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A Brief Review of India Travel Guides

September 27th, 2010 · No Comments · Destinations, Know Before You Go

I shared with you my process of selecting travel guides here.  Having just gone through this, I thought I’d share a brief review of the guides I browsed before making my purchase decisions. The three big areas of differentiation between publishers and series seem to be: background & context, destination information, and logistics.  Largely in the order I pulled them off the shelf, all of these are guides for India.

Traditional Guides:

Footprint India Handbook.  Destination information is very thorough including detailed logistics. Smaller and off the beaten track destinations are usually covered. Hardcover book with super thin paper. Advertisements inside. The weight of the hardcover is somewhat offset by the thin paper and it is a more compact size than similar guides. (If a 10 cm thick book can be compact.)

Fodor’s India. Destination focused. Nice suggested walking tours and itineraries. Recommendations tend to high end, more expensive, though always includes at least one  budget option if available. Limited cultural background, but well written and interesting side bars.

* Frommer’s India.  Destination focus with limited transportation information.  Covers budget to high end with good value picks in the intermediate price range.  Interesting recommended itineraries and ‘Best of’ lists.  As a high-low traveler, this is one of my favorite guides, though there is less off the beaten track coverage than its competitors. Available on Kindle.  I  am going to visit the library again before I decided between buying the Kindle version of this or the Lonely Planet guide to take with me.

Rough Guide to India.  Destination and logistics focus. Nice side bar stories. Covers high and low (expensive and budget) travel well. Nice breakout/detail maps including tourist sites. Covers some smaller towns.

* Lonely Planet India.  Destination and logistics focused with excellent detail on things like what window to go to to buy train tickets, et cetera. Focused on budget traveler, but high and mid range included.  Good coverage of smaller towns and off the beaten track. I’m not sure this is new or I have changed, but I loved the “Bob Marley” warnings which shaped my itinerary.  The author remarks Bob Marley can be heard on a street/in a town as a warning that it is a trustifarian/banana pancake trail destination. During my shoestring backpacker days, I preferred cheesy bootleg canto-pop to the Marley wails. Bob Marley’s music is pretty cool, but the scene is like Starbucks – exactly the same no matter where in the world you are.  What is the point of traveling half way around the world if you’re not going to at least listen to Bhangra with your pancakes? (Says the woman who is planning on bringing her Starbucks Via to India.)  Available on Kindle.  This is competing with Frommers for the book I buy and use in India.

Full Color Guides:

** India Insight Guide.  Colorful books full of inspiring photographs. Great book for learning the cultural background (over 1/3 of book).  Overview, history and highlights of destinations but skips logistics.  Sidelines in the upper, outer margins are not to be missed. Due to the paper quality it is a VERY heavy book. I purchased this book to better understand the cultures and religions of India before I go, but the weighty book will stay in CT.  As a bonus, Mirielle loves it.

India Eyewitness Travel Guide.  Lots of color photographs. Good maps of neighborhood and sites. Focus on historical, art and architecture sites.  My favorite guide for architechture.  Pictures and diagrams are great for understanding what you will see or have seen.  I think it makes a great souvenir of travels.

Fodor’s Exploring India. Full color with lots of photos. Only highlights of country are covered. Thin on logistics. Closer to Eyewitness or Insight guides but with more traditional guidebook content.

National Geographic Traveler: India. Full color guide with the inspiring photographs you expect from National Geographic. Great color maps of cities, best for orientation not  navigate.  Just covers highlights of India with little logistics information.

Time Out India. Full color with advertisements. Nice table of contents.  Content is sorted by type of expirience like Urban Gems (Jaipur) or Wildlife (Corbett National Park) rather than geography. Only covers highlighted destinations. Enjoyable format with inspiring pictures by limited content.

Other Useful Guides:

Wanderlust & Lipstick India** Wanderlust and Lipstick: For Women Traveling to India.  Having enjoyed and reviewed Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids, I didn’t think twice about buying the Kindle edition of their India guide.  This book doesn’t focus on where to go or opening hours at so-and-so temple, rather it describes what you need to make the trip happen successfully.    Starting with the right attitude and working through details including visas, shots, how and where to book your travel, what to pack and what (and where) to buy when you arrive, it is surprisingly comprehensive while covering a broad range of topics.  So far, my big discoveries are FabIndia (where I will buy clothes when I arrive), skipping bottled water and using a SteriPen, and Outlook Traveler magazine.  I am going to reread it to make sure I didn’t forget anything like travel health insurance or what to include in my first aid kit.

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