March 10, 2004 -- India is a land of marvels. Golden temples and ancient carvings dot the subcontinent. The Taj Mahal is probably the world's most perfect building, while in Udaipur, a perfect palace floats on its own island in a blue lake. Few cities match the drive and intensity of Bombay, and lions and tigers roam in the nation's wildlife sanctuaries.

But when I was there in 1999, I was quickly overwhelmed by the aggressive hustling and the false friendliness of locals who saw me (as they see many Western tourists) as not a human, but as a bucket of dollars. A rug salesman in Delhi put it best: "In America," he said, "you have welfare, you have public schools, you have public assistance. In India, you hustle, or you die."

I'd written India off my return-to list until I got a copy of the new Frommer's India, a truly extraordinary guide that's the result of two years' hard work by two experienced writers. Yeah, yeah, I know, this is the Frommer's newsletter and I'm plugging the latest Frommer's guide. But trust me: at least pick up this book in your local bookstore, and you'll be stunned by the ways it lays out how to avoid the traps and actually achieve comfort in a trip through India, for less than a maharaja's ransom.

[Editor's Note: You'll be able to read excerpts starting in April in our Destinations section. Don't know what that is? Just click the "Destinations" tab at the top of this Newlsetter.]

While prices in Europe shoot off the charts, the US dollar has remained relatively stable against the rupee. That means a beautiful, whitewashed room on the shores of Lake Pichola in Udiapur is still $26, a deluxe suite in a 17th-century Rajasthani fort-palace will run you $50, and main courses at Mumbai's top restaurant, Indigo, cost under $10 each.

The book tells you how to get hired as an extra in a Bollywood movie (hang out at the Leopold Café in Bombay, and don't be surprised if you're cast as a villain), where you can sleep in a bamboo treehouse in the heart of a forest (at the Green Magic Nature Resort in Calicut), where the hippest yuppies in India's Silicon Valley hang out (at the i-Bar in Bangalore) and how to avoid stress on a railway journey (book Chair Class on the Shatabdi Express.) Follow Frommer's instructions, and you'll be able to fend off cheats and hustlers, too.

Frommer's India is now available at a bookstore near you or online here:

Getting to India For Less

With great lodging like Delhi's Master Paying Guest House costing $16 for a double room, by far your biggest expense in a trip to India will be getting there. As with everything Indian, you have to have "connections" to get the best fares, which means hiring a real, live travel agent. Ethnic consolidators catering to the expatriate Indian community often have the best fares; try checking out the Sunday travel section of your local newspaper or the New York Times. One US-based consolidator recommended by the American Society of Travel Agents is Trade Wind Associates (

One low fare available to everyone is Korean Air's great sale to Bombay. Flights from LA are $899 and flights from San Francisco are $919, both with a connection in Seoul. You must purchase by March 31, four days in advance of travel, for travel on Mondays-Thursdays through May 4. Book online at

Also on the ASTA's list of agencies, but India-based (in other words, it may be a hassle to get in touch with them) is Prime Travels ( We're mentioning them because they're currently advertising flights to India from Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia for under $1,000 -- all good deals. They're also members of ASTA, have an IATA number (which means they issue their own tickets) and take credit cards, all of which are signs of a good firm.

For help arranging travel on the ground, Frommer's recommends Indian Experience, run by Raj Singh (e-mail: Get in touch with him, give him a budget, and he'll set up a trip for you including accommodation, attraction entry fees, and a car and driver. When we say "budget," we really mean it in the truest sense of the word: $30-40 per person per day should be enough for a good trip.

Do you know of a great consolidator for fares to India? Share that and all your tips on our India Message Boards.