India, A Feast for the Senses
By Sarah Binder
India. It’s a bucket list destination for many, but the reasons for visiting the world’s second-most populous country are just as diverse as travelers’ vastly different bucket lists. Some seek to learn the secrets of serenity and spiritual growth from the culture of yoga, meditation, and majestic Hindu temples. Some seek the quiet thrill of spotting a regal white tiger through mist-laden wild jungle. Others want the adrenaline rush of exploring Mumbai’s bustling markets or the annual Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan. With an itinerary carefully crafted just for you by one of the world’s premier luxury travel providers, you can live your India daydreams at every turn.
A Twist on the Iconic
Any first-timer’s itinerary to India would be considered incomplete without a stop at the country’s most iconic landmark—the Taj Mahal. Luxury tour companies have designed creative ways to showcase this vast mausoleum to visitors, ensuring they become immersed in wonder and awe, rather than throngs of noisy crowds. The Mughal architectural masterpiece, built by the emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, is known for its sheer size and white marble construction. However, Jean Fawcett, Media Relations Manager for Abercrombie & Kent, shares a secret. “There are also gems built into the Taj Mahal so as the sun hits it, it changes color throughout the day. Sometimes it is bright white, other times it is pink or orange,” she says. Abercrombie & Kent has their guests visit India’s crown jewel both in the early morning and at sunset for different perspectives and to minimize crowds.
A key component of most luxury trips are local guides who can speak eloquently, not only about the activity or landmark at hand, but also about their personal experiences living and working in India. For example, former street children lead guided tours around the New Delhi Railway Station and the Paharganj area, providing first-hand accounts of life on the streets and perseverance through hardships. Holly Monahan, a Luxury Travel Manager at Absolute Travel, notes that many Indians are very friendly, talkative, and genuinely curious about visitors. Her company’s custom tours arrange intimate ways to interact with locals, such as a welcome dinner in the home of a family in New Delhi. “They are gracious hosts and world travelers themselves, so it makes for an evening of feasting on a delicious homemade meal while engaging in lively travel talk,” she says.
While visitors will find most Indians to be welcoming, some locals are a bit more reclusive. Wildlife enthusiasts who may have checked Africa, the Amazon, and the Galapagos off of their bucket lists are turning to India for exotic safari experiences, says Fawcett. Abercrombie & Kent’s upcoming 2016 Marco Polo Journey, Lions, Tigers & The Taj Mahal, takes a vehicle safari in the Gir Forest, the only natural habitat of Asiatic lions. It also embarks on morning and afternoon game drives in search of the elusive Bengal tiger, as well as sloth bears and leopards, in Ranthambore National Park. The 15-day itinerary continues on to popular city destinations such as Jaipur, Agra, and New Delhi.
Absolute Travel’s 20-day Tigers & Temples sample itinerary journeys to Bandhavgarh National Park to seek out tigers for two days, before continuing to the holy city of Varanasi, the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, and finally, Mumbai. “For avid wildlife enthusiasts, we can book several of the Taj Safari lodges, and after Bandhavgarh, fly them by a charted aircraft to Kanha National Park and then Pench National Park,” says Monahan.
Wellness for the Mind, Body, and Soul
For travelers who wish to journey to India to reconnect with themselves, options abound to take to the more remote, relaxing waters of the Ganges River, or hunker down for days of relaxation and meditation at a wellness resort. Absolute Travel’s Backwaters and Balance: A Healing Journey through India 14-day sample tour combines several days of pampering at the world-renowned Somatheeram Ayurvedic Health Resort with leisure time exploring the bazaars of Mumbai and the vibrant port city of Kerala. Kerala, a southern state, is popular with repeat travelers to India, and boasts eco-friendly, deluxe resorts in its more remote regions, perfect for travelers seeking solace. Monahan likes the tropical Neeleshwar
Hermitage resort along the Arabian Sea and the Orange County Resort, Kabini.
Others may wish to spend their time in India visiting historic sites, albeit at a pace far more leisurely than traditional city- and hotel-hopping. Introduced this year and on offer for the first time in 2016 is Abercrombie & Kent’s 16-day luxury small group journey India & Nepal: The Taj Mahal, Mt. Everest and a Ganges River Cruise. “You go beyond the area that most people think of in terms of cruising the Ganges on a luxury, all-suite river boat. It’s very peaceful, green, and unlike anything you tend to think of when you think of India,” explains Fawcett. “You cruise for several days on an all-balcony, five-star vessel, visit rural villages and temples only accessible by boat, visit Kolkata and additional places Mother Teresa was involved with; then you end the trip with several days in Katmandu.”
Tips to Travel By
Both Monahan and Fawcett emphasize that traveling to India is such an other-worldly experience that most clients return several times to experience different geographic regions and aspects of the culture. “India is so vast, and traveling can be tiring; slow down your pace, and allow yourself to truly soak in the ambiance,” says Monahan.