Trip Coach: September 16, 2008
John Rambow, an editor and updater for Fodor's India, answered your questions about India's most famous destinations and offers advice for first-time visitors.
John Rambow: Hi everyone, I updated and edited portions of Fodor's Guide to India while living there for most of 2006 and 2007 with my partner. Although I lived mainly in the south, especially Bangalore and Chennai, I did my best to see as much as possible. Given the size and the variety of the country, I did little more than scratch the surface, but I'll do my best to answer your questions. For more on me, you can head to the blog I wrote while in India, Bangalore Monkey. So let me get started...
Brisbane, Australia: Hi, How good is the subway in New Delhi? Cheers
John Rambow: Delhi's subway is clean and reliable, and it'll be even more impressive once it covers more of this sprawling city (for instance, a special line is scheduled to connect with Delhi's airport in a few years). One current route that's likely to be useful to you is the yellow line, which goes north-south and connects Connaught Place with Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk, near the Red Fort.
Lawrenceburg, Ky.: We like to travel independently, but are afraid to try independent travel in India. What do you think?
John Rambow: That's impossible to answer completely without knowing you and the places you've traveled to already. Lots of people travel to India independently, and the ones that are successful tend to do a lot of reading-up (including on online forums) ahead of time so that they know what to expect. You might want to consider traveling "semi-independently." Have a travel agent book hotels and get you a car and driver for at least part of the time, for instance, but leave lots of time for your own exploring. In my experience most travel agents are willing to be flexible and give you exactly what you want. If you find yourself being pushed around or pressured, start looking for another.
Washington, D.C.: Which city do you suggest for a first trip to India—New Dehli or Mumbai?
John Rambow: I've spent more time in New Delhi than Mumbai, so I'm biased, but I think that the capital's sheer amount of living history and monuments makes it a better choice for first-time travelers, especially since most of them will want to head to nearby Agr, site of the Taj Mahal. Bombay/Mumbai is amazing—I'd love to live there in another life—but its astonishing sprawl and traffic make it rough to get around. Delhi has sprawl too, but the roads are much better. (I think we can thank all the politicians who live there for that!)
Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi John! I'm a 38 year old female and be spending a month alone in India later this year. I depart from the U.S. on Dec. 20 and return on Jan. 17, flying in & out of Delhi. I'm doing a tour of the Rajasthan area for the first 3 weeks, but will then have 1 week to travel on my own from Jan. 11 until I depart on Jan. 17. I'm thinking about heading down to Kerala during that last week. First, I'd be curious if you had any suggestions for any other "don't miss" places to spend a week other than Kerala. Second, if I do stick with Kerala, do you know of any festivals worth checking out in the area at that time? Thanks much! Sara
John Rambow: Hi Sara,
Kerala is beautiful, and its lushness would be a good complement to Rajasthan's dusty desert. It might be that after three weeks of palaces, forts, and camels up north, you'll want to schedule a few days of lying by the sea or a pool. If you do head to Kerala, I'd firm up hotel plans soon -- the place is very popular, and many of the nicest hotels (whether luxury or cheaper) are small.
I don't think there are any major festivals going on at that time, but certainly you should keep an eye open for any local celebrations that might be occurring...
Los Angeles, Calif.: I am going to Delhi to work for a few weeks. What are a few places close by that I should not miss?
John Rambow: Not sure if you'll have more than the weekends to play with, but you'll obviously want to plan at least a couple days in and around Agra to see the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, and other sites. I'd also make sure to not neglect Delhi itself: the Red Fort and Old Delhi have more than enough for another weekend, and so does South Delhi, the location of a 12th century mosque with the impressive Qutub Minar (a huge minaret). A good day trip would be to the Swaminarayan Akshardham, a monumental modern Hindu temple in the eastern suburbs. It's full of awesome. And if you're a shopper, Delhi has lots of great options.