TransIndus Indian Subcontinent Tailor-Made e-Brochure

India S r i L a n k a | B h u t a n | N e p a l | M a l d i v e s

Tailor-made

Ta i l o r - m a d e H o l i d a y s b y T r a n s I n d u s

Welcome to TransIndus

region than I’d have gained if I’d spent my afternoons relaxing by the pool (though I did a fair bit of that too, it has to be said!).

Welcome to our new brochure for the Indian Subcontinent!

Since the last one was published, TransIndus has been through a period of sustained growth and development, with a new look to our website and several talented new people added to the team at our HQ in Ealing. Our offerings for each for the five countries covered in the following pages – India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives – have also broadened considerably. Over the past few years our clients have been asking us more and more to provide experiences that help them deepen their understanding of the countries they visit with us. Which is why, along with a brace of lovely, new places to stay in gorgeous locations, we have included in this brochure ideas for memorable, interactive things to do between all those dreamy landscapes and monuments. Numerous examples of what I mean featured on a recent journey to the Malabar Coast in northern Kerala, which I undertook with ‘Our Man in Ernakulam’, Sinna, whom many of our regular clients will remember. What a revelation the trip was. In the course of ten days we visited schools where local youngsters were taught Kathakali dance, experienced fabulous masked spirit-possession rituals in village temples, learned how to make a celebratory ‘sadya’ meal with a local chef, and helped haul a fishing boat ashore on a deserted beach. Interacting with local people in such ways left a much more rounded impression of the

Leaf through the pages of this brochure and you’ll find dozens of similarly inspiring experiences on offer across the Indian Subcontinent, ranging from archery lessons in a Bhutanese village to a cookery workshop in the home of a Bohri family in downtown Mumbai. After a period of political turbulence, we’re also delighted that Sri Lanka is very much open for business again – a fact we celebrate with some special new experiences, such as mask making with a master craftsman and monkey spotting with a primatologist in the ruins of ancient Polonnaruwa! Thirty years after we sent our first clients to India, the Subcontinent continues to enthral and astonish – and there really aren’t many places in the world you can say that about these days!

From myself and all the TransIndus team, we wish you happy, enriching travels in 2020 and beyond.

Amrit Singh - MD

Contents Welcome to TransIndus Introduction to India The Golden Triangle Rajasthan Train Travel in India North & Central India Indian Wildlife Indian Himalayas

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Introduction to Sri Lanka Colombo & the Cultural Triangle Kandy & the Hill Country Jaffna & the North Sri Lankan Wildlife Galle & the South Coast Sri Lanka’s East Coast Planning your trip to Sri Lanka Maldives Bhutan Nepal Family Holidays How to Book Responsible Travel

128 - 129 130 - 135 136 - 141 142 - 143 144 - 149 150 - 155 156 - 159 160 - 161 162 - 165 166 - 183 184 - 203 204 - 205 206 - 207 208 - 209

10 – 21 22 - 33 34 - 35 36 - 47 48 - 57 58 – 67 68 – 81 82 - 83 84 - 97 98 - 111 112 - 125 126 - 127

East & Northeast India River Cruising in India

West India South India Kerala The Andamans

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Planning Your Holiday Let’s Have a Chat It all starts with an informal conversation – either over the phone, or face- to-face at our London office – in which we’ll gain a sense of your precise requirements. We want to know whether you are dreaming of a cultural trip highlighting historic monuments and the arts, or a nature-based one with wildlife as its focus. If there is a particular hotel that you like the look of, or there is a certain style of accommodation that you prefer, let us know so that we can incorporate this in your holiday. An idea of your budget is important too so that we can provide the best possible holiday experience within what you’re willing to spend. The Itinerary Once we’ve spoken, we will put together an itinerary taking into account everything we have discussed. This itinerary will then be refined over the course of further conversations until you’re completely happy with every detail of your trip and are ready to book. Preparing to Travel Three weeks before you go, we’ll send you detailed travel documents, which will include a lot of useful information for your journey. In the days leading up to your departure, we’ll be on hand to talk through your trip in greater detail, advising on sightseeing priorities, the best places to eat, shop and experience local culture. We’re here to help at every step along the way. How to Get inTouch Phone 020 8566 3739

Why Travel With TransIndus

Email enquiries@transindus.com Address 75 St Mary’s Road, Ealing, London W5 5RH

Your Journey. Our Expertise. The TransIndus team regularly travel to their specialist regions to keep abreast of the latest developments, and are passionate about sharing their discoveries. We understand that our customers place great value on their holidays and we will be with you every step of the way, helping you make the best choices at the planning stage, and ensuring things run smoothly while you’re away. Over 30 Years of Experience With decades of experience designing journeys and a wealth of travel knowledge and local contacts, we are able to create trips of the highest quality, featuring the most desirable destinations and memorable activities. This expertise, backed by gold-standard customer service, has ensured our company generates satisfaction ratings of 99%. Over half our clients travel more than once with us, or else have been referred by family and friends. With You on Your Journey While you are away travelling, a local TransIndus representative will be close by should any queries or problems arise. We’ll always include local contact information in your travel documents, and of course, someone at our London office will be contactable 24/7 on a dedicated emergency number.

Flexibility Travelling tailor-made instead of opting for an off-the-peg tour gives you much greater flexibility. Although every country and subregion has its unmissable highlights, there’s rarely a single route around them. You may have specific interests, which you’d like to pursue, or a list of less well-known destinations that you’d like to include. And our team of specialists are here to recommend an itinerary that encompasses all of this and more. Sound Advice We want our clients to enjoy not just a revitalizing, inspirational holiday, but return home feeling that they have had a genuine insight into the countries visited. We achieve this by recommending destinations that may not feature in guidebooks and favouring lesser-known gems. If a particular coastal resort has grown too crowded, we’ll suggest an alternative and we know the best monuments, nature sanctuaries and lunch stops to include on days of travel. Smooth Travel We’ll take care of your required international and domestic flights, make all your transport arrangements in advance, and even discuss meal plans with you, so that all you need to do is enjoy your trip.

Financial Protection All our clients are financially protected. When booking with TransIndus, you can rest assured that, should your travel arrangements be disrupted by circumstances beyond your control, you will be looked after. Flight inclusive holidays are covered by our Air Travel Organiser’s License (ATOL 3429) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), while those without flights are protected by our financial bond with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA V0709). In addition, we are proud members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), whose ‘Client’s Charter’ assures you receive the highest standards of service.

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ABTA No.V0705

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Essential Travel Information

Passport & Visa Information All travellers are required to hold a passport valid for at least six months after the return date of their trip. It should also be endorsed with all the visas required for your journey and it is solely the traveller’s responsibility to obtain correct visas for travel. Your TransIndus consultant will provide you with the relevant information required for you to obtain your visa and Travcour is our preferred partner for all visa-related services. They will be able to assist you with the application process if you need. Visit www.travcour.com for more information. Travel Insurance All travellers are required to take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy providing financial protection from the time of your booking to the end of the holiday, including the journey to and from your destination. If you need help obtaining cover you can contact Holiday Extras, our insurance partners, on their free UK helpline at 0800 093 1900 quoting reference TRANSINDUS for a quotation. Please note: TransIndus is not responsible in any respect if you fail to arrange appropriate cover for your entire holiday.

International Flights We work with a number of airlines to ensure the best possible route for your journey and we will only work with those with a reliable reputation. Where possible we will always suggest using a direct service although indirect flights via the Middle East are also available for those looking to do a stop- over en route. All holiday prices are based on economy class flights, unless requested otherwise, but upgrades are available. Guides & Driver Chauffeur-driven, air-conditioned cars are our preferred mode of transportation, as they allow you to make more frequent stops along the way – though you may well need to add some domestic flights to cover longer distances on your itinerary. All the holidays we arrange are accompanied by a knowledgeable, qualified English-speaking local guide, who will be available to you 24/7. Food Discovering regional specialities is one of the great joys of travelling around Asia, and there is a great diversity across the Indian Subcontinent. Whether it be the refined Mughlai cuisine in north India or delicate coconut-based, fresh seafood dishes in the south, we encourage you to sample authentic local food wherever possible. All our recommended local restaurants are tried and tested. If you have particular dietary requirements or suffer from an allergy of any sort, do let us know so that we can ensure hotels and restaurants cater for you.

Fitness to Travel & Special Requirements All sightseeing excursions and transfers require some walking over short distances on easy ground. Monuments, places of interest and ancient sites may include more walking, occasionally on uneven ground or inclines. While most of the Indian Subcontinent is very accessible and a great deal of assistance can be sought, it is essential that you advise us of any mobility limitations in walking or of any special requirements so we can advise you correctly and help you choose the right holiday. Health Advice It is advisable to check if there are any recommended vaccinations for your destination. Please consult your doctor at least six weeks prior to departure, and bear in mind that some vaccinations require several doses for effective cover. Information is also available online at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk. Foreign Office Travel Advice The FCO monitors safety and security issues all over the world and offers guidance to travellers via their website: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice We follow the FCO advice and may have to re-route, cancel or postpone certain trips to comply with their recommendations. If we are forced to make changes to your itinerary or cancel the visit altogether we will contact you to discuss options. World Travel & Cultural Differences Local culture, lifestyle, attitudes and infrastructure in your chosen destination may be very different from what you are used to at home. Most of us travel precisely to experience these differences, but even so, they can sometimes create inconvenience, especially if they impact your travel arrangements. We therefore suggest that if anything should not go strictly to plan on your trip, you try to keep an open mind, make allowances for cultural differences and seek assistance from our local representatives, who are ideally placed to resolve any concerns you may have.

Accommodation Finding great places for our clients to stay is at the heart of what we do and we go to great lengths to find the loveliest hotels and guest houses. Landmark luxury hotels, particularly those with a colonial-era pedigree, are perennial favourites among our clients, but we also favour smaller heritage and boutique properties, and if a new hotel opens, our team will know if it’s worth staying there and which its best rooms are. We check the quality of every property to ensure they meet our exacting standards for cleanliness, service delivery, health and safety. In remote regions and destinations where tourism is still in its infancy, availability of rooms can be limited but we nevertheless endeavour to always use the best accommodation available. Throughout this brochure, we’ve highlighted hotels and guest houses that stand out from the crowd, offer exceptional service and represent great value for money. More of our preferred accommodation options appear on our website.

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India

Srinagar

Leh

Jammu

Manali

Dharamsala

Amritsar

Shimla

Chandigarh

Rishikesh

Corbett

Nainital

Nepal

New Delhi

India has enthralled travellers for thousands of years and its modern incarnation, home to nearly one fifth of the world’s people, remains a country of incomparable fascination. Where else is it possible to attend mass bathing rituals at sunrise performed to verses composed at the time Stonehenge was still in use? Or listen to sitar music on a palace rooftop before wandering around a Mughal tomb garden in the moonlight? Every day in India can yield memories that will last a lifetime. You just need to know where to find them. Which is where we come in.

Bikaner

Bhutan

Dibrugarh

Tawang

Gangtok

Alwar

Khimsar

Dirang

Kathmandu

Itanagar

Thimphu

Jaisalmer

Samode Jaipur

Darjeeling

Jodhpur

Agra

Kaziranga

Lucknow

Shillong Guwahati

Kohima

Ranthambore

Pushkar

Kanpur

Gwalior

Ranakpur

Deogarh

Patna

Kota

Orchha

Udaipur

Imphal

Panna Khajuraho

Bangladesh

Varanasi

Bodhgaya

out. Whatever your interests – whether wildlife, textiles, music or food – we’ll ensure you and whoever you are travelling with find inspiration at every turn. To give a sense of what you might expect, we’ve set out some examples in the following pages of the kind of experiences we often recommend. Our aim is two-fold: to inspire and provide insight into local life. So as well as the famous landmarks, we might suggest a visit to a little-known marigold market or temple workshop where deities are fashioned from clay, or an evening performance of classical dance somewhere atmospheric. We’ve also showcased some of our favourite properties in India – places we think define the TransIndus experience, from Himalayan tea bungalows to Rajput lake palaces, jungle lodges and former royal hunting camps. And, finally, in our suggested itineraries sections, you’ll find ideas on tried-and- tested routes we often use as starting points for designing our award-winning tailor-made journeys.

Whether you’re travelling to India for the first time or as a seasoned veteran, the main challenge with a country on such a vast scale is deciding where to start. The answer depends on what kind of trip you have in mind, of course. But roughly speaking, if this is your first visit you’ll probably be setting your sights on one of two regions: either the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur; or Kerala and the historic highlights of neighbouring Tamil Nadu in the far south. TransIndus tours to India cover both these popular regions in depth, and pretty much everything in between and beyond, with routes winding into some of the least visited corners of the country. One of the main things that distinguishes our trips is the emphasis we place on quality of experience. At TransIndus, we never merely rely on local guides to plan your days. Instead, our experts in London will help you design each stage of the holiday, suggesting the best things to see and do according to your personal preferences. Having spent three decades exploring the country, our team know it inside

Dungarpur

Agartala

Aizawl

Ranchi

Bhuj

Bhopal

Bandhavgarh

Ahmedabad

Indore

Jabalpur

Rajkot

Mandu

Kolkata

Bhavnagar

Simlipal

Kanha

Gir

Digha

Raipur

Diu

Nagpur

Ajanta

India

Konark Bhubaneshwar

Ellora

Baliguda

Aurangabad

Gopalpur-on-sea Puri

Mumbai

Rayagada

Jeypore

Pune

Vishakapatnam

Sholapur

Hyderabad

Bijapur

Yanam

Vijaywada

Badami

Hampi

Hubli

Goa

Gokarna

Tirupathi

Halebid Belur

Covelong Chennai

Andaman Islands

Bangalore

Coorg

Mysore

Pondicherry

Tanjore

Trichy

Munnar

Madurai

Cochin Periyar

Trivandrum

Kovalam

Sri Lanka

Kanyakumari

Colombo

Maldives

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New Delhi

Alwar

Samode

Agra

Amer

Jaipur

Bharatpur Fatehpur Sikri

Highlights of the Golden Triangle New Delhi The remnants of seven cities survive in the capital, among them Agra This city on the banks of the

The Golden Triangle The cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in north India form the three main points of a route often referred to as ‘the Golden Triangle’ – as much for its wealth of historic monuments as its enduring popularity with visitors. For centuries the hub of the Mughal Empire, the region holds the country’s most splendid forts, palaces and tombs, including the Taj Mahal, and offers a broad spectrum of different cultural experiences, reflecting India’s complex mix of religious and ethnic traditions. The arts and crafts remain particularly vibrant in this region, where for centuries royal courts maintained ateliers dedicated to various decorative traditions, as well as music, dance, calligraphy and miniature painting – all of which continue to thrive. In short, if this is your first trip, the Golden Triangle will probably form the backbone of your journey, although numerous extensions are well worth considering – to hidden palaces, heritage hotels and into the forests of Rajasthan to see a tiger in the wild.

Jaipur Explore the famous City Palace, colourful textile bazaar and jewellery markets of Maharajah Jai Singh’s lavish capital, painted in an earthy pink hue. Bharatpur This former royal hunting reserve is nowadays India’s most famous bird reserve, hosting hundreds of exotic species. Safaris are conducted on foot or by bicycle.

Alwar With wonderful 18th-century Rajput palaces and onion-domed cenotaphs, this town in northern Rajasthan is one of our favourite off-track destinations. Fatehpur Sikri The Mughal Emperor Akbar built his lavish palace complex on a hill outside Agra as a symbol of his dynasty’s wealth and power, and it still makes an impact.

Yamuna River was at one time the Mughal capital and retains some of Asia’s most spellbinding buildings (including the Taj Mahal). Amer The ochre walls of Rajasthan’s most beautiful fortress-palaces are an astounding spectacle, but the ornate interiors are what really captivate here.

Shah Jahan’s magnificent Jama Masjid Mosque and Red Fort.

Samode Hidden in the hills between Delhi and Jaipur is this fairy-tale palace, now run as a luxury heritage hotel – a romantic base for rural adventures.

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Prayers at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib The gilded domes of the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib dominate the skyline to the west of Connaught Circus, New Delhi’s commercial core. In contrast to the hubbub of the nearby shopping malls, an atmosphere of devotion and spirituality prevails inside this marble-lined complex – the principal place of worship for the capital’s Sikh population - making it an ideal acclimatiser if it’s your first day in India. Join the worshippers filing past the central shrine to the shimmering waters of the great Sarovar tank behind, followed by a complementary lunch of dal and chapatis in the temple canteen, or ‘langar’. Back in pre-colonial times it was common for Delhi’s Mughal aristocrats and wealthy merchants to host recitals of Urdu poetry, music and dance in the courtyards of their mansions, or ‘havelis’. You can sample the magic of these bygone ‘mehfils’ at a beautifully restored heritage hotel called Dharampura Haveli in the lanes of Old Delhi, where performances of traditional Kathak are staged three nights each week by dancers in swirling pleated skirts and glittering jewellery. Watch the show over a candle-lit meal in the ground- floor restaurant, or from one of the balconies above – a magical experience. Browse the National Museum of Delhi Delhi’s National Museum houses the finest collection of antiquities in the country. The prehistory section, which displays famous treasures from the Indus Valley Civilization, is worth the ticket price alone. Elsewhere, you can marvel at a bumper crop of ancient temple sculpture, a whole gallery devoted to exquisite gold and silver jewellery across the ages, plus exhibitions of manuscripts, weapons and coins. The adjacent Museum of Modern Art is where you’ll find the world’s most extensive arrays of Mughal miniatures and so-called ‘Company’ paintings dating from the early British era. Watch Kathak in the Courtyard

Delhi

Delhi is one of the longest continually inhabited cities in the world, with a history spanning 3,500 years, which makes it a particularly fascinating one to explore for anyone with a feel for history and culture. The remains of seven great urban centres survive on the banks of the Yamuna River here, and their vestiges form an evocative backdrop to modern life: Afghan mausolea crumble on traffic roundabouts; millennia-old fort walls stand next to eight-lane expressways; and medieval Sufi shrines huddle beside multi- storey shopping malls. Whether this is your first or fifth visit to India, you’ll find great inspiration in our carefully tailored tours of the capital, which take in its less well known monuments, markets and old Mughal-era core as well the grandiloquent buildings of the Mughals and British Raj. The most evocative of them is the Jama Masjid, the ‘Friday Mosque’ constructed by the Emperor Shah Jahan in Old Delhi. Climb one of its minarets for a matchless view over the surrounding roofscape to the ramparts of the Red Fort. Evenings may be spent enjoying recitals of Kathak dance in an old haveli, souvenir hunting in the backstreets of Hauz Khas, or dining in some of India’s most sophisticated Mughlai restaurants. Whatever your particular interest, our consultants will have plenty of great suggestions.

Explore Old Delhi on a Walking Tour Explore the warrenous streets of the former Mughal capital, ‘Old Delhi’, in the company of a local history buff. Conducted by cycle rickshaw and on foot, our tours can last a few hours or a full day. They always start with a chat over tea in which your guide will quiz you on your interests. Whether you choose to track down the last surviving Mughal-era mansions, watch Friday prayers at a mosque from the rooftop of a spice market, or visit traditional silver smiths at work on Chandni Chowk, your explorations of the old quarter will yield vivid insights into everyday life in the Indian capital.

Discover the Tombs of South Delhi Amid the prosperous neighbourhoods of south Delhi are scattered vestiges of several former capitals, spanning over 3,000 years of Indian history. Most conspicuous among them are the tombs of the country’s first Islamic rulers, which range from the magnificent, red-and-white mausoleum of Mughal Emperor Humayun to the splendour of the Lodi Garden. Most jaw-dropping of all is the Q’tub Minar, a giant, tapering pillar of victory dating from 1182AD. A perfect pitstop on your tour is the 13th-century Hauz Khas complex, home to a bumper crop of trendy boutiques, art galleries and antique emporia.

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Cycle Around Local Villages A network of sandy lanes winds through the mustard fields, orchards and farming hamlets outside Agra – ideal for leisurely explorations by bicycle and the perfect antidote to the traffic of the city centre. Most tours start shortly after sunrise, when a carpet of woodsmoke from cooking fires lingers over the villages. Join local people as they prepare meals on traditional clay stoves, milk buffalo, and work in the fields. You might also visit a school, a wrestling gym or pottery workshop, depending on your interests. Most of our cycle rides end with a spectacular view of the Taj. Shop at the Bazaar Hundreds of dealers descend at first light on Agra’s wholesale flower market, tipping huge piles of marigolds, roses and lotus flowers into vibrant heaps – a superb photo opportunity. A trip to the densely packed bazaar district nearby is also a must. You’ll see stalls specializing in necklaces made of bank notes (used as wedding gifts), a street given over to marble deities, and an auction devoted solely to the sale of betel leaves. Many past clients have told us they regard the hours spent wandering around these jam- packed lanes as the highlight of their entire trip. Discover Forgotten Agra Agra’s beautiful Jama Masjid stands in the heart of the old city, neglected among a chaos of railway overbridges and cluttered bazaars. Foreign visitors are a rarity, yet the building, which is adorned with geometric designs of marble-inlaid sandstone, numbers among the most elegant and exotic in the country. More splendid still is the tomb of Mughal Emperor Akbar, on the northern outskirts of the city at Sikandra, which rises from 119 hectares of leafy, green parkland, where langur monkeys and black-buck antelope roam wild, like scenes from a Mughal miniature painting.

Enjoy a Kabooter Safari Pigeons – ‘kabooters’ in Urdu – are an obsession in India’s former Muslim cities. Unlike in the UK, here the birds are flown in flocks, with their owners controlling their movements in the sky with shouts, whistles and waves of rags tied to canes. An early start is required, but the spectacle of Agra’s kabooters wheeling over the rooftops beside the Taj is something really special. Your guide will act as interpreter, enabling the pigeon master – or ‘kabooter baz’ – to explain how neighbours compete to drive each others’ flocks to ground, and then charge ransoms to return them!

Sprawling across the banks of the Yamuna River, Agra served as the imperial capital of the Mughals in the 17th century and retains a wonderful collection of buildings from the era, including, of course, the Taj Mahal. Most visitors see little more of the city than the beautiful marble tomb, but it’s a mistake to rush off. Hidden in the backstreets of its old walled city are some of north India’s most atmospheric markets, Indo-Islamic buildings and colonial monuments, including Asia’s oldest European cemetery. Here are some of our favourite experiences and activities in the former capital of Mughal India. Agra

View the Taj Mahal Agra’s heart-stopping centrepiece needs little introduction. Rising from the southeast fringes of the city like a vision of heaven, the Taj Mahal is, quite simply, the world’s most ethereal building. In over 30 years of creating holidays for people, we’ve never heard of anyone who wasn’t enthralled by their first glimpse of it. That said, Shah Jehan’s architectural masterpiece has become a victim of its own popularity in recent decades, which is why our consultants take great care when scheduling visits. Our first tip is to visit early in the mornings, when the light is soft and atmospheric. As a rule of thumb we prefer the East Gate as its approaches are marginally less cluttered and the crowds thinner. Moonlight has a transformative effect on the white marble surfaces of the building, and the complex is open for two days before and after the full moon. Special tickets have to be procured (we’ll take care of that for you). It’s also worth setting aside time to view the tomb from outside its gardens. We recommend two sites. The first, the Mehtab Bagh, on the opposite side of the Yamuna River, which has a view of the tomb facing the rising sun. The second viewpoint, a domed pavilion to the south, forms part of a ruined mansion and is the perfect spot for sunset.

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Glamp with Elephants A handful of rescue centres have recently been created near Jaipur to care for the elephants who used to carry visitors around the city’s monuments. The best of them, in our opinion, is Dera Amer, where the animals have two- hundred acres of wilderness to roam about. A dozen luxury hunting tents provide the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding forest and villages, which can be done in the company of resident pachyderms, Laxmi and Rangmala, who were adopted from the Amber Fort herd. Spend the night here, and you can bathe them in the river just after sunrise. Visit Amber Fort and the Stepwell Rising from a craggy escarpment to the north of the city, Amber is the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of Rajput fortress-palaces, enclosing a wonderland of sumptuously decorated halls, pavilions, ornamental entranceways and gardens, all enlivened by intricate mirrorwork and mosaic. Tours generally last around one hour. Before leaving the area, our guides also encourage clients to explore the village below the fort, where a beautiful old stepwell offers a worthwhile detour. Nearby stands Anokhi’s Museum of Hand Printing, where you can admire fine antique fabrics and watch block printers in action. Explore the Old City on a Walking Tour There’s really no better way to get a sense of local life in the Rajasthani capital than a walking tour of the old city. We always recommend starting at first light, with a visit to a typical Jaipuri tea shop for chai and hot ‘jalebis’. Then follow your guide to see gem cutters, jewellers, perfumers, flower vendors and sweet makers beginning their day, pausing at a local Hindu shrine or two along the way (there are an estimated 2,000 temples crammed into the Pink City). Secret rooftop viewpoints yield some great views of famous landmarks, such as the Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal.

Jaipur

The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, has a markedly different feel from the other two corners of the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’. The traffic is no less intense, but amid the chaos of its walled Old City still wander the odd painted elephant and camel cart, driven by men in vibrant turbans with handle-bar moustaches. The architecture is spectacularly flamboyant, too. Set in an orderly grid plan by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1727, the buildings here are painted a regulation salmon-pink colour, forming a striking backdrop for markets crammed with tie-dye cloth and mirror-inlaid patchwork quilts. While they were attending court, the region’s princes and other wealthy landowners used to reside in beautiful courtyard mansions, or ‘havelis’. Many of these delightful period buildings survive in the city’s antique core and have been converted into beguiling heritage hotels, where you can while away the hot afternoons by the poolside or recline in a window seat, surrounded by delicate cusp arches and onion-domed cupolas. Today, as in centuries past, Jai Singh’s palace forms Jaipur’s principal focal point for visitors. The complex is beautifully maintained and includes a series of interlocking museums displaying royal treasures, as well as the iconic Hawa Mahal (‘Palaces of Winds’), a richly ornamented façade of stucco and pierced-stone ‘jali’ windows from which the women of the royal household used to watch goings on in the bazaars below.

Go Jewellery Shopping at the Bazaar Jaipur is one of India’s most renowned shopping hubs, known above all else for its jewellery. The bulk of the world’s semi-precious stones are cut and polished here and your guide will know the best emporia to look for them: choose from a dazzling array of lapis lazuli, amber, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and aquamarine, and have them set in silver or platinum for collection the next day. The Pink City is also a good place to buy fine-quality, hand-printed calicos and other textiles, as well as richly decorated, Mughal- style silk rugs and pashmina shawls woven in Kashmir.

It can be tempting, once you’ve ticked off the big sights, to move on promptly from Jaipur. But if you do you’ll be missing out on some unique experiences, including the chance to explore India’s most sumptuously decorated fortress-palace, as well as the fascinating, warrenous bazaars of the old city. Here are just four great things to do in Jaipur which have proved popular with past clients.

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G o l d e n T r i a n g l e Ta i l o r - m a d e b y T r a n s I n d u s

Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra

Ranging from international-grade five stars to opulent Rajput palaces and suave Art Deco town houses, luxury accommodation is plentiful throughout this region. It’s even possible to bag a room with a view of the Taj Mahal from the bathtub (if you book early enough). Some of our all-time favourite properties lie short detours off the well-trodden route around the Golden Triangle, hidden in the rocky Aravalli Hills outside Jaipur, or tucked away in the backlanes of Old Delhi. The Golden Triangle: Places to Stay

The Grand Imperial Hotel, Agra As its name implies, the Grand Imperial served as the city’s top hotel in colonial times, accommodating heads of state and visiting dignitaries. Today it’s a more modest four star, but we love it for the old-world atmosphere of its whitewashed arcaded verandahs and lawned garden. Retaining their original Arthangudi tiled floors, the rooms are large and comfortable, with repro antique furniture to accentuate the period feel. Service is excellent, and there are nightly performances of puppetry and music in the garden.

Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra Located just six-hundred metres from the Taj Mahal, the Amarvilas enjoys the finest views of the tomb of any hotel in Agra. You can gaze at the fabled white domes and minarets from all the rooms, as well as the lobby, lounge and bar. From the outside, it resembles a miniature Moroccan palace, with a colonnaded entrance of Moorish arches and fountains. To the rear, terraced lawns, reflection ponds and pillared pavilions frame a spectacular pool, which looks especially beautiful lit up after dark.

The Imperial, New Delhi Dating from the twilight of the British Raj, the Imperial was intended to be among the world’s grandest hotels – a position it has retained ever since its gala opening in 1931. From the minute you pull up to its colonial Art Deco façade, the impression is one of old-world elegance. Cream walls offset by Burmese teak dominate the interior, where staff in gold epaulettes breeze over floors of gleaming Italian marble, beneath sparkling chandeliers. The rooms are plush without being showy and the courtyard pool is a welcome haven from the brouhaha of the nearby shopping district.

Haveli Dharampura, Old Delhi Dharampura Haveli is unique for being the only bona fide luxury heritage hotel in the former Mughal capital, Old Delhi, offering a wonderfully atmospheric base in the heart of the city. Screened from the hubbub of the surrounding streets by thick stone walls, the mansion is surprisingly quiet once you are inside its cusp-arched gateway. The rooms are spacious and decorated in Indian boutique style. Outside, pillared galleries enfolding a central courtyard lead to a roof terrace where you can enjoy a sundowner with a glorious view of the Jama Masjid’s domes and minarets.

Royal Heritage Haveli, Jaipur When it was built in the late-18th century, this elegant former hunting lodge stood amid acacia scrub on the outskirts of Jaipur. It has long since been absorbed into the city’s fringes, but still retains the feel of a serene oasis. The 19 suites are palatial, and have had a recent revamp with extensive use of traditional motifs and materials. We love the stylish cocktail bar, and the top notch courtyard spa. Relax in the afternoon by the garden pool, surrounded by salmon-coloured sandstone, or play a round of croquet on the lawn. Meals are served al fresco on a raised terrace.

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur Lord Louis Mountbatten, Jaqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana are among the VIPs who’ve enjoyed the charms of the Rambagh Palace, one of the world’s most spectacular hotels. The building and its interiors were designed to dazzle and they still do, from the moment you step in the entrance, when turbaned doormen shower you with rose petals. Highlights include the arched ground floor verandah, where guests sip cocktails while gazing through carved marble pillars to the gardens and the exquisite indoor pool, encrusted with elaborate stained glass and stencilled murals.

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G o l d e n T r i a n g l e Ta i l o r - m a d e b y T r a n s I n d u s

The Golden Triangle | 9 days

This tour is a true introduction to India. Visit the capital city, Delhi, India’s most iconic building, the Taj Mahal and the Pink City of Jaipur. Day 1 Fly overnight to Delhi. Day 2 Transfer to your hotel for a two night stay. Spend the afternoon relaxing or choose from one of our suggested experiences. Day 3 Enjoy a full day’s sightseeing of Old and New Delhi. Day 4 Drive to Agra for an overnight stay. Visit the Taj Mahal at sunset.

New Delhi

Agra

Jaipur

Day 5 Drive to the former palace, Fatehpur Sikri, then on to Jaipur for three nights. Day 6 Full day sightseeing of Jaipur including the Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Janta Mantar Observatory and the City Palace Museum. Day 7 Spend the day enjoying one of the many experiences available in Jaipur, or relaxing before your journey home. Day 8 Drive to Delhi this afternoon for an overnight stay at an airport hotel. Day 9 Transfer to the airport for your flight home.

Extensions Beyond the Golden Triangle

Tigers of Ranthambore (Pages 50-51)

Rajasthan, Land of Kings (Pages 22-33)

Planning Your Trip: The Golden Triangle

A typical tour of India’s Golden Triangle region takes around ten days. In that time you can expect to tick off the highlights, but not much more. Extend your holiday by a few nights and a detour for a tiger safari or a stay somewhere rural becomes feasible. With three weeks to spare, it’s possible to explore parts of neighbouring Rajasthan, visit Varanasi on the Ganges River or fly south to end your holiday in style on the beaches of Goa or Kerala.

Kerala Backwaters and Beaches (Pages 112-125)

Beaches of Goa (Pages 96-97)

As well as suggesting the most rewarding route, our team of India specialists will also help identify the best hotels for your budget and make all the necessary travel arrangements on your behalf, from airport pickups to booking that spa session you’ve been dreaming of.

When to Go The best time to visit India’s Golden Triangle, from the point of view of weather, is between October and March, when temperatures and humidity levels are ideal for sightseeing. From April, the heat starts to build and by May becomes oppressive as the monsoon season approaches. The rains erupt in earnest around mid- to late-June and last through September – a time of abundant greenery and cloudy skies with occasional bursts of rain and sunshine.

Suggested Itineraries The following tried-and-tested itinerary is the classic Golden Triangle itinerary, which can be done on its own as a complete trip or serve as a starting point for your trip planning. We have also made some suggestions as to what works well in combination with the Golden Triangle, should you with to travel further. Nothing however is fixed and our consultants will have lots of suggestions for easy detours to other parts of the country should you wish to extend your tour elsewhere.

Shimla, Summer Capital of the Raj (Page 60)

Amritsar & the Golden Temple (Pages 38-39)

When to go Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Temperature °C

14

16

23

28

34

34

32

30

29

26

20

16

Rainfall mm

23

18

13

8

13

74

180

173

117

10

3

10

Best to travel

ll ll ll l l l l l l ll ll ll

ll Best time to travel

l Good time to travel

l Low season

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R a j a s t h a n Ta i l o r - m a d e b y T r a n s I n d u s

Shekhawati

New Delhi

Bishangarh

Nagaur

Jaisalmer

Ajmer

Jodhpur

Agra

Jaipur

Ranthambore

Deogarh

Jawai

Bundi

Bhainsrorgarh

Udaipur

Highlights of Rajasthan Jodhpur A contender for India’s most

Rajasthan Picture a Rajput palace, its ochre-washed walls rising sheer from a sandstone outcrop to apartments encrusted with domed cupolas. Now imagine gazing from one of the courtyards hidden within it to a horizon of scrub hills and dried riverbeds. It’s a vision you could encounter a hundred times or more in Rajasthan. Nowhere else in the country boasts such flamboyant architecture. Traditional dress is more prevalent here too than most other regions, with the men wearing bulky turbans dyed vibrant colours, and the women decked from head to toe in embroidered textiles and heavy silver jewellery. Couple all this with world-class heritage accommodation in converted royal palaces, and you’ll understand why Rajasthan offers the perfect recipe for a memorable holiday. Our itineraries will guide you through the state’s highlights, from its salmon-coloured capital, Jaipur, to the majestic lake city of Udaipur, via some lesser known gems where you can gain a taste of off-track, rural Rajasthan as few visitors experience it.

Jaisalmer Rajasthan’s dreamy desert citadel emerges from the sand flats like a vision from the Arabian Nights – perfect for rooftop music recitals and star gazing. Ranthambore Glimpse wild tigers prowling around remnants of a Rajput hunting reserve, dominated by a tumbledown medieval fort.

Udaipur Watch the transformative effect of the fading light on the delicately domed palaces and havelis of the Sisodia dynasty, as the sun sets over serene Pichola Lake. Ajmer Baskets of fragrant rose petals, clouds of incense and live Qawwali (devotional music) create a memorable atmosphere at India’s most venerated Sufi tomb.

Nagaur This market town on the edge of the Thar Desert is dominated by a well preserved fort made of richly carved red sandstone – now a chic boutique hotel. Deogarh Immerse yourself in the extraordinary sights and culture of a deeply rural part of the state at one of our favourite places to stay in all of India.

dramatic view is the one over the blue mosaic of Jodhpur’s old city from the towering fortress-palace of Mehrangarh. Jawai Nowhere else in India has a population of wild leopards as large as this corner of southern Rajasthan, dominated by granite boulder hills of surreal beauty.

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R a j a s t h a n Ta i l o r - m a d e b y T r a n s I n d u s

Spread around the shores of shimmering Lake Pichola, Udaipur is the dreamiest of Rajasthan’s cities. Its skyline of whitewashed havelis and temple towers, rising to the ochre domes of the Sisodia dynasty’s exquisite palace, is one of the most recognisable in Asia, while the sunset views across the water and pleasure pavilions on the lake are justifiably the stuff of legends. Visitors tend to divide their time between explorations of the warrenous old quarter and tours of the palace museum, with its richly ornamented mahals and superb collection of royal treasures. Spend an extra day here, and you can delve more deeply into traditional markets and local neighbourhoods, or venture out to experience the monuments and wonderful vistas of the Aravalli Hills. Udaipur

Capital of the former Kingdom of Marwar, Jodhpur is dominated by the profile of India’s most fabulous fortress-palace – Mehrangarh, which sits at the top of a dramatic escarpment overlooking a sea of blue-painted houses. The colour is said to denote the homes of local Brahmins though it actually derives from attempts to discourage termites by adding copper sulphate to limewash. Whatever its roots, the custom has created a unique spectacle, one best appreciated from the royal apartments of Mehrangarh, whose ‘jarokha’ balconies and finely scalloped windows frame wonderful views of the cobalt chequerboard below. Here are three great experiences you might consider while you’re visiting the region, as recommended by our specialist India consultants. Jodphur

Horse riding in Rajasthan Riding a thoroughbred Marwari horse over the desert outside Jodhpur is one of the most memorable ways to explore this unique corner of India. We offer a full equestrian program to clients, from hour-long hacks to fully fledged, six-night expeditions taking in traditional desert villages, remote forts and picturesque tracts of the Thar Desert. You’ll sleep in Rajasthani hunting tents and will be treated like royalty, while the horses themselves are among the finest in the country.

Udaipur Walking Tour Experience a hidden, more authentic side to the city on our popular walking tour. It starts at Gangaur Ghat’s ornately carved Hindu shrines, and from there winds through the temples, stepwells and narrow bazaars of the old city to a traditional haveli where you’ll pause for tea and samosas in a family home decorated with centuries-old murals. Later, try your hand at pot making and shop for embroidered camel leather shoes and jewellery in the silversmiths’ quarter.

Trekking India’s ‘Great Wall’ Crowning a pinnacle in the Aravalli Mountains, Kumbalgarh is the loftiest of the region’s many fortress-palaces. Its ramparts undulate for 25km around the edge of a rocky plateau, resembling the China’s Great Wall. The walk around them is a must for anyone who enjoys a lung-stretching trek and exotic scenery. You’ll be accompanied throughout by a local Bhil guide, who knows the wood-cutters trails around some of the hilltop’s remote ruined temples – idyllic picnic spots.

Tea on the Lake Jag Mandir is one of two whitewashed island palaces seemingly afloat on Lake Pichola. It was built by the royal family in the 17th century as a summer retreat and once accommodated Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor responsible for the Taj Mahal, while he and his family were in exile. Travel out there by launch for high tea, when the afternoon heat has subsided and the views across the water to Udaipur’s magnificent waterfront are at their most magical.

A Day with the Raika For thousands of years, Raika herders have migrated across the plains of Rajasthan with their livestock. We’ve teamed up with a local NGO to offer a unique, immersive experience of their disappearing way of life. Visit the homes of local families, joining them as they milk their animals. Joanna Lumley greatly enjoyed her stay at the centre when she visited. Profits go towards a camel milk dairy designed to provide a sustainable livelihood for Raika villagers.

Ultimate view of the Blue City There’s no better time to savour the extraordinary spectacle of Jodhpur’s skyline than just after sunrise. Your guide will lead you through the eerily silent bazaar district and up a winding path to a temple dedicated to the God Balaji, which clings to a spur of rock just below the fort. Its terrace affords what must surely rank among Asia’s greatest panoramas, encompassing a 360-degrees view over the oldest, most colourful quarter of the blue city.

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R a j a s t h a n Ta i l o r - m a d e b y T r a n s I n d u s

Festivals in Rajasthan Whenever you travel in Rajasthan, chances are your trip will coincide with at least a couple of local festivals. Whether revolving around local temple deities or nation-wide events celebrated the length and breadth of the country, they’ll definitely provide some of the most memorable moments of your holiday. Here are some of our favourites:

To the west of Jodhpur stretch the scrub flats and dunes of the Great Indian Desert, aka ‘Marusthali’, or ‘Thar’ for short. The oasis towns of Osian and Bikaner provide atmospheric stopovers on the journey west, their finely carved temples and palaces bearing witness to the riches that once poured through on the old silk route to Persia. When this trade artery was severed by Partition in 1947, the most remarkable of all India’s former caravan towns was marooned in a sea of yellow sand: Jaisalmer’s chimeric citadel, exquisitely carved havelis and extraordinary desert views these days entice a new kind of traveller west – one seeking an experience of the Thar itself. Into the Thar

Holi India’s ‘Festival of Colour’, Holi, is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Rajasthan. Large bonfires are burned in public parks on the eve of the festival, and from breakfast time the following morning the sound of drumming in the streets heralds the onset of general mayhem as local youngsters throw bombs of brightly coloured water paint at unwary passers-by. If this all sounds too rowdy, rest assured your TransIndus consultant will be able to suggest more sedate alternatives: traditional havelis and favourite palace hotels of ours where guests are invited to ‘play holi’ in courtyard gardens using more old-fashioned powders, or ‘gulal’. Processions of elaborately decorated camels and elephants are staged by the royal family in Udaipur, along with a spectacular firework display. Diwali Rajasthan is a great place to be in the week leading up to Diwali, when the entire state is festooned with fairy lights and decorations. In the run up to the festival, oil lamps (‘diyas’) are lit at homes and businesses as people shop for new clothes and boxes of special sweets in the bazaars. The night of Diwali itself is also marked by fireworks and special pujas dedicated to Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth and prosperity. Among the great seasonal spectacles in this part of India is that of Udaipur’s royal palace draped in strings of white lights. Jaipur’s Johari Bazaar is another famous Diwali hot spot: shopkeepers club together to create jazzy illuminations in the market, while fireworks explode from the ramparts of Nahargarh Fort.

Nagaur Fair Livestock fairs remain an integral part of farming life in Rajasthan. The one held in the dunes outside Pushkar in November is the most popular, but it’s also the most commercialised, attracting more foreign tourists than camel herders these days. For this reason we tend to recommend another, less well-known fair at Nagaur, which takes places later in the season, in Jan-Feb. Around 70,000 bullocks, horses and camels are traded over the course of the five-day market. Alongside it a fun fair provides an opportunity to experience traditional folk music, dance, puppetry, circus and storytelling in their authentic context, as well as livestock decoration and tug-o-wars. Book well ahead and you’ll be able to stay in Nagaur’s exquisitely renovated palace hotel, Ranvas. World Sacred Spirit Festival Over ten days in late February, some of the finest traditional musicians and dancers from across the planet gather to perform at two spellbinding venues. The first, the rooftop of Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort; the second, the ornately carved women’s quarters of Nagaur Fort. Whether you’ve a candle- lit hareem courtyard or the cuboid expanse of the Blue City as a backdrop, the quality of music is guaranteed to match the splendour of the setting: expect Qawwali from the Dargahs of Muslim India, the finest troupes of Manganiyar Gypsies from Rajasthan’s desert regions, Gnawa from Morocco, Saidi groups from the Upper Nile, whirling Dervishes from Istanbul, and wandering Baul troubadours fromWest Bengal.

Tour of Jaisalmer Fort Surrounded by 99 barrel-shaped bastions,

Desert Glamping In times past, those hardy souls who undertook the journey across the Thar Desert used to overnight on the cold sand with their camels for company. Now travellers can sleep in a style fit for a Maharaja in regal hunting tents and dine on gourmet cuisine. The camps we use have the highest standards of design and service: expect majestic Mughal tents with gorgeous interiors, shimmering turquoise plunge pools and romantic candle-lit suppers under star-filled skies.

Sundowner Safaris One of the most civilized ways to savour the distinctive atmosphere of the desert is to travel off-road – either by Jeep or on camel back – to a remote hilltop or dune. Here your hosts will have set up tables and chairs, and perhaps a small bar on the tailgate of a 4WD, from which you’ll be served a long, cool drink as the sun sets. As the first stars appear, blankets will be distributed for the journey back under darkening, opalescent skies to your hotel or luxury camp for supper.

Jaisalmer’s golden fort encloses a medieval town of richly carved mansions and temples, all made from the same honey-coloured sandstone. Unlike most such citadels in India, this one is still very much inhabited, seemingly by as many stray cows as people. Your guide will lead you through narrow, winding alleyways to hidden Jain and Hindu shrines, pointing out ornately carved jharokha balconies and the mansions of former merchants.

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