Escorted Tours: Jewels of the Raj

Escorted Tours: Jewels of the Raj

There are Indian adventures to suit every taste, says Meera Dattani

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5 of the best India tours

Anyone who’s visited India knows it is not a country to be tackled in one go.

From the tea estates of the north to the spice plantations of the south, with thrilling cities, traditional villages and inspiring scenery in between, it’s vast to say the least.

For clients who are unsure about going it alone, here’s a taster of some of the escorted tours on offer.

1. Go for Gold

India’s most popular route, the Golden Triangle, is an ideal introduction to the country, taking in the trio of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

On Hayes & Jarvis’s seven-day group version, clients will visit Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, Chandni Chowk bazaar and the Red Fort in Old Delhi as well as the New Delhi sights of Bangla Saheb Sikh temple, Parliament House and India Gate, a memorial to Indian army soldiers who died in the two world wars.

Agra Fort and a sunset visit to the majestic Taj Mahal are the highlights in Agra, while the Pink City of Jaipur is always a favourite for its forts, palaces and impressive Jantar Mantar observatory.

The trip also stops in the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri with its preserved buildings and palaces, plus a stay at Patan Mahal, a royal heritage property in Rajasthan’s Aravali hills.

From here, clients can explore the ruins of Badal Mahal Palace, enjoy the surrounding countryside and visit the local village.

Book it: Prices start from £449, excluding international flights.
0844 415 5550

2. Spice of the South

Indian Spice

Insider Journeys’ 14-day Spice of the South is a small-group tour which begins in Bangalore and visits Mysore, Nagarhole National Park, Coonoor, Ooty, Munnar, Kumarakom and the Kerala backwaters before ending in Cochin, officially known as Kochi.

The itinerary features interesting immersive experiences such as lunch with a local family, a cooking demonstration and a hill safari around the tea estates of Munnar, including a visit to a special project supporting local communities.

Tried-and-tested street food stops, the river island of Srirangapatna, jeep and boat safaris and a scenic drive through Nilgiri Hills are other highlights.

Southern India is a popular region for second-timers to India, according to Lesley Wright, Insider Journeys’ UK commercial general manager. She says: “The climate and culture is different, so it’s an obvious next destination for India converts who’ve already visited the north.

“Travellers can explore the lush jungles of Nagarhole National Park to spot wild Indian elephants and big cats, ride the renowned Nilgiri Queen ‘toy train’ from quaint colonial hill station Coonoor, and relax on a Kerala backwaters cruise in a traditional kettuvallam (converted rice barge) houseboat.”

Book it: Prices start at £2,565 excluding flights.
01865 268944

3. Golden Triangle

Those who want to see a side of northwest India that ventures beyond the Golden Triangle will find the 12-day Golden Temple and Himalaya tour from TransIndus offers a totally different atmosphere from the well-trodden tourist route.

After admiring the revered Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site for Sikhs, the tour heads into the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh where the landscapes of Dharamashala and McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama, are stunning.

The Kangra Valley is home to several traditional villages, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and a mountain railway.

The tour ends in the hill town of Shimla, once the summertime retreat of choice for officials of the British Raj, where clients spend three nights at Clarkes Hotel, the first property owned by Mr Oberoi, of Oberoi Hotels fame.

Other features of this itinerary include riding the Kangra Valley Railway line and exploring the medieval heritage town of Pragpur.

Book it: The tour costs from £1,825 including international flights, internal transfers and English-speaking guide.
0844 879 3961

Golden Temple, India

4. Festival Fever

Rajasthan is a feast of colour and culture at any time of year, but that vibrancy goes into overdrive during festival time, which is why Kuoni runs twice-yearly departures of its Heritage and Festival of Rajasthan tour to coincide with local celebrations.

The March departure is timed to experience the Mewar festival in Udaipur. It marks the arrival of spring and honours the goddess Gangaur with processions, traditional music, dance and a flotilla of boats on Lake Pichola.

October’s itinerary allows guests to experience Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) where the state’s musical heritage is celebrated over four nights with more than 250 musicians, storytellers and local artisans.

The itinerary also includes the white marble Ranakpur Jain Temples, a jeep safari in the Rajasthani countryside and the Unesco-listed Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary.

Accommodation is in Heritage Hotels properties, such as 16th century Samode Palace, and cultural experiences include tea in the dunes near Rohet Garh, dinner with a member of the Udaipur royal family, and a meeting with the Bishnois, a religious group involved in wildlife protection.

Book it: Tours start from £2,127 including international flights, plus time in Mumbai and Delhi.
0800 072 4454

5. Still Waters

For seasoned or adventurous travellers, Cox & Kings’ Srinagar: Heart of the Kashmir Valley tour is a mouthwatering introduction to this off-the-beaten-track area.

With two nights on a traditional houseboat on Dal Lake, also known as Srinagar’s Jewel thanks to its Himalayan backdrop, guests have the chance to travel by shikara (gondola) to remote floating villages and markets.

The itinerary takes in monuments and shrines, Kashmir’s first mosque, a guided walk in Srinagar plus a trip to Dachigam National Park, home to Himalayan black bears. Houseboats aside, guests stay at the Vivanta by Taj overlooking the lake or at the royal palace-turned-hotel Lalit Grand Palace.

For all Srinigar’s beauty, prospective visitors should consider a few points. Srinigar is excluded from Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice against travel to the wider Kashmir region, but it’s worth flagging this up to clients.

Balaji Kandasamy, Cox & Kings’ India product manager, says: “Clients should be aware that as a predominantly Muslim area, there is little or no pork served, and limited alcohol available. Travellers have to register on arrival and departure at Srinagar airport and it can take a long time to clear security, so we advise guests to arrive three hours in advance.”

Book it: Tours start from £2,095 including flights.
020 7873 5020


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