you said pant suits, I thought, well, something different.


Also, I'm with dgunbug regarding a "bargain" - definitely comes with clean sheets, AC and no bus! Yikes.
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Old Jan 25th, 2011, 01:12 PM
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Althom, from your typo-making partner in crime, Calinurse--you mean "bugs" right?
Say, off topic a bit, i am going to the South of India(Kerala, Tamil Nadu) again next Jan, with a first stop in Calcutta before flying south. Wanna join me?
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