We recently completed a 15 tour of India that we had arranged through Go Heritage India Journeys. Before choosing Go Heritage, I did not find a lot of reviews about them, so I thought I would share our experience for the benefit of others.
For background, we were six people traveling together. My wife and I are originally from India, and we were taking two American couples for their first trip to India. Our trip was from January 5th to January 18th, and it covered Delhi/Varanasi/Khajuraho/Agra/Ranthambore/Jaipur/Aurangabad/Mumbai. I know – very hectic! We chose Go Heritage back in June, 2011 to make all arrangements: hotels, English speaking guides/van/train tickets/having representatives meet us at each destination. We paid them a 20% deposit back in June, and all flights and hotels were confirmed the same month. The balance of the payment was made upon arrival in Delhi.
In summary, Go Heritage tried hard to do the right things. I think they have limited resources, and were often forced to be reactionary rather than proactive in making sure everything went perfectly. I will discuss some of the issues we had shortly.
First the good part. They are extremely easy to reach via phone and eager to please. We were always met by a representative at each of our destinations, and never felt on our own. They provided guides everywhere and the van and driver were provided as scheduled.
What I figured out during our journey, is that most travel agents in India (unless they are very large national agents), simply outsource the transport, guide, and representative duties to a local travel agency. This necessarily meant that they were at the mercy of the quality provided by their partners. Some of the guides were excellent (Khajuraho, Mumbai, Orchaa, Agra) and some not so good. The guide provided on the first day was terrible and completely disinterested. To Go Heritage’s credit, they replaced him the next day with someone much better. Of course, in places where we were only touring one day, you were stuck with what you got. Delhi was a little surprising – it seems that the guide here was also outsourced, even though I believe that Go Heritage is based there. The quality of the “representative” was also a mixed bag, but since their role was limited to meeting you and escorting you to the hotel, and then seeing you off to your next destination, it did not matter much. The partners also did not know your itinerary or things like Go Heritage was to provide bottled water in the van, so we were often missing the water.
Now for some issues. Upon landing at Delhi, we were met promptly by a Go Heritage representative. We learned quickly that there was an issue with our original hotel (Le Meridien) for the first of our three nights in Delhi, but Go Heritage had booked us at the Taj Palace – a nicer and more expensive hotel. Of course, this meant we had to repack and transfer to the Le Meridien the next day, which was inconvenient and ate into our day. Overall, just a minor irritation since hotels were supposedly confirmed 6 months ago.
We were to fly to Varanasi the fourth morning. Our flight was to leave at 9 am, and we were told by the representative that the transport would pick us up at 7 am. Upon trying to check in online the previous night, I discovered that a schedule change had occurred, and the airline had canceled that particular flight and moved us to an 11 am flight. I had to get up early to meet the Go Heritage representative at 7 am and inform him of this. All airlines in India revise their schedules for winter, and even though this change had occurred in October, no one at Go Heritage had bothered to reconfirm our flights. Again, I suspect it is a question of manpower.
This particular airline change was minimal in impact. We lost some time but were able to squeeze in everything on our agenda in Varanasi. We were not so lucky in Jaipur.
We were to depart Jaipur for Aurangabad around 11 am. We were routed through Mumbai, and had about 50 minutes to make a connection. In spite of the mix-up in Delhi, again no one had bothered to reconfirm our flights. I got a call around 5 pm the previous evening, informing me that we had an issue with flights. It turns out that Air India had (in their winter schedule) canceled our connecting flight in Mumbai, and put us on an flight that departed 20 minutes BEFORE we landed there from Jaipur! And, there were no other flights on any airline for us to reach Aurangabad from Mumbai after we landed.
There was also a possibility that the Air India flight might not fly to Mumbai as there was a possibility of a strike by the Air India pilots as they had not received their salaries from the government (it is a government run airline). Although Go Heritage tried to use this as an excuse for our troubles, this was irrelevant since there was no way for us to connect through Mumbai. Our choice was to switch to other (private) airlines and connect through Delhi.
We were asked to go to the Air India office at the airport and see if Air India would switch us to the other airlines at their cost. The airfares were quite a bit higher since we were buying tickets at the last moment. Unfortunately we were unable to get to the right people at Air India because of a festival that day, and were asked to return the next morning.
Frustrated, I called Subrato Mukherjee, the owner, who took charge, and we eventually went to Aurangabad via Delhi. We did have to pay the fare difference, although I blame Go Heritage for not doing their homework and rechecking our flights after the winter schedules were published in October (3 months earlier).
There was more frustration to follow upon landing at Aurangabad on Sunday night. The main reason for our visit to Aurangabad was to see the Ajanta and Ellora caves. The representative who met us informed us that the Ajanata caves were closed on Mondays! This was the normal schedule, so this was a snafu in the itinerary put together by Go Heritage that should never have happened. We were to leave for Mumbai on the morning of the 17th, and tour Mumbai the 17th and 18th. Instead we decided to have our flights changed to the evening of the 17th, so we could visit the Ajanta caves, and cut our sightseeing in Mumbai down to one day. To Go Heritage’s credit, they rescheduled flights promptly at their expense.
A couple of other points: Go Heritage tried quite hard to steer us to different hotels in Khajuraho and Agra than we had originally booked. We did agree to change in Khajuraho, and have no means of telling if the Radisson was a better choice than the Taj, but it was more than adequate. We did not switch the Agra hotel – the Wyndham Grand – and it was fabulous, so we were not sure if the push to change hotels was motivated by trying to save money since they had paid quite a bit more for our first night in Delhi, or a genuine concern to give us a better experience.
Also, there is was a hard push from Go Heritage to steer us to specific shops for shopping. In Varanasi, when I told the representative that we did not want to go the shop he recommended since we had a particular shop in mind, his boss called me and told me that the shop they were recommending was government approved, was considerably cheaper than the “tourist trap” I had in mind. Unfortunately we believed him and discovered none of this was true, and the shop they recommended was indeed a tourist trap. Subrato also pushed me to visit a shop of “his friend” in Jaipur. We ignored this as we were smarter by this time. I understand the need to generate revenue through commissions, but I found this sleazy. There were similar “opportunities” in other places that we also avoided.
Overall, we had a wonderful trip. Go Heritage was a good partner and eager to please. I think with a little more manpower, they could avoid having to react to some issues and prevent them from occurring in the first place. But, we never felt alone and they are an honest group that tried hard to provide everything they had promised. The hotels they had recommended were all wonderful.
Would I use them again? Yes, but I would probably be a little more careful of double checking things myself rather than assuming everything was perfect, specially for an extensive itinerary as ours. It was fairly easy for us to deal with things since we are from India, but the issues might have been more stressful for foreigners who were new to India.