One week in India--what to do?
July 14, 2006 1:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to India with my girlfriend for 8 days in late August. I've just got my Lonely Planet guide, but it's my first time there and I'm not sure what would be a good itinerary. For such a short trip, we can't venture too far from Dehli (we fly in there, fly out a week later). We're taking the requisite visit to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, but I've read there's not much else there, so I want to know other places in the area worth seeing.

I'm interested in historical/scenic places, don't necessarily wanna spend time in the city (of course unless there's something worth visiting). Also, how reliable are the trains? Are delays/breakdowns common? I'm thinking about hiring a driver if it's not too expensive. But if the trains are good enough, I'd like to get as far as I can from Dehli to see some sights. We'll be backpacking it, and I'm a bit more rough-and-tumble than the gf, so how demanding physically is travelling around this area?

Any 1-week itinerary suggestions?
posted by zardoz to Travel & Transportation around India (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. It's about the same distance as Agra, only in the other direction (NNW instead of SSE).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:48 AM on July 14, 2006


Get out of Delhi, pronto. If you are in the slightest bit interested in wildlife or birds there is an amazing Bird Sanctuary (Keoladeo Ghana National Park) not far from the Taj Mahal. It is really worth the trip.
And if it is at all feasible, get thee to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. A beautiful colorful crazy place. Namaste!
posted by tingting at 5:14 AM on July 14, 2006


When in Delhi, definitely check out Akshardham Temple . It is one of the new wonders of the world and IMHO better then the Taj Mahal.
posted by ataraxian at 5:50 AM on July 14, 2006


Also more tips..... 8 days is nowhere near enough for India. You need to spend at least 3 weeks there to get a feel of the place. But maybe you will like it so much in 8 days that you will come back for a longer time. India becomes an obssession with many people who go there. Most people either love it or hate it....There is no in-between. Check out www.indiamike.com and post your query on the forums there and you will get some more answers. I personally would recommend you get to Haridwar/Rishikesh - 2 of Hinduisms holiest cities and about a 12 hour drive from Delhi. You are right in the foothills of the Himalaya and from Rishikesh you can see some great panoramic views of huge Himalayan peaks. Again, 8 days is too short. India is nothing short of amazing. Someone truly called it the "greatest show on earth". Have fun and safe travels.
posted by ataraxian at 5:54 AM on July 14, 2006


I think one of the problems with an 8 day trip is that the first week in India can be very difficult. So many new experiences (some of which can initially come off as rather unpleasant) and not really knowing how things work.

For my first week in India, I was overwhelmed and just wanted to go home. And this was not my first time travelling to a foreign country - I'd already been all over Europe.

After that, I loved it (and stayed for the 6 months my visa allowed), but the first week was very difficult for me.

This can probably be mitigated by staying in nice hotels (that meet Western standards - so you don't have to figure out how to use the toilet all over again!) and hiring a driver who can speak English and will act as a guide. I didn't do any of that (cheap hotels and public transit).
posted by Emanuel at 7:01 AM on July 14, 2006


Hire a driver. The smaller towns on the way were the highlight when I went.
posted by rottytooth at 7:07 AM on July 14, 2006


I'm sorry to have to echo the above sentiments but I would beg you to try and expand the length of time you are visiting India for. Without wishing to sound overly negative, if it is the first time for both of you it is really rather par for the course that you will come down with a bug just due to the sheer stress of the differential between where you have come from and where you are going, air travel and the culture shock etc. Even if you are both on top form physically and mentally you will need at least a full day, if not two, to even begin to function correctly.

The way you can ease the difficulty is if you can afford to stay in a good hotel and do the tourist tour route. If you are coming from a Western country then it is probably not expensive in the relative sense. That said it is not a good way to get an actual feel for the place (the best way is to just get out there on a street by yourself and suck it in).

As someone who jumped on a plane at 18 with a backpack to Delhi with no idea about what I was letting myself in for, I would advise you to try not to fit too much in. India is a place you will either fall in love with or hate with a passion and if you fall in love you will be back again to explore properly.

Any questions feel free to email me. Enjoy!
posted by numberstation at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2006


Again, 8 days is too short. India is nothing short of amazing. Someone truly called it the "greatest show on earth"

Agreed. India is amazing. Three weeks is good for a first trip. Anything less would be a shame.

The smaller towns on the way were the highlight when I went.

Agreed.

If you want to stay out of the city and you are a good driver, rent a car.

Much more freedom than a hire, more adventure and more contact with local people.

But I am dead serious about the good driver part. Do you have experience driving in countries with... um... challenging road conditions? India is about as challenging as it gets. :)
posted by cup at 9:06 AM on July 14, 2006


I'll agree with everyone who says that 8 days is too short. I've been to dozens of countries on almost every continent and India was the most overwhelming. If you're coming from N. America, you'll easily lose two days just getting over the time shift / initial culture shock.

While trains and buses are part of the India "experience," given your short schedule, I'd skip them. Learning the logistics of them will eat up to much of your time. Hire a driver.

There's more in Agra than the Taj. As I recall there's the Red Fort which was worthwhile and a smaller mausoleum nicknamed the 'Baby Taj' (I forget it's real name) that was pleasantly under visited.

Hope you can get more time!
posted by justkevin at 9:37 AM on July 14, 2006


Clearly you know already that "spending a week seeing India" is about the same as "spending a week seeing the U.S."--it's best to pick a few small areas to explore. The train system is extensive, comfortable, and affordable. Besides Agra (the Taj and Red Fort are both must-sees, and the "baby Taj" mentioned earlier is cool too), Rajasthan state is well-loved for its accessibility and the variety of its destinations. I recommend Udaipur (+++ the Ranakpur fort) and I've heard Jaisalmer is fantastic too. Jaipur, although it's famously part of the Golden Triangle, can be skipped. (If you do go, though, definitely check out the Jantar Mantar. It's more interesting than the reputed "big attractions.")

There is a lot to see in Delhi, so do try to spend a little time there. To maximize the time you spend there during your trip, it's inexpensive and most comfortable to hire a driver for a day or two. (Go ahead and take an auto-rickshaw at some point too. It may be fun for the novelty at first, but you may find after a bit that the vibration and the gas fumes will get to you.) Humayan's Tomb, Qutb Minar, and the Baha'i Lotus Temple are all scenic and worth exploring.

how demanding physically is travelling around this area?

As much as you want it to be. I made the mistake of traveling with a Frommer's Guide, which assumes you have buckets of money to spend and don't want to do anything that might get your heart rate up.
posted by kittyprecious at 10:58 AM on July 14, 2006


Agree with everyone that 8 days is too short.

That said, if your travel is strictly a week, then definitely mark Jaipur. and I'd do a Delhi-Agra-Japipur trip. Jaipur is one of the most popular tourist destinations of India. Lotsa things to do, to see, forts, ruins, arts, culture colour, festivals, camels, desert et al. The Delhi-Jaipur highway is excellent. Rent a vehicle with a driver (you'll get many Tata Sumos or Toyota Qualis- both are Indian SUV/jeep type vehicles). Long distance trains are safe but with your one week itinerary I wouldn't advise getting into the hassles of getting a train tkt.

There are many things to visit in Delhi itself that can easily take 2-3 days. Akshardham temple, Red Fort (justkevin, it's in Delhi ;-) you were probably thinking Agra Fort), Jama Masjid, Qutub Minar, Humayun's tomb etc. Each of these sites can take anything from 1/2 a day to a full day. Remaining time (you'll hardly have any) don't be afraid to just soak the India around you on streets (food, people, autorickshaw, local bus etc)

Other than that, I have some general India travel trips in this earlier thread. You might find something useful in there.

"Come to India, one billion people can't be wrong!" :-)
posted by forwebsites at 11:09 AM on July 14, 2006


I'd also recommend Gwalior. It's not too far from Agra, and if I remember correctly you can there on the same express train line as the one that goes to Agra. By the way, the express trains are very nice, really no different than trains you'd find in Europe. Gwalior has a fortress on a rocky hill overlooking the town. There are huge statues carved into the hill's side.
posted by ShooBoo at 12:16 PM on July 14, 2006


While in Agra you can catch a bus tour of Fatehpur Sikri, the former Mogul capital founded by Akbar and abandoned in 1584. It's remarkably well preserved and only about 30 miles from Agra.
posted by NinaLee at 1:01 PM on July 14, 2006


I'll bleat out the same advice: Get out of Delhi (although I've never been, everyone says it is the worst part of India for tourist harrassment), and 8 days is way too short.

Someone said the trains are dangerous and unreliable. Sorry, that's just pure unadulterated bullshit. Travel 2/3AC class or better and you'll be fine. 2/3AC is mostly populated by middle/upper-middle class Indian families and tourists. I'd still lock my bags to the bed, but you can sleep easy. Most, if not all, of the terrorism has been directed at the suburban trains in the major cities, not inter-city travel. The sleeper trains are awesome, you can travel pretty far overnight. I will emphatically claim that hiring a driver and taking a car (or taking the bus) is FAR more dangerous than taking the train. The roads in India are death traps, I have seen far too many head-on truck collisions to ever want to travel by anything but train unless I can avoid it.

This might be controversial, but I'd suggest you skip the Taj Mahal/Agra completely. Buy a postcard. If you're only there for 8 days, you're probably going to be overwhelmed most of that time and placing yourself into the biggest tourist trap in the country is just asking for a bad time. I've always regretted not going to the bird sanctuary last time I was in that part of India. I'll definitely recommend Jaipur and Jodhpur, but the best thing to do would be to find out if any festivals overlap your visit (Pushkar camel fair, the elephant fair in Jaipur, Holi, etc) and plan your destination around that.

Besides avoiding non-bottled water like the plague, avoid anything that may have been washed in it - salads, milkshakes (which usually have ice), washed fruit, etc.

Good luck going that time of year, I hope you like the heat :)
posted by dvdgee at 1:35 PM on July 14, 2006


Response by poster: Thanks for all the input, folks. And, believe me, I more than anyone know that 8 days is too short, but that's the way it is--8 days...or 0 days. No choice at all in the matter.

Keep 'em coming!

/hears an echo...echo...echo...
posted by zardoz at 7:44 PM on July 15, 2006


I'd skip the Taj Mahal, and go to Fatehpur Sikri. Or just stay in Delhi. You are going to be jet lagged for a couple days, and by the time you start to recover, spending time travelling in that brief a stay would be a sin.

I had no trouble on the trains 20+ years ago as an 18 year old farangi girl travelling alone (except twice, where the minute I raised my voice, the problem was taken care of). Things may have changed. I also really liked Jaipur, although I've heard it has gotten more crowded since I was there.

But, there is so much in Delhi, as already mentioned...just stick around there, don't rush too much, see what you can, and go back soon.
posted by QIbHom at 12:36 PM on July 17, 2006


If you do end up on the road, you must eat at a dhaba (one of those trucker places at the side of the road). Amazing parathas (just don't drink the water, of course!)
posted by rottytooth at 6:58 AM on July 19, 2006


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