Ask Lonely Planet: Out of London

Windsor Castle has plenty of interest for history buffs. Photo / Visit Britain
Windsor Castle has plenty of interest for history buffs. Photo / Visit Britain

A group of four of us (early 60s) are spending seven days in the UK this July on the way to Sweden. We are flying into London but have all been there before. We would like to visit Windsor Castle and Bath, then spend the next five or six days in the country before flying out of Edinburgh. We are considering a rental car and would like ideas where to visit and areas to stay in. We are more than happy to drive for 2-3 hrs per day if required. Alternatively are we better to use trains or buses to get to various areas?
- Peter Donaldson

Lonely Planet Travel editor Shawn Low writes:

The UK is fairly compact and it's easy enough to get around via car. Seven days isn't a long time and it is probably best to hire one. The cost of four bus or train tickets will go a good way towards hiring it.

Also, with a car, you're not at the mercy of delayed trains (the UK rail system has its hiccups) or meandering buses. You can also move at your own pace and stop where you want.

If you can, I'd suggest visiting Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon en route to Scotland, both being quintessential British stops. Stonehenge is also along the way.

Don't hire the car until you're ready to leave London ... as you probably already know, traffic in the city is crazy and parking is expensive. However, once you're out of London, it gets better.

Don't forget to make sure you get adequate travel insurance. Many policies cover the hefty excess charges in the event that you meet an accident (touch wood).

Rhododendron delight up high

My father and I would like to go on holiday to the Himalaya region. Ideally, we'd like to walk/tramp and see the amazing rhododendron forests. I've bought several of the Lonely Planets but am having trouble deciding which area of the Himalayas would be best. We are intermediate trampers, we know we need to hire a guide and a porter, and we have about 2.5 weeks in the region. Given our time constraints, we do not want to travel around too much, we would rather stay in one area and enjoy it. Would you please suggest a region for us to concentrate on?
- Kirsten Ngaire Nicholson

Lonely Planet author Garry Weare has been trekking the Indian Himalaya since 1970 and his "must-see" is the rhododendron forests of Sikkim, which include many hundreds of flowering species that burst into bloom in late April.

Garry says this is when the day temperatures rise to about 20C and is also a wonderful time to explore the forests of Sikkim and Darjeeling, as well as gaining views of the high Himalaya before the onset of the monsoon rains.

A permit is necessary to visit Sikkim and can be issued in Darjeeling at the District Magistrates Office (Hill Cart Rd, Darjeeling). You'll need photocopies of your passport details and one passport-sized photo. There is no fee. Permits are normally valid for 15 days from the specified date of entry and can be extended for up to 45 days. Keep in mind that re-entry into Sikkim within three months is not possible, even if you leave before your 15-day visa expires.

Garry says it makes good sense to go to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, to visit a trekking agent and finalise preparations before heading off on the trail. The nearest airport is at Bagdogra, near Siliguri. There are daily flights to Delhi and to Kolkata with Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Spicejet and Indian Airlines.

Fresh vegetables and fruit and a wide range of tinned items are available in Gangtok, but most arrangements (including food) are usually made by the agent. It isn't easy to hire sleeping bags, tents or down jackets, so be careful to check with your trekking agent as to what exactly is provided and gear yourself up accordingly.

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- NZ Herald

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