India’s 1,147,955 Square Miles

India is often referred to as a subcontinent, and in many ways it is: In size—it’s the world’s seventh largest country, with room for 31 Indianas and 86 or so Manhattans thrown in just for the pizzaz (of which India certainly suffers no surfeit). In its civilizational heft—as the great historian Will Durant said, “ In many ways India is the mother of us all.” And in its beauties and astoundments, which make it, as Mark Twain said, “The most extraordinary country the sun visits on his round.”

Micato’s affection for India is fervent. The Pinto family left Goa during the British Raj at the turn of the last century and immigrated to Kenya, and our journeys to the grand subcontinent reflect our continuing links to our ancestral home, our ardor, and our delight in showcasing its astoundments, and all that fabulous pizzaz. 


If interstellar tourists someday find their way to Earth, one of the top places on their must-see list will be Agra’s Taj Mahal. Lord Curzon, the most aesthetically astute of Britain’s 20 Viceroys before India achieved independence in 1947, called the Taj “the gem of man’s handiwork, without flaw or blemish, exquisite, irresistible, impossible to criticize, incapable of improvement, the most perfect structure in the world.” Note that Curzon said the gem, not a gem. And those who have basked in its beauty over the centuries tend fervently to agree with the Viceroy.

But there is much more to savour in Agra than this ultimate triumph of Mughal architecture: I’timad-ud-Daulah, an exquisite tomb sometimes called “Baby Taj”; the massive Red Fort, where the Taj’s master builder Emperor Shah Jehan spent his last days as a dethroned captive, gazing out at his masterpiece; and, as always in India, the dazzling colour and zest of its cities.


Micato’s ancestral roots are in India, so we may be excused for a very minor heresy: If the African lion is the King of Beasts, the very royal Bengal tiger is the Emperor. More than 8o tigers roam freely in Ranthambore National Park, thought by many to be the inspiration for Kipling’s unforgettable The Jungle Book of Mowgli and Bahgeera fame. Seeing Panthera tigris tigris in the wild, ambling majestically in its domain, is an almost shockingly exciting experience. 

(The Emperor’s fellow Ranthambore inhabitants range from Indian leopards and mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) to nilgai, barasingha, chinkara, Indian sloth bears—Kipling’s Baloo—and gentle Indian gerbils.)

Our favoured domicile for excursions in peaceful search of these marvelous beasts is also one of our favoured hostelries anywhere on earth. The luxurious tents of Oberoi Vanyavilas, often named India’s #1 resort hotel by Travel + Leisure, harken to the tents of the caravans that took the Mughal emperors on their royal rounds—except these days those tents feature the most modern of amenities (and like the tents of our African safaris, they resemble normal tents like the Vanderbilts’ Gilded Era “cottage” at Newport resembled a real cottage). 


If India has a soul, it is in Varanasi (which we in the West long called Benares). Situated on the banks of the sacred river Ganges, Varanasi is the nexus of Hinduism, simultaneously a kaleidoscopically complex religion and a way of life for many more than a billion people.    

It’s an indelibly moving experience to take a misty morning or golden sunset boat ride along the Ganges ghats, thronged every day, nearly every hour, by women in pink saris, businessmen in grey suits, skittering children, otherworldly sadhus, and Brahmin grandees during intent puja in the holiest waters in creation. And only a few miles from Varanasi is one of the four most cherished Buddhist pilgrimage sites, Sarnath, the very place where Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon, explicating the Four Noble Truths to the world.


Residents of the entrancing Pink City are Parisian in their pride of place, and the city is the historical home of what is probably India’s most famous and flamboyantly rich (and former) ruling family (and our favoured hotel in the city is the Rambagh Palace, the fabulous old home of one of them, the great Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II).

Jaipur’s City Palace, a marvel of Mughal artistry, the massive but lyrical Amber Fort, with its near-psychedelic Hall of Mirrors, and the melodic Palace of the Winds are a testament to the Mughals’ love of creative luxury. And the Dr. Suessian observatory of Jantar Mantar is a reminder to us proud Westerners of India’s civilizational magnitude; as the great historian Will Durant wrote, “Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”


India’s capital city is a microcosm of modern India. “Charming, capricious, imperial,” as John Foster Frazer wrote. It’s a modern megacity, of course, but its traditions are ancient and its charms many. 

To name just a few: The imposing India Gate. which anchors the stately buildings of the Rajpath is testimony to Britain’s firm, but ultimately fleeting domination of the country; the Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest and most impressive mosques, and one of the last great Mughal monuments built by the Taj’s creator, Shah Jehan; the Gandhi Smriti memorial, honoring Mahatma—Great Soul—Gandhi, one of the world’s human wonders; the giant Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a cheerfully bustling Sikh temple, which offers free and lovingly prepared food to 30-40,000 people a day, every day—except on religious holidays when well more than 100,000 come to share meals.


India’s financial and commercial hub, Mumbai is a world vanguard city, a gleaming magnet for India’s millions of go-getter entrepreneurs (including the Ambani family, whose fantastical 538-foot home, soaring above a quiet, leafy upper-class neighborhood, is a jaw-dropping sight to behold).

The famous dabbawallahs of Churchgate Station deliver upwards of 175,000 lunches a day to workers across the city, a marvel of pre-algorithmic planning and near-flawless execution. The Chor Bazaar, the Thieves Market, is a fabulous emporium of small shops that sell everything from the latest e-gadget to antique treasures. And the Prince of Wales Museum, now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (or CSMVS for the short of breath) is a proud and architecturally splendid repository of Indian history, from what we somewhat misleadingly call pre-history to the country’s rapidly ascending present. 


Beloved of Indians and internationals for its serenity and beauty, lakeside Udaipur was built in the mid-1500s by Udai Singh II, a powerful leader whose Mewars formed canny alliances with the Mughals. Pichola Lake, around which the city nestles, is a lovely marvel of flood- and water-supply engineering, giving the city a gayly Venetian feel. 

Grandly overlooking the lake is City Palace, hilltop home of Udaipur’s maharanas, who, like their Mughal suzerains, gracefully avoided all things frugal. The streets around the Palace bustle with antique shops and quintessentially Indian pizazz. And around the lake are statley and workaday homes and fine hotels, the finest of which, the imaginatively designed Oberoi Udaivillas, and the Taj Lake Palace, which occupies its own island, are Micato’s favourite abodes in this sparkling city. 


The Blue City of Jodhpur occupies a special place in the heart of India’s ardent Rajasthanis as an exemplar of the region’s chivalric, artistically ambitious, radiantly proud traditions. “This is the land of heroism,” E.M. Forester wrote in Adrift in India, and heroism ranks high on Rajasthan’s list of virtues. 

Set in the stark beauty of the Thar Desert, Jodhpur’s Old City circles the immense Mehrangarh Fort, whose many galleries display fascinating artifacts ranging from fine arts and armaments to Rolls-Royce-elegant elephant howdahs and royal palanquins. The city’s unique cuisine, its marvelously varietal handicrafts and marble goods attract visitors, as does massive, yet delicate Umaid Bhawan, set on 26 flowery acres atop Chittar Hill. Now the home of Jodhpurs erstwhile royals, it also houses a splendid museum and a hotel about which our extremely well-travelled Executive Director Joy Phelan-Pinto says “isnt like staying in a palace hotel, its like staying in a real palace as the guest of the royal family…unquestionably the finest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.” 

All of  the country’s 1,147,955 magnificent square miles are at your choosing on a luxurious, fully Custom India Journey. And our small group, luxury-and-ease-of-travel-oriented Classic Indian Journeys—Royal Palaces of India, The Soul of India, and Splendours of Northern India all visit the country’s shining, inimitable symbol, the Taj Mahal (it almost goes without saying), along with a full measure of its Mughal and Hindu masterpieces, its serene hotels, and its endlessly colourful, heart-stirring vitality. As author Ruskin Bond understated in an interview, “You cannot die of boredom in India.”