Explore India Tour September – October 2015-10-27
Pre Tour; your notes and advice before the trip started proved to be very useful – from how to obtain a visa to suggestions of clothing to toiletries and travel insurance. I’d advise any traveler to read these carefully and apply the ones that suit.
Flights: after flying such long distances with Cathay Pacific I have to say that I would fly with them again anywhere. Superb service. Also I was expecting less from the Indian regional airlines but Spicejet and Indigo exceeded the performance of any regional airline I have flown with in North America. Air India is not so great!
Hotels: again, I was astonished at the quality of the Hotels and the facilities offered. The variety was also beyond expectation. The Greenhouse Hotel in Pushkar is unique – I could have stayed another week and dinner on the roof at the palace hotel in Ranthambore was magical.
Food: We were never short of drinking water on the bus – thanks to the kind attention of the driver and the hotels which provided it freely. Sadly I am not one who can eat hot, spicy foods and the foods at most of the dinner buffets were heavily spiced and I had to circumvent many offerings. Western foods are more available at breakfast buffets and I would advise travellers to eat a hearty breakfast. Towards the end of our trip I had to admit that there was little chance of mild spice so gave up trying. I did find that an occasional energy bar went a long way to solving this problem.
Daily Tours: in general the topics were very interesting and some excelled. I cannot imagine anything in the world that is as beautiful as the Taj Mahal. It brings tears to the eyes. The boat cruise at Udaipur was reminiscent of Venice and the tour of the palace there quite illuminating. The visit to the Exotic Marigold Hotel near Jaipur was sheer delight. Lunch was hot! I didn’t expect to see too many tigers at the tour of Ranthambore National Park and was not disappointed. It was, however, pleasant to get out into the more untouched countryside.
Probably, with some exceptions, my strongest memories and the completely enjoyable part was the getting there. The bus journeys were so full, so complete, so much of the human experience that I was always sorry when we arrived at our destination yet what we found once there was another unique experience.
Personnel: I cannot say too much about the people on your team. Obviously there is no such thing as equal so some must stand out. Raheev, your Operations Manager, talked to us individually each day to monitor progress and seek to know if there were any changes he could initiate to make our trip better. Your local manager in each town was on site to greet us and explain the local programme and introduce the guide.
The Guides: all tried to make their own particular place especially interesting. I do think that some guides might work harder to improve their language skills. Some start speaking slowly and concisely and, getting excited about the message, speed up and lose some of their precision. I know that they are speaking infinitely better English than I could ever speak Hindi but it’s useful to remember that listening very, very carefully to language other than one’s own can be very tiring. In my own work before retirement I was in similar situations often and know the weariness that language can bring.
The Guides could mix up the message so that some modern facts and events are mixed in with the history. If I were doing their job I’d be tempted to also distribute a brief “info highlights” sheet – not to replace the spoken script but to augment it.
There were several anecdotal events with Guides, some hilarious, some touching, but never did they allow us to put ourselves at risk. They all were watching over us.
Drivers: the client is with the driver for most of the tour. We became fast friends with our driver BaBu who nursed us like a mother hen for twelve days. He checked on us before leaving each morning with a broad grin and “Good morning everybody. Passports, wallets?” He never once exhibited irritation or annoyance with the road or traffic conditions and was patience itself when we caused delays. He could find anything (Strepsils for a viciously sore throat) and weave his way through traffic like a camel through the eye of a needle. He proved to be a gem in Explore India’s crown.
Varanasi: when arranging the trip you suggested we add a visit to Varanasi to our itinerary with the words (paraphrased) “some people think you haven’t seen India unless you’ve seen Varanasi”. Sounded like a sales pitch to me but I went along with it and how right you were. It is everything one imagines India to be – everything you’ve seen in National Geographic. The Ganges, the Holy Men, The Cremation Site, the Museum and archaeological site where Buddha gave his first sermon. Even the streets seem different - Spiritual (?) - despite the mess. But even in Varanasi it’s still people who make the difference and you have an excellent local manager but brilliant guide. Jha Rahi, a very spiritual and academic man was a joy to be with and he explained many of the mysteries of the local condition and the seeming religious contradictions.
If asked, I would undoubtedly say that the once in a lifetime memories would be of the Taj Mahal and Varanasi – and our driver’s skill in traffic. Others would point to the day we saw a Black Python trying to cross the road in front of us or the death defying traffic in Old Delhi or the three hundred booth carpet exhibition that Jha managed to get us into. Perhaps the thing that everyone could remember would be how the staff of Explore India paid such great care and concern to the safety, well-being and pleasure of their clients.
Summary: perhaps, most important is how a client would answer the question “Would you go again and would you go with Explore India”? My response would be a heartfelt “Yes – in a heartbeat”.