We have traveled to many places during the past 40 years. We generally take trips that exceed 30 days, sometimes 60 days or more. We have always traveled at a slow pace staying in places for days or weeks at a time for the purpose of learning about and understanding the local people and their culture. We have had prolonged visits in London, Rome, Bangkok, Bali, Mexico, Israel, Egypt, NYC, and other locations. Prior to the most recent trip to India we had never used an agent to help us plan or move around once we arrived at our destination.
Because Adrienne now has mobility issues that require us to have assistance, and because travel in India is in some respects more difficult than in some other places, and because we moved around Rajasthan frequently we came to the conclusion that professional travel assistance would facilitate our trip, making it easier and more enjoyable.
To begin with, we read a couple of books on travel in India such as Lonely Planet and Fodor’s. We also read the travel sections of the NYTIMES, LATIMES, and Washington Post. We then looked at dozens of travel firms on the internet. Very few travel agencies and consultants provide their service to those in wheelchairs. The few firms that work with wheelchair clients seemed to put together a tour for wheelchair bound travelers, not always, but we were not interested in the services that were offered. These firms also were among the most expensive travel operators of the 50 or so that we read about.
It was strictly by accident that I came across Saffron Dreams on the internet. We viewed their website three or four times before coming to the conclusion that this may be the best solution for us.
We sent an email to them using the “Contact” button on their website.
Rachit responded to us about two minutes later. This exchange of email led to a discussion over a period of about ten days and 70-80 email exchanges plus a couple of lengthy telephone conversations. Everything that was stated on the website in terms of planning a successful and enjoyable Indian trip was done by Rachit to the fullest extent possible. His diligence and efforts are indeed impressive and to be respected.
Other than the international airfare, which we arranged for ourselves, Saffron Dreams made all of the other arrangements for us including hotel accommodations, tour director, drivers, schlepers, itinerary, domestic air transportation, some meals, and certain activities.
Clearly the most important of the above arrangements made was that of Tour Director. Our Tour Director was Mr. “Luke” Singh. Luke is a very fine individual, who is exceedingly knowledgeable about all things Delhi and Rajasthan. He has grown up in Rajasthan (India) and continues to live there with his family. He knows literally everyone who we came in contact with, and perhaps more impressive is that everyone knew him. We are informed that he is from a royal family in Rajasthan’s history. Indeed, he is a regal person. We enjoyed his company immensely and we know that he enjoyed taking us around. As much as we enjoyed India, Luke was the highlight of the trip; he was the major attraction.
With respect to the trip, we began in Delhi where our San Francisco/Munich/Delhi itinerary began. We spent 4 days in Delhi which was at least 2 days too many, but it was our decision for the purpose of getting past the 23:50 hours of flying time and jet lag, which we needed. Compared to Rajasthan Delhi doesn’t have a lot to offer.
From Delhi we went to Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Narlai, Udaipur, and back to Delhi for our flight back to California. In each of these locations Rachit was careful in his planning to select hotels, itineraries, and sights in such a way as to easily accommodate Adrienne in a wheelchair. Those assigned to push Adrienne around literally knew every crack and bump in the street in order to avoid them. Impressive!
Incidentally, Saffron Dreams provided the wheelchair so that we didn’t have to bring one ourselves. Thoughtful and good planning.
Rachit recommended that we stay in Oberoi Hotels, which we did in most locations. Where that was not possible we stayed in Taj Hotels. When we travel we try to stay in the best hotels where ever we are, and these properties met our requirements very well.
In Varanasi we stayed at the Taj Gateway Hotel. While not actually considered to be a top property by some, it is clearly a top notch hotel. The rooms are spacious, very well appointed, and the bathrooms are very large and well laid out. The best bathrooms we had. The food is excellent. The public rooms are beautiful. The hotel is an oasis in a sea of confusion. Varanasi is where the devout Hindus come to bathe in the Ganges River and conduct certain religious activities. It is a city not to be missed.
In Agra staying at the Oberoi we had a suite that faced directly at the Taj Mahal. It doesn’t get any more impressive than this view does. The hotel is exceedingly beautiful. The city it interesting, but the Taj Mahal is what one wants to spend almost every moment in Agra looking at. It is stunning and impressive.
In Jaipur staying at the Oberoi we had a suite that was a large elaborate tent. It may have been the most interesting hotel room we have ever stayed in. As was the case in Agra Adrienne wanted to visit fabric manufactures and shops. In every location Luke knew the best places in terms of most interesting, best quality, and best prices. She purchased a lot of silk, and silk and wool fabric in each city we were in.
In Jodhpur, we stayed at the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel, which many travel authorities cite as the best hotel in the world. It is impressive as hell! It was and still is the home to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. I suggest that one view the video on Youtube of this property; there are a number of different ones available. There is also a program on Jodhpur on cable station AWE that covers this property very well. We also toured the fort on the other side of the city, and went to more fabric stores.
Going to Ranthambore National Park didn’t fit well into our itinerary so Rachit included a brief stopover in Narlia, which is an area where wild leopards are known to hang out. We stayed in a very cute small hotel, with very good food, especially dinners. However, our efforts to find leopards were unsuccessful despite the fact that our guides worked very diligently to find them. Leopards simply don’t care about people unless they are hungry. No fabric stores in Narlia. No leopards either.
Our next to the last stop was in the city of Udaipur. This city is very lovely city. The Oberoi here is so beautiful and exotic that it is almost beyond description. View the video. Also view the video of the Oberoi Agra. This city is known for its numerous lakes. It is also well known for the Hollywood movies shot there, including 007 Octopussy, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
We went to Octopussy’s palace in the middle of Lake Pichola, but she wasn’t home that day; very disappointing. We did go to more fabric shops though. DAH!
After a few days in Udaipur went back to Delhi. Actually spent a day resting all day in the Oberoi. Had another day and 3/4 until our 0115 hrs. Flight to Zurich and then to SFO. We had plenty of time to go to more fabric stores and to our embassy to kikbbitz with some friends.
Leave more than plenty of time to get thru the bureaucracy of Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport. They have even more stuff to go thru than in a US Airport. Budget 4 hours prior to departure. We got there six hours prior to departure and we needed 2.5 hours to get thru all the stuff just to get into the first class lounge. It was a big hassle. I almost had to raise my voice a couple of times.
This trip was conducted as planned. Everything promised was delivered. There were no problems whatsoever. A trip such as this one could well be the trip of a lifetime. In case anyone asks what is the deal with fabric stores, the answer is that the selection of silks and silk blends exceeds that of anywhere else on earth, and the prices are about 10-15% of the prices found at BRITEX in San Francisco or Mood Fabrics in NYC.
This program was the success that it was due to the careful planning by Saffron Dreams
And excellent execution by Mr. Singh.
Thank you for a great time.
MARK & ADRIENNE