India for Tim

For Tim and Julia

October 2016.

Tigers and Precious Gems

Dear Tim,

India is a treasure trove of beautiful and wondrous sights. From magnificent palaces to timeless tigers and precious gems, India will astound you. You will fall in love with ferocious nature and timeless culture. You will fall in love with the quiet of the night and the rhythm of the farming day. You will fall in love with a place forgotten by tourists and sought by travelers. Perhaps, most of all, you will fall in love with a rarely encountered sense of equilibrium—between religions, between the gods of fire and fertility and, with the passing of days, in your own self. I can’t wait to share the treasures of India with you.

Day 1: Auspicious arrival 

After arriving in Delhi, you will find yourself at the magnificent Roseate New Delhi—designed to exceed every expectation. As we discussed, I have ensured that the hotel will have your room outfitted with custom towels and linens. Enjoy the comforts of your spacious room and be sure to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow you will experience everything Delhi has to offer her explorers.

Day 2: Discovering Delhi

Today, you will begin discovering the wonders of Delhi. You will experience the remarkable mixture of medieval and contemporary architectural influences in Delhi, the capital of the modern nation-state of India. As the capital to a plethora of historic dynasties, Delhi offers a rich, diverse landscape of cultural influences. The old architecture is surprisingly well preserved despite a tumultuous history and rapidly developing present.

The walled city of Old Delhi, the former Imperial capital, is a maze of lanes crowded with shops, crumbling havelies (mansions), in the midst of which lies one of the country’s largest mosques. You will walk through the narrow lanes of the 300-year-old Chandni Chowk market. Today, this is a busy market selling an extraordinary variety of items—silver, jewelry, aromatic spices, leather, fruits, and vegetables. Apothecaries sell homegrown medicinal items, and roadside dentists display their bizarre array of equipment and false teeth. This is an excellent introduction to quintessentially Indian organized chaos. After this miraculous mayhem, find a different sort of awe in the Jama Masjid, Shah Jahan’s last architectural legacy, which is believed to be the largest mosque in India.

From here, you visit one of the architectural triumphs of the Mughal Empire—Humayun’s Tomb. Humayun’s tomb is the earliest example of Mughal architecture in India. Recently renovated with the gardens restored to their former splendor and the fountains working, it is a very attractive site. Architecturally the mausoleum drew its inspiration from the styles prevalent in Samarkand, and the design of the Taj Mahal is based on this tomb.

As part of the VIP Package you booked, you will see the private art collection at the home of one Delhi’s notable art collectors. You will also visit the design studio of one of Delhi’s leading fashion designers and get an insider’s view into the unique world of Indian fashion.

Day 3: Sensuous temple sculptures

The tiny village of Khajuraho is famous for its remarkable complex of temples built in an inspired burst of creativity between 950 and 1050 AD under the Chandela kings. Of the original 85, only 25 survive and each is a masterpiece dedicated to different deities. The temples were lost among the forest for centuries and were accidentally discovered by a British army engineer in 1858. The presence of erotic temple sculpture, which only accounts for less than 10% of the total carvings, has resulted in many theories. The most popular theory is that the Chandelas were followers of the Tantric cult, which believed that gratification of earthly desires was a step towards attaining moksha or release from the cycle of rebirth. You will spend the afternoon exploring the temples. Their remarkable sculptures are unique in that they show great sensitivity and warmth displaying one aspect of Hinduism—a genuine love of life. 

Days 4-8: Jump into The Jungle Book

Over the next few days, you will travel through “tiger country”: immerse yourself in the country that Kipling wrote about so vividly in his Jungle Books.

Cradled by the hills of the Vindhya Range Bandhavgarh National Park is justly described by the guidebooks as a new park with an old history. There are caves in the park with inscriptions dating back to 1BC. Created relatively recently, the park was established in 1968 and was then extended in 1986. The varied topography of Bandhavgarh—salt forests, bamboo grazing land, ridges, and streams—is home to a large number of animals and birds.

Bandhavgarh is most famous for its tigers, although it is not always easy to catch sight of these great beasts. At the same time, there are plenty of other animals and birds that inhabit the sanctuary—Chinkara, boar, deer, a variety of monkeys and chital to name a few. You will pass the time in the park in the morning together and in the evening experience an exhilarating search for wildlife in jeeps, driven by professional English speaking naturalist driver.

After spending two nights in cozy and rustic lodgings near Bandhavgarh, you will move on to Pench National Park. This stunning park is home to a number of endangered species. The varied vegetation of the park and the abundant water bodies are home to the wolf, dhol (wild dog), hyena jackal, and a number of wild cats including twenty-five different tigers. Prey abounds aplenty with four kinds of deer and wild boar roaming the forests. Three hundred species of birds can also be found at Pench National Park including the birds of prey such as the crested hawk eagle, the white-eyed buzzard, and crested serpent eagle.

Day 9: Fit for a king

After a final jaunt to the park to capture its magnificent beauty in your mind, you will make your way to Hyderabad. Here, you will stay in India’s latest palace hotel—the Falaknuma Palace or “mirror of the sky,” which was the royal guesthouse of the Nizam of Hyderabad, considered for many years to be the richest man in the world. This sixty-room palace was once the sole residence of royalty, among them King George V and the last Russian Tsar, Nicolas II. Today, it plays host to visitors from across the world. Experience the sensation of “living like a king” in one of the most luxurious residences in the world.

Architecturally, the palace is a blend of Italian and Tudor architecture. It is home to priceless art and artifacts, ornate inlaid furniture from Kashmir, rich handcrafted tapestries and brocades from France, and intricate frescos with English and Indian influences. Each one of these has been meticulously restored to its original glory. Opulence and grandeur await you around every corner. Don’t forget to look for the hidden passageways used by royalty to move stealthily through their private retreat.

Days 10-11: Monuments, mosques, and mistresses

Famous for its gemstones, especially the magnificent Kohinoor diamond that decorates the crown worn by British royalty, Hyderabad was known for its beautiful “monuments, mosques and mistresses,” and was ruled by a dynasty of some of the richest men in the world. As you discover this enchanting city together, imagine the beauties—both flesh and stone—that graced the very same streets you now walk.

Over the next two and a half days, you will explore Hyderabad. You will enter the old city through the “Char Minar,” the iconic symbol of the city. Walking through the streets, you will stop at the Mecca Majid or the Grand Mosque and shop for the famous Hyderabadi embedded glass bangles, pearls and the famous “bidri” workboxes at the Lad Bazaar. From our conversations, I know your wife is exceptionally fond of the bangles and jewelry in India. I know you will be able to find her a set that matches her deep green eyes.

You will stop at the 18th century Chowmahalla Palace, which is believed to be a replica of the Shah of Iran’s palace in Teheran. Of the original 45 acres, only 14 acres remain—which have just recently opened to the public. The complex consists of two courtyards with elegant palaces, the grand Durbar Hall, fountains and gardens. Lose yourself in the gardens and find the secret corners to embrace in the secluded silence of history.

You will discover the Salar Jung Museum that houses one of the largest private collections of art in the world. Salar Jung was the Wazir or Prime Minister to the Nizam between 1899 and 1949. His collection of both Indian and European bronzes, textiles, jade, paintings, ivory items and statues form the basis of this private collection.

At the Fort at Golconda, you will trace the turbulent history of Hyderabad and you will stop to see the magnificent tombs of the Qutb Shahi kings many built of either black granite or greenstone, many with their own mosques attached. Listen for the whispers of ancient kings long dead and gone as they wind through the cold tombs as they tell of how they lived and died.

Textile weaving has been a traditional craft throughout Andhra Pradesh for generations, though it is a dying art today. This is one of the few regions in Indian producing Ikat, the technique of “resist dyeing” the warp and weft of thread (or both) before weaving. In this way, the fabric emerges from the loom as a delicate enmeshed pattern. On your last full day in India, you will travel to Puttapaka village, where about 200 weaving families live, keeping alive this art.

Day 12: Final art, and farewell

Today, you will visit Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art in Hyderabad. This private residential museum specializes in traditional arts and crafts up to the 1900s.The Mittals have been passionate art collectors over the past forty years and their enviable collection ranges from miniature paintings of the Mughal, Deccani, Rajasthani and Pahari schools, manuscripts, calligraphy, bronzes and textiles. You will also visit the workshop of Suraiya Hassan, “a textile revivalist.” Surayya is an expert in traditional forms of handloom weaving and vegetable dyes. Deeply involved with restoring and popularizing traditional motifs from heirloom pieces, Suraiya’s fabrics are considered masterpieces of artisanship and design by connoisseurs.

In the late evening, you will bid this place farewell, and catch your overnight plane home.

I have learned by now that, in travel, one must try to see with one’s emotions rather than one’s head. We have been so inundated with tricked up photographs that the magic of a first meeting often pales next to the images one carries. I hope that you will carry the beauty of your journey with you. Tim, I have enjoyed creating this itinerary for you, please do call if I can be of any help.