Alex Cancro, who works in our Luxury Custom Travel department, scouted India for us and reports back on how, where and why you should explore this fascinating subcontinent.
Custom Travel: India
Where should our guests start for unique experiences and destinations?
Mumbai and Delhi are two great places to start your journey. Both of these metropolitan cities have an abundance of history, culture and important sites that are not to be missed. Visit Gandhi’s house in Mumbai or see the dabbawalas—couriers on a legendary daily lunchbox delivery and return system—in action delivering hot meals all over the city. In Delhi learn about the daily prayers at the Jama Masjid or the Qutb Minar tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site. These are great gateway cities to start your trip before heading to the dynamic and rural communities of India.
Describe for us some can't-miss experiences and destinations in India.
Khajuraho is one stop that should be on your list when visiting India. These temples, built in 950 to 1050 A.D., were left under a forest of dense palm trees for many years before being excavated. Each temple is a living work of art that is still very much intact.
The sheer amount of detail and complexity these temples hold was hard to comprehend without the insight of our local guide. With his explanations, the temples truly started to come alive, each carving telling its own story.
This site is perfect for an overnight and day trip.
Describe what surprised you about India.
Everything about India blew me away. From the generosity of the people, the depth of devotion to their religions, the functional chaos of communities, the ubiquitous spectrum of opulence and poverty, or the overwhelming flavors of Indian cuisine, I quickly learned it is a country of extremes. The amount of activity going on around me at any given time during my trip was astounding, but it seemed to exude a type of rhythm at the same time. Regardless of your experiences in India, it will forever change you.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
The local street markets were my favorite part of my food introduction in India. Walking through the streets surrounded by spices, aromas and the brilliant colors, my guides explained each ingredient’s significance in the famous Indian dishes we all know and love. There were piles of garam masala, cumin, mustard seed, coriander, turmeric and ginger that had me craving them in each bite I tried. After experiencing authentic Indian food, I still believe it is some of the best in the world because of its remarkable flavors and simple ingredients.
You stayed in some remarkable properties—tell us about them.
The Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra was absolutely one of my favorite properties. With unobstructed views of the Taj Mahal, the hotel offers a select number of rooms with an unbeatable view from each one. Apart from being a stone’s throw away from the Taj, the service was unparalleled to anything I have experienced. The service staff was able to anticipate any need that I had during my stay, like providing coffee to my room as a wake-up call, lens cleaner for my glasses or personalized bags for my amenities. Each day they brought fresh fruit with turn down service and left notes checking in on me throughout the day. Everything was over-the-top wonderful.
My other favorite property was the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. Each room in the palace was different then the next and filled with local décor and more personalized gifts. Peacocks roam the property as you take your morning walk through the grounds while listening to the different calls of the birds. At times it felt like I was in the middle of the forest.
If you needed to put together an India itinerary for a guest who wanted to get away and relax, where would you send them?
I would suggest Udaipur, Leh, or Ranthambore. Each of these places is still very much alive with the aspects you would expect from India, but also offers facets that are relaxing while still powerful. Udaipur’s peacefulness stems from the lakes that surround the city complementing its ancient and slow-paced atmosphere.
Leh has the Himalayas whose vastness humble you in their presence, while Ranthambore has the incredible addition of tigers, adding to the abundance of wildlife. If you are looking for time to relax you will not be disappointed when visiting these cities.
Any tips you would give future travelers to India?
Plan ahead and arrange a guide for visiting tourist sites beforehand. I cannot speak more highly of the service I received and the incredible guides who made me feel like I was a local in a very foreign country.
In addition I recommend heading to India with an open mind. There are many preconceived notions of the country and its people, but those who allow themselves to take everything in with fresh eyes and an optimistic perspective, I believe will be delightfully surprised by what they might find.