Our wonderful travel manager Nicki recently came back from a tour of India, courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent. Read on to find out what she loved, recommends and top tips for touring this amazing country…
I was lucky enough to tick a trip to India off my bucket list courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent on a luxury small tour for travel agents.
After an 8 hour flight direct from Heathrow we arrived in Delhi at midnight, but from the plane you could see that the city was still very much awake, with streams of vehicles still on the streets. Passport and visa checks were quick thanks to the new e visa scheme that you get pre departure so before long we were headed for the city centre.
Luxury Escorted India Tour
My home for the next 3 nights was the 5 star Leela Hotel in the diplomatic area of New Delhi. This is an opulent palace style hotel with first class service throughout. The hotel features Delhi’s only roof top infinity pool, which is the perfect vantage point to understand the scale and greenness of the city and help you escape your jet lag. I also experienced their luxury spa where I had a traditional massage.
From the Lothi Hotel, which is great for families with plunge pools on every balcony, to the traditional Imperial Hotel which is like a living gallery with an extensive colonial art collection to the luxury Taj and Oberoi properties I can verify that the food in Delhi’s hotels was first class. Try the taster menu at the Spice Route Restaurant in the Imperial Hotel for fabulous Pan Asian food in an iconic painted temple style setting.
To fully experience the contrasts of Delhi we took a tour of the main sights of New Delhi which eased us into the commotion of the city, with tuk tuks, trucks and cars all competing noisily for space on the road. We drove past India gate, the presidential palaces, consulates and gardens to understand the role that Britain played in India’s rich history, and saw the influences that different cultures and religions have had on the architecture and city.
One of my highlights of the trip was a rickshaw ride though old Delhi. The sounds, sights and smells were an assault on all your senses. We had a very entertaining guide who was able to navigate us through the crowded alley ways, and narrate the experience with stories of the history and richness of this overcrowded part of the city. Our tour guide did not recommend we tried the vast array of street food but the smells were certainly varied and inviting.
In total contrast we had lunch at the recently refurbished Oberoi Hotel which is a high tech climate controlled property overlooking the golf course. The rooms are all light and airy with full height picture windows. iPads in your room allow you to make full use of the hotel’s facilities or for the less technically minded there is a butler on call. A unique service that the hotel offers is complimentary fresh popcorn delivered to your room whenever you watch a film. There is a rooftop bar overlooking the city which is understandably popular with locals and residents.
In the afternoon we visited both a Hindu and a Sikh temple and observed 2 very different styles of religion which are both thriving. Remember to take a scarf to cover your head and make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
After an early start and a 3.5 hour luxury minibus transfer we arrive at Agra. The air-conditioned coach with water and sweets provided allows you to fully enjoy the sights and sounds enroute, from Tuk tuks to camels and elephants there is always something to amaze you. Our driver also had a never ending supply of hand sanitiser which we were encouraged to use every time we returned to the vehicle.
Our first stop was the spectacular Red fort which dominates the area and gives a glimpse of the wonder that is the Taj Mahal in the distance. The Red Fort is where Emperor Shah Jahan ruled and where he vowed to make the perfect mausoleum for his 3rd wife who died in childbirth, this promise led to the commissioning and building of the magnificent Taj Mahal. The Red Fort itself is a vast and very well-preserved example of life in India in the 16th century.
Agra itself is a traditional settlement built along the road that links the Red Fort and the Taj and it was at a local restaurant the Salt Cafe that we had lunch. The restaurant was recommended by our hosts Abercrombie & Kent who regularly inspect the places that they suggest for eating to ensure both culinary and hygiene standards are maintained. It was great to try more local cuisine with the added bonus of a glimpse of the Taj Mahal in the distance.
The highlight however for us all was the magnificent Taj Mahal and upon entering from beneath the arches you are met with the most beautiful building I have ever seen. It is constructed from pure white marble which glistens in the sun light and pictures do not convey its vastness and size. Sunset and sunrise are obviously very popular times to visit but at any time you will be in awe of the beauty and marvel at the intricate marble work that was created over 500 years ago. Inside the Taj are the final resting places of the Emperor Shah Jahan and his third wife Mumtaz who he built the spectacular mausoleum for.
Make sure you allow plenty of time to get the perfect picture and if it is a special occasion stay at the Taj Oberoi where you will be able to enjoy unlimited sunrise and sunset views of the Taj in luxury.
The advantage of having a comfortable coach was apparent as our journey from Agra to Jaipur took 6 hours with a stop at a local restaurant at Umaid Lake Palace-Dausa for lunch. This gave us all an insight into more traditional Indian Cuisine and the opportunity to visit a local school project.
Jaipur is called the Pink City with most of the buildings in the old city built in rose/terracotta stone. It is a bustling and vibrant town full of a wide array of local shops and bazaars.
It is also home to The Palace of the Winds and City Palace which houses a great collection of clothes and textiles. Make sure you visit the Jantar Mantar Observatory which contains enormous 18th century astronomical instruments including a sundial that tells the time to minute accuracy.
For spectacular views of the surrounding lakes and countryside take a jeep safari to the hilltop Nahargarh Fort, we saw both camels and elephants on route. If you need somewhere to stay or eat for a celebration, the Rambagh Palace provides the most opulent Palace style setting with amazing food and service.
Make sure you try a traditional Thali whilst you are in India which allows you to experience various dishes served on a large platter. There were excellent vegetarian options wherever we dined.
The perfect place to relax after the hustle and bustle of a Golden Triangle tour is the lake side town of Udaipur, an hour’s flight from Jaipur in the heart of Rajasthan. The town has a relaxed resort feel with a great variety of hotels, the most spectacular being on the banks of Lake Pichola.
The 5 star hotels on the lake are approached by private water taxi giving any arrival a feel of luxury. We stayed at the Leela Palace which has a spectacular pool and spa area to relax in after a mornings sightseeing.
The Leela Palace, the Lake Palace or the Oberoi Udaivillas would be the perfect setting to end a honeymoon or special occasion trip in style. If your budget doesn’t stretch to staying on the water a sunset cruise would be a romantic experience not to be missed.
Enjoy Udaipur’s City Palace which is a collection of eleven palaces and gardens overlooking the lake or take a trip out to the ancient temples of Eklingi and Nagda and see the lushness of Rajistahans countryside. For lunch try the Raas Devigarh, an 18th century Palace that has been converted into a boutique hotel with traditional architecture blending with modern, minimalistic designs and luxury. Here you combined both spectacular views and spectacular cuisine, perfect for a long lazy lunch.
Sadly Udaipur was the end of my Indian adventure so after an hours flight back to Delhi I started my journey home. India had exceeded all my expectations, with not only some of the most iconic sights but first class accommodation and food provided by the most friendly and positive people. Culturally and spiritually I felt energised and definitely want to explore this amazing country further.
Call us on +44 (0)1730 711010 or email [email protected] to book your dream tour of India.
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