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FIT to India - foreign independent travel

We took a trip to northern India and, in western India, Mumbai (Bombay), Dec. 5-30, '00, using an FIT (foreign independent travel) arrangement. We enjoy traveling on an FIT because we are able to leave and return on the exact days that fit our schedules, we are able to see what we want and we are able to spend time in the cities and places where we want to be.

It also enables us to control where we go -- we don't enjoy shopping, but we do enjoy cultural and musical activities. Since we are two people with a guide and driver, we can put a halt to being taken to the rug factories, etc.
When we first planned this trip, we couldn't imagine being away from home for that many days, but while on the trip we just kept on going. Upon our return, we found that we were glad we did the trip this way.

Our trip was arranged by Barbara Sansone at Spirit of India (Box 446, Mill Valley, CA 94942; phone 888/367-6147 or 415/381-5861, fax 415/381-5861, e-mail or visit Ms. Sansone worked closely with us through many e-mails, phone calls and faxes.

The costs of this trip were as follows: $1,289 per person for international airfare on Singapore Air with an add-on from Denver; $640 for internal air for six trips, and $3,575 per person for the custom tour, including 4- and 5-star hotels, guides in every city, drivers and cars in all cities, breakfast in hotels, two lunches and one dinner.

The meal plans worked for us because, instead of having the buffets that are served to groups, we were able to order exactly what we wanted from our hotel restaurant menus. I was able to order steamed vegetables and broiled fish and avoid the spicy foods while my husband was happy with the curries. Of course, I couldn't resist the wonderful Indian breads.

Lunches averaged $7 to $10 per person and dinners $10 to $15. Most of our hotels had a basket of fruit in our room for us to snack on.

After the long flight (Denver-Los Angeles-Singapore-Mumbai), we settled down at the Ramada Palm Grove on Juhu Beach on the northern side of Mumbai. We visited Marine Drive, Malabar Hill, the Jain temple and the "Hanging Gardens."

Our guide suggested lunch at Trishna Restaurant, where we had a fabulous meal for $6 per person. We took a cruise to Elephanta Island and saw the caves. We also visited the Prince of Wales Museum and the Gandhi Museum.

We moved to the Ambassador Hotel in the Churchgate area to enable us to experience the bustling life of the city.

From Mumbai we flew to Aurangabad, where we had a full-day excursion to the Ajanta Caves and another half-day visit to the Ellora Caves. The Ajanta Caves, especially, were marvelous, full of lively paintings of ancient Hindu and Buddhist life.

We continued on to Udaipur by air to stay at the Lake Palace Hotel. This was a fabulous, outstanding hotel that catered to our every need. It is on an island and we got there by way of a small launch that was always at our disposal -- no waiting!

Day trips to Nagda and Eklingji temples outside of Udaipur were on the schedule. We had lunch at the Fateh Prakash Palace, which overlooked the lake and had a view, of the Lake Palace.

With our own car and driver, we drove to Deogarh and spent the night at the Deogarh Palace Hotel, a former maharajah's palace. On the way, we visited the Ranakpur Jain temple; it is filled with intricate stone carvings from the 10th century and is said to contain 1,444 stone columns.

Since we wanted variety on this trip, we proceeded to Ranthambhore National Park and spent three nights at Tiger Moon Resort, all meals included. We went on morning and late-afternoon safaris, seeing tigers on two safaris as well as deer, antelope and birds. A 10th-century Mughal fort was near and we also visited that.

Jaipur, the "pink city," was our next destination. With our car and driver we saw the City Palace, the Palace of the Winds, the Jantar Mantar Observatory and the Amber Fort. We stayed at the Samode Haveli, another royal residence that has been opened to the public as a hotel.

We departed for Agra by car and stopped along the way at the Keoladeo National Park (a bird sanctuary), where we rode on a bicycle ricksha. We also stopped on the way at Fatehpur Sikri, the deserted city.

In Agra we stayed at the Mughal Sheraton, another 5-star hotel. Our visit to the Taj Mahal was everything we thought it would be. We couldn't find enough superlatives for the Taj. A visit to the Agra Fort was also included in our Agra tour.

Then it was on to Khajuraho, via Jet Airways, where we first visited the eastern group of temples. The next day we visited the western group of temples with their wonderful carvings of everyday life.

Our guide took us to the old village of Khajuraho and even gave us a tour of his house, That afternoon, on our own, we hired a jeep and went to see Raneh Park on the Ken River. There we saw stupendous rock formations and on the way back stopped to see the people of the Dhurguwa village. We stayed at the Jass Trident. The visit was enlivened by a Hindu festival that was taking place in the town plus a folk dance performance in the evening.

Varanasi was next, via Jet Airways. Our Varanasi guide took us first to Sarnath, and the next morning we took an early morning boat ride on the river Ganges. You have to see that to believe it -- the ghats and temples there are imposing.

Our last internal flight was from Varanasi to Delhi, where we stayed at the Park Royal Hotel. We toured Old and New Delhi, including the Red Fort and the Gate of India, and took a ricksha ride through the market in Old Delhi.

We did have a great odyssey. Since we were careful about food and drink, we did not get "Delhi belly." We drank bottled water, also using it to brush our teeth, and did not sing in the showers. Most of our hotels gave us complimentary bottled water.

We were disappointed, however, that fees were increased to all the important monuments. It now costs $21 per person to visit the Taj Mahal. These increases took place after we had paid for our trip and they added significantly to the cost.

About The Author: PAULA M. HUTT Denver, CO COPYRIGHT 2001 Martin Publications, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group