Having recently returned from India I am keen to go back again and again as I’m sure you will too! This amazing destination really does feature a continent within one country, the culture, food and experiences are completely different in each of the different states and regions. Distances are vast and traffic crazy, so please do ask about the best way to fit in everything you want to see. I work with some of the best ground handling companies and top operators in India who will perfect your trip and ensure that you are treated like royalty and everything runs smoothly!
There are experiences around every corner, huge varieties of culture, cuisine and scenery and India has long been a favourite travel destination for the British, with a long colonial history here. This is one of the world’s great civilisations and had thriving cities from as far back as 2500BC along the Indus River Valley. Spiritual inspiration has always been at the heart of India and with thousands of temples in all regions and the high Bhuddist monastaries in the Himalayas, this is a cultural journey like no other. Spas and yoga retreats can be found all over India. Make sure you at least make time for one massage or treatment during your journey!
When to go Climates obviously vary a lot from one side to another in India. Mostly the best time to visit is October to March when it’s comfortable during the day, with plenty of sun and cooler nights. May and June are very warm pre monsoon and rains are usually July – September. If you want to visit the wildlife parks plan in advance as they are closed for several months of the year. India does have a lot of festivals! This can impact on travel and transport but again, I can advise you when is best to fit around your own choice of dates.
Where to go Many people head for the well trodden tourist trails such as Kerala or Golden Triangle. But please delve under the surface of ‘tourist India’ and embrace everything that this colourful country has to offer! The best things on any holiday are not just the ‘material’ sites, forts, palaces or places but the interactions you will have with local people and the way you travel. One of the highlights for me was taking a rickshaw ride and walk through the chaos of Old Delhi – the smells of the spices and incense and the noise of the traffic and chatter all around made for a completely absorbing assault on the senses! You can travel by road, air, rail (the Indian train network is amazing and there are several luxury trains too such as the Maharjah’s Express or the Palace on Wheels.), rickshaw, tuk-tuk, camel or cow cart!
Rajasthan The deserts and forts of this north eastern region are like entering a different world …. travelling down the road you are constantly surrounded by motorbikes carrying at least 3 people (sometimes families of 5!), ox carts and polished tractors. There are dramatic mountains and hill forts, dotted with medieval ruins and places of worship. Experience the wealth and majesty of the ‘maharajas’ and meet local villagers and farmers along the way. Udaipur is an attractive town on Lake Pichola, Jodhpur (the blue city) which gained it’s wealth due to the location with the ‘Silk Road‘, and Jasisalmer home to the golden fort where camel safaris are popular. If you are visiting Rajasthan ask me to tailor a trip for you to include some of the desert camps and visit the farming villages which surround you. We stayed at Amanbagh which is a simply stunning North African style luxury hotel – a true oasis in the desert!
If you are looking for a conventional tour or to join an escorted group, a good place to start is the Golden Triangle. This comprises of Delhi, Jaipur (the pink city) and Agra with other stops in the deserts around Rajasthan. The Taj Mahal at Agra is of course probably one of the most iconic sites in India and it’s advisable to try and get there at first light, before the crowds, when the best views are to be had of this incredible piece of architecture.
Northern India – Himalayas Exlore the tea estates and toy trains into the Himalayan foothills or venture further into other countries and regions such as Nepal and Bhutan. It is possible to arrange ‘village to village’ hill walks in the north of India, where you have a local guide who takes you through the rural villages and forests to stay in peoples houses and really get to know the real India of this region. Watch how they weave textiles from Yak hair, gather food and crops from the forests and create their homes in the hills. Flying into Delhi, you can head north to Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs or into Himachal Pradesh and explore Shimla, the old British summer capital where you can see snow capped mountains from this ‘cool retreat’. If you want to stay in the town of Shimla, head to the Cecil Oberoi or in the cool forests at Wildflower Hall (where we stayed) which has a beautiful setting and an outdoor hot tub! Also in northern India you can experience diverse locations such as Lucknow (Indo-Persian culture), Varanasi (on the banks of the sacred Ganges river) and Khajuraho (from where you can access some of the wildlife of central India). Gujarat is a real ‘off the beaten track’ experience in the far north west bordering Pakistan. There are famous textiles produced here in the area of Kutch and a museum of textiles in Ahmedabad (state capital).
Central India Although you are in the heart of the country here, this is where you will find places that are least touched by the modern world. There are tribal groups of people living here, ancient forests and historial sites. Forts and palaces survive at Mandu and Ahily and there are cave paintings and archaeological sites in places like Pachmarhi. Flights into Mumbai (Bombay) on the western coast of India give access to a network of roads and trains into the centre of Maharashtra. On the southern edge of the Deccan plateau is Bangalore (now Bengaluru) known as the garden city and a fast growing business centre. Ancient forts and rock hewn temples can be found around Badami, Hyderabad and Hampi.
Eastern India Flying into Calcutta (India’s second largest city) it is recommended you spend a few nights here to experience the diverse culture where extreme poverty mixes with the monuments and universities. From here you can head into the far Eastern regions such as Darjeeling (with it’s tea plantations and colonial heritage) and Gangtok (Tibetan Buddhist culture and village walks). On the other side of Bangladesh is Assam and the far eastern regions of Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
Southern India is probably the best known to most British tourists with the ‘spice coast’ of Kerala being a popular destination. With it’s spice gardens, tea plantations and the tropical coastline full of seafood, this is a great ‘foodie’ holiday choice! Visit the backwaters and homestays to experience the rural charm and real side of Kerala and combine this with other parts of the south such as Cochin or Mysore. Flights into Chennai (Madras) on the east coast enable you to explore the old French coastal town of Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. The colonial buildings here and the baguettes and bakeries remind you of the colonial past but mixing with the modern Tamil traditions means you can enjoy spices and croissants watching over the Bay of Bengal!
Wildlife of India
India has an amazing range of terrain and habitat from the huge central plains and rivers to the mighty Himalaya mountains and the natural forests and reserves are home to an amazing variety of wildlife including plenty of options for tiger safaris. Corbett National Park lies in the Himalayan foothills and was the birthplace of ‘Project Tiger’ set up to preserve natural habitats in India. The vegetation here is dense and home to over 600 species of birds, wild elephants and hundreds of plant species.
Kaziranga National Park, the oldest in Assam, sits on the Brahmaputra river and protects the Indian one-horned Rhino. The park with it’s marshes and grasslands protects the Begal tigers too and is home to wild elephants, barasinghas and many birds. On the East Coast of India is Chilka Lake, a Ramsar wetland and large brackish lagoon.
The Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat is a spectacular coastal wetland for amazing birding holidays. Winter is the best time for birds here. The area was proclaimed a wildlife sanctuary in 1973 and protects the Indian Wild Ass, not found anywhere else in the world. In Sasan Gir National Park (south west Gujarat) is the last natural home of the endangered Asiatic lions. There are also leopards, hyenas, wild boar and over 250 species of birds.
Madhya Pradesh in Central India is a great place to visit several of India’s wildlife parks and reserves. Panna National Park is home to Bengal tigers, leopards and sloth bears and is full of lush forests, gorges and waterfalls. One of the best populations of tigers in India can be found in Bandhavgarh National Park, once a hunting reserve for the Maharajas this park now has large grasslands and also has Indian Bison, wild dogs and hyenas. One of India’s largest and most famous parks is Kanha (inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book). A ‘new kid on the block’ in the wildlife circuit is Satpura National Park, home to tigers, leopards and sloth bears and unique in that you can experience walking safaris here. Near the Satpura hills is a beautiful park rich in flora and fauna at Pench National Park. Cheetals, Sambar and Nilgai are regularly seen at the roadsides here.
Food and drink of India Food is a major attraction in India and you can enjoy cookery classes, homestays, shopping in markets and a mouthwatering range of local and regional specialities here. If you enjoyed Rick Stein’s India on BBC then get in touch and see where you can sample some amazing Indian food. There are homestays in Kerala and cookery classes all over India, so if you wanted to experience authentic regional Indian food ask me to tailor a culinary trip for you. You’ll be suprised to find that India also makes it’s own wine – it’s not bad either!
How to get there From the UK there are several direct flights (British Airways, Jet Airways, Virgin) and a few indirect. To Delhi is just over 8 hours, Mubai nearly 9, Calcutta just under 10 and about 10 hours to Chennai. UK passport holders do need a visa for entry to India (which is quite a complicated process!), this is obtained before travel and details will be given to you when you book.
So what are you waiting for? Get in touch and let me plan your trip of a lifetime to ‘Incredible India!’
We have just returned from a thrilling holiday in India – thanks to Travel With Jules. Notwithstanding our limited budget, Jules found us an amazing Rajasthan tour – fifteen nights of four star accommodation and comfortable travel at budget prices. She paid meticulous attention to all aspects of our trip, kept us fully informed throughout the process, and looked after us virtually until we got on the plane! We cannot praise her highly enough, and will go nowhere else in future when planning and booking our holidays. Thank you so much Jules! Jenny Labbett & Allan Williams (travelled as part of a G-Adventures group tour with a tailor made few days in Sikkim)
Jenny Labbett – India (March 2012)
“What to do for our Silver Wedding Anniversary? Was the question we asked each other numerous times, “How about India” said I, and so the seed of anticipation was sown… Now to find someone to organise this trip of a lifetime for us – you see we’d never been on holiday on our own since our honeymoon to Tenerife and so we are very inexperienced travellers. We looked at a few major Travel Agents, but they only catered for group travel, then we stumbled across Jules’s website and an email was duly sent. A day or so later came the reply and so started our conversations and tweeking of our itinerary. Jules designed our holiday around us, taking on board everything we said we wanted to do and see and tried to include everything within our budget, after too’ing and fro’ing our completed itinerary arrived by email and on the 6th November 2012 we embarked on the Holiday of a lifetime to India. Without our knowledge, Jules had also informed the Cecil Oberoi that we were celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary and they treated us like royalty!
I cannot recommend Travel with Jules highly enough, she takes the time to listen to what you want, how much you have to spend and will fit your holiday around your requirements. Look no further than Travel with Jules for your special holiday.
Neal & Mandy- India (November 2012)
A small group walking holiday in Southern India – five nights camping, spice gardens, houseboats, Cochin and tea and coffee plantations.
A gorgeous luxury oasis in the desert of Rajasthan! Experience the true rural hospitality of India in this amazing location. Spa, yoga, pools, village trips and history.
Cycle coast to coast in southern India with this small group adventure holiday. Explore Kerala and Tamil Nadu staying in a variety of accommodation.
Palace on Wheels is India’s famous ‘hotel on wheels’ sightseeing rail journey! Visit Delhi and the Golden Triangle, the Taj Mahal and a Tiger reserver, plus take the Toy Train into the foothills of the Himalayas.
The long awaited first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix to India took place in 2011 and the stadium is fast growing to host other sports. Combine F1 with a holiday to India!
Travel to India and experience the wonderful wildlife reserves, jungles and grasslands that were inspirational to the ‘Jungle Book’ on a fabulous Tiger Safari – tailor made or group tours, let me know what suits you best.