Indian Wrestling, 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.
However, to experience a totally different side to sacred Varanasi, join a walking tour that showcases an unusual side to this holy city: wrestling. To be precise it’s Kushti, an ancient form of Indian wrestling that goes back over 5,000 years. It’s still in prominence today, and you are welcome to visit the gymnasiums to watch the burly gladiators in action or learn the art of local wrestling. You can even take one on in a fight – if you dare!
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.
Agra Night Tour
Agra’s forts, palaces and of course the luminescent Taj Mahal are dazzling by day but they come into their own at night time when they gleam by moonlight. Some of the busyness of the day dies down although there’s still plenty to see and do. With a guide, you will visit some of Agra’s most famous sights, and see them in their evening splendour. Agra Fort is illuminated and quite a sight, and the Kali Temple streams with evening worshippers. The beautiful white domes of Gurudwara Haathi Ghaat glow – making an atmospheric photograph.
You’ll also have a chance to experience a busy Indian market by night. Sadar Bazaar is a favourite of locals and here you can stroll with the masses looking for authentic curios or stopping for a street-food snack such as chaat or petha sweets. Your guide will take you to The Shereos Hangout Café which is not only a convenient place for a drink and a meal but it’s also a way to show your support for the women who work here who are survivors of acid attacks. You can hear their brave stories as they courageously shine a light on this horrific practice.
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.
Cycle the villages around Udaipur
This early morning three-hour cycling tour takes in the villages that skirt around Udaipur with a fascinating glimpse of rural life and a breakfast stop at a tranquil lakeside setting.
Cycling through the city will be an experience in itself, luckily your guide will lead you deftly through to Kalarohi where you will visit Fatah Sagar Lake and see the three islands shimmering in the indigo water. Backed by the verdant hills, you can see why it has the moniker ‘second Kashmir’ and here you may spot aquatic birds. Under your own speed, you will meander through farmland to observe rural life before making a loop around the dramatic Monsoon Palace, located on a hilltop with panoramic views over the lake, created to view the oncoming monsoon clouds. Finally, you’ll stop at Tiger Lake for a breakfast prepared for you, and at this tranquil spot you can enjoy the serene water or explore the untamed forest around the lake.
Spice Garden Tour, Periyar
Deep in Periyar which borders Tamil Nadu, discover the beating heart of Kerala’s lush forests, where much of India’s herbs and spices are grown. To get a closer look, visit one of our recommended spice gardens. At first glance these plantations often appear like verdant jungles, overflowing with bushes, trees, flowers and plants. But with the gentle guidance of the spice plantation owner you will learn about the history of the spices and how they grow. It’s a fascinating look at the origin of our kitchen cupboard staples like pepper, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves. You will also learn about medicinal plants such as eucalyptus, mint, beetle nuts and snake plant and their use in Ayurvedic practice.
Afterwards, you will be invited into a home to see how the spices are used in everyday cooking. You might be surprised at how unusual some of these dishes are and you will certainly enjoy a delicious curry feast. If you’re lucky, you may be presented with a pot of the family’s spice mix – which you can take home to create your own Keralan cuisine.
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.