First Time India - 3 weeks in Nov/Dec 2008

#1 Jun 12th, 2008, 01:15
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  • robynh is offline
#1
Hello India Mike posters!

I've been lurking for a while having not done my homework enough to compose a post. I've now done a bit of research in our Lonely Planet and Footprint guides and on this site and would like your advice! I read the "read this first" thread about posting to the itin section and have followed the guidelines below. I hope this makes sense. Thanks in advance for your input!

Date/place of (planned) arrival & departure.

Arrive: Delhi, Nov. 15, 9:15p
Depart: Mumbai, Dec. 6, 11:40p


Proposed Route (this is where we need the most advice based on distances, ease of travel, weather, etc.):

Delhi (arrival city) > Varanasi > Agra (via Delhi?) > Jaipur > Bikaner or Jaislamer > Jodhpur > Udaipur > Kerala (back to Jaipur or down to Mumbai first so as to fly into Cochin? Which?) > Mumbai (departure city)

Italicized cities means we're not sure we want to go here and would like input. For example, we think we'd like to do a camel safari and see a more desert outpost location like Jaisalmer or Bikaner, but is it worth it on our first visit given how out of the way these cities are?

What recommendations can you make in terms of order of travel? Obviously, we want to be as efficient as possible and not do too much back-tracking, but we understand this may be necessary.

How many days would you recommend in each location for first-time visitors? Are we cramming in too much? If so, what would you recommend we cut?

How many people in group, and what ages?

Married American couple (Seattle). I'm 31. My husband will be 29.

Budget.


I would say we're on a mid-range budget. Willing to average $75-100+ per day (total for 2) on travel, accommodations, food, sites, etc.

Preferred mode of transport.

Trains, but also open to flights for greater distances (between which cities is this worth the cost?) or private cars for shorter distances (between which cities is this worth the extra cost?).

Daytime or overnight travel between places?


If one plane journey could make a huge difference to your itinerary, would you be prepared to pay the extra cost of a plane?
YES
Would you be happy to travel between 2 places on a daytime train if the journey was a scenic route?
Depends how scenic. But probably.
Would you be prepared to take a 2nd. Class, slow, crowded train or bus if it helped to fit your chosen itinerary?
Only if there wasn't another option.
Travel background.

First time in India. In Asia, we've traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia.


How flexible are you regarding your itinerary?

If you had to miss one of the places you want to go to, what place would it be?
Probably one or more of the cities in Rajasthan.
#2 Jun 12th, 2008, 01:36
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  • mazha is offline
#2
I am not sure why most people here try to land in Mumbai/Delhi and go south later. If you are a first timer, it is probably better to go to Kerala first and then work your way up, and then leave from Mumbai/Delhi. That way, you don't have to backtrack much. It would probably also be a gentler introduction to India!

This would work for you especially since you are flying from the US west coast. Catch a Singapore Airlines flight, they have direct connections to Kerala. Get a return flight from Mumbai/Delhi.

Just my two cents.
#3 Jun 12th, 2008, 02:07
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mazha -- thanks for the reply. unfortunately, the tickets have been purchased. we considered your suggestion before we purchased tickets, but it was going to add $600+ to the cost and an additional 20+ hours to our trip over (because of multiple connections). as it stands now, our current flights are among the most efficient (~22 hours of traveling each way with 1 connection) at a good price ($1400 out of Seattle on Continental, connecting in Newark).

since I can't change our flights, does anyone have any advice regarding my original questions?
It might be said that a great unstated reason for travel is to find places that exemplify where one has been happiest. Looking for idealized versions of home -- indeed, looking for the perfect memory.

-- Paul Theroux
#4 Jun 12th, 2008, 02:26
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  • Mickey S is offline
#4
You can easily fit in both Bikaner and Jaisalmer - and both are worth visiting.

Bikaner itself has little to recommend it, but a trip to the rat temple at nearby Deshnok is always a good addition to an itinerary.

Jaisalmer is definitely worth the long detour. Don't miss it!

You can take a train from Jaipur to Bikaner - some stop at Deshnok en route (about 30 minutes before Bikaner) so you won't have to double back on yourselves. Then there are two trains a day - one in the daytime and one overnight - between Bikaner and Jaisalmer. (If you're searching for trains on IRCTC, these trains start from Lalgarh Junction, which is a few km north of Bikaner).

From Jaisalmer it is then easy to get to Jodhpur. The most interesting way is by the daily unreserved 2nd class train, but there are also two expresses.

If you have time, I'd recommend a day in Phalodi, which is about midway between Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. All trains to and from Jaisalmer (from both Jodhpur and Bikaner) stop there. It's where the demoiselle cranes spend the winter and the sight of thousands of these beautiful birds is astonishing. Phalodi itself is a wonderfully laid-back little place with a small fort, a temple and many old havelis and narrow streets.

From Jodhpur you can head south to Udaipur.
#5 Jun 12th, 2008, 02:28
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  • mazha is offline
#5
Quote:
Originally Posted by robynh View Post mazha -- thanks for the reply. unfortunately, the tickets have been purchased. we considered your suggestion before we purchased tickets, but it was going to add $600+ to the cost and an additional 20+ hours to our trip over (because of multiple connections). as it stands now, our current flights are among the most efficient (~22 hours of traveling each way with 1 connection) at a good price ($1400 out of Seattle on Continental, connecting in Newark).

since I can't change our flights, does anyone have any advice regarding my original questions?
It is probably best to fly to Kerala via Mumbai from Rajasthan, as the trains would take ages. You could think of a train back to Mumbai. You might want to be back in Mumbai by Dec 5, as December 6 is a bit of a bad day to travel, as it is the anniversary of the Babri Masjid Demolition, and there are chances of some kind of disruption.

You don't need to go back to Delhi to go to Agra from Varanasi, though the train connections to Agra from Varanasi are not that good. There is a new train from Allahabad to Agra which is supposed to be good, not sure of the timings.

Also, you could go to Rajasthan from Agra, not sure of the trains again. That way, you can avoid Delhi and do a circle via Agra, and then go to Kerala from there. I would say 5-7 days in Kerala, but I am biased!
#6 Jun 12th, 2008, 02:31
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  • saeyedoc is offline
#6
We're flying Continental into Delhi and out of Mumbai, arriving the day you leave! The first part of your itinerary is very similar to ours. We're flying from Delhi to Varanasi on Kingfisher. We're taking an overnight train from Varanasi to Agra (no backtracking to Delhi). We plan on the train from Delhi to Jaipur (about 4 hours), some will suggest car/driver with a stop at Fatehpur Sikri. From there we're heading south to Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore park for tiger safari) then to Bhopal and on to Mumbai. You only have about three days more than us and have a lot more places in your itinerary.
#7 Jun 12th, 2008, 02:38
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  • Mickey S is offline
#7
Are you particularly keen to see Kerala on this trip? Rajasthan and Kerala are top destinations but given the time you have available you might want to concentrate on Rajasthan and save Kerala for next time, particularly as they're at opposite ends of the country.

Adding to my suggested itinerary above, you could travel from Jodhpur to Pushkar (train to Marwar Junction, then another train to Ajmer then a 30-minute bus or taxi ride). From Pushkar head south to Bundi, which is an absolute jewel and worth 3 or 4 days of anyone's time (by private car and driver, as there is no direct train route). From Bundi it's easy to get to Udaipur (morning train to Chittaurgarh then local train or bus). And then finish by going to Mumbai.

Delhi - Varanasi - Agra - Jaipur - Bikaner/Deshnok - Jaisalmer - Phalodi - Jodhpur - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Mumbai.

This would be a fantastic itinerary.
#8 Jun 12th, 2008, 02:52
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Thank you for the great adivce, everyone, especially for the additional recommendation to places we were not considering!
I'm definitely going to consider your revised itin, Mickey S.

We were really hoping to see Kerala. Indian friends highly recommend it for how different it is from the North. On the other hand, we definitely want to feel like we're seeing these places and don't want to just chase down just the hot spots where we're likely to see the same fellow travelers repeatedly (no offense) .

I'm hoping that the more tailored our itinerary, the more authentic our experience. If we visit Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, etc., are we likely to tire of Rajasthan?

Thoughts?
#9 Jun 12th, 2008, 03:02
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  • mazha is offline
#9
Quote:
Originally Posted by robynh View Post I'm hoping that the more tailored our itinerary, the more authentic our experience. If we visit Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, etc., are we likely to tire of Rajasthan?
Don't know about tiring of Rajasthan, but you probably would regret if you go to Kerala for just two-three days at the end of your trip!

3 weeks and seeing 3 states is rather hectic, but you could do it decently if you fly a little and give a week to each state.
#10 Jun 12th, 2008, 04:30
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  • ottorickshah is offline
#10

first time India / three weeks

I would suggest that you give yourself a MINIMUM of a couple of days in each destination. Anything less will have you spending too much time leaving and arriving. And then there is that train that is hours late! Oops, time to go again! (keep in mind that I am much older and probably much slower than you) I found overnight trains (where appropriate) to be an efficient way of travelling when on a tight schedule. Check out http://www.seat61.com/ for good train info. I travelled 2Tier AC and 3tier AC and had no complaints. Good luck.
#11 Jun 12th, 2008, 05:10
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#11
On your first trip to India, I doubt you'll tire of anything, anywhere. Way too much stimulus for boredom.

I suggest you consider a bit of travel in madhya pradesh instead of kerala and varanasi. Lots of interesting sites there and it's directly adjacent to rajasthan.

You should try doing south india as a different trip. If you want to go to varanasi, that might be the one place to fly, as the train ride can take up a considerable amount of time.
#12 Jun 12th, 2008, 06:06
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#12
Mickey's itinerary sounds great - I think everyone goes through the same thing - you plan to try and see 'different' places and end up settling for a more contained itinerary - we also dropped ideas of Goa and then also dropped Varanasi from our itinerary. Mumbai is a blast - we flew from Udaipur to Mumbai, nice to finish your trip in a big glitzy city with great food and shopping!

Amritsar is also fab - a 2 day 1 night trip from Delhi

Haridwar is worth considering - also a holy town on the Ganges - but closer than Varanasi... we ended up not going, but we had it there as an option.

We had 5 weeks and didn't tire of Rajasthan at all - Nawalgarth is also interesting you could do that between Jaipur and Jaisalmer or Bikaner.

Even Mickey's itinerary seems a lot for 3 weeks - we didn't go to Bikaner, Jaisalmer is pretty fab and despite what the LP says you can get camel treks away from all the tourists.

We also didn't go to Pushkar which seems to be a love/hate type place - but we LOVED Udaipur.

Can I make another suggestion? Drive between Jodhpur and Udaipur if you can and consider stopping at Ghanerao - a truly lovely and unspoilt little village and a very atmospheric Royal Castle to stay in - a little on the pricey side and a little quirky - but well worth the stop and a tour of the village.

Next day go to Udaipur via Ranakpur and Kumbalgarth (both not to be missed). You can do it by bus I think - but so much faster by car and you can stop and eat and look at stuff along the way. The road from Ghanerao to Udaipur goes through beautiful farmland and villages - really nice and so interesting to see the village life .

I am not a Jaipur fan but if you go there you could fly Jaipur - Jaisalmer, then later Udaipur to Mumbai, thereby saving about 2 or 3 days travel.

The road from Bundi to Chittorgarth is also a brilliant drive with some ancient Kajahuro like temples along the way.
#13 Jun 13th, 2008, 04:38
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#13

Thank you!!

Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions. We're going to discuss things and try to prioritize a bit more. I'll likely post our finalized itinerary closer to time.

How far in advance should we book trains, planes and hotels? If we wait until sometime in September, is that too late?
#14 Jun 13th, 2008, 04:49
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#14
I'd get booking - we went in January which is peak peak season, everywhere was full when we were there and I found even in September that the choice rooms were gone in some places - I think the tour groups block book a lot. People will start getting back to work in July/August after the hot months, so maybe start sending out the emails then. You lose the bargaining power that comes with the walkup - but the streets of Jodhpur and Agra were full of tired people with backpacks trudging from LP place to LP place - I'd rather pay a bit extra and book in advance.

I chose everything based on the IM hotel review section - we didn't have one disappointing place to stay.
#15 Jun 13th, 2008, 05:06
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  • Mickey S is offline
#15
Quote:
Originally Posted by robynh View Post Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions. We're going to discuss things and try to prioritize a bit more. I'll likely post our finalized itinerary closer to time.

How far in advance should we book trains, planes and hotels? If we wait until sometime in September, is that too late?
As soon as you know your itinerary, start booking.

I began booking hotels a full 10 months before my most recent trip to Rajasthan, and one of my chosen hotels was already full. You should definitely book trains three months in advance - bookings open at 8am (Indian time) 90 days before the train departs.

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