A land filled with spiritual wonders, India also delivers great cultural, architectural, historical, and more recently, commercial delights. Having become one of the world's most high-tech resource centers, India has added another dimension to its impressive travel portfolio. From the house boats of Kashmir to the palaces of Jaipur to the slums of Calcutta to the dance-filled beaches of Goa to the film studios of Bollywood, India has outgrown its inexpensive, backpack-filled roots.
Dragoman Travel (tel. 800/227-8747; www.dragoman.co.uk), a UK-based adventure travel provider partnered with the U.S.-based Overland, offers trips all over India. A 15-day New Delhi to Mumbai overland excursion departs next on March 15, 2006; Jodphur, Pushkar, Udaipur and Mumbai are all on the itinerary. Prices for this rugged trip start at only $890 excluding international airfare. You'll drive through India on an old-fashioned touring vehicle that becomes your base away from home for the duration of the trip. Accommodations are split between hotels, hostels and even some camping. Two Western crew members accompany you on the drive, acting as tour guides, helpers and friends. The trip is listed as "Easy," although you may pass over some rugged terrain. Highlights of the trip include the visits to the Buddhist and Hindu caves at Ajanta and Ellora, the Thar Desert, and the medieval streets of Jaisalmer. The markets and the backstreets of Pushkar provide ample opportunity to bring a piece of India home with you. Whether you seek a sari or a brass statue of Shiva, the markets of Pushkar are sure to have it.
If you want to saddle the India's majestic Southern coastline filled with beaches and cultural dance centers, Dragoman has a 22-day trip departing two or three times per year and costing approximately $950 per person for the land-only version. This trip promises plenty of beach time as well as stops in small coastal fishing villages where peasant life is pleasant life. You'll climb the Eastern Coast via Trichy and Pondicherry, staying over night in the former French colony now known for being the cultural center of the Tamil Nadu region. Natives in the area still speak fluent French, adding a Francophile component to India's diversity. Sixty-five percent of the tip is hotel/hostel stays with 35% camping. This trip is also labeled "Easy." Other highlights include three nights on the beaches of Kerala and three nights exploring Cochin, known as the Gateway to Southern India and the Queen of the Arabian Sea.
For air and hotel combinations, Djoser (tel. 877/356-7376; www.djoserusa.com) offers a 19-day "India Palace Route Tour" that travels the country via bus, train, elephants and even ox-wagons. The trip takes travelers on a pilgrimage to the River Ganges and the holy town of Varanasi as well as the palace-filled province Rajasthan. Starting in New Delhi, this tout also stops in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. Accommodations are in ancient forts, old palaces refurbished into newer hotels, small centrally-located village lodging houses and scenic campsites. Meals, although not included on this trip, consist of your choice of restaurant or eating facility. Most travelers eat simple "Thalis," or plates serving a variety of rice, bread and vegetables, during the day, and seek out less expensive restaurants at night to sample the spices of India's culinary offerings. Departing once monthly until the spring when trips begin to leave two times per month, this tour costs approximately $2,545 with round-trip airfare out of Los Angeles and $2,595 with airfare out of New York. See the slide show on the trip itinerary page get an idea of what's in store for travelers who decide on this "fairy-tale" like tour of India. Single room supplements cost $320 for this trip.
If you're looking for special quick-hit trip to India offered at a lower than average price, Friendly Planet (tel. 800/555.5765; www.friendlyplanet.com) has an eight-day "Taj Mahal Express" package offering up a savings of approximately $400 if you book before March 3, 2006. With the $400 discount, the total cost of the land/air trip departing out of New York comes to $999. In addition to round-trip airfare, all transportation within India, accommodations at "deluxe" hotels with private baths, a daily American-style breakfast, tours and entrance fees to major sites and a host of extensions or optional sightseeing tours. A Nepal extension including three nights in Nepal and an extra night in Delhi as well as transportation from Kathmandu to New Delhi starts at a little over $600. A word of advice, due to it's very low price, this tour is selling out as quickly as you can say "Taj Mahal." You should either book fast to ensure availability or call to find out if Friendly Planet plans on offering more dates. At press time, spots were available on the May 23, 2006 departure and a Friendly Planet representative said they run a similar program annually.
If you still have some leftover Christmas money or you're waiting on some money from Uncle Sam on your tax return, Artisans of Leisure (tel. 800/214-8144; www.artisansofleisure.com) offer several high-end tours on which you can splurge. These tours are in the luxury category, so you'll be staying at five-star hotels and eating in some of India's finest restaurants. A nine-day "Taste of India" tour starts at $3,890 per person. These tours are privately chaperoned and include all air travel and accommodations and amenities in India. Hotels are the most luxurious in India and you can be sure to pampered and taken care of during your stay. When asked about the level of hotel luxury, an Artisan of leisure phone representative said, "The highest of the highest, that's what we're all about." The nine-day trip beginning in Delhi makes stops in Agra and Jaipur and hits the major sites within the central Indian triangle.
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