Jim Corbett’s India

gallery_wildlife9_newWorld Discovery’s Roy Davies writes….

“On a recent visit to India I was kindly presented on my birthday with a copy of Jim Corbett’s “The Temple Tiger”.  First published in 1954, this is a classic account of how the legendary hunter, author and conservationist came to the rescue of a number of villages in the Kumaon region of the Himalayan foothills that had been devastated by man-eating tigers and leopards for a number of years.   Given the scale of the terror in the first decade of the 20th century – it’s reckoned, for example, that the Champawat tiger and the Panar leopard killed between them a total of 836 human beings – you will understand why Jim Corbett came to be regarded as a hero!

Jim Corbett was born in the former British hill station of Nainital, and continued to live there for most of his life before moving to Kenya.  His books are thrilling and beautifully written, and are well worth finding. In 1936 Corbett went on to found the National Park that now bears his name.  Tigers still roam the forests of the Corbett Reserve but no longer threaten the lives of the local villagers.  It’s one of the more attractive Indian game reserves and has an incredible variety of birdlife, as well as the larger mammals and herds of deer.”

World Discovery have added a new 6 day private tour that can be taken as an extension from Delhi; it includes 3 nights at the wonderful Jim’s Jungle Retreat, including daily morning and afternoon jeep safaris in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, and 2 nights of relaxation in a heritage hotel overlooking Nainital Lake.  Jim Corbett’s India starts at £1125 per person and is available from November to mid-June.

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Umaid Bhawan Palace voted the Best Hotel in the World

umaid-bhawan-palaceThe sumptuous Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, managed by Taj Hotels & Resorts, has been voted the ‘Best Hotel in the World’ in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Awards 2016.  This is the first time an Indian hotel has acheived this accolade.

Named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present Maharaja of Jodhpur, this golden-yellow sandstone monument was conceived on the grandest possible scale, in the fashionable Art Deco style of that time. After 15 years in construction, the 347-room palace was finally completed in 1943 – and has served as the principal residence of the Jodhpur royal family since.

You can upgrade to the Umaid Bhawan Palace on World Discovery’s ‘India of the Maharajas’ tour – 15 days from £1185 per person –  or stay there as an extension to several of our other northern India itineraries.

World Discovery’s Top 5 Hotels in India

I’m frequently asked the question “What is the best hotel you’ve ever stayed in?”  It’s an almost impossible one to answer, as each hotel is dependent as much as location, size and style as much as the quality of service, food and accommodation.  Today I’ve been thinking about my years of travelling in India, and here’s my personal top 5 of the hotels I’ve enjoyed in this amazing country.

No. 1 – The Lake Palace, Udaipur

Lake Palace from city1The Taj Lake Palace is located in the middle of Lake Pichola and is without doubt one of the world’s most romantic hotels.  Built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II, this unique palace spreads across a four-acre island – an almost surreal vision in marble.  The hotel’s 200 rooms and suites are all different in layout and design.  This is a stunning hotel, managed by the prestigious Taj Hotels Group, with fantastic food and service, and is totally unique in style and atmosphere.  It’s a magical experience to approach the hotel on its own private island by the small boat from the city.  This a hotel with a dreamlike quality that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

No. 2 – Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra

RoomThe Oberoi Amarvilas is located just 600 metres from the world-famous Taj Mahal, and all guest rooms and suites, as well as the lobby, bar and lounge, offer breathtaking views of the monument.  Built in a style inspired by Moorish and Mughal architecture, the resort is a splendid display of terraced lawns, fountains, reflection pools and pavilions.  No other hotel in Agra comes near to the Amarvilas in either quality or proximity to the Taj; it’s in a league of its own.  Naturally it comes with a hefty price tag, but I would say it’s worth it.  An unforgettable experience.

No. 3 – Glenburn Tea Estate, near Darjeeling

Glenburn Tea with a Private View of Mt KanchenjungaMy favourite mountain retreat in India – “a little corner of heaven” as one guest described it.  Consisting of just 8 rooms (all completely different), housed in two separate bungalows, Glenburn is a place to get away from it all, either to simply relax and take in the breathtaking scenery of the Kanchenjunga Mountain Range, or hike through the forest, raft on the river, or enjoy the superb birdwatching.   Started by a Scottish tea company in 1860, Glenburn is now in the hands of the third and fourth generations of the Prakash family, who over the years have come to be known as the “Chaiwala family” – which literally means “tea planters”.  You’ll also learn about the fascinating process of tea making during your stay.  From bush to factory – and into your tea cup at a tasting session – discover what goes into making a fine Darjeeling tea.

No. 4 – Mahua Kothi, Bandhavgarh National Park

Mahua Kothi1Searching for the Bengal Tiger is one of the things you must do when visiting India.  Until fairly recently the accommodation in the game parks was pretty poor, but the collaboration between Taj Hotels and the African wildlife specialists &Beyond has produced a string of top class game lodges that have set new standards fir wildlife viewing in India.  My personal favourite is Mahua Kothi in Bandhavgarh.  Each of the 12 charming guest suites – or kutiyas (jungle village huts) – is built in the vernacular style of Central India, and is accessed through private courtyards with shaded seating and traditional mud floors. Each ensuite bathroom features twin hand basins, indoor shower, bath and separate w.c. It also helps that the Mahua Kothi guides are amongst the best in India so you are guaranteed a fantastic safari experience.

No. 5 – The Imperial, New Delhi

03-EntranceAfter the long flight from London, there’s nothing better than being whisked from Delhi Airport to the wonderful Imperial right in the heart of the city.  One of the best hotels in Asia, the award-winning Imperial Hotel is World Discovery’s top choice of accommodation in Delhi.  Built in 1931, this landmark hotel is located on the famous Janpath (Queensway during the days of the British Raj), just steps away from Connaught Circus and the capital’s best shopping.  The Imperial has 235 guestrooms including 43 suites.  There are many dining options, including the 1911 Restaurant for all-day dining, the Spice Route for Southeast Asian cuisine (one of “top restaurants in the world” according to Conde Nast readers), Daniell’s Tavern for Indian food, the Nostalgia Brasserie (dinner only, with jazz or piano music), and the San Gimigniano for Italian dishes.  For drinks and cocktails, head for the 1911 Bar or the Patiala Peg.

I’ve left out some superb hotels in South India, especially Kerala, but I’ll cover these in a separate post.

Roy Davies, founder of World Discovery

 

 

 

 

It’s Tiger time again!

The m01onsoon is long gone and the land has been drying out for a month or more.  In the searing heat of late summer and early autumn, water sources begin to disappear and it’s at this time of the year that tigers start to roam the jungles of central India in search of life-giving springs and vanishing streams.

The national parks, closed during the summer months, are opening again for the winter season.  Now is the ideal moment to book your holiday to India and head to the wilderness areas to search for the magnificent Bengal Tiger.

The long-term future of this beautiful predator is threatened by poaching, interaction with human settlement and loss of habitat, but there are still excellent opportunities to see tigers in the wild in India’s top national parks, and World Discovery has a selection of safaris for you to consider.

Top-of-the-range is the ‘Luxury Tiger Safari’, using the superb lodges run by Taj Hotels in collaboration with the worldwide safari experts &Beyond, setting new standards of wildlife accommodation and expertise on the Indian sub-continent.

Visiting the same national parks but at a more affordable price (but still offering a very high standard) are lodges of Pugdundee Safaris, which are featured on our ‘Wildlife of India’ tour.

If you want to combine a visit to the Taj Mahal and the ‘Golden Triangle’ with a tiger safari, then you should consider our ‘Palaces and Tigers’ tour, which includes 3 nights in the popular Ranthambore National Park, where tiger sightings are at a premium.

TOFTAs part of World Discovery’s commitment to responsible tourism practices, we are International Tour Operator members of the Travel Operators for Tigers campaign (TOFT). For further details please view this website : www.toftigers.org.

If you want to personally get involved with TOFT, you may wish to consider joining ‘Tiger Nation’.  This people-powered platform aims to increase our knowledge of individual tigers in India’s best parks, and helps keep a living database through visitors’ photographs.

Anglo-Indian hospitality in the Himalayan foothills

Exterior View 2Pragpur, India’s first Heritage Village, lies at the crossroads of history in the beautiful Kangra Valley at an elevation of 2,500 feet.  “Prag” in Sanskrit translates to pollen and in a way it well describes Pragpur which is filled with blossoms in spring.  The village of Pragpur was classified as a heritage zone in 1997 for the mud-plastered slate-roofed houses, ornamental tanks and the cobbled streets leading to the village courtyard of this seemingly medieval village.

Situated in the heart of Pragpur, WelcomHeritage Judge’s Court (pictured) is considered to be amongst the finest Heritage Country Manors; parts of property are over 300 years old.  There are 20 rooms including 3 cottages in the ancestral courtyard, and a multi-cuisine restaurant.

A historical experience with a journey back in time.

World Discovery features a 2 night stay at Judge’s Court on our Himalayan Journey tour.  Many passengers comment that they would like to have stayed longer.  As we are specialists in tailor-made holidays, this is not a problem!

India confirms e-Tourist visa for the UK

Taj Mahal4India has confirmed that its e-Tourist visa facility is being extended to the UK from August 15.

It has announced 36 new countries, including the UK, have joined the scheme, taking the total number of countries using it to 113.  At the same time, seven more Indian airports have been added as designated airports for entry on e-Tourist visas.  These are Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Gaya, Jaipur, Lucknow, Tirchy and Varanasi.

Since the Government of India launched the e-Tourist visa in November 2014, more than 200,000 have been issued.  It said it hopes the scheme will boost the country’s tourism industry.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said that security has been increased at airports, railway stations, inter-state bus terminals and metro stations in the lead up to India’s Independence Day on August 15.  It advised that tourists should allow more time than usual to complete formalities at airports.

Kerala’s spectacular Snake Boat Races

1380294686-payippad-boat-race-held-during-onam-festival_2796511In the months of August and September the backwaters of Kerala come alive with festivities, as thousands of spectators gather on the river banks to watch a spectacular regatta – the unique KERALA SNAKE BOAT RACES.  The massive snake-boats of Kerala, popularly known as chundans, were the battleships of the kings of yore.  Today they are the pride and glory of each individual village, prepared and kept in perfect ‘battle condition’, in order to participate in the annual race for glory, with 100-120 rowers per boat.  Boat race crews begin to practice for the race months before the great day.  They live, eat and toil together to work themselves into a well-oiled team.  The races of the snake boats are the highlights of the festival events.  The rowers sing songs known as Vanchi pattu to the rhythm of the oars.  The drum beats and boat songs work the spectators and the oarsmen into frenzy as the race starts.

The races are held in around a dozen different locations throughout this period.  The most famous is the NEHRU TROPHY race in Alleppey, which takes place on the second Saturday of August (8 August in 2015).

World Discovery can adapt any of the Kerala Holidays featured on their website to include the Snake Boat Races.  It’s still the rainny season in Kerala in August and September, but there are fewer visitors and prices are significantly lower.

Ladakh or ‘Little Tibet’ – New luxury camp

India Holidays - Ladakh - Novice monks at Hemis MonasteryClosed to the world until 1974, when tourists were first allowed to visit, Ladakh (often called ‘Little Tibet’) is India’s most remote and least populated region, a high desert land cradled by the mighty Karakoram and Himalayan ranges, home to Mahayana Buddhism for a thousand years.  Hotel accommodation in Ladakh is generally of a poor standard but we can now offer you the chance of visiting this fabulous destination in comfort, staying in a luxury tented camp near Thiksey Monastery, operated by the prestigious ‘Ultimate Travelling Camp’ and open only from 15 June to 30 September.  An experience never to be forgotten.

The Chamba Camp is the first truly mobile luxury camp in India and covers a calendar of destinations and festivals, introducing the discerning traveller to different adventures in carefully selected exceptional locations in the mountains, deserts, jungles and unexplored countryside.  Other destinations currently featured are Nagaland, the Nubra Valley and Kashmir.

The aim is to recreate the magic of old world charm with canvas luxury – some call it ‘glamping’ – and to provide unforgettable experiences.

white-tent-interior-01_highresAt the Chamba Camp, Thiksey, relax in individually designed tents (left), with ensuite bathrooms, private decks, crisp linen and the services of your very own butler.  Enjoy delicious family recipes, hear stories from specialist guides over fire-lit evenings.

Space is still available on most dates this summer.  Please take a look at our Ladakh in Style tour – 9 days from £2,360 excluding international flights.

KASHMIR – Escape to the lakes and mountains

ShikaraKashmir has had its recent troubles but this idyllic region of lakes and mountains in the Himalayan foothills is now open again for tourism.

World Discovery’s Roy Davies has enjoyed several holidays in Kashmir over the years and comments “From April to September there are few places as beautiful as the Vale of Kashmir, regarded by the Mughal Emperors as a ‘Paradise on Earth’.  We have always stayed on one of the unique houseboats on the Dal Lake.  Awake to the inspiring sound of a dawn chorus that is louder than anywhere else I’ve experienced, step on board a shikara, the traditional wooden rowing boat which, like the gondola in Venice, has become a cultural symbol of Kashmir, and relax as your boatman takes you across the waters of the lake to visit the floating vegetable gardens or the ramshackle wooden buildings of old Srinagar.  Further afield are the wonderful formal gardens of the Mughals.  My only worry is usually restricting the time my wife spends in the shops – with their gorgeous silk carpets, pashminas, colourful traditional papier-mâché boxes and ornate wooden lamp stands”.

drawing-roomThe houseboats – which were originally developed by the British as a way to avoid paying a high land tax on property – take you back to another era, with their intricate carved wooden designs and heavy Victorian furniture, but they offer a wonderful experience that you won’t find anywhere else.  They’re not luxurious, however, so if you crave more modern comforts you can stay at the excellent 5 star Vivanta by Taj hotel overlooking the Dal Lake.

Another plus point is the price, especially on the houseboats – our 6 day Kashmir Holiday, including 5 nights full board, airport transfers, a half day tour of Srinagar and the lake by shikara and return flights from Delhi, costs from just £399 per person!

Go this summer before things change!

Congratulations to Chambal Safari Lodge!

Buffet lunchChambal Safari Lodge and their team have won the Silver Award – Best for Wildlife Conservation at the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2014.

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them on their fantastic achievement.  This small, family-run, lodge offers a superb wildlife experience away from the more popular tourist routes, yet is easily reachable in a couple of hours by road from the world-famous Taj Mahal at Agra.

The lodge has just 12 comfortable rooms.  Its sprawling grounds are home to numerous birds and small mammals.  Evening Nature Walks around the lodge, with the resident Naturalist, are the best time to go looking for Palm Civet Cats, Jungle Cats, Foxes, Jungle Hares, Fruit Bats, Hedgehogs and the Indian Striped Hyenas. With a checklist of over 180 birds, birding in the lodge grounds starts with the ‘wake-up call’ of the barbets and babblers, and continues through the day with the birdsong of hornbills, koels and tree-pies, and well into the evening with the foraging fruits bats and hooting owls.

With a rich heritage stretching back many millennia the Chambal Valley has much to offer from its stunning landscapes and magnificent wildlife, formidable fortresses and crumbling ruins, tranquil temples and flamboyant fairs, colourful history and compelling mythology, a proud resilient people and their legendary exploits.  Accompanied by experienced local guides and naturalists, guests may explore the Chambal Valley at their own pace – on boats, jeeps, horses, bicycles or on foot.  On the river safari you should see a variety of wildlife including gharials, marsh crocodiles, Gangetic river dolphins and over 300 species of birds.  You can take a camel safari through the ravines to the magnificent ruins of Fort Ater, or travel by jeep in search of blackbuck and Sarus cranes.  Visit the medieval temple complex of Bateshwar with over a 100 temples lined along the Yamuna River, enjoy a nature walk with trained naturalists, or visit local villages with your guide, exploring an authentic rural landscape.

Take a look at World Discovery’s Into the Chambal Valley for further information and a suggested itinerary.