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Report 843: A Month in India

By Sharonov from Illinois, USA, Winter 2005

Trip Description: 1/12/2005 - 2/14-2005 We traveled through Rajasthan and also made forays into Agra and Varanasi. All of our hotels were pre-booked, and we had the services of a driver throughout our stay.

Destinations: Countries - India

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 8: A Month in India

photo by Bob Novickas

Street Scene

For years we had wanted to see India. Exotic, colorful, rich in history, highly varied in terrain and inhabitants--India has it all. But India is a long way from our home in Midwestern U.S., and one or two weeks just wasn't worth the time we'd spend in transit. So, we waited until retirement when we could spend a month. We found that even a month wasn't nearly long enough!

After much research, we decided to confine our visit to one area, Rajasthan. Rajasthan is the region most often portrayed in movies featuring the romantic side of India, and has the magnificent desert forts and Moghul palaces that give such an exotic feel.

However we couldn't go to India and not see the Taj Mahal. So we added Agra. And all the guidebooks said that Varanasi was the quintessential India, so that city got tacked on. We were not sorry for those extra days!

There are umpteen companies offering custom trips to India. We decided not to go with a group, since in India it is comparatively cheap to hire a private driver. We did find a tour professional who lined us up with a driver and pre-booked our hotels. We told him that we wanted mostly "heritage" hotels, which are castles, mansions and forts that have been made into hotels.

We didn't want just the main tourist cities. The "Golden Triangle" is composed of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, and of course we wanted to see them, but we also wanted to experience the villages and smaller roads, to get "off the beaten track."

That we did. We rarely rode on the national highways, instead keeping to smaller roads that were filled with camels, women carrying loads of firewood on their heads, herds of sheep, camel carts, groups of people walking, donkey carts and the occasional feral pig. We rarely traveled over 50 K's an hour, which was fine.

Anyone traveling to India will be miserable unless he or she goes in expecting that what they see is eons away from their cities at home. Animals are everywhere, even in the big cities. It's not unusual to walk down the street and have to maneuver around several cows in one block. Strange, feral pigs root around the garbage in all cities. They don't look like our pigs. They are much thinner, have long snouts like boars, and are hairy.

The cows and pigs share the streets with street dogs and an occasional stray donkey or camel. What do they eat? Garbage. People simply thrown their garbage in the street, where it is consumed by the animals. And, where you have all those animals, guess what else is in the street? You have to be very careful where you step.

We didn't mind, and were constantly charmed and amazed by the animals. It was interesting to watch how they all seemed to ignore each other and, though sharing limited space, seemed almost to live parallel lives. Occasionally a dog would chase away a pig, but they largely kept to their own little societies.

To enjoy India, a traveler must also go expecting a poverty level far surpassing those in the U.S. or western Europe. It's no use formulating any value judgement, what is, is. It has been there for eons and will be there for many years more, whether you go to India or stay home. Just don't cry and wring your hands. And only give money to old, disabled ladies outside the temple. Don't give money to the children, find a good charity such as Christian Childrens' Fund or somesuch.

Our one month trip cost $2200 for the hotels and car/driver. Food was extra. We spent a little more because we felt safer eating in restaurants catering to tourists. Younger and more adventurous travelers could spend far less than we did on food.

The other cost was tips. Everyone who gives you the slightest service expects a tip. Our driver, who deserved a huge tip (he was wonderful) got one. He still phones us occasionally. We became very attached to him; he treated us like his parents and we began to think of him as kind of a son (we do have a son his age.)

We are travel junkies, and have always put foreign travel top on our list of life experiences. India is, so far, the most spectacular, interesting, exotic, place we have visited.

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