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Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 06:20 PM   #1
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Trip to India

I’m not FIREd yet, but* I'm posting this here since it seems to be of interest mostly to Perpetual Traveler types.* Let me know if it should go somewhere else.

Just got back from our month long vacation in India.* What an amazing country!* We spent a few days in Delhi, then 2 days in Agra to see the Taj Mahal and other places before flying to Goa.* From there we worked our way up by train visiting Bombay, nearby temple caves of Ellora and Ajanta, Ahmendabad, and the major cities in Rajasthan - Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur.

Not only is India amazing, but its also amazingly cheap.* We spent our time in budget guesthouses and hotels which were mostly in the* $5-$20/night range (our minimum requirement is reasonably clean double with private bath and hot water) and spent freely on everything else.* If you were a long term traveler or really watched your pennies you could probably travel in India for next to nothing.* There were many times where we had to hire a car and driver to take us places because of limited time and we also sometimes paid more for food, hotel, and other services because we were only in a city for a few days and didn't have time to shop around for a deal.* Then there were the splurges -* like Christmas Eve buffet brunch at the Taj Hotel in Bombay for a “budget busting” $30.

Domestic airfare is no bargain but the sleeper trains are great.* We traveled in almost every class even the "ordinary sleeper" used by locals which we were warned to never ever take.* Turns out that ordinary sleeper isn't half bad and at less than $5 a ticket for an 8 hour trip that gets you to your destination and saves you a hotel room you can't really complain.* It’s also a great way to meet people… we had great experiences talking to Indian families, children, and other tourists.

Other than Goa our favorite place was Udaipur where we scored a charming and spotless $5/night room at the Panorama Guest House with a view of the City Palace.* The city is famous for its Lake Palace (featured in the movie Octopussy) and is extremely picturesque and very walkable with great restaurants.

Overall this was probably our most memorable trip, and a great adventure.* I would not recommend India to everyone – especially someone with no experience in the third world.* Much of India is an extremely poor, dirty, and hassle loaded place, but its also very colorful and exciting.* Not sure when we will back but would love to see more of the south and maybe do some trekking in the far north.*

Pictures: Taj Mahal from up close and the temple caves at Ellora.
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File Type: jpg ellora1.jpg (48.7 KB, 149 views)
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 06:50 PM   #2
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Re: Trip to India

Thanks for the report, FlowGirl!!! I also plan to head to India in the next couple of years, if at all possible. I have some friends there, too. For low cost intra-country air travel, I have heard that spicejet.com is good; sort of a SouthWest Airlines equivalent.

A few questions:

Was language ever a barrier?

Did you ever encounter any bed bugs or other unmentionables in the budget accomodations or trains?

Did you encounter any place where you would consider settling down for a few months?

My best friend is from India, and he says that if you want to go to the beach that there are a lot better places than Goa, which is overrated. It sounds like you do not agree?

Did you have trouble with touts following you around? I have heard that this is a serious problem for caucasians.

Did you take special precautions with food? My friends say never, ever eat off the street. Indian food is my absolute favorite.

Thanks,
Kramer
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 06:58 PM   #3
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Re: Trip to India

I'm envious.
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 07:32 PM   #4
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Re: Trip to India

Kramer,

* We never had a problem with language, although we didn't step that far off the tourist trail.* Most of the bigger train stations have a counter for foriegn tourists where buying tickets are a snap.* There is a publication called "Trains at a Glance" that you can buy for about a $1 that is essential if you want to get around efficiently. The guesthouses are obviously used to dealing with English speaking tourists, and so are most restaurants although a phrase book might be handy when it comes to food.
*

* As for bugs - no problems with the guesthouses, although the hot water was sometimes iffy.* We mostly stayed at places that were on the high end of Lonely Planet's "Budget" category. Saw a cockroach twice on the train.* I also recommend bringing at least a sleep sack for ordinary sleeper class since they don't provide any bedding.* We bought blankets in Bombay and were still cold.* In 3 tier AC class and above you get freshly washed sheets and blankets, plus the compartments are sealed against the elements.* I suggest the upper bunk in all classes if you have a choice - you can go to bed when you want and have a little more privacy.

* Beaches at Goa were great, but I'm sure there are better.* We just didn't have time to explore much.* Even within Goa there are places that are more touristy than others.* I've heard Kerala is a great place to settle down for a few months but we didn't make it that far south.

* Food was no problem for me, but husband got sick several times while there even though we ate the same food.* Nothing serious, but he was run down for about 1/4 of the trip.* We were thankful for the Cipro and Immodium we brought.* We didn't eat street food, but did eat at some low end restaurants.

Touts and beggars are a problem, especially around the tourist areas.* There were times when it weared us down, but we'd usually just retreat to a rooftop restraurant and regain our peace.* Most of them will go away after a few "No's", after they figure out you aren't just bargaining with them.* I thought the touts were more aggressive than elsewhere in Asia.
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 08:44 PM   #5
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Re: Trip to India

Thanks for the trip report. It is nice to get an idea of what a trip to a place would be like. It sounds nice and the pictures look great! I just wonder how I would deal with all of the beggars. Would love to visit there someday though!

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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 09:56 PM   #6
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Re: Trip to India

Thanks, FlowGirl

Interesting about the food and your husband getting sick and not you. Well, as long as you have typhoid vaccine and Hep A shots, you can be pretty sure during the trip that it probably is not serious. Cipro is powerful and that alone can make you sick.

I am really happy to hear about minimal problems with bugs

The main thing many folks talk about when they return is the tout problem. I met Americans in South America who had been there, and they were very experienced travelers, and touts would follow them around for a long time, even walking backwards in front of them. At one point, they had to hire a tout to get rid of the other touts.

I am glad that you enjoyed your trip. I really feel that India is underappreciated as a tourist destination.

Kramer
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 10:19 PM   #7
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Re: Trip to India

Quote:
Originally Posted by kramer
Thanks, FlowGirl*

Interesting about the food and your husband getting sick and not you.* Well, as long as you have typhoid vaccine and Hep A shots, you can be pretty sure during the trip that it probably is not serious.*
Yes, we are both up-to-date on our shots including Hep A and B and JEV.* Really good idea, especially since bathrooms are not that clean, and never know about restaurant kitchens (even in the US).

As for the husband getting sick, we're not sure.* He normally has an iron clad constitution but* it's possible that his intensive triathlon training and work schedule had already suppressed his immune system before we arrived in country.* My day-to-day life is much more relaxed than his and I'm not nuts enough to exercise 3 hours a day.
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-16-2006, 10:24 PM   #8
 
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Re: Trip to India

Travelling to the Thrird world, you must get the appropriate shots, to skimp on these could prove to be life threatening.

India is not for everyone, you must be prepared to accept a Third World Nation, you must also have a strong stomache to cope with the smells, overwhelming.

The Taj is maginificent, but this ain't Disneyland.
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 12:24 AM   #9
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Re: Trip to India

Quote:
Originally Posted by FlowGirl
Yes, we are both up-to-date on our shots including Hep A and B and JEV.* Really good idea, especially since bathrooms are not that clean, and never know about restaurant kitchens (even in the US).
What is JEV?

Ha
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 03:12 AM   #10
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Re: Trip to India

Quote:
Originally Posted by HaHa
What is JEV?

Ha
Japanese Encephalitis Virus.* Not sure how big the risk is but I had read about an outbreak in India a few months before visiting.* The headline: "Thousands die for lack of one dollar shot".* In any case it is required for military personnel in our current location and they are willing to give it spouses for free so I said "What the hell?"
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 06:29 AM   #11
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Re: Trip to India

Great trip report Flow Girl. I am adding India to my travel list

Lance
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 09:34 AM   #12
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Re: Trip to India

Flowgirl, thanks for the great trip report - These kinds of posts are one of my favorite things about this forum. India was probably one of the few places in the world not on my list yet - now that's changed.

I think those temple caves alone would be worth seeing.

What specifically is a tout??
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 11:29 AM   #13
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Re: Trip to India

FlowGirl-
Thx for the report! I had no idea about the temple caves and now can't get them out of my head. Also, Udaipur (how can I forget that name?) sounds great and I'd never heard of it before.

India is very much on my mind as the trip I'd most like to take, but I have to get the family on board -- encouraging reports on the bug situation (one of DW's bugaboos) and I guess digestive disorders and touts just have to be considered part of the package...
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 05:47 PM   #14
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Re: Trip to India

Great report. India really is a wild place, and I was there for only a week (other travel constraints before and after), so I really had to move. I travelled Delhi-Jaipur-Agra-Khajuraho-Varanasi and ended up hiring a private taxi for about $20/day because I didn't have time for public transport.

You really have to bargain hard... I hear many people who grossly overpay for travel packages in Delhi.

It is the worst place in many ways... getting off the airplane in Delhi the air smells like jet fuel. At first you think that's just the airport but then it still smells like that in town and you realize it's just the diesel pollution. Touts were way too forward, but it does help toughen you. I soon found a pattern of first saying "No" nicely, then kind of agitatedly, then kind of menacingly, and then in a really loud and attention-getting yell "Stop following me around!". They rely on your not wanting to make a scene, so usually the quickest way to get rid of them is to make a scene.

The one thing I found most unsanitary was that the beds often did not have topsheets, just a heavy comforter that clearly had not been cleaned after the last guest. I would often wear clothes to bed in order to protect myself from the bedding. Not a problem since I always had AC rooms (it was too hot not to).

And it's noisy as heck... high population densities, honking vehicles, and diesel engines everywhere.

India is a stunning place visually. It's the most colorful place I've ever been... women wear bright Saris as everyday dress, even to do farm work. All the Hindu temples were beautiful. And when you get out into the countryside you can find some peace. One of the most memorable parts of my whirlwind trip was when the tire went flat in the cab and we stopped in a little rural area in the middle of nowhere while it got fixed.

The tire repair place was marked with a inner tube hanging on a tree, and I saw a sheepherder, livestock, farmers, all in that little area.

Another highlight was spending a few days in the little town of Khajuraho, where an indian teenager befriended me and showed me around the non-touristy parts of town (of course expecting a "donation" at the end). Having him constantly at my side kept the touts at bay and I was able to relax a bit.

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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 06:22 PM   #15
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Re: Trip to India

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheryl
What specifically is a tout??
Quote:
Originally Posted by fireme
When travelling India people would constantly approach, trying to strike up personal conversations, usually with the goal of befriending you and steering you towards their friend's gem shop. So their question "what do you do" is really a nice way of asking "are you rich and dumb enough that I should bother trying to scam you".
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 06:47 PM   #16
 
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Re: Trip to India

Beautiful Women, my Grand Mother was from India, I inherited a skin colour that gives me a year round tan appearance, but got the blue eyes from the Irish side.
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 07:17 PM   #17
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Re: Trip to India

Thanks for 'splaining that Nords.

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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 07:50 PM   #18
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Re: Trip to India

India is one of the most interesting places that I've ever been. It's somehow manages to be exhilarating and frustrating all in the same day! Nothing is really subdued about India, it's definitely a country of extremes.

A few interesting notes from our trip early last year:

After we landed in Chennai and went through customs on the way to exiting the airport,
a policeman, who looked like he had nothing else to do, herded us through a metal detector. Now, what's the point of sending us through one our way OUT of a plane?!? We noticed over and over again how the government seems to think that they need to employ as many people as necessary to give people jobs.

Indians pride themselves on being the world's largest democracy and it seems to be a vibrant one. Interestingly, India was the first country (maybe only?) to have democratically elected communists (albeit only on the state level in Kerala and West Bengal). It's weird to see communist party flyers and Lenin/Marx pictures while going around Kerala, which BTW is also the most Chrisitian and most literate state in India.

The variety of religions there is stunning. We went to an old Jewish settlement, Jain temples, Bah'ai temples, Christian churches and of course Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Indians, as expected, have a very Asian sense of personal space. They are very friendly and will come up and talk to you and take pictures with you. We always seem to be asked: "What's your name? Are you married? How much do you make?"

The touts are VERY frustrating. They almost spoilt the Taj Mahal experience for us.

The castles (called "forts" in India) in Jodhpur and Agra were easily as, if not more, impressive than anything we've ever seen in Europe. There's are all kinds of different historical sites that just don't seem to be well taken care of by the government.

We will never complain about bureacracy again after being to India! Things move so painfully slow! It can take you hours to book a train because the lines are long and the ticketers take frequent breaks. They are friendly once you get to them though! It's also interesting to see how complicated some things are. If any of you go to an Indian Railway station, check out the special fares they have for different grounds. There is at least 20-30 different types of discounts for various disadvantaged people ("Passengers with one eye and one leg, 25% discount. Passengers who are blind in both eyes and are war veterans, 50% discount." etc..)

Some things move slowly, but others things move REALLY fast. Indians can plan an entire wedding in under a week! My former roommate might be getting an arranged marriage in Southern India, but he doesn't know when. Apparently, the parents have to meet and approve everything and then he and the girl meet and if they like each other, it's a go. They start planning the wedding immediately and based on the astrological charts (and if it's "wedding season"), they could settle the whole thing VERY quickly!

The sights, smells of everyday life are quite captivating. Everyone seems to be brightly dressed and the smell of different spices is always in the air. Food is awesome. Very spicy in certain areas, but not too bad in others.

Didn't realize it, but there were tons of Indians who were killed in WWI and WWII. There are supposedly quite a few Victoria Cross recipients as well.

Nearing the end of the trip, I was ready to go back home. But now, I think I'll definitely have to go visit again. I'll post some pictures if anyone's interested.
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 08:38 PM   #19
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Re: Trip to India

In 1985 I first went to Nepal and then to India. The differences between the people are amazing. In Nepal you can feel the warmth and friendliness of the people. In India you felt as if you were looked down upon.
That being said, I would go back to both places.
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Re: Trip to India
Old 01-17-2006, 10:16 PM   #20
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Re: Trip to India

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I I'll post some pictures if anyone's interested.
Wandersalot,
Maybe you could put them online in some shared digital notebook space and then post the link? It would be a treat to see. thx,
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