Luxury Trains Through IndiaIn recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in India’s luxury trains. The Palace on Wheels is probably the best known (departing Delhi and visiting cities like Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Agra) and has interiors that reflect the coaches once owned by former kings of Rajasthan. There are several more options too – since 2009, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels has pitched itself as India’s most luxurious tourist train, then there’s the Deccan Odyssey which visits some of the best sights of Maharashtra, as well as Goa, and The Indian Maharaja, which is a newer, more luxurious version of the Deccan Odyssey. The Golden Chariot snakes through the state of Karnataka and recently added extensions to Tamil Nadu and Kerala too. There’s no doubt that a luxury train ride through India is one of the very best – not to mention comfortable – ways to explore this giant country.
On the Water in IndiaThere are many different ways to explore India from the water. From the much talked about Keralan backwater tours aboard a houseboat (often complete with not only a captain but also a cook and even a butler), to a romantic stay on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Kashmir (one of India’s most beautiful regions), to cruising down the holy river Ganges in style, picking a route can be a challenge. Covering different budgets and themes, river cruise itineraries can be created to pass by various different cultural landmarks on the banks, as well as stopping at shopping hubs, different ports and places of interest – there really is something for everyone.
Wellness in IndiaIndia has long been recognized as a centre for wellness and spa therapies. Whether it’s a yoga retreat high up in the Himalayas, an Ayurvedic spa in the lush, green confines of Kerala or a traditional ashram retreat in Rajasthan, India has countless options for R&R, and with so much to see and do, balance and wellbeing are key for an enjoyable trip.
Indian spa traditions naturally lift the spirits but the trick to a really life-enhancing spa experience is to pick the location of your treatment carefully. Urban spas abound and many are restorative, but the very best wellness centres tend to be in quiet locations, which allows for relaxation post-treatment too.
Ceremonial IndiaNot a year goes by without another celebrity couple tying the knot in India or throwing a lavish party at a palace. This is not surprising as the glamour of India lends itself perfectly to big celebrations. Honeymoon plans are made easy by the sheer range of luxury hotels and resorts that can be found in India. Anniversary or birthday parties and events – can be relaxing (perhaps at a spa resort in Goa or Kerala) or active (trekking or luxury safari) or themed around a festival or region. The options are endless. The main consideration is usually time and how to fit it all in and this is of course where expert Bespoke advice really comes into play…
Wildlife SafarisWhile India does not have the ‘big five’ to boast of like Africa, it does have enough to keep even the most demanding nature enthusiast happy. There are elephants, rhinos, reptiles, bears and wild dogs aplenty, while the elusive snow leopard sometimes makes an unexpected appearance in the Himalayas. Of course though, the one animal many come to India for is the elusive wild tiger.
It’s not all about the tiger though, did you know that the subcontinent has a bewildering 90,000 living species within it’s borders, including 1,250 kinds of birds? The top parks to visit to see some of these incredible creatures are Sasan-Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat (for Asiatic Lions, leopards, hyenas), Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan (for tigers, storks and temples) and Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh (for tigers, swamp deer, mongoose and leopards), to name just three. We think nothing beats the feeling of waking up in a luxury camp, grabbing a warm pashmina shawl, and setting off at dawn in a safari truck with the hope of seeing – an increasingly rare – tiger.
Beaches and IslandsThe best beaches in India tend to be on the west coast. It’s here you’ll find scenic and laid-back sandy coves like Varkala beach (around an hour north of Trivandrum in Kerala) as well as busy and bustling Kovalam which is not far away, and smaller beaches all down the coastline with views out over the Arabian Sea. One of the best is Marari beach on India’s southern-most tip as true barefoot luxury abounds here with luxury resorts and plenty of privacy. Other beaches worth travelling to include Chowpatty and Juhu beaches in Mumbai, which while not ideal for sunbathing, have a magical carnival atmosphere at night with hawkers selling food and families gathering.
There are also the secluded islands of Andaman or Nicobar and of course India’s most famous beach location of all – Goa – which has more or less replaced the beach-shacks built during it’s heyday of moonlit partying, and instead offers many plush resorts and boutique stays.
Adventures in IndiaTrekking in India has been popular for decades but it is only recently that smaller, boutique luxury hotels and lodges have been springing up with the international traveller in mind. Key spots to lace up your boots include Himachal Pradesh (much less touristy than Nepal), Sikkim and Ladakh, as well as smaller hill station towns and cities like Shimla and Mussoorie. Treks can be a very serious affair – with numerous porters, maps and days of planning required – or a mere gentle stroll at lower-elevations.
Mountain biking in the Himalayas, as well as through Kerala, has become increasingly popular as has motorbiking. Lastly, India may not be widely known as a skiing destination, but Manali and Kashmir can provide powder skiing along with the unique culture of an Indian holiday. The same northern regions of India also have the right conditions for whitewater rafting. Further south, Pune offers some parasailing experiences.
Sporting IndiaIn terms of sports in India, there are many outdoor adventure possibilities from skiing and snowboarding the country’s snow-capped Himalayan peaks, to diving and swimming in the southeastern and southwestern seas. However, it is not these pursuits that the majority of the population are interested in – what they are keen on, of course, is cricket, which for many is an obsession. There’s no doubt that catching a cricket match makes for a quintessential Indian sports experience.
Otherwise, the latest sports craze to hit India is the Indian Grand Prix, a motor race first held at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida (near New Delhi) in 2011. India’s sporting history though, goes back many, many years – in the princely states of Rajasthan elephant polo and horse riding have remained popular pursuits over the decades, while in the rich suburbs of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore nowadays it’s all about golf, tennis and country clubs.
Cultural IndiaJust being in India is a cultural experience in itself. On any street anywhere in the country, whether rural or urban, you will be surrounded by customs and heritage. This will usually take the form of a great diverse number of people (many in national dress), a hugely varied range of culinary experiences – from street food to cafes and restaurants and the music you will hear, which could be playing from a balcony or a rickshaw speaker. Then there are the designs you’ll see displayed on a woman’s sari or the works of art in sparkling new galleries, and the dance you’ll see at weddings or during holiday periods.
Each state has its own culture, and within that state the cities, towns and villages will also have their own identity played out through everyday life. With such a bewildering array of cultural choices on offer, it can sometimes help to theme a trip to India – which could be architecture, cookery or festivals.
Family TripsMany families choose to holiday in India. Goa and Kerala are the most popular choices as the swimming pools, beaches, wildlife and activities are often geared towards those with little-ones in tow. The north is perfectly doable too, but with a little more planning – the more touristy areas and large hotels of Rajasthan are perfectly used to looking after children and the different requirements that family groups request.
Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore all cater to children with theme parks, big outdoor parks, shopping malls and child-friendly restaurants. Elsewhere, Sri Lanka is a good alternative, and has a lot to offer families, from the fascinating historical sites of Sirgiya and Polonnaruwa, to tracking animals around the Minneriya National Park or the UNESCO World Heritage site of Anuradhapura.
Natural IndiaWhile India is home to over a billion people and is best known for it’s melting pot culture of crowds, colour and religious devotion, it is also an enormous land populated by giant animals, wild landscapes and exotic creatures.
To the south of the towering mountains of the Himalayas, lie the plains, divided by the Brahmaputra river. This is the natural habitat for the magnificent Indian Elephant, as well as exotic ‘red silk’ cotton trees, rare otters, endangered one-horned rhinoceros that all exist side by side in their unique ecosystem.
Many of the valleys of India, several of which are named after the river that runs through them, offer spectacular trekking as do the various hill stations that dot the lower Himalaya. The plateaus of India are often enormous table-like areas – the Deccan Plateau for example, spans eight Indian states and covers a wide range of habitats. Meanwhile, the forests are filled with real-life Jungle Book stories of tigers, predators and colourful birds.
Ultra-LuxeIndia excels at offering its jet-setting visitors a huge range of unique luxury holidays and experiences. With its grand hotels that span the country from north to south, its long tradition of hospitality and the genuine welcome extended to visitors, most needs, however luxurious and demanding, can usually be catered to. Whether it’s an exceptional wilderness experience in a luxury tented camp, uninterrupted views of the Taj Mahal, a drive around a Rajasthani city in a vintage car, private chefs and dining, or just sublime service from start to finish– it is all possible.
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