Vibrant, tumultuous, welcoming, fascinating, rewarding, humbling – describing India in one word is far too difficult. It’s a huge and varied country, so our advice to first-timers would be to take on a manageable chunk and do it justice, with the understanding that you will be back for more.
Travel through India with an open mind and you’ll marvel at the assault on all your senses; from your first glimpse of a tiger in the wild to the colourful saris and striking red Rabari turbans, from the sound of the incessant blaring of car horns to the deafening silence of the Himalayas, from the smells of the overflowing spice baskets in the markets to the sewers in Agra.
It is a great shame that India is often overlooked as a destination for wildlife enthusiasts, as there are many unique and life-changing wildlife experiences on offer. Visitors to the majestic Ranthambore National Park can literally watch the Jungle Book play out live in front of them, with tigers, sloth bears and crocodiles entering stage left from behind crumbling forts before retreating deep in to the deciduous forest and picturesque lakes for refreshment and shade. Given our African safari background, we felt most at home under canvas at the beautiful and newly-renovated Sher Bagh which has the look and feel of a classic east African safari camp, whilst those looking for more of a minimalist/zen retreat will love the luxury wilderness retreat Aman-i-Kas. A chance to see leopards in the wild is the obvious draw for any one staying at Jawai Safari Camp in the beautiful Jawai Hills, but the dramatic scenery, sense of remoteness and the unquestionable spirituality of this corner of the sub-continent will also leave a deep impression.
A stay in a palace adds a very unique dimension to any itinerary to India – indeed, there are few places in the world where you can sleep alongside a Maharaja somewhere as decadent as the Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur. Two unmissable romantic moments on any Rajasthan itinerary would be a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal from the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra and a candlelit dinner on the roof terrace at the iconic Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur. It’s no secret that Indian cities are at times completely chaotic, so guests can restore restore their sense of calm within the palatial walls of the Taj Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and the extensive gardens at the Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur. Those who prefer their palaces a little ‘smaller’ will enjoy the well-established Samode Haveli or the vibrant Art Deco style of the newly-renovated Rajmahal Palace, both in Jaipur.
If you’re only going to do one City Palace tour in Rajasthan then make it Udaipur – it’s well-preserved and provides a fascinating insight into miniature art, the ladies’ life in ‘purdah’, plus it has the most magnificent views of the lake. In Jodhpur, contemporary design lovers will delight in stumbling through the 19th century doors into Raas, an oasis at the heart of the walled city with outstanding views of Mehrangarh Fort and holistic spa treatments on offer in their beautiful Ila spa. If you want to see the New and Old India literally rising up and crumbling down in front of your eyes then Delhi makes a fascinating stopover at the beginning or end of an itinerary, and here we were very impressed by the service, style, facilities and location of The Lodhi however if you prefer more of a ‘grande dame’ colonial style then we recommend The Imperial. Shoppers will be in heaven in the cities of Delhi, Jodphur and Jaipur alike (for our up-to-date shopping tips, please do get in touch).
It’s easy to spend long days on the road in India, ticking off the ‘must-see’ sights and packing in more temples than chai breaks. To catch your breath, we suggest a stop at Devi Garh, north of Udaipur, where you can soak up this 18th century palace’s historic ambience via a maze of courtyards and steep staircases, relax poolside and stretch your legs in the nearby Araveli Hills. Nature-lovers who appreciate the simplicity of sleeping under canvas will feel very at home at Chattra Sagar a peaceful lakeside tented retreat between Jaipur and Jodhpur where the Nimaj brothers, Harsh and Nandi, will spoil you with guided nature walks, hilltop sundowners, village visits and home-cooked Rajasthani food.
Spirituality is underlying in everything in India, it puts a smile on people’s faces and gives them a sense of optimism in their everyday lives, no matter what they do, or who they are. Up in the Himalayas you can retrace the footsteps of many an explorer, Buddhist follower and writer seeking adventure, enlightenment and solitude. The Shakti Village Walks tagline “Inner journeys…outdoors” resonates deeply with us and is to date one of our best travel experiences. The hiking can be as gentle or strenuous as you like, the main aim is to encourage you to slow down and appreciate the simplicity of life in the mountains. At Shakti Leti 360, guests can retreat to one of the four glass-sided cottages which are filled with natural light from sunrise to sunset and surrounded by jaw-dropping vistas. There are plenty of yoga and detox-focused retreats across the whole of India, such as the Ananda Spa and Vana Wellness Retreat in the Himalayas, and these can be easily included as a stand-alone retreat or pre and post an extended itinerary, please contact us for more information.