North India Luxury Tour Dec. 16, 2013 - Jan. 3, 2014 - Review & Participant's comments:
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Thank you again for an amazing and wonderful trip; I can't believe we visited so many places!
Now having returned to Fresno for almost three weeks, I still have a difficult time realizing that I have traveled to India and back. Thanks to you, our guide, it was an extraordinary experience. Every part of the trip was really fabulous! From the astronomical monuments, to the forts and palaces and our last day, the Haveli, India was similar to a dream. You did a superb job arranging the hotels and meals and I am grateful to you for all of your hard work as well as your compassionate leadership. I particularly appreciated all of your assistance with stairs and irregular foot paths. You were always there when I needed some additional help (and even when I didn't). I really cannot wait to return and hope that it will be with you and Joan, once again! Thank you so much for a colossal experience in India.
We had such a great trip, full of wonderful memories and beautiful images.
Michael & Jamie B.
The 19-day luxurious journey started with flight from Fresno with a 2-day stopover in Amsterdam to visit the Van Gogh museum and the Rijkmuseum. Outside Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam the driver of the Mercedez Van that took us to the downtown Hotel Hampshire was an Afghan named Afridi who had lived in India for some time before settling in Holland. He spoke perfect Hindi.
In India we landed in the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi at 1 am in the night. Our New Delhi representative, Gaurav Singh, met us outside the customs exit and garlanded us with marigold garlands. Gurjeet, a Sikh, was the driver of the Tempo Traveller van that remained with us throughout our India journey. Gurjeet drove us to the 5-star Le Meridien Hotel that is located in the heart of the capital designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens.
In morning we visited the Connaught Place. For lunch we went to Gulati's Restaurant on Pandara Road in New Delhi. Next day when Sky & Susana arrived we started the New Delhi sightseeing with Qutub Minar, Second Mughal Emperor Humayun's Tomb, Emperor Shahjahan's Jama Masjid and had the thrill of a rickshaw ride in Chandni Chowk Bazaar. For lunch we drove to the 5-star hotel, Ashok in New Delhi's diplomatic enclave to relish south Indian delicacies at their Sagar Ratna Restaurant.
In December 1911 King George V issued an imperial proclamation at the coronation darbar for creating a new capital in Delhi area. Until then the capital was at Calcutta (now Kolkata) and it moved to Shimla during the summer months. The city was chosen because it was equidistant from Karachi, Bombay and Calcutta. In his proclamation speech King George expressed his desire that the planning and design be done with great deliberation so the new city is worthy of this ancient & beautiful city in every way. The selected British architect, Edwin Lutyens, created a fusion of the east and west. The styles influencing the Indian elements in his architecture were derived from Fatehpur Sikri and many ancient royal palaces including the Palace of Datia near Gwalior in central India.
A group of enterprising Sikh contractors were chosen for the construction of the new British East India Company capital in New Delhi. A special train line was constructed to bring the Dholpur sandstone for the buildings to the construction site. A combination of beige and red sandstone was used in all the buildings of the British government. At one end of a grand boulevard named Kingsway (now called Rajpath) was the Viceroy's mansion. It is now Rashtrapati Bhawan, the official residence of the President of India. On either side of the road from this grand palace were the Central Secretariat buildings. They are now the Prime Minister's and Home Minister's offices. The Queensway (Janpath), the road from Connaught Place met this boulevard at a massive square that is called Vijay Chowk - the President of India receives the guard of honor from the Indian Armed Forces on Republic Day (January 26) at this square.
In Agra we stayed at the 5-star Wyndham Grand Hotel wondered at the unique architecture of the mausoleum of Itmad-ud-Daulah, designed and patronized by Empress Nur Jahan for her parents, Mirza Ghiaz Beg and Begum Asmat. According to some contemporary accounts the ground floor of the mausoleum may have earlier served as the residence of Mirza Ghiaz Beg's family. The final design of the building is believed to be derived from a jewelry box. At a mock-Bazaar on the occasion of Navroz, the Persian New Year, Mehrunissa (Daughter of Mirza Ghiaz Beg) and her niece, Arjumand Bano Begum (Daughter of Asaf Khan, the son of Mirza Ghiaz Beg) were serving at a jewelry store where imitation glass jewelry was being sold as real with precious stones. Prince Salim was attracted to Mehrunissa while his son, Khurram from his Rathore Rajput wife, Manmati, was attracted to Arjumand. Emperor Akbar did not want his heir apparent to marry a Shia women. He had Mehrunissa married to an Afghan commander in his army and had them posted in Bihar, away from the Mughal capital. Prince Khurram being not the first in line of succession was allowed to be engaged but his father would not allow Khurram to marry Arjumand until her aunt accepted his offer. After passing of Emperor Akbar, his son ascended the throne with the title of Jahangir (Conqueror of the World) and the Ghiaz family persuaded Mehrunissa, who was by then a widow, to marry the Emperor. She received the title of Nurjahan (Light of the World). One year later Prince Khurram (later Emperor Shahjahan) was allowed to marry Arjumand who received the title of Mumtaj Mahal and after her death had the most famous mausoleum built for her - the Taj Mahal. The tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah has a very distinct feminine and Persian touch, signifying its design by Empress Nur Jahan.
Later we saw the tomb of the third Mughal Emperor Akbar, whose main gate added later during the reign of his son, Emperor Jahangir, is more impressive than the tomb itself.
The most awaited Day started with the mesmerizing sightseeing of the world famous Taj Mahal, the mausoleum of the Queen Arjumand Bano Begum who received the title of Begum Mumtaj Mahal from her husband the 5th. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. Later the emperor himself was also buried beside the queen's grave, the only architectural element in the complex that is not symmetrical. In the afternoon we visited the red sandstone original palaces built during the reign of Emperor Akbar in the Agra Fort and the white marble palaces that were replaced by Emperor Shahjahan. In the evening we drove to Dayalbagh in the north of Agra for a musical concert by Dr. Lovely Sharma on the Sitar and Debasis Chakroborty on the Indian classical slide guitar.
The capital of Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri was one of the highlights of this tour. The city was inhabited for 14 years only and thereafter deserted for more than 400 years until archaeological restoration began in early 20th. century. The third Mughal Emperor did not have a male heir to the throne and came to this village of stone cutters to seek blessings of a Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chistie, who correctly prophesied that the Emperor would have 3 sons. To enjoy the company of the holy man, Emperor Akbar, moved his capital to the Sikri village. Between discussions with religious scholars and priests, the architecture of the Fatehpur Sikri, the new capital evolved blending Hindu, Jain & Buddhist architectural elements with features of Islamic building styles - creating a unique city. The saint's mausoleum is the only white marble edifice in the entire city. Over the grave of the saint is a wooden canopy decorated with mother of pearls in geometrical patterns.
We drove further to Umed Lake Palace outside Dausa town for lunch. The neighboring Chand Baori in Abhineri village is the world’s deepest Step-well. The well was built near an ancient temple dedicated to Harshat Mata (the Joy-Giving Goddess).
On arrival we checked in the 5-star Marriott Hotel.
As we were driving towards the hotel entrance, we were surrounded by over a hundred cars of guests attending a Kothari family wedding. Kotharis are one of the world's biggest exporters of cut and polished emerald stones. In the hotel we stopped to admire the latest, designer attires of the ladies and men arriving at the wedding. It was like a designer fashion parade.
The morning after arrival in Jaipur started with a drive through the glamorous shopping malls and high-rise office buildings to the walled city that Sawai Jai Singh designed, planned and constructed in 1721. One-seventh of the city in its north-west is occupied by City Palace complex including the Chandra Mahal personal residence of the descendents of the former Jaipur royal family. We entered the walled city on to the Chowra Rasta (Broad Street - it is not any broader than other main streets but it has majestic lamp posts with the Solar emblem of the Jaipur royal family) and stopped by the Hawa Mahal - the palace of winds - Sawai Pratap Singh commissioned the architect, Lal Chand Ustad, in 1799 to design a royal parade viewing gallery for the Maharani and ladies of the royal family in which they could sit behind latticed screens so the general public on the street below could not see them.
The five-storied building has stairs as well as ramps on which carriages with royal ladies could be rolled right up to the viewing gallery on top. We drove further north coming out of the walled city from its Dhruv Pol or the North-Star Gate and drove past the Jal Mahal - a palace built on an island in a lake to be used for bird hunting lodge.
The road meandered in the mountains a little further until we reached the majestic Amber Fort perched on top of a mountain. At the foot of the mountain we mounted the beautifully decorated elephants for a 20-minute ride up to the Amber palaces of Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Maharaja Man Singh. Mirza Raja Jai Singh was contemporary to Emperors Jahangir and Shahjahan and the interior decoration as well as the architecture of his palaces are influenced by the Mughal architecture. There is some inlay art work on the border panels of the lower walls and above that is dazzling convex mirror mosaic in floral and geometrical patterns. The gardens are also laid out in the Mughal Charbagh (4-part) style. Maharaja Man Singh's palaces originally had fresco paintings of which only a few remnants have survived. We descended from the palaces on Jeeps and drove to the Hathi Gram (the elephant village) where saw the living quarters of the elephants and their masters.
Later we saw the demonstrations of cotton textile wooden block-printing and carpet weaving. In the afternoon we went to the City Palace of the Maharajas of Jaipur where we saw the garments and textiles used by former Maharajas and Maharanis of Jaipur in the Mubarak Mahal (before independence of India it used to be the reception office where one registered for an audience with the Maharaja or his ministers. Crossing through a massive arched gateway with giant, polished brass doors we entered in to the private courtyard where the Sarvatobhadra - hall of private audience. The pillared hall is famous for its twin, massive Silver Urns. These urns were commissioned by Sawai Maharaja Madho Singh II to carry Ganges water to London when he chartered and re-designed the P&O Ocean Liner SS Olympia for his voyage to attend the coronation of King Edward VII on August 9, 1902. A special Krishna Temple was built in the Ship for the Maharaja's prayer ritual. An adjacent courtyard is popularly called the Mayur or Mor Chowk (Peacock) because its two entrance gateways are decorated with peacock motifs. It is the private courtyard of Chandra Mahal and gala banquets are held in it for the royal family and their guests. Across the courtyard of the Sarvatobhadra is the Diwan-i-Am or hall of private audience that is now a paintings and manuscripts gallery. Outside the City Palace is the Yantra Shala popularly called the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory. The large sundial of this observatory is the largest in the world, its Gnomon (the triangle) is 88.5 feet high and the sundial has an accuracy of 2 seconds. One of its unique instruments is the Jai Prakash Yantra (the light of Sawai Jai Singh instrument) that enables one to locate the position of stars and planets in day time with the help of the shadow of the sun. It comprises of two giant, inverted hemi-spheres with stairs cut in to it. Of the 17 astronomical instruments in Jaipur Jantar Mantar all except one are functional. The one that is not functional was never completely constructed.
Gurjeet drove us next from Jaipur to Deogarh in about 5 hours. We entered the small town with narrow streets flanked by shops selling everything of daily necessity. We entered the Deogarh Palace through a large arched gateway. The ancient palace built originally in 16th century has been tastefully renovated with period furnishings and draperies. Each room has a different interior decoration. After checking in we went to our rooms and everyone went to the Ayurvedic Spa in the hotel, which was very welcome after the Jetlag and the drives to all the interesting places since we landed in Delhi. In the evening we enjoyed and some folks participated in the Rajasthani Folk Dances in one of the many courtyards in the palace. Next day we were given a guide tour of the Sheesh Mahal (Glass Mosaic Palace) that is now converted into a suite and can be rented. We explored all the stairways and passages in the palace and enjoyed the panoramic views overlooking the entire Deogarh Town all around the palace. Some people went to a shop in the town for bargain hunting for cotton dresses. In the evening we had jeep ride in the countryside to a beautiful lake where we had tea and a small picnic. At dinner we celebrated my (Brij's) birthday in the dining room of the palace.
The drive from Deogarh Palace to Udaipur was a mere 135 kilometers or 79 miles. On arrival in city we visited the vintage car collection of the Maharanas of Udaipur on our way to the Taj Lake Palace Hotel. After check-in we went for lunch at the Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel and then enjoyed a relaxing boat ride on Pinchola Lake ending with the sightseeing of Jag Mandir Lake Palace on an island. The Taj Lake Palace, begun in 1743 and inaugurated in 1746, the new palace was named Jag Niwas after its builder, his highness Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar. Maharana Bhagat Singhji of Mewar Dynasty converted this palace in to a hotel in 1963. In 1971 the Taj Group of Hotels took over its management and since then it has been one of the world’s most luxurious, heritage hotels. In the evening we enjoyed a folk dance performance in one of the courtyards of the palace. Dinner was in the Indian restaurant, Neel Kamal, of the palace where the Chef, Manish, personally came over to our table to greet us and the dinner was accompanied by Indian classical music with Ram Krishna Bose on the Sitar. Later we enjoyed a classical flute player on the terrace of the hotel. Some participants enjoyed the hot whirlpool overlooking the City Palace of the Maharanas.
Breakfast was in Jharokha Restaurant with views of the Pichola Lake. The breakfast spread included Indian & exotic fruits along with north & south Indian dishes as well as a choice of American & continental cuisine. The day started with the sightseeing of Maharanas’ City Palace and demonstration of the art of miniature painting in the original medieval style in the Maharana’s Art School & Galary in the City Palace. Our guide, Narendra Joshi, went to the local St. Joseph's Catholic School and his classmate & lifelong friend was the son of the Maharana of Udaipur. Narendra was invited by the palace for his friend's engagement to a princess from Orissa and was planning to fly to the east Indian state for marriage ceremony. The Maharanas of Mewar had their original capital in the present day pilgrimage town of Nagda, 30 kilometers or 19 miles north of Udaipur. It was established by the 1st. Maharana, Guhil, in 568 CE. In the 8th. century CE the capital was moved to Chittor, where the successive Maharanas built the largest Fort and city in contemporary India over remains of a Mauryan, older fort. Already before the sacking of Chittorgarh by Mughal Emperor Akbar, in February 1568 after a long siege that began in October 1567, the plans for a new capital were under way. The construction of the Mewar Dynasty’s City Palace in Udaipur started in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh and continued by his successors over a period of about 300 years. Today the visitor’s see the Mardana (male section) and Zanana (female section) of the museum part of the palace. Apart from this two other sections of the palace are converted in to hotels: “The Shiv Niwas Palace” and “The Fateh Prakash Palace”. The descendents of the Maharanas of Mewar still reside in one section of the palace.
For lunch we drove to the Fatehgarh Palace Hotel perched on a hilltop with panoramic views of the Udaipur city.
Later we walked through the Tripolia (3-gate entrance) of the City Palace for sightseeing of Jagdish Temple that was constructed by Maharana Jagat Singhji in 1651.
Next morning we checked out of our paradise on the Pichola Lake Island to drive 93 kilometers or 58 miles in about one & a half hours to Ranakpur to explore the Chaturmukh Jain Temple that was built between 1437 and 1458.
This Jain temple is one of the finest in India in its design and sculpted columns, walls and the idols of the first Tirthankar, the initial teacher of Jainism. Each of its over 1000 pillars are unique, different from any other one in the temple. After viewing the Jain temple and a personalized meditation by Pandit Sharma, the chief priest of the temple, we drove to Jodhpur, the former capital of Marwar and the capital of this kingdom of the Rathore Maharajas. We checked in Ajit Bhawan Palace Hotel.
After breakfast at Ajit Bhawan Palace Hotel our local guide, Kamaljeet Patodi, escorted us to Mehrengarh Fort where we visited the palaces of the Rathore Maharajas of Marwar and later viewed an amazing collection of Rajasthani Marwar miniature paintings in their art gallery.
After a delicious lunch at Indana Palace in Jodhpur we drove to Pushkar, the Hindu pilgrimage center. It was the New Year's Eve and the hotel had blaring music on.
On New Year's day we drove after breakfast to the village of Samode for sightseeing of the Samode Haveli and lunch at the royal residence. We arrived at the Roop Niwas Kothi at dinner time.
We visited the Anandilal Poddar and Murarka Havelis in Nawalgarh. Both are intricately painted on the exteriors and interiors.
On our last day in India we drove after lunch at Roop Niwas Palace to Gurgaon. On arrival we had a room available for freshening up before our farewell dinner at the Pallazio Hotel in Gurgaon. Around mid-night we drove to the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi for the return flight to Los Angeles.