Louise Nicholson has been taking private clients to India for almost thirty years. Armed with unrivaled knowledge of the culture, crafts, buildings and geography of India, she offers bespoke tours for individuals and small groups of friends, as well as a number of small personally curated tours each year. For businessmen she sets up meetings and designs downtime to complement the business aims.
Her team of experienced and friendly staff in India take care of her clients' every concern, ensuring clients' understanding and experience of the many disparate elements of India - from exploring temples, watching tigers, riding on elephants, exclusive visits to private homes and shopping for textiles and artefacts - will be easy and flawless.
Louise works with India’s most respected premium travel agent, Quo Vadis, who have an unmatched staff and a countrywide network of local agents, and top drivers and guides. Louise has worked with some of them for 30 years. She is now Quo Vadis Representative for North America.
As well as knowing the latest state of hotels and resorts in this fast-changing nation, and having unrivaled knowledge of the culture of both India's past and its lively contemporary scene, Louise Nicholson is closely connected to many of the country's dynamic leaders who make India the modern success that it has become.
Since Louise’s first guide to India was published in 1985, she has written more than 25 books, and her National Geographic Guides to India and London are now in are now in their 4th editions. Louise writes for Apollo art magazine, specialising in interviewing collectors and reporting from fine art events. She also contributes to Fine Art Connoisseur, Country Life, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Apollo Art Magazine and Departures. In addition to several book awards, in 2010 Louise was honoured as Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women.
Tamil Nadu – South India’s heartland: temples, villages, elephants, living traditions
Tamil Nadu in south-east India is a small area where you can enjoy a very big experience. Time-travelling through history from the 7th century to today, you touch on all of India’s religions as well as British and French trading story, while witnessing a living traditional culture mixed with contemporary dynamism. It is a perfect introduction to the subcontinent.
India’s greatest medieval temples are here, the triumph of its Dravidian culture and extravagant royal patronage. We see the rituals, weaving, sculptures, bronzes and classical dance that still fill these lively complexes today. For food, South India’s light, non-oily vegetarian food is both delicious and healthy.
For Tom and me, it was a trip of a lifetime! Louise, we can't thank you enough for your thoughtful and careful planning. Each stay in a new town was just the right amount - not too long and not too short. And just the right balance of new sights and free time. We were so impressed by the itinerary you put together for us. And Harpreet and all the people at Quo Vadis were wonderful in making sure we were ok. There wasn't a moment our whole three weeks that we felt adrift, unsafe or not well taken care of.
Starting with the wedding of our friends in Mumbai, we had total immersion into a new culture that was fantastic and sometimes a bit of a shock! But we went with it, and had a ball. Then we were grateful for the time alone together.
I learned so much that I think I might have developed a bit of a bump on my head like Buddha! It was so interesting learning from our different local guides. Muslim, Brahmin, Warrior class and Jain, each was a fount of information and had their own particular skew on life, history, religion and politics. The common denominator was that they were all extremely knowledgeable and approachable.
And I need to mention how wonderful the drivers were. So lovely and helpful at all times. And funny as well.
I loved it all, but have a particular fondness for our stay in Jodhpur. Tom did the zip line and was exhilarated for days. I loved being in the center of town, being able to feel a part of it all as our guide walked us through the lanes. I found my own exhilaration in shopping which was truly fun - and a bit extravagant. And the view from our room at the Raas was spectacular from dawn to dusk.
We were gob smacked by so much - the caves, the forts, the art, the museums, the food., everything. It was a totally stress-free totally joyful trip. Deep gratitude from both of us.
Beverley, South India tour:
“Louise is an extraordinary arranger and conductor of tours to Southeast Asia, most especially India. We were a diverse group from several nations, from sophisticated travelers to wide-eyed first time visitors to exotic places. Somehow, Louise managed to please us all. At the same time, she had very good relations to outstanding Indian personnel and partners, who provided alert and efficient, courteous and charming assistance.”
Mark, tailor-made trip:
"We were recommended to Louise Nicholson as one of the world's leading authorities on India. Her great expertise, savvy and nuanced advice allowed us a privileged view into the historic culture of India as well as its contemporary and rapidly evolving way of life. We are heartily looking forward to a return trip.”
Margaret, North India tour:
“This year I went on my first and long-anticipated trip to India. From my first inquiry, I was consistently impressed with Louise's ceaseless willingness to do everything possible to make this trip a remarkable experience. At every turn we were the beneficiaries of Louise's foresight, with support based upon long-standing relationships with people there. A chartered ferry enabled us to be the first visitors to a popular site of ancient caves at an island off Mumbai. We were the first in line to visit the Taj Mahal. And so forth.
The difference between this trip with Louise and other trips I have taken under the auspices of cultural institutions, including major museums, was enormous both in quality and kind. The combination of Louise's knowledge, resourcefulness and extraordinary solicitousness for the welfare and happiness of her travelers was unforgettable. This view was shared by everyone who was on our trip.”
Lisa, art institution member tour:
“It seems as if Louise has over the years come to know everybody in India, and if you go with her, you will, too. She is absolutely amazing, and Indian people think so too. When I was searching for someone to lead my institution's trip to India, a leading Indian in the art world said: “Then I suppose you must call Louise Nicholson in NYC. She has been bringing people here for over 30 years and knows everything there is to know about our country.
Before the trip, she answered our many question and came to lead a pre-tour weekend seminar. In India, the happiness and welfare of her clients are foremost in her mind at every moment. She has tremendous energy and is always five steps ahead of your needs. Our three weeks in India changed our lives. I came home and couldn't wait to go back again. And then I received an outline listing all of the contacts we had made while there. Rather than returning home and relaxing, Louise wanted to make sure we could knew where we had been and who we had met - and could contact them if we wished. If you didn't hire Louise to take you on your journey to India, you would be missing the chance of a lifetime.”
We arrived there by boat, lavishly turbaned locals steering us across Lake Pichola to TheLeela’s private jetty. Resident musicians played traditional welcome songs as we walked across a wooden bridge into the cool, marble-lined lobby. Surrounded on almost all sides by glassy waters, the hotel rises above its perfectly manicured gardens. From almost every part of it, the views in all directions are framed by a stunning backdrop of ancient palaces and scorched hills.
The attention to detail at The Leela is astonishing. The buildings are set in lush grounds that combine asymmetric marble floors and metal sculptures (inspired by local birds) with local plants and trees. A breath-taking arboretum, right on the lake’s edge, is punctuated by little banquettes with pillows and cushions where we relaxed. The pool, raised above the gardens and with an entrance guarded by two giant iron peacocks, is surrounded by four poster lounger-beds with flowing linen roofs to keep the sun at bay.
Within moments of arriving poolside, we were greeted by an elegantly-dressed young man who presented us with a hamper full of goodies – ice lollies, cold flannels and bottles of water to keep us cool (we were there at the end of April). He returned sporadically throughout the afternoon with surprise gifts like upside-down watermelon ice coolies and shots of sweet lime. Beyond the pool, the Spa is composed of beautifully designed hat-roofed buildings, with their own private gardens and pools – we had amazing treatments there.
Our room was big, lavish and beautiful. Decorated with wooden elephants and collage paintings depicting the local landscape, most rooms in the hotel have the bed placed so guests can enjoy the spectacular views across the lake without even getting up. Our room had its own own balcony too. Among the many public spaces, we loved the inner courtyard where the ornate back wall was decorated each evening with hundreds of sliver lanterns that filled the adjoining corridors with soft light and earthy aromas. Every night we returned to our room after dinner to find a special treat – one time rose petals perfuming a warm bath, another time flowers beside the basins, as well as little nibbles such as a brownie with marshmallows or a pistachio rice pudding. This type of personalised, luxurious service is par for the course at The Leela, where all the staff are charming, thoughtful and beautifully presented.
The food at The Leela is outstanding – breakfasts on the terrace with fresh fruit juices and ‘masala’ eggs, a poolside menu with stone-baked Indian pizzas, and the library’s gormet ‘bites’ and salads. The candle-lit Indian restaurant right on the edge of the lake is really good, and the chefs use local cooking techniques to conjure up modern and traditional Rajasthani dishes such as their famous lamb dish, ‘laal maas’. At sunset, flocks of large bats from the palace fly across the lake to drink, adding to the feeling of fairytale otherworldliness that infused our four-night stay.
The Leela is a place of enchanting natural beauty, enhanced by meticulous attention to detail (both in the décor and the food) and made extra-special by an intimate, caring staff who ensured our experience was serene and tailored to our needs. We could not possibly have imagined what wonderful experiences lay in store when we first set off across the lake at the beginning of our stay.
Will & Sophie, on honeymoon in India:
Ahhichatragarh, better known as Nagaur Fort, is like no other place on earth. Where else can you walk the battlements of a huge 12th century stronghold, wander its many painted royal palaces and water gardens, and then sleep right there in rooms used for centuries by the queens of the Maharajahs of Jodhpur?
Set in the middle of Nagaur city - yet separated from the hustle and bustle by 20-foot-high sandstone walls - staying at Nagaur Fort offers visitors a unique perspective. We enjoyed the intriguing juxtaposition of two fundamentally different environments - beyond the walls, where the city teems with the sounds and sights of a population of 100,000 or so; and within the huge fort, where all is stillness and calm.
We arrived there across the desert from Jodhpur, two hours’ drive away. Entering the fort through the massive triple gateway, we left the city hubbub for the tranquil interior and passed the old elephant stables (now full of camels) to reach the core palaces. Staff welcomed us and led the way through a sequence of outdoor corridors and courtyards whose beautiful sandstone walls prevented us from having no more than tantalising glimpses of what lay ahead. All was revealed in the final courtyard which is Ranvas, the fort’s hotel composed of the historic queens’ havelis. Our own private haveli was a suite with its own ‘garden living room’ adjoining our spacious bedroom and bathroom.
To evoke times past, the Ranvas bedrooms and outdoor spaces are dressed with traditional furniture and textiles - green cushions with gold tassels, earthy-red throws – to give visitors a sense of the opulence of that bygone era. Indeed, we felt the historical significance of the whole fort as soon as we started exploring the other palaces that adjoin Ranvas - the gardens, the fountains, the old pools, the palaces, the rooftop pavilions. We imagined the regal splendour that once was the mainstay of legendary Nagaur.
The stunning ancient backdrop is complimented by an unpretentious, unobtrusive service. This made staying there a absolute pleasure. The food is delicious, the staff polite and dressed in brilliant traditional garb (sadly not on sale at the tiny Ranvas shop). Little touches made big impressions – like ‘bed chai’ (tea) and home-made biscuits brought to our room in the morning. So, too, was the option to request to eat any meal in any particular location across the entire grounds of the fort. On our first night, we had a magnificent thali by the pool; on our last, a spectacular rooftop feast in the heart of one of the painted palaces.
The feeling of blissful escapism when walking the fort walls (a path runs along inside them) contrasts with profound sense being part of something greater that washes over you when you discover the rich history of Nagaur. Escorted through the many painted mosques, still active temples and water gardens by one of the staff, we heard the stories of the people who lived and visited the palace over the ages.
Two decades of clean-up and sensitive restoration is now almost complete. Many rooms have been completely returned to their former finery, the layers of accretions removed to reveal enchanting al fresco paintings depicting the merriment enjoyed by the Maharajah, his ladies, his court and his guests. Some rooms are being painstakingly restored by London’s Courtauld Institute. A few rooms are still covered by the protective plaster applied in the height of India-Pakistani tensions when the Indian army was stationed there – I wonder what the restorers will find under it?
George and Mary, North India tour:
Since returning from being in India with Louise in February, we have enjoyed recalling for anyone who will lend an ear the many highlights of what was truly an incredible adventure. Having time to reflect on all of the varied experiences has only increased our appreciation of Louise and of India!
We remain in awe of both Louise's vast knowledge of India and unparalleled skill in managing all the details and challenges of travel. To be good at one or the other is commendable; to excel at both, as Louise does, is simply amazing.
We have many memories, and this one is particularly special. George loves sharing the story of how Louise would not be deterred from us having our first view of the Taj Mahal at sunset. The road leading there was blocked by an overturned vehicle. She jumped from our bus into the chaotic mix of traffic and commandeered enough Tuk-Tuks to get us to the park. It was classic Louise - always calmly and firmly in control of the situation and focused on solutions!
Chris, South India tour then solo in Central India:
Extraordinary, intense, stimulating and not to be missed! There are enjoyable and interesting trips to India, but what makes one of them exceptional beyond all others? It is the impresario who creates the view we see, who makes the difference. It is the intelligent and sensitive observer who has immersed herself in India and is willing to share her accumulated knowledge and enthusiasm. That is Louise.
In addition, Louise is practical and professional: she plans each day to have a maximum of interest and a minimum of hassle or trivia. So, you do more than you expect you could, and with less effort.
I have taken both a group trip with Louise and two independent off-beat tailor-made trips she designed for me on a rather cost conscious basis. I found all three to be of exceptional value.
Louise works with an Indian travel company, Quo Vadis, who have the same dedication to customer service as she does - in a manner that I have only experienced with one other company in my life. They really take care of you!
What perhaps makes travelling under Louise’s auspices exceptional are the magical experiences she creates whether it is to a well-known or off-beat site – attending festivals with locals, witnessing religious ceremonies with the faithful, visiting master craftsmen. She timed our visits perfectly – one was to see a huge Nandi bull statue being doused with liquids, another was into a field to ‘discover’, we felt, an animist shrine with a hundred life-sized earthenware horses. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Abercrombie & Kent, Cox & Kings and Martin Randall just don't do that.
Louise is both enthusiastic and gracious, so you find you have more energy than you thought.
The amazing thing for me was that I did not want to miss anything. I suppose her energy and enthusiasm are contagious! That is why I am going back to India next year and hope to do so many more times as well!
Tracy & Mark, birthday celebrations in India:
Friends recommended Louise. She created the perfect ‘Celebration Adventure’ for our 50th birthdays and silver wedding anniversary. With her limitless knowledge of each and every destination, Louise created a carefully considered bespoke tour for us. Having asked us what we wished to gain from our trip, she expertly selected the perfect sightseeing opportunities, hotels and pace to suit our needs.
Together with the tremendous local team Louise has in India – our drivers, local agents and guides were all first class - we could strike an ideal balance of seeing the wonders of the country whilst having enough time to rest, relax and enjoy the exquisite hotels, for which her recommendations were spot on.
We spent a glorious first week travelling by car from Chennai to Madurai, and experienced all the sights smells, sounds, colours and tastes Southern India had to offer. Then, having enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, we travelled through Rajasthan to Agra and Delhi. At each place, Louise had marked our card so her local team could ensure we were in the right place at the perfect time, with meticulous organisation. Being Louise’s clients meant that we enjoyed incredible service from everyone - hotel staff to local agents to restaurant chefs.
We took Louise’s splendid guidebook with us and thoroughly enjoyed ‘hearing her’ guiding us through every step of our adventure. Having just looked through our notes and pictures, it brought back so many happy memories of a magnificent trip – thank you Louise!
Linda, tailor-made family trip
I write on behalf of my boys, Max and Angus, & myself to thank you and your extraordinary Quo Vadis team for bringing to life the magical trip to India I'd always dreamed of for my family.
It was two weeks of pure joy. Surrounded daily by beauty, kindness and delicious food!! Your team on the ground created a seamless daily tide of care. Each guide eloquently shared endless rich, colorful stories, bringing the past to life. We left feeling happy, full, enlightened, satiated.
And you kept to our budget!
A thousand thank yous, Louise. Looking forward to working with you on our next India adventure!
Roz, bespoke family trip
Don’t even think about going on holiday in India without engaging Louise. Our family consists of five experienced travelers. We thought initially that we had a pretty fair idea of where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to see, during our first family trip to India.
Louise carefully considered our initial ideas, and she lead us on a tour of the Indian collection at our local art museum. She invested her valuable time to learn about our family and its interests, and to educate us about Indian art and culture, in advance of deciding a detailed itinerary. Louise’s involvement enriched our experience in several important respects.
Louise suggested destinations that were completely unknown to us previously. (One child described the caves at Ajanta and Ellora as “the most fascinating world heritage sites that I had never even heard of before.”) In cases where we agreed from the outset on a destination, Louise still contributed greatly to our appreciation of the local monuments. For example, Louise’s suggestion that we visit the dwindling community of local artisans, who are descendants of the original builders, contributed significantly to our appreciation of the Taj Mahal. Our hotels, guides and related arrangements were skillfully selected by Louise, and her planned itinerary was executed meticulously by Quo Vadis.
I hope that we will return to India, some day. One of our children said that, "flying into Udaipur, you can hardly believe that such a beautiful place exists right on the edge of the desert, and then it is even more enchanting when you actually visit the Maharana's City Palace and Lake Garden Palace on Jag Mandir Island. I want to come back and have my wedding here." I have no doubt Louise could arrange that, too!
Pietro & Alicia, first timers to India
What a fantastic 2 week introduction to India! Louise's itinerary was impeccable. We managed to cover a lot of ground, and this was all thanks to all her meticulous planning. The ground team at Quo Vadis were always there to help with our specific needs, whether it was picking us up in the early hours from the railway station to hand-delivering tickets to our hotel room.
The highlight of the trip (if I can even pick one) would have to be Nagaur Fort - wonderfully and thoughtfully restored and to sleep in the quarters where the Queens of the Maharajahas of Jodhpur once resided was something magical.
We would unreservedly recommend Louise to anyone travelling to India!
Alex & Chloe, first timers to India
It’s hard to know where to begin when describing a holiday so special and so seamless as this one. It has, quite honestly, been the best holiday we have ever had. From the very beginning, when we first suggested to Louise that we might go to India and received exciting emails and phone calls full of enthusiasm, knowledge and excellent suggestions, to it’s all too quick ending and heartfelt farewells at Delhi airport with our driver Pradeep that she and Quo Vadis organised for us, it was perfect.
I will however try to break it down a bit as what we have done should be experienced by everyone and it was entirely through Louise’s guidance and deep knowledge, understanding and love of India and its people, alongside Quo Vadis’ efficiency and helpfulness, that enabled us to have such a trip.
Louise’s opening line in our itinerary was ‘Chloe has a passion for textiles and Alec Needs time to do nothing’ this is both funny and accurate and made for an excellent basis for our trip! Our first stop in Udaipur was the ideal place to unwind, our Haveli was understated and beautiful, run by a kind and gentle family who looked after us so well, with views across the lake that surpassed all but the Palace’s. We strolled the streets stopping for pachoris from charming street side vendors and delicious cups of chai. These cheaper but no less delicious treats were alternated with glorious dinners that Louise organised for us at Devigargh after a day of site seeing where we watched the sun go down over the rolling hills and ordered yet more delicious things.
Louise was also on hand to advise when I got a bit over-excited faced with so many beautiful and interesting things to buy. She suggested we met a friend of hers who runs a local contemporary art gallery so we could compare and ask advice. This led to a wonderful unplanned evening where we met the lovely and knowledgeable. Tanuja and had a tour around her gallery and was taken to meet one of the brilliant artists she represents at his studio! This was a very special highlight of our trip, and I still bought the pitchwais I had found earlier at one of the places where Louise suggested we might find things, so success on all fronts!
Our next stop at Jodhpur was just as wonderful as Udaipur, it was less sleepy but no less beautiful and we were ready to face the crowds, play Holi and eat more pachoris! The narrow blue streets that teamed with life and laughter (particularly when surrounded by cheeky children armed with wide grins and water pistols) gave way to calm and another type of beauty when we entered Raas which Louise managed to organise for us at hugely late notice when they were fully booked (she is a magician!). Words cannot describe how special this place is - the breathtaking view of the fort aside, it is the sensitive and clever use of traditional materials and motifs in a modern and original way that sets this hotel apart. Louise also suggested we make time for the desert park - she was absolutely right! It is an oasis of calm, filled with interesting birds, plants and more views of the fort. This balance of excitement and tranquillity seemed and underlying theme throughout our trip and I know that this was completely Louise’s doing.
Onwards for a day and a night at Nagur which has to be seen to be believed. A desert fort where you can walk the battlements and palace, sleep in rooms where maharanis once lay, and have private candlelit dinners on the ramparts, it is an astounding experience and one we will never forget.
Finally a trip to Churu. We knew nothing of this place before Louise suggested it and I will be forever grateful she did. Off the beaten track, quieter and even friendlier than the other places we had been so far, we were two of only a handful of tourists in the area. Louise arranged for a guide to spend the day with us to see the faded beauty of the crumbling, intricately painted havelis that the area is known for, up close. He took us into havelis not usually open to the public and to see buildings not listed in any guidebook. He also took us to drink chai at the best chaiwallah in town, to his town and castle where we met his family and to the best place to eat local sweet delicacies and samosas. He was kind, unassuming and vastly knowledgeable and passionate about the area, without Louise we would never have met him.
A great deal of waffle about the greatest of trips, truly Louise is a master of her craft - her passion and enthusiasm for India are infectious and her knowledge and expert guidance takes you off the well-trod path to the most special and exciting of places. I urge anyone thinking of taking a trip to India to get in touch with her immediately!
Steve, tailor made trip through Central India
I am an experienced traveler and did a lot of research to determine the best way to do a three week trip to India.
We looked at Tauck, but they do far too many internal flights and spend too little time everywhere. Plus, seeing the sights led by a guide and a group of 10 to 20 people (which we have experienced often on Regent cruises is not for us . I researched the web and came across Louise. We spoke by phone, for about 40 minutes, where her intent was to find out what we are interested in and what kind of things we like to do so that she could tailor a bespoke trip just for us. “Do you just want to travel in India? Or do you want to experience India?“ She asked. We opted for the latter and had a fabulous adventure.
At one point we went eight days without seeing another westerner while taking in spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sights far off the typical tourist track. Louise plans out an extremely detailed itinerary and then uses a company in Delhi named Quo Vadis for the operational execution: guides, drivers, and hotels.
I chose to book some of the hotels myself, and that was just fine. Quo Vadis’ execution was flawless and they are highly responsive before and during the trip. Their local rep met us to escort us to and from every airport and hotel and check us in. The drivers and guides were simply fabulous. We elected to make a few sudden changes mid trip which QV handled flawlessly. I cannot say enough about Harpreet Singh at Quo Vadis.
Piers and Cecelia find their kind of Rajasthan
Thank you for organising such an epic holiday for Cecilia and me. I could not have wished it any better or different. We had such a great time and came back healthy, rested, happy, and full of things to talk about and show to family and friends.
Hats off to Quo Vadis, who did brilliantly from start to finish. The airport transfers were unbelievably smooth, almost as if we had blue flashing lights and police outriders guiding us through swiftly. Our guides and driver were all superb, each very different and charming in their own way, always interesting, never too intrusive and with lovely, gentle senses of humour.
We visited such stunning spots and saw extraordinarily beautiful things - so many things stand out, but perhaps for me the highlights were the first sight of the Kumbhalgarh Fort, the Jain temple at Ranakpur, my first sight of a mongoose, lazy crocodiles in a lake on one of our walks with the naturalist, the flight of pelicans above our heads at Sardar Samand, rooftop dinners, the step-wells. So many memorable sights.
It could not have gone more smoothly or more interestingly, and for that, we have you to thank.
Sharon, bespoke trips off the beaten track
I love traveling in India and had already made three trips on my own before I met Louise. My independent trips had taken me to some of the major sites—the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, Kerala, Calcutta—but I knew I needed help to visit places off the beaten path. The first trip I had in mind was to visit tribal people in Arunachal Pradesh. The state is little visited and certainly in 2005, when I went, tourist facilities were primitive—so primitive that the guide and driver who escorted me packed camping equipment in case no hotel was available. Louise made this adventure possible. (To this day I know of no one else, Western or Indian, who has been there.) Other trips to unfrequented places followed; for example, Chhattisgarh with a guide whose years of building relationships allowed me again to visit tribal people; Sundarbans, a mangrove-swamp area between India and Bangladesh, where people’s lifestyle—hunting, fishing, subsistence agriculture--has changed little from earlier times.
But that’s only half the story. Other trips Louise has planned for me have been utterly luxurious. She has booked me into the best hotels in India and has provided me with the best guides. Under her direction I have revisited Kerala (overnight houseboat), spent two weeks in Gujarat marveling at textiles, toured an alternative community in Pondicherry, saw the Sikh Golden Temple…. You name it, Louise will find you an unforgettable way to experience it.
Since traveling with Louise, I have touted her to my friends, who have also taken great trips with her. I just learned last week that one of those friends has recommended Louise to one of his friends. When you discover a great thing, you want to pass it on.
Face to Face with an Expert
Louise discusses how travel to India is becoming even more accessible and fulfilling.
Louise explains the rich and varied experiences available for those interested in travelling to India
Familiarise yourself with the geography of India
With 20 years experience of taking people to India, Louise knows better than most what the first time traveller to India’s big worries are. Here, she shares her personal opinions and tips with you:
Q: India is so big, surely I need a long time to visit it?
A: Not necessarily, since you cannot see it all in one go. India is indeed big; it is also culturally very rich and complex. I believe you can have a very rewarding two week trip, provided you choose your area carefully to suit your interests and do not criss-cross the country. If you can spend more time, then pace yourself more slowly so you can absorb more deeply, and perhaps explore two or three areas depending on your timeframe. If you have 5 weeks, for instance, it is worth pausing in the middle to rest – perhaps by the sea, or in a nature park.
Q: Will I get ill ?
A: Truly, it is not obligatory to get ill in India! Just be sensible: drink plenty of bottled water, eat light food for the first few days (vegetarian rather than heavy Mughal dishes), and be sure to get enough rest. Remember: the mind adjusts quickly to your exciting new environment, but the body needs time. With these and my other tips for staying healthy, I find my clients rarely get ill. If they do, every hotel has a doctor on call 24 hours a day, and almost all medicines are available.
Q: I prefer to travel on my own; why do I want to take a tour to India?
A: Because it makes your holiday more interesting, more relaxing, and removes anxieties. A number of people who travel with me do all their other travelling on their own. It may be charming to struggle with checking into hotels, buying train tickets, finding out how to coincide with a temple’s evening puja (worship), learning what to do about a cancelled flight, but in India this can use up lots of precious time. The advantage of having someone else do it is, quite simply, that you can spend ALL your precious time absorbing the historical sights and lively street events and festivities that fill the towns, villages and even the farmer’s fields. I can ensure you will be in the right place at the right time, and get you to see special local fairs, festivals and dance or drama that are arranged spontaneously throughout India. Another advantage: you only have to settle one account, the tour cost!
Q: I usually sort out my own trips; why do I want a travel consultant?
A: Because I can help you create an itinerary that is the best possible fit for your interests, your comfort demands, your pace and your budget. India is such a diverse place, full of wonderful places to see! It is all too easy to make decisions that appear to be logical but are in fact going to cause you a lot of hassle for little good return. You can end up spending two days to get somewhere that, frankly, is not really your kind of place; you can stay at the wrong hotel for your needs; you can travel somewhere by air when in fact the drive is picturesque with good things to see along the way – the list is endless. Honestly, without help from my own colleagues experienced in India travel, our first trip to India (for our honeymoon) would have been far less successful. It is that kind of committed and in-depth help that I can give. Your trip will be as near perfect as possible, with my superb Indian team there as back-up along the way.
Q: How can I see all the big sights on one trip?
A: You can’t – unless you have a few years to spare. My mantra is ‘less is more’, meaning the fewer places and areas you travel to, the more you will undoubtedly get out of your journey. Here is one solution: if you want to visit South India but fear you may not return to India again, then spend five days in the north at the beginning or end to see the Taj Mahal and the capital, Delhi. You will have seen India’s ‘most famous sights’, but not by any means ‘all the big sights’ including many I would judge far more distinguished than the Taj Mahal. Take comfort in this: a lot of my clients who thought they were doing one trip to India were so fascinated that they have return again to see another part – and then again, and again! It is addictive – just look at all the exciting travelling you have ahead of you!
Q: Are there any good hotels?
A: Yes, plenty. Your hotel is an essential ingredient of your trip. But it is not obvious which ones are good and which simply manage to get good publicity in the press. Take the recurring subject of palace hotels, for instance. Recently a reporter for a respected travel magazine stated she had not stayed in any palace hotels during her trip to India as they were all awful. It is a mystery to me how she knew this as there are several hundred of them scattered round India and she had clearly not visited them all. Palace hotels vary hugely; my job is to know the good from the less good – the expensive ones that are worth the price and, equally, the cheap off-beat ones that have character, are family run with care, and merit a longish drive to reach. The same applies to all categories of hotel, from the increasingly popular home stays and guest houses, via converted old buildings in stunning locations to the spectacularly lavish and stylish creations such as Devi Garh, Ananda, Rajvilas and Aman Resorts’ two Indian properties.
Only by knowing my subject can I advise well for each of my clients’ particular tastes and requirements. I have watched the huge improvement over the past decade. I stay in as many of the hotels as possible, visit others, and listen to the reactions of my clients to hotels they stay in. As I have written several large guide books to India and done a lot of travel journalism, I am experienced at assessing the true quality of a hotel. No hotel can convince me it is good if I can see clearly it is not!
Q: Can I take my children to India?
A: Yes! We have taken our children since they were aged 5 and 7, always with success. Essential ingredients are likely to include: hotel with swimming pool, riding an elephant, going to the evening markets to see life being lived on the streets and buy local jewellery and clothes, and visiting the Taj Mahal where the local photographer takes the children’s photos so they look as if they are leaping over the building or holding it in the palm of their hands. Also worth considering: avoid travelling too much, keep journeys short, start or end the trip at a beach, keep a joint family diary. Health should not be a problem: for frail stomachs, the Indian version of electrolyte is sold in all towns, and hotel doctors are usually excellent. Once the children become teenagers, the big cities such as Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore have excellent international shopping, and Mumbai has India’s best bars and clubs
Q: How can I tell one travel agent/consultant from another?
A: I have worked with many agents – some were great, some were not. What distinguishes the good from the bad is the personal commitment of the travel agent and the staff’s efforts to learn about India rather than force their clients onto the tried and tested (and for them highly profitable) dreary itineraries.
The quality of the on-the-ground staff in India is vital too – those that lazily rush clients round a monument and then into a tourist shop can ruin even a well-planned holiday – one friend told me that on her trip with a reputable company it was announced that the exquisite Tomb of Itimad ud Daula at Agra, which she longed to see as much as the Taj Mahal, was closed so they would visit a shop instead. She later discovered it was not closed at all. I work direct with my clients (and very occasionally through hand-picked travel agencies) and always with Quo Vadis ground agent throughout India, who have the finest staff, local agents, drivers and guides in India. This way I can be sure my own high standards are met before and during my clients trips.
Q: How are you, Louise, better than other India specialists?
A: I am totally committed to giving you the best content for your trip, at the best value and with the least hassle.
I can do this because I have been studying the sub-continent (India and its surrounding countries) since 1978 and I have both a deep knowledge and extensive on-the-ground experience from my own travelling and from taking people to India. I do not try to spread myself thin over a large part of the globe. India past and present is my subject, in all its vastness.
I make it my business constantly to research new places and check the regular sights – I go to India several times a year. My greatest strength, perhaps, is that I am a generalist, so my solid art history background is matched by knowledge about religions, philosophies, buildings, crafts, cuisines and all aspects of India’s many rich cultures. Be it cross-cultural influences of Gujarat textiles in Indonesian coronation ceremonies, the Sanskrit base of some English vocabulary, the delicious regional cuisines of India, the rich bird life of the Lower Himalayas, the variations of Chola temple rituals or social work in rural India, there are few subjects in which I am not interested or cannot find out about to satisfy a client’s curiosity.
National Geographic Traveler: India
by Louise Nicholson
This gorgeously illustrated guide deftly escorts readers to India's most popular sites--the Taj Majal, the pink sandstone city of Jaipur, and the water palaces of Udaipur, to name a few. The guide covers the country in full, from the capital city of Delhi to the far reaches of the subcontinent, including Rajasthan, the Deccan, Goa, and the Himilaya. Special tours and not-to-miss lists, such as a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi and a drive through colonial Mumbai, provide an intimate glimpse of daily life.
An extensive review of the country's vast history and rich culture leads the guide, while detailed sidebars throughout delve into India's heart and soul, exploring such diverse topics as Indian marriages, palace hotels, Mahatma Gandhi, and Indian spices. The guide contains three-dimensional floor plans and detailed architectural drawings, plus indispensable regional and neighborhood maps and practical information on how to get around the country, handpicked hotels and restaurants, and selective activities and entertainment options.
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More information on Louise's India and Save a Child can be found at the links below: