1.Do not use overnight trains.
Actually, we recommend that you avoid train travel as much as possible. Most visitors to India are unaware of the extremely poor sanitation and hygiene in almost all of India’s trains. Railway lines through most of the country are surrounded by both animal and human waste and the flies and insects that fester there have the ability to get into trains, including so called First Class compartments.
Many of the gastro-intestinal issues that visitors to India experience occur as a direct result of train travel. The two most expensive components of a tour of India are lodging and travel between destinations, by flights or by road. By using overnight trains, price focused agencies are able to eliminate both these expenses, but subject you to very poor conditions. Rats and other vermin are also common on most trains and railway stations.
2.Do not accept itineraries that include cumpolsory stops at “handicraft centers” and other similar “artisan centers”.
All of these lead to one thing – forced shopping. Price focused agencies include these as standard stops on itineraries because their primary source of income is the commissions that they receive from shops that masquerade as centers for artisans. You will often spend more time being sold very hard at these shops (with no opportunity for escape) and less time at monuments like the TajMahal. Premier agencies facilitating tours of India will guide you to quality “no pressure” stores if you want to shop for local handicrafts, but will not include such stops as standard.
3. Do not book your sightseeing tours and domestic travel arrangements from lodging providers, including luxury hoteliers.
Visitors often fall for a low room cost on such packages from hotel chains, and are then fleeced on costs for travel between destinations and excursions, and are subjected to low quality guides and facilitators. The better guides and accompanying Tour Directors do not work with hoteliers as they are unable to get consistent business like they do from a premier tour operator. India’s better hoteliers are specialists at providing an incredible level of hospitality; premier tour operators are experts at providing a high quality tour.
4. Do not select fast paced tours if you really want to experience the culture of India.
Try to schedule ample time in the larger destinations in India. Current tour itineraries all focus on trying to show you as many destinations as possible and don’t allow enough time to really experience any of the amazing monuments and experiences that are included. When we compare the time that a visitor gets to experience each component of a tour in other countries in Asia, tours of India fall far short in this aspect due to the large number of experiences available at each destination. Current tour itineraries really do not allow you for any cultural immersion.
Although Rajasthan Holiday Planners designs our itineraries to minimize travel time and maximize experience time, travel in India is very time consuming, and we strongly feel the need to provide more time for cultural immersion to our guests. With this in mind, we are changing our small group tour offerings to include additional days in some destinations starting September 2015. Independent travelers will be able to select from these more immersive itineraries and our current faster paced tours.
5. Do not base your planning solely on the advice of your Indian friends or people that have visited India in the past.
We realize that this sounds strange but feel the need to point out the potential hazards. Let us give you a couple of examples.
Many of our guests, when they first contact us, ask for Goa to be included in their travel plans based on their Indian friend’s recommendation. While Goa is a charming coastal region, it has lost some of this charm during the last couple of decades as it has become a favorite party destination of youth from all over the world. Most beaches have a party scene where copious amounts of alcohol and drugs are consumed and most of the inland communities are full of businesses that cater to this clientele. There are luxury beach resorts in the Goa area that have a much more sedate environment and if beach time is your only interest, Goa is still one of India’s best destinations. But it is no longer what immigrants from India recall from their visits 20 or 30 years ago. The state of Kerala and the city of Kochi (Cochin), a couple of hundred miles south of Goa on India’s western coast, offer everything that Goa has to offer and have a much more organic culture and ambiance.
Some of our guests tell us they have no interest in Delhi because their friend who visited India did not enjoy it. This is a major error for anyone planning an exploration of India. Delhi has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more unique experiences than any other city in India. We know why some visitors develop a negative perspective on this amazing city. Most travelers land at Delhi late at night or very early in the morning and start their tour within a few hours, especially those arriving from the Americas after 20 to 30 hours of flights and stops. While they are experiencing severe jet lag and their internal clock is telling them they need to be in bed, their tour operator carts them off to Old Delhi. Old Delhi is an assault on the senses for most visitors even if they are rested, but it is also India’s greatest opportunity to really experience urban middle class India. The sounds, smells and the incredible congestion are the first thing the weary and jet lagged visitors experience and it surprises us that more of them don’t immediately ask to be put on the next flight back home.
We recommend that our guests arrive in India a day before they start touring so as to rest and acclimatize. We almost always start our Delhi sightseeing with the various attractions of New Delhi, much of which has broad, tree-lined roads and avenues that are relatively uncongested, as well as buildings and an ambiance similar to other world class cities. Only after this do we proceed to Old Delhi. Our upcoming itineraries will not take guests to Old Delhi until their second day of touring. We have never had a guest recommend skipping Delhi to the referrals they send us.
You can spend a significant amount of time researching your travels plans, which is something that many explorers enjoy. Please note that a lot of the information out there, both on the web and in print, is outdated, or just incorrect. If you are going to use a premier tour company to facilitate your tour of India, select one that has real India specialists who can guide you and make recommendations. Such specialists should have travelled extensively in India themselves, and most of the large companies that sell the world do not have such specialists, despite their claims to the contrary