I have now written two blogs about our trip to India in March 2017. The first was about our itinerary. I provided details about where we went and stayed, what we did, and where we ate. That blog is called Fourteen Days In India With Kids: Cows, Culture and Chaos. The second blog was about the challenges we faced while on our trip to India. Why you need to consider very carefully whether you and your family are ready to visit India. That blog is called India with Kids: Eight Reasons Not to Go.
Now I want to write about what made India an amazing experience for my family. Why, regardless of the challenges, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip.
India has so many wonderful things to offer visitors. The history is fascinating. There are a lot of beautiful palaces and temples that have majestically withstood the passage of time. There are many religious temples and mosques, all of which are welcoming of visitors regardless of their faith. The food is delicious and the variety offered is astounding. The people are friendly and regularly invite you into their home for tea whether they are affluent or poor. The monkeys, cows, and elephants that seem to saunter around everywhere are captivating – how they exist where one would never think they could or should is mind boggling!
Accordingly, there are many reasons why a trip to India is worthwhile. However, I have chosen to focus on four of them. The following are the four reasons why India should be considered for your next travel destination.
India Was Very Inexpensive
There are many ways that you can travel India. It is an extremely poor country, so you could visit India and live on only a few dollars a day. You would still have food and a roof over your head. However, that roof might have holes in it, your showers would likely be cold and your food would make most westerners ill (not from quality, but from its food preparation), but you could do it. On the other hand, you could travel in luxury. You could stay in five star hotels, eat at excellent restaurants that cater to tourists (excellent Indian or western food prepared under strict sanitary conditions), and have a car, driver and/or guides at your disposal.
Luxury travel in India is obviously more than a few dollars a day. However, it is significantly less than any Western country, and less than most developing countries where I have travelled. Our fourteen day itinerary in India for 6 people cost us around $6000 USD, excluding hotels and food. That included approximately $1300 (3 x$430) for three excursions into Ranthambore National Park for our tiger safari. That fee was regulated and controlled by the Indian government.
So for $4300 USD (I am going to exclude the three tiger safaris), we had a 9 seater van and a driver throughout our whole trip. Every time we arrived at an airport, we had someone greet us, take us to our hotel, and take care of check in. When we left a hotel, that same person would return. He would make sure our check out when smoothly. He would accompany us to the airport or train station, if we were heading that way. Every place we went, we had a separate guide who took us on our private tours.
Food at tourist quality restaurants were less than western prices, but not drastically less. The more adventurous you are in trying more “authentic-type” restaurants or street food, the more money you will save! Perhaps you will be one of the lucky ones and you will not get sick!
Hotels are the most expensive part of this trip. However, even at the luxury end, there is lots of choice and variation in quality. You can pay around $250 USD per night and stay in a very high quality/high service hotel that would make anyone happy. You could also go super luxurious and stay at hotels that are multiples of that. A more refined experience would be offered, but it isn’t necessary to spend that amount to get a five star quality night in India.
Service was Phenomenal
Everywhere we went, we had exceptional service. For services that one would normally expect a couple of people assisting you, based upon western expectations, there would be five or six people helping. So arrivals and departures from hotels were usually fast and pleasant. Whenever we checked into a hotel, we were usually offered a hot towel to wipe our hands and face, and refreshments. This was a very pleasant way to finish your travels and be introduced to your next hotel.
Restaurant staff were very well trained and courteous. Food was made to order, fresh and always served well.
An Example of Amazing Service
We also saw first hand how important service was in a couple of our hotels. For example, once we ate at Giardino, the Italian restaurant at our hotel Taj Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur. The food was excellent, except my husbands dish was served only warm. The food in this restaurant was expensive. It was consistent with going to an expensive restaurant in a Western country. Thus, expectations were high. When the waiter came to ask us about our food, we said it was all excellent, except my husband’s dish was not served hot.
Rectifying The Problem
Well, the flood gates opened after that. The waiter insisted on bringing another dish…anything for my husband. When he politely refused a few times, the waiter seemed unsure what to do next. So, I told him that our teenage son could always eat more. The waiter was thrilled to order more pasta for my son. I also asked them to pack up the calzone that I only partially ate (it was huge) so that my sons could also eat it later. The next day, I learnt that both boys received from room service a full plate of pasta and a brand new fresh calzone, and no leftovers were delivered! Desert was offered, delivered to all of us, and was free.
Then, each and every member of the kitchen staff came out, including the chef, to hear our comments about what was wrong about the meal. We were mortified by this. However, we did as we were asked. Finally, when the bill arrived and my husband began adding a tip, the head waiter said that we should not leave any gratuity. He said learning how to be better was enough (suffice it to say we left a tip!).
Not to belabour this story further, the next day at breakfast, the head chef of the whole hotel came to see us to apologize and to ask if everything was ok.
Rest assured, we never complained about another thing at this hotel! The earnestness in which people wanted to be excellent at what they did, and to make us happy, was incredible. We saw this here and in many other places in India.
India Has A Sophisticated Tourism Industry
We were seamlessly met, transported and guided throughout a multiple day and multiple city private tour of India, and it was brilliantly done. Our guides were very professional, had excellent English, and were very accommodating.
I luckily discovered a local travel company called Indian Vistas on the internet. I always try and work with a local travel agent when creating an itinerary. Even so, I do a lot of research before I reach out to a travel agent so I have an idea of where and what I want to see. However, if you have a really good local travel agent, they can piece together what you want, and suggest other interesting things to do or see, to build a very interesting and satisfying itinerary. That is what happened.
This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. I am currently trying to organize a 14 day trip to Colombia this summer. I am dealing with a very unsophisticated tourism industry there. There are multiple hotel choices of varying quality in most major cities, but not anywhere else. It is hard to find private transfers between major cities and rural cities only a couple of hours apart. Where they are offered, they are ridiculously expensive. It took me weeks to find a local travel agent who could help me create an itinerary. However, ultimately, his recommendations were not based upon what I was asking for, but what he could find that is currently offered in Colombia. That is an important distinction.
That did not happen when we created our itinerary for India. With a few emails and a couple of calls, I explained what I wanted and the first proposal was almost perfect. After dozens and dozens of trips that I have organized or sought the assistance of travel agents, I can tell you that does not normally happen. It’s a tribute to the travel agent, but also to the tourism industry that can offer such a rich and diverse experience in India.
India Has Extraordinary Historical And Cultural Sites To Visit
We had some amazing experiences in India. A highlight for me was a trip to Amritsar where we toured the Golden Temple. We watched hundreds of volunteers in enormous facilities preparing and cooking meals to feed between 50,000 – 75,000 people a day for free. It was extraordinary.
We spent an evening at the India/Pakistan border. I never thought that I would witness thousands of people, on both sides of the India/Pakistan border, screaming, dancing, and celebrating the lowering of their flags. The atmosphere was crazy. I felt like I had been dropped into the Coliseum during Roman times and I was about to witness chariot races or some other gladiator ritual.
The Taj Mahal was magical and as beautiful as photos always suggest. In Agra, the Agra Fort was remarkable and it was fascinating to learn about its history. In Delhi, I loved exploring the ruins of Qutab Minar and Humayun’s Tomb.
Climbing up to the Amer Fort in Jaipur, on the back of an elephant, was an amazing experience. It offered breathtaking views of the valley below. I also really enjoyed visiting the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur and seeing ancient clothing, weapons and artifacts.
I feel that the tiger safari was the highlight of our trip. It was a great privilege to see these extraordinary and endangered animals up close in their natural surroundings. I would easily return to India tomorrow to spend more time at Sher Bagh and at Ranthambore National Park.
There are lots of reasons why a visit to India should be considered as a destination in your future. However, when and with whom needs to be properly considered. There are lots of challenges that a tourist faces in India that you do not experience in Western or other developing countries. You need to be prepared for those as every person and family is different. Regardless of when you go, you are in for a cultural treat that will stimulate all your senses and it will be a trip that you will always remember.
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