When you go to India, you want to see—you must see—Taj Mahal, and all the better if it’s glowing pink at sunrise and framed in the window of your palatial hotel room overlooking the site. Iconic? Supremely. But as a seasoned traveler, you know that the monument is really the tiniest of footnotes in a storied land with more than 20 official languages, 1.22 billion people and thousands of years of history.
“The utter wonder of India is its extreme contrasts,” says Alistair Ballantine, a Classic Journeys guest. By any measure he is an old hand, facilitated by the enviable role he held as a Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts whose 5-star properties are the pinnacle of luxury in India. After nearly 40 visits, Alistair advises that “the only way to absorb India without being overwhelmed is with someone who knows the ropes.” Traveling with a locally guided Classic Journeys group is the ideal way to sift through India’s “too-muchness” and experience cultural life beyond the guidebook points of interest.
Near Deogarh, for example, there’s a country path you won’t forget. When we scouted the trip years ago, at first, our Indian friends couldn’t believe we wanted to walk there. “It’s just the everyday route that villagers use to go to market, to school, to visit friends.” For us, that’s the perfect recommendation! Along the way, the creak of oxcart wheels behind you is the signal to yield right of way. Free-range goats greet you with a bleat. In the field on a far hill, women wear the colorful antithesis of “work clothes,” their vivid saris like confetti in the crops. This is the friendly, personal India nobody told you about—the quiet antidote to Delhi’s hubbub, the earthy opposite of a maharajah’s palace, a domesticated contrast to a jungle of tigers.
No visit to India could be truly complete without a rickshaw ride in Old Delhi, a private tour of the Taj, an elephant ride to the Amber Fort, and a tiger safari in the Ranthambore preserve. But when you see India our way, you also shop a local produce market with a chef, then join her in her private kitchen to cook a traditional meal. You arrive by camel at a luxury desert encampment for an overnight stay amid fields of roses in Pushkar. You learn to tie turbans and saris. You ride a small country train that’s a lifeline connecting hard-to-reach rural villages.
Humble to grand, raucous to serene: that’s the theme of a day in India, with no better example than Udaipur. The lakeside city is heavily sprinkled with fine palaces. But just outside their gates, a maze of shop-lined lanes teems with life. Every walk is a sensory seesaw. Images of the devout bathing in the holy Ahar River and market streets paved with heaping baskets of produce will fill your brain, not to mention your camera’s memory chip. And then you cross the threshold into the Oberoi Udaivilas hotel, and your world changes in a second. Suddenly, you’re out of the hustle and bustle, and on the grounds of a gleaming white resort with 50 acres of sapphire pools, gardens and amazing views across Lake Pichola.
“India leaves deep impressions,” Alistair says with more than a bit of his gentlemanly British understatement. There’s unimaginable beauty, extreme social diversity and remarkable heritage—and it’s often all contained in a single moment. There’s a 2,000-year-old Sanskrit saying that translates as: “The guest is equivalent to God.” As an honored guest, you will be touched by gracious acts of hospitality and friendliness at every varied step in India. You will also enjoy the steady confidence you enjoy because Classic Journeys handles all of the daunting logistics on our thoughtful and carefully curated itinerary. Best of all, you’ll have the great satisfaction of coming to know India with crystal clarity that most visitors never achieve.