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Holidaying in India vs South Asia

This summer, there is a curious phenomenon at work at all the popular holiday destinations within India. While travelers from abroad are not coming in at all and hotels have therefore really been forced to cut down on their prices, this very fact has encouraged middle-class Indians to take to traveling with a vengeance.

Traditionally, Indians are not particularly good travelers. Of course, this is a broad generalization, but by and large, it is true like most clichés! Indians are not adventurous and they are strangely resistant to experimenting with anything new—a new place, new people, new food. We are creatures of habit it would seem. But aspirations are quite another thing. The fact that the country is amongst the only two in the world whose economies are still growing even during a global recession has to account for something. While jobs have been cut in India as have salaries, at least post the general elections which returned a stable government to power (the United Progressive Alliance) with a reputed economist for prime minister, the sentiment has got much more positive and this is reflected in many more Indians choosing to holiday, abroad and within the country, making the best use of up-for-grabs bargains.

Now that you have the perspective, here’s my experience trying to find the plushest, yet most value-for-money holiday within or around India for my husband, myself and our four-year-old daughter. Being fairly flexible, impromptu sort of people, we began—at the nth hour, without a budget and without the benefit of having planned a holiday months in advance, which I admit works very well for people who are not us.

Our options:

1. A free stay at a charming new boutique hotel in Bhimtal in the Himalayas: Since my husband edits a travel magazine, there are junkets aplenty – even if very little time to avail of these. The hotel in question has been opened by a New Delhi based couple, is filled with new furniture made to look like old, and you can sit out and sip your tea looking at a mountain range in front.

So why didn’t we take it up? Well, first, we’ve been to Nainital, that’s the more famous sister town of Bhimtal (there are seven tals in the Kumaon hills, all with beautiful lakes), so may times. Last year, in fact we visited Ramgarh, a really quiet town just a couple of kilometers away from Naini and Bhimtal, called the “fruit bowl” of the Himalayas for the variety of luscious fruit orchards here. Second: Our daughter hasn’t seen the sea, so we thought a beach holiday would be more like it.

2. Udaipur, the beautiful town in Rajasthan with a lake and the max concentration of luxury hotels and resorts: Another option was to stay at the Trident in Udaipur, on the banks of a lake, a beautiful property by all accounts and quite a reasonably priced one. The price: Rs 4,600 per night with breakfast. Attractions: A restaurant facing the lake, colourful shopping for antiques and such and the magic of Rajasthan. Plus, it is conveniently located. Just an overnight train ride from New Delhi. The dampners: Since it is located in the middle of a desert, it would be really hot, which would mean that we would possibly spend our entire time in the hotel. But with just one restaurant there, our gourmet sensibilities would not be satisfied surely!

3. Thailand: Since South-east Asia has become so cheap for travelers, this was very realistic. Visa is on arrival, so no planning is really required and there are some amazing deals on offer. Rs 19,000 per person for air ticket, visa, taxes, some sigh seeing in Bangkok and Pattaya and hotel stay in a three-star property. You can upgrade to a four-star resort for Rs 24,000. So why didn’t we go? Well, because, there are better places in Thailand, less touristy, more pristine, like Koh Sami, but more expensive. Dubai would have come for Rs 20,000 for three nights, inclusive of airfare, and Hong Kong for Rs 34,000, again visa on arrival, also has Asia’s only Disney World. But then, there is the undisputable fact, that we could enjoy a far more luxurious stay in India for the same budget.

4. Go Goa: So Goa it was finally. We had to choose from some amazing packages: Soul Vacations, a boutique hotel, where you can practice Pranayam et al, for just Rs 9,000 per head (including air fare); Cidade Goa, one of the oldest five-stars here for an offer of Rs 16,000 for three nights and fourth night free, many more much cheaper budget options and some fabulous resorts. We chose the Fort Aguada Beach Resort. (See hot deals section). I don’t know how it will go. But promise to file a post.

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