Discovery Of India: Going Places

Updated: Dec 22 2002, 05:30am hrs
Indians may not go in for the eggnog, christmas tree, pudding and family dinners kind of Christmas and New Year. But they wait with bated breath for the holidays -- the much-needed respite from the hum-drum of city life -- that winter brings with it.

Be it the sand dunes and forts of Rajasthan in the West or the mangrove forests of the Sunderban in the East, the snow-capped peaks of Himalayas in the North or the golden beaches of the Peninsula, if it is the exotic touch you are craving for, then put aside your foreign exchange, grab your bags, sunglasses and discover the wonder that is India.

A standard romantic holiday means heading out to the golden beaches of Goa but if its adventure and sport that you need, then Binsar, Corbett, Himalayas or Ranthambor are the places you have to head for. If its de-stressing that you require, the backwaters of Kerala offer the best of Indian spiritualism and tranquility. If beaches and temples down south are your cup of tea, then Rameshwaram, Mahabalipuram or The Fishermans Cove are ideal choices. However, if it is a historical cultural experience you want then Jaipur, Kochi, Lucknow, Vizag or Indore would be right up your alley.

And if you thought domestic holidays meant running from pillar to post for train reservations, airline tickets, hotel rooms and aspirins, then think again. New tie-ups between airlines, hotels, agents and the government now translate into a relaxed, hassle-free holiday for you.

Hotels
Spanning over 30 destinations in India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the Taj Winter Holidays offers an unrivalled leisure experience. Holiday makers can choose packages between Rs 3,900 and Rs 73,000 with various inclusives.

According to Taj Leisure chief operating officer Jamshed Daboo, the Taj Reservation Network takes care of your reservations and queries related to your holiday. "It is like a travel counsellor providing relevant information and advice on where to go, what to do etc," he says. For further information and online bookings, you just have to log on to the groups website.

However, winter, according to Mr Daboo is a more expensive time to travel. Rates in summer are lower by almost 30 per cent. The Taj also has tie-ups with all domestic airlines for packages that work as a one-stop confirmation for the entire travel as well as hotel accommodation at discounted and consolidated prices.

Ananda in the Himalayas is now offering its Winter Himalayan Choices, Christmas and New Year Packages for couples looking to get away. Prices ranging from Rs 18,500 to Rs 45,000 ensure a spa holiday that youll never forget. Prices generally include breakfast, dinner, pick-up and drops from the airport or station and activities like hydrotherapy, yoga, meditation, pranayama. Ananda also offers a special 10 per cent discount on all spa treatments. The spa also offers the usual Christmas and New Year Package, priced between Rs 35,250 and Rs 41,250 and a Signature Experiential Package called Ananda Sanjaveeni.

Ananda also has a tie-up with Jet Airways Jet Escapes programme that takes care of you from the time you leave your home. However, this comes at a cost: the price of the package is costlier by 30-35 per cent than most other holiday destinations.

"From concierge, to help services, our reservation department takes care of every little need and query of our guests, based at three locations namely Delhi, Mumbai and Rishikesh," says Divya Prakash Ahuja director marketing Ananda.

The Oberoi is another huge chain offering great packages for its hotels and its Trident Holidays, which start at Rs 2,599 and go upto Rs 4,599 making destinations like Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur and Khajuraho, viable options.

At nominal additional cost, guests can undertake excursions and guided tours to the famous historical monuments and sites in these cities. For between Rs 13,499 and Rs 21,600, you can take off for the Himalayas, with the Oberoi Himalayan Vacation or indulge yourself with the Unforgettable Experiences available at the Oberoi Groups premium luxury resorts, for between Rs 14,200 to Rs 38,500.

The Instant Reservation System of the Oberoi offers assistance in reaching the destination -- its subsidiary Mercury Car Rentals through the sole Franchisee of AVIS, will rent you the cars youll need on the holiday. They also take care of your air reservations, car rentals, advice and guidance on tours etc. The company has tied up with Asia Miles programme of Cathay Pacific and Frequence Plus programme of Air France, All Nippon Airways and Jet Airways allowing you to earn mileage points.

Airline Options
Jet Airways, for example, offers various custom-designed domestic air holiday packages and has introduced special holiday packages for the winter season through Jet Escapes Holiday packages that cover various leisure & business destinations across their network. Says a Jet Airways spokesperson, "Jet Airways has introduced special winter holiday packages to selected destinations, considering the various criteria such as seasonality, tourist ambience, connectivity, general tourist preference etc for the benefit of the customers."

And if you are a frequent flyer on Jet, its your lucky day! Jet Airways has established tie-ups with leading hotels & properties to provide value-added services to customers in terms of discounts and complementary offers on their stay, fares etc in important tourist destinations through special offers such as Jet Elite, Jet Escape & Frequent flyer programme. "All our Jet Privilege members can avail these special offers by producing the membership card and the non-members by producing the boarding card," said the spokesperson.

Indian Airlines might be stuck with a not-so-savvy image, but is trying its best to be viewed as customer-friendly. Providing facilities like kerb-side for passengers requiring extra care, special transfer desks in the arrival halls at all four metro airports, it facilitates connecting passengers and provides assistance through check-in baggage to the connecting flights and ensures that the passenger doesnt need to collect and re-check-in the baggage at the transfer point. Transit passengers are also provided a complimentary meal between their two flights, if time permits.

Indian Airlines offers holiday packages known as "Flyaways" that gives a single-window convenience to passengers to shop for his travel, hotel stay, sight-seeing, food and local transportation requirements.

Effective November 1, 2002, Indian Airlines is offering holiday packages to Kerala, Rajasthan, Kathmandu, Goa, House Boats in J&K and Himachal and has tied up with a range of hotels including three, four as well as five-star properties at discounted rates. And all reservations can be made online. The airline offers religious packages for Vaishno Devi, Fitness Flyaways for destressing and Sleepover Package offering discounts in 18 hotels in 13 major cities on just production of Indian Airlines boarding card.

If you have stashed your millions in the cupboard, or have saved up a lot of money, you may as well consider the option of chartering your very own personal plane for the holidays! Available to the Indian holidaymaker are the Beechcraft C-90 and Cessna Caravan II type aircraft, which are airconditioned, pressurised or non-pressurised, turboprop and can seat between 5-6 passengers. The planes fly at 80 knots or 324 kms per hour, cost Rs 47,250 per flying hour, inclusive of IATT, landing, parking, route navigation and terminal charges.

Waiting, while you jet set around obviously costs extra, with charter companies usually throwing in the first four hours free, Rs 2,000 per hour thereafter and Rs 15,000 per night for overnight halts. Even the terms of payment are fair, with a 50 per cent advance at the time of booking and the balance paid, not later than 24 hours prior to flight departure.

Rail And Road
Divided into nine zones, Indian Railways is an excellent way to discover India -- its cheap and definitely more scenic than travelling by air. You can choose between 1st class, AC 2tier, AC 3-tier, 2nd class sleeper & chair car. You can decide as per the time available to you between passenger train, superfast trains and Shatabadi (fastest covering only select destinations).

To get an idea of fares on the railways, have a look at the Mumbai-Bangalore sector, which spans 1,210 kilometers. Seats on the train cost for the airconditioned (AC) First Class is Rs 2,800, AC 2-Tier Sleeper - Rs 1,400, First Class - Rs 1,000, AC 3-Tier Sleeper - Rs 900, 3-Tier Sleeper - Rs 300.

Roads in India are really not the best way to travel, but with the building of the Golden Quadrangle and Mumbai-Pune Expressway, driving down to nearby haunts is an option that is a bit more appealing.

If you dont feel like risking your car on highways populated by trucks, the option of renting a car is always open. Hertz, AVIS etc are larger firms in the fray, but you can always find a rent-a-car company near home. Self-drive rental in India is not wide-spread, but it is possible. If you dont feel confident about driving on your lonesome ownsome, or if self-drive rental is unavailable, it is easy to hire a car and driver, either from the local station tourist authority or privately through your hotel.

Recommendations By Experts
Jet Airways stresses upon the need to plan before taking a holiday and the essentialities that needs to be looked at in order to facilitate a pleasant travel experience. "We recommend our customers to have a clear plan of travel, to check the fares, arrangement for stay, special offers if any & ensure that they get the best package offer & the value additions that are offered along with the packages," says a Jet spokesperson.

Says an Oberoi Hotel spokesperson, "Above all, we would recommend our guest to keep the weather conditions of the destination in mind, so that they may be equipped accordingly. Also, if they are travelling with kids, then hotels could be briefed in advance to make necessary arrangements in terms of a baby sitter, entertainment for kids, etc," she says.

According to Mr Ahuja, "It is essential that the guest decides the purpose of his holiday and choose the climate, geography, budget, itinerary and bookings with confirmations in written or pre-paid vouchers."

Packaged Dreams
Taj Best of Kerala Rs 31,000
Oberoi Trident Holidays


Rs. 2,599 at The Trident, Agra
Rs 3,999 at The Trident, Jaipur
Rs 4,999 at The Trident, Udaipur
Oberoi Himalayan Vacation Rs 13,499 to Rs 21,600
Oberoi Unforgettable Experiences Rs 14,200 to Rs 38,500
Ananda Christmas and New Year Packages Rs 35,250 to Rs 41,250

So, dont forget to pack the usual medications, have a check-up before you leave on a long holiday and make sure you are inoculated against all the nasty diseases floating around. In case you are the naive city-bred first-time domestic holidaymaker, be sure to pack a small torch, because electricity boards in most holiday destinations are prone to cut power at the drop of a hat! Also remember to take a small lock to double-lock any of your possessions and then leave the pressures of work far behind -- for the winter holiday of a lifetime!

Websites to Refer to:
www.tajhotels.com,
www.oberoihotels.com, www.anandaspa.com,
www.indian-airlines.nic.in,
www.jetairways.com,
www.tourindia.com,
www.meadev.nic.in/tourism,
www.tourismindia.com,
www.india-tourism.com, www.travel.indiamart.com