India 101: A Beginners Guide to Planning India Travel
For many who love to travel, India is still the elephant in the room. To be really well traveled and to better understand where the world is headed, it is becoming
increasingly clear that India is essential to a personal travel portfolio. India offers almost endless colorful places, smells, tastes, and experiences. The visit of Narendra Modi,
the new Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy, to the United States and the United Nations in September has helped us all to remember what an important place--strategically and economically--India
occupies in the world. If you are considering a trip to India, this primer should help you plan your first trip.
The Golden Triangle is almost obligatory for a first trip through India. It's the easiest, most comfortable itinerary that has the most variety of culture, history and
color. Begin in Delhi for a couple of nights and at least one full day of sightseeing in both Old and New Delhi. Then it's on to either Jaipur or Agra. (It does not mater which as long as you avoid Taj Mahal visits on Fridays.) Most tours include two nights in both places. We think Jaipur has far more to offer, so we recommend just one night in Agra with Taj and Moghul Fort tours early in the morning before you continue to either Delhi or Agra. There is a stop between Agra and Jaipur to see the abandoned city of Fahtepur Sikri. If you have more than six nights, consider some additions: Rajasthan has an almost mystical allure, thanks to vintage films starring the likes of Erol Flynn, Shirley Temple, and Michael Caine. This is the place where Moghul emperors built massive and magnificent fortified palaces on the edge of a great dester. Rajasthan is home to exotic cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Mount Abu. No wonder that to many visitors this is the "real" India.
Ranthambore is a national park between
Agra and Jaipur that is home to a population of "friendly" tigers as well as
rhino, buffalo, and an astonishing variety of bird species. Practically all of
our guests who hae vised there were lucky enough to spot tigers. The park is seen in half-day excursions aboard a special safari vehicle that offers a view above the high grass.
The park is open to visitors from October through June.
Khajuraho and Varanasi can be added to all of the above. From Jaipur it is a one-day trip by road and train with a stop in Orcha, a princely state with architecutre dating to the 15th century. (You can also fly from Delhi or connect in Delhi from Jaipur.)
Khajuraho is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that might be something like India's Angor Wat or Bagan. Some of the 20 monuments and Hindu temples date to the 12th century and are covered with erotic carvings showing humans and sometimes animals interacting in the most unimaginable positions. This is the stuff that the Kama Sutra was made of. From there it is a short flight Varanasi, which is probably the world's oldest continuously-inhabited city and the holiest city for Hindus. Pilgrims go there for ritual bathing in the Ganges. Many people go there to die since doing so in Varanasi is a shortcut to Nirvanah, and an escape from the endless cycle of reincarnation. It is also the ideal place to buy a silk Sari, especially for a wedding. While you are there you take an early-morning boat ride on the Gantes to see "burning ghats," cremation sites along the river that work 24/7, as well as bathing. Don't drink the water.
Mumbai is the economic capital of India, and the home of Ballywood. The city is actually made up of seven islands which were home to fishing villages from which the city rose. It is full of Moslem, British and Portuguese-era colonial architecture. The city was home to the East India Company during the British Raj, when it was known as Bombay. Until the 13th century the city was a center of Buddhist learning and a succession of rulers constructed cave complexes on Elephanta Island.
Kerala occupies the Southern tip of India. This tropical region is culturally unique, like many regions of India. Attractions are beaches, fishing villages, "backwater" houseboat cruises through lush countryside.
Other Places actually account for the majority of places to visit in India. So vast is the country that you could travel through it for three lifetimes and never see it all. Goa is popular with Eurotrash tourists on charter flight packages and the home of the homophoboic Christian right in India. We don't go there. Far more interesting are cities
on the Eastern coast like Pondecherry (a.k.a. Puducherry), which is a little pocket of
Parisian culture, down to the street signs and the baguettes. The area is littered with splendid beaches. North of there is a the dazzling ocean-front complex of temple at Mahabalipuram. The easiest way to reach this area is through Chennai, which is a major transportation hub. Among our favorite "Other Places" is Kashmir, a fairytale region of lakes, waterways and the world's largest producer of saffron. This area earned a bad reputation during conflicts between Moslems and Hindus two decades ago, but it is now peaceful. The best place to stay is on a houseboat on Lake Dal. Unlike most of the rest of India, Kashmir has a leisurely pace and room to enjoy wide-open spaces at the foot of the Himalayas.
Purple Dragon is happy to help you plan your own personal India adventure, whether it be your first trip or your 20th. Our Douglas has nearly 45 years experience traveling around the Indian subcontinent so we are well equipped to make your India dream a reality.
Indian Hotels Demystified. Always longing to do things differently than the colonial powers and their other offspring, India does not observe the star system that ranks hotels by price, value, quality and location. Different rules of thumb apply. The simplest and most economical hotels come under the heading of "lodges." These are mostly unsuitable for Western visitors except for backpackers. Next come "economy" hotels, first class hotels, deluxe hotels and the top-of-the-line Luxury Hotels, like the Oberoi chain. Western hotel chains have only recently begun to expand into India. We tend to ignore them since they are boxy and have very little cultural appeal. Instead, we enjoy "heritage" hotels, which are spread across all categories. These are former mansions, palaces, and fortresses that have been converted to hostelries and still maintain their historic architecture and decor.
Is It Safe Yet?
The question of the year, so far, is "is Thailand safe yet?" Actually, it was never
unsafe, even during the most stressful months of political division. There was, we feared, the potential for everything evolving into a dangerous civil war. However, that ended when the military brought it all to an end.
Every is once again peaceful and orderly. The street food is as delicious as it
always has been, and the smiles are just the same. However, many here have empty
pockets and hope you will return soon for some well-deserved sanook.
32 Days and 52% To Go....
If you pay attention to Facebook you already know that Purple Dragon is in the midst of a
crowdfunding project to put our social service projects in Cambodia into second gear, and to keep staff on our payroll during an admittedly-lean period
following eight months demonstrations. We originally started a campaign on GoFundMe.com. However, Paypal froze the account we were using, which forced us to refund $3,222 in donations received until then. (Some donations were replaced via payments to a different Paypal account.) Now we
are on Paypal-free
Rockethub.com. We like Rockethub but are no longer fond of Paypal.
We want to thank our Members for helping us to get this far:
Alan provided free HIV test for people who can't afford them
Alex ("Miss Understood") adopted our school for a month
Glenn Auve gave some of "our" kids a first-time trip to the dentist
George Bailor "went fishing"
Ian Barnett saved "50 lives+
Eddie Beard supplied farming equipment for a village
Paul Boland "started a forest"
Dan Burgoon rescued an entire family for one year
Brian saved 50 lives
Peter Dodds adopted our school, "planted a bigger forest," and "went fishing"
Richard helped to save kids' teeth
Rick Fendrick "started a forest"
Sam Gorman adopted our school for one month
John Glines adopted our school for a month
Timothy O'Connell "started a forest" and "went fishig"
Todd rescued an entire family for a year
Tom Nagy helped to start a forest
Tom Ogden "went bananas"
Sumeth Piemkoom (Peng) "sent a bunny"
Gregory Potts started a forest
Daniel See (Club One Seven in Phuket) helped two families go fishing
Rodney Takemoto adopted our school for a month
Paul Jackson/Wakefield Asia Group adopted our school for a month
Jeff adopted our school for a month
Reinold Tracy adopted our school for a month
Reinold Tracy also started a Forest
Lawrence Wingerstahn "went bananas" and "started a bigger forest"
John Yates went fishing
To see what we are doing, head over to Rockethub.com. We are on their main page as one of their "Featured Projects." We also have a Facebook
page for our projects. Use the "search for friends" box at the top of your
profile to search for "Saveourfamilies."
How You Can Help
Visit our Facebook page and "Like" it
Share it on your Timeline
Send a message to five friends inviting them to the page
Spread your love. For just $7 you can help save our families. If you can afford more we put it to good use.
Pleeeeze Like, Share and Rate Purple Dragon
Speaking of Facebook, you might not have found
Purple Dragon's/Club Sanook's Facebook page. As of today we have 310 "Likes" (we were hoping for 30,000), and a five-star rating (yeeeeah!). Please take a moment to take a peek at our home on Facebook and Like
it: https://www.facebook.com/purpledragonbkk. If you like Purple Dragon and want to help spread the word about what we do, please Share it on your own timeline.We hope you will Shre it as well. After you are finished, leave your footprint (below) and participate in this month's poll about
15% Off Cambodia!
Here's a delicious deal: Enjoy any of our Angkor Wat packages or our two-night Phnom Penh stay and stay in the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap or Raffles Le Royale in
Phnom Penh and take 10% off the package price. OR take Phnom Penh in combination with any Angkor Wat package and take 15% off the combination if you choose both Raffles Hotels. This offer is good
for new bookings made before 30 November for stays from October 2014 through March 2015. Blackout dates: 23 December through 02 January and 17 through 22 February.
...And a 50% Off Sale on Bling
Diamond Membership half price? As you may know, we added a "Diamond" membership option around this time last year.
Diamond Members get 10% off the first Purple Dragon package they reserve and 5% off any others as long as they are Members. Diamond Members earn an extra 50% bonus points on the trips the book, and get
back any points that might have expired. Points never expire as long as you are a Diamond Member. The cost to become a Diamond Member is $400 for three years. During May, however, you can upgrade to
Diamond for just $200 for three years or $300 for five years. To upgrade to Diamond just go to www.clubsanook.com/upgrade.htm. In the "promotion code" field enter either 3YEARS or 5YEARS. You will hear
from me soon thereafter./span>
Before You Go: Visas Get Easier
We remember the days of queuing-up at the Myanmar Embassy at 06:00 in the morning in order to get one of 200 visas they issued every day. Late-comers were out of luck. We used to be able to arrange for visas on arrival with 30 days notice. However, it got a whole lot easier last month with the launch of the
Myanmar Government's Online Visa program. Customers who have used it so far have said it was fast and easy. Vietnam now has several e-visa service options. However, the government warns against using unauthorized websites that may just take your money and leave you empty handed and stranded.
Although you can get a visa on arrival in Cambodia, you may end up in line behind 80% of the people on your flight. Cambodia now has an e-visa service with a very easy online application. If you plan to visit Cambodia regularly you can even save your profile and photo to make the process even quicker in the future.
You will find details about all of these new services on Purple Dragon's website. Click/tap on "Visas" on the main page.
2015 High Season Gift Certificates Available Now
For the fifth year in a row we are offering Club Sanook Members an easy way to save on future travel, even if they are not sure where or when they will travel. You can buy gift
certificates in denominations of $1,000 to $10,000 at a discount. You can use them during two different pariods: April through September 2015 and October 2015 through March 2016. You do not have to use
Purple Dragon's gift certificates as gifts--you can use them yourself to take up to 16% off (or 18% if you pay by bank transfer) anything Purple Dragon offers except for airfares, India, Bhutan or Nepal. You can begin making your plans whenever you like, as far in advance as you like. You can even pay for a portion of the cost by redeeming points you have already earned. To learn more see our Member Specials page.
Leave Your Footprint: Tell Us How Much You Hate Facebook
(Or Love It)
Like it or not, Facebook is a fact of life. So are Twitter and Pintarest. We have met a few people who actually do not have a Facebook page or pay any attention to it. Others are
glued to Facebook's screen several hours a day. As you leave your footprint in this issue, we invite you to vent about Facebook. We will share the stats with you in the next newsletter. We are not using
this to gather information about individuals--just interesting statistics, which we promise to share with all of you in the next newsletter.
Just Go Here.
Douglas' Cover Story
Douglas ran away with the circus last July. Really. Recently we told you about Phare, the Cambodian Circus and how dazzling it is. Douglas is writing a story for an important
newspaper, and he also wrote a story about writing this story for Out in Thailand, our national English language monthly magazine. Their October issue is something akin to a first "Out in Cambodia"
issue. You can read it online free on the magazine's website:
www.out-in-thailand.com. Look for "Account" in the upper right-hand corner of the page to register or sign in. It's free, so go for it
and enjoy the read.