India-has it improved since my last visit in 1983?

Day 9

 

Up at 06:00 to see The Taj Mahal which was worth the hassle, lots of queueing and already quite hot.  So simple yet intricate, a humbling thought that it was built 400 years ago as a tomb for a favourite wife who died in childbirth having her 14th child at 38 years old.

 

Off to Baratpur to stay in a Marharaja’s Palace, half way to Jaipur.

They have built a new palace right next door to the old one and it is very flash, all grand arches and beautiful painted walls.  We are staying in the old palace which has a bit more character, but feels a bit lifeless, maybe due to the 90 degree heat!  The pool is great so thankfully we stay by it and eat toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches, bit sick of curry!

 

Day 10

 

Off to see the Kaledeo Bird Sanctuary, taken around by a bicycle Rickshaw as you are not allowed off on your own.  I felt like someone from Jewell in the Crown off to see Margery at the Club!

 

Day 11

 

Up early to see Bharatpur Fort, looks like a English castle from the outside, huge battlements.  Inside there are THREE palaces, but they have only been able to afford to restore the 16th Century one.  The Hammann is so pretty, the painted walls look like a Liberty print and the White marble is so delicate.

 

Four hour drive to Karauli, due to a diversion via a railway crossing where every bus, car, Tuk Tuk, Camel and tractor were trying to cross at once!  We are really heading off into deepest country, through some really shabby towns, goats, pigs and cows sifting through the rubbish, but the people look happy.

M

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India-has it improved since my last visit in 1983?

Sixth day

 

Picked up by our driver, Prakash in his (thankfully) air conditioned vehicle to drive us up into the countryside in Kerala to stay at an organic farm.  This is a new concept to me called a ‘Homestay’, it is more personal than a hotel and you meet real people!  The farm is called Dewalokham. The place is run very well by Joss and Sinta who have built a vast beautiful house for guests, they live in the small one next door!  We were welcomed by a group of ladies who gave us garlands and bindi marks to bless us, as well as smoke to drive out bad spirits!

 

Joss showed us around the farm, everything from papayas to peppercorns grows here and they have Buffalo (grumpy), goats and dairy cows. I swam in their huge freshwater swimming pool overlooking a clear, fast flowing river, then G&T on the terrace before a perfect dinner. I could get used to this very quickly!

 

Seventh day

 

Off far too early to fly to Delhi with Indigo Air, very new aircraft and smiling staff, no stray cats and dogs at the airport, no slums or beggars on the journey into the city, where have they gone?!

 

A huge surprise is sweeping into the drive of The Imperial Hotel, which is one of the hotels you hear about and never think you can afford.

My sister said it was only about £80.00 more a night than the other hotels, so why not!  The hotel was built in 1911, when The Delhi Durbar was held and it has that ‘fin de siècle’ look and atmosphere.  Our room was exquisite, polished marble floor, silk rugs, antiques. I want to move in!  The whole place exudes opulence and good service and I am now officially ruined!

 

Sixth day

 

Picked up by our driver, Prakash in his (thankfully) air conditioned vehicle to drive us up into the countryside in Kerala to stay at an organic farm.  This is a new concept to me called a ‘Homestay’, it is more personal than a hotel and you meet real people!  The farm is called Dewalokham. The place is run very well by Joss and Sinta who have built a vast beautiful house for guests, they live in the small one next door!  We were welcomed by a group of ladies who gave us garlands and bindi marks to bless us, as well as smoke to drive out bad spirits!

 

Joss showed us around the farm, everything from papayas to peppercorns grows here and they have Buffalo (grumpy), goats and dairy cows. I swam in their huge freshwater swimming pool overlooking a clear, fast flowing river, then G&T on the terrace before a perfect dinner. I could get used to this very quickly!

 

Seventh day

 

Off far too early to fly to Delhi with Indigo Air, very new aircraft and smiling staff, no stray cats and dogs at the airport, no slums or beggars on the journey into the city, where have they gone?!

 

A huge surprise is sweeping into the drive of The Imperial Hotel, which is one of the hotels you hear about and never think you can afford.

My sister said it was only about £80.00 more a night than the other hotels, so why not!  The hotel was built in 1911, when The Delhi Durbar was held and it has that ‘fin de siècle’ look and atmosphere.  Our room was exquisite, polished marble floor, silk rugs, antiques. I want to move in!  The whole place exudes opulence and good service and I am now officially ruined!

 

The Imperial hotel

The Imperial hotel,Delhi

Being shown the gin menu at the Imperial!

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India-has it improved since my last visit in 1983?

INDIA – Has it improved since my last visit in 1983?

 

I have avoided India since my last visit over thirty years ago due to the usual reasons you hear, poverty, Delhi belly, pests etc  But my Sister, who loves the place, persuaded me to give the place a chance on a trip accompanied by her. She said she would show me how much India had improved.  So here goes, armed with an iPad and an open mind!

 

Day one

 

Fort Cochin, Kerala

 

A very Dutch/Portuguese/English feel to the place, due to the historical links with the spice trade.

 

We are staying at The Eighth Bastion, a boutique hotel just back from The Arabian Sea.This very simple and elegant with huge rooms and lovely bathrooms, our room has a balcony from which we can see the sea..  The Southern Indians are very relaxed and polite, no in your face pestering,walking along the beach promenade on my own in the early morning is fine, no beggars! I love taking the Tuk Tuk’s around at about 20p a journey, visiting the Spice Markets and the stunning Portuguese church. The staff at the hotel are amazing or maybe I am just used to rubbish service in UK!

 

Third Day

 

Coconut Lagoon, somewhere on Lake Vembanad.

 

Bliss!  Sitting on the verandah of our private wooden bungalow, overlooking the backwater leading to a huge lake, total tranquility!  Went to a Yoga Session overlooking the Paddy Fields this am, then a swim in the lovely pool, followed by an Ayurvedic massage,now undoing it all with a large G & T.  But I have been eating Vegetarian food as it is so delicious.  I love the staff here, very kind and you don’t feel they are fake, I hate it when hotel staff suck up to you just for a large tip.

 

First breakfast, A masala dosa. Lady sorting the ginger at a spice warehouse.

First breakfast, A masala dosa. Below, lady sorting the ginger at a spice warehouse in Cochin

 

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Honeymoon in Sri Lanka

Thank you so much for putting together such an amazing honeymoon for us!
It was incredible from start to finish. What an amazing country.
Your itinerary was just perfect, all the activities were brilliant, Sigiriya was incredible arrived first at the summit, loved the village tour and elephant ride.
Adrian and Barbara Ramini August 2014
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Sri Lanka great holiday feedback

P1060926-2P1060846-2Our recent trip to Sri Lanka was fantastic. We stayed in beautiful hotels, colonial and boutique, ate amazing food and saw interesting sights. Our driver was very knowledgeable and took us to extra places not set out in the itinerary. At one point he suddenly stopped and to our delight waited until forty two elephants had crossed the road! The success of the holiday was all due to Jane who listened to our requirements and devised an interesting trip visiting Colombo, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Nuwara Eliya and Galle. Everything worked like clockwork making the experience relaxing and enjoyable. Jane removed all the stress of bookings etc and all we had to do was sort out our flights. Thank you Jane for a great holiday.   Lizzie Bowen May 2014

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The team in India

P1020602P1020601These photos show the drivers in Southern India, they are all employed on contract,not freelance, the cars are all leased and renewed once they are three years old. They are an excellent team providing knowledgeable and safe tours for my customers, the picture shows Bennet, Sanal, Anil and Prakash beside a Toyota Innova.

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Excellent feed back from client visiting India for fourth time.

Points-South organised a brilliant trip for us. As this was our fourth trip to India and a return trip to the South (albeit after 25 years)  we were keen to experience something different.  Jane Points listened  and understood our requirements and produced a very well balanced itinerary based around homestays each of which had its own character. The home stays met our wish to  enjoy authentic Keralan cuisine (and learn how to cook it), do some walking and bird watching and enjoy local culture at our own pace and without any obligatory sightseeing. We did not want beach but we did want relaxation – and we got that in spades despite some longish car journeys;  we stayed at least two and sometimes three nights in each place allowing us time to unwind and really benefit from all that a home stay has to offer – including time to wander round local villages and visit local temples as well as chat with (always interesting)  fellow guests at the communal meals. Our hosts were wonderfully kind, taking us to an amazing festival at a local Hindu temple with decorated temple elephants and amazing music; to bathe elephants in the local river; and on forest walks and birdwatching excursions. Our driver  was efficient (always on time)  as well as charming and informative and bent over backwards to look after us – even suggesting and organising an impromptu stop at a nature reserve and finding us a guide at very short notice.

We would highly recommend this very different experience of India to anyone. Jane’s insights and enthusiasm and ‘on the ground’ knowledge obtained   from her personal visits and assiduous debriefs from her clientele  are invaluable.  Her personal touch extends to knowing and trying to ensure you have the best room and the right driver  – that attention to detail is hard to match!

 

Mandy Warnford-Davis March 2014

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Indian Visa system simplified from October 2014

Great news! The over complicated and expensive Indian visa system is to be changed to a simple online application to be issued at India airport of entry, the new tourist visa will be for valid for 30 days, and hopefully much cheaper. This is planned to start from October 2014.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-26062351

India tourist visa scheme extended
www.bbc.co.uk
India’s government is to extend the country’s limited visa-on-arrival scheme to tourists from 180 countries in an attempt to boost tourism and business.
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Travelspinner blog by Points South

Dreamed of visiting Kerala and Tamil Nadu? This week, the Travelspinner Blog hears from Jane Points, founder and owner of Points South, a southern India and Sri Lanka specialist.

Kerala's BackwatersDawn on the Backwaters of Kerala – a local man takes his daughter to school in a coracle

Brief CV –  Jane Points, Director, Points South Ltd
I have been visiting southern India since 1981, when I travelled around the area for six months with a friend, and I have been back nearly every year since then. I’ve always been happy to share my knowledge and love for southern India and so I found myself designing itineraries for my friends. Eventually I realised I could do it for a living and that there was nothing that I wanted to do more, so I created Points South Travel in 2009. Since then I have expanded into Sri Lanka and I can also arrange trips to northern India too.

Why Southern India?
It is the ideal introduction to the wonderful rewards and frustrations of travelling in India – before tackling the challenges of other states. I love it because no single hour – let alone a day – is ever the same.

Fort Cochin backroadsA Hindustan Ambassador on the back roads of Fort Cochin

What kind of feedback do you get from your clients?
The typical Points South client is someone who does not want to herded about in a group. They want to be adventurous, but not to have the hassle of arranging their transport and logistics. Also, for some travellers, India still has a slight fear factor – and so the internet is not a trusted medium for booking and arranging your itinerary. With Points South you speak to a well informed person, not a faceless website. Once they get there, though, they are bowled over with how vibrant and exotic the place is. Tailor-making is all about getting it just right for the particular traveller and it’s always a huge pleasure when I hear back from them on their return.

Malabar House Fort CochinThe pool at Malabar House hotel, Fort Cochin (image: Points South)

Expect the unexpected?
Here is a quote from some clients who took a tour of three states with Points South – ‘We saw the unusual, the sublime, the theatrical, the hysterical, the colourful, the noisy, the vibrant, the welcoming, the breathtaking, the different, we saw South India in a way that captivated and enchanted us. This we were NOT expecting.’

What’s new?
Recently the CGH earth group restored the Visalam Hotel, a superb 1930s mansion in Kanadukathan in Tamil Nadu, retaining its lovely original Italian marble pillars and some ironwork that was cast in Birmingham. There are just 15 rooms, which are airy and light, with modern bathrooms. There is a good pool and a superb garden – the ‘dining room’ moves around the house and garden according to the time of day. Activities include walks around the local village (which the Indian government has declared a Heritage site) and a trip in a bullock cart. Or you can explore the ruined Chettiar mansions by bicycle. This area of Tamil Nadu is undiscovered and fascinating.

Dish to die for?
Vegetarian thali – a colourful arrangement of small dishes on a larger plate – fish moilee – a gently curried fish stew cooked in coconut milk – and masala dosa – a large rice pancake with a potato curry filling.

Fishing nets Fort CochinFishing nets on the beach at Fort Cochin, Kerala (image: Points South)

The challenge!
Finding my first ground agent took many months of research. I went on holiday with four of them before settling on the best one. He then led me to the others. I now have three trusted and thoroughly professional ground agents – one in southern India, one in the North and one in Sri Lanka – who are responsible for handling all the ground arrangements for my clients. They each have good longstanding relationships with the properties we use. India is a vast country, so you shouldn’t try and do too much – and anyway slow travel is best to appreciate the country fully. Tolerance is a very important quality in India. If you want everything to run on time and be perfect, then it is not the country for you. Oh, and take a pair of old socks for walking round temples, shoes are banned and the stones are very hot on delicate western feet.

Fish market Fort CochinFish at the market in Fort Cochin, Kerala (image: Points South)

A dream itinerary
As every trip is tailored, a dream itinerary depends entirely on what a particular client is looking for, but for a 14-day tour I would suggest the following, which encapsulates the best of Kerala and Karnataka. Fly to Bangalore, then travel to Mysore – a fascinating city, with plenty to explore – next head to Nagarhole game park, where you can watch game from a boat on the Kabini river. Then up into the Western Ghat Mountains to stay on a coffee plantation – take the old steam train down the Nilgiri hills, a spectacular train journey featured on a BBC documentary. Then head to Cochin, a fascinating city built on five islands. After this, relax on the backwaters, staying on the shores of Lake Vembanad – explore in a small canoe and watch Keralan village life, or stay in a cottage on the beach looking out to the Arabian Sea. Fly out of Cochin for UK.

If you could change any one thing about Southern India…
A regular rubbish collection – don’t just leave it to the goats and cows! Also, if I’m allowed to highlight a second thing, I would institute a standard feedback form for every hotel, which would be given to the tourist board to encourage consistency.

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Research trip to Karnataka,North Kerala visiting hotels and home stays

Started my trip in Mysore on 4th October  flying into Bangalore, stayed at a lovely farm home stay called Githanjali, serving home made pickles! Then up into the Nilgiri hills to Bandipur park, lunch at the Serai, fab spot looking towards hills, after Bennet( my trusted driver) took me onto Sulthan Bathery to Tranquil situated on a coffee plantation, such a great place, met an American running a Mexican restaurant in Bangalore-chillies are the connection I think! Next day stunning but twisty drive to Ooty, vast forests of eucalyptus and distant views. Ooty is rather a depressing place, saw two home stays and a hotel all past their sell by date. Down the hairpin bends to Coonoor, much better place. Spent the night at the Mc Iver home stay , huge old bungalow with a fab 180 o view and pasta on the menu! Visited the engine sheds at Coonoor station, the steam train was ready to leave, very exciting. Sadly I had to drive down as I had more hotels to visit on the way, what a view as we descended the Nilgiris.Visited Karumba village on the way down, lovely resort middway, good pool and views. Stopped for lunch in a roadside cafe in Coimbatore, I felt like a Martian as I ate my veg pokharas , awful traffic, nothing to see except the station! Visited the Residency hotel, business hotel but ideal for a night before the early train to Cochin as little else to choose from. Onto Palakkad  on the awful NH47 full of lorries and diversions, turned of for Theravad, stopped at huge ild fort on the way,moat full of turtles. Theravad is a lovely old house 250 years old, peaceful place in rural Kerala, walked around the village and visited the temple-no tourists. Very hot curry for supper. Tomorrow we are back on the dreaded NH47 so early night.

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