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Posts Tagged ‘India’

#Friendly Files: 10 Tips For Your Next Trip To India

Recently Greg, Friendly Planet’s Marketing Manager, traveled to India and picked up a few travel tricks of the trade along the way. Below he offers ten tips to consider before you book your own adventure to the subcontinent.

I’m in love with India, and I don’t care who knows it! My infatuation with the country started a few years ago when my wife and I backpacked from South to North. Recently I got another unexpected but entirely welcomed opportunity to head back for two weeks, and along the way, I picked up a few tidbits of hard-earned travel knowledge that might be worth imparting. Some of these tips are very practical. Some of them are slightly more facetious. But whether it’s seeing you through a common misunderstanding or propelling you into a deeper dive of the culture, all of them will be helpful on your next trip to India.

1. Embrace change

You might be expecting something about how spectacularly different India’s culture is from our own. Or some time ruminating on how this very traditional society is evolving on the cutting edge of the world’s urban, technological and entertainment landscapes. But no. What I really mean is…save your change! Small bills and rupee coins are at a premium in India, and it’s no fun paying 100 rupees for a glass of lassi that only costs ten just because the vendor doesn’t have any change. If you exchange your dollars for rupees before you leave, you’re likely heading to India stocked with ₹500, ₹1000 and ₹2000 notes. The ATMs over there offer the same denominations. But everyday necessities and small souvenirs won’t usually cost this much. So when you have the opportunity, get some change, and consider it one of your hottest travel commodities.

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India’s Major Festivals

With a population of over 1.3 billion, and about 90% of the world’s Hindus, it’s no wonder India’s festivals are so engaging and larger than life. And every year, countless travelers flock to India to be a part of these culturally immersive celebrations. Below are three of the most iconic of India’s festivals, which you can actually visit on a Friendly Planet Tour.

Illuminated ©Jasleen Kaur/Flickr

Diwali

Known as the “festival of lights” in Hinduism, Diwali literally translates to “a series of lights”… and what an appropriate name given the ancient tradition of lighting lanterns, candles, and prayer! This annual holiday takes place on the night of the darkest new moon of the Hindu Lunisolar month. To brighten this seemingly hopeless darkness, millions of twinkling lights shine outside homes, windows, temples, and other community buildings; a shining beacon designed to be seen by all, and a confirmation that light has won over darkness, hope over despair, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. You can visit India during Diwali on our Taj Mahal Express & Diwali, Festival of Light small group tour.

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The epic love story that built the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal: it’s one of the most gorgeous buildings in the world, the icon of India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of the World. But do you know what this architectural marvel was built for, and the love story behind it?

Romeo & Juliet, Cleopatra & Mark Antony, Tristan & Isolde—to these famous tales of love, we must add the no less legendary (and tragic) story of Shah Jahan and his queen Mumtaz Mahal.

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Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali noCaptionIn the Hindu world, Diwali is celebrated with beautiful lights, sweets, feasts, fireworks and general partying. It’s a time to shed light on the darkness, a metaphor for a victory of good (the light) over evil (the darkness). A deeper meaning has to do with light as metaphor for wisdom and enlightenment. Diwali is actually a five day festival, but the main event occurs on the Hindu month of Kartika, the first and darkest night of the new moon, and in our Georgian calendar, between mid-October and mid-November.

If you’re planning a trip to India or Nepal (or half a dozen other countries around the world), you’ll be in for a major treat if you happen to travel during Diwali. You’ll see families out and about in their new outfits, participating in prayers to Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) lighting lamps and candles inside and outside their homes, setting off fireworks and exchanging gifts with families and friends.

The holiday of Diwali is all about the lighting of lights, both external, as in flames, fireworks, and candles, and internal, as in becoming happier, wiser and enlightened. In gaining this wisdom, you find the way to a more fulfilling, richer life, both for yourself and for others. It’s a beautiful holiday full of meaning and blessings for everyone who participates, Hindu or not.

Souvenirs don’t have to be tacky. Some can hold lifelong memories.

Every member of the Friendly Planet Travel staff has been bitten by the travel bug. Over the years, members of our team have gone soul searching in India; served in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Georgia; collected local art in Spain; returned to their roots in Ireland; and much more.

Each trip exposed them to a new culture and opened their eyes a little wider to the diverse world around them. To celebrate the unique experiences of our staff, I asked them to submit photos of some of their favorite souvenirs from their global travels. Here’s Friendly Planet Travel’s souvenir gallery.


Continue reading to hear a personal description about each memento.

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Discovering the magic of ageless India

Amer (Amber) Palace, near Jaipur  Photo by Firoze Edassery

We initially posted this story in January 2014, but it still perfectly represents the exhilaration of traveling in India. It is written by Cherie Thiessen, a traveler on one of our Taj Mahal Express tours, and ran in an issue of Senior Living Magazine.


We’re swerving and bumping our way along one of the world’s oldest roads: the historic Silk Route, one of a network of connecting trade routes linking East, South, and Western Asia with Europe and North Africa. We’re only taking this impossibly congested road from Delhi as far as Agra, a mere 240 kilometres, but that will nevertheless take us all day. Here’s what will slow us down:

  • Cows lying in the middle of the road, nonchalantly munching on garbage. The drivers all manage to veer around them without altering their speed.
  • Two truckloads full of students, standing cheek-to-jowl in the back as they jerk and jostle to the music spilling out of the front. Every time the vehicles slow, some of the agile youths rappel out of the trucks and swap places, nonchalantly flicking in and out of traffic. Our driver brakes.
  • Women in rainbow saris balancing bales of chaff the size of smart cars on their heads, the edges of which scratch against our windows.
  • Vehicles ahead of us abruptly stopping in the middle of the road to enable occupants to pray alongside three-storey Hindu statues whose large eyes eerily track our every move.
  • A school bus crammed with tidy, uniformed children, barreling down on us on the wrong side of the freeway, forcing our two lanes of traffic to further divide into a very emaciated three. An overloaded fruit truck inching past the school bus so closely that a young arm is able to reach out and grab a banana from the teetering pile.

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4 cities you have to see in India

Imagine it’s early morning and you find yourself walking through the streets of a busy outdoor market. As you gradually take in your surroundings, you see row upon row of colorful cloth, fragrant spices, and beautiful handmade goods. This is one of the many experiences you’ll have in India.

A spectacular destination, bustling with excitement and reverberating with new growth, India is a must-see destination. For a glimpse of what you can see and experience in India, check out this video of our Best of India and Nepal tour.

The video showcases some of the top cities and sites I recommend you see in India, and I’ve also expanded on a few of them below.

  1. Delhi, India’s capital and a city of deep contrasts, has a plethora of things to see and do. By day, temples are packed with the devout, and by night, affluent Indians enjoy hotel discos. Shopping centers and restaurants abound. Due to a growing middle class that demands to own cars and motorbikes as a national right, the streets are always overflowing, and are a sight unlike any other you’ve probably experienced!
  2. Agra is home to the world’s most magnificent building, the Taj Mahal. This awe-inspiring structure was created as a testament to love, and served as a mausoleum. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, and took over 20 years to complete.
  3. Khajuraho, a famous temple complex discovered in 1838 and built between 950 and 1050 A.D., represents some of the finest examples of architecture in Northern India. The remote location of Khajuraho meant that the temples were unharmed by Muslin invaders, and as a result, the intricate carvings that are said to represent life in heaven are still in good condition to this day.
  4. Jaipur, known as the Pink City, is where visitors can enjoy ascending the hill to Amber Fort on the backs of colorfully decorated elephants to appreciate the sweeping panoramas of the rolling hills below.

After spending just a few days in India, you’ll get a sense of the country’s energy and distinct people and culture, palpable and impossible to miss.

The top 10 affordable destinations of 2012

I would never offer a tour that wasn’t a terrific value — that’s the core of our business at Friendly Planet Travel. But there are some tours that are so value-packed, I want to point them out specifically.

I had the opportunity to do just that at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show last month. I named my speech “The Top 10 Affordable Destinations of 2012,” and delivered exactly what I promised. Check out my speech in it’s entirety below.

If you don’t have time to watch the full video, I’ve detailed a few of my favorites, as shared in my speech, below.

Pick #9: Ireland. Like Greece, Ireland has gone through some difficult financial times, but you would never know it from the incredibly friendly and welcoming people you’ll meet when you visit. Ireland has always been a popular destination for Americans, but in the coming years, Ireland is expected to see record numbers of tourists. That’s no surprise. The country is beautiful, with lush, green landscapes; picturesque towns and villages; castles galore; and plenty of pubs where you can mix with the locals, especially since they speak your language.

Pick #6: India. This wild, disorganized country of over a billion people is simply amazing. It has plenty of history and culture to experience and admire. It has an educated, entrepreneurial population that is rushing toward modernity at the speed of light. It has the most gorgeous building I’ve seen, the Taj Mahal, and believe me when I tell you that no picture does this palace justice. That’s how all of India is.

Pick #3: China. Each year, we wait to see if interest in China will finally drop among travelers, but it never does. This is a country that continues to amaze travelers, with its ancient history, gorgeous landscapes, incredibly welcoming people, and, of course, the food. Oh, and did I mention that you can buy an entire wardrobe for pennies on the dollar? Travel to China continues to be a terrific bargain.

Pick #1: Cuba. You might be thinking Cuba is a place that Americans can’t visit. But in the past year, the rules have changed, and a few tour operators are lucky to have been granted one of the new people-to-people licenses, including us. This tropical island is a 50-minute flight from Miami, but until recently, it could just have easily been on Mars. Thanks to a liberalizing of laws, Americans can visit Cuba legally. Visiting Cuba is like taking a trip back to the ’50s, and not just because of the cars. When you visit Cuba, you get to see how people have created a life for themselves with very little money or resources. The music is everywhere, street parties abound, and everyone is welcome to attend. It’s quite an experience.

What places are you planning to visit in 2012? One of these or somewhere different? Let me know here.

Redbook’s advice for making the most out of group travel

REDBOOK: Embracing the benefits of group travel

Not everyone is sold on group travel. For some, sticking to an itinerary can seem restricting. I, on the other hand, think group travel is the perfect way to experience a country you’re unfamiliar with.

For those of you on the fence, a recent article in Redbook gives you “6 Tips to Surviving Group-Tour Travel.” I was excited to see that Friendly Planet customer Monique Valeris was the writer.

The article centers on the trip she took with Friendly Planet to India. She was hesitant at first, being that she never toured with a group before. But she goes on to say that it was “completely worth the money, and honestly, a lot more than I could’ve asked for.”

Well Maria, I’m glad you enjoyed your time with us. We were delighted to have you! The article doesn’t specify which tour she took. But based on the description, it’s safe to say she took the Taj Mahal Express.

Read the full article and get Maria’s tips on making the most out of group travel. I couldn’t have said it better than her. Thanks Maria!