Best way to organize trip to India?
March 10, 2007 9:22 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to organize a reasonably inexpensive (but not super-low budget) trip to India? Should we use a travel agency to tour around (we do not want a group tour, though)--and if so, which one? Any recommendations for tour books? Any recommendations for must-not-miss sights?
posted by Malad to Travel & Transportation around India (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

You're going to have to focus down a bit more than that. Most people don't usually see all of India in one go- they usually go see North India or South India.

India's pretty big, so it would take quite a while to do the "whole thing"

First things first: how long do you want to stay?
posted by unexpected at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2007

Response by poster: Good question. I'm going to be there for almost a month and I'd like to see both North and South India...
posted by Malad at 9:42 AM on March 10, 2007

A Month? Okay, you can do a lot in a month.

As I have only family in North India, I've only done the North, but I've done it so many times.

My relatives always tell me that the South isn't worth seeing- that it's only temples anyway (and once you've seen two or three, you've seen them all, let me tell ya)

So for traveling in the North.

Delhi: The capital, Hamayun's tomb, the red fort, qitab minar, India Gate (2 days).

Agra: Taj Mahal. You must see this, simply for the fact that it gets dirtier every year, and it just reeks of British Imperialism. When you go look at all the empty stone settings. Those were all filled with gemstones that the British ripped off for their crown jewels. They have yet to return them.

Jaipur: The pink city. Lots of nice old stuff. Crazy weddings happen here because it's just a nice place.

Haridwar/ other mountainous region. The mountains are cool. Try to find some place that runs with the Ganges before it gets all polluted. It's like seeing the birthplace of civilization.

Mumbai: Mumbai is like NYC without the history. It has all the cultural/artsy stuff.

South India:

I know very little about South India, but if you get a chance, go to Goa. It's beach heaven.

Travel tips: I wouldn't say you necessarily have to book a tour with a group. You just need to find someone that will give you a driver that knows English and he can serve as a guide. Everything is dirt cheap. We would drive to Agra and back (a 6 hour drive each way) for about $8. Someone that speaks English would probably run you a little more.

I think you would get really ripped off by booking as part of a larger tour bus.

As far as lodgings go, you can stay in cheap hotels, but they very in quality quite dramatically, as anything goes. The really nice hotels are about $100-$150 a night.

Traveling within India: If you wanted to make it dirt cheap, I would say go by train, but it takes forever. Flying is pretty cheap there, so I would just bite the bullet and do that. (The flying equivalent of Chicago to NYC was about $40).

Hope this helps! I know it's skimpy with info on where to stay, but I always stay with relatives, so I can't help you there :-(
posted by unexpected at 10:20 AM on March 10, 2007

1) Tickets are going to be the largest chunk of your budget, however, once you're there, you're golden. I spent $10-15 a day, though the budget got upped when I bought a bunch of souvenirs near the end. If you do any sort of special sightseeing like trekking, expect it to be roughly $30-50 for that portion of the trip.

2) Do get one of the three guidebooks, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or Footprint. Personally, I browsed through all three, then picked up the Rough Guide. Someone will have the Lonely Planet for sure, so the Rough Guide was nice for variety.

3) IndiaMike, great forum with seasoned travellers and a good archive of threads that'll answer most, if not all, of your questions.

Lastly, a month is not very long in India if you do it by yourself. If you're purely there to see the sites, then I'd recommend a travel agency to take care of your itinerary for you, otherwise understand your time limitations and just leisurely take things in.

I spent two months in India last year, and the first month was dedicated to Rajasthan (Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur), Agra (for the Taj), Benares (admittedly, I spent a week here), and Bodh Gaya (then continued further east).
posted by hobbes at 10:21 AM on March 10, 2007

To add to unexpected's post, I travelled by train. Some trains will take forever (IndiaMike can help you with that), but it's a great value for anyone on a budget.

As for the South, I've heard nothing but good things. I didn't go there myself, but my friends said that the people are friendlier. My friends all recommended spending time on a houseboat in Kerala.

Also, if you're going to be in Jaipur, definitely stay at the Pearl Palace, Mr. Singh is a great host, not to mention the rooftop restaurant (every hotel has this, so don't be too impressed) makes it easy to meet other travellers.
posted by hobbes at 10:39 AM on March 10, 2007

It's been over ten years since I've been to India, and no doubt much has changed, but here are some suggestions:

- Consider flying instead of the train for some parts of the trip. A two hour flight can beat a a couple of days on the train.

- However, some of the trains are very nice.

- There are government run tours in many cities. When I didn't want to do a lot of exploring on my own I would take them. Some were good, some not so good. The guide books will be helpful in regard to those.

- Considering hiring a taxi for the day in some places. I did this with a few other people in Jaipur and it was a way to see a lot of sights with a driver who knew the area well.

- I never made reservations for hotels. I used the Lonely Planet for a guide and I never had a problem getting a room anywhere.

In the north:

- I'd recommend visiting Gwalior. It's not too far from Agra and its fort is worth exploring on a day trip.

- Darjeeling (I flew to a nearby town and took a 3 hour bus to get there). It had a very different feel from the rest of India I visited, and at 7000 feet the cool weather was a nice break from the heat elsewhere. You can do some trekking in the mountains stopping at various hotels or huts along the way.

- In Rajastan Jaisalmer is beautiful desert city. Pushkar was a relaxing place to stay to recover from illness.

In the south:
- Cochin, Mysore, Mahabalipuram, Varkala were all places I enjoyed.
posted by ShooBoo at 12:19 PM on March 10, 2007

I used to try to keep it a secret 'cause it was so cool and off the beaten path, but I"m sure it's out by now: Hampi. Totally cool. It's in Keral, not far from Mahabalipuram and Varkala, both excecllent suggestions. I far preferred the food in the south, by the way. Rajastan is very worth the trip, esp. if you like deserts. Darjeeling is also very nice, but a bit far from Rajastan and the South - I'd go to Rishikesh or Dharmsala to get a taste of the Himalayas.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:11 PM on March 10, 2007

PS Forget the guide, you'll do fine. Plenty of English speakers.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:12 PM on March 10, 2007

i would do it yourself, if you have some experience with travel planning. if you do consider going with a travel agent, be careful about selecting one and do some independant research on their suggestions-- a few years ago i had a guide who was desperate to get me to go to kashmir and told me all sorts of lies about how much the political situation had improved, and i'm glad i was informed enough to resist the pressure. i've done a trip each to north and south india, and i preferred what i saw in the north. many people, including me, seem to love rajasthan. i was also really interested in this old astronomical/architectural sight called jantar mantar near new delhi. as far as travelling, i recommend trains. if your budget isn't too strict, go for second class, which is pretty nice, and if it's a long trip get a sleeper and do it overnight.
posted by lgyre at 7:59 PM on March 10, 2007

If you go to Kashmir (I'm not sure of the safety just now), stay with Mr. Butt. I stayed there years ago, and they are so nice, the houseboats are incredible works of art, and totally isolated on that side of Dal lake. (And if you want a trek, they can set it all up easily.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:45 PM on March 10, 2007

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