Neither Lisa nor I are typically group tour tourists, so deciding to purchase this trip took some consideration. Our concerns about group tours is that the itinerary may not be a good fit to our own personal interests, that the group itself may be so large that the information the guide has to offer may not be heard well because of our location in the pack, and that if any people on the tour are difficult and non-cooperative it can affect everyone’s experience. We decided to take the risk because the price was considerably less than retail rack rate would cost and the culture in India is so significantly different than my travel experience and the potential language barrier existed that a guide would be helpful.
It turned out very well. The tour group numbered 31 in all and while everyone had different travel experience and attitudes towards what they hoped to learn, everyone was very nice and there were no prima donnas. One of the fears, that we would have to wait for people who were late returning to the bus, never happened. And we managed to snag the front seat on the bus next to Arvind, our guide, which enabled us to constantly chat with him, asking lots and lots and lots and lots of questions.
The tour schedule gave us an afternoon and evening free in Agra and another afternoon free in Jaipur. That permitted those that wanted to take it easy to hang by the pool. And it allowed Lisa and me to go explore.
Based on advice I received from other people who had traveled to India I decided we would arrange for a personal tour guide for at least one of those free afternoons. By happenstance I met a farmer here in Oregon a week before my trip who was from Delhi and his brother-in-law there happens to run a licensed tour service, BuddhaPath. While my request was a bit unusual, because of the personal connection they were happy to arrange a personal guide for our time in Agra.
Kamal came 5 hours by bus from Delhi to join us in Agra. India law requires when a tour is offered that an assistant is also part of the team, so Bilal joined us as well. Since he was local, he became very busy on his cell phone after talking with us, locating the places that fit the concepts we mentioned. And, in addition we had a car and driver. The cost was $225, which is very standard for one personal guide for 4 hours wherever I have hired one (archaeologist near Mesa Verde, guide in Paris, guide in New York City and the going rate in Dubrovnik as well). These three guys started with us at 12:30 and I finally told them I was tired around 8:30. Kamal stayed with us chatting about Buddhism for another hour after we were dropped back to our hotel. We definitely had wonderful service that I can highly recommend to anyone.
I want to share what we did that day, so stay tuned!!! It made the day, that started at the Taj Mahal better and better!!!