Ranthambore National Park is one of the most filmed wildlife reserves in the world. Located in Rajasthan, it is also one of the largest national parks in Northern India. It was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1955 and became a part of Project Tiger in 1973. As the park is relatively small, guests often view leopards, tigers, and jungle cats.
This month, our hotel spotlight is on Khem Villas, a 5* luxury jungle camp that utilizes locally sourced materials and skills. The property was developed by a man named Goverdhan, the son of a popular tiger conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore. After Goverdhan completed medical school, he returned to Ranthambore to work with the community. He educated the villagers and engaged them with projects, making them less dependent on the park for natural resources and instead helping to protect Ranthambore and its inhabitants.
Khem Villas has three categories of accommodations:
Rooms: There are four spacious rooms in the main building that can be reserved individually or collectively for larger groups.
Luxury Tents: Modern yet simple, the tents feature private bathrooms and are supported on wooden platforms.
Luxury Cottages: Part of a 1600 sq foot private compound, the luxury cottages also feature a courtyard, veranda, and outdoor soaking tub.
The Age Veda Spa, set on 30 acres, offers guests walking trails, Ayurveda treatments, and sacred spaces for relaxation. Out of respect for nature, all the food served at Khem Villas is vegetarian. (For the meat lovers, you will be pleasantly surprised at the variation and taste of the veg options.) The property also has a small library and nightly campfires.
Please note: The core zones in Ranthambore National Park are closed in July, August, and September due to the monsoon. The remaining zones are open, but the tiger viewing is limited.
In the past few months, three incidents of rape and attempted rape in India have made international headlines and have unfortunately branded India as an unsafe destination for tourists. As appalling as the recent incidents have been, they are a gross misrepresentation of what most visitors experience – a very safe and friendly environment. India is a complex country with almost 1.3 billion people and even the most seasoned traveler can find the country to be a difficult place to navigate and integrate. This is why Sodha Travel partners with a destination management company with over 50 years of experience providing travelers with safe and enriching travel experiences.
India is bridged between my personal and professional lives. As the owner of Sodha Travel and a Certified India Destination Specialist, I write about India, teach about India, and coordinate packages for travelers to India. I am also an American woman, avid traveler, and married to a man from Delhi. As a female who has traveled to India many times in various capacities – professionally, leisurely, alone, with friends and with family – I have personally found my experiences very rewarding. And I am not alone. Last year, over 30% of our clients were solo women travelers and had delightful and enchanting trips. The unrivaled hospitality and approachable locals makes India one of the most welcoming places to visit.
There was a recent AP article titled High Profile Rapes Threaten India Tourist Business. In the article, Amy Manson believed “India’s tourist business will be damaged if it doesn’t take action to protect women.” India, like the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Canada, and countless other countries, has laws protecting women. Laws are made, and people break laws, regardless of the country. Since December, India has even enacted new laws aimed to improve women’s safety and personal rights. In reference to the women in the article who were groped and fondled in India, unfortunately the same thing happened to me – though not in India. I had a few men try to touch me inappropriately in Europe and a man try to forcefully enter my train compartment to “sleep” in Prague. Many of us are aware of Sarai Sierra, an American woman who was murdered in Istanbul. Two weeks ago, a woman was gang-raped on a bus in Rio de Janeiro. These examples are not to diminish the crimes in India, but just to demonstrate that assaults and violent crimes are not country-specific. India is a conservative country and women (and men) should be vigilant and aware – but not fearful.
Professionally, I advise all my clients – not just women – to be prepared and educated about their destinations. If not using a reputable agent or tour operator, research the country before traveling. What may seem safe and “normal” in some cultures may be unsafe or disrespectful in others. When traveling independently, get connected with locals and really learn about the regions you are visiting – the behaviors, the customs, and even the law. As India Destination Specialists, this is our job – to know the country, understand the needs of our clients, and provide safe, comfortable, and enchanting experiences.
I understand that some may believe I am writing this post subjectively. If travelers do not feel safe visiting India, it is chain reaction, and our business will be affected. However, this is not about profits. This is about safety and understanding how and where to travel in a foreign country. When I started Sodha Travel, it was my philosophy that I will not, under any circumstance, reserve a package or service that I would not personally take myself. This commitment remains today, stronger than ever.
Ultimately, crime is present even in the safest destinations. As foreigners – solo or with companions – we will be targeted more. For me, the value of learning and engaging with another culture means I journey on with a sense of adventure and vigilance, and our Sodha Travel team will do the same. As one of our clients recently wrote, “Visiting India was like a dream – the landscape itself was a spectacular backdrop to a world so colorful, so authentic, and so much more than can be imagined. I never wanted to wake up.”
Tell us, will you still travel to India in light of the recent headlines?
From October 31 – November 18, the Sodha Travel team will be traveling in North India. In addition to negotiating contracts and meeting with vendors, we will be conducting property tours, visiting the most recent sites and restaurants, and researching all the latest and greatest activities for our clients. This year, our destinations will include Delhi, Jaipur, Rajsamand, Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Rishikesh. During our travels, we will be posting photos and journals on our blog and Sodha Travel social networks. We invite you to follow us on our journey as we celebrate Diwali and other regional festivals with the magnificent people of India.
Here is a brief description of the destinations we plan to visit:
Delhi: Located on the Yamuna River, Delhi (locally known as Dilli) is the capital of India. It is typically the first stop on the popular Golden Triangle circuit and offers many attractions for visitors. Because my husband’s family lives here, we often discover unique spots usually frequented by locals. Delhi is also overflowing with wonderful markets and bazaars, and we enjoy scouting the shops for treasured items. We are perhaps most excited about celebrating Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in India’s capital!
Jaipur: Jaipur is the capital and “Pink City” of Rajasthan. It is considered India’s center of jewelry and gemstones, and also known for handicrafts, glazed pottery, and block textiles. We will be visiting Galwar Bagh (the Monkey Temple) and the most acclaimed properties in the city, including Rasa and Oberoi Rajvilas.
Rajsamand: The Deogarh Mahal is one of my favorite hotels in Rajasthan, and we are excited to return to this restored Mewar Palace that is still partially occupied by the royal family. In the evening, we will participate in a rural ramble, a jeep ride through the countryside.
Udaipur: With a wealth of enchanting lakes, Udaipur is a true oasis in Rajasthan. The highlight of our property tours will include a visit to Taj Lake Palace, one of the most luxurious and romantic hotels in the world. We will also be participating in a regional festival and viewing the city frescoes.
Jodhpur: From Udaipur we will travel to Jodhpur, en-route visiting Ranakpur, a pilgrimage destination famous for its exquisitely carved Jain temples. Jodhpur is the 2nd largest city in Rajasthan and known for its impressive fortified bastions. Our team will have the opportunity to visit a traditional Rajput home and spend time learning about the family traditions, past and present.
Rishikesh: To many, Rishikesh is considered the heart of yoga and meditation in Northern India. However, it also offers an array of adventure activities, including rafting, kayaking, cliff jumping, and trekking. Two members of our team will be participating in a thrilling 2-night rafting adventure on the Ganges River.
Our April edition of the Sodha Traveler is now available, with the spotlight on Pokhara. Pokhara is the 2nd largest city in Nepal and was historically an important trading route between China and India. Until the 1960′s, Pokhara was only accessible by foot and the region is popular for trekking, boating, rafting, and other adventure activities.
Our April Featured Tour is Legends of Nepal. Highlights of this 9-day itinerary include a safari in Chitwan National Park, a visit to picturesque Pokhara Valley and an optional flight to view Mt. Everest. Also experience the Kathmandu Valley that incorporates Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur. Nepali culture is similar to the neighboring countries of India and China and the folklore is often illustrated in dance and music. For a small territory, the country boasts an uncommonly diverse terrain, including eight of the world’s top ten highest mountains. Here are a few additional fast facts about Nepal:
Location: Between India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China
Area: 147,181 Sq .Kms.
Population: 23.2 million
Political System: Multiparty democracy with constitutional monarch head
Official Language: Nepali
Reserve Legends of Nepal in the month of April and receive $75 off registration!
Our June Featured Tour is the popular Ganges River Rafting and Elephant Safari! Spend 9 days/8 nights on an adventure itinerary that also incorporates bonfires, cliff jumping, and hiking an ancient pilgrim route to Badrinath.
Originating in the Himalayas, the Ganges is an ideal river for rafting in India. Its many tributaries add to the volume of water while its step and pool make it one of the safest expeditions. Additionally, the Ganges is considered the most sacred river in India, worshipped by Hindus as Mother Ganga. Together with an elephant safari in Corbett National Park, one of India’s legendary wildlife reserves, enjoy an extraordinary journey through the foothills of Northern India. Reserve this package in the month of June and receive $100 off per person! Please note: the Grades are II, III, IV and the rafting season is September – May.
On November 11, 2011 at 11:11 am, a field of Bhutanese and international runners will participate in the inaugural Bhutan Himalayan Marathon. This event offers athletes a unique opportunity to experience the Kingdom of Bhutan on a 26.2 mile course in the shadows of the highest mountains in the world. The country fiercely regulates inbound tourism in an effort to protect its culture and environment, and international registration is only open to 150 runners.
Here are the course details, as posted on the official marathon website:
The marathon begins and ends in the heart of Thimphu at Changlimithag Stadium, the scene of a battle in the early 20thcentury that lead to the rule of King Ugyen Wangchuck and the establishment of the current monarchy.
The route circles Thimphu, passing the Memorial Chorten, honoring the third king of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Tashichhoedzong, a combination Buddhist monastery, government center and fortress, India House and the royal residences.
Leaving the city, runners head north along the Thimphu River toward the Himalayas, with water prayer wheels and prayer flags sprinkled throughout the Blue Pine forest. At the base of the high Himalayas and with a stunning view of the Chargi Monastery, the route turns back toward Thimphu. The return portion of the route is on trails and passes through several small villages. Returning to Thimphu, the route circles the town again and ends back at Changlimithag Stadium.
Interested in joining this inaugural event? Our Bhutan tour packages can include the marathon registration, based on availability, so please contact us to register!
For those who love to spread their wings and explore the world – or even hop from one destination to the next – be sure to check out Travelhoppers. Recently launched, Travelhoppers is a travel site that allows consumers to research, connect, and discover. I am also personally excited to be a featured contributor in the Travelhoppers community.
Here is an excerpt from the official Travelhoppers press release:
Travelhoppers is a travel site dedicated to the proposition that it’s all about value. The company provides consumers with free access to the largest, frequently updated repository of travel companies’ brochures, real travel deals, and travel planning resources on the Internet. All via one site, Travelhoppers brings travelers unabridged information directly from 3000+ tour operators, packagers, cruise lines, destinations and other travel suppliers; as well as insight from travel industry veterans, first-hand knowledge from travel writers and feedback from other consumers; and a means to connect with travel specialists for assistance with travel planning.
“Travelhoppers presents travelers with resources for planning their trips that they typically would not find online – and certainly not in one place,” says founder Richard Earls. “It’s the perfect place to research where you want to vacation and find the right information and provider for your desired trip – from well-known brands to smaller suppliers and niche-focused operators, we present a comprehensive spectrum of companies, information, and real travel deals not hook’em and book’em ads seen rampant across the Internet.”
Owned and operated by travel professionals, Travelhoppers is backed by decades in travel with various sectors of the industry represented. “When a prospective traveler says they want ‘the best travel deal’ – that doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest,” explains Earls. “We’ve all heard the stories of how many travelers have booked a cut-rate package simply to find that the accommodations are below the standards they were expecting, or the location was far from the city’s main attractions… These are NOT travel deals; they are simply vacation spoilers that end up costing travelers more than money. At Travelhoppers, our focus is to provide travelers with the values they seek. We want to provide a forum for travelers to educate themselves.”
Hop on over and check out this fantastic new site, and also check out my most recent Travelhoppers article, India: Beyond the Taj Mahal.
As I was sitting here tonight watching the Superbowl, my mind started to drift to another upcoming sporting event. Cricket fans, the time is coming…The 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup will be held between February and April in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The opening ceremony will be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 17th with the closing ceremony in Mumbai, India on April 2nd. This will be the 10th Cricket World Cup and Bangladesh’s fist time co-hosting the event.
The following 14 teams qualified for the finals: Canada, West Indies, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, England, Ireland, Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand. In many countries, especially India, cricket is considered more than a game. It is a national pastime. The people come together, sometimes dozens crowding in small rooms, just to watch the matches on television. Traffic jams block the roads, offices shut down, and the priority shifts to this treasured bat and ball team sport.
For a complete list of schedules and teams, as well as updated news, please visit the official ICC Cricket World Cup website.
To Pack or Not to Pack? Our travelers often inquire about the best way to ”lug their luggage” to South Asia. It truly all depends on the destination, season, and duration of travel.
One of the first considerations is exactly how many bags to bring. Many international airlines allow for two free pieces of checked baggage up to 50 pounds each. However, does your itinerary include flights in India and Nepal? Most domestic airlines allow for one checked bag at 45 pounds (20kg) and one carry-on bag at 22 pounds (10kg). Fees will apply for additional and/or overweight luggage. There is no weight limit if traveling by land, but for ease of travel, we suggest trying to pack everything in one piece of luggage. Remember: There are no trolleys at most train and bus stations, and luggage is carried by yourself or a porter.
Clothing/Shoes: Of course, the season and activity will determine what is packed. A traveler to the Himalayas in fall/winter should pack accordingly, including a heavy jacket, hat, and gloves. Much of India has a patchy climate: Warmer in the days and cooler in the evenings. A light jacket or layering is best to accommodate the varying temperatures. If visiting during the monsoon months, pack a rain jacket, small umbrella, and – most importantly – waterproof shoes. In general, we suggest shoes that are comfortable for walking, including sandals, clogs, crocs, or tennis shoes. I also recommend packing a bathing suit, even in winter months. Your hotel may have an indoor pool, or you may unexpectedly pass hot springs or thermal tubs!
Adventure Gear: If you are participating in adventure activities, remember to bring appropriate gear and accessories. For example: If you will be camping, remember to pack your own sleeping bag. If you reserve your package with Sodha Travel, we will provide a list of what is included and available from the adventure company, as well as required items from home.
Toiletries: The amount of toiletries and cosmetics is dependent on your preferences and length of trip. Many travel-sized items can last for up to ten days, eliminating the need to pack bulky containers of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shaving cream, hair products, etc. If you don’t need your usual products, consider buying them once you arrive. This not only saves on space and weight in your bag, but also allows you to sample the local products. (I discovered one of my favorite body washes from a shop in Delhi. I now stock up each time I visit!) Most hotels provide hair dryers in the rooms, but if you are bringing your own, remember to check if it has dual voltage.
Money: Cash, credit cards, or travelers checks? And how much? Extra expenses include meals, gratuities, internet access, phone calls, spa services, and souvenirs. Unless otherwise stated, your accommodations include breakfast. Other packages may also include dinner, or all meals. (The houseboat in Kerala and most adventure itineraries include breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) Government regulated shops and retail outlets accept major credit cards, but the markets and bazaars are cash only. *Please be advised of the international fee your credit cards and ATM cards will charge if used abroad. Prior to departure, we recommend contacting your bank and credit card companies to determine the fees. I personally recommend travelers checks as opposed to cash, both for the added protection and to eliminate any ATM fees.
Travel Insurance: Technically this is not something you pack, but it does protect what you pack. Travel Insurance also protects your trip investment, your family, and yourself. Sodha Travel offers a variety of plans, including reimbursement for trip cancellation, flight delay/cancellation, baggage delay/loss, and medical expenses overseas. Please visit our Insurance page for more information.
Most families are surprised to learn about the affordability, accessibility, and attractions of India. Children are considered an integral part of the culture and they are welcomed and included in almost any function or event. Also, the country offers activities and interests for all family lifestyles and remains one of the top ten most affordable destinations in the world.
India has a seemingly endless options of attractions, including history, culture, architecture, adventure, beaches, shopping, festivals, music, dancing, museums, and wildlife. Here is a sample of my favorite family experiences, Indian style:
Safari by Jeep, Elephant, or Camel
India has 84 national parks, 447 wildlife sanctuaries, and 12 national biosphere reserves. Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan is one of the most filmed wildlife reserves in the world and offers safari by jeep or elephant. Other popular options include the Sunderbans in West Bengal, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, and Corbett National Park in Uttar Pradesh. For something more unconventional, consider a Himalayan Jeep Safari in Leh or a Camel Expedition in the Thar Desert.
Kerala is known, among other things, for its backwaters. Families can board an overnight houseboat and leisurely cruise the extensive network of rivers, canals, lagoons and lakes. The kettuvallam or ‘boat with knots’ is held together with coir knots only – not a single nail is used during the construction. Meals are prepared on board by your private chef while you observe the untouched Keralan life.
Palaces of Rajasthan
Rajasthan is the largest state in India endowed with a natural beauty and royal history. The cities are a vibrant display of blue, pink, red, and green, offering a delightful scattering of color in an otherwise arid landscape. Stars twinkle above brightly lit palaces, many of which have been converted to hotels and offer oversized rooms with balconies or patios. Children love exploring the courtyards and pavilions – in addition to feeling like a prince or princess. Bonus: Most hotels include breakfast in the room charge.
Adventure and Cultural Activities
India’s diverse climate and landscape make it an enticing option for adventure activities, including hiking, white water rafting, scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, skiing, and kayaking. Consider an overnight hiking and camping trip in the state of Himachal Pradesh, at the base of the Himalayas, or the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu. If you prefer sun and surf, stay at a beach resort on the pink sand beaches of Goa or on the Malabar Coast in Kerala. For an exotic experience, visit the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea, consisting of three coral reefs, twelve coral atolls, and numerous islets.
Also, Indians are some of the most welcoming and gracious people in the world, so don’t be surprised if your family receives an unexpected invite to a wedding or other cultural affair. If you feel comfortable, say yes and enjoy the experience!
We have received overwhelming interest in our newest adventure tour: Mumbai Marathon/Half plus Kerala. For this reason, we are extending our special: Reserve this tour by August 30th and receive $100 off the registration price!
The Mumbai Marathon/Half is a thrilling experience with participants from around the world. The course winds through the bustling streets of Mumbai, India’s largest city that incorporates the ancient with the modern. Following the event, fly to Kerala and soak up the coastal scenery. Stay overnight on a houseboat in the backwaters of Alleppey and explore the beach villages in Mararikulam.
9 days/8 nights
Mumbai – Mararikulam – Alleppey – Cochin
Dates: January 13 – 21, 2011
As I discuss in this month’s newsletter, I am personally excited for this tour. In January, a friend and I signed up to run the Race for the Roses half-marathon here in Portland. As someone who had only run a maximum of three miles on a treadmill, I was both nervous and excited about preparing my mind and body to run 13.1 miles in only twelve weeks. On April 11th, I crossed the finish line with such an immense feeling of accomplishment! The Mumbai Marathon/Half is for runners of all levels – If you have never run before, here is an exciting opportunity to combine an exotic trip to India with an athletic goal! (Trust me, if I can do it, so can you!)
Join us as we pound the pavement in Mumbai!
Sodha Travel is very excited to introduce our newest adventure tour, Cycling in North India! North India is a land of great cultural and geographical diversities, and a bicycle tour is one of the best ways to explore and understand the beauty and charm of the country. In this tour, spend 10 days/9 nights in Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan. View the majestic Taj Mahal, enjoy a jungle safari at Sariska National Park, and explore the palaces of Jaipur. Experience an extraordinary blend of color, culture, architecture and wildlife where past and the present, people and animals, ethnic culture and modern lifestyles are thriving in perfect harmony.
To take advantage of favorable weather, we have established two dates: November 11 – 20, 2010 and March 3 – 12, 2011. The anticipated cycling distance is 25 – 45 kilometers per day in Rajasthan and the terrain is mostly paved with minor elevation gain. A mechanic will be available for immediate repairs and adjustments and a support vehicle will be provided during the cycling portions of the tour.
For more information, including pricing and a detailed itinerary, please visit here. We look forward to being a part of your cycling experience in India!
Recently, the Specialty Travel Agents Association (STAA) featured an article I wrote about adventure activities in India. You can read the article in its entirety here. The STAA is dedicated to providing the ongoing development and promotion of agents who sell travel for specific destinations or niche markets. As a specialist in the Indian subcontinent, Sodha Travel is excited to be part of a group that is dedicated to providing travelers with exceptional products and services that exemplify specialization.
Soon, Sodha Travel will be showcasing two new adventure tours: Cycling in Kerala and the Mumbai Marathon. Check back soon for details!
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, once said, “There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” India’s diverse landscape and climate make it an exciting destination for adventure travelers. From trekking to rafting, scuba diving to camel expeditions, there are often too many enticing options. Additionally, India remains one of the most affordable destinations in the world, allowing travelers of all budgets to explore the panorama of this ancient civilization. Here is a brief summary of possible adventure activities throughout the country:
The Himalayas provide trekking itineraries from beginner to expert and offer commanding views of Mt. Everest in Nepal, Mt. Kanchenjunga in Sikkim, and Mt. Chomolhari in Bhutan. Trekking options include the Markha Valley in Leh, Gangotri Glacier in Uttarakhand, and Singalila Ridge in the Darjeeling Hills. The Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu is also a favored area. The lush, green mountains offer intermediate trails and allow travelers to interact with various indigenous groups.
From January – March, downhill skiing is offered at selected resorts in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Heli-skiing is available in Manali in the Kullu Valley. Gulmarg is considered a skier’s paradise, but its location in the political unstable region of Jammu and Kashmir has resulted in unexpected closures.
The Thar Desert in Rajasthan is the perfect backdrop for India’s ancient forts and palaces. Travelers can explore the colorful and vibrant cities on camels (or horseback) in this princely state where traditions remain. At night, camp under the desert sky or stay in havelis, private mansions converted to hotels.
The states of Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Uttarakhand provide spectacular climbing opportunities. (If traveling to Sikkim, a special permit is required.) Manali’s Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports offers skill courses from May – October, and rock climbing is available nearby. Mountaineering expeditions must register with and be approved by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation in Delhi, though this is usually facilitated by the tour company.
From September – April, the Himalayan Rivers offer world-class rafting and kayaking. The Alaknanda River, on which Sir Edmund Hillary undertook his Ocean to Sky jet boat expedition, emanates high in the Himalayas and has a pristine rafting stretch through several gorges. The Ganges is considered a holy river by Hindus and worshipped as a Goddess. Travelers will observe numerous devotees bathing and praying in the river during an expedition.
We invite you to view our Adventure Tours for more information about sample adventure itineraries in India. More activities will be posted in Part II, coming next week.