Luxury Gourmet Tour to North India 2011
Holiday Dates: Between 9th and 24th March, 2001, you 16 day Luxury Tour to Royal North India visits: Mumbai (1 night), Aurangabad (2 nights), Udaipur (3 nights), Kumbhalgar (1 night), Shahpura (1 night), Jaipur (2 nights), Agra (2 nights), Delhi (2 nights).
Wednesday 9th March, 2011 - London (Heathrow) to Mumbai (Bombay)
Flight - Departs Heathrow (LHR) 21.05 Terminal 4
Jet Airways 9W117. This is a non-stop flight (total journey time 8 hours 50 minutes). Overnight on flight. Dinner and breakfast served on board you flight.
Thursday 10th March, 2011 - Mumbai (Bombay)
Flight - Arrives Mumbai (BOM) 11.25 Terminal 2
You will be met by our agent and escorted to your hotel (c90 mins).
Afternoon - Check in to Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel (1 night)
Arrive c14.00. Your room is a ‘Luxury Grand Sea View Room’ in the original Palace Wing. This iconic building was built in 1903 at Apollo Bundar, alongside the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea. Now the flagship hotel of the Taj Group, it is famous in its own right and is a must-see, must-stay venue. It was visited by King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, and it remains Mumbai’s place of choice for all celebrities, royals and dignitaries. It has been totally restored since the fires of November 2008. You will be greeted by Pat and Dominique with a welcoming cocktail.
Afternoon - At Leisure
Relax at the hotel’s pool or and visit the hotel’s two shopping malls, including the well-stocked bookshop and Burlington's the 24 hour tailor.
Escorted walk with Pat and Dominique to orientate yourself outside the hotel, to see the Gateway and visit the shops including the nearby Central Cottage Industries Emporium. c45 minutes, after which you can stay unescorted to explore on your own.
Dinner - Gourmet Evening
The Taj Hotel Group is India’s top hotel group, and its Group Executive Chef, India’s top Chef, Hemant Oberoi, and for your first highlight of the tour, he and his team will hold a Gourmet Evening with dinner of their choice exclusively for us.
Overnight - The Taj Palace Hotel, Old Wing, Mumbai (Bombay)
World Cup - 9th March, 2011 - India v Netherlands.
Friday 11th March 2011 - Mumbai and Aurangabad
Morning - Tour of Mumbai (Bombay)
We will drive by the classic Raj-Gothic buildings including St. Thomas Cathedral, the Prince of Wales Museum, the University, the Oval Maida, the Town Hall Rajabai Clock Tower, Mount Mary's Church, Bombay High Court, and the Law courts. We will also view the Gothic style Victoria Terminus the main railway station. There we will watch the Dabba Wallahs preparing to deliver a million lunches to Mumbai’s office workers. Then we view the Dhobi Ghats – a huge open-air laundry where hundreds of dhobi wallahs vigourously thump and scrub the city’s washing. Time permitting we will also visit the Jain Temple on Malabar Hill.
Lunch - Elco Bhel Restaurant, Bandra
You can't visit visit Mumbai without sampling her local speciality food, Bhel Puri. And there is nowhere more respected, celebrated and loved than Elco Bhel restaurant, in Mumbai's fashionable area, Bandra.
Afternoon - Transfer to Mumbai (Bombay) Airport
Domestic Terminal 1A.
Flight - Departs Mumbai (Bombay) 15.55
Indian Airlines IC887.
Flight - Arrives Aurangabad 16.40
We meet our coach, driver and luggage porter.
Late Afternoon - Check in to Taj Residency Hotel, Aurangabad (2 nights)
Taj Residency is set amidst 5 acres of landscaped gardens, and has 42 air-conditioned rooms and suites, a multi-cuisine restaurant, coffee shop and bar a swimming pool, fitness centre and gift shop.
Dinner - Taj Residency Hotel, Aurangabad
Tonight’s dinner at the hotel will include local Aurangabadi specialities which are rich and slow cooked and derived from Mughal cuisine, such as Naan Qalia (a lamb dish with bread) and Tahri (the local biriani dish). By contrast Marathwada / Deccani cuisine is lighter and uses typical South Indian ingredients such as curry leaves, tamarind and coconut. Gavran Chicken is one such. Lentil dishes include Jhunka and Pitla, tomato curry made thick with besan and seasonal vegetables, such as Vangi Brinjal (aubergine). The local garlicky chutney, Thecha goes well with bread, Jwarichi or Bajrichi Bhakari, Poli, Dhapate and Thalipeeth.
Overnight - Taj Residency, Aurangabad (night 1 of 2)
World Cup - 11th March 2011 - Bangladesh v England in Chittagong.
Saturday 12th March 2011 – Aurangabad
Morning - Tour Bibi-ka-Maqbara and Khuldabad & Ellora Caves
The city has 52 gates and 3km outside is the Bibi-ka-Maqbara, or so-called ‘poor-man’s Taj Mahal’. It was built in 1679 as a mausoleum for Aurangzeb’s wife, Rabia-ud-Daurani. Despite construction of this monument falling far short of Aurangzeb’s expectations due to a lack of resources, the Bibi-ka-Maqbara is still one of India’s most impressive Islamic monuments. We continue on c27km to to Auranzeb’s own tomb in Khuldabad. Just 3km further on you will view some of the 34 Ellora Caves, hewn out of the rocks by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains over 1500 years.
Afternoon - Return to Taj Residency, Aurangabad
Late Afternoon - A visit to India’s top Catering School
A highlight of the tour and the main reason we’re in Aurangabad. You have a VIP invitation which tourists never get. We are the honoured guests of the staff and Mr Satish Jayaram, principal of the Indian Institute of Hotel Management and Catering, part of the Maulana Azad Educational Campus. Established in 1989 in collaboration with the Taj Hotel Group, the IIHM has acquired such prestige and reputation that for every seat there are over twenty applicants from all over India. The college is affiliated to Huddersfield University which grants a B.A. Hotel Management to the successful graduates. The USP at IIHM is that the institute’s 400 residential students undergo work experience at the Taj Residency in addition to their in-house training. We will tour the in-house facilities, which include basic and advanced training kitchens, a housekeeping ‘laboratory’ which is the replica of a Taj hotel room, front office laboratory, computer laboratory and Internet centre and a world-class culinary library. An exciting evening is promised by the staff and students. Then you’ll have front row seats in the college’s state–of–the–art 250 seat auditorium and conference centre where at their request, Pat Chapman will present a 45 minute multimedia presentation on ‘300 years of The British Curry'.
Dinner - Amber Restaurant, Aurangabad
After that the students will present and serve you and other college invited guests, their choice of menu at Amber, the school training restaurant on campus.
Overnight - Taj Residency Hotel, Aurangabad (night 2 of 2)
World Cup - 12th March 2011 - India v South Africa in Nagpur.
Sunday 13th March 2011 - Aurangabad to Udaipur
Early Morning - Transfer to Aurangabad Airport
Flight - Departs Aurangabad 08.35
Jet Airways 9W2015.
Flight - Arrives Mumbai (Bombay) 09.20 Terminal 1B
Transfer to Sahara Star Hotel (ex Centaur) for a comfort break, conditions permitting. If not enough time, then straight to check-in.
Flight - Departs Udaipur 12.45
Flight - Arrives Mumbai (Bombay) 13.55
We meet our Volvo coach, drivers and porter who will take us right through to Delhi and the end of our tour.
Mid Afternoon - Check-in to Shikarbadi Hunting Lodge Hotel (2 nights)
We have arrived in rural India. Rajasthan is India’s most colourful state, as you will see from the turbans and saris, and Udaipur is the kingdom of Mewar. Just 10 minutes beyond the small and typically chaotic and busy Udiapur city is our destination, Shikarbadi. Yet it is serene, private, gorgeous and exclusive, located in the jungle amid the surrounding Aravalli Hills. Few tourists know of its existence. Shikarbadi was originally a hunting lodge and is still frequented by the current Maharana of Udaipur, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar. This 20 room lodge is part of Shriji’s HRH Hotel group, which is managed by his princess daughter. His private airstrip is here as well as his polo pony stud farm, a deer garden, its own private lake and a large family of noisy lemur monkeys.
Afternoon - At Leisure
Relax around the small pool, inspect the estate, or walk in the hills. Later, you can stand on the wide outside walls and watch when the wild boar come for evening feeding.
Early Evening - Cooking Demonstration
Shikarbadi Exec Chef Vikran Singh’s cooking demonstration of Mewari and Rajasthani specialities, such as Laal Maas (fiery lamb cooked in red gravy from the kingdom of Mewar), Daal Bati (dumplings in lentil curry), Gatta ka Pullao (gram flour strips with rice), Sangri vegetables, Missi Roti (local flat bread) etc.
Dinner - In the Garden
Private al fresco dinner of the above at the hotel.
Overnight - Shikarbadi Hunting Lodge Hotel, Udaipur (1 of 2 nights)
Monday 14th March 2011 – Udaipur and Jaisamand
Morning and Afternoon - Tour of Jaisamand Lake (Dhebar) with local trips and Lunch
50k SE of Udaipur is one of the largest artificial lakes in the world (circumference 88km). It was built in the C17th by the Maharajah, who on it's inauguration walked around it distributing gold equal to his own weight for charity. The lake is surrounded by the lush green Babool Jungle, and is home to over 300 bird species, wild boar, cats and deer. We park at the 300m long Lake Dam which houses a Shiva temple and six Chhatris (cenotaphs) decorated with finely embroidered marble elephants. We take a 4km boat ride to our base for the day, Jaisamand Island Resort (an ornate white 35 room hotel, though we are not rooming) located on the largest island on the lake. During the day you can take a longer boat trip to explore the lake and/or a jeep trip into the game sanctuary and/or you can relax at the pool and/or take rides* on the resident camels and horses. (*the animal rides charged extra payable by yourself locally).
Lunch - Indian BBQ
The resort chefs will demo and cook fresh lake fish and other specialities.
Late Afternoon - Return to Shikarbadi Hunting Lodge Hotel
Dinner - In the Garden
Private al fresco menu at Shikarbadi Hunting Lodge Hotel.
Entertainment - Traditional Puppet Show
Rajasthani string puppets are unique, gorgeous and colourful. The head of the puppets are hand carved and coloured according to characters they depict. It was here that Punch and Judy originated. You can purchase the puppets afterwards.
Overnight - Shikarbadi Hunting Lodge Hotel, Udaipur (2 of 2 nights)
Tuesday 15th March 2011 - Udaipur
Morning - Tour of Udiapur City
You will tour the walled Shahelion Gardens, once the private gardens of the royals with their magic fountains. You proceed to the vast City Palace, the largest palace complex in Rajasthan, build over 700 years by various maharajas. You will see the beautiful Moti Mahal room with its mirror inlay and the Chini Mahal room with its iridescent tilework and you will visit the Museum.
Lunch - Nataraj - Gujarati Thali Restaurant
Gujarat is the neighbouring state, and this is your opportunity to sample its food at this very popular local restaurant, with eat-as-much-as-you-like waiter-served vegan food. Typically this will consist of 3-4 vegetable dishes, plus Dal, Kadi, Roti, Rice, Khichadi, Salad, Pickles etc.
After Lunch - Check in to Taj Lake Palace Hotel (1 night)
No one can visit Udaipur without an overnight stay in this former Royal palace now luxury hotel like no other in the world. Set on an island in the middle of Udaipur’s Lake Pichola and called Jag Nivas, it was built in 1754. It has recently been exquisitely and expensively restored by the Taj Group who lease it from the Maharana. The hotel has 81 rooms, 2 restaurants and a bar. Part of its excitement is the boat ride you take to reach the hotel.
Afternoon - At Leisure
Once check in you can explore every nook and cranny. Note the slender marble carved columns, the filigree screens and th egardens and fountains, and relax at the pool.
Take the optional(*) tour including a boat ride around Lake Pichola taking in the spectacular views of the city of Udaipur and the City Palace and step onto the lesser known lake hotel, on Jag Mandir Island. Then you go ashore for an exclusive visit to Fateh Prakesh Palace’s Durbar Hall and Gallery, built in 1909. The hall contains the portraits of the seven centuries of Maharanas of Mewar, plenty of historic artefacts including royal weapons, and seven crystal chandeliers including the centrepiece weighing one ton. Its brilliance dominates the whole room. Look upwards and you'll see the viewing gallery that borders the hall, now called the Crystal Gallery, it houses probably the largest private collection of crystal in the world including the only crystal bed in the world.
*The boat trip, Durbar Hall and Crystal Gallery is an optional extra costing approx £12 per adult (Included is a complimentary beverage at the open air terrace restaurant overlooking the lake. Take the boat back to the hotel in your own time. You can decide if you wish to take this tour 24 hours prior.
Dinner - The Lily Pond Restaurant, Taj Lake Palace Hotel
Alfresco set dinner by the Lily Pond.
Overnight - Taj Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur (1 night)
Wednesday 16th March 2011 - Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh
Morning - Transfer
Drive 84km to Kumbhalgarh.
Mid-Morning - Check in to Aodhi Hotel, Kumbhalgarh (1 night)
This former Royal Hunting Lodge, is another hotel in the Maharana's HRH Group and enjoys the same top class service. It is located right there in the Aravalli Hillside and is surrounded by trees and a few inquisitive lemur monkeys. It has 26 renovated rooms in the rustic / jungle style, reflecting its privacy and rural location.
Lunch - Chowka Restaurant, Aodhi Hotel
Table d-hote. Chowka means ‘kitchen’ in Rajasthani, appropriate enough, since the restaurant does indeed have an open kitchen, where you can watch you meal being prepared.
Afternoon - Tour of Kumbhalgarh Fort and Jeep Ride of the countryside
The amazing fairy tale 15th century fort is situated at a height of 1,914m. Its thick wall stretches some 36 km, making it quite inaccessible in medieval times. The fort requires moderate effort ascending the slopes and steps. The reward is the remarkably good view of the countryside from the top. Following this, you will take a jeep ride into that countryside and see village India at its most rural and picturesque. This is a wonderful opportunity to see the people going about their business, unselfconsciously as they have done for centuries. Truly unmissable, it is one reason we are staying here.
Dinner - Poolside
Served exclusively for us at Aodhi Hotel’s poolside.
Entertainment - Traditional Dance Show
Rajasthan is renowned for its traditional dance, and in Mewar no one performs it better than the family tribal dancers and musicians called 'garasia' who for centuries have earned their keep going from local village to village. A favourite dance is the 'Kucchhi Ghodi' or dummy horse dance, normally performed on festive occasions, by men who are colourfully attired, as are their wicker ‘horses’.
Overnight - Aodhi Hotel, Kumbhalgarh (1 night)
Thursday 17th March 2011 - Kumbhalgarh to Shahpura
Morning - Drive to Shahpura
Drive to Shahpura, c3 hours - 220km.
Mid-Morning - Check in to Shahpura Bagh Palace Hotel (1 night)
It is an all family-run 10 room palace, in an unspoilt part of Rajasthan midway between Jaipur and Udaipur, set in 45 acres of garden and pasture, surrounded by two lakes, a working farm estate and fruit orchards. It was once the summer residence of the Shahpura rulers. Now it comprises two buildings, one is where the Shahpura family reside and where meals are served. The other is the restored guest house where the rooms are located. Originally built to house visiting nobility, the rooms are light and airy, with hugh ceilings and large windows. They vary in size and shape, but they are all elegantly furnished and equipped with modern amenities and air-conditioning.
Lunch - Shahpura Bagh Palace Hotel
At Shahpura Bagh Palace Hotel.
Afternoon - Tour of Local Sights
Local excursion the local fort, farm and villages in the surrounding area.
Dinner - Shahpura Bagh Palace Hotel
At the hotel with the family, who are passionate about food, will provide and talk about the menu containing local specialities.
Overnight - Shahpura Bagh Palace Hotel, Shahpura (1 night)
World Cup - 17th March, 2011 England v West Indies in Chennai.
Friday 18th March, 2011 - Shahpura via Dera Amer to Jaipur
Morning - Tour
Drive to Dera Amer, c4 hours - 240 kms. This is a further highlight in a tour full of highlights. It is your private elephant ‘safari’. A few miles from Jaipur, we turn off the main road onto a bendy track which delves into the yellow sands and rather arid trees of the jungle valley behind the Aravali hills of the famous Amber Fort. You are welcomed by resident camels and lady elephants, then shown to an oasis of lush lawns and pretty buildings.
Lunch - Dera Amer Outside Restaurant
The welcome extends to the chefs and waiters who help you to a self-served buffet style lunch in the gardens, with the freshest Naans from the Tandoor alongside. And, yes it’s licensed.
Afternoon - Safari
After feeding ourselves (and the elephants), you board your transport, in this case one of the elephants and you take a c45 minute ride into the jungle surrounding the lawns.
Mid Afternoon - Drive to Jaipur
Air conditioned coach to Jaipur, c15km.
Late Afternoon - Check in to the Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel (2 nights)
Located 5 miles outside the city walls, Rambagh Palace is the former residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur, (Bubbles, b1931), whom the Taj Group lease it from. He now lives in the City Palace, and is allegedly India’s second richest Maharajah). It is India’s grandest palace hotel having 106 rooms, including 5 royal suites (one of which costs $1600 per night) and is spread over 47 acres of gardens. Taj have expensively restored Rambagh to its former glory and it is in our view India’s most elegant palace, and is the place where you can believe you are royal. The celebrated Polo Bar is small but exquisitely unchanged from the 1930s, and unmissably decorated with polo trophies won by the late Maharaja of Jaipur. The hotel contains India’s only Indoor swimming pool, modelled on that of Buckingham Palace. The whole place and its ambience is a true fairy-tale experience.
Dinner - Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel, Jaipur
Air conditioned restaurant, Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel, Jaipur.
Overnight - Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel, Jaipur (1 night of 2)
Saturday 19th March, 2011 - Jaipur
Morning - Tour of Amber Fort and Jaipur City
Amber Fort Palace
The coach will take us to this unmissable yellow sandstone complex, located atop a hill 11 km north of Jaipur. Amber (pronounced Ambair) was the Rajput capital from 1037 until Jaipur was built, but the fort-palace was not begun until about 1600. You process up the long ramp on one of the resident elephants. Once through the enormous gate, you will disembark from your elephant in the courtyard before progressing up through the intricate chambers, hallways, maze of passages and courtyards until you reach the highest point, which offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
The capital of Rajasthan is known as the 'pink city' because all buildings are salmon-pink. It was built in 1727 by Rajput ruler, Jai Singh. You will visit his Jantar Mantar open air astronomical observatory built in the same era. Then you will view the Hawa Mahal 'Palace of the Winds' facade behind which the ladies of the court could watch the busy activities in the street below without being seen, that same intriguing street which you are standing in. Jaipur’s main focus is the huge City Palace complex, home to the Maharaja, where you’ll see the numerous rooms, formal gardens, and the fascinating Maharaja’s Museum containing his personal collection of weaponry, miniature paintings, royal attire and jewellery.
Early Afternoon - Return to Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel
Early Evening - Elephant Festival
Today, by no coincidence is Rajasthan’s Annual Elephant Festival at Jaipur’s Chaugan Stadium. It starts at 4pm and finishes at 7pm. The coach will take you there and back, stopping for an hour or so. No rides here but a parade of dozens of pachiderms, all photogenically bedecked in their finest.
Dinner - The Baradari Feast
If ever there was a place to indulge in a feast, it’s Rambagh. Served on silver Thalis, this special festive four-course Maharahja’s dinner (Baradari) will be served in a private location in the grounds. This is a typical Baradari Feast Menu. All dishes are served. Starters - Mahi Ajwani Tikka, (carom seed flavoured Calcutta bekti cooked in charcoal oven), Malai Murgh Tikka (cashewnut & cream marinated succulent breast of chicken), Achari Paneer Ke Khaas Tikkey (home made cottage cheese marinated with saffron and yoghurt), Hara Bhara Kebab (assorted vegetable patties stuffed with hung curd and mint). Main Courses - Lamb Roghan Josh Gosht, (lamb cooked in the traditional style), Avadhi Murgh Korma (boneless chicken cooked in Lucknowi style in silken gravy), Aloo Bukhara Kofta (prune stuffed potato dumplings in a red sauce finished with cream), Paneer Pasanda (deep fried cottage cheese patties simmered in a white gravy), Palak Mekai Shehzadi (babycorn and spinach cooked together as per the likings of the Nawabs), Dal Tadkewali (yellow lentil), Jeera Aur Zafrani Pulao (Deradoon basmati rice flavoured with saffron & cumin), assortment of Tandoori Breads, Papad, Pickles and Chutney. Dessert - Angoori Rasmalai (mini reduced milk dumplings simmered in saffron), Kulfi with Falooda, (saffron flavoured ice cream with rose syrup & homemade wheat flour spaghetti). Tea or Coffee.
Entertainment - Musical Duo
Sitar and tabla (drum) musicians will play during the feast.
Overnight - Taj Rambagh Palace Hotel, Jaipur (night 2 of 2)
Sunday 20th March, 2011 - Jaipur to Agra (via Fatehpur Sikri and Bharatpur)
Today is Holi Day, a festival of fun and frolic associated with the immortal love of Lord Krishna and Radha. You will see the build up to it in the preceeding days. Today there will be loads of people on the streets throwing coloured powders around. Harmless fun. In Agra you can join in but bring some old, disposable clothes.
Morning - Drive to Agra and Tour of Fatehpur Sikri (Emperor Akbar’s Ghost city)
Drive to Agra 235km and visit Fatehpur Sikri on the way. In 1571 Akbar constructed Fatephur (Victory) Sikri city exactly as we see it today, as the new capital of the Mughal empire, replacing the perfectly viable Agra, just 37 km away, which was left almost deserted. But after only fifteen years, Fatephur itself was abandoned and left as an evocative ghost-town, because, they say, of a lack of water! The perfectly preserved red sandstone buildings consist of palaces, courtyards, a life-size chess board, tombs and mosques. Akbar was most interested in his food, and it was during his regime that Moghul food was perfected. You’ll also see the emperor’s private kitchen (not in the guide books) still showing the soot from the cookers. We visit the Diwan-e-Khas (Private Audience Hall) with its remarkable central pillar. Also unmissable is Panch Mahal, the five storied structure, used as the viewing station for the hareem.
Lunch - Laxmi Niwas Palace Restaurant
At nearby Bharatpur at Laxmi Niwas Palace. Built alongside Laxmi Vilas in 1897 for the local Maharjas it has been recently restored and opened as a luxury hotel. A set lunch with Paneer is promised from the Palace’s own dairy and vegetables from their farm.
Afternoon - Drive to Agra
Drive to Agra, c40 miles.
Late Afternoon - Check into the Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel, Agra (2 nights)
Built in 2000, Amarvilas at once became Agra’s most demanded hotel, (and dearest!). It has a USP which makes it THE ONLY place to stay. Public rooms are stylishly elegant with the use of natural colours, teak and marble flooring. It has all the facilities, including two restaurants, landscaped gardens in the Mughal style, a swimming pool, shop and spa. Its USP is its proximity to the Taj Mahal. The Oberoi Amarvilas is located 600 meters away and uniquely every one of their bed rooms and suites, plus the lobby, bar and lounge have uninterrupted and truly astounding views of the monument from inside the room or on its terrace (see below). We rarely quote hotel blurb, but this is theirs and it’s accurate, 'Enjoy the luxury of your own private view of the greatest monument. Wake up to the glorious sight of the Taj, bathed by the first rays of dawn. Watch her sparkle by day as the sun shines on her architectural perfection. Allow yourself to be swept away by her romance at dusk. Let the nights be filled with the magic of the Taj by moonlight.' And that’s exactly what you can do... its’ full moon on the 19th March 2011.
Premier Room or Terrace Room
Our tour price includes a ‘Premier’ room. If you require a terrace room, it will cost approx £110 extra for the two nights. We think it’s worth it. State that you require this option on your booking form.
Early Evening - At Leisure
Enjoy the view, pool and gardens.
Evening - Demonstration
Tandoori cooking demonstration at the hotel. Chefs will invite you to have a go.
Dinner - Esphahan Restaurant, Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel
Set menu of traditional Indian food.
Overnight - Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel, Agra (1 of 2 nights)
World Cup - 20th March 2011 - India v West Indies in Chennai.
Monday 21st March, 2011 - Agra
For those that wish it, we will fix you an alarm call in time for you to witness sunrise over the Taj Mahal, sitting in the privacy of your own room.
Morning - Tour of Agra
After breakfast you finally get to enter the Taj Mahal gardens, and in style. Most of the hoi polloi enter by the busy West Gate. Not us, we transfer by the hotel’s electric buggies the short distance from the hotel to the quiet East Gate. As you pass through the gates, words cannot do justice to your first close up view of the world’s most famous building. It was built by Shah Jahan in deep grief upon the death (In her 21st childbirth) of his wife Empress Mumtaz. Our guide will take his time explaining the detail, as he moves you closer to the mausoleum. And then... it’s up the steps, onto the vast marble plinth and up to then into the Taj itself. You will see the foundations of the black Taj across the river Jamuna. When you have had your fill and only then, we will board our waiting coach for our excursion into Agra city, destination the Red Fort. Here you will enter the hareem, and the halls and see where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, in sight of his beloved Taj Mahal. Traffic permitting (and it can be awful) we will also visit the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, commissioned by the wife of Jahangir in 1622 as the tomb for her father. Described as 'jewel box', or the 'Baby Taj', it is regarded by many as a draft of the Taj Mahal, being the first building to be coated in white marble inlaid with very detailed pietra dura inlay.
Lunch - Dasaprakash South Indian Restaurant
And now for something completely different. It is probably the only venue on this tour where you will get to eat Keralan food. Our Agra agent recommends this place and tells me there's another, unaffiliated Dasaprakash in the city, but locals prefer this one. And since he will be there with us we can expect good things. Never mind the Formica tables and fake Tiffany-style lamps, it’s the food that counts. The Thali (sampler combination plate) may include crisp Appam (fried bread made from rice flour) and Rasam (thin, spicy lentil soup), fluffy Idlis (steamed rice cakes), Masala Dosa (thin rice -flour pancakes stuffed with potato curry) and an array of vegetable curries and accompaniments.
Afternoon - Shopping Trip to Moghul Jewellers
Those whose lives revolve around jewellery must visit Agra’s Kohinoor, visits by appointment only. And we’ve made an appointment. It’s a literal treasure chest, and the owners assure us they are descendants of the Mughal court jewellers. They even let you touch an emerald necklace which they claim belonged to Mumtaz (the very empress for whom the Taj Mahal was built). Today the bustling streets of Agra are home to a thriving carpet industry, leather workers and of course marble and sandstone sculptors, some of whom claim to be descendants of the craftsmen who helped build the great Taj Mahal.
Note - At some time during our stay at Amarvilas, we hope to have a detailed kitchen visit (their workload permitting).
Dinner - Poolside
Private poolside dinner.
Overnight - Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel, Agra (2 of 2 nights)
Tuesday 22nd March, 2011 - Agra via Sikandra to Delhi
Morning - Drive to Delhi (c200km - 2.5 hours) and Tour Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra
About 10 kilometres from Agra lies Sikandra and the tomb of the great Mughal, Akbar. It is in the centre of a 150 acre landscaped garden, home to inquisitive lemur monkeys. Akbar died (in 1605) before it was completed. His son Jehangir took the project on and significantly modified the original plans which accounts for the somewhat cluttered architectural lines of the tomb. Four red sandstone gates lead to the tomb complex: one is Muslim, one Hindu, one Christian, and one is Akbar's own design.
Mid-Morning - Check into The Imperial Hotel, Delhi (2 nights)
Conveniently situated off Connaught Circus, in Lutyen’s New Delhi, it was built in the 1930s and was the Delhi’s only luxury hotel until the 1970s, by which time its was faded, jaded and outclassed by the new builds in the city. All that has changed with the recent sympathetic restoration to its original art deco glory, making it indisputably once again Delhi’s no1 hotel. Set in spacious grounds, there is a swimming pool, two restaurants and a bar and it is still to Delhi-ites the place to have tea on the lawn.
Lunch - 1911 Restaurant
The Imperial’s self service buffet lunch is legendary, with a truly impressive choice of salads, main courses (Indian and international), desserts and cheeses. Spread over three areas - restaurant, verandah and terrace. The 1911 Restaurant is decorated in an understated grandeur style, from the art deco era.
Afternoon - Tour of New Delhi
Called New Delhi because the British built their grand new capital on relatively unused land in 1911. We will drive around the once-elegant Connaught Place (renamed to Rajiv Chowk, but still ‘CP’ to Delhi-ites), the British-designed colonial equivalent of a shopping mall, laid out in two concentric circular roads. New Delhi mostly has radial roads linked by many roundabouts. The centrepiece is India Gate, built by Lutyens at the centre of well-manicured lawns as a memorial, with its eternal flame, to the Indian soldiers who died in WWI. From India Gate we drive down Rajpath, the road (where Dicky’s Ghandi was filmed with 300,000 extras) that leads to the Lutyen-designed President's residence, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Parliamentary Buildings, and other government buildings. Then it’s on to one of the much older monuments in the area. Humayan's Tomb - the 2nd great Mughal emperor’s tomb was built in 1565 mostly out of red sandstone, with a white marble dome amid spacious gardens, which also houses the bulbous, octagonal tomb of Iza Khan, Humayan’s favourite courtier, built 20 years before Humayun's tomb.
Afternoon - Shopping
Whether or not you visited Mumbai’s Government run Central Cottage Industries Emporium, you mustn’t miss visiting its much larger Delhi sister, conveniently located opposite the Imperial. It is likened to a museum of clothes, craftwork and artefacts from all over India, where everything is for sale. No bargaining, but no hassle from the staff either. Open daily 10am - 7pm.
Dinner - Transfer to Dum Pukht Restaurant, Maurya Sheraton, Delhi
Dum Pukht, means ‘containing the steam’. A pot is filled with meat and spices; a ‘lid’ is made from chupatti dough and the ‘sealed’ pot is left undisturbed to slow-cook for a few hours. The magical moment comes when the pastry is removed and the fragrant steam escapes. It was relished by Akbar and perfected at the Lucknow court, whose Nawabs, the rich royals of the area, lived over two centuries ago. Today’s top exponent is Master Chef Imtiaz Qoreshi. He learned the technique from his father, who had learned from his father, right back 300 years to the Nawab court itself. In the 1990s, and without a single recipe written down (Qoreshi doesn’t read and write), Sheraton gave him a free hand to run his own Dum Pukht restaurant in the Maurya. It immediately gained top status. He has now retired and, his son Gulam Qoreshi has taken his place to continue the tradition. This is the perfect method for cooking the special Lucknow or Awadh or Pukki Biryani. (Pukki means 'cooked'). Both the meat and rice are cooked separately and then layered and baked. Other specialities include Raan e Dumpukht (a leg of mutton marinated in dark rum and stuffed with onions, cheese, and mint), Nehari (slow-cooked lamb knuckle). Badin Jaan (aubergine) and Dum ki Khumb (button mushrooms in gravy, fennel, and dried ginger). Lucknow is celebrated for its kebabs and none more so than Katori Kebab (‘silky textured’) made from paté-like minced lamb, cloves and cinnamon, drizzled with saffron. If we are lucky we will meet Chef Gulam and his boss, one of India’s rare female Exec Chefs, Maurya’s Ms Manisha Bhasin.
Overnight - Imperial Hotel, Delhi (night 1 of 2)
Wednesday 23rd March, 2011 - Delhi
Morning - Tour of Old Delhi
Shah Jehan founded the city of Shahjahanabad, now referred to as Old Delhi when, in 1648 he moved his capital from Agra to bring prestige to his reign. He built a new red fort, India’s largest mosque and a shopping street which was the envy of the world. The famous Delhi Red Fort (Lal Quila) was once the Mughal Empire’s most opulent fort. Compared with Agra’s Red Fort, which is well-preserved, Delhi’s Red Fort has long since been stripped of all valuable objects, and marble inlays. Many guides and the biased sound & light show blame the British for this. In fact most damage was caused by Turkish-born ruler of Persia, Nadir Shah, who in 1739, ransacked Delhi, massacred most of its population, and stole all the mughal treasure. Chandni Chowk, Shahjahanabad’s Main Street in 1650, facing the majestic Red Fort. It originally had a central canal running down its full length, and when moonlight reflected off the water it got the name Chandni Chowk or ‘Avenue of Moonlight’. The canals have long since gone and it is now a chaotically bustling area, typical of real India, containing a mix of stalls, shops, food outlets and temples. We will view the Jama Masjid literally meaning the Friday Mosque, India’s principal and biggest mosque. Between the mosque and Chandi Chowk is a narrow shop-lined street along which you will be transported by cycle rickshaws on your most photogenic journey of the tour. The locals go shopping here like nowhere else. Called Gali Paranthe Wali or Paranthe wali Gali, literally meaning ‘bread-makers alleyway’, it once had 12 bread-makers. At last count it has just three, all established in the 1860s. They sell 20 to 30 varieties of paratha, the layered, unleavened fried wholemeal flour (ata) cooked on tavas in ghee. And yes, you’ve got it; we’re dropping in for delicious and filling stuffed parathas. Time permitting, we’ll view the nearby Rajghat, the cremation site of and memorial to the assassinated Mahatma, Indira and Rajiv Ghandi.
Afternoon - At Leisure
Dinner - The Spice Route Restaurant, The Imperial Hotel, Delhi
This beautiful restaurant is divided into nine sections and serves Southeast Asian food, including South Indian and Thai. The walls are heavily decorated with murals, hand painted by temple artists.
Overnight - The Imperial Hotel, Delhi (night 2 of 2)
Thursday 24th March 2011 - Delhi to Heathrow
Morning - Transfer to Delhi Airport
A comfortable flight time allows you plenty of time to arise, breakfast and pack for 10.30am departure.
Flight Departs - Delhi 13.40
Jet Airways 9W 122. Non-stop flight.
Flight Arrives - London Heathrow 17.40
World Cup - 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th March 2011 - Quarter Finals in Dhaka, Colombo and Ahmadebad.
World Cup - 29th, 30th March 2011 - Semi Finals in Colombo and Mohali.
World Cup - April - Final in Mumbai (Bombay).