|Over 5,000 years ago, the Indus Valley was home to one of the world's earliest civilizations. In the following centuries, many would attempt to unite the subcontinent's disparate regions under different religious or imperial banners. Buddhism and Hinduism, both founded in India, powered two of the early empires. Muslims began invading in the 11th century, and eventually founded the long-ruling Mughal Dynasty. In the 17th and 18th centuries, explorers and traders from Portugal, France and Holland began establishing coastal communities in Pondicherry and along the Malabar Coast. But it was the British who would lay claim as imperial rulers following the decline of the Mughals at the end of the 18th century. India finally gained a difficult independence in 1947. Religion is an integral part of daily life in India, creating a tapestry of festivals and feasts throughout the year.
For most Indians, religion permeates every aspect of life, from mundane chores to education and politics. Hinduism is practiced by 80% of the population. Islam is the second most prominent religious group with Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and numerous other religious traditions also practiced.
Indian cuisine is as rich and diverse as the people, with everything from strict vegetarian food to meals made of fresh game. But there are three basic regional groups-northern, southern, and eastern. Flour-based flatbreads such as chapatis and rotis are the staple in the North, rice in the South and East. In northern India, Kashmiri, Mughlai and Rajasthani influences dominate. Mughlai cuisine, literally "fit for royalty," features rich sauces and butter-based curries, tangy shorba (soup), ginger roast meats, and sweets such as rose petal and syrup strewn kulfi (ice cream). Rajasthan cuisine reflects the often harsh desert conditions of the region and the warrior lifestyle of the Rajput people-fresh game and fowl and various dals (lentil, bean and grain-based soups) and achars (preserves). Southern Indian food tends to be roasted or steamed and often quite spicy. Coconut and curry are common ingredients throughout with regional specialties such as chilies in Andhra and tamarind in Tamil. In eastern India, Bengali and Assamese cuisine uses an abundance of seafood, chutneys and desserts based on milk products such as cottage cheese.
Travel in India
India is a complex kaleidoscope of landscapes and cultures: sandstone forts and elaborately carved temples, parched deserts and a holy river, colorful festivals and chaotic cities. The immense-and immensely diverse-grand vistas, vast history and day-to-day idiosyncrasies never fail to fascinate visitors.
Our recommended luxury tours of India include cosmopolitan destinations such Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay), the palaces and sandstone fortresses of Rajasthan, luxury retreats and spas in the Himalayas and Kerala, Goa's Portuguese architecture and beach resorts, and important spiritual and pilgrimage destinations such as the holy Ganges River in Varanasi, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the temples of Khajuraho.
Tours in Delhi
New Delhi, a city of government, commerce, industry and grand monuments, is representative of the modern face of India. It offers tree-lined streets, beautiful gardens and parks, and some of the best shopping in India. Its walled counterpart is Old Delhi, boasting a 3,000-year old history. Old Delhi remains crammed with motorized rickshaws and cows in narrow streets, and chaotic bazaars selling spices, jewelry, textiles, metalwork and more. Marvel at the towering Qutb Minar and at the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan. Stroll through the Jantar Mantar (open-air observatory), the sacred tomb of Sheikh Nizamuddin Aulia (a Sufi saint) and the garden tomb of Humayun (a Mughal Emperor). Escape the teeming streets to visit Rajghat (the park where Gandhi was cremated) and the peaceful Lodi Gardens (a favorite retreat for wealthy Delhi resident, the gardens are sprawling and dotted with crumbling 15th-century tombs). Delhi offers great shopping, with quality products from all over the country. Most hotels have impressive art galleries and boutiques. We also recommed Connaught Place and Palika Bazaar, Khan Market and Sundar Nagar Market (for antiques and unique crafts), the New Friends Colony for beautiful housewares, Santushti Shopping Complex (upscale shops and boutiques), Khan Market (fashionable clothing), and Hauz Khas Village (a suburban shopping "village" of high end restaurants and small boutiques featuring clothes, jewelry and gifts created by leading Indian designers).
Recommended luxury hotels in Delhi include The Imperial New Delhi, The Oberoi New Delhi, and The Taj Mahal New Delhi.
Tours in Agra
Agra's main attraction is the spectacular Taj Mahal-one of the most beautiful examples of Mughal architecture in India. Despite being such a familiar icon, travelers are always impressed to see the Taj in person and realize the intricacy of its marblework and the inlaid gems. It truly is a grand sight and the grandest monument to love. Agra also offers other attractions, somewhat overshadowed by the Taj, including the splendid Agra Fort complex, the Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb (it inspired the architecture of the Taj), and Sikandra (Emperor Akbar's Tomb). Agra is also a great place to shop for marble and jewelry-much of India's gem cutting is done here-and for elaborate zardori embroidery, rugs, leather goods and brassware. Sadar Bazaar and Fatehabad Road (shopping areas around the Taj Complex) offer interesting opportunities.
The red sandstone, abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri makes for an interesting day excursion or stop on the way to Rajasthan. There, walk among the ruins of ornate pavilions, the hall of audiences, the harem, and the beautifully carved marble tombs of Sufi saints.
Our preferred luxury hotel in Agra is The Oberoi Amarvilas
Tours in Rajasthan
Rajasthan, the "Land of Princes," is our most popular and most recommended travel destination in India. It's the best region to experience luxurious palace hotels, wonderful folk and tribal arts (including Rajasthani pottery, textiles, jewelry, miniature paintings, wood carvings and more), Mughal gardens and reflecting pools, ancient fortresses and desert towns, camel safaris, Jain temples, romantic restaurants on lakes, and exhilarating tiger safaris. Visit fairytale forts, palaces and mansions set against the backdrop of the desert; take boat rides on shimmering lakes; enjoy spa treatments after game viewing in a national park; and enjoy some of the country's best dining and shopping.
Enchanting Jaipur -- often called the "Pink City" because of its terracotta colored walls -- teems with bazaars, street stalls, palaces, and museums. Ride an elephant to Amber Fort. Visit the Palace of the Winds, the City Palace and the Diwan-i-Am (a fantastic collection of miniatures, manuscripts, carpets), the magnificent Jantar Mantar (the world's largest medieval observatory), and Jaipur's bazaars. Jaipur is India's capital for precious and semi-precious stones as well as the region's main crafts center. Shop for jewelry, enamel and brassware, Jaipur's blue pottery, rugs, traditional saris, embroidered footwear and more.
Our preferred luxury hotels in Jaipur are the beautiful converted palace hotel, Rambagh Palace, and the serene Oberoi Rajvilas located on the outskirts of the city.
Two famous national parks are within easy driving distance from Jaipur: Bharatpur-Keoladeo Ghana (home to the largest variety of birdlife in Asia) and Ranthambore National Park. Enjoy a luxury wildlife and tiger safari while staying at the decadent Aman-i-Khas or Oberoi Vanyavilas, two of India's premier luxury safari camps.
Just and hour and a half from Jaipur, the Alwar region is located in a serene and untouched valley in the Aravali Hills in the heart of India’s Golden Triangle. Here, enjoy off-the-beaten path touring with a jeep safari to a local village to meet the community, explore abandoned ruins nearby, take hikes or walks through the countryside to visit local attractions, or practice yoga at sunrise in a beautiful setting.
Our preferred property in this area is the luxurious Amanbagh Resort—a stunning hotel that is an oasis in the Rajasthan desert.
Jodhpur -- called the "Blue City" for the light blue color of the Brahmin houses -- is home to impenetrable fortresses (Mehrangarh Fort), marble palaces (Umaid Bahawan Palace), temples, narrow streets and busy markets. Less hectic than Jaipur, it is a major export center for handicrafts and furniture, and offers some of India's most interesting shopping. Jodhpur is also the departure point for Bikaner and the Shekhawati region, best known for the open air paintings that decorate the exterior and interior walls of hundreds of havelis (intricately carved mansions), forts and temples. From Jodhpur it is also relatively easy to reach Jaisalmer, a city that enchants travelers with its timeless atmosphere. Jaisalmer is a giant sandcastle of a city on the edge of the desert. Explore beautiful havelis, Jain and Hindu temples, and perhaps take a camel ride-or a jeep-into the Thar Desert to visit traditional villages and walk the dunes at sunset while a lone flute or drum player can be heard in the distance. Jaisalmer is renowned for exquisite embroidery, mirrorwork textiles and wool rugs, often found in the Bhatia Market near the fort.
Select palace hotels such as the Umaid Bhawan Palace are recommended for deluxe travelers in this region.
Romantic Udaipur is one of our favorite Indian cities. Perched over Lake Pichola, the city is a great place to explore at leisure. Whitewashed homes with bright pastel colors will have you wanting to take photographs each step of the way. Dine on rooftops. Walk through the gardens of the palaces. Shop for folk art. Take a sunset boat ride on Lake Pichola. Enjoy an unforgettable meal at one of the restaurants at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, right in the middle of Lake Pichola. Enjoy spa treatments at the Oberoi Udaivilas. Walk along the narrow streets lined with craft workshops and buy miniature paintings, furniture, block prints and batik textiles. Take excursions to nearby Jain temples in Ranakpur, Kumbhalgar Fort, Eklingji and Nagda Temples (lovely marble temples), and Nathdwara (one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India). Chittaurgarh Fort can also be visited as a rather long day trip. Other nearby places include Dungarpur's Palaces (Rajasthan's best art, housed in a fortress), Udai Bilas Palace (with Art Deco furnishings), and the hill station of Mount Abu.
The Oberoi Udaivilas, Lake Palace Hotel and select palace hotels such as Devi Garh are highly recommended for luxury travelers in Udaipur
Tours of Mumbai (Bombay)
Bombay , renamed Mumbai in 1996, is a city pulsing with activity. Best known for Bollywood Cinema, other highlights include Fort and Flora Fountain (the city's commercial heart, bustling with small shops), trendy Kemps Corner (exclusive boutiques and restaurants), Malabar Hill (a district with old stone mansions), shopping and people watching in Bombay's markets such as Chor Bazaar, Zaveri (jewelry) Bazaar, and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (Crawford Market). Many of the city's newest and trendiest shops and restaurants are found in Juhu Beach, a popular suburb on the coast suburb between Bombay and the airport. A highly recommended side trip is a visit by private boat (40 minutes) to the Elephanta Island Caves (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) filled with Hindu sculptures.
Mumbai is the gateway to Aurangabadand the Ellora and Ajanta Caves (both World Heritage sites), some of the finest historical sites in India. Hindu Ellora features remarkable reliefs, sculptures and architecture. Buddhist Ajanta contains carvings and sculptures depicting the life of Buddha, and is considered the beginning of classical Indian art.
Recommended luxury hotels in Mumbai ( Bombay) include The Taj Mahal Hotel and The Oberoi, Mumbai.
Tours in Varanasi
India's most sacred city and religious center, Varanasi is one of the world's oldest and holiest cities, known for its ancient universities, temples and shrines, silks, and, most of all, ceremonies taking place on the ghats (steps) along the holy Ganges River. Cruising the river at dawn is an unforgettable experience. According to Hindu beliefs, the "City of Light"-as Varanasi is known-is where the devout can break the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and attain nirvana. Pilgrims come to wash away their sins in the Ganges. Devotees bathe, meditate, and perform ancient salutation to the Sun god. Widowers come here for sanctuary. The dead are cremated on the river, hence the "burning bodies" of Varanasi. Varanasi is an intense destination, but also one of India's most important destinations and well worth a visit to better understand Indian culture, religions, and philosophies about life. A visit to Sarnath, a short distance from the city, is also recommended-this is where Buddha gave his first sermon. We recommend a detour of several days flying to the spectacular temples of Khajuraho.
Although our published tours include destinations of great artistic, cultural and scenic importance -- and also offer excellent luxury hotels -- we also recommend traveling to more remote destinations in India if you have more time to do so, or have been to India previously. Perhaps visit Amritsar (the Golden Temple is the Sikh religion's most sacred place), Kolkata (formerly Calcutta, still the intellectual heart of India), Darjeeling (journey by World Heritage toy train to the foothills of Himalayas), Orissa (superb folk art, daily markets, and tribal villages), Tamil Nadu (sacred cities, French former colonies, and the wealthiest temples in the world), Kerala (cruise the waterways, enjoy great vegetarian cuisine, and relax at spas), Bangalore (visit chic shops in this vibrant city) Hampi and Mysore. Hyderabad is steeped in history, and is one of India's most modern and exciting cities. Visit the Himalayan hill station of Mussoorie. Adventurous travelers may wish to visit the Buddhist state of Ladakh (known as Little Tibet) and Sikkim. It's also very easy to combine India with Bhutan or an excursion to Kathmandu in Nepal. We are happy to customize tours anywhere on the Indian Subcontinent to suit individual travel interests.