India is a land of colossal extremes: A place of beauty and decay, wealth and poverty, tradition and progress, kindness and hostility. It is a country that is difficult to wrap your mind around when you are there, and even more so when you return. I recently spent ten days in India, and only after emerging from the haze of jet lag did I realize what a profound impact the trip had on me. It seems that many well-heeled travelers return from India feeling this way and perhaps why so many well-heeled travelers avoid going altogether. But traveling to a country of such unparalleled depth, heart and vibrant color is undoubtedly worth the risk. For me, much of the discomfort lay in the fact that one visit uncovered only a mere fraction of what India has to offer. I am already itching to return and experience all of the diverse landscapes, local cultures and adventures I missed the first time around.
Getting one’s mind around a place like India begins in the trip planning phases. Merely conceiving of a visit can be overwhelming. Above all else one thing is a must: You cannot do it alone. As amazing a place as India is, traveling in the country is a logistical nightmare and full of unwelcome surprises. I know from personal experience that it only takes an unpredicted traffic jam to ruin an entire day, so using a local operator with expertise and resources is a must.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that first-time travelers have before going to India. For help planning your next trip, Indagare members can contact our bookings department.
Unless you have a month to spare, your first question should be “North versus South?” When most people think of India, they think of Northern India and more specifically Rajasthan. The history, extravagant palaces, beautifully manufactured goods and frenetic atmosphere are all characteristic of Rajasthan. The South on the other hand is quite different, typified by Hindu temple complexes, stunning natural landscapes and a more spiritual, mellow way of life. While often preferred by the few that have been to both regions, the South lacks the opulent accommodations sophisticated travelers have come to expect of India. Until it receives the proper investment, I would suggest a first trip be one to Rajasthan and its surrounds including the following stops: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Mumbai. Depending on one’s interests, the trip might include side-jaunts to Varanasi, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and Jaisalmer.
Fall through early spring in the Northern Hemisphere (October through April) marks the best time to travel to Northern India. Post-monsoon season (Mid-September to November) temperatures range from 65 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, while winter season (December to March) temperatures range from 43 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. From a climate standpoint the best months to visit are November and February. That said, for those with budget restrictions, late September offers manageable weather and off-season rates, typically at a 40% discount.
Many places claim they offer something for everyone; India actually delivers on this promise, whether you are seeking culture, great food, spa-wellness or wilderness exploration. Here are four types of travelers who will be very happy there:
India is for… Hotel Snobs: With no shortage of over the top properties – outlets of Oberoi, Taj and Aman just to name a few – India is Mecca for discerning travelers. Whether you want to be situated in the center of town or relax at a resort on the outskirts, there are a number of extravagant options to choose from. For a dramatic setting, the Amarvilas overlooks the Taj Mahal and every room category has a view. For a fabulous room, the luxury tents at the Rajvilas are perfect for a romantic retreat. For a little bit of both, the lake front Udaivilas is my number one pick. Read Indagare’s review of Oberoi Udaivilas.
India is for… Culture Seekers: With a 9,000-year history, India is one of the oldest and most important world civilizations. What makes the country particularly fascinating is the fusion of external influences that have shaped its culture and landscape. Hindu spiritual leaders, Muslim conquerors and British politicians left in their wake spectacular temples, palaces, forts and monuments, rendering India one the most physically appealing places on earth. Some of India’s most impressive attractions include the Jagdish Temple in Udaipur, Amber Fort in Jaipur, Taj Mahal in Agra and the Gateway to India in Bombay.
India is for… Shopaholics: Many of the best products in the world are manufactured in India, so it is no surprise that the country is a shopper’s paradise. Unique furniture, clothing, home accents and accessories can be bought almost anywhere, however each region and certain cities are known for particular goods. Rajasthan specializes in jewelry and colorful textiles (Jaipur is known for gems); Bihar and Varanassi in intricate wood inlay work; Maharastra in leather goods and Kashmir in carpets. Some of my favorite finds include Good Earth and Bungalow 8 for home accents, Bombay Electric and Hot Pink for clothing and accessories, Amrapali and Gem Palace for jewelry.
India is for… Adventurers: For all of those nature enthusiasts out there, India is a fantastic destination for thrill-seeking outdoorsmen. Between tiger safaris in Ranthambore, riding elephants in Jaipur, camping in the Jaiselmer desert and climbing the Himalayas, an entire itinerary can be focused on experiencing India’s unique terrain in exhilarating ways – and without leaving any essence of luxury behind! I will never forget waking up at dawn to ride elephants through Nilah heritage village, which culminated in a fully catered picnic at Mr. Oberoi’s private home.
Safety is a chief concern among all prospects, and while no travel professional can predict the future we can advise on what to expect. On my trip I found the local Indians to be warm, welcoming and generous people. Like any other country, there are extremists that do not mirror the kindness of the general population. While traveling throughout the countryside – Udaipur, Jaipur and Agra – the safety question did not even cross my mind. In Bombay and Delhi, where isolated violence has occurred in the past, the government and hotel industry have taken great measures to make sure tourists feel well protected. This often means going through a similar process to airport security before entering any hotel or tourist venue. This might be off-putting to some but made me feel at ease.
Mark Twain, who wrote beautifully and poignantly about India said that it’s “the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.” Already busy planning a return trip, I could not agree more.
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