I am planning to go to India for three weeks, preferably travelling in a tourist group package to places such as Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi, Kolkata, Darjeeling and a hop into Kathmandu for 2-3 days at the most. Will three weeks be enough? Which companies do you recommend me to book through? Are there and sightseeing activities you'd particularly recommend? What's the likely budget per day?
- Rhian Yates
Amy Karafin, co-author of Lonely Planet India, writes:
Three weeks is enough to get a taste of northern India and many tour operators offer "Delhi to Kathmandu" packages. A package tour will definitely take the hassle out of the transportation side of the trip: co-ordinating buses, trains and planes for this itinerary could easily be a headache, especially since you'll need to move fast to cover this much ground.
The much smaller, Delhi-based Namaste India Tours gets rave reviews from travellers for their road tours of Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur), but they don't head as far afield as Varanasi, Kolkata and Darjeeling.
That said, you may find that hitting all these places in three weeks will feel rushed and, with a package tour, you obviously can't choose or adjust your itinerary. Each of the towns you mention has enough to see and do - in and around town - to warrant several days. You might want to consider visiting fewer places and spending more time in each place.
Whichever way you go, be sure to visit Humayun's Tomb and Red Fort in Delhi, while in Agra, the Fort and the old Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri nicely complement a visit to the Taj Mahal.
Jaipur's Old City is a dreamy place to wander - our walking tour in the India guidebook is a good place to start - and the 16th century Amber Fort, 11km to the north, is stunning.
Varanasi is hectic but full of colour and good karma, while nearby Sarnath, where the Buddha first taught the path to enlightenment, is its quiet counterpart. (You could also drop by Bodhgaya, where the Buddha first became enlightened, on your way to Kolkata.)
Once in Kolkata, visit the gorgeous Victoria Memorial and (my personal favorite) the fantastic Sheetalnath Jain Temple, and sample Bengali food at the city's famous Bhojohori Manna restaurant.
In Darjeeling and Kathmandu, trekking is the main attraction and one of the reasons you might want to have a little more time in each place.
India can be an inexpensive place to travel, but you'll spend more if you're moving quickly. Bank on $30-35 a day for the budget version: Basic (but clean) hotels, simple eateries, and government buses or 2nd-class train travel.
For more comfort, plan on $70 a day, plus any plane tickets. Of course, if you book with a tour operator, be sure to find out what's included in your tour beforehand.
Trains just the ticket
My husband and I will be travelling from the south of France, probably Nice, to Venice where we are boarding a cruise ship for a Mediterranean cruise, in mid-September 2010 and would like to visit Rome as well.We are keen rail travellers and are eager to see as much of Italy by train as we can. I believe we can travel from Nice to Rome but would like to know if the rail trip travels along the coast or detours inland as we would prefer a scenic route. When we leave Rome, we would also like to see some of the country by rail to Venice. Is this trip worthwhile, or are we better off flying and making use of the extra time in Venice. Neither of us has been to Italy before, so we are very much in need of assistance.
- Lyn Currie
Lonely Planet's European travel editor Tom Hall writes:
Rail is an excellent way to get around Italy, whether you take the fast trains which reduce the journey time between Rome and Milan to three-and-a-half hours or travel on the standard Eurostar inter-city services.
You'll find trains comfortable, punctual and an excellent way to see the country.
Point-to-point fares will probably work out better than a railpass, and tickets can be bought at stations from vending machines.
Trains will be hourly or better so there's no need to worry about booking in advance, though savings can be made by booking online a few weeks in advance on all but the busiest services.
Unless you're planning on tackling a top-to-toe journey like Turin to Naples then there's no reason to fly anywhere in Italy.
The fastest route from Nice to Rome, a journey of 720km, takes nine hours. The journey runs down the spine of Italy and is scenic in parts, in particular when passing through the hills of Tuscany.
After reaching the lagoon city of Venice by sea, train is the next best way to arrive, and the scene upon exiting Santa Lucia station is unforgettable.
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