Top 10 Tips for a First Trip to India for a luxury traveller in 2022
James Jayasundera, founder of Ampersand Travel has been arranging luxury tailormade holidays for the last 30 years. Below are his top 10 tips for a first trip to India for a luxury traveller in 2022.
It’s not unusual to be a little nervous about travelling to India especially for the first time. Even for the well-travelled it can be daunting as it is a huge and complex country.
My first visit to India was when I was 4, I have been over 50 times and have been planning tailormade tours for over 30 years. In the last 10 years there have been dramatic improvements in the quality of hotels, air connectivity, infrastructure, vehicles, food hygiene, communications, and banking which is why the way we plan itineraries now is quite different to when I first started. Most advice for travel to India is outdated and/or written for backpackers. So these are my top 10 tips for travellers in 2022 who are seeking a luxury tailormade holiday to India.
1. How Long for a First Trip? If you have limited time 12 – 15 days is ideal. However, if you are worried about investing that amount of time in a destination you are nervous about visiting then keep it short and sweet. I find 7 – 9 days (just 5 days off work) is enough time to have a good break and a chance to establish whether India is for you or not. If you like it you can always go back. Some of my most enjoyable holidays to India were short. One of my absolute favourites which includes some of the most beautiful palaces and rural retreats in Rajasthan is only 8 nights long. It’s a leisurely and relaxed vacation that shows India at its best. A Perfect Introduction to India from £2200 per person based on two sharing (excl. international flights).
2. Where to go? Most first-time visitors gravitate towards two main areas. The first is the Golden Triangle in the north which includes Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan. These areas cover Mughal India and the impressive forts and palaces of Rajasthan whilst staying in some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. The second is the coastal states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south which are more tropical and laid back. The hotels here tend to be simpler in keeping with the climate and surroundings. There is so much more to India than these few areas, but they are a good starting point and although popular there are still vast areas that remain off the beaten path. Our special 14 night itinerary that combines the highlights of the north and the south is Essential India from £6600 per person based on two sharing (excl. international flights).
3. When to go? The old advice was that the best time to visit India is from November to March but this is terribly outdated as it does not take into account the now wide spread use of air-conditioning, the more relaxed and weather appropriate clothing, the dramatic improvements in transport and accommodation and changing weather patterns. It also does not keep in mind areas that have opened up such as Ladakh which is at its best from June to September. When you are having a luxury tailormade tour this window extends still further. My favourite time to travel to India is in August and September as in most areas it is the end of the monsoons and everything feels clean and fresh with beautiful blue skies and crowd free sites. The hotels are not busy and the staff are well rested and relaxed. It can be up to 40% cheaper than traveling from October to March and can be so much more enjoyable.
4.Stay Healthy. Getting away on holiday can be stressful as there are so many lose ends to tie up both at work and at home. This combined with losing sleep due to travel and jet lag can greatly weaken one’s immune system and ability to enjoy things especially if thrown in the deep end right away. My recommendation is to take it easy at the beginning of the tour so that you can recover from the journey, adjust to the time difference and acclimatise to being in India. You will then be in perfect form to enjoy your holiday to the max. Too many trips start at a hectic pace with the busiest and most crowded cities first and a whole series of super early starts, so it’s no surprise that people fall sick or feel overwhelmed. Don’t worry about upset stomachs, food hygiene in India has improved dramatically and if you take care where you eat it is unlikely you will fall sick.
5. Don’t underestimate distances. India is a huge country and places that look close on a map can in fact be several hours apart. Furthermore a 200km journey may take much longer and feel more tiring than back at home - even with improved roads and airlinks, don’t underestimate these. Therefore, spend more time visiting fewer places, cherry-pick the places you want to visit and make sure they form an efficient and logical route.
6. Mix urban and rural locations. As 65% of the population still live in rural locations this will give you a better insight into how the bulk of the population live. It also provides greater variety and a change in the tempo – both important elements in creating a perfect trip. The Indian countryside can be incredibly beautiful and the kindness and warmth of hospitality is very touching. Not to be missed!
7. Expect the unexpected. Both good and bad. Roads can get blocked, a museum can unexpectedly close, a flight is cancelled, or alternatively you can receive an impromptu invitation to a wedding or want to spend a little longer in a place you really love. We always have a Plan B and a Plan C up our sleeve as we are used to dealing with the unexpected and can take it in our stride so that you don’t miss a beat.
8. No need to tick all the boxes. As iconic and beautiful as the Taj Mahal may be I would recommend skipping it on a first trip to India. Travelling to Agra adds a lot of extra dreary travel to an itinerary. It is also one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world and is crowded and commercial. It has the potential to show India at its worst rather than at its best. Save it for a second trip, once you have fallen in love with the country.
9. Keep an open mind. On one occasion I was arranging a trip for the patrons of a well known museum. Whilst we were in Jaipur having just visited Delhi and Agra one of them said: “Oh my goodness James, India is so much worse than we ever expected” my heart sank especially as we had only been doing the best of the best. But they thankfully continued to say “but it is also so, so much better!” And that’s it in a nutshell. India is a country of such great extremes, where everything needs to be assessed on its own terms in situ. Things that apply everywhere else in the world don’t necessarily apply in India. Even poverty, as shocking as it may be, can be thought provoking in unexpected ways; it’s not unusual for people who have almost nothing to have a beaming smile and be happy to share the little they have with those around them. Travelling to India is transformative, it makes one question one’s beliefs and see things in a new light. My partner always says “I think of my life in two parts - before and after my first visit to India”.
10. Have your holiday/vacation arranged by an expert who has travelled extensively throughout the country and has tried and tested the hotels they recommend. They should have at least 5 years’ experience of arranging holidays in India, ideally more. Make sure that they understand your needs and that they have excellent guides, good cars and drivers, and a little black book with strong contacts. Knowing what complements what, when to be where, how long to spend in each place and the best order in which to visit them is key.
If you are interested in visiting India for the first time or are keen to return please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My team and I would be thrilled to look after you and ensure that you have the most wonderful time!
Important: You will need a visa for travel to India and a passport with at least two blank pages that is valid for 6 months upon your return. E-visas are now available for most nationalities but alas are currently not available for UK passport holders who need to apply for an old-fashioned Tourist Visa. This can take several weeks and is easiest if done through a visa company – we can recommend some good ones. There are currently no COVID-19 restrictions and there is no longer the requirement to test or quarantine on arrival in India. The only requirement is to self-monitor for 14 days. All travellers should submit a self-declaration form on the online “Air Suvidha” portal before travel. If you are unvaccinated, you will need to upload a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report, with the test having been conducted within 72 hours prior to undertaking the journey.