Heart of India
Sujay Kumar Lall
Visiting India has been a wish on our bucket list for some time. As we had traveled with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) twenty four times before, we knew what to expect. Their itineraries are intense; full day experiences that are established for travelers and not tourists. For the most part we were not disappointed.
Sujay L. was our Tour Director (TD) and he is to be highly commended for keeping the trip lively and interesting. Every day, from the beginning to the end of each, he provided us with his acumen of his knowledge and understanding of the areas and enriched each day’s learnings with different experiences.
Sujay received the Sumner-Thoren Award from OAT, to recognize their in-country Tour Directors "who go above and beyond to provide unforgettable (travel) experiences." On our first day in India, he invited us to his home for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. He focused on providing opportunities for all 16 members of our group to meet with Indian people. We were encourage to talk, discuss, take pictures, eat meals, drink coffee and in many ways get to know the local people. He provided many different modes of transportation including a Jugaar truck! And in the end, he helped with the national currency crisis during the last five days of our trip. There were so many extras that made us feel he was truly giving of himself and his country.
Since we first traveled with OAT in 2003, the company has changed their daily schedule to include city/area guides. This provided the traveler with a great depth and understanding of the region. Most were very good - Raj in Delhi was the very best; knowledgeable and interesting. Unfortunately Atanu in Sarnath Village in Varanasi talked too much, over 20 minutes, and was not considerate of us in the steamy 90-degree temperatures and radiant sun.
The best transportation we have ever had in any of our 79 tours all over the world were the busses with their drivers and assistants in India. The busses were immaculate - windows were cleaned every day, floor and seats were spotless and whenever we wished for water, it was quickly provided at no charge. Several days we were so late in arriving at our lodging that we were driving to the next hotel late in the evening when it was dark. With all of the vehicles, erratic drivers, and cows and critters on the road, it seemed very dangerous to be driving in the dark. They got us through with no accidents. This was a major accomplishment.
We cannot say enough about the people of India. Everywhere we went they were welcoming, gracious, smiling, and wanted to include us with their families, pictures, discussions, and suggestions. The Learning and Discovery activities were of extraordinary quality. Even the “Day in the Life” which on many trips is less than genuine, was very good. The interaction with the school children was especially fun and rewarding. We then took a walk in the village before going to Parma's house where we had a chance to talk and enjoy chi tea. We then got on the bus and visited the Daskar "A Hundred Hands" workshop to see the village people working in the co-op. When we arrived in Agra we visited the Acid Survivors Cafe where we participated in the discussions about women's issues in India that were very beneficial and informative. The visit was exceptionally meaningful.
Most hotels were very good, the one night at the Laxmi Vilas Palace Heritage Hotel in Abha Nagri was not up to standards although it looked great and had a "palace" feel. The important thing for most travelers is the opportunity for good Wi-Fi access, as everyone seems to be hooked into communication with home or business. The meals were generally buffet that were excellent and critical for less waste.
The domestic flights were quite different from the USA. We had a long delay in the flight from Khajuraho to Veranasi. Sujay interjected and an additional flight was brought in to move two OAT groups to our destination late at night. Seating was also an issue on all the fights. Due to a medical reason, OAT has our request for an aisle seat. We spoke to Sujay about this but none of the domestic airlines honored this request.
We had two major concerns on this trip. The initial was a very bad case of a cold and cough brought in by one tour member. Uncovered sneezes and coughing into one's hand instead of one's sleeve allowed the germs to spread through the A/C of the bus. Using the hands to touch the bus seats, handles, and doors spread the germs and virus to everyone. By the middle of the trip everyone had been afflicted. By the end of the trip, even Sujay was quite ill and had to leave the group to go home as he had another trip in three days.
The second concern was the level of shopping. In our welcome briefing we heard from several in the group that they had traveled to India to shop. In our previous trips with OAT we have never experienced long shopping excursions. So it was a surprise as nowhere on the trip itinerary does it say shopping as an activity. The word is never used. As we began this trip in Delhi, Jaipur, and Pushkar, the group was scheduled for 2 to 3 hours shopping per day. When we spoke to Sujay, he worked to provide private time for those who wished to shop to do so and for those of us who wanted to see other cultural areas to do that.
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Just before we were to go on our first journey of 2020, the COVID-19 virus hit and the world shut down for travel and adventure.
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