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.
“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.
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.
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.
Last week, I received an email inquiry regarding local transportation in Sri Lanka. A Sodha Traveler, Richard, is traveling to the Emerald Isle in November on an independent itinerary. He asked our team, “What are the best options for traveling between destinations? Are buses available and safe? Is train travel suggested?” Here are Sodha Travel’s suggestions for local transportation in Sri Lanka:
Train: Trains are the cheapest and perhaps the best way to see Sri Lanka. Trains are available to all major tourist towns, but few offer first-class or air-conditioned carriages. An inter-city express service connects Colombo with Kandy. Train services to Jaffna have been closed.
Bus: Sri Lanka has an extensive network of roads reaching all parts of the island. Buses plying on these roads connect all parts of the country. The two main types of buses in Sri Lanka are the Central Transport Board buses and
private buses. Although affordable, be ready to jostle with the crowds!
Taxi and Auto Rickshaw: You can avail taxis in most destinations, though it is difficult to find metered-taxis in smaller towns. It is advisable to discuss the price before departing for your destination. The three-wheelers or autorickshaws are found in all areas of the country. In tourist spots as well as outside the railway stations and bus stops, three wheelers are easily available. The rule of negotiating the price implies itself here, too.
Private Vehicles for Hire: Private vehicles can be hired for the day or a proposed itinerary. Although more costly compared to other modes of transport, a private vehicle offers more comfort and flexibility. Depending on the destination and season, A/C or non-A/C vehicles are available.
Remember to join our live Facebook chat tomorrow, September 6, from 11am – 12pm PST. I will be answering your questions about Sodha Travel’s services and destinations, and each participant will receive a special booking discount toward a custom tour! I hope you will join us!
You asked and we delivered! Sodha Travel is excited to announce a group tour to Sri Lanka in April 2013. To maintain an intimate cultural experience, this tour is limited to 24 guests.
Sri Lanka, known as Ceylon before 1972, is an island nation in South Asia. Sri Lanka had always been an important port and trading post in the ancient world, and was increasingly frequented by merchant ships from the Middle East, Persia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. After over two thousand years of rule by local kingdoms, parts of Sri Lanka were colonized by Portugal and the Netherlands beginning in the 16th century, before the control of the entire country was ceded to the British Empire in 1815. During World War II, Sri Lanka served as an important base for Allied forces in the fight against the Japanese Empire. A nationalist political movement arose in the country in the early 20th century, with the aim of obtaining political independence, which was eventually granted by the British after peaceful negotiations in 1948. Famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, rubber and coconuts, Sri Lanka boasts a progressive and modern industrial economy. With rows of coconut palms, dense forests and clear waters of the Indian ocean, Sri Lanka is an incredible offshore garden.
On this tour, visit the capital of Colombo, tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, beaches of Hikkaduwa, and cultural center of Kandy. Also, experience a jeep safari in Minneriya National Park and a visit to the ancient capital of Polonnaruwa.
April 10-19, 2013
10 days/9 nights
Colombo – Habarana – Kandy – Nuwara Eliya – Hikkaduwa
- Dambulla Cave Temple, part of the largest preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka
- Temple of the Tooth, housing the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha
- Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, a renowned refuge that houses retired, abused, or orphaned elephants
- Galle Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1558
- A traditional tea plantation in the rolling hills of Nuwara Eliya
- A Kandyan dance performance
- 9 nights of superior hotel accommodations
- Daily breakfast
- Festive Farewell Dinner
- A/C vehicle and driver
- Comprehensive touring, including entrance fees and a private guide
- Jeep safari in Minneriya National Park
- Airport transfers
- Road taxes and fuel surcharges
- And many more special experiences!
$1498.00 per person, based on double occupancy
Single Supplement: $797
Special offer: Register by September 14th and receive a $50 booking discount!
Please note: We understand that our clients prefer options when it comes to air travel. Many want to use mileage programs, choose the airline, and/or upgrade the class of service. For this reason, international airfare is not included. However, Sodha Travel will be offering a group airfare option, to be finalized in the fall.
For a detailed itinerary or to register, please contact a Sodha Travel Destination Specialist.
Ceylon tea, grown on the island now called Sri Lanka, is one of the world’s most enjoyable brews. Tea production is a fascinating subject, and many tea plantations in Sri Lanka offer accommodation to visitors with an interest in the process. A visit to one of Sri Lanka’s tea producing areas can be a highly original travel experience and an exciting one for tea lovers.
In the center of the southern part of Sri Lanka, high mountains loom above the coastal plains. These cool and rainy central highlands offer the perfect climate for cultivation of quality tea, and also for the enjoyment of a visit to the tropics. Sri Lankan tea production may be roughly divided into high grown and low grown tea producers, each turning out delightful and distinctive teas. Visitors may wish to travel to one or the other or both in order to tour historic Sri Lankan tea operations.
High Grown Tea Plantations
Nuwara Eliya is a plateau lying high above the coastal plain whose teas have unique flavors that allude to the cypresses and wild mints of the province. A number of plantations in the area offer tour experiences to interested visitors. The Pedro Tea Estate, for instance, offers half-hour tours. Local hotels organize trips to the facility, or visitors may make their own travel arrangements. Near the old capital of Kandy is the Tea Museum, a renovated factory filled with the apparatus of tea production through the ages. A visit there will give visitors invaluable insight about life on tea plantations in Sri Lanka.
Low Grown Tea Operations
Lowland tea plantations in Sri Lanka (http://www.sodhatravel.com/SriLanka.php) have a particular climate that gives the tea grown there a distinctive taste. The Handunugoda estate near Tittagalla in the southern province is a working museum that produces not only tea but cinnamon, rubber and coconut. About 40 minutes from the southern city of Galle, the plantation encourages guests to visit the facility and to partake of refreshments before and after.
For visitors seeking a more intense experience in tea country, some plantations offer luxury accommodation. Charming cottages abound, as do plantation homes renovated into hotels. A stay on a tea plantation can provide a low-key, relaxing break in a unique environment.
Tours of Multiple Plantations
Visitors who wish to see more than one of the tea plantations in Sri Lanka may be interested in a package tour. Some operators offer visits to plantations in each of the country’s tea producing regions. Other tours focus on one area.
Tea Cultivation and Processing
In Sri Lanka, tea is planted according to the contour method in undulating rows that wind away across the hills. The unique feature of Sri Lankan tea cultivation is its use of manual labor, predominantly female Tamil workers. Visitors to tea plantations in Sri Lanka will come to appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into the production of premium teas. The process of drying and oxidizing the tea takes place in on-site factories that can be seen during a plantation tour.
Getting to Sri Lanka
While it is possible to fly directly to Sri Lanka, the number of carriers who service the island nation and the schedules each provides may make this proposition somewhat inconvenient. Visitors may find it more convenient to travel to India, where connections are better, and then travel to Sri Lanka by other means or by a local carrier in order to experience tea plantations.
Just a quick post to say that our enhanced website will be launching this week! It has been a labor of love for our team the past few months, and we look forward to sharing it with all of you. With new tour packages, interactive maps, and detailed information about the regions we serve, we hope you will enjoy the comprehensive information, media and resources! Check back soon!
We always enjoy hearing about the travel experiences of Sodha Travelers. Recently, Katie S. from Pittsburgh, PA sent us the following testimonial from her enchanting 12-day trip in Sri Lanka:
To start this mail, let me just say that Sri Lanka is a dream come alive. I had visions and expectations of the island being a paradise and yet so different from home. I just never anticipated the extraordinary kindness of the people, the pristine coastlines, and natural diversity. I also never thought the guides, reps, and my driver would be such an important and memorable part of the trip. Your team was so professional, informative, and thorough. I hope to return to Sri Lanka not just for a vacation but mostly to connect with the people who added such warmth to my journey. I cannot thank you enough for planning and executing a memorable trip. You know those vacations that people always talk about as changing their life? This was mine and I will never, ever forget it. I cannot say enough good things about Sodha Travel and I look forward to planning my next trip with you. Thank you again.
Thank you, Katie. If you are interested in more information about Sri Lanka, check out our May newsletter that highlights Kandy, considered the most scenic destination in this island nation. We always welcome your feedback: email@example.com.
Sodha Travel continues to be rated 5* by an independent traveler review on Tripology! We are proud to have maintained this level of excellence since 2008 and extend a warm thank you to all of our clients! As the owner of Sodha Travel, I am the primary contact with all travelers on Tripology and am privileged to be rated a Platinum Tripologist, based on volume and service. Here are a couple of the recent reviews received:
Allison put together an amazing 3-week tour of India for myself and my mother. We wanted to see as much of the country as possible without becoming overwhelmed, and Allison did a wonderful job of crafting a beautiful, varied, and extremely well-paced trip. We enjoyed every stop along the way and always felt that we were in good hands. We were really able to relax and savor the experiences thanks to the excellent planning. Thank you!
Caroline S., Ohio, United States
Allison asked quite a few questions before recommending things for me to consider. She listened to my suggestions & patiently answered my questions & my trip turned out beautifully. I was very pleased with her services. Melissa P., South Carolina, United States
Tripology is an excellent resource for travelers seeking a destination specialist. Fill out a quick trip profile, including destination, travel dates, budget and activities, and a specialist will contact you to discuss your travel plans. It is free for travelers and a wonderful way to connect with a certified agent that specializes in your destination! We have met several of our clients via Tripology and look forward to connecting with many more prospective travelers to India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.
A reminder to U.S. citizens traveling to Sri Lanka – a visa is now required before arriving in the country. Previously, a traveler was granted a no-cost visa upon arrival, valid for 30 days. Now, U.S. citizens must have either an Electronic Travel Authorization or a visa to enter Sri Lanka. Travelers will require an approval notice from Sri Lanka’s new Electronic Travel Authorization System, passport, onward/return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds. The application process is completed online or at a Sri Lanka Embassy or Consulate.
Please contact us with any additional questions.
Sri Lanka has re-emerged as a hot destination for savvy travelers. It is an exotic confluence of ancient kingdoms, tropical shorelines, earthy cuisine, tea plantations, and religious sites. Sri Lanka was also recently named one of the top 15 most affordable destinations for 2012. Check out my recent article on Travelhoppers, Sri Lanka: A Paradise Rediscovered, where I explore 5 must-see attractions in the Emerald Isle of the Indian Ocean.
It is that time of year to be thankful! Last week, I received an email from Deanna, a Sodha Traveler who visited India and Sri Lanka in September. Deanna was feeling very thankful for her experiences abroad and wanted to share it with our team (reprinted with permission):
As I am making my lists in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday, my mind keeps wandering to the sounds, sights and smells of my trip. What I am most thankful for this year was the ability to experience such a remarkable part of the world. It was an indulgence. This gratitude extends to you and all of Sodha Travel for planning everything so beautifully. I look forward to sharing my photos and memories with the family at Thanksgiving. Thank you again and wishing you a wonderful holiday.
Thank you, Deanna. We also feel very thankful for the opportunity to meet and serve so many diverse clients. Every traveler has a unique and captivating story!
*In recognition of Thanksgiving, our office will be closed on November 24 and 25. The Sodha Travel team wishes you a wonderful holiday!
Sri Lanka is the teardrop island nation that rests at the toe of India. With rows of coconut palms, dense forests and clear waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is an incredible offshore garden. In this package, spend 8 days exploring Colombo, Habarana, Kandy and Bentota. Also included is a visit to Pinnawala, the famed elephant orphanage that houses retired, abused, or orphaned elephants. John Richardson once wrote, “Sri Lanka has long been described as a paradise by travelers.” And remember – reserve
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.