The Soul of India
A 16 Day Adventure
Months, years, decades could profitably be spent exploring India’s 812 million richly varietal acres. But few of us have time to follow our bliss indefinitely, so we created The Soul of India to provide a thoughtful, succinctly paced, and delightful look at some of the continent’s most eye-brightening sights.
We begin in Delhi, “always interesting to all mankind” as Ved Mehta quoted a taxi wallah as saying. Then we pay homage to the Taj, whose praises we sing throughout. We peacefully search for what is perhaps the most splendorous animal on earth in Ranthambore National Park, wander the glamorous Pink City of Jaipur, and witness intense spiritual devotion at Varanasi, “the most supremely potent pilgrimage site on earth.” We end in the supercity of Mumbai, a distillation of India’s incredible energy and ambition, its daily familiarity with and deep attachment to its many thousands of years of history.
DAY 1 En route
DAYS 2–4 Delhi
“Charming, capricious, imperial” (as John Foster Fraser wrote), Delhi is one of the world’s most intriguing mega-cities. Based from the modern, centrally located Taj Mahal Hotel, we’ll visit the imposing war memorial India Gate as well as Humayun’s Tomb (an inspiration for the Taj Mahal of 73 years later). With our Tour Director at helpful hand, we’ll wend Old Delhi’s twisting maze of streets and narrow, bustling, breathtakingly colourful byways, and visit India’s largest mosque, the imposing Jama Masjid and the nobly friendly Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, second most important shrine (after Amritsar’s Golden Temple) for India’s large and influential Sikh community.
DAYS 5 & 6 Agra
There’s much more to Agra than the Taj Mahal. The Agra Fort is a masterpiece of Mughal architecture in its own right and the city itself is vivacious and engaging (which in India means extremely vivacious, exceptionally engaging). But “emeralds, rubies, and pearls…must pass away, yet still one solitary tear would hang on the cheek of time in the form of this white and gleaming Taj Mahal,” as India’s great laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote.
Heartliftingly, almost hallucinatorily beautiful, the Taj Mahal is one of the first artefacts we would present to aliens as proof of humanity’s worth. Our hotel, the universally admired Amarvilas, is a delight for those of us bewitched by the Taj: every window in the hotel looks out at the very nearby monument.
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DAYS 7 & 8 Ranthambore National Park
We drive in the morning to Ranthambore and the exquisite and intimate Oberoi Vanyavilas, named India’s top luxury hotel in TravelAdvisor’s 2015 Traveler’s Choice Awards. We come to subtly beautiful Ranthambore (thought by many to be the inspiration for Kipling’s unforgettable Jungle Book, of Mowgli and Bagheera fame) to see Panthera tigris tigris, an incandescent beast many consider the most impressive of Earth’s many trillions of sentient beings. Our chances of life-sparking sightings are very good. We cruise the park under the guidance of our Tour Director and astute local guides, who can identify the park’s super feline denizens by name and number, and sense their presence by the jungly warning cries that everywhere accompany Shere Khan. Micato, nine-time winner of Travel + Leisure’s Number One Best Safari Operator award, has a natural affection for Panthera leo, the African lion. But we must admit that seeing Leo’s Indian cousin amble imperially in Ranthambore is an almost shockingly exciting experience.
DAYS 9–11 Jaipur
Residents of the entrancing Pink City are Parisian in their pride of place, and the city is the historic home of what is probably India’s most famous and flamboyantly rich ruling family. In fact, our three nights in Jaipur are spent in the fabulous former home of one of them, the great polo-playing, modernizing Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II.
Monuments to the wealth and monumental ambition of Jaipur’s Maharajah abound: grand City Palace, where members of the family still live; the Star Warsy observatory of Jantar Mantar, and huge yet lyrical Amber Fort, designed for protection in case of war (which never came) and for royalty’s never-ending quest for luxury. One morning we’ll lift off on a heart-stirring hot air balloon ride, flying high, then low over Jaipur’s awakening suburbs, waving to kids on the way to school, housewives putting up laundry, solemn old men on bicycles who break into big smiles as we waft overhead. We’ll explore Jaipur’s famous shopping bonanzas, and one evening we’ll get up close and personal with a winsome Elephas maximus indicus, and hop aboard for a rolling elephant ride in the gentle Rajasthani hills, ending with a festive, open-air dinner.
DAYS 12 & 13 Varanasi
We fly to Varanasi in the morning, via Delhi. During our stay we’ll venture out to the excellent museum and much-pilgrimaged site at Sarnath, where the Buddha went public for the first time after his enlightenment at nearby Bodh Gaya. But our focal point is Varanasi, in many ways the beating heart of the Hindu universe, perhaps the earth’s most supremely potent pilgrimage site. We’ll observe ancient rites on a quiet early morning boat ride on the sacred river Ganges, watching in the pink and gold light as devotees perform ritual sunrise baths and religious ceremonies, chant mantras, sing hymns, and go about the business of enlightenment. We’ll return at sunset, when tiny sacred lamps are ceremoniously lit during the ancient—and in the Indian way, very contemporary—aarti ceremony. Perhaps nowhere in India, or the world, is it possible to witness so clearly, colourfully, and intensely many thousands of years of unbroken dedication to spiritual exploration.
DAYS 14 & 15 Mumbai
A world vanguard city, Mumbai is India’s unquestioned financial and commercial hub, a gleaming magnet for India’s millions of go-getting entrepreneurs: We’ll encounter the famous dabbawallahs of Churchgate Station, who prepare and deliver upwards of 175,000 lunches a day. We may do some spirited bargaining at Chor Bazaar, or the Thieves Market, where everything and anything is available. We’ll roam the former Prince of Wales Museum, one of India’s premier art and history museums, and enjoy a leisurely walk through Colaba market near our lodgings, the exquisite Oberoi, Mumbai, before dinner and our late night flights homeward.
DAY 16 Arrive home
The Indian way of life provides the vision of the natural, real way of life. We veil ourselves with unnatural masks. On the face of India are the tender expressions which carry the mark of the Creator’s hand.
— George Bernard Shaw
Science and Technology
in India Through the Ages
Promises of being pampered like a maharajah or maharani are travel industry clichés, but in the case of Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace reality is even more regal. Not only are we treated with the exquisite courtesy and solicitude Indian royalty expected, but we enjoy royal treatment in the very home of one of those luxury-appreciating potentates, Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II (1912-1970), Jaipur’s last reigning maharajah.
The Oberoi, Mumbai features 24-hour spa, butler, and concierge service (and, in the Oberoi tradition, 24-hour anything-you-need-or want service). Its four restaurants cover the culinary spectrum from fresh sushi, to haute Indian, to French moderne and informal café dining. And the Oberoi, Mumbai’s suites (it almost goes without saying) are exquisitely furnished (the standalone bathtub and separate shower cubicle are nice touches) and technologically up-to-the-instant.
New Delhi, India
Centrally set at One Mansingh Road among the stately boulevards and leafy splendours bequeathed to New Delhi by the master imperial architect Edwin Lutyens, the Taj Mahal is a favoured gathering place for diplomats, business big shots, and us.
The Oberoi Amarvilas, recently ranked #3 on Travel + Leisure’s list of Top Resorts in Asia. The Amarvilas enjoys a unique position, 2,000 feet from the Taj Mahal—and each Amarvilas room looks out at the Taj in uninterrupted homage. Amarvilas is joyfully, imaginatively landscaped, verdant with native trees, and lit by ﬂaming torches. At night, we enjoy candlelit dinners in dramatically lovely settings.
Rathambore National Park
Spread across twenty acres of lush, landscaped gardens, just 10 minutes’ drive from the park, the Vanyavilas—ranked #1 in the Top 25 Luxury Hotels in India by TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards in 2015. Our luxury tents are reminiscent of the heyday of the Mughals and the Rajputs, when royal caravans rested under magniﬁcent tents in the Rajasthani desert.
Dates & RatesLand Arrangements, per person
Departs Wednesday, returns Thursday
|Balance of Year||December 15-31|
To and from Home | New rates and dates may apply
Jan. 25 – Feb. 09
Feb. 01 – Feb. 16
Feb. 08 – Feb. 23
Feb. 15 – Mar. 02
Feb. 22 – Mar. 09
Mar. 01 – Mar. 16
Mar. 15 – Mar. 30
Mar. 22 – Apr. 06
Mar. 29 – Apr. 13
Apr. 05 – Apr. 20
Sep. 27 – Oct. 12
Oct. 04 – Oct. 19
Oct. 18 – Nov. 02
Oct. 25 – Nov. 09
Nov. 01 – Nov. 16
Nov. 08 – Nov. 23
Nov. 15 – Nov. 30
Nov. 22 – Dec. 07
Dec. 06 – Dec. 21
Dec. 13 – Dec. 28
Dec. 20 – Jan. 04
Dec. 23 – Jan. 07
Make it Private
The Soul of India can be transformed into a fully private trip for a family or a group of friends. You’ll have your own Tour Director and your pick of departure dates. Contact our experts or your travel advisor to find out how to make this tour a private journey.
Options & Extensions
While you’re in the area, you might be interested in these fine extensions. Our travel specialists can work them into your itinerary.
8 Days from Delhi or Mumbai
“When it comes to lovely countries,” Micato’s old friend Seamus O’Banion once wrote, “Bhutan is a country more unlike any other country than any other country.” To wit: It has wisely and successfully avoided the mass tourism that would erode its unique, vibrantly intact culture. It is endlessly lovely: its Himalayan foothill air is clear, its environment untrammeled, its countrysides and little towns idyllic. And as the world’s only Buddhist monarchy, its program of Gross National Happiness is a moral beacon. In short, Bhutan gets it right.
8 Days from Delhi or Mumbai
North of Delhi, in the pine-scented Himalayan foothills, auspiciously overlooking the sacred river Ganges, not far from Nanda Devi, the jewel in India’s Himalayan crown, lies Ananda in the Himalayas, a luxuriously visionary spa-retreat dedicated to what its Oberoi-trained founder Ashok Khanna, calls “one thing, and one thing only—holistic wellness for the mind, body and soul.”
8 Days from Delhi or Mumbai
Houseboating on the serene Backwaters of the Malabar Coast regularly pops up on Top 10 Things You Should Do lists. A source of much Indian pride, the Backwaters are a world-unique watery ecosystem of palm-fringed rice paddies, small villages, and lovely lagoons, a meeting of the fresh waters of 38 rivers as they meander westward to the sea.
8 Days from Delhi or Mumbai
If a country can have a soul, India’s is here, in this astonishing city on the banks of the sacred river Ganges. Varanasi is a nexus of Hinduism, simultaneously a religion and an everyday way of life. Indelible is the experience of a slow, misty morning boat ride along the Ganges ghats, thronged by women in pink saris, businessmen in grey suits, skittering children, old beggars, and Brahmin grandees doing intent puja in the holiest waters in all creation