LAND OF MYSTERY AND MAGIC

A country as vast as India, covers a huge range of geographical features from the majestic High Himals in the northwest to the sun-drenched beaches of the southern tip. Whether you are a seasoned traveller or a first-time adventurer, you will be enchanted by the riches of this ancient land. No matter what your interests are, you will find something to charm and surprise you. Indulge in water sports from snorkelling to white-water rafting. Go to the source of the mighty River Ganges and take in the local wildlife from exotic birds to tigers and elephants. Follow in your father’s footsteps from battle sites to hill stations. Visit the Taj Mahal, temples, monasteries, ancient cities and stay in a maharaja’s palace. Or pamper yourself at an Ayurvedic health spa and sample the local culinary delights.

North West India – from Botany to Buddhism

The northwest region of India includes Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh. From mountains to monasteries, fishing to flowers, you can be assured that you will find something to whet your appetite.

Experience the exotic high mountain trade routes, spectacular mountain scenery and Buddhist monasteries. Also from mid June to mid September experience the adventure of a 4-wheel drive through the Kullu Valley to Ladakh. Follow the ancient trade routes and visit remote Buddhist monasteries. Relax on the banks of the river Baspa for some fine trout fishing or trek to Gangotri (3048m) in the Garhwal hills, a place steeped in legend, source of the sacred River Ganges and the destination of thousands of pilgrims every year.

If you would like to experience the wonders of nature, you will enjoy the Valley of Flowers National Park in the Garwhal Himals, a U-shaped alpine valley rich in herbs, medicinal and flowering plants which explodes into a symphony of colour in July and August.

There are also many hill stations in this north india region, established during the days of the Raj when people took to the hills to escape the intense summer heat. Now also very popular with Indians, you will discover a wealth of fascinating English country architecture.

The Himalayan Foothills to the Gangetic Plain

If history is your cup of tea – This area stretches from Amritsar in the Punjab to Calcutta in West Bengal. In a region where many religions come together, Amritsar, spiritual centre of the Sikh religion with its world-famous Golden Temple. Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest living cities and centre of great devotion and pilgrimage for Hindus. Sarnath, holy centre of Buddhism, where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma.

To gain a historical perspective, Pataliputra is the ancient capital of one of the Indian dynasties. Having been mostly of wooden construction, all that remains is a plan of wooden piles sticking out of the ground.

Calcutta is the first British capital and great port, now a sprawling city with many reminders of its colonial past. Calcutta is one of the gateways to the northeastern states, a remote region with spectacular wildlife and many tea plantations around Darjeeling. Thanks to their special features, the Tribal areas in the northeast are now in a protected region with a government-imposed minimum daily spending limit for tourists.

Rajasthan – the jewel in the crown

Rajasthan is perhaps the best known of the Indian states with its colourful history of the Raj and palaces great and small, many of which are now open for visitors to stay in. Whether you are interested in the natural beauties of this area, or the cities with their impressive architectural monuments, it would be impossible to see everything of note in a state which offers so much, but highlights include:

  • The Golden Triangle: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur
  • Jaipur, ‘the pink city’ with its famous Hawa Mahal ‘Palace of Winds’
  • Jodhpur, Udaipur and Pushkar: cities with majestic forts and palaces
  • The imposing forts of the Aravalli Hills
  • The Hill Station of Mount Abu in the south, where many Rajasthani Royals built their summer houses
  • The Shekawati region, dubbed ‘The Open-Air Art Gallery’ because of its richly decorated houses and courtyards, built by wealthy merchant

The Heart of India – getting away from it all

Madhya Pradesh the ‘Heart of India’ and its capital Bhopal have been the backdrop to much of Indian history for countless centuries but it also boasts some of the most spectacular scenery on the Indian subcontinent: mountains, plains, waterfalls, caves and forests. Whether you want a leisurely stroll or something more challenging, Madhya Pradesh provides the ideal setting.

Take a tour through one of the national parks, home to many of the world’s wild tigers. Or marvel at the waters of the crystal clear Narmada River, flanked by the Marble Rocks, multi-coloured marble cliffs. Explore the great fortress of Gwalior set upon a hill or the fortified palace on a river island at Orchha below the fortress. Or step back in time at any one of the numerous temples, stupas and shrines.

If you are interested in natural healing, the Gond, Bhil and Baiga Tribals of Chhatisgarh, a densely forested region to the east of Madhya Pradesh, are well versed in the healing properties of the local plant life. Though shy at first, these gentle people will welcome you to their villages.

The West of India – a rich tapestry of colour

The West of India offers the traveller the chance to visit bustling, vibrant cities as well as peaceful villages and beaches.

Though steeped in history, Bangalore, the capital of the state of Kamataka, is now a thriving ‘Silicon Valley’. It does, however, still retain a flavour of its colonial past with its magnificent State Assembly building, attractive botanical gardens and many relics of the Raj. The nearby city of Mysore is an explosion of colour with its fabled palace and bazaars.

The luxury train Deccan Odyssey, into the Deccan region with Pune and the fabulous Ajanta and Ellora caves in the itinerary.

Mumbai (formerly Bombay), capital of Maharashtra, is now the financial capital of India and a busy port redolent of the days of the Raj, while Elephanta Island, in the bay, is a reminder of ancient times with its decorated rock-cut temples.

A get-away from steamy summer days in Mumbai, the hill station of Pune (or Poona), now a prestigious university town, still plays an important role.

Goa, a former Portuguese colony, is now famous for its golden, sun-drenched beaches. Popular with budget travellers as well as those seeking upmarket resorts, it is linked by rail and air with Mumbai and other centres.

Gujarat is a state of many colours. The south has provided the backdrop to countless Bollywood films, while the desert to the west is home to numerous villages built on mounds as protection against the monsoon floods. Almost cut off from the outside world, the villagers spend their time creating unique tapestries and woven goods, afire with colour and sparkle. A visit to their markets is a truly a feast for all the senses.

Eastern Coast of India – natural beauties

For peace and tranquillity, you need look no further than the Eastern coast, on the Bay of Bengal, a stretch of coastline that has remained largely untouched by tourists. This area is a must for any nature lover.

Enjoy a luxury boat cruise in the Sunderbans National Park, the world’s largest delta, formed by the confluence of the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghana rivers. Mangrove forests and swamps blend to provide a home for the Royal Bengal Tiger. This majestic animal has adapted to its habitat and will swim between the islands while local fishermen wear face masks on the back of their heads to protect themselves.

The state of Orissa has a substantial, largely unspoilt coastline as well as many ancient temples. Visit one of the seaside resorts and sample the delights of its wonderful beaches, friendly hosts and fine examples of gracious early 20th century British living. Marvel at the sight of thousands of devotees pulling the great chariot at the festival of Lord Jaganath in Puri. Or visit the temple to the Sun God at Konarak, buried beneath the sands for hundreds of years until it was discovered a century ago.

The south western part of Orissa is covered by huge forests and protected tribal areas. Visiting permits can be arranged for memorable trips to the weekly markets. Offering simple accommodation, this area is a world away from the bustle of modern life.

Kerala – paradise found

Kerala, God’s Own Country, has been voted by National Geographic as one of its top ten ‘paradise found’ places on the planet. Situated in the south western corner of India, it is a green and fertile state thanks to the annual south west monsoon. Traders have been sailing to Kerala for 3,000 years, riding the directional monsoon and trade winds. The Arabs, British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese have all traded here and the coastal city of Kochi (formerly Cochin) reflects the diversity of these influences: Chinese fishing nets, St Francis Church, the Jewish Synagogue and the Dutch Palace.

From Kochi/Cochin you can explore the fertile hinterland:

Travel inland through palm, rubber, tea and spice plantations before arriving at Lake Periyar National Park, a tiger reserve surrounding an artificial lake constructed by the British in the 19th century. This reserve is also home to bison and elephant. Sail along the Backwaters, an extensive fresh-waterway of rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals with small settlements, palm groves and fishing nets adorning the banks. Allow yourself to be transported along these waterways on a Kettuvallam, a houseboat in the style of the traditional rice boats. Enjoy the views in style while your meals are being prepared! And for the ultimate paradise experience, why not sleep 40 metres up in the canopy in a Tree House?

South India – where history comes to life

To the south lies the great state of Andhra Pradesh and its capital Hyderabad, the centre of the Nizzam’s fabulous Muslim dynasty.

For history and artefacts, visit Hyderabad with the fort of Golconda and the nearby tombs of the Qutb Shahi kings, the Mecca Mosque, and the Salar Jung Museum with its vast collection of antiques from all over the world. Madras (now Chennai), the fourth largest city in India, once a thriving port for cloth and spice traders from the East with its Dutch, Portuguese, British and French influences. Pondicherry, a former French colony within Tamil Nadu, with its unique blend of French and Indian culture and architecture.

For a spiritual experience, visit Tamil Nadu with many temples that are monuments to the Dravadian belief. Kanniyakumari, a pilgrim destination at the southernmost tip of India where the Arabian Sea meets the Indian Ocean.

Alternatively, travel inland through tea and spice estates to the famous Hill Stations of Ooty and Kodaikanal. This spectacular scenery can best be enjoyed on the mountain railway from Mettupalayam to Ooty, a six-hour ride.

PALACES

A ROYAL EXPERIENCE

India is a country rich in history and tradition; a country with beautiful palaces many of which have now been converted to offer a five-star experience to travellers. All of the palaces highlighted here have been carefully chosen and the owners, mostly members of the former Aristocratic families are personal friends. This is a unique opportunity to experience the warm hospitality and kindness of your hosts, and you will undoubtedly leave wishing you could have stayed longer.

You will discover that no two palaces are alike and no two rooms the same. From the romantic honeymoon suites of the Samode Palace, 40 km from Jaipur (voted Best Heritage Property for many years) to Samode Bagh with its luxury desert-style tents with air conditioning and marble en-suite bathrooms. Or perhaps you would prefer the informal elegance of Kanker Palace, 100 km south of Raipur, at the gateway to Bastar and the Tribal regions while Raj Niwas Palace in Dholpur, Rajasthan offers a seamless blend of contemporary comfort and traditional style with cuisine to match.

At Rohetgarh, about 45 km from Jodhpur you will be welcomed by members of the erstwhile ruling family. You will have the chance to relax in their spacious veranda lounges and spend the evening by the pool, dining to the accompaniment of live music. Udai Bilas Palace, Dungarpur, Rajasthan, is a lake-side summer palace, a haven of peace and tranquillity also offering a spectacular swimming pool.