The Top 10: Holiday Hit List in the Subcontinent
From independence celebrations to mountain treks, Harriet O'Brien rounds up the best new experiences to enjoy on the subcontinent
Sunday 29 April 2007
1. Luxury in a mud hut
What's new: In the middle of one of the country's most renowned tiger reserves, an exciting and innovative safari project has started. The Taj Hotel group has teamed up with wildlife experts CC Africa to produce a series of lodges offering beautifully devised eco-friendly accommodation combined with legendary Indian service. The first camp, Mahua Kothi, in the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, opened in November. It comprises 12 kutiyas, traditional-style jungle village huts with mud-coloured walls, open rafters and roofs of handmade tiles. Facilities include swimming pool and yoga amenities, but the surrounding jungle is the real draw. The area is rich in exotic birds, crested serpent eagles, blue flycatchers and more, while elephant-back safaris provide a wonderful means of searching for tigers and seeing langur monkeys, wild boar and herds of chital deer. A second camp recently opened in Pench National Park, with more to come in the Kanha, Corbett and Panna reserves.
The deal: Such style in the wilderness does not come cheap, but the hospitality provided here is second to none. Greaves Travel (0870 850 2497; greavesindia.com) offers a seven-night trip, taking in a visit to the 10th-century Khajuraho Temples and providing four game-viewing days at Mahua Kothi. The price of £2,999 per person, based on two sharing, includes flights from Heathrow to Delhi and onward flights to Khajuraho, all land transfers, all accommodation, all meals in the jungle, game drives and elephant-back safari.
2. Beach bums with style
What's new: On the Coromandel coast of Tamil Nadu, The Dune is a chic and eco-friendly beach hotel that opened last year. Very much reflecting the sense of innovation and style of modern India, it offers accommodation in 37 strikingly designed villas spread across 30 acres of palm-filled grounds. There's both a flavour of luxury and a commitment to green awareness here, particularly at the restaurant serving fusion food based on organic produce grown in the hotel's own garden. Other facilities include a raised freshwater swimming pool dramatically set on its own platform, an Ayurvedic spa, and free yoga sessions at 7am and 5pm. If you can tear yourself away, the charming old French colonial town of Pondicherry is just nine miles away.
The deal: The Dune, Pudukuppam, Keelputhupet (00 91 413 2655 751; thedune.org) offers garden bungalows, sleeping two and cooled by sea breezes rather than air-conditioning, from R3,300 (£40) per night. More sophisticated and expensive villas with air conditioning and swimming pools are available.
3. Quick route to the Punjab
What's new: Jet Airways' direct flight from Heathrow to Amritsar in the northern Punjab brings a number of big benefits. The glorious Golden Temple of Amritsar is now within easy reach, and the flight also opens up an area of the country that was previously difficult to reach. The old city of Amritsar, founded in the 16th century, is dominated by the golden dome of the Sikhs' holiest shrine. Despite the crowds, there's a wonderfully spiritual atmosphere, and true to the religion's tradition the shrine is open to all, regardless of belief. Meanwhile, within striking distance of Amritsar are the foothills of the Himalayas. Previously, travellers from the UK had to fly first to Delhi in order to reach this area, but places such as Rishikesh, the Kulu Valley and the Dalai Lama's settlement at Dharamsala have become far easier and quicker to travel to.
The deal: Jet Airways (0870 910 1000; jetairways.com) flies direct to Amritsar from Heathrow three times a week, outgoing on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; incoming to London on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Return fares in May start at about £500.
4. Celebrate by moonlight
What's new: The princely city of Jodhpur sees a different sort of glitzy action in October, with the launch of a new folk festival. The enormous Mehrangarh Fort, dating from the 15th century and perched dramatically above the old blue town, will be the venue for a great gathering of singers, dancers, drummers and more from a good 15 Rajasthani communities. This will be a celebration of both past and future: as well as offering performances of traditional music and dance, the festival will be showcasing new sounds and acts. Timed to coincide with the October full moon, the event looks set to be a vibrant riot of colour.
The deal: The Jodhpur Rajasthan International Folk Festival (jodhpurfolkfestival.org) runs from 25-29 October. Exsus Travel (020-7292 5050; exsus.com) can tailormake packages to take in the festival. For example, a week in Rajasthan during October costs £1,980 per person, based on two sharing, including flights from Heathrow to Delhi and onward air travel to Jodhpur, four nights' accommodation at the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace; private car to Jaipur and three nights at the Samode Haveli hotel, private car to Delhi and two nights at the Imperial Hotel.
5. Hop across to the islands
What's new: The isolated Andaman Islands, 620 miles east of Tamil Nadu, are rapidly gaining the status of hottest "new" discovery in the country. Lying closer to Burma than India, the archipelago became a remote penal settlement during British colonial rule, but the idyllic coral islands are now drawing a very different sort of visitor. With hotel facilities still fairly limited, this is very much a hippie-chic destination, and a haven for divers and snorkellers. Havelock Island, a three-hour boat ride from the small capital of Port Blair, offers particularly clear waters of an almost implausible shade of turquoise. The pristine coral reefs here support an extraordinarily vibrant range of marine life, from sharks to myriad angelfish, while further out the seas are home to shy dugong and sea turtle. The island itself offers a small choice of eco-friendly bamboo-hut resorts.
The deal: Colours of India (020-8343 3446; partnershiptravel.co.uk) offers a 14-day "Andaman Escape" package from £1,858 per person, based on two sharing, including flights from Heathrow to Chennai (via Mumbai) and onward to Port Blair, speedboat transfers and all accommodation on a b&b basis: one night in Chennai, nine nights at the Silversands Resort on Havelock Island and two nights at the Fortune Resort in Port Blair.
6. The ultimate adventure
What's new: Remote and starkly majestic, Ladakh is one of the India's least visited areas. Its haunting and challenging landscape is criss-crossed by ancient footpaths that offer breathtaking views over dramatic hills and valleys, and pass through unspoilt, well-weathered villages. Exodus has devised a new and spectacular winter trek in this far-flung region on which you walk along the frozen Zanskar River, a route used by the local people for whom it is the only access to the outside world. The trail from the appropriately named town of Chiling to the isolated village of Lingshed passes through icy gorges, takes in great frozen waterfalls and skirts towering ice peaks.
The deal: Exodus Travels (0870 950 0039; exodus.co.uk) offers this two-week holiday from £1,719 per person, based on two sharing, including flights from London to Delhi, five nights in hotels in Delhi and the Ladakh capital Leh, nine nights' camping in caves, all main meals except in Delhi, and trekking guidance.
7. Take a trip through history
What's new: This year is both the 60th anniversary of India's independence from Britain and the 150th anniversary of the Indian mutiny. Indus Tours is commemorating both events with a new historical trip in November. Led by Dr Peter Liddle of the Second World War Experience in Leeds, the tour takes in siege and battlefield sites of both the mutiny and the Second World War and also aims to give an insight into Anglo-Indian culture and life. You start in Delhi, with a tour of the city's mutiny sights, and move on to Imphal and Kohima to see the famous Second World War cemeteries and reflect on the battles of 1944 when British and Indian troops confronted the Japanese. Anglo-Indian life is then explored in the tea country of Assam (where you also visit the Kaziranga National Park to see rare one-horned rhino) and Darjeeling. The trip finishes with a tour of colonial Calcutta.
The deal: Indus Tours (020-8901 7320; indus tours.co.uk) is offering the 15-day trip from £1,885 per person, based on two sharing, including flights from Heathrow to Delhi and return from Calcutta, internal transfers by plane and private coach, all accommodation, most meals, entry fees and guidance.
8. Under canvas up a mountain
What's new: A luxury camp opens to independent travellers in the mountain wilderness of Uttaranchal in October. 360š Leti is in a breathtaking and remote location at about 8,000ft and lies about an hour's walk from the nearest road at the small village of Leti. The design of the four cottages and main lodge is chic as well as eco-friendly, and gives local building traditions a contemporary twist. This a place in which to relax, take day walks and feast on excellent meals cooked by the resident Tibetan chef, Yeshi.
The deal: In October, Cazenove+Loyd (020-7384 2332; cazloyd.com) offers a week in India, including five nights at 360š Leti. It costs from £2,039 per person, based on two sharing, and includes flights from Heathrow to Delhi, one night's b&b at the Imperial Hotel, transfer by overnight train and then car to the village of Leti, full-board at 360š Leti, with an option of a cookery lesson with Yeshi.
9. The best River cruise: Hang out on the Hooghly
This summer, seven-day cruises in elegant, steamer-style ships start on the River Hooghly between Calcutta and Farakka, allowing scope for seeing temples, rural life and colonial architecture. The cruises operate in July and August only. Coromandel (01572 821330; coromandelabt. com) offers a 14-day "Hills and Hooghly" tour from £2,675 per person, based on two sharing, including flights, transfers, all accommodation, most meals, cruise, and tour of Calcutta.
10. The best Mountain trek: Meet the village people
A charming local trekking enterprise was launched in October in the Kumaon region of the Himalayan foothills, where villages in the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary have devised a community tourism business. Village Ways (0845 0343 399; villageways.com) offers a 12-night Culinary Ways and Culture holiday in November from £678 per person, including transfers and all meals. International travel arranged separately.
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