Sunrise on the Ganges, Varanasi
Set on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, Varanasi is India’s spiritual heart. Famed for its perfumed dedications and ceaseless riverside cremations, it’s a city where the rituals of life and death exist side by side.
The best way to experience the Ganges at its most serene is afloat a sunrise cruise. Witnessing Varanasi come to life as pilgrims bathe and pray in the sacred waters is well worth the early wake-up call. Atmospheric sitar music by on-board musicians makes for the perfect dawn accompaniment, as light shimmers on the water and birds circle the ghats.
Salaam Baalak Trust Walk, Delhi
Take an inspiring walk through Delhi’s backstreets in the company of the former street children of the Salaam Baalak Trust. Led by children who used to live on the streets around New Delhi railway station, you’ll hear personal stories of struggle and survival from the children, who are now fully qualified guides keen to improve their communication skills. The walks finish with a visit to the NGO’s shelter and outreach programme, which the walks help to fund, which was established to provide a safe environment and education for the children.
It’s a unique opportunity to learn about real Delhi life while contributing to a worthy cause.
Live with Locals at a Homestay
Southern India in particular offers numerous delightful homestays, which are a great way for you to experience local hospitality and gain insight into daily life. In Kerala, you can stay on a working farm on the backwaters, a cardamom and coffee plantation next to Periyar National Park, or even in a treehouse in the Western Ghats mountains. Home-cooked meals are often taken communally and each location and host family will offer something unique.
Among our favourites is Gitanjali Homestay, set in beautiful gardens on the outskirts of Mysore in Karnataka state. It’s run by the exceptionally hospitable Achaiah family, who serve daily G&T’s on the veranda at 6pm, always followed by some of the best home-cooked Parsee cuisine we’ve ever tasted.
Himalayan Walking & Rafting, Ladakh
A high-altitude desert dominated by rugged snow-capped mountains and deep turquoise lakes, the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh is India’s most remote and culturally distinct region. It’s the perfect place for a summer adventure, where you can explore the dramatic mountain scenery by walking between remote villages while staying in beautifully renovated traditional village houses.
We can arrange various levels of guided trekking, from gentle strolls to challenging multi day-hikes with fully serviced camping. And if that all sounds a bit tame, you can also enjoy exhilarating white water rafting on the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Cultural experiences include visiting a monastery for morning prayers and enjoying an authentic lunch at a monk’s home.
Stepwell Dinner, Narlai
This unforgettable dining experience begins at dusk, as you’re whisked away for an oxcart ride into rural Rajasthan under a starlit sky. You’re soon greeted by the sight of hundreds of oil lamps and lanterns lighting up the 6th Century Ambabag Stepwell. As candles flicker and local folk musicians provide the perfect accompaniment, you’ll be served a four-course dinner of mouth-watering regional specialities.
You can enjoy this unique evening during a stay at Rawla Narlai, a restored 17th century heritage hotel located midway between Jodhpur and Udaipur.
Discover the Malabar Coast, Kerala
This long stretch of unspoiled coastline in the far north of the state is home to India’s best beach retreat – Neeleshwar Hermitage. Set on a vast stretch of golden sand and with yoga, meditation and ayurvedic treatments on offer, it’s the perfect place to rejuvenate after a tour.
The nearby backwaters offer a quieter alternative to Alleppey, with day cruises or overnight trips on the resort’s own luxury houseboat The Lotus on offer. If you can tear yourself away from the stunning infinity pool, there’s also the opportunity to see a Theyyam performance – an ancient dance ritual which is unique to the local communities.
Traditional Textiles, Tamil Nadu
The temple town of Kumbakonam is a little off Tamil Nadu’s main tourist circuit, but if you’re interested in arts and crafts it’s unmissable. Here you can witness the timeless technique of ‘Pattu’ silk weaving, watching as master craftsmen use traditional pit looms to weave intricate designs into saris with fine gold thread. It’s a mesmerising sight that few visitors witness.
The ancient artform of Kalamkari is also still practiced in the town. We can arrange for you to witness this intricate artwork at a local’s home, as natural plant-based dyes are brushed onto cotton fabric using pens carved from coconut shells.
Chambal Safari Lodge, Chambal
This sustainable eco-retreat, which is just 90 minutes’ drive from the Taj Mahal, offers a range of rural experiences which are a world away from Agra’s bustling streets. A nature-lover’s paradise, the lodge runs sunset boat safaris on the nearby Chambal River where you can spot gharials (a kind of crocodile), turtles, Gangetic dolphins and numerous birds, all without another tourist boat in sight.
The excellent naturalists also conduct nature walks around the property’s grounds, which host hundreds more bird species plus mammals like jungle cats and nilgai. A visit to the nearby 15th-century Bateshwar Temples, where you can witness the evening aarti ceremony with just a handful of local devotees, is also highly recommended.
Hit The Rails
A journey on India’s vast public rail network is an unrivalled opportunity to experience the country at ground level. The bustle of the railway stations; The cry of the chai wallah as he comes down the aisle serving sweet cups of tea; The mesmerising sight of everyday life unfolding outside your window. Few experiences are more quintessentially Indian.
We’ve travelled on trains throughout India, and will recommend the most comfortable services and reserve air-conditioned seats for you in advance. If you’re a rail enthusiast, climbing through the mountains on the narrow-gauge Himalayan Queen towards Shimla or weaving your way through Darjeeling’s tea plantations on the historic ‘toy train’ are both unmissable.
Expert Cooking Class, Tellicherry
Discover the rich flavours of traditional Moplah cuisine during a stay in the small coastal town of Tellicherry. You’ll learn the secrets of this unique style of Keralan-Islamic cooking from Ms. Faiza Moosa, an internationally renowned cook, while staying at her colonial style hilltop mansion. The day begins with an early morning trip to the fish market, where you’ll be introduced to the local vendors and shown how to pick the best catch.
Then it’s back to the kitchen to prepare mouth-watering dishes, from fiery biryanis and spiced sea mullet to Muttamala, a specialty desert made from pure egg yolk cooked in sugar syrup.
The fruits of your labour are then served on the terrace, overlooking the Arabian Sea, as part of a sumptuous dinner spread.
Our Top 10 Indian Experiences Take a step off the beaten track
By equal turns fascinating, intense, chaotic and colourful, India is unrivalled in its diversity and scale. Its ancient temples, colonial hill stations, spiritual centres and hi-tech cities all speak to an incredibly complex history and culture. Epic deserts and plateaus, lush tropics, Himalayan foothills, dense jungles and golden beaches make up a dazzling array of natural wonders.