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.
Many travelers are initially drawn to India for its extensive history and culture, including a visit the famed Taj Mahal. And the numbers prove that over 72% of foreign tourists include a visit to the iconic monument of love in Agra. As Destination Specialists, it is our responsibility to not only be experts in the places we sell, but also be informed of alternate locations that offer similar elements of the more popular and well-known locations. When planning an itinerary, many of our clients inquire as to whether or not a popular site or city is worth visiting. We usually communicate that it is popular for a reason. Can the inundation of tourists detract from the experience? Possibly. Does the fact that so many people visit indicate it is worth it? Probably. However, only after learning more about our client’s travel preferences and special interests can we make a fair recommendation.
If you are a tourist who usually stays within the comfortable intersection of popular and well-traveled, here are a few alternate destinations to consider on your next trip to India:
Known for beautiful beaches and an active nightlife, Goa provides a unique cultural integration of Indian and European heritage. Because Portuguese merchants settled in Goa in the 15th century, the city has a distinctive Western influence. However, it also has a reputation for being inundated with late-night revelry and tourists galore. Those seeking a quieter atmosphere may prefer Kerala. Mararikulam and Kovalam are two coastal areas of Kerala that offer comparative coastlines, with less noise and crowds. Another advantage is that Kerala offers backwater canals, wildlife sanctuaries, tea plantations, and Ayurveda spas – all within a relatively easy distance by car or train.
Varanasi, also called Benares, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Located on the Ganges River, it is also one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in India. Travelers often visit the temples, participate in an evening Aarti ceremony on the ghats, and experience a sunrise boat ride to view the prayers and baths. Sarnath, where Buddha preached first sermon after enlightenment, is also nearby. Because Varanasi is on many group tour itineraries, visiting can mean throngs of tourists, and from March – September, very hot temperatures. If your clients have an interest in experiencing the spiritual side of India, without the masses, suggest Haridwar. Also a pilgrimage destination on the Ganges River, Haridwar is located at the base of the Himalayas and is an easy 5-hour train ride from Delhi. It is usually not overpopulated with tourists (with the exception of planned events) and can easily be explored independently. The river is cleaner, being closer to the source, and guests can still experience an evening Aarti ceremony. Rishikesh, considered the heart of yoga in North India, is also an easy 45-minute drive from Haridwar.
Destination: Tamil Nadu
Alternate: Orissa (Odisha)
With over 31,000 temples, Tamil Nadu is considered the Land of Temples. There is also a fierce preservation of Tamil classical music and dance forms, including Bharatnatyam. Madurai is Tamil Nadu’s 2nd largest city and renowned for the Sri Meenakshi Temple, where more than 10,000 tourists and worshipers arrive daily. There is also the “Temple Trio” of Tanjore, Ramashwaram, and Trichy – three cities of great religious significance that include the Ganesh Temple, Chola Temples, and Ram Setu Bridge. With less internal travel time and fewer tourists, we suggest the state of Orissa. The capital of Bhubaneswar, with an intricate history dating back 3000 years, houses the Lingraj Temple, Mukteshwar Temple and Parashurmeshwar Temple. A short drive from Bhubaneswar is Puri, a beautiful coastal town and one of the seven holiest Hindu cities in India. The Konark Sun Temple, located 35km from Puri, is the most well-known and intricate World Heritage Site in the area. Puri also has a unique positioning, where both sunrise and sunset can be viewed on the beaches.
Did you know that Sodha Travel is a member of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), the largest and oldest ecotourism organization in the world? Through the years, Sodha Travel has maintained a commitment to sustainable business practices. This not only applies to the administrative elements of our company but also through Responsible Tourism: leaving the destination a better place than when you found it. Our team continues to seek new ways of incorporating sustainability and conservation in the travel industry.
In celebration of Earth Week, Sodha Travel is offering a $200 credit toward any custom package in Kerala. Kerala is considered the heart of eco and sustainable tourism in India, and the diverse landscape includes palm-fringed beaches, hill stations, tea plantations, backwater canals, and wildlife sanctuaries. Select our popular Sublime Kerala itinerary or customize a private Kerala tour. This special was originally valid on reservations made by April 26th, but due to demand, we have extended the credit until April 30th!
Last October, I had the privilege to be a panelist at the Environmental Symposium at Lewis and Clark College. The symposium was about ecotourism in South Asia and its impact on tourists and locals, as pertaining to the economy and environment. My fellow panelists also discussed the impact and authenticity of sustainable tourism in other regions of South Asia. If you are interested in learning more, check out the video here:
Remember, the $200 credit is only valid until April 30th, so contact a Sodha Travel Destination Specialist to plan your Kerala tour!
Our Golden Experience Giveaway was a tremendous success! A warm thank you to all who entered to win a private tour of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. After conducting an official drawing, the winner is…
Cheryl Bemiss of Eugene, Oregon!
After calling Cheryl to announce the good news, I asked her a few questions about the upcoming trip:
Congratulations! How do you feel about winning the private tour of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur?
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m still in shock, but I’ve finally stopped weeping tears of joy. First off, thanks for your patience as you listen to me cry tears of joy over the phone. I’m beyond excited that I won the Golden Experience Giveaway! A dream come true.
Why do you want to visit India?
I can’t wait to experience the local culture and the sights, sounds, smells, and food. I’m a vegetarian whose favorite animal is a cow, so I figure that I’ll fit right in. I’ve watched so many movies about India, but I didn’t think I’d ever get to see this beautiful country in person.
As this trip is for two guests, do you know who will be your travel companion?
My husband Sean and I are perpetual travel buddies. I’m traveling solo to Scotland on a study abroad program next month and poor Sean is so jealous. Winning this contest and taking him to India should smooth things over nicely.
What are you most looking forward to experiencing in India?
That’s hard to narrow down, but the opportunity to eat with a local family, the elephant ride to Amber Fort, and the sunset visit to the Taj Mahal are at the top of my list. Thank you, Sodha Travel, for making one of my biggest dreams come true!
We are so excited for you, Cheryl, and look forward to hosting your enchanting Indian experience! Remember, Sodha Travel is giving away three more trips in the next year, including Kerala and Nepal, so be sure to stay connected and follow us on social media! YOU could be the next winner!
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?
We always appreciate when our clients send us feedback and testimonials regarding their travel experiences. Our team values the input and strives to exceed expectations, based on comments and suggestions. Susan and Jacob from San Diego, California, recently returned from three weeks in Sri Lanka and India. Their itinerary included a custom Jewish tour in Mumbai, overnight houseboat in Alleppey, and traditional dance performance in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The following testimonial is posted, with permission:
“Thank you so much for making this the most amazing trip ever…Truly was perfect in every way. I kept sending you blessings all along the way for helping to make the trip so smooth, so seamless, so wonderful. We had great guides, excellent drivers, and felt safe and cared for. Your suggestions were all excellent and your choices of places were just wonderful. Your Delhi representative, Shubang, was excellent. He was professional, organized, efficient, sweet, caring and extremely helpful and competent. Working with him and with all the reps at every city was smooth and easy. Every city was a new and completely different experience. India is a complicated and interesting world to explore and doing it with your company was the best decision we could have made. Thank you again for planning such a lovely trip and with so much care and professionalism. Hope to have another trip with your company in the near future!”
Thank you, Susan and Jacob. To all our Sodha Travelers, we encourage you to also visit us on Yelp to read and compose reviews of our services.
Are you ready to ride an elephant to Amber Fort? Or view the majestic Taj Mahal at sunset? Sodha Travel is excited to announce our Golden Experience Giveaway! You and a guest can win a private 6 day/5 night tour of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur that includes deluxe hotel accommodations, private vehicle and driver, comprehensive touring, entrance fees, airport transfers, and much more!
Start your tour in Delhi, India’s capital and the illustration of heritage. Delhi is a bustling metropolis that incorporates the ancient with the modern. Amidst the skyscrapers, the monuments stand as a silent reminder to India’s legacy. Driving from the airport, you will be impressed with the tree-lined streets and garden parks. After an evening at leisure, enjoy a full day tour that starts in Old Delhi: Red Fort, a marvel of red sandstone; Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India; and Raj Ghat, a Memorial to Mahtama Gandhi. Also enjoy a rickshaw ride in the streets of Chandni Chowk. After lunch, explore the sites of new Delhi, including the Qutub Minar, which is the tallest stone tower in India. Also tour Humayun’s tomb, built by the widow of the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun, and an outstanding monument in the Indo-Persian style. Later, drive past the imposing India Gate, the Parliament building and Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President’s residence.
The next morning, drive to Agra by private transport. After a traditional lunch in the home of a local family, visit the Agra Fort, a magnificent citadel with marble palaces, ornate alcoves and terrace pavilions. In the evening, enjoy a sunset visit to the Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj took over 22 years and 20,000 men to build. The monument is truly a wonder of the world.
After an evening at leisure, drive to Jaipur, en-route visiting the perfectly preserved and deserted red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri. On arrival in Jaipur, transfer to your hotel. Jaipur, the vibrant capital of Rajasthan, owes its name, foundation and planning to the great astronomer and warrior Maharaja Jai Singh II. The city is fondly called the “Pink City” due to the pink colored buildings and avenues. The following day, tour this enchanting destination, starting with the Amber Fort. The final descent to this ancient city is made by elephant back—a truly memorable experience! In the fort, you will see magnificent palaces and halls covered with mirrored mosaics. After lunch, explore Jaipur City. Visit City Palace, a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture that is still occupied by the Royal family. Also view the Palace of the Winds and visit Jantar Mantar, the solar observatory. In the evening, spend independent time exploring the vibrant markets and bazaars. Jaipur is especially known for jewelry, fabrics, rugs and textiles.
There will also be a few special surprises for our winners, so be sure to enter and win for your chance to visit India! You can also enter on our Sodha Travel Facebook page, and the more you share, the more chances you have to win!
The methodology of Indian cooking has influenced the cuisine of many cultures worldwide. Experiencing the local and regional spices is often a request from our clients when traveling to India, and what makes our Taste of India package so popular. The following guest post is written by Chandrika Nimmagadda, a Sodha Traveler who owned Curry Leaf restaurant in Portland, Oregon for eight years.
Indian cooking still uses techniques from ancient dynasties which have been combined with cooking processes from all over the world to create a liberal modern tradition. The ancient art of cooking included spices, which still factor heavily in modern Indian cuisine. The spices come in different colors – red, yellow, green, brown, black – and brighten up your food palette! They add taste and variety to the human existence. Now, even scientists are dipping into the kitchen cupboard and discovering the significant health benefits of some of the most common Indian spices that contribute towards a tastier and a healthier life.
Seldom do you realize the presence of cinnamon in your food. This spice does its job, covertly and effectively, and is much more beneficial than the taste it offers. Studies have shown that just a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol. Several other studies suggest that cinnamon may have a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it beneficial for people with Type 2 Diabetes. Cinnamon reduced the proliferation
of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells. When added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural food preservative.
Known as the golden spice and spice of richness, saffron is exotic and often used during auspicious occasions. Its presence gives color to a dish and is used for the treatment of kidney, bladder and liver disorders. Saffron is known to lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides among heart patients and improves circulation to the organs. It is also used in many cosmetic preparations for enhancing and lightening skin tone.
Cloves are often found in biryanis and pulaos. More often than not, you find it a hindrance while chewing, and keep it in one corner of the plate. Have you ever wondered why this spice, which actually is not even consumed, is added in the first place? Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree and have been known to possess medicinal properties for centuries. Cloves are stimulating and have antibacterial, antiviral, anti fungal and antiseptic properties. It is also a natural anesthetic and used for dental procedures to remedy toothaches. Clove oil can be used to treat acne, as the oil contains a compound that helps with blood circulation and can stimulate the skin. Cloves are well known for relieving flatulence and can actually help promote good digestion as well as metabolism. It can additionally relieve vomiting and diarrhea.
Black Pepper (Kali Mirch)
This is the spice that you see daily on your dining table. Besides consuming black pepper for taste, it improves your digestion by stimulating the taste buds to notify the stomach to increase its secretion of hydrochloric acid. Black pepper provides a natural solution to intestinal gas. It is an antioxidant, curtails oxidative stress, and reduces the damage caused by a diet full of saturated fats. Black pepper also prevents bacterial growth in the intestinal tract.
Turmeric gives curry powder and mustard their deep yellow color. Rich in antioxidants, researchers have discovered that it may help in the fight against cancer as well as containing inflammation fighting compounds called curcuminoids. Studies show that curcuminoids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and joint inflammation. Turmeric also helps in minimizing liver damage caused by excess alcohol consumption or pain-killers. Furthermore, it helps relieve wound inflammation, arthritic symptoms, and reduces cholesterol levels.
Cardamom helps in countering stomach acidity. It also acts as an aphrodisiac when the powder is sprinkled on coffee. It generates appetite, aids in nausea and relieves halitosis. The fragrant seeds of cardamom contain a certain oil that helps in stimulating digestion and relieving flatulence.
Ginger has long been regarded as an essential remedy in the East, but recently Western medicine has also embraced the health benefits of ginger. Ginger is used extensively in Indian cooking – almost all dishes include it in some form. It also helps with digestion, nausea, colds, cramps, and muscle aches.
Additional Spice Tips:
* Spices should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
* It is best to store spices in their whole form. They rapidly lose their freshness and flavor once ground.
* Spices should be prudently used as part of a healthy diet. Remember, spices are not medicines and are not intended to be consumed raw.
Chandrika Nimmagadda currently operates her own event coordination company, specializing in ethnic celebrations. To contact Chandrika, send a mail to email@example.com.
Sodha Travel is excited to be a part of the Portland Indian Bridal Showcase on Sunday, February 10th at East India Co. Stop by our booth and learn more about our services, including India destination weddings and honeymoon packages in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Sign up for an exclusive discount off our custom packages, and win prizes by testing your trivia knowledge! Tickets are only $5 with online pre-registration, and $12 at the door. We hope to see you at this wonderful expo that showcases ethnic treasures!
“What do I pack when I travel?” We hope to help answer this frequently asked question with the information below. Here is our suggested packing list for India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan:
Generally speaking, this is a conservative region. We recommend not wearing clothing that is too short, tight, or revealing. Unless you are traveling to a village or rural area, shorts, skirts and dresses are acceptable. A light jacket or layering is best to sustain the varying temperatures. Also consider purchasing local clothing. Besides being affordable, the fabrics are beautiful and generally made to accommodate the local weather.
Shoes – Comfortable for walking, with good traction. Sandals (preferably closed-toe) are a good option, but they still need to support your feet with good rubber soles for extensive walking on uneven surfaces.
Scarf/Shawl - A head cover may be required for women and men at certain sacred sites and places of worship.
Hat or Cap – Protection from the sun is essential in the region!
Toiletries and Personal Items
Medicine and Vitamins – If possible, keep medicine in original containers with legible labels.
Digestive Relief - Tums, Pepto Bismal, etc. Grapefruit seed extract is also a natural defense to unfamiliar bacteria, available at most natural food stores and vitamin shops.
Hand Sanitizer – Many public restrooms do not have soap available.
Flushable Wipes – For the public restrooms without toilet paper.
Tissues – Have a small pack available in your purse or daypack.
Travel Alarm/Watch – If your phone or watch doesn’t have a built-in alarm, pack a small travel alarm clock.
Plastic Bags – Bring a variety of sizes. The small sealable bags are good for carry-on liquids and items that become wet. Larger bags can hold laundry or be used as liners in your luggage.
Washcloth or Hand Towel – For public restrooms without paper towels or drying facilities. You can also use these to freshen up on long flights and overnight trains, or for minor spills.
Glasses/Contacts – Don’t forget your contact solution!
Sunscreen / Mosquito Repellent – You can also purchase this at a local shop.
Convertor and Adapter – 220 – 240 volts, 50 Hz.
Personal Hygiene – There is a limited selection of tampons and maxi pads. The cost is also at a premium.
Money and Travel Documents
You can exchange currency at hotels, banks, airports, and local operators. Airports and hotels do not always offer the best exchange rates. Your guide or representative can assist in finding a reputable money exchanger. Depending on your destination, you may elect to visit an authorized local currency operator. The rates are usually better and you will receive a higher exchange value. 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. To avoid declined transactions on the assumption of credit card theft, we also suggest informing your card company of your international travel plans. Most travelers prefer to bring travelers checks as opposed to cash, both for the added protection and to eliminate any ATM fees. We also recommend:
Daypack – A small, lightweight bag is useful to carry sweaters, shawls, snacks, water bottles, guidebooks, cameras, etc. Make sure it has a zipper and/or a small lock.
Money Belt – If you do not plan to carry a daypack, consider a zippered pouch tucked under your clothes. The money belt can hold passports, cash, credit cards, and travel documents, without the risk of pickpockets.
Addresses – If you plan to send postcards, don’t forget a list of addresses!
Photocopies of Travel Documents – Remember to make copies of your passport and visa and keep them secure in a separate bag from where the original is stored. If the bag is lost or stolen, you will have a secondary copy available.
Snacks – Pack your favorite items for snacking on the go. We recommend granola bars, goldfish, trail mix, dried fruit, etc. Also, if you have a dietary restriction (Gluten Free, No-Dairy) be sure to pack essential items.
Portable Water Purifier – For easy packing, bring a travel-sized device like the Steripen UV Water Purifier.
Batteries – If your electronic devices require specialty batteries, bring an extra set.
Gifts – If you will be the guest of local hosts, small gifts or souvenirs from your hometown are well received. If you choose to bring items to distribute to the kids, we recommend candy (non-melting), pens, paper, stickers, puzzles and coloring books. Some of our clients have even bought the children ice cream cones or snacks.
Hair Dryer – Most hotels 3* and above provide hair dryers, but consider packing it for homestays, ashrams, and other budget accommodations.
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 Travel Insurance page for more information.
**Please note: If your itinerary includes adventure activities (rafting, trekking, etc) a supplemental packing list will be provided.
Throughout the years, Sodha Travel has remained committed to offering private and custom tours at reasonable prices. Our passion and expertise for the destinations we serve create not only unique but affordable experiences. I often browse the tour programs of other travel companies and gasp. Why, I wonder, is it so expensive? At least twice a month, I price out our packages exactly as they are offered with other companies – the same hotels, destinations, guided touring, entrance fees, internal transportation, and taxes. Almost every time, our costs are significantly less. Additionally, many of the programs are offered in a group setting, where our costs are for private tours with the added benefits of personalized experiences and schedules.
We recently had a client return from three weeks in North India. At the time of booking, she was comparing our proposals with other companies, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that our costs were – at the very least – almost $2500 less per person for the same itinerary. (The other proposals were from organizations with prominent names, which I will omit for this post.) Suzanne sent us the following note and approval to share with our readers:
Incredible India! The sights, sounds, smells, and all that makes it an appealing destination was made even more wonderful by the Sodha Travel team. The itinerary was well planned with enough time for touring and leisure activities. Your restaurant recommendations were appreciated, as well as the special touches along the way. Several of our friends traveled to India in the past with abc and xyz*, and when we were comparing costs and inclusions, Sodha Travel was considerably less expensive. You also included activities that were not part of their tour programs, and I must say they were envious of our personalized experiences! It was rewarding for us to not only have a well-managed itinerary, but to have done so with extra money in our pockets. We saved over $4800 with Sodha Travel! Even with a luxury package, we still appreciate the value of a dollar. Your services were exceptional and I will be glad to refer travelers to you. Oh, and a special thank you for recommending Deogarh Mahal. It was a treasure!
*Company names omitted for the post
We appreciate the feedback, Suzanne. We continue to strive to offer unique tour programs without the excessive mark-up. I have always believed in the value of a service and treating clients like I am one. Enchanting and private experiences are possible without the hefty price tag!
An important India visa update: Travelers on a Tourist visa were previously required to have a gap of at least two months between two separate visits to India. The restriction has now been lifted except for nationals of China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, foreigners of Pakistan and Bangladesh. We see this as a positive amendment to the current policy, as previously the travelers would need to present the immigration officer with an exact itinerary and proof of onward travel upon re-entering India within two months of their last visit. As many of our clients include visits to Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, and return to India for their onward flight and/or continuation of travel, this change will result in less paperwork and less time to pass customs and immigration. Travisa Outsourcing will continue to process all visa applications, with the exception of emergency requests.
As a reminder, here is the visa information for India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan:
For our United States clients, Travisa Outsourcing processes India visa applications. Standard Tourist Visas are valid for six months and cost $76. Applications can be completed online or you can apply in person at the Travisa office in Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. or New York City. If located outside the United States, kindly contact the Indian Embassy or Consulates to determine the visa process. Sodha Travel must receive a copy of your India visa at least 30 days prior to departure to finalize your travel documents.
The Nepal visa is purchased upon arrival in Kathmandu or at the Nepal border. The cost is $25 and payable in USD (or your local currency).
If you reserve your Bhutan itinerary with Sodha Travel, we will process your Bhutan visa. 30 days prior to departure, we will require your passport copy and profession to complete the application. The final visa will then be sent to you via email (if you are flying directly to Bhutan) or handed over in India (if you have a stopover).
Sri Lanka Visa
U.S. citizens visiting Sri Lanka must have either an Electronic Travel Authorization or a visa to enter the country. Travelers will require an approval notice from Sri Lanka’s Electronic Travel Authorization System, passport, onward/return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds.
We always appreciate the feedback, photographs, and videos that our clients send during and after their travel experiences. Bill and Suzanne Saul recently returned from a 40-day trip in India. After teaching in Kerala for three weeks, they ventured North and enjoyed our Heritage Discovery tour of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Khajuraho, and Varanasi. After returning to San Francisco, they sent us the following note and pictures:
Our praise for the planning and execution by the Sodha Travel team on our recent trip through India cannot be high enough. All our transfers went off without a hitch, and when it looked as though our departure from New Delhi at the end of the trip would need to be delayed, the representative was right on the spot, offering to change our final flight if needed. It was not, and we were able to finish with our guided tour of the city as planned. After teaching for three weeks in Kerala, we were anxious for the trip to proceed smoothly from there through our many stops in the north. The transfer agents and guides were cordial and helped make the 40-day trip special indeed. Needs were fulfilled, baggage was not lost, and the links of vans, train, and airlines meshed nicely. The hotels were just what we needed, our favorite being the Samode Haveli in Jaipur. We made many photos to document the memories of a unique country, its historical spots, and its people. One of the pictures soon will soon hang in an exhibit by our local art group in Berkeley, Ca. We’ll be happy to recommend Sodha Travel and/or use your skills in the future!
Many thanks, Bill and Suzanne, for your praise. Have a testimonial or media file to share? Please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agra, the Mughal capital for nearly a century, is one of India’s most visited cities. Together with Delhi and Jaipur, it is part of the popular Golden Triangle tourism circuit and known for its marble and stone inlay handicrafts. The city also houses the famed and majestic Taj Mahal, considered one of the most worldly photographed symbols of love.
In addition to the Taj Mahal, many Agra tour programs also include visits to the following:
Agra Fort – An impressive fort with royal pavilions, courtyards, marble carvings, and palaces
Sikandra – Akbar’s tomb that blends Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain, and Buddhist elements
I’timad-ud-Daulah – Often called the Baby Taj, this mausoleum is considered a draft of the Taj Mahal
Fatehpur Sikri (25 miles from Agra) - A deserted and perfectly preserved red sandstone city
Sodha Travel also recommends exploring the hidden spaces of the city, and we are pleased to offer two unique tour programs in Agra. The first is an Agra Mughal Heritage Walk. Stroll through alleys, discover local temples, and observe the daily life of the locals. This tour is also part of a community development program that seeks to build sustainable livelihoods for women and children from low-income neighborhoods. We also recommend The Lanes of Old Agra. Very few travelers have an opportunity to visit the more historic districts of the city. After your tour of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, take a rickshaw or tonga ride to Old Agra. As you explore the narrow lanes, visit with local artisans, browse the local crafts, peep inside shops, and enjoy a cup of chai while reliving the times of a city that has an enduring history. Both of these half-day tour programs are available year round, though please remember that for the Lanes of Old Agra, the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.
**The Sodha Travel team wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving! Kindly note that in recognition of the holiday, our office will be closed on Thursday, November 22 and Friday, November 23. Enjoy the feast!
When traveling in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan, it is recommended to understand the tipping etiquette in each country. This includes gratuities in restaurants, bars, and establishments that provide a direct service. There is also the personal assistance. The guides, drivers, and representatives feel great pride in being given a chance to show visitors their country. If they were being paid a salary commensurate with their work, they would be earning more than they do today. Tipping is personal and completely voluntary, and here are the standard guidelines:
India: Tipping in restaurants is customary but not required. If you are pleased with the service, you can tip 10% of the total. We recommended handing the money directly to the waiter. If it is added to a bill or left on the table, it may not be received. Some restaurants and bars charge a service fee in the final bill. This fee is not considered an inclusive gratuity. It is also customary to tip porters, guides, drivers, and transfer representatives, as well as anyone who provides a direct service, including spa therapists or a delivery service. For a certified driver and/or guide, we recommend Rs 200-400 per person for a full day of service. A transfer representative can receive Rs 100-200 per person, per transfer, and Rs 30 – 50 per bag for the porter. It is appropriate to tip the person who watches your shoes at a temple or religious site, approximately Rs 20-30. Gratuities in Indian Rupee (INR) is preferred, though you can also pay in USD or your local currency. Kindly note: Many tour packages include porterage fees, so please inquire prior to your trip.
Nepal: Tipping is a relatively new custom in Nepal. Most people who provide a direct service (taxi drivers, barbers, etc.) do not expect gratuity. It is customary, however, to tip guides, hired drivers, and transfer representatives, as well as trekking guides and sherpas. The recommended amount is slightly less compared to India: NPR 100-200 per person for a full day driver and/or guide. For a more experienced trek, consider a tip of NPR 300-400/day. Gratuities in Nepalese Rupee (NPR) are preferred.
Sri Lanka: The tipping etiquette in Sri Lanka mirrors India. A 10% service fee is often added to final checks in restaurants and bars, but this often goes to the owner. If you wish to add a gratuity, please give directly to your waiter. A general practice is to tip 10% of your total bill. It is also customary to tip porters, guides, drivers, and transfer representatives, as well as anyone who provides a direct service. For a certified driver and/or guide, we recommend LKR 200-300 per person for a full day of service. A transfer representative can receive LKR 100 per person, and the porter LKR 20 – 30 per bag. It is also appropriate to tip the person who watches your shoes at a temple or religious site, approximately LKR 10-20. Gratuities in Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) are preferred.
Bhutan: Although tipping is officially discouraged in Bhutan, it has become a common practice. Kindly use discretion and tip your guide and driver for a well-performed service. You may tip in Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN) or Indian Rupee (INR).
*Please remember that the guidelines outlined above are only recommendations. Also, please be discreet when tipping in public.