India offers variety, fascination and mixed feelings
Christian Roewekamp, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Frankfurt, Germany
India is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination offering an enormous variety of landscape from tropical beaches to Himalayan mountains.
Visitors often find India fascinating or leave with mixed feelings because of the enormous contrasts.
In 2004, the number of German visitors to India topped the 100,000 mark for the first time according to the European director of India Tourism in Frankfurt, Giriraj Singh Kushwaha.
"The country still has enormous tourism potential," says Koray Cavdir of the Asia section of German travel operator Meiers.
India's northeast lacks infrastructure, for example the area north of Madras offers many fabulous beaches but has virtually no hotels, but other regions of the Himalaya are becoming increasingly attractive.
For the first time, Meiers is offering a trip to Darjeeling and Sikkim combined with a stay in the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Most visitors to India do the Golden Triangle with stops in New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra with its Taj Mahal. The former hippie stronghold of Goa on the west coast is also popular. A combination of India and a bathing holiday in Sri Lanka is also offered by several travel operators.
Travellers to India often come back with mixed feelings, according to Manfred Schreiber of the Studiosos agency in Munich.
"Fascination and irritation lie close to each other. We have regular clients who have visited the country six or even eight times. Others on the other hand say: 'Once and never again'," Schreiber says.
For Europeans, the chaos on the roads takes some getting used to.
"Between 800 and 900 million people in India are poor. One is confronted with that when one leaves the four- or five-star hotel," Cavdir says.
Most travel operators criticize the lack of flights to India. "We could easily sell double as many trips if we could get more seats on the flights," according to Cavdir.
There are no direct flights to Kerala in the south. Several Arab carriers offer flights via Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi to Cochin but the plane are often full.
Indian domestic flights are not very well coordinated with Air India continental flights and are not cheap.
Sri Lanka is hoping to cash in on the gap by offering 77 flights to India per week, mainly to the south of the country. Other carriers are also extending their flight schedule.
From May 2005, Austrian Airlines is offering five flights a week to Bombay from Vienna.
Flights to India are often fully booked because many Indians living in the United States choose Frankfurt as a stopover. The addition of extra flights is also a reaction to the booming U.S.- Indian market, according to travel operators.