Sorry to be so negligent in getting back to you. I intended to write a very long piece about our wonderful trip, but events keep on pushing it back. So I thought I would give an overview, and would be happy to provide more details as you request. Everything about the trip was fabulous.
IVAT did a great job about making sure everything fit together, was comfortable for us, and that we
saw many many fascinating things. We were coddled at every step of theway and everything was incredibly smooth. All our needs were carefully attended. Best of all were the consistently high quality of guides, who ranged from excellent to extraordinary. The hotels also ranged from
excellent to astonishingly wonderful, with only a few glitches that were corrected. JET Airways and all the drivers were great, and of course India was amazing in a different way every day.
The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai was spectacular, the guide and airport representative there were excellent. We saw many interesting things inour half day there. We had a nice room in the Taj in Aurangabad and the guide there was special. We were a little tired the first day, and did
not cover Ellora in as much depth as we should have, but Ajanta was truly amazing.
Kolkata was quite different, very interesting, and the guide was excellent. The Oberoi hotel was very nice. Probably not worth all the effort to get there, but my wife insisted and she was very happy we
Varanaisi and Sarnath were perhaps the most memorable days of the trip. Our guide was truly, truly amazing. Hard to imagine a better guide. But, to our amazement, this is what we got in Khajuraho and Orcha, a guide who was just as good, in very different ways. Someone who could talk forever about one statute and do so in a knowledgeable and fascinating way. I thought those two were the best guides of the trip, which is really saying something.
The train ride was fine to Agra, the Oberoi hotel was absolutely incredible (I am glad you insisted we stay there, hang the expense), and our guide was fine. We also met our driver who was with us almost the rest of the way. The car was great and the driver was better. The naturalist at Bharptur was spectacular and Laxmi Vilas was lots of fun.
Rambaugh Palace was wonderful too, but they tried to put us in a room with no view of the outside (not satisfactory for three nights). They then gave us a room with a wonderful view that turned out to be next to a noisy broken kitchen vent fan, so they transferred us next day to another wonderful but quiet room. Despite these glitches, it was a very special place, and we enjoyed our stay in Jaipur very much. Our guide was excellent.
Our room in Udaipur at the Shiv Niwas was truly breathtaking, maybe the best view in the whole hotel. I would say our room was better than the hotel, but we enjoyed our location very much as well. Our guide was great, and on his own gave us extra time and took us to some very special temples outside the city. We had some wonderful views at dinner, and there was an interesting dance showcase for tourists there as well. He accompanied us to Ranjapur which was amazing. Great guide.
The regular Taj hotel in Jodhpur was fine and the guide again was excellent and showed us a number of interesting things, including those villages outside the city. The same with Fort Rawanda in Jaisalmeer. The town was very interesting. The tent and camel ride were a bit
touristy (but mostly for Indians), but lots of fun.
The Imperial was a wonderful hotel with incredible restaurants, perfect in every way except for our initial experience there. They tried to stick us next to the parking lot on the ground floor (for four nights). When we objected, they gave us a room over a restaurant that they promised would be quite, but there was a noisy party until late. The next day when we refused the third offered room (again over a restaurant0, we finally got a nice room on the fourth try, and were very
happy after that. I suspect IVAT helped with that. Our guide in Delhi was young and showed a different perspective on India than the others, and when all was said and done, he showed us a very interesting time in Delhi. The airport representative seemed a bit inexperienced.
If I might include some constructive criticism, it appeared to me that there were certain stores that the local travel agency required guides to recommend. The guides would take us to those stores, and sometimes, on our request, take us elsewhere as well, and these other stores invariably seemed the best*in terms of interest, quality and price.
For example, in Varanaisi, the recommended store (you could always tell the recommended store because they would have a demonstration first about the local craft) was Silkways. We looked at bedspreads, but did not buy. The next day, we went back without our guide and bought many many less expensive things there, but no bedspreads. A man who appeared to be the owner grilled us quite aggressively if our guide had taken us to other stores. He was suspicious that we had bought bedspreads elsewhere. It was both unpleasant and also quite striking that we ended up spending several hundred dollars with him, and he was still unhappy! I kept my mouth shut, but I felt like I should be free to frequent whatever store I wished, and not limited to those stores that paid the
highest commission to the local travel agency.
Of course, none of this prevented us from buying and buying in India. Things were so wonderful and so cheap that it was impossible to resist. I am not sure which stores were on the local agencies' lists, but a number of stores we went to were truly memorable. I would think tourists would not object to tour agencies and guides getting commissions, but on an individual tour do they have to be limited just to stores that seem to work for tour buses?
I will stop here, other than to say that I would highly, highly, highly recommend IVAT to everyone I know and to anyone else. You will be pleased to know that this opinion seemed to be generally shared throughout India. In particular, all the best guides we had also gave the highest praise to IVAT.