My four rating reflects some disconnect between the agreed itinerary we set up with our travel company and what happened on the ground in India and Nepal. I'm not sure if that was the travel company problem or that of its partner and its subcontractors. That said, any issues we raised were addressed quickly and mostly to our complete satisfaction.
Overall, I'd say that travel in this part of the world is difficult. Traffic in the cities is impossible! Also, we found poor air quality most everywhere, but particularly in Delhi and to some extent in Agra. I had visited the Taj nearly 38 years earlier and a comparison of photos from that trip and our latest underline the air quality problem. (Nevertheless, the Taj is magnificent!) While the travel was difficult and sometimes pretty exhausting, the trip lived up well to our expectations. We wanted an adventure and we got it! I am particularly interested in Eastern philosophies and religions and it was a bonanza on that count. I learned much. The temples and palaces were amazing, and I loved the vibrant colors everywhere, from saris to spices. Our travel agency was good to work with in setting up our trip, patient and accommodating. We worked on the itinerary for a number of months. The guides, transfer agents, and drivers in both India and Nepal were generally terrific. Not once during the entire time was anyone other than perfectly punctual. Some seemed exceptionally well informed -- including our guide through Mumbai's Dharavi slum, who had lived there himself for more than a dozen years. We nicknamed our guide in Mumbai "sadhu" -- both because of his appearance (rail thin, beard, long hair) but also the depth of his knowledge about Hinduism and his ability to communicate that in terms we could grasp. We spent six days travelling by car with our driver who we came to appreciate enormously as our friend and guardian. As for hotels, we loved the hotels in Katmandu and Udaipur. We were only slightly less impressed with the hotel in Varanasi. The hotels in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, were quite good. The hotel in Pushkar was fine though located a little far from town. The hotel in Pokhara, Mumbai, and in Bangalore were acceptable but not more.
We particularly enjoyed several meals that we had with host families in both countries. These really helped us get a better feel for normal life, and since my wife is particularly interested in Indian cooking, cooking lessons were included in three stops. We also very much enjoyed a few stops that were not included on our original agenda -- stops added with the help of the tour company staff on the ground to fill unexpected gaps in our schedule. A particular favorite was the "community kitchen" at Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, a Sikh temple in Delhi. Another highlight was celebrating the Dewali festival at the home of one of the partners in the tour company. Another unscheduled stop was the site in Delhi where Ghandi was assassinated. Varanasi was amazing -- an assault on the senses but well worth it. In Mumbai, we had an unscheduled introduction to the city's "lunchbox brigade" -- very interesting. And the houseboat cruise out of Alleppey was perhaps the most relaxing part of our nearly four week trip. We also specially enjoyed our visit to Udaipur, which is quite a lovely city. In Katmandu, the one hour flight for a closeup view of the Himalayas and Mt. Everest was well worth it. The Great Buddha Stupa, a World Heritage site in Katmandu, was also a highlight.
If we were to do the trip again, we would either spend more time on the same itinerary or cut down on the itinerary a bit in order to provide more downtime. This no doubt reflects our age in part -- we're both well past retirement. But I think our schedule would probably have taxed most anyone. Our travels took us to 11 cities. We were on 13 airplanes (including our international flights to and from), four boats, one train, and about 1500 miles by car during a 26 day trip. That doesn't include the tuk-tuks, rickshaws, and one elephant ride! As for the itinerary, I would probably want to do a Bollywood tour while in Mumbai, and I would add Amritsar to the agenda. We spent a bit too much time in Pokhara given that the Camel Fair which we had wanted to see was mostly over by the time we arrived.
TRAVEL COMPANY COMMENTS:
Dan and Candy, thank you so much for the detailed review! It was such a pleasure working with you. Our team goes above and beyond to deliver an enriching experience. However, in the world of travel, there are unfortunately no guarantees that we will exceed every expectation. For this reason, communication is essential and having my reps available to you 24/7 is a key component to your issues being addressed quickly and satisfactory. In this part of the world, having advocates truly makes a difference. I wholeheartedly agree that travel in this region can be difficult, and that is why my award-winning specialists specialize in South Asia. Having independent time is definitely a welcomed element of any itinerary, especially with travel time like yours that exceeds three weeks. On the positive side, you experienced so many diverse destinations in a short period of time!
I would also like to express my gratitude for sending a photo album as a thank you gift. It is our philosophy to create relationships and not just transactions, and your thoughtfulness fuels my passion for connecting with travelers. The travel industry is not just about destinations, but about connections. It is a joy to have you as a traveler with us!
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