By Lin Qi
Cui Binbin says she did not see much of India on her first and only visit, three years ago. She explains that she was in New Delhi for just three days, on her way to Kathmandu, Nepal.
"I was amazed by the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. But I didn't have much fun with the city sightseeing," she says. "It felt like a regular business trip and I am mulling going there again."
An undecided Cui can hope to find much information in the Indian Ministry of Tourism's ongoing "Incredible India" campaign in China. A number of holiday packages, dedicated travel itineraries and attractive airline and hotel discounts are on offer to entice Chinese tourists.
India was declared a holiday destination for Chinese tourists in 2003, which means Chinese are allowed to organize private travel to India through travel agents. "Tourist arrivals from China to India in 2007 reached 124,000. The figure may have grown 10 percent last year," says Shoeb Samad, director of the India Tourism Office, Beijing.
Yet, Chinese tourists account for a relatively small share of international visitors to India. Statistics from India's Tourism Ministry show that it received 5.08 million foreign tourists in 2007, but China did not figure in the top 10 countries from where they came.
"We have not seen a surge in travel to India after it opened its door to Chinese tourists. Most visits to India via our agencies are for commercial and official purposes. The market for Indian travel is still young," says Chen from China International Travel Services (CITS), who declined to give his full name.
At present, more than 90 regions and countries have been designated holiday destinations for Chinese citizens, the latest additions being the United States and Taiwan. The top five destinations in 2007 were Hong Kong, Macao, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, according to the National Tourism Administration of China.
Chen says the top questions that most travelers to India want answered relate to safety - how safe is it after the Mumbai terror attacks of last November, food - are there Chinese restaurants, hotels - are they clean, and transportation - is it like what you see on TV.
Syed Eqbal Hassan, manager of Imperial Travel of India, Beijing, says, "Such questions arise mainly because of lack of adequate information."
Hassan has lived in China for four years and speaks fluent Chinese. He encourages his Chinese clients to explore the many faces of India. "From the eternal snows of the Himalayas in the north to the peninsula of the far south, from the deserts of the west to the humid deltas of the east... the landscape and lifestyles change dramatically."
According to Li Jinglin, representative of North China, Go India Journeys, "The best time to visit India is from October to April. A popular travel route is the classic 'golden triangle' connecting New Delhi, Jaipur, the pink city, and Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.
India tourism official Samad says: "Seeing is believing. We welcome the Chinese to avail of the incredible offers that have been put together by our tourism industry, and explore incredible India themselves."
Recommended travel routes:
New Delhi - Agra - Jaipur: This is a popular sightseeing route with first-time visitors. Well-known tourist spots include the Raj Ghat, Taj Mahal and Amber Fort, to name just a few.
New Delhi - Varanasi - Agra - Khajuraho - Sanchi - Ellora - Mumbai: The route features some of India's 21 World Heritage sites, such as the Khajuraho temples, Humayun's Tomb, Buddhist relics at Sanchi and the Ellora Caves.
New Delhi - Varanasi - Sarnath - Kushinagar - Vaishali - Patna - Rajgir - Boddhagaya: This is a must for those interested in important Buddhist sites.
New Delhi - Rishikesh - Haridwar - Devprayag - Vrindavan - Agra: Discover and practice yoga in "the world capital of Yoga" and visit the place where the sacred Ganges river originates.
-China Daily/Asia News Network