Visits to the Akshardham Temple are a new option for travelers with Sita. // © 2011 Russ Bowling
When it comes to travel to India, few suppliers have the expertise of Sita World Tours. The company has been promoting travel to India for more than 50 years, according to director of operations Max Aly, a native of Chennai, India.
“Sita works with several travel agent consortia as a preferred supplier but, when it comes to India, in particular, we also work with many agents who are not preferred because they know that we have the best offerings, and we have the most knowledgeable staff,” Aly said. “We have staff members who have been involved with travel to India for 15, 20 and even 25 years.”
Aly said that some of the biggest changes in travel to India have involved the country’s infrastructure. New roads, improved accommodations, better trained guides and additional airlift have all made India a much easier destination to travel to than ever before.
“The country has really flourished,” Aly said. “People who visited India 20 years ago wouldn’t even recognize it. People sometimes think of India as a third-world country, but that perception is changing rapidly.”
In recent years, accommodation options have improved dramatically, which has given travelers more options on a level that’s on par with modern hotels all over the world.
“At one time, the only real options for travelers to India were five-star properties, which meant that some travelers would not be able to afford to visit and others might not find availability if those rooms were sold out,” Aly said. “But, now, there are many options, from five-star to deluxe and beyond.”
Sita itself has its own range of options for travelers to India, from traditional tours that are ideal for first-time visitors to more specialized niche offerings.
For instance, in November, Sita is offering an itinerary that includes the Pushkar Camel Fair, a colorful and unique three-day fair where Rajasthani villagers converge at Pushkar to trade livestock, including camels.
“There is also a tradition of matchmaking that goes on there,” Aly said. “It’s an amazing festival to be a part of.”
Sita is also doing more culinary tours to India, taking advantage of a growing interest in Indian food. Travelers on these itineraries get to meet top Indian chefs and learn how to make classic and exotic Indian dishes.
Sita also has a special Indian Tapestry tour that focuses on the country’s history and products related to silks and other fabrics, as well as tours that visit spiritual sites and focus on the Indian traditions of meditation and yoga.
“Ayurveda is a big medical tradition in India,” Aly said. “We offer holistic tours that include spa treatments, meditation and herbal treatments.”
Spirituality and history are combined on a number of Sita’s tours, which include visits to palaces and temples, such as the Akshardham Temple, with its ornately carved pillars, domes and 20,000 statues of India’s divine figures. Akshardham is a new option for travelers to India.
Another growing niche is adventure travel and wildlife encounters. These tours generally include visits to the Himalayas or to game park lodges to see tigers, whose population has been growing thanks to strict government regulations.
“Twenty years ago, we were down to about 200 tigers,” Aly said. “Now, we have more than 3,000.”
Regardless of the choice of itinerary, according to Aly the key to a successful trip to India is getting out and meeting the local people. He suggested that travelers have dinner in a resident’s home, go to an Indian movie theater or simply stop and introduce themselves to villagers. During late October or in February, Aly said that Sita tries to include an Indian wedding in visitors’ itineraries.
“If visitors go to Chennai, my home town, I even tell them to have dinner with my family,” Aly said. “Indian people are very friendly and hospitable. They are interested in you and are happy to talk about their lives as well. These encounters are not only interesting for travelers, but they very often lead to long friendships.”
While visitors are, of course, awestruck by India’s amazing sites, such as the Taj Mahal, Aly said that what they often remember most are the personal and cultural encounters along the way.
“After all,” he said, “in some ways, India is more of an experience than a vacation.”