Our India expert Steve Wroe recently had a Q&A with Gecko’s facebook fans, all about the wild and wonderful world that is India. Below is a summary of the chat, to help you plan your next trip to the fabulous country! Happy reading, and get in touch if you’ve got any other queries, about India or anywhere else...
What places do you recommend that are off the beaten track but still accessible by the average traveller?
In Rajasthan particularly there are quite a few small villages, but they tend to be harder to get to unless you have your own vehicle. We have a few we go to, most notably Tordi which is ONLY visited isited by Gecko's travellers and the feedback we get is amazing. Nimaj is also wonderful (although starting to be on the tourist map) as is Chandelao, where we support a women's cooperative. Check out our 'Hidden Secrets of India' tour...it focusses on more remote places.by Gecko’s travellers – the feedback we get is amazing. Nimaj is also wonderful (although starting to be on the tourist map) as is Chandelao, where we support a women’s cooperative. Check out our Hidden Secrets of India tour – it focuses on more remote places.
If you only have a short amount of time (perhaps 4 to 6 weeks), would you rather focus on an area (if so, where?) or travel widely?
Focus on Rajasthan, Varanasi and Agra. At least that's what I did. Driving around Rajasthan is like being in a movie. There is so much colour and action. If the have more time, Kerala in the south is really chilled – like a cross between South East Asia and north India - and a good way to wind up your trip. Also consider an 'overland' tour from Nepal - it's a great way to cover a lot in a short time.
I'm doing the Road to Delhi trip. Upon the trip's completion in Delhi, I have about 3 days for independent travel. Any suggestions? I am thinking about flying to Goa.
A few options: Goa is pretty nice and it will be busy that time of year so plenty of partying to be done. Pre-book your accommodation if you can as it gets pretty crazy that time of year. Flights aren't too expensive in India but again, book ahead. There are nice parts of Goa up around Anjuna. Another option is to get the train to Haridwar and then continue to Rishikeshia but again, book ahead. There are nice parts of Goa up around Anjuna. Another option would be to get the train to Haridwar and then continue to Rishikesh if you feel like something more tranquil. Yoga, hiking etc.One last thought - you could end the trip in Jaipur on the 2nd last day and then spend a few nights in a town in Rajasthan. Puskar, Jodhpur or even a small town. If you're keen on the latter option your leader can help you out.If you feel like something more tranquil – yoga, hiking etc. Or, you could end the trip in Jaipur on the second last day of the tour and then spend a few nights in a town in Rajasthan – Puskar, Jodhpur or even a small town. If you’re keen on this option your tour leader can help you out.
Are you in the future, planning any trips to Tamil Nadu and the South?
Yep, I'm actually working on an itinerary that covers Tamil Nadu and Kerala right now. Realistically we won't be running one for a while though...maybe by the end of the year. It'll cover Mamallapuram, Chennai, Pondicherry, Madurai, Varakala, Kochi etc. Stay tuned....
What festivals do you recommend, and which in particular are good for photographs?
There are a couple of festivals worth looking into: Holi which, is around Feb/March depending on the year. It's a lot of fun and everybody throws dye on each other. Pretty much anywhere in Rajasthan is good for Holi, especially in the smaller villages as they tend to be a little intense than the cities. Diwali is another - it's the festival of light and celebrates the lunar New Year. Fireworks are going off non-stop for a couple of days. I've been in India for the last three Diwalis – noisy but a lot of fun.
For photos – it’s got to be Holi. If you have time try to check out Steve McCurry's India pictures online. He took some rippers during Holi. He's the guy who took the famous Nat Geo shot of the Afghan girl. Incidentally my good friend Rahul who runs our operation in India is Steve McCurry's guide and organiser when he visits...
What is the best food that you MUST try while in India?
The one thing you MUST try is the chai (tea). It is so nice you come home and dream about the stuff. If you're eating vegetarian (advisable first few days) I really love Palak Paneer – cubes of cottage cheese in a spicy spinach sauce. Down south, try Masala Dosa (pancakes with sauces). Also, Gulab Jamun, which is a sweet dessert and is very very nice.
What about Rajasthan was the most memorable? And where else do you suggest travelling?
Lots of things, but in no particular order: colour (women's saris, evening light, markets), the forts and havelis, the dramatic desert scenery, turbans! ...I could go on. I also love Ladakh a lot, and Varanasi.
Do you know of any yoga/meditation ashrams that are worth a visit/stay?
Rishikesh is the 'home of yoga' and is visited on our Spiritual India tour. Otherwise, Varanasi has quite a few Ashrams and you can do yoga classes there. Our Spiritual India trip has a bit of a yoga focus.
Is it a given that you will get sick?
Not at all. A few of our travellers get an upset tummy. Occasionally people need to be within 50m of a loo for 24 hours! Our leaders are really careful, and ensure the group eats in safe restaurants. I'd recommend eating vegetarian food for the first few days until your system adjusts.
Do you still have to identify your luggage at the smaller airports before they will put it on the plane?
Yeah you do have to ID your bags at a lot of smaller airports, especially ones like Leh in Ladakh that are particularly security conscious. It's pretty painless.
How unrealistic is it to go from Rajasthan, to the golden triangle, to Varanasi, and finally to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park in 4 weeks?
We have quite a few trips that cover exactly that. Look at the Road to Kathmandu tour, or if you go from Kathmandu to Delhi there are lots of options. One of my faves is Nepal & India, which covers the best of Rajasthan, plus Varanasi and Chitwan (and the Taj). Or, if you want to stretch your legs in the mountains, Mountains & Plains is a ripper trip too.
Given its population India is always going to be busy, but is there a better time of year to visit to avoid the crowds along the "tourist trail" to some degree?
The busiest months are October-November and March-April. Dec-Feb is a bit quieter as it's chilly in the north. The quietest time is mid-year but it's really hot. I'd go around Christmas time - good weather and fewer crowds.
I just heard a radio 4 programme where David Attenborough said ere david attenborough said he was sitting on a loo in india when a rat ran up between his thighs. does this happen often?he was sitting on a loo in India when a rat ran up between his thighs! Does this happen often?
I'd say the odds are extremely remote. Funny story though. You see the odd rat in the street...especially if you visit Bikaner - they have a temple where people worship rats and the things are running around everywhere. Maybe that's where Mr Attenborough had his little surprise.
As many of your tours visit small towns and villages, what would be the most important/significant things to be conscious of in order to respect culture and the local people?
First up, appropriate dress (cover shoulders and upper arms, and wear long shorts or pants). Think: conservative. Just as important is giving things to kids in the street. We make a real effort to ensure our travellers don’t give to ensure our travellers don't give out pens and lollies to kids. In a lot of villages, kids swarm around you yelling 'pen! pen!' and it's not good. We choose to give a box of pencils to the local school instead.Also building up a bit of rapport and asking someone’s permission before taking a photo of them is good. The tour leader gives you advice on all this (like what to wear in temples).
What is "expected" in regards to tipping? & is there a different "rate" for different professions, rickshaw driver, tour leader etc etc
Tipping is very much part of Indian culture. If you're on one of our trips, the Tour Leader collects a 'kitty' at the start of the trip and distributes it to drivers, porters etc along the way. It's about two or three dollars per person lars per person per day. If you're on your own, a small tip to rickshaw drivers is nice (10%). Restaurants often have a service fee in which case you don't need to tip. Tour leaders always appreciate a tip - same sort of rate as the tipping kitty I mentioned above. Depends on how happy you are with them!!per day. If you’re on your own, a small tip to rickshaw drivers is nice (10%). Restaurants often have a service fee in which case you don’t need to tip. Tour leaders always appreciate a tip – same sort of rate as the tipping kitty. Depends on how happy you are with them!
Thanks everyone for all the questions. Feel free to keep them coming – either in the comments section below or continuethe discussion on twitter @GeckosTales and on Facebook. For our contacts list click here or email us here.