“Namaste,” he said, pressing his palms together in front of his heart, fingertips pointed slightly away. “This is how you may greet people here in India. When you do this, the light from within you is directed out towards the other person, so it is both greeting and blessing.”
We blinked through bleary eyes, 15 strangers from around the world uniting for the first time on the eve of our Golden Triangle tour. Tellingly, our first order of business was learning how to properly greet the locals. After all, this was a G Adventures tour.
G Adventures is a proponent of getting up close and personal with the people who inhabit the lands they travel. As readers of my blog will know, that was bound to attract me.
If you’re toying with the idea of tours, G Adventures tours, and one or both through the Golden Triangle, and you’ve already read the previous installment in this series about India, here’s a straightforward breakdown of what to keep in mind:
Fellow travelers matter
You will spend a lot of time with these people, so shared interests help.
A full two-thirds of our group was traveling prior to the tour or afterwards. Conversations with people on ‘round-the-world journeys make for great anecdotes, shared travel tips, volunteer ideas, and more, letting those long hours on busses zoom by (and in India, those busses do zoom. Just hold on and close your eyes!).
By the end of our short week, we gelled so well that half of us rearranged our plans in order to continue traveling together – a staggering statistic, in my opinion. Obviously there are no guarantees in life, and I don’t mean to imply that our G-roup wasn’t special (best ever!), but I will say that people drawn to G Adventures tours tend to make interesting travel companions.
However long you think it might take to reach Destination A, you’ve underestimated.
It’s not just about poor roads, traffic or construction. There could be a cow in your path. Or a funeral. Or fog on the train tracks. Or 108 other fortuitous obstructions (not coincidentally, this holy and auspicious number is also the national call-in for emergency ambulance assistance).
In other words, find a tour provider that doesn’t over-plan, or you’ll end up feeling stressed and shortchanged. Incorporated “down time” meant we could decompress after a jostling bus ride or elect an optional excursion (like taking bicycle rickshaws through a nature reserve – safari in India, anyone?).
Then again, the journey isn’t just about the destination. Barreling straight through on a nine-hour bus trip from A to B will leave you dazed and confused (did I mention transportation time should never be underestimated?). We stopped every few hours at monuments or villages along the way, stretched our legs, regrouped, and loaded up on observations to share during the next leg of the trip.
Our guides ranged from good to great; in Agra I gave up taking notes because I couldn’t write fast enough. And also I was laughing too hard.
Our G Adventures “CEO,” or Chief Experience Officer, who stayed with us the entire time, deserves a post of his own. We joked that Yash had a flying carpet that let him be everywhere at once, and inside connections waiting on his command to make the impossible happen.
When someone goes far, far beyond the expected, you can tell they’re working from the heart. Yash cares about the people he guides and the people he lives with. The small village of Abhaneri seemed to overflow with children (the only schoolhouse was so small that students took shifts inside, often sharing a room with other grades), and I lamented not having gifts for them all. “Give a pen to the teacher,” Yash suggested, “and let one of them win it. That way they learn hard work and good behavior gets rewarded.”
The CEOs I met (it’s common to bump into other G Adventures groups) seemed available and knowledgeable without being overbearing. Ask them anything, anything at all . . . they’ve probably heard it before.
And if you ask about G Adventures? Unabashed devotion to the company and “its captain,” Bruce Poon Tip.
Just what is your business plan, anyway?
Will the communities you visit still exist for your children to see? Or will they be replaced by a string of international hotels often staffed by cheap labor from another country?
G Adventures is a strong advocate of sustainable tourism, which includes funneling money back into the local economy. Accommodation, food, guides and transportation all come from local small businesses or individuals. We even spent one evening in Agra as guests in a family’s home, dressing up in sarees, eating a home-cooked meal, and having our own Bollywood-style dance party.
The one set of businesses you won’t be expected to support? Merchants. This is not a shopping trip, and unlike so many other tours, you won’t be funneled into the local pashmina store following each stop until you start to wonder whether the tour company might be in business to sell trinkets to tourists, rather than guide your travels.
It also saves valuable time. On a local trolley set to ferry us to our parking lot, vendors approached the windows in droves. “Do these people ever make a sale?” I wondered, when to my surprise people from a commercial tour group on the other side of the trolley began to inspect and haggle excitedly. Nearly ten minutes later, we took off down the road.
Don’t mistake the message: I adore a super-soft pashmina, and indulged in some self-directed purchases. But not feeling pressured to do so was what I appreciated most about this tour. It amplified my trust in both the guides and the company, and that’s the kind of souvenir that money can’t buy.
Ready to hear about what didn’t make it into “the Good” category of my G Adventures trip? In the next installment, I’ll share some of the highs and not-so-good lows of my time in India.