Thoughts on this India-Nepal tour?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by phrenic, Dec 12, 2011.

  1. phrenic

    phrenic Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 13, 2010
  2. I did a similar itinerary back in 2008, although the tour company was Intrepid. The biggest differences I see is that this one does not seem to include an overnight boat trip on the Ganges (which was amazing!), and we went to a place in India called Orrcha instead of Jaipur and Tordi Garh. Orrcha is home to some incredible old castles and temples.

    The following are two (very) incomplete sets of images from both countries:

    Nepal 2008 - a set on Flickr

    India 2008 - a set on Flickr

    You could spend a year travelling through India. This will give you but a tiny slice of the country. Just wait 'til you see Varanasi. I can't describe it any better than the pictures do. Nepal is a rugged but beautiful country, and Kathmandu is one of the coolest cities on earth. The biggest downside to the Nepal leg is that you don't go into the mountains and you don't go through Pokhara. If you can add a trip to at least those two areas I'd recommend it. Usual stuff applies for both countries in terms of not drinking the tap water, being careful with food, etc.

    It's not an easy trip but it was right up there with some of my favourite places that I've visited, photographically or otherwise.
     
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  3. veereshai

    veereshai Mu-43 Top Veteran

    777
    May 12, 2011
    Arlington, VA
    Couldn't agree more. Have spent all my life there except the last year and yet to see so many parts of India :(. Waiting to go back now and explore as many places as I can.

    As far as photography goes, if you like street, Varanasi is the place to be. Very very colorful. Do take a look at Claude Renault's photographs to get an idea.
     
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  4. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Not sure how much traveling you've done, but understand that a bus tour/group tour involves a lot of downtime sitting on the bus waiting for the late, the lame, and the obnoxiously rude. Also a lot of time spent at places you may not be interested in, like shops that are paying the tour guide, and not enough time spent in places where you might want to take a few extra photos. The food is also usually lowest-common-denominator, bland and uninteresting, served at restaurants that do only tourists.

    My wife and I now use private guides almost exclusively. It usually doesn't cost much more and it is hugely more efficient and enjoyable. We do what we want, when we want to do it, and little time is wasted.

    I'd suggest a little internet sleuthing, looking for small tour operators in the countries of interest who will set something up for you with a guide and a private car. With tripadvisor.com and other internet resources, plus a good check of references, we don't feel we're taking an unacceptable risk by going this way and we have never been burned.

    Re cost, understand that anything booked by an agent in the US has around a 25% margin for them, before a dime is spent on the trip. Then the local arrangements folks take their margin, probably leaving you half or less for the actual travel costs. You can cut a lot of that out by buying directly in-country.

    For example, we just got back from a spectacular Africa trip with these guys: BushBaby Safaris -- basically just Pierre and his wife Karen. In Moscow we used this guy: Main Page. Walking Tours of Moscow danpetrov74@gmail.com and in Turkey this lady: Insight Travel Turkey - Tour Operator for small group, classic and private tours of Turkey and Turkey Holidays Checked 'em all out thoroughly on the internet, and every one worked out well with no issues.

    Have fun!
     
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  5. phrenic

    phrenic Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 13, 2010

    Thanks for sharing! Interesting points. My wife and I are fairly well-seasoned travellers (Peru, Bolivia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore in the last few years) but I'm having some reservations with India. On this forum and from acquaintances I've heard that India can be a bit overwhelming for first-time visitors and is not the easiest place to get around. So with that in mind, it seems fair to pay a premium to avoid the headaches of being disoriented coming to a new place, having to research good accomodations and transportation etc.

    Traditionally, we've split our vacations with a short tour upon arrival (usally GAP adventures--great company btw) and then split off for the rest of our trip on our own. Gives a nice introduction, then we go off when we feel a little more comfortable in the area.

    That said, we have said a couple times that we would like to customize our itineraries and hope to go completely on our own..perhaps to Japan next time. Or maybe Eastern Europe. Damn my wanderlust..

    So yeah, I'm trying to read up on reviews for the tour/travel company.
     
  6. phrenic

    phrenic Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 13, 2010
    Cool! Sounds like this tour has just over 2 days there..I might have to wake up early to get that awesome morning sunlight hah.
     
  7. phrenic

    phrenic Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 13, 2010
    Incredible pictures..thanks for sharing. It would be nice to see the mountains but having recently gotten back from the Andes mountains and hiking up to Macchu Picchu I think I will be ok if I don't get to see it (this time ;)).

    Sadly I don't think we'll have time to add on much more to the trip. So if there's must-sees that we miss, it might be a deal-breaker.
     
  8. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Absolutely. We sort of separate the world into countries where we can read the street signs and countries where we can't. Where we can't, we don't consider driving. My suggestion, though, was to find a small local tour operator that would do all that stuff for you, starting with a "meet & greet" at the airport. I would definitely not plan to drive in India. You will see why when you get there!

    Why would you say that? :smile: It's a virtue, not a vice.
     
  9. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    It takes FOREVER to get anywhere in India, and driving is insane. I have heard overnight train is not so safe (but I did not have the opportunity during my trip)

    Central/Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic) are not hard to get around at all. Certainly, nothing is in English, but it's not bad.
     
  10. veereshai

    veereshai Mu-43 Top Veteran

    777
    May 12, 2011
    Arlington, VA
    It's not as bad it's made to seem :). Ofcourse, the perspective of a local is always a little biased, but honestly, over night trains aren't that bad. But yes, you'll have to exercise caution everywhere you go.
     
  11. c5karl

    c5karl Mu-43 Regular

    144
    May 31, 2011
    Fairfax, Va., USA
    I don't have experience with north India, but based on my one visit to Nepal, you should expect the speed for intercity bus travel in Nepal to be around 25 or 30 mph. The roads are very narrow, and they're shared with local pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, wagons, etc. the whole way. I share the concern expressed above that with this sort of itinerary, you may find yourself spending more time on the bus than off it.

    A trip with fewer stops and longer layovers might be more enjoyable.

    I would very strongly encourage anyone with an interest to take a trip to Nepal. I spent two full weeks in and around Kathmandu and Pokhara, and did not run out of things to see and do. Nepalis are very friendly to Americans, and most (in the cities, at least) speak at least a little bit of English. I had the luxury of Nepali friends to travel with, but I think I could have gotten along just fine speaking only English.

    You might also want to ask about the weather during the time of year you'll be traveling. I visited during monsoon season, which not only meant a lot of rain, but also overcast skies that mostly hid the beautiful vistas of the mountains. If this is primarily a photographic trip, you should avoid the monsoon.
     
  12. Bhupinder2002

    Bhupinder2002 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Ok now being an Indian , I will agree and disagree. There are different types of trains and again different passenger categories in different trains. I will suggest u guys to board only fast and luxury trains like Shatabadi , Rajdhani etc and even when u travel in simple train , just go for first class . India has the largest railway network in the world and often every thing is over exaggerated by western media. Britain has more trains cancelled or late than in India. I won't advise u guys to drive and its not really safe and its insane I agree. An other problem with travellers to India is that everyone just flocks to the big cities and it become a headache sometimes but then its a different fun. I would suggest u guys to go to North eastern part, extreme North and southern part of india rather than visiting over crowded places ..
    Cheers
     
  13. I can't speak directly for Geckos, but I can say that this is almost assuredly not the case for similar companies such as Intrepid or GAP, which are far removed from your Contiki/Top Deck style bus tours. They come across as a well organised way of using some of the most disorganised way to travel a country! Ironically, this trip through Nepal and India was the only time we have had some obnoxious members in the group; two British girls of Indian heritage (stating fact here, not typecasting) who after travelling in SE Asia and Australia for a few months thought that Nepal and India would be the easy part of their trip :confused:. However with the political unrest in Nepal at the time and with the Mumbai bombings occurring the day before we crossed the border into India, they left the group and returned to Kathmandu and the rest of us had a fantastic albeit uneasy time given the happenings.

    I think you are doing the trip in the right direction: Nepal first, India second :wink:. Nepal is a good warm-up.

    At the very least try to spend an extra day or two in Kathmandu and just wander around Thamel. On the face of it Thamel is just a collection of streets with small shops, restaurants, and bars, but as a place just to hang out and meet people it is brilliant. It is one of those places on earth which is full of travellers with a million stories to tell.

    Varanasi was a highlight, and sometimes a lowlight. It is humanity laid bare. As I mentioned though, the overnight Ganges boat trip was incredible and was a good rest in the middle of time in Varanasi.

    Bottom line is; if there was one place on earth I would want to return with a camera, India and Nepal would be it. The only problem is, two and a bit weeks will barely scratch the surface.
     
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  14. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    While, far and away, the most amazing man-made thing I have ever seen in the world was the Taj Mahal, I still think there are MANY other places I would go first. I can't recommend NW India over, say, Seoul, Budapest/Vienna/Prague, Milan, NYC, Moab, ... (only speaking for places I have spent significant time as a tourist in)

    Don't get me wrong - India is an amazing place, and I am proud to have been able to go especially with work paying the bill and having local colleagues to show me around, but I'm not exactly planning to bundle on vacation time to a work trip in India (like I am with Milan).
     
  15. Ah yes, I should make the distinction. It would not be my number one travel destination, but if the world turned upside-down and someone offerred to fund a photographic expedition for me to document the people and places of just one part of the world with a camera...

    (Plus, I'm talking all of India and Nepal, not just the golden triangle).
     
  16. Alf

    Alf Mu-43 Top Veteran

    846
    Mar 23, 2010
    Northeastern Tuscany
    The places in this tour look nice, but I fear downtime on all these kms getting places. Nighttime train will help and will be a little adventure on its own. Varanasi can be strong on you, particularly if you need lots of personal space to feel safe.

    I second the others suggesting a small group or a car with guide/fixer, as you'll not have the overhead of the rest of the group - and I'd spend more time in less places not distant.

    That said, I'd leave tomorrow.
     
  17. Good point. Kathmandu to Chitwan will take most of a day. The distance is short but you are traversing some very precarious mountain roads for the bulk of it. Lumbini to Varanasi is a long haul as well and depending on the time of day the border crossing can be a time waster. The biggest point of interest on the journey is that you are in India (!, spot the difference to Nepal), and the fact that you will come close to dying at least three or four times before you get to Varanasi. If you are frightened easily, try sleeping.
     
  18. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    LOL

    Only funny because it is SO true!
     
  19. phrenic

    phrenic Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 13, 2010
    Heh...yeah car rides in places outside of North America give you a great appreciation for the safety regulations, roads, and vehicles you have at home. :) I do enjoy those thrills a bit.

    As for weather, I'll be there on the last week of January to beginning of February so weather should be good.

    Hmm..I wonder if I should invest in any new equipment to bring. I was thinking my G1 and EP1 with 9-18, 20, 14-45, and 40-150mm. Seems to cover a good focal range, though I could be in trouble with low light. Or fast action.
     
  20. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Yes. Absolutely amazing.
    Have you traveled with the 14-45/40-150 combination? I found that the breakpoint was problematic for outdoor shooting. Lots of stuff wants sub-40 or over-45 focal lengths, hence lots of lens changing or lots of missed shots. After one trip, I sold 'em both for enough money to more than pay for a 14-140, which, with the 9-18, covers the waterfront for me. The 14-140 is a heavy lens but not as heavy as the pair.

    Re low light, carry a monopod that collapses to under 18" plus a small ball head with quick-release plate. (It's surprisingly hard to screw a 1/4-20 stud into a camera because with the ball head the stud is never exactly lined up with the monopod axis.) Here is a shot (in India) that my monopod got for me:

    Dancers2.

    I have an old Gitzo monopod but have been lusting after this one: Sirui P-326 Carbon Monopod With Max. Load 10kgs and 6 Years Warranty | eBay My Gitzo has the strength to double as a very good walking stick. Not sure that would be true of all monopods, though.
     
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