Welcome to the heart of India - of medieval kingdoms, river forts and princely palaces, of abandoned cities and of the wild jungles. Madhya Pradesh is often visited for its magnificent collection of tiger reserves and excellent wildlife safaris - Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and Satpura, are some of the examples to choose from. But beyond the tiger are several UNESCO World Heritage sites at Sanchi, Bhimbetka and Khajuraho, all reflecting the ancient and more recent footprints of human activity in the Deccan Plateau.
In the north, the 10th and 11th century temples of the Chandela Dynasty at Khajuraho are decorated with some of the finest stone carving in India, their exquisite erotic sculptures a mere sideline to the overall architectural achievement. Further south, the former princely states of Jhansi and Gwalior with their imposing hill fortresses (yes not just in Rajasthan) played an important part in India’s freedom struggle. Further south near the charming capital, Bhopal, is Sanchi home to Buddhism since the 1st century CE with remains dating back to several eras until the 12th century. Nearby, another UNESCO site beckons - the rock shelters of Bhimbetka are filled with some of the world’s most beautiful rock art dating back to the Mesolithic period. Back in Bhopal, you will find a collection of lovely museums with some of the best tribal art and craft from the various forest communities of the Deccan.
In the south the charming river fortress of Maheshwar and the lost city of Mandu, remind you of another era, and are a lovely way to combine a trip with the Maharashtrian sites of Ajanta & Ellora.
MAHARASHTRA & GOA - THE KONKAN COAST
Maharashtra, home to its iconic capital city, Mumbai, is India’s third largest state stretching from the Konkan Coast on the Arabian Sea to the heart of India’s center on the Deccan Plateau. Within this are a diverse set of places and experiences - from iconic Mumbai to palm-fringed beaches in the Malvan; from UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ajanta & Ellora to the tiger reserve of Tadoba.
Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is India’s New York. It's a city that never says die, always up and about, with a heart of gold. Millionaires and blue-collar travel on the same trains, starlets and gangsters walk hand-in-hand, and it’s full of dreamers. Dreamers that have created India’s most prolific film industry as well as Asia’s biggest slum and the world’s most expensive home). The southern section of the city is its oldest and contains grand colonial-era architecture including the UNESCO World Heritage Victoria Railway Terminus. But if you decide to explore a little deeper, then you will find unusual bazaars, tucked-away temples and some truly inspiring people and businesses. There is plenty of shopping therapy - from hip art enclaves in Kala Ghoda, to luxury malls, and fantastic street fashion markets.
Eastwards lies Aurangabad, location of India’s and probably the world’s most impressive rock-cut caves from an artistic and architectural perspective. These rock-caves of Ajanta are best known for their superb 5th century wall-paintings, while Ellora has some of the most extraordinary carvings and architecture from the 6th-10th centuries. The magnificent Kailashnath Temple is carved out of a single piece of rock – an impossible feat of engineering. Both of these are remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Westwards, the romantic Konkan Coast, fringing the Arabian Sea, is lined with spectacular, crumbling forts and sandy beaches; a small collection of village homestays make the perfect way to end a holiday in India - quiet beaches, quaint fishing villages, and delicious Malvani cuisine.
Further south lies Goa - a former Portuguese colony, and even though a part of India, feels like you dropped into a different time zone. The air is thick with susegad (Portuguese) meaning a laid-back relaxed attitude; this is the way to be in Goa, especially with its string of beautiful beaches (some quiet, some crowded) and trance parties. But there is obviously much more than meets the eye. There is remarkably well preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, dating back to the early 16th century, baroque architecture, white-washed churches, colourful festivals, and soaring cathedrals, especially in Old Goa. Drive eastwards, and you leave Goa’s beaches and its cliched lifestyle far behind as you enter the Western Ghats with its pristine tropical rainforest. Here little wildlife lodges help you uncover examples of some of India’s precious biodiversity.
Goa can be a lovely end to an Indian holiday. Whether you are finishing up a holiday in Hampi or travelling overland from Delhi through central India, or even just doing a holiday in Rajasthan, there is nothing better than driving through palm-fringed country roads, hanging by a shack on a quiet beach, and watching the sun go down as you quaff a chilled beer with spicy seafood.
Like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat is a hidden gem of India, a state filled with recently annointed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but also steeped in a rich cultural heritage. Ahmedabad is India’s only city to be accorded UNESCO recognition and in recent years has done much to shake off its chaotic reputation. Its remarkable architecture, excellent arts scene, and delicious street-food draws you into its fold. But step outside Ahmedabad and you will discover the state’s many hidden delights. Traditional artisans in tribal villages weave, embroider, dye and print some of India’s finest textiles in the Great Rann of Kutch. National parks harbour some of India’s most endangered wildlife such as the Wild Ass and Great Indian Bustard. Here in the forests of Gir, you will find the last remaining prides of Asiatic lions. Like Rajasthan, Gujarat also was home to several princely states, and you can easily stay at a palace for a fraction of what Rajasthan costs. Many of them are quirky, but you will always find warm hosts and plenty of tales. In the south in Patan, don't miss the 11th century Rani-ki-Vav, India’s most spectacular step-well or baori. Built as an inverted temple, it is a remarkable example of subterranean architecture that played an important role as a water reservoir.
If you have an interest in Mahatma Gandhi, you must visit the Sabarmati Ashram where he lived and created the non-violent movement that went on to inspire Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
ADVENTURES IN THE KONKAN, DECCAN & MALNAD
Mumbai - Goa - Hampi – Malnad - Bangalore
13-nights | Price on request
An unusual Indian experience for the young at heart combines urban adventures in Mumbai, beach time in Goa, explorations of the ruins of ancient empire in the heart of the country, and walks and treks amidst stunning coffee and forest filled mountains of the South Western Ghats.