By far the most difficult part (at least so far) of planning our India trip is actually choosing where to go once we get there. A country as large as India, with as many culturally and historically significant cities, regions, and sights as she has, makes for lots and lots of discussion, research, and ultimately, compromise.
If someone from another country was planning their very first visit to the US, and said to you, “I have two weeks. What should I see?”, what would you tell them? Chances are, you wouldn’t recommend visiting Boston, NYC, Miami, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Austin all on the same visit, however great each of those cities are.
You might suggest hitting just a few big cities, like NYC, LA, and Chicago, which are all very different from each other, and unique to themselves, and will give them a view of both coasts as well as a Great Lake. Or, there’s a lot to be said for exploring one region, like New England, and coming to understand that area well. But would you suggest smaller, less-well-known places over the big sights? Is a small fishing village in Maine more interesting than the Freedom Trail?
There is no one right answer, of course, and much depends on the traveler’s tolerance for, well, travel. While we love to travel TO foreign lands, once we get there we like to stay put a bit. That is, we like to really get to know a city or area for a few days – much more than most tours and sample itineraries we’ve come across would have you do. As much as we enjoyed our honeymoon–a Globus tour of the UK given to us by Rob’s parents–by the end of the trip we were fairly exhausted at the one- and two-night pace of the tour. By my count, we actually visited ten cities in 11 days: London, Chester, Salisbury/Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford-on-Avon, Llangollen, Grasmere, Glasgow, Edinburg, York. Some of those stops were great, and others a bit of a blur. All I remember of Grasmere was Wordsworth’s grave and a quite good ploughman’s sandwich.
We enter into planning any trip with the assumption that we will be going back; that way we are able to make tough decisions about leaving some things out. And while 15 days seems like a long time, we know it will probably fly by, and we won’t be able to get to every place we’d like. So, tough decisions are called for.
There’s the Golden Triangle, of course, the route that first-time visitors often take: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur. There are the hill towns of Shimla and Darjeeling. There’s desert, rainforest, city; north, south, east, west. Indian friends at work have recommended their own personal favorites (which unsurprisingly often align with where they are from): Kerala, Bangalore, Lucknow, Udaipur.
And of course there are our own ideas of what we’d like to come home with (figuratively) from this visit, the things we’d like to see, taste and learn about. Recognizing our own craving for some downtime, especially towards the end of what will undoubtedly be a challenging-at-times two weeks, we want to end in a place that will be hopefully more relaxing, and relaxed.
In the end, we have settled on the following tentative itinerary: Delhi–Jaipur–Kolkata–(maybe Varanasi)–Kathmandu (yes, that’s Nepal). Why those? Well, Delhi is a natural starting point because it’s where we’ll land first, but we’ll also be visiting a friend there for a few days, and hopefully getting acclimated a bit. It’s the government capital, so should be a good introduction to the country. Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is the capital of Rajasthan, “Land of Kings”. We’re looking forward to seeing this desert city and suspect we’ll find some similarities to Marrakech. Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) was the capital under the British Raj and the East India Company, and is still an important cultural and educational capital, and the third largest city in India. It’s also got a vibrant food scene, including street food, which we’re keen to try. Varanasi is considered the most holy city in India for Hindus, and where many make pilgrimages to bathe in the Ganges. We have gone back and forth on whether to include this in our trip, mainly because it would be a short (two night) stop, and although many people have written about what a great stop this is, we’re worried about wearing ourselves out. A final stop in Nepal will provide us with a bit of a wind-down, as well as a different culture, and possibly a view of the Himalayas.
So far, our Delhi plans are set, as is the Jaipur hotel. Next step is booking the travel between the rest, and the remainder of the hotels.
If you have any tips or suggestions, please let us know!