India: changing face of a country as destination

Susan Marling reflects on the changing nature of luxurious holidays on the subcontinent

I once shared an elephant with Judith Chalmers. It took us to the Taj Mahal. In travel terms that's about the most mainstream experience available on the planet. But now things are changing. The Taj is still there, of course, and the redoubtable Judith is still filing her reports, but the India travel story is spinning off in exciting new directions.

I once shared an elephant with Judith Chalmers. It took us to the Taj Mahal. In travel terms that's about the most mainstream experience available on the planet. But now things are changing. The Taj is still there, of course, and the redoubtable Judith is still filing her reports, but the India travel story is spinning off in exciting new directions.

The India Tourist Office is aware that the country's image as a destination must be updated to keep pace with what's happening on the ground - tourists are no longer confining themselves to the old itineraries of Taj and temples, the Goa beaches and the Palace on Wheels. They're busy discovering new areas of the country. Kerala was first, then Gujarat, and now the Deccan in Central India and Ladakh (little Tibet).

It's now possible to follow wildlife in the foothills of the Himalayas without becoming a backpacker with Cox and Kings (tel: 020-7873 5000), take a camel safari into the Great Thar Desert with Guerba (tel: 01373 826611) or ride horses through the Aravalli Hills near Jodhpur with Western and Oriental (tel: 020-7313 6611).

An advertising campaign to be launched in Britain at the end of the month will stress the ease of taking an Indian holiday, as well as spell out that the transport infrastructure - internal flights, air-conditioned trains, chauffeur-driven cars - is much more sophisticated than is popularly imagined, and that modern India has more than its fair share of seriously hedonistic five-star hotels. In short, people with cash don't have to torture themselves with a non-stop cultural itinerary; they can relax, lie back, take an ayurvedic massage and have fun instead.

In this bag of new opportunities comes what is, as far as I know, the first gourmet tour of India. CTS Horizons (tel: 020-7836 9911) kicks off its inaugural 16-day tour in November with a pre-departure taste of "real" Indian food at Chutney Mary restaurant in London. The tour, which takes in Delhi, Lucknow, Bombay and Goa, is about appreciating the regional character of food in India, setting food in its cultural and historical context, watching chefs demonstrate their skills and eating in exceptionally good hotels and restaurants. Sightseeing and some luxury swimming pool activity are also on the agenda.

There is also, for the first time, organised access to the Mahakumbhmela, the Great Festival of Elixir which takes place in Allahabad, near Varanasi. Even in a country famous for its camel fairs, elephant polo matches and great religious gatherings, this festival, which happens only once every 10 years, takes some beating as a spectacle.

In a Hindu sacred rite, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims bathe at the confluence of India's two most sacred rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna. Entertainment is organised for the crowds; there are processions on an epic scale - caparisoned elephants and gilded chariots pulled by horses - a piece of sheer Bollywood, and tourists stay in posh tents. The festival will take place between 7 January and 22 February and Cox and Kings will be taking guests there as an extension to some of its escorted journeys.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'