This deal seemed almost too good to be true, so I called Friendly Planet (tel. 800/555-5765; www.friendlyplanet.com) repeatedly to make sure I wasn't dreaming. The company is offering you the opportunity to travel to India for eight days, including airfare, from $1,399. The price of what they're calling Taj Mahal Express covers quite a bit -- it doesn't sock you with hidden taxes or fees and you aren't charged anything extra if you pay by credit card. You do, however, need to move on it soon. Spaces are selling out and you must book by February 29 in order to receive the steep discount of up to $1,000 per couple. Travel on May 20-27 is even cheaper, at $1,299, but that date already has a waitlist. Earlier travel -- May 13-20 is priced from $1,399, and April 15-22 and April 22-29 are priced at $1,499 and $1,449 respectively, making this still an affordable vacation considering it packs in your round-trip airfare, your accommodations (with private baths), American buffet breakfast daily, the services of an English-speaking tour director, entrance fees to attractions, and intra-India flights. Additional taxes and the September 11 fee add just $65 per person; your airline flight surcharge is included. It's worth noting that despite the fact that prices have gone up for fuel and other services, especially hotel rooms, the company has managed to keep the entry-level price the same as it was last year.
Based on departures from New York's-JFK, the trip takes you on an evening flight to Delhi and you spend the first couple of days in Delhi and Agra, with a mandatory visit to the Taj Mahal and the chance to explore Agra at leisure, including a visit the Agra fort. From Agra you'll head to Fatehpur Sikri, full of red sandstone palaces and then to Jaipur, where you can ride an elephant -- if you want. There's free time in Jaipur, too, to explore local markets and take in the sights, before you end up back at Delhi for your departure.
If you want to take advantage of the extension to Nepal, those trips have a separate departure date and pricing structure. For example, the least expensive trip, May 19-30, is priced from $1,999 and requires an additional $95 to cover taxes and fees. The company arranged these extensions separately in order to better accommodate the needs of its travelers. That departure date does not have a waiting list. Other dates and prices include April 14 from $2,199, April 25 from $2,149 and May 5 from $2,099. As with the Express trip, they're based on double occupancy and include airfare, and reflect the early booking discount of February 29. At present, Friendly Planet will arrange the Bhutan extension on an individual basis, so please call for more information if you're interested.
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