I love backpacking, I also love to travel with my own vehicle, and am always looking for new and different ways to travel.
I have always wanted to take part in an organized overland trip, since I first saw an advert for Oasis Overland in a edition of the Big Issue. I did an overland trip in New Zealand many years ago and loved visiting all of the out-of-the-way, and little know places. The though of visiting a developing country on such a trip really appealed to me, and crossing from Kathmandu to Delhi seemed like a great route on which to try another organized overland trip. After some research I decide to go with Dragoman Overland, a UK based company. I actually booked and paid for the trip whilst in Nepal. Here is my summary of the trip, although you can read more in my blog from the time.
- Route: Kathmandu to Delhi
- Duration: 14 days
- Cost: US$722 / GBP£361 – plus a local kitty of US$320. The kitty is for costs such as hotel rooms and food, but the group decides how and when to spend the kitty.
- Overland Company: Dragoman Overland
- Trip Leaders: Zoe and Hugo
- Truck: Archie – A TaTa truck with windows down all sides, comfortable forward facing seats, 2 sit-around tables, a fridge, camping equipment and drinking water on board.
Pre departure day – Kathmandu, Nepal
We meet at the Hotel Garuda in Thamel, Kathmandu. The trip leaders introduce themselves, aquaint us with what will happen and take care of the paperwork. Many people have only been in Nepal for a few days, and are keen to see the city. I have had my Kathmandu experience and leave them to it. We all check into the same hotel though, and all meet for dinner that night, which is a good introduction. The people are a good mixture, 6 women and 2 guys. 3 of us are Brits, 2 are from the USA, 1 from Mexico and 2 from Australia. The trip leaders are Zoe from the UK and Hugo from Portugal. They have recently flown in from Africa, and have not led this journey before. They are both clearly experienced travelers and leaders, and nobody seems to have any concerns. The suggested kitty price has risen from US$270 to US$320. This is because of India’s fast growing economy and costs.
Day 1 – Driving from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park, and the Elephant Breeding Center, Nepal
We leave the hotel at 6am, head across Kathmandu in a mini-van and get introduced to the truck that will take us on our journey. We hit the road quickly to try and beat the traffic, which we do. We head west on the major, but rough, road. The views are stunning, and everybody is impressed. It’s a long drive today of about 6 hours. In fact most days when we are on the truck will involve long hours of driving, up to 14 hours in a single day. People try to sleep.
The twisty valley road flattens out as we head south, and we pass through a few towns, passing a vibrant wedding. We turn away from a hectic town and are instantly amongst beautiful surroundings, we are nearing Chitwan National Park, one of Nepal’s prized treasures.
After a little more driving we reach our destination, Rhino Lodge Hotel. A lovely, peaceful resort that will be our home for the next few days. We unload our things from the truck and settle into our rooms. We imeditately have lunch – a nice traditional Nepali meal.
Our trip leaders, Zoe and Hugo, now have to return to Kathmandu. They are awaiting their visas for India, and now have to return to collect them. We are left in the very capable hands of the resort staff.
We then jump into a jeep and head to the Elephant Breeding Program center. Here Elephants from the national park are reared, cared for and training to work in and around the park. The center is a great place, and very natural compared to something one would find in the west. We feed the baby elephants and watch the interaction between the animals.
We jump back in the jeep and head back towards the lodge. A few of us jump out halfway back to enjoy the walk. Our local guide also joins us and the walk is a great way to see the local people living around the park.
We relax around the resort for a little while before all joining together for dinner. Everyone is early to bed as we have another early start in the morning.
Day 2 – Safari at Chitwan National Park, Nepal
It’s a 7am start for breakfast, before heading off on safari. Our friendly and helpful guide meets us and we walk over to the river. We climb aboard the canoe and drift down the scenic river. The guide points out the wildlife and informs us about the workings of the national park, including the rights and interaction of the local people. Today is not perfect for spotting crocodiles, but we do manage to see one.
We leave the canoe and get briefed about what to do if we see any Rhinos. We start walking back towards the resort, through the beautiful jungle. We don’t see any large animals, just a few monkeys. Back at the lodge we have lunch.
After lunch is what everyone has been waiting for – safari on elephant back. we meet out elephants and we climb aboard. Our elephant takes us through some stunning areas of the national park – along tracks, through undergrowth, and across streams. We see a female Rhino with a calf and later a male. As we are on Elephant the animals are unworried by us and we get to see the animals up close. Everyone has loved the visit to Chitwan National Park.
Day 3 – Onto Sunauli in India
We leave Chitwan and drive through the south of Nepal, after a stop for lunch. At Sunauli we go through immigration to leave Nepal and then to enter India. The whole process takes about 2 hours, which is good considering we have a British registered vehicle, and 9 people from 5 different countries. We stop the night in Sunauli, which on first inspection doesn’t offer much at all. However, after finding a traditional Indian eatery we enjoy a good meal which costs just INR25. Back at the hotel the staff are able to get us some refreshments including beer.
Day 4 – The long drive to Varanasi, India
We get going early. Everyone is intrigued by the misty India we see out of the windows. We drive along roads of varying quality. After some heavy traffic in the towns we stop for an authentic roadside lunch of Somasas and other snacks. Everyone is very impressed by the food.
We get back on the road as we have many miles to cover. The constantly changing landscapes whizz past the windows, from farms, rivers, shops, traffic jams, food stalls and everything else’s one would find in India.
Its dark when we approach Varanasi. Someone meets us at the city edge, jumps in the truck and directs us right to the hotel, which is much better than anyone was expecting. We dump our stuff and have dinner.
Day 5 – Varanasi, India
Another early start (as is necessary to see so much in a short period of time) and we take organised tuk tuks to the River Ganges. Our very knowledgeable boat man rows us up and down the River Ganges. It is a magical experience to watch the sun rise as the Hindu pilgrims bath and pray. For many people this is the highlight to of their trip to India. It is certainly one of mine. One the way back to the hotel for breakfast we stop at several Hindu temples.
The tuk tuks are at our disposal for the whole day. Many people visit a silk factory, but a disappointed by the hard sell tactics of some of the staff. The Dragoman crew, who didn’t go on the silk trip and disappointed to hear this and make notes.
Later in the evening we are invited to watch a traditional Indian dance. It’s a great experience and quite unexpected.
Day 6 – Varanasi to Panna National Park
A 5am start, and we weave our way through the early morning Varanasi traffic and onto the first highway.
As we pass into Madha Pradesh the landscape changes. Everything becomes much greener and less dusty, which is a welcome change. We pass fields of sizeable crops, rather than bare ones. The roads get bumpy in places but we make good ground.
We stop for lunch at a roadside place, popular with truck drivers. The setting is a little off putting and we have a little communication troubles, but we end up sitting in the sunshine and enjoying a fabulous Indian meal. In particular the rice pudding desert, which was probably the best I have ever tasted.
We arrive at the Ken River Lodge, near Panna National Park. Today we have covered 410km, in 14 hours, on varying road conditions. We all settle for drinks and chicken Tandori. The group discusses what to do with the extra day we have gained by todays long drive. We agree to spend the extra night here in the lodges. This gives us a much needed late start tomorrow.
Day 7 – Temples of Khajuraho
After a late start and breakfast we drive to Khajuraho. After a cafe pit stop our guide takes us to the wonderful temples. We spend a couple of hours walking around and learning about this erotic and interesting temples.
After another cafe pit stop we separate into pairs as we all have to cook for the group over the next few days when we are camping. In our pairs we descend on to the markets and shops. It is a very interesting experience with some of the group becoming well known with the locals, especially the shopaholics.
We return to the lodge and celebrate on the groups birthday, with chocolate cake from the cafe in town.
Day 8 – Jeep safari in Panna National Park
A 05:30 start this morning and into jeeps to Panna National Park. We spend a few hours driving around the park spotting various animals, but sadly no wild cats. Near the end we come across an Elephant and everyone has their picture taken with the beautiful animal. Everyone seems to have developed a distinct love on Elephants after Chitwan National Park in Nepal.
After breakfast we have day to ourselves.
Day 9 – Bush camping at the palaces in Orchha
A 6 hour drive to Orchha passes quickly today, with everyone already accustomed to longer driving days.
We arrive in Orchha at around 4pm. Our camping spot has incredible views of the palaces. We unload all of the camping gear and setup. Some people seem less excited about the camping, which is a shame. Camping is part of the trip, and this is a truly amazing spot.
Tonights cooking team cook, whilst others go to the town. A local restaurant owner brings us beer and other drinks and reasonable rates. Our camp has many inquisitive visitors – mainly children with many questions. The children are full of energy and their English surprisingly good.
Day 10 – Palaces and temples of Orchha
06:15 start to pack away the tents and to eat a hearty breakfast. It seems some local men, dressed in green uniforms, with large alsation dogs have spent the night under a tree guarding our camp. They light a small fire in the morning and leave when the sun has risen. I guess they are employed by the authorities to protect tourists in the camping area. Tourists are often paid this sort of consideration in India, it’s warming to see.
Our guide collects us and and we take a tuk tuk to the palaces of Orchha. These incredible buildings were built by various kings within a relativily short period. Long since abandoned, the palaces are now protected. We spend 2 hours wandering around the two main palaces, before taking a wander through the streets towards the Rama temple.
Outside we buy some traditional Indian breakfast snacks, which are very spicy. Returning to the truck we get going.
A couple of hours outside of Orchha we pull over the truck for lunch. Within a few minutes the local goat farmers come over and stand behind us. They watch in fascination as we quickly setup the tables, food and cleaning gear. A journalist we spoke with at Orchha stops and takes photos of the group eating lunch. He thanks us and says ‘Indian people can learn many things from you’, presumable referring to our picnic stop.
We drive towards Agra. On the edge of the city we pick up our helper who guides us to the hotel.
Day 11 – Taj Mahal, Indian home cooking and a packed day of the sights of Agra
Most of the group go the Taj Mahal to see the sunrise, some, wanting a later start go after. We have tuk tuks at our disposal again, and can use them to go anywhere we like, at any time.
We have breakfast at Ali’s house. Ali is the guy helping us with all of your transport here in Agra. He has a nice sized home is a busy neighborhood. His wife has cooked us a traditional Indian breakfast, which is served on the rooftop. The food is fantastic. We are served a selection of chai, coffee, sweet fried items, paneer naan, breads, mild spicy potato curry, fruit and endless toast. Everyone is amazed by the food. Ali had also offered us dinner at this house, and we were a bit unsure, but after breakfast everyone was more than keen to eat such good home cooked Indian food again.
The group also visit the Red Fort. A few of us visit the main market, which is a fascinating experience. Completely free of tourists we are a surprise sight for many of the traders. The market is big and frantic. My roommate Robs gets a shave.
In the later afternoon a few of us head to the Baby Taj Mahal, and further along the river to see the Taj Mahal reflected on the river surface.
Day 12 – Keoladeo Ghana National Park and Jaipur
After a short drive in the morning we stop at the Keoladeo Ghana National Park were some people take rickshaws and others ride bikes around the park. It’s a beautiful setting.
Back on the road we arrive at Jaipur and stay at a the best hotel yet.
Day 13 – Jaipur
In the morning our very knowledgeable and pleasant guide Eugene meets us and explains many things not only about Jaipur, but also of India.
We all jump in the truck and head into the city with Eugene, our guide. We stop at the Jantar Mantar observatory. It is an incredible collection of astrological devices for telling the time of day, time of year and the alignment of the starts. The center was built in the early 18th century by the very clever Maharaja Jai Singh II. It is a very impressive stop.
We walk over to the City Palace, an amazing collection of buildings, and the home of the Maharaja. The flying flags suggest his highness is in residence. We take in the various public parts of the complex. The buildings and their contents are impressive, but we overdo the tour a little and are all very eager for lunch at the end.
We have the rest of the day to ourselves and in the evening enjoy a dinner at a great Italian restaurant.
Day 14 – Delhi
The Dragoman trip ends in Delhi, with several sightseeing stops in the morning just outside of Jaipur. I however am continuing my travels south into India and do not make the journey to Delhi. So I can’t tell you what happened. Perhaps someone else on the trip can fill in this last entry 🙂
The Dragoman trip has been excellent. Better than I expected and of excellent value. I think everyone on the trip would agree with me. I highly recommend this type of travel for anyone who wants to explore India and similar countries, and perhaps doesn’t want the hassles of traveling in such a country.
A brief not on the costs of the trip. I was initially hesitant to join the trip because it would cost me more than doing the trip backpacking by myself. On reflection, considering the number of out-of-the-way places we visited I think the cost of the trip is excellent value. The total cost was £361 and a kitty of US$320. A total of about US$1,000. Doing the trip outside of the Dragoman tour would perhaps save US$200 – $US300, but a good deal of time was also saved, not having to wait for connecting transport. Also the Dragoman truck offers door-to-door transport and none of the hassles involved with traveling in India.