India: Spice it up
Delhi, Taj Mahal, Jaipur, royal forts, castles, Udaipur, seafood and spices, Mumbai, tropical beaches, Goa.
A culinary extravaganza. Nothing reveals the variety in Indian culture better than the diversity of its sensational food. Explore the nation's highlights such as the Taj Mahal and the palaces of Udaipur while sampling a wide variety of delicious local cuisine.
India's capital is an exciting, busy, sometimes chaotic city and one of the most interesting. With historical sites from different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars, there is more to see and do than we can possibly fit in during our short time here. For those arriving early there is an opportunity to make more discoveries. The ruins of Qutab Minar and Purana Qila, the crafts museum or Humayuns tomb are all recommended.
We start day 2 with a visit to Delhi's oldest mosque, the Jama Masjid, built by Shah Jahan of the Taj Mahal fame. We step into old Delhi with a walk in the bazaars and spice markets, immersing ourselves in the noise and smells of the crowded narrow streets and alleys. Late in the morning we explore the world of the Sikh religion, visiting the Old Delhi Gurudwara. The sound of the chanting of the Holy Book fills the air and as we help prepare and then eat in the Gurudwara's kitchen. In the afternoon we pay a visit to Birla house, sight of the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1947 and now a moving museum.
One of India's faster trains takes us on our early morning ride to the Mughal city of Agra (approx. 3 hours). Arriving in the morning, we head straight for one of the world's most instantly recognizable monuments - the majestic Taj Mahal. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz, this 'tear drop on the face of eternity' lives up to all expectations. We visit Agra's Red Fort and there is an opportunity to see how handmade carpets are produced. One entry to the Taj is included in your trip; additional visits are at the traveler’s expense, allow US$16 per visit.
The deserted Mughal Kingdom of Fatehpur Sikri is an intriguing place (approx. 1 hour). The 16th Century palaces and pavilions of this fortified ghost city are perfectly preserved, while an impressive Victory Gate leads to the tomb of a Muslim saint. Afterwards we'll have one of the finest thali lunches in India before transferring to jeeps, venturing deeper into rural Rajasthan along small dusty country roads to the village of Madhogarh (5 hours). On a ridge above the village stands the regal fort still occupied by the royal descendants of the local Maharajah. Our dinner is taken out under the stars (weather permitting) and to accompany our meal we have local musicians Playing traditional music.
We also take a walk in the village where we may see a local cobbler (get a pair of Rajasthani shoes here), people making bangles and even a dhurrie or rug maker. All of this as we are followed by local children and is a fascinating insight into a world off the normal tourist trail.
Its only a short drive to 'Pink City' of Jaipur (approx. 2 hours). This friendly and busy town with its palaces and bazaars full of jeweler, textiles and folk-based arts is a firm favorite with travellers. We visit India's most photographed building after the Taj Mahal, the Hawa Mahal, or 'Palace of the Winds' and travel out to the old capital of Amber, where we explore the hilltop palace complex. While roaming the bazaars of the Jaipur we sample some of the region's delicious lassi (yoghurt drink) served in large terracotta cups. A Rajasthani thali (a selection of different curries served with rice and Indian breads) is a highlight and we catch up on the latest Bollywood action with a movie at the art deco splendor of the Raj Mandir Cinema.
Travelling by private vehicle we head south and deep into rural India. Our base for exploring the area is the fabulous Castle Bijaipur, a fortified mansion still run by the local landlord, Rao Narendra Singh. We take to jeeps to explore the local villages and enjoy some of the local cuisine in the gardens of the castle. If we are lucky local musicians and dancers will come to entertain us over dinner.
Without question Udaipur lives up to its reputation as India's most romantic city. Rolling hills, white marble palaces and lakes all combine to give Udaipur a very special appeal. It's a centre for artists, dancers and musicians and the shopping is superb. We visit one of the largest royal palaces in India, full of unbelievable treasures. A cooking class will be organized and there is plenty of time to just take in the views from the rooftop cafes.
A last morning in Udaipur to catch up on the souvenir shopping or perhaps just to soak up the views of the lake, and then its a bus to Ahmedabad (approx.5 hours). Tonight you will get the chance to taste the very distinctive Gujurati cuisine famous for its slightly sweet curries.
Early in the morning we head out to have a wonderful walk through the old part of Ahmedabad. This Heritage walk (approx 1.5 hours) will take in all the unexpected charm of this busy city. After lunch we will take a fast train to Mumbai (approx 7 hours). Known as Bombay until its recent name change, Mumbai is India's commercial capital. After our evening arrival by train, we spend time soaking up the atmosphere of the local markets and bazaars and experience the more traditional side of local life at the Mumbai Devi temple. A dawn visit to the Sassoon docks and fish market is an explosion of color and smells as the local Koli tribes’ people haul in and sell every kind of fish. Crawford market with its memories of the Raj is a great place to explore and there is time for an optional visit to Elephantine Island. Based on coconut and seafood, Mangalorian cuisine is another change of flavors with a wide array of restaurants to choose from. Prawn gassi and Salt, pepper garlic squid top the list of local dishes. Mumbai is also India's entertainment capital so we could head out to try to meet some of the stars in one of the modern night clubs or take in some jazz out on the bay. Leaving the bright lights behind we fly to Goa on day 13.
Our flight from Mumbai will bring us to Panjim, the capital of Goa and a great place to end our Gourmet Trip. Goa was a Portuguese city for centuries and their influence is still as strong as ever. With spectacular architecture, a slow paced atmosphere and sensational food, we'll wind down here with relaxing visits to Goa's old city full of churches and cathedrals, spice gardens, beaches and of course a last night dinner . You are free to depart at any time on day 15. Check out time is 9am but if available a 50% charge will allow you to keep your room for half a day.
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