India, that ancient land, has much to offer: a varied and immensely rich culture; splendid landscapes; dazzling palaces and fascinating archeological sites. Not all that vast country has, until recently, been easily accessible. Now, with new airports and better road, we can visit the Deccan in comfort, and there is much to see.
The very earliest temple in India, at Aihole, and the imposing remains at Hampi of the Kingdom of Vijayanagara are amongst the places which, formerly, were very hard to reach; so are the carved caves at Badami and the only coming together, in Pattadakal, of Northern and Southern style Hindu temples. Then, what is a trip to India without a spectacular palace? In Mysore, the Maharajahs did themselves particularly well and followed the rule that too much is never quite enough.
Just as the sites are spectacular, so they are paired with excellent hotels. Indian cuisines come in many varieties, and we will have a chance to taste them, but all our hotels also provide Western-style food: just how daring you are will be entirely up to you. The travel itself will be carried out in great comfort: throughout our journey, Micato Safaris, a five star travel agency whom I have known for more than thirty years, and with whom my long-time associate Harriet Friedlander and I have a long relationship, will take superb care of us.
On a more personal note, this trip will benefit from the passion for India and its rich civilization which have been mine for most of my life. As we are now able to visit these new sites, I can fulfill a long-held desire, that of sharing these extraordinary places. I have lectured about them at the Metropolitan Museum and in other museums across the country. Now I look forward to showing you all these fascinating sites.
Art Historian & Author
The Center for Khmer Studies
Itinerary in Brief…
Saturday, February 15 – Depart USA
Sunday, February 16 – Arrive in Mumbai, India
Monday, February 17 – Mumbai
Tuesday, February 18 – Mumbai
Wednesday, February 19 – Fly to Aurangabad
Thursday, February 20 – Aurangabad
Friday, February 21 – Fly to Mumbai
Saturday, February 22 – Fly to Mysore via Chennai
Sunday, February 23 – Mysore
Monday, February 24 – Drive to Bangalore, fly to Vidyanagar; drive to Hampi
Tuesday, February 25 – Hampi
Wednesday, February 26 – Drive to Badami
Thursday, February 27 – Drive to Hubli; fly to Cochin
Friday, February 28 – Cochin
Saturday, February 29 – Cochin; Depart
Sunday, March 1 – Arrive USA
Depart USA – Saturday, February 15
Arrive Mumbai, India – Sunday, February 16
Arrive in Mumbai in the late evening and transfer to the Taj Mahal Hotel. From your tower rooms, you will look down at the Gateway of India.
Mumbai – Monday, February 17
The morning is at leisure. After lunch, begin our exploration of the city with a visit to the Gateway of India, the city’s most famous landmark built in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. A short drive takes us to some of the most spectacular Victorian Gothic buildings in the city. This often extravagant style, although it is the work of British architects, manages to add an Indian touch to its European origins.
Drive on to see a special example of one of Mumbai’s iconic buildings: the Victoria Terminus was built during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year. It is an extraordinary conglomeration of domes, spires, Corinthian columns and minarets in a style that was described by journalist James Cameron as “Victorian-Gothic-Saracenic-Italianate-Oriental-St. Pancras-Baroque.” The first train in India left from this station in April 1853; today half a million commuters use the station every day.
Continue on to visit Mani Bhavan, Mahatma Gandhi’s Bombay base between 1917 and 1934. It is now a permanent museum and memorial to the Mahatma, and contains a research library of more than 20,000 volumes. Later, gather for welcome remarks by Olivier, followed by dinner.
Mumbai – Tuesday, February 18
This morning, return to Gateway of India and embark a boat for Elephanta Island to visit the Elephanta Caves. The Elephanta Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, was probably created during the 8th century AD, though the caves may have had earlier Buddhist origins. The Temple has some of the most important sculpture in India. The afternoon is at leisure, perhaps for shopping for which Mumbai is famous or a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Mumbai to Aurangabad – Wednesday, February 19
Begin the morning at the Prince of Wales Museum. Its collection include important Gandhara and early Indian sculpture, a superb collection of Indian 17th and 18th century paintings and jewelled objects made for Moghul-era grandees. Fly to Aurangabad in the afternoon and proceed to the Vivanta hotel where we stay for the next two nights.
Aurangabad – Thursday, February 20
Spend the day exploring the Ajanta Caves, dating from about 200 BC to 650 AD and located in a steep crescent-shaped hillside in the densely forested ravines of the Sahyadri Hills. After the late 7th century they were overgrown by jungle and lay unnoticed for many centuries, until they were found and excavated. Opening on the hillside, these mostly Buddhist prayer halls and monasteries combine spectacular architecture carved from the live rock to some of the most important early paintings in India.
Aurangabad to Mumbai – Friday, February 21
This morning visit the Ellora Caves, an impressive complex of rock shrines representing the three different faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The most important of these is the magnificent Kailasa Temple. The largest monolithic structure in the world, it is an architectural masterpiece entirely carved from the live rock. Stone elephants surround it; reliefs illustrating stories from the Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabarata decorate its outer walls.
This afternoon is at leisure. An optional visit will be available to Bibi ka Maqbara, a beautiful mausoleum of Rabia-ul-Daurani, wife of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Built towards the end of the Mughal era, the monument’s name translates literally to ‘Tomb of the Lady’. This is the only specimen of Mughal architecture in the Deccan plateau. Later tonight, fly back to Mumbai for an overnight stay at the Taj Santacruz.
Mumbai to Mysore – Saturday, February 22
The morning Olivier will give a briefing about the upcoming visits. In the early afternoon fly to Mysore via Chennai. Upon arrival, continue to the Fortune JP Palace Hotel. The city of royal palaces and sandalwood, Mysore was the seat of the Maharajas of Mysore, who firmly believed that, when building a palace, too much is never quite enough.
Mysore – Sunday, February 23
Drive to Somnathpur, located on the banks of the River Kaveri, and most famous for the spectacular 13th century Somnathpur Temple. Built during the reign of a king of the Hoysala dynasty, it is the only such temple to have retained the towers surmounting the shrines. It is also richly decorated with sculptures on its outer walls. This afternoon, visit the flamboyant Mysore Palace. Also known as Amba Vilas Palace, this is the official residence of the Wodeyar dynasty, the erstwhile royal family of Mysore that ruled the state of Mysore for over seven centuries. The palace exhibits a blend of Dravidian, Indo-Saracenic, Roman and Oriental architectural styles and is said to be the most popular site in India after the Taj Mahal!
Mysore to Hampi – Monday, February 24
Depart Mysore after breakfast, stopping first to visit the ruins of the Srirangapatnam Fort. This historical island citadel on the Kaveri River became famous for battles fought here by the British forces in their attempt to subdue the legendary emperor, Tipu Sultan. His charming garden pavilion has happily survived. Continue to Bangalore and fly to Vidyanagar. Upon arrival, drive on to Hampi and stay at the luxurious Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace.
Hampi – Tuesday, February 25
Spend the day exploring Hampi. The Vijayanagara empire was the last, and largest and richest of the South Indian states. For two centuries, from the 14th to the 16th, it embellished Hampi, its capital. Temples, a stone chariot, an elephant stable and other monuments look their best in the dramatic hilly landscape. This dramatic site was, until recently, very hard to access; we will see its splendors at leisure.
Hampi to Badami – Wednesday, February 26
The drive from Hampi to Badami, through an unspoiled landscape, will show us a little-visited part of India. After lunch, visit Aihole, the cradle of Indian temple architecture. It is a fascinating testament to the various styles of art and architecture that evolved in the area. While the area is home to various Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments, the temple dedicated to the Goddess Durga with its profusion of intricate carvings is of particular interest. Dinner and overnight at Clarks Inn Hotel.
Badami to Cochin – Thursday, February 27
This morning, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pattadakal will offer us a cluster of fascinating monuments, the largest and most sophisticated structure being the 8th century temple of Virupaksha, built by the Southern queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s victory over the Pallava kings. Continue to Badami, the prized capital of the Chalukya dynasty which ruled over the area between the 6th and 8th centuries. Of special interest are the famed cave temples with their magnificent carvings of Nataraja – the 18 handed version of the Hindu god, Shiva and another of Vishnu, seated on a coiled serpent.
Then drive to Hubli for the flight to Cochin, now known as Kochi, located in the southern India state of Kerala, and boasting a stunning location between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. Upon arrival, transfer to the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa on scenic Willingdon Island, with stunning views of Cochin Harbour.
Cochin – Friday, February 28
Cochin boasts of a stunning location between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. A trading port since at least Roman times, Cochin is on the main route between Europe and China. Explore the city this morning and begin with Fort Cochin. The large, graceful Chinese fishing nets that line the shore of Fort Cochin are probably the single most familiar image of Kerala. Said to have been introduced by traders from the court of Kublai Khan, they cantilever over the harbour, and operate by a system of weights and levers, raising periodically to check the catch. Many of Fort Cochin’s 16th century buildings are due to Portugal’s Alfonzo de Albuquerque, who arrived with half a dozen ships bearing settlers and five friars. Continue along green and leafy streets to the Church of St. Francis, the first European church in India.
When the Portuguese embarked on a policy of persecution of non-believers in their territories around Goa, the Raja of Cochin gave the Jewish people a parcel of land adjacent to the royal palace in Mattancherry. The Jewish population spoke the local Malayalam, and they made excellent go-betweens for foreigners seeking to establish trading ties. The surrounding area is still called Jew Town, where you will spend some time at the end of your tour. The afternoon is at leisure, perhaps to visit a local market. Tonight we will enjoy a farewell dinner.
Cochin; Departure for Home – Saturday, February 29
This morning drive to Alleppey through one of India’s most beautiful and serene landscapes, endless coconut groves and rice paddies. Alleppey (now called Alappuzha), and also known as ‘The Venice of the East,’ is nestled in the midst of a thick tangle of lush tropical waterways. Board a traditional houseboat for an idyllic cruise through the palm-shaded backwaters of the city. The term “backwaters” actually refers to the extensive network of rivers, lakes, canals and lagoons that lace together the coast and interior south of Cochin. In the comfort of your boat, float through waterways lined with dense tropical vegetation, and observe rural Keralan lifestyles. A traditional Kerala lunch will be served on board. Return to Cochin late afternoon, where rooms are available at our hotel until late-night departures for flights home.
Arrive USA – Sunday, March 1
The following services and amenities are included during your journey through India:
- Lectures and on-site commentary by Olivier Bernier
- Luxury accommodations as per the itinerary
- All meals, with local wine and local beer, bottled water, soft drinks, coffee and tea
- Laundry service
- All entrances and camera fees
- Airport / Hotel /Airport private transfers
- All porterage
- All gratuities, including to the Micato Travel Director, Guides and Drivers
- Domestic Air
- Alcoholic Beverages other than those included with meals
- Dry cleaning
- Items of a personal nature such as phone calls, shopping and the cost to obtain the India visa
Trip insurance (highly recommended –Optional travel insurance for this itinerary is available through Trip Mate. The premium is 7% of the program cost and covers the international air.
Rates are as follows:
- Per person rate, sharing in double occupancy: $17,950
- Single Supplement: $2,250
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