“I’m going to India.”
Sadly, you get that response a lot when you tell people you’re traveling to this amazing country. After all, the only images many people have are those of overcrowding, pollution, poverty, and hurling from some delightfully unsanitary water or food.
But, as our guests can attest, while India is not the south of France, a trip there can be an absolutely life-changing experience. Not to mention a luxurious one.
Below are unedited (well, they’re edited for brevity, but otherwise unchanged) comments from our guests about Brand g’s India vacations.
A big shout out to the guests who so kindly contributed to this piece!
CONCERNS ABOUT THE FOOD & WATER:
My doctor gave me “Dos and Don’ts” – particularly regarding eating raw fruit/veg – and prescriptions in case I had problems, which fortunately, I did not. However, after seeing the restaurants, hotels, etc. that Brand g used, I never even thought about it. I ate fruit on the boat and at all breakfast buffets, but did not eat the lettuce/greens in the buffets – only when occasionally served as a garnish. Overall, India was cleaner than I had ever expected!
Tourism is a HUGE part of the Indian economy. Everyone wants to encourage it, and no one wants visitors to get sick and discourage others. Hand sanitizer flowed freely everywhere. Every time we went ashore, in addition to our guide and perhaps a local guide, there were a couple of guys from the boat to watch our shoes and bags, give shoe/foot covers, and provide hand sanitizer frequently.
We didn’t get sick at all. We took normal precautions of not drinking tap water, brushing our teeth with bottled water, and not eating food prepared by street vendors. All the food we ate at the hotels and on the ship was on par with western dining standards. On the ship, the constant emphasis on using hand sanitizers was reassuring. On the tour, they didn’t take us to any places where I had to worry about unhygienic food and water.
All the places you eat on the trip have been well-vetted in advance. We had no problems. Caution still helps. #1 rule: don’t drink anything where you didn’t open the bottle, including brushing your teeth. #2 rule: don’t eat anything that hasn’t been cooked or you peeled it, like a banana. Don’t eat apples or pears. No salads. The veg are washed in tap water. Don’t go to Starbucks – they use tap water. Don’t eat street food. It might be ok, but if it isn’t it really isn’t!
CONCERNS ABOUT POVERTY:
It was nothing anywhere nearly as close to as bad as what I had expected to see. It is just a different culture. Think of an American downtown street – upscale shops, street down the center with sidewalk between the street and the shops. However in Jaipur, India, the sidewalk area would be dirt. It might contain garbage, a cow, a vehicle, or be dug up. The shops are beautiful upscale stores – clothing, jewelry, etc. with dirt right outside the front door.
Yes, it does exist, but we also have it in our U.S. cities. I went into the trip with an open mind, knowing what I would see and experience. India was a fascinating trip – it has chaos and crumbling infrastructure, but if you go into the trip with proper expectations, you’ll be fine. The poverty is a just a fact of life in India (and in the U.S.) and we knew we couldn’t fix it and weren’t there to fix it. We were there to have a look into the country’s rich cultural offering.
If you are sensitive to close proximity and dealing with beggars, only go out with the group. The guides will maintain a space for you. If you’re sensitive, perhaps don’t do the Varanasi trip extension on your first trip to India.
I saw hardly any beggars or people with physical deformities. A couple of times it was mentioned that there was a cleanup campaign 10 years ago. Although I did see cow dung on the walking paths – particularly in Varanasi – they were not burning it on the side of roads or anywhere we went.
Somehow, I did not see the extreme poverty I was expecting. I did see lots and lots of dirt/filth. Almost all of the young guys – pedicab drivers, helpers in Varanasi, etc – were wearing rubber flip-flops. My guess is those were their only shoes. But I was not overwhelmed.
WHAT MADE THIS TRIP SPECIAL?
The Brand g travel experience. Brand g is not inexpensive. HOWEVER, everything – absolutely everything – is upscale and just works flawlessly, from being greeted at the airport with your name by a handsome man, to hotel check-in, to bag handling and everything else.
The Brand g hosts! Brian and Johnathon did an outstanding job. Brian seems to be low key, but he handles difficult situations flawlessly. Johnathon – where to start? He is a travel professional – and can be a campy queen! Fantastic.
We had access to experiences we wouldn’t have had on our own (e.g. the great arrival reception we had at the Rambagh Palace Hotel and the dance performances on the ship). We traveled in luxury tour buses and stayed at luxury hotels (especially the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur). We made new friends on the trip, too.
The hotels we stayed in with Brand g were far superior to those we had booked ourselves. The grand hotels of India eclipse any place we have stayed anywhere in the world.
We had two tour 2 buses. We could have all crammed into one, but this was a luxurious adventure.
The fact that we didn’t have to deal with any of the logistics was great.
The experience on the ship was amazing. The crew did so many special things for us, from dances to shows to just being super friendly.
The personal attention from the hosts.
The camaraderie of the group. All of the other guests were gracious and friendly.
Johnathon. He could be a stand-up comedian! I am really glad he will be hosting Antarctica in February, 2020.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE EXPERIENCE?
Seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise – it is spectacular.
It was definitely the ship. The rural Ganges delta is a very special experience – it completely contrasts with the big cities of Western India, so you get a much more complex view of India than if you just do the cities. On the boat, one event that stands out was the night we had a bonfire on the beach and all the local kids came to watch.
A few times, such as when were at a public location like a museum, local children came up and wanted selfies with them. The children and teenagers were friendly, just came up, held out their hand to shake and started asking lots of questions and wanted pics.
Everyone seemed very helpful. Instead of telling you where something is, they walk you to it.
I loved the traffic (hated the continual honking) only because it seemed to work. There, in a roundabout, it was very common to have people, cars, buses, people pulling carts, pedicabs, motor cabs, bicycles, mopeds, and very, very rarely a cow – all seeming to navigate thru the intersection without incidents. They all just seem to get along and get to their destinations without issues. I love how it just worked.
WHAT DIDN’T YOU LIKE?
The schedule that last day! We had a wake-up call in Varanasi at 4:45 am. We saw the morning rituals, had breakfast, toured a silk “factory”, etc., flew back to Delhi and had a farewell dinner. My airport pickup was at 10 pm for a 1:50 am flight. By the time the plane was in the air and you could recline your seat, I had been awake for 22 hours and just passed out. It was a very long day.
The visit to the Hare Krishna temple wasn’t very interesting and I could’ve skipped it, along with the walk back to the tuk-tuks in the dark.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE BRAND G?
I had a great experience with Brand g last year, on a trip to Africa.
I like travelling with a gay group.
A friend of ours has toured with Brand g before and they had a good experience.
We wanted a tour company to handle all of the logistics for a trip to India. We wanted to just show up and not have to worry about the arrangements.
We went to India twice last year (the first time, on our own with arrangements pre-booked by a travel agent who specialized in India). We had an amazing first trip, and Ken and I decided that we wanted to do the Ganges cruise. Bottom line, I think India is a difficult place to be an independent traveler unless you have been there many times before.
I wouldn’t have gone to India and planned the trip myself – too many issues to overcome. Every detail was taken care of for us–where to show up, what to eat, the transportation, the lodging, the sights to visit, etc. They make me feel safe and well taken care of.