‘India isn’t a trip for everyone’

In regards to the article “India: Enjoying Your Visit While Leading a Group Tour” by Judith Anshin (Oct. ’06, pg. 22), she wrote only about the upside of her trip to Rajasthan and none of the downs. India isn’t a trip for everyone.

I spent a month in Rajasthan and Kashmir, India, on the “Rajasthan Adventure” by Intrepid Tours (Venice, CA; 866/847-8192, www.intrepidtravel.com), July 24-Aug. 14, ’06, and had a much different experience than she did.

India has an atomic bomb but seems to do nothing about the filth, open sewers, air pollution and poverty. Two friends of mine each came down with a lung infection and had to make a visit to a doctor.

We were on a 3-week basic tour with Intrepid, which has tours of not more than 12 people. This tour put us in closer contact with the people and the country.

We had some hair-raising rides on local buses in the cities and countryside. In many cities one is imperiled by auto-rickshaws, wandering cows and young men racing through the narrow streets on motorcycles and motorbikes. I found Bikaner to be a very dirty city with trash, garbage and open sewers, but it does have an impressive old fort.

Shopping wasn’t enjoyable, for me, as every place we went we were harassed by someone wanting to sell us something. And we were told not to give to beggars, but it is hard to ignore an old blind man being led by a young boy. Even one rupee would have made a difference in his day. After all, we were getting around 46 rupees to the U.S. dollar.

The land cost of our tour was around $2,000 plus airfare. The guides were excellent.

July and August was not the best time to visit India, as it was incredibly hot; it was a pleasure to return to our air-conditioned hotel room each day. The plus side is there were fewer tourists and crowds at sites in that season.

On the plus side, there were many beautiful temples and mosques. The most magnificent one I saw was the Lotus Ashram Hindu temple, outside of Delhi, which was exquisite. Another outstanding temple was the Hindu temple at Mount Abu; with beautifully carved marble, it was built around 1632. Of course, the Taj Mahal and Red Fort at Agra were beautiful to see.

The highlight of the trip was an excursion on our own to Srinagar, Kashmir. As there had been bombings there in early July, there were few tourists. We flew on Kingfisher Airlines (Mumbai, India; phone +91 124 284 4700 or, toll-free in India, 1800 1800 101 or visit www.flykingfisher.com), which is new and one of the best in the world. For around $1,000 we spent 11 nights on a large, beautiful houseboat in Kashmir, booked through Athena Tours & Travel (Boulevard 11, P.O. Box 140, Abi-Karpora, Lake Dal, Srinagar 190001, Kashmir, India; phone [0] 0194 2476957). As we were the only guests, we had it all to ourselves.

The price included our cabin, meals, a cook and waiter and five trips out into the countryside with a car and driver. There were no problems while we were there.

India is one country to which I would not return, and I have been to over 70 countries and have never said this before about any of them.

Eureka, CA