India Is for Lovers!
You can find an incredible array of romantic experiences in this exotic nation
By James Ruggia
Like love itself, the Taj Mahal is both of and not of this world. Commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631 as a tomb for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who bore him 14 children, the monument makes everyone who visits it mark the day with red letters, making it an ideal stop on a romantic journey.
Almost all of India’s repeat visitors began their first travels in the country from Delhi through Rajasthan and to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Many of them will be satisfied with that first trip-of-a-lifetime visit, but for others it’s only the beginning.
A growing tourism market
Over the last decade, India has enjoyed steady growth interrupted only briefly by the 2008 global economic crisis and the 2006 Mumbai terrorist incident. According to India’s Ministry of Tourism, the country has seen a 78 percent increase in tourism volume over the last five years.
Foreign exchange earnings grew even more strongly posting increases of 14.2 percent when measured in U.S. dollars. American tourism to India promises to keep on growing thanks to business travel between the U.S. and India. Even now, as the number one source market, American travelers represent more than 15 percent of India’s tourists.
As tourists, Americans know India for its ancient culture; as business travelers they know it for its modern technology. To visit India most effectively, use a company such as Orient Flexi-Pax (800-223-7460, www.isram.com) or SITA Tours (800-421-5643, www.sitatours.com), which package short modules of a wide variety of destinations in India.
Overcoming the obstacles
For all that it offers India has many sales obstacles to overcome, including a long flight, a high total price tag and many entrenched attitudes among potential travelers. Many Americans imagine travel in India as a series of confrontations with abject poverty. It’s true, there is terrible poverty in many parts of India, but it’s only one aspect of a visit.
The breadth of India’s cultural achievements dwarfs almost every other country. Consider the length of its list of World Heritage Sites: the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Humayun’s Tomb, Agra Fort, Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Sanchi’s Buddhist Monuments, the Khajuraho Temples, the Sun Temple at Konarak, Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Elephanta Caves, the Temples of Pattadakal, Hampi’s monument complex and the monuments of Mamallapuram. It’s an overwhelming group of historic and cultural sites, each one a nexus of history and legend.
So far, American travelers have only scratched India’s surface, but that will be changing over the next decade as business travelers perform their traditional role of pioneering new areas for exploration by leisure travelers. Already many destinations, unknown to Americans have improved their infrastructure, including Uttaranchal, Himachal, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim and the exotic “Seven Sister” states of northeast India.
India’s natural side
India has some 59 national parks, 372 sanctuaries and a multitude of wildlife species including 1,200 types of birds and 350 mammals as well as the iconic tiger. Recall the side of India that Rudyard Kipling celebrated in the “Jungle Book.”
When considering an itinerary be sure to include a natural or eco-segment in your India journey. There are 11 official tiger preserves in India. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces works with the wilderness lodge specialist &Beyond in four safari lodges in India. The marriage of Taj and &Beyond (866-969-1825, www.tajsafaris.com or www.andbeyond.com) brings together a master of luxury hospitality with one of the best names in safari travel.
A lodge such as Pashan Garh combines a safari experience with easy access to the city of Khajuraho, home to 1,000-year-old temples. Khajuraho temples were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1986 and are famous for their intricately carved sandstone erotic sculptures based on the Kama Sutra. Pashan Garh, meaning "stone house," is comprised of a main lodge and 12 stone cottages spread out along a small stream, surrounded by 190 acres of private jungle wilderness.
The lodge's exterior lends its design to the traditional dry-packed stone houses of north-central India. Home to tigers, Panna National Park also affords guests the chance to see leopards, wolves, hyenas, jackals, sloth bears, nilgai, sambar, chital, wild boar and Indian crocodile.
Exploring rural tourism
India’s emerging diversity is also evident in Buddhist Circuit Tourism. Companies like Geringer Global Travel (877-255-7438, www.geringerglobaltravel.com) create customized Buddhist itineraries visiting monasteries, villages and areas associated with the Buddha himself. The Indian Government Tourist Office also is increasingly interested in promoting rural tourism. The Hodka Rural Tourism Project, for instance, won a 2010 PATA Gold Award as a new product in the marketplace.
Many countries have beaches, mountains and deserts and so does India, but most long-haul travelers don’t come for these things. They come instead to experience the culture, history and cuisine of India. And you find all of that and more in the country’s villages. India’s rural tourism initiative began in 2003 and now has almost 170 participating villages. Shakti Ladakh (866-401-3705, www.shaktihimalaya.com) uses village houses on its treks and camping options in and around the Indus Valley. The village houses have been gently spruced up to meet Western standards and yet maintain their authenticity.
Train travel also can overcome many obstacles for those travelers who may be fearful of being overwhelmed by India. Several of India’s luxury leisure trains explore individual regions and the Maharaja Express wanders the entire country. The Deccan Odyssey (www.deccan-odyssey-india.com) explores the states of Goa and Maharashtra on a seven-day circuit that runs out of Mumbai. The Maharajas Express train provides a more expansive experience. Greaves Tours (800-318-7801, www.greavesindia.com) offers the train on some of its more luxurious journeys.
An expanding hotel product
New hotels are being introduced throughout India almost every month. Agra’s ITC Mughal (www.itchotels.in), for instance, recently opened a new wing, featuring 42 of the hotel’s best rooms and some suites with indoor and outdoor living areas, marble bathrooms and grand four-poster beds. An outdoor area comes complete with private plunge pool, rain shower and day beds. The Royal Spa Presidential Suites feature in-suite spa rooms with steam rooms and Vichy showers, ideal for couples’ seeking a private experience.
In India’s hip beach enclave of Goa, Park Hotels (www.theparkhotels.com) just added the 30-room Park on Candolim Beach on the Calangute strip, the center of Goa’s music scene. Facilities include the 24-hour Love restaurant serving international cuisine and the “Peace Bar,” both overlooking the sea. The hotel also has poolside cabanas for spa treatments and an Aura spa facility.
The Moksha Himalaya Spa Resort (www.centarahotelsresorts.com) at Himachai Pradesh is the first of the new Centara Boutique Collection brand to open outside of Thailand. Located at 5,200 feet amongst the pines of the Shivalik Valley, the resort is reached by a 10-minute cable car ride, providing a panoramic view of the countryside. The resort and spa comprises 15 colonial inspired buildings linked by paths for easy walking or travel by buggy. With 62 suites it’s designed to a scale that provides both intimacy and privacy.
The Spice Village Resort focuses not on Kerala’s backwaters but instead is located high in the state’s western mountains, known as the Ghats. This resort is for those guests who want the authentic feel of an old British hill station. The resort is comprised of thatch-roofed cottages without air conditioning or TV but with verandas overlooking the gardens. Surrounded by old spice plantations and not far from the Periyar Tiger Preserve, this property is ideal for couples seeking to get away from it all. As one of collection of Indian hotels sold by CGH Earth (www.cghearth.com), Spice Village Resort’s philosophy is sustainability and authentic simplicity.
Starwood’s Luxury Collection also has a new itinerary as part of its “Journeys by The Luxury Collection” (www.luxurycollectionjourneys.com/journey/india) called “A Majestic Venture Through India.” This offers a series of travel experiences designed with AuthentEscapes to provide guests with intimate encounters with the country. The 11-day excursion from New Delhi to Mumbai features historical sites, cultural attractions and cuisine across India.
Oberoi Hotels & Resorts’ Exotic Vacations (800-562-3764, www.oberois.com) are customized itineraries ranging from six nights in length that include such signature Oberoi properties as the Amarvilas, Agra; the Rajvilas, Jaipur; the Udaivilas, Udaipur; the Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore; Wildflower Hall, Shimla; the Oberoi, New Delhi; the Oberoi, Gurgaon; the Oberoi Grand, Kolkata; the Oberoi, Bangalore; and the Oberoi, Mumbai.
India is too vast a country to package comprehensively in its entirety, even though the average length of stay for American travelers is 21 days. Trying to see all of India on one trip is like trying to see Europe at one time. India is best experienced when you explore it region by region. So focus on one region to truly discover the romance that is India.