We both felt that this was probably the best tour we have ever taken and its indelible sights, sounds and smells will remain with us. It was marvellous, with enormous variety and interest. Every day, there was something new and exciting and different from the day before. In our short taste of India we witnessed the bustling, chaotic streets of Delhi, where stands India’s tallest stone minaret (Qutub) and the beautiful red sandstone building housing Humayan’s tomb; the dusk and dawn rituals on the ghats at the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi; the solemn, unparalleled beauty of the Taj Mahal and the impregnable walls of the Red Fort in Agra, housing beautiful white marble rooms inside; the astonishingly crisp and detailed 1000 year old carvings of the Hindu temples in Khajuraho. In Nepal, the pace slowed a little, enabling us to enjoy the sun rising over the soaring majesty of the Annapurna range, seen close up in Pokhara; riding on elephant back through the jungle in Chitwan (where we were lucky enough to watch a mother and calf rhino), later sailing in dugout canoe down river to the breeding centre for the endangered gharial crocodile; the Boudha Stupa in Kathmandu and wonderful temples in Durbar Square in Patan, a short ride away.
And perhaps what will last above all else: watching the people go about their daily lives. I hardly stopped smiling for days – every time someone caught your eye, which they did all the time while we drove from place to place, they would stare with curiosity and burst into a beaming smile, waving energetically. Such an amazing, heart-warming experience.
True enough, one must have stamina, since there are lots of long journeys and many early starts (e.g. two at 4.30am, more at 5.15-5.30am and only one day, the last, where there was no wake-up call (our flight was in the evening). All more than worth it, without a doubt, as we all agreed. Since one moves on almost constantly, a great deal depends on the smooth organisation of transits. We were exceptionally well served by Gill, our tour manager, and indeed by the local guides in both India and Nepal (Parul and Sanjeev). We were amazed by how wonderfully well everything went, especially given the complexity of the operation.
The hotels we stayed in were wonderful, the food tasty and (too) plentiful, with lots of choice, mostly comprising buffet breakfasts and dinners. We were provided with as much bottled water as we needed, both on the coach and in the hotels. Despite anxiety caused by reading weather forecasts before we left the UK, the weather was perfect and we did not need the sweaters or rain macs we packed!
I would recommend light packing. We stayed in 8 hotels (that in Kathmandu twice), flew 4 times and took a train journey, and the room in the lodge in which we stayed at the national park was small. One lives out of the suitcase, and never reaches the items at the bottom – so if I had it to do again, I would seriously downsize!
Ours was the first Riviera tour since the earthquakes in Nepal in April and May 2015. The group size was small (only 17), and this reflected the general downturn in tourism in Nepal which has so drastically affected the Nepalese. That had obvious benefits for us, though not for the people. Nepal is so poor and dependent on tourism that they are suffering badly. While we were there, there was also a constitutional crisis which resulted in a blockade of lorries coming into the country. The consequent lack of fuel was evident everywhere we went and was having devastating effects. We picked up a lady coming down off the mountain one day, who was walking the two hours to her school since buses were no longer able to run.
If you have ever thought of going to Nepal, but were worried about the earthquake, please go. We did see signs of earthquake damage and its effects on the people, but what they need amongst many things is income from tourism. You will not regret it. To think we were at one stage undecided about going – what a wonderful experience we would have missed.
Review by C. & C.J. Vallely on 13 October 2015