Shimla and where? Golden triangle? 2 women safe without a tour?

#1 Jan 3rd, 2019, 22:23
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  • crazyblondechick is offline
#1
Iím looking at making a trip to India with my mum later in the year, probably November time. Her Ďmust doí is Shimla and the toy train, so Iím trying to figure out what to tag on to that, what method of travel is best, and finding myself with a bunch of questions!

I travel a lot, always independently, generally long haul and have planned DIY trips around China, South Africa, The Philippines, Japan etc so no stranger to organising trips where travel can be a bit trickier or English isnít the first language. However I am wary of doing this for India for a few reasons Ė primarily as we are two women (30 & 58) and I am hearing mixed things about the safety, but also because I need to be sure we can source reliable drivers, book trains in advance etc so we arenít too frazzled once we get there! So I guess my first question, will DIY-ing this be safe and is it the best option? I donít want to be tied to a rigid itinerary or a lacklustre tour if I can help it, but Iím not sure if this would be better in this instance.

We are both quite active and looking to spend around 10-14 days on the trip. I am thinking of perhaps tying in the Golden Triangle with Shimla area, and being able to customise the trip as Iíd like, pick my own hotels etc would be ideal Ė Iím thinking the Shimla area is likely to be more hassle free than Agra/Delhi etc but I could be very wrong. Would these combinations be a good route? Other trips I have seen tend to combine Shimla with places such as Amritsar/Dharamsala/Rishikesh so thatís another option Ė Iím trying to figure out which is best, I hear a lot about the Golden Triangle being a must see, but is it going to be madly over touristy and not as enjoyable?

Iím aware India will be frustrating to travel around but I just want to pick the right route for us. In terms of our interests we love pretty scenery, interesting culture, good food, fun markets, a bit of shopping, nature, a bit of city but donít want to be in concrete jungle the entire time. We like adventure travel, love the idea of taking the train (though will happily pay more for a bit of comfort) and enjoy being on our feet exploring. We arenít massive fans of loads of museums or history, but a bit is fine Ė couldnít imagine going to the Golden Triangle without seeing the Taj Mahal for example!

With this in mind, which route would be best for us to tie in with Shimla, and is going it alone safe enough, and our best bet?

Thanks so much in advance to anyone who takes the time to reply!
#2 Jan 4th, 2019, 01:23
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  • vonkla is offline
#2
Hi,
Most members of IM organize there trips individually and are happy with this. We did this most off the time.

There is a long thread about women's safety, see here.
Trains you must reserve well in advance, men on seat61 describes the process.
We mostly hire a car+driver with the help of the hotel staff and this works fine.
If you are more comfortable with a travel agency, we and others have good experiences with Namaste.

As for our itinerary, take 7 - 10 days for a loop through Agra and Rajasthan. Followed by a day or 5 to visit Shimla.
#3 Jan 4th, 2019, 01:43
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#3
You won't get any hassle in Shimla or any of Himachal Pradesh. You could do Delhi-Shimla-Mandi/Rewalsar Lake (Tibetan Buddhist settlement) much more laid back than Dharamsala- McLeod Ganj (home of Dalai Lama)-Amritsar (Golden Temple)-Delhi. Delhi to Shimla can all be done by train & rest of HP by local buses (great adventure/experience) or taxi (but taxis tend to suffer from lots of punctures in Himalaya's) There is another very slow toy train from near Mcleod/Dharamsala to Pathankot then get train to Amritsar (or you can go direct from D'sala to Amritsar by bus) & then back to Delhi by Train from Amritsar (5hrs).
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#4 Jan 4th, 2019, 23:23
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#4
Thanks for your replies. So for both route options would you say itís safe for two women to do it solo? Most of the Ďconcernsí I have read are around solo women, and if we plan to stay in relatively nice hotels I am hoping thatíll remove the safety issue. I just want to be sure before I start getting into the nitty gritty of the planning. For me, itís always a no brainer to DIY trips but itís just the safety thatís a concern for me (I usually travel with my boyfriend and wouldnít be so worried then, but as itís me and my mum I want to be sure!) I know the logistics can be a challenge but Iím confident in sorting all of that out, and familiar with Seat61 etc, I imagine that booking trains is as painful as it was for me visiting China 7 years ago but it can be done!


Then, in terms of route Ė how can I compare the two options to see which is best? I will research and watch a bunch of youtube videos, but if anyone has any top level differences or reasons to pick one over the other Iíd be interested to hear it. It seems November is a good time for both areas Ė and I presume nothing will rush in getting fully booked over the next month or so?

Thanks again for all of your help.
#5 Jan 5th, 2019, 04:23
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#5
Please don't worry about your personal safety, you sound a sensible person, and I am sure you will be 100% safe.
My main advice is to register with IRCTC, the train ticket site soon. That will allow you to reserve trains as a tourist much in advance of the normal booking window opening...
No need to rush other stuff, nothing will get booked up in the next few months!

Although Shima and the toy train is great fun, I would advise that you try to include the golden triangle or similar as a taster of the "real India". India is rather overwhelming in some ways, but seeing only the hills, such as Dharamshala, and Shimla will leave you with a gap in the experience.

Ed
#6 Jan 5th, 2019, 04:45
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If you only have 10-14 days then just do one route or the other. It's a nice time of year to explore Himalaya's, early to mid Nov will be warmer, can get cold at night by late Nov, but still very sunny & warm through the day. Here's some photo's of Rewalsar Lake; https://goo.gl/photos/cCYrX5hKoQxNC5Hu6

It's a good place to stop for a couple of nights between Shimla & Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, a small lake surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, which you can stay at, it's a very laid back peaceful place, 30 mins above are the caves of Padmasambhava who introduced Buddhism to Tibet. One hour from Rewalsar is Mandi which was once the capital of H.P. & has over a hundred very old Temples.
I would do 3-4nts in Shimla, if you want to splash out on some luxury & experience the Raj era then you could stay here; http://www.woodvillepalacehotel.com/

Or there are much cheaper hotels to suit all budgets.

Then 3 nights at Rewalsar/Mandi 5nts at McLeod 2nts at Amritsar. Then train back to Delhi.


Plenty of time to book things yet, Nov is a long way off.
#7 Jan 5th, 2019, 16:29
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#7
Maybe this is an option to combine both.
First the Golden Triangle Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, by car or train. To get an idea of the train schedules erail is a good site.

From Jaipur fly to Chandigarh. At nearby Kalka starts the toy train to Shimla.
From there return to Delhi.
#8 Jan 5th, 2019, 17:29
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#8
Vonkla that option may work actually - i hadn't thought about including a flight in the route.

I've also thought about this, providing it would work within 12-14 days:
Delhi - Shimla - Mandi - Dharamsala/Mcleod Ganj - Amritsar - (i assume via delhi) - Agra - back to Delhi to fly home.
i do wonder if that is taking on too much ground within the time we have though.

Also I have been reading the safety for women thread and see it is 12 years old.. I am also very blonde! Will keep reading up on this as I do want to do this independently as my first choice. Definitely want to do some fun things like a cooking class in delhi, perhaps some yoga, bazaars, the golden temple and eating with locals seems like a really interesting experience too. So i'm learning towards including that, and perhaps saving rajahstan for another trip, perhaps with my boyfriend and a little more time. But still open to changes at this point, I'm mostly looking for a variety of different things. But this won't be my only trip to India, so I am more than happy to do several trips. (Kerala etc is also on my list, but that's another one for the future as obviously couldn't be any further from Shimla!)
#9 Jan 5th, 2019, 18:06
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Also, our dates are close to Diwali.. part of me thinks that'll be awesome, the other part is thinking even more crowds and needing to book even further in advance? not sure whether to go just after, google tells me it's around oct 27- nov 2nd.
#10 Jan 5th, 2019, 18:50
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#10
[QUOTE=crazyblondechick;2113668]

I've also thought about this, providing it would work within 12-14 days:
Delhi - Shimla - Mandi - Dharamsala/Mcleod Ganj - Amritsar - (i assume via delhi) - Agra - back to Delhi to fly home.


Dharamsala to Amritsar can easily be done by local bus or taxi, no need to go via Delhi
#11 Jan 5th, 2019, 18:52
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#11
Welcome to the reality. Delhi weather would be extremely unpleasant due to air pollution after Dipawali. Cooking classes are not much relevant these days since everything is available over the internet. It's just trial and error and sometimes error lead to a fusion dish!! However this is my personal opinion.
She was looking for some interesting activities and shopping etc. Mcleoadgunj will be a good place for some easy hikes, and thangka painting workshops, carpet factory, and souvenir collection. Jaipur is another shoppers paradise.
Shimla is a nice place. But November would be too dry to enjoy the toy train ride. All streams will be thin, and leaves turning dry. The romanticism of toy train ride will be missing. Again, this is my personal opinion for the toy train ride.
India is safe unless one gets too close to the sweet talking agents, so called guides, and the chamatkari bawa's/ guru-ji/ swami-ji (except the notorious Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida where locals do not like peaceful people).
#12 Jan 6th, 2019, 03:10
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#12
Quote:
Originally Posted by crazyblondechick View Post
I've also thought about this, providing it would work within 12-14 days:
Delhi - Shimla - Mandi - Dharamsala/Mcleod Ganj - Amritsar - (i assume via delhi) - Agra - back to Delhi to fly home.
You can do the Delhi H.P. Amritsar Delhi route in either direction, but I would suggest Shimla first, it's better to do the Toy train up rather than down & everything won't be brown, Himalaya's are very green all year round. So route would be Delhi-kalka for toy train to Shimla-Mandi/Rewalsar Lake-McLeod Ganj-Amritsar (direct bus/taxi from McLeod)-Delhi. Agra can be done in one day from Delhi at either end of trip. Sounds like you will definitely return to India so better to do it in sections if you can rather than try & stretch yourself travelling to different states.
Another option would be to fly to Dharamsala airport (Gaggal) then go to Mandi/Rewalsar-Shimla-Chandigarh or maybe Ambala where you can take a train to Amritsar 2 problems with this though, you would be doing the toy train downhill & flights from Delhi to D'sala are often cancelled due to fog in Delhi during winter. First option would be best.
#13 Jan 6th, 2019, 03:35
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#13
thanks so much, i think that sounds like a good route to go with, just need to connect the dots with trains and find a good driver now, i think we might prefer that to bus! We are thinking of 2nd-15th november, would this be a problem right after Diwali and with the toy train, would there be a better month to consider? Other times we could potentially go are september or sometime between march and june?

thanks so much for your help, hoping to get a flight locked down over the next week or so, and then i can start filling in the dots from there :-)
#14 Jan 6th, 2019, 03:46
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#14
There are direct trains from Amritsar to Agra, see erail.
#15 Jan 6th, 2019, 04:23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crazyblondechick View Post thanks so much, i think that sounds like a good route to go with, just need to connect the dots with trains and find a good driver now, i think we might prefer that to bus! We are thinking of 2nd-15th november, would this be a problem right after Diwali and with the toy train, would there be a better month to consider? Other times we could potentially go are september or sometime between march and june?
You really should try an Himalayan bus, just for the experience, much more interesting but slower than taxi's plus taxi's tend to suffer from lot's of punctures in Himalaya's. The bus from the centre of Mandi to Rewalsar Lake is less than an hour, so might be worth trying a short trip as a tester.

Early Nov is okay but September is the ideal time to go, also April to June are very good times to go. Might be worth seeing if the Dalai Lama is giving any teachings in McLeod at any of those times, even if you have no interest in Buddhism it's an experience worth having.

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