If you were making a list of the top destinations that you need to see to believe, India would certainly be at the top. As a society, we think we know everything about the subcontinent nation, but we are simply just treading the surface.
India is a country punctuated with different colours, smells, experiences and sights – all combining with the friendly and smiling faces of the local people. Recently, our very own Nikki Diamond joined a fellow group of travel agents for a whirlwind tour of India with Taj Hotels and Peirce & Leslie. Over the course of close to two weeks, Nikki got to see the real India up close and personal – learning a thing or two about this fascinating culture.
The tour weaved its way through India's heartland – starting in Delhi before Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur and Jodhpur – the main hubs of northern India. Whether you're keen on culinary, have an eye on history or just want to immerse yourself in a new culture and way of life – India is your dream ticket.
For first time travellers to India, there are several must-see experiences in India – often rich in history, tradition, culture, fun and flavour. So, what were the main highlights of the tour?
The Taj Mahal
Built between 1632 and 1653, the famous Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum which immortalises Shah Jahan's last wife Mumtaz Mahal. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is an icon around the globe with the mausoleum forever associated with the stunning photograph down The Garden onto the marble structure.
The Taj Mahal, located in Agra, is decorated with semi-precious stones and Persian calligraphy, leaving Nikki mesmerized by its grandness and beauty.
"It's something that you hear about your whole life and when you get there, and the beauty of it is so much more than you've ever imagined," she said.
As Nikki's tour was supported by the Taj Hotels, accommodation throughout was luxurious and showcased some of the most stunning pieces of architecture in the whole of India. This included the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur which was named the best hotel of 2016 at the Travelers' Choice Awards, organised by TripAdvisor.
With a range of rooms and suites, this is a true bucket list destination. Here are a couple of fun facts about the Umaid Bhawan Palace:
- The only location in the world to feature paintings from the Ramayana painted by a Polish artist.
- Still currently the principal residence of the Jodhpur royal family.
- The entire palace complex covers 11 hectares – including the hotel, the residence and a museum dedicated to the royal family.
Nikki also stayed in the Taj Nadesar Palace Varanasi, Taj Palace Dehli and Rambagh Palace Jaipur during the tour. Of note was the Taj Nadesar Palace which only has 10 rooms. Nikki stayed in the Lord Mountbatten Suite, where the famous Lord Louis Mountbatten had previously stayed.
She said each hotel offered a unique perspective into Indian culture combined with luxury, outstanding service and culinary experiences. After a day exploring the hot Indian cities, nothing is better than a refreshing rest at some of the best hotels in the world.
As one of India's seven holy cities, Varanasi is a destination that highlights the true heart and soul of Hindu culture. The people of Varanasi hold their rituals with great respect and on this tour, it is possible to see a couple up close.
This includes taking a boat on the Ganges either in the morning or evening when the dead are cremated – the fires and colour, all with the backdrop of the golden sun. Nikki's tour also took in the evening "aarti" ceremony where priests perform a ritual to put the river to "sleep" and ward off evil spirits. Even if you aren't spiritual, Nikki notes that these events are incredibly moving to watch.
Varanasi also offers diverse markets – filled with small local stores selling everything from food and jewellery to clothing. The locals are always happy to chat with those new to the city, expanding your knowledge of this beautiful part of the world.
This article is only a snapshot of Nikki's tour of northern India. To learn more about travelling to India and where to head, contact Nikki and the team at FBI Travel today.