A memorable cultural & culinary luxury travel adventure

By Eva Braiman, Director of Digital Experience, Travel Leaders Group

Why Visit India?

With a population of 1.2 billion people, India is one of the oldest civilizations on earth, dating back over 5,000 years. 36 UNESCO World Heritage Sites offer some of the most astonishing cultural and artistic experiences you will ever have. The four major religions born in India—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism—are followed by 25% of the world’s population and it is interesting to understand more about them, along with the vast impact of Islam, as well as Zoroastrian (Parsi) practices. India also has a rich secular and political life that is worth a deep dive.

India is a country of extremes and deep contradictions, so be prepared for emotional highs and lows. The most inspiring aspects to us were the many heroic chapters of anti-colonial resistance (before and after Gandhi), the fascinating architectural and cultural sights, natural beauty and complex cuisine. We felt very safe, welcome and everyone we met was warm and open. As elsewhere in the world, the vast gulf between obscene wealth and crushing poverty—often co-existing side-by-side—along with corruption, exploitation, the caste system, child beggars, the social condition of women, and pollution help explain the undercurrents of political unrest. The resolution of these contradictions will unfold in the years to come and determine the country's future. India is both ultra-modern and underdeveloped, and is a destination you absolutely must experience yourself with all your senses. This was a profound journey that will inspire us for the rest of our lives.

The Taj Mahal at sunrise, Agra, India

Why You Need a Professional Travel Advisor

As first-time visitors to India, we were anxious to make the most of every minute, experience sights both on and off the beaten path, feel safe, enjoy excellent accommodations, reputable guides and drivers, fantastic dining and gift shopping experiences, and enjoy a stress-free trip. We could have rented a car ourselves, but neither of us felt confident about driving on the "wrong" side of the road, especially with so many pedestrians, motorbikes and cows at risk. Therefore, using an India expert travel agent to book drivers, guides and gorgeous hotels was as essential as a valid passport and visa. Speaking of visas, Protravel's in-house passport and visa service helped us navigate the Indian government's online application portal, and we had no problems with customs or immigration. We definitely recommend having Global Entry if you are a world traveler.

Over and over we found ourselves deeply grateful to have reliable greeters meet us at the airport (especially at 3:00am), provide air-conditioned transportation, explain what we were seeing and generally offer insights that enriched our journey immeasurably. Every tourist site has its own aggressive guides, who may or may not be accredited or competent, so it is much better to book guides in advance. Protravel has developed deep relationships over decades with the best and most trustworthy on-site companies who will arrange every detail. This is what we did, and it made a huge difference. Our voyage through nine incredible cities went off without a hitch!

Map of route though Northern India

And of course, Protravel’s advisors will always book you in the most beautiful hotels, with exclusive VIP perks and amenities (such as upgrades, wi-fi, and much-needed swimming pools.) Never in a million years would I try and plan a trip of this complexity without a professional Travel Agent.

The itinerary below is quite ambitious. We recommend an early morning breakfast, then a few hours of sight-seeing excursions and afternoons free for making new friends, gift shopping, relaxing to process the day's events, take a swim and/or spa treatment to cool off and of course, pre-dinner cocktails. Every stop listed below could easily be stretched to 2-4 days without a moment of boredom. We can't wait to return to India, and maybe see the Southern region next time.

Professional India tour guides Harry Singh, Muhammad Shujat Ali, Dr Arvind Singh and Sher Singh

Your Protravel agent can arrange the best accredited guides such as professional India tour leaders Harry Singh, Muhammad Shujat Ali, Dr Arvind Singh and Sher Singh, whose knowledge and humor were essential to bringing history to life and helping navigate an unfamiliar country. Thank you to all our guides and drivers!

A Note About the Cows

For many Hindus, the cow is a sacred animal. In Hindu mythology, cows accompany several gods, like Shiva, who rides on his bull Nandi, or Krishna, the cowherd god. In ancient Hindu texts, the cow appears as Kamdhenu or the divine cow. Its horns symbolize the gods, and many describe the animals as equivalent to a maternal figure who should never be slaughtered. As a result, you will see more docile cows, bulls and calves wandering freely on the streets and highways around India than you can imagine. Heed the advice of guides on how to navigate safely around the bulls especially. Whatever problems the animals might cause, for us city kids, it was one of the most charming aspects of our trip. We missed them when we got back to Manhattan!

Days 1-2: Delhi

Delhi is a modern city with an immense past that reveals both the ultra-modern and the antique faces of India. Seven mighty empires have risen, ruled and fallen here, and Delhi is dotted with hundreds of landmarks capturing its heritage of art, architecture, culture and turmoil. A perfect start to your India adventure.

DO NOT MISS

Humayun's Tomb: Built in 1570 as the first Mughal garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. This UNESCO World Heritage Site inspired several major architectural innovations, used 80 years later in the Taj Mahal, such as charbagh (a four-quadrant garden four rivers and pools joined by channels representing Quranic paradise.) As you stand on the grounds, you will have to imagine a wild garden full of pomegranate and other fruit trees, fragrant flowers and singing birds, since the British colonial power tore all that out and replaced it with staid lawns and hedges. Built of Red and White sandstone with the patronage of Humayun’s son, the Emperor Akbar.

Water fountain reflection of Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi, India

Jama Masjid: The largest mosque in Asia, completed by 5,000 laborers in 1656 under the emperor Shah Jahan (son of Akbar.) It’s red sandstone and black and white marble minaret towers and protruding domes can be seen for miles around, reflecting the “golden age” of Mughal style architecture, with Islamic, Indian and Persian influences. The golden finials above the inverted lotus domes are said to represent unholy greed and lust for gold. The rear patio offers sweeping views of the surrounding area, including the soon-to-be-razed Meena Bazaar—also known as Khus Ruz (Day of Joy)—which were specially meant for women to meet, relax and shop.

Gadodia Market, Old Delhi, India

Walk or take a bicycle rickshaw through the 350-year-old Chandni Chowk Marketplace in Old Delhi, designed by Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara. Anything you could possibly want, you can buy here, wholesale or retail. You feel like you are stepping back in time, following in the footsteps of merchants from Turkey, China and Europe. We bought a batch of wonderful spices and the best cup of scalding masala chai we tasted anywhere.

INSIDER TIP: We really liked the Afghan Store (6533 Khari Baoli, Spice Market, Delhi) for tea and spices. The staff was super helpful in walking us through all the different offerings such as Himalayan black salt and Darjeeling tea. Their prices were reasonable and they have nice vacuumed-sealed packets so you don't spill turmeric all over your suitcase on the way home.

Qutub Minar: Also a UNESCO World Hertitage Site, this soaring stone tower, was completed in 1197 under Qutab-ud-din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu kingdom. At the foot of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India. An inscription over its eastern gate provocatively informs (confesses?) that it was built with material obtained by demolishing 27 Hindu and Jain temples.

The Lovesick Maiden miniature painting from Rajastan, 1770, National Museum, Delhi, India "The Lovesick Maiden" miniature painting, Rajastan, 1770. National Museum, Delhi, India

ALSO WORTH SEEING
  • The Red Fort (Rashtrapati Bhavan): Massive fort completed in 1648 under Shah Jahan. A UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • India Gate & Bloodshed Gate: The monumental sandstone Delhi Memorial Gate (reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris)  is dedicated to the tens of thousands of Indian troops who died for Britain in wars fought between 1914 and 1919. The inscription reads: "To the dead of the Indian armies who fell and are honoured in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Near and the Far East and in sacred memory also of those whose names are here recorded and who fell in India on the north west frontier and during the Third Afghan War." Nearby is the Bloodshed Gate (Khooni Darwaza), actually a Mughal-Afghan style archway associated with the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and other brutal chapters in India's history of struggle against foreign domination.
  • The National Museum: While a bit run down, this museum houses some absolutely astonishing exhibits, including miniature paintings, whose charm and artistry will blow you away.
  • Raj Ghat: The grove of flowering trees and monument where the remains of Mahatma Gandhi are entombed. There is an eternal flame burning, and flowers are changed daily. Hymns sung by Lata Mangeshkar are broadcast, lending a very peaceful atmosphere. Visitors from all over the world visit the site to pay tribute to him.

Day 3-4: Varanasi

A short internal flight takes you from Delhi into the maze-like holy city of Varanasi, also known as Benaras, the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world! This ‘eternal city’ is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus and has been a center of learning and civilization for over 2,000 years. The most affecting experience for us was visiting the long string of ghats on the banks of the river Ganges where devout Hindus go to bathe, practice blessings with priests, and carry away a bit of water to keep at home for rituals. A boat ride at dawn is an experience to remember.

Death in Varanasi brings Hindus salvation (moksha) and we saw many elderly men who had made their way there to await their own demise. It is believed that if one is cremated in Varanasi, and one’s ashes are released into the sacred and purifying water of the Ganges, the reincarnation cycle will end, and you will reach Nirvana. Cremation is actually central to the economy and culture of the city. Every day at Manikarnika Ghat alone, over 100 bodies are cremated on mango wood pyres along the river’s edge. The eternal flame that feeds the fires is said to have been burning for centuries. Stand back a respectful distance, don’t take photos, but do try and observe this astounding ancient ritual, along with the Golden Temple. The neighborhood between the Golden Temple and the Ganges is now being controversially torn down (literally stone by stone) and will be replaced with a wide boulevard to better accommodate the millions of pilgrims and visitors who come to Varanasi each year. We felt privileged to see the last vestiges of these ancient alleyways—which bring to mind Victorian London—before they disappear.

River Ganges bathing ghat, Varanasi, India

For those interested in learning about the Buddhist traditions throughout India, a visit to the small Sarnath Museum—the oldest Archaeological Survey of India—is worth a side trip. The museum’s rich collection of exquisite sculptures, artifacts and ancient remains, includes the famous 6th century Ashokan Pillar with its four back-to-back lions, which has been adopted as the national symbol of India.

Day 5-7: Kajuraho & Orchha

Fly from Varanasi to the pristine airport in Khajuraho. It is hard to overstate the contrast between these two cities and you will greatly appreciate the fresh air and green pastoral/agricultural surroundings after the crush of the ancient city.

DO NOT MISS

The UNESCO World Heritage temples at Khajuraho were built during the Chandella dynasty, which reached its apogee between 950 and 1050. Only about 20 temples remain. The Temple of Kandariya is decorated with a profusion of sculptures that are among the most exquisite masterpieces of Indian art of any era, and you will see why. These are (and should be) very popular with honeymooners the world over for the beauty and explicit romantic and erotic content of its carvings as well as the birthplace of Tantric Yoga and the Kama Sutra.

Sculptures from Khajuraho temple complex, India

Ken Gharial Sanctuary and Raneh Falls: Just a 25-minute drive from the temple complex is this lovely teak forest and astonishing natural volcanic canyon formation, unique in India. Running down from the surrounding hills is the Ken River. We were lucky enough to witness—with no other tourists present—the end of the monsoon season, when the river swells and forms countless breathtaking falls that crash over the rocks (see video below.) For geology buffs, these canyons are formed from a unique juxtaposition of pink granite, dolomite, jasper, quartz and black basalt. The Forest Department sanctuary will provide a trained guide to accompany you and is open for visitors from October to June. They protect a wide array of flora and fauna, including peacock, wild boar, Indian fox, leopards and of course, monkeys. Purchasing a nice t-shirt helps with their funding.

Raneh Falls after monsoon, Kajuraho, India

Orchha — built during the Bundela Dynasty — is an often-overlooked town on the Betwa River in Madhya Pradesh, established by Rudra Pretap Singh in the early 1500s. The magnificent turquoise-tiled Jahangir Mahal Palace, virtually empty of tourists and costing just a few rupees to enter, is one of the true hidden gems of Northern India. "Orchha" actually means "hidden palace." From there, we drove to Jhansi and hopped on an efficient air-conditioned (at least in first class, but do avoid the bathroom) train to Agra.

Day 8-9: Agra

Agra is globally known for its crowning glory: the Taj Mahal, a monument to love and imagination that showcases India to the world. This magnificent structure represents the apex of Islamic Mughal architecture, and yes, it is as gorgeous as you have imagined. Be sure to visit at dawn and dusk to marvel at how the changing light transforms the white marble into a million hues (and also beat the heat and crowds.)

We loved learning from our guide some of the astonishing facts about the Taj Mahal, including:

  • Taj Mahal is actually named the Mumtaz Mahal, after a wife of Shah Jahan, whose mortal remains are entombed there (she died at age 39, giving birth to her 14th child)
  • The four slender minarets were built leaning away from the central tomb, so should an earthquake (or mankind) ever hit, they will fall outward
  • Ancestors of the craftsmen who carved the white marble with flawless sculptures and inlaid flowers cut from precious gems are still doing this work today, with techniques and materials handed down through the generations
  • The Qur’anic calligraphy that adorns the facade changes scale so that it appears uniform, despite the perspective of a viewer on the ground.

It is easy to understand why the Taj Mahal is one of the great wonders of the world, and so worth the journey across the world to see it in person. We dare you not to cry when you first set eyes on it.

The Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah is located on the eastern bank of the Yamuna River, completed in 1628 as a mausoleum commissioned by Nur Jahan (wife of Jahangir) for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg (grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal), who was a Persian Amir in exile. Often described as a "jewel box" because it is an example of the first use of the 17th century Parchinkari (Pietra dura) technique: floral designs of semiprecious stone, including amethyst, black onyx, carnelian, coral, jasper, lapis lazuli, mother of pearl, malachite, and topaz inlayed into dense, luminous Rajasthani marble.

Detail example of pietra dura marble inlayed with precious stones, Agra, India

INSIDER TIP: Visit Akbar International (289 Fatehabad Road, Agra) to see a demonstration of this ancient craft, and buy some gorgeous pieces of inlaid Indian marble and have them carefully packed and shipped home.

The massive 90+ acre Agra Fort, built under three Mughal Emperors: Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan was completed in 1573. Among its many wonders, the builders achieved incredible feats of natural air-conditioning by pumping water into hollow sandstone walls!

An hour west and well worth a side trip sits the 16th century Indo-Islamic masterpiece Fatehpur Sikri (“City of Victory,”) another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Again, there were very few tourists there and we loved the red sandstone architecture and the sweeping views of the surrounding country. The complex of monuments and temples includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid and its main entrance, Buland Darwaza built in 1601 by Mughal emperor Akbar to commemorate his victory over Gujarat. At 176 feet, this is the highest gateway in the world!

Goat, rhesus monkey, peacock, parrot, vulture and camel, Northern IndiaJust a few of the mammals and birds spotted on our trip

Day 10-11: Jaipur

We loved Jaipur. The wide streets and grid layout felt more familiar and airier than the winding lanes of Delhi. This is an amazing city from which to bring home gifts of silk saris, precious gem jewelry, cloth bedding and blue pottery.

Eva Braiman and Rebecca Gettleman at Pritam Niwas Chowk doorways, Jaipur, India

DO NOT MISS

City Palace: Built in the 18th Century for the Maharaja of Jaipur, and still a royal (figurehead) residence today, representing a blend of Mughal, European and Indian Shilpa Shastra styles. Just one of its stunning elements was the inner courtyard called Pritam Niwas Chowk, which features four unique doorways, all beautiful to behold (and very Instagram-able). The four doors represent the seasons and different Hindu gods:

  • The northeastern peacock gate (see photo below) represents autumn and has a small idol of Lord Vishnu on its lintel
  • The southwestern lotus gate is adorned with flowers and represents the summer and Lord Shiva
  • The rose gate represents winter and is dedicated to the Goddess Devi
  • ethereal blue-green northwestern leheriya (waves) gate celebrates spring and dedicated to Lord Ganesha

Another thing to behold there is the Guinness World’s Record holder for the largest solid silver vessel. At 5’3”, it held 900 gallons of holy Ganga water that Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II schlepped to England to use and drink from in 1901.

The red sandstone and white marble Amer Fort (also referred to as the Amber Palace), is located on a hill above Amer, Rajasthan, eleven kilometers from Jaipur. Beginning in 1592, it took two centuries to build and is associated with a rich history of treachery and bloodshed, which your guide will explain. We felt the most stunning part of this complex was Sheesh Mahal, the 1727 palace of mirrors which makes Versaille look gaudy costume jewelry by comparison, lol. Decorated with Belgian mirrors, precious stones, delicate carvings and beautiful frescoes, it is truly a sight to behold. The palace is apparently famous for the 1960 Bollywood movie Mughal-e-Azam shot there with legendary actress Madhubala in the lead. The white plaster walls were built using a bug-resistant blend of limestone, egg-white, seashells, jaggery and cow dung, then polished to a luminous glow.

WARNING: You will be encouraged to ride an elephant up the ramp to the palace. Please don’t do it. The animals are in poor condition, and the whole operation is uncomfortable, heart-wrenching and distasteful on many levels. It’s not a bad walk (or drive) up to the entrance and there are other ways to support the local economy and wildlife of India.

Peacock gate detail, City Palace, Jaipur, India

ALSO WORTH SEEING
  • Jantar Mantar: The strikingly modernistic-looking 18th century observatory which houses the world’s largest solar clock. A must for astronomy (and astrology) buffs.
  • Jaigarh Fort is situated on the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles). Built under Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect the Amer Fort and its palace complex. Also known as Victory Fort, it houses what was once the world’s largest cannon on wheels, "Jaivana.”
  • Moti Dungri is a Hindu temple complex (based on the model of a Scottish castle) dedicated to Ganesha, of whom there is a huge sindoor-colored coral idol. Also go there to see the beautiful silver doors.
  • Pull over on the road and take a look at Jal Mahal ("Water Palace") perched in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur city. It is apparently under dispute right now but may become a restaurant, which would be amazing.

Day 12-13: Udaipur

Gorgeous, relaxing Udaipur is interspersed with shimmering lakes, marble palaces and fountains. The Aravali mountain chain rings the city and is older than the Himalayas. If you are NOT staying at one of the stunning lake palace hotels (which we highly recommend you do), be sure to sign up for a sunset boat ride on Lake Pichola.

FUN FACT: Above the Fateh Sagar Lake, you can see the Sajjan Garh, a former royal hunting lodge built in 1884 that has recently been opened to the public, offering gorgeous panoramic views. The palace was used in the 1983 James Bond movie Octapussy and has since been known by the name used in the film: Monsoon Palace.

The sources of Udiapur’s vast wealth include Rampura Agucha, the world’s largest zinc mine as well as the Zawar mines, India’s largest silver producer.

The Hindu and Indo-Persian City Palace is remarkable for its octagonal towers, brilliant multicolor mosaics, peacock tiles, inlaid mirror work, and the exquisite Sahelion ki Bari garden, adorned by a lotus pool, marble throne and finely sculptured cenotaphs. It took 23 generations of builder kings to construct and is still being worked on under the current king, Arvind Singh, the 69th custodian of the Sisodya Dynasty. It is too vast to describe in detail but is THE main place to visit in Udaipur.

INSIDER TIP: There are some lovely little shops inside the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, including  Motilal R. Minda Jewelers, if you need some high-quality gifts.

Jagmandir Palace welcome elephant statues, Udaipur, India

Day 14-15: Mumbai (formerly Bombay)

Now India’s financial capital and home to the Bollywood movie industry, it's hard to believe Mumbai was once a group of seven uninhabitable swampy islands. The indigenous Koli fishing community (from which the racist term “coolie” is derived) were the main residents until the British acquired the land from the Portuguese in 1662 and rented it out to the East India Company. The name was changed from Bombay to Mumbai in 1995, to honor the goddess Mumbadevi.

The city center definitely has a more cosmopolitan feel than Delhi (no cows!) as well as one of the largest slums in Asia. India’s wealthiest businessmen build lavish homes among the mix of dilapidated buildings, British Gothic monuments (such as the Victoria Train Terminal), fancy shops and skyscrapers. One of the most striking aspects of Mumbai is the tangible power of the shipping commerce that takes place in this Arabian Sea harbor. We observed massive oil and natural gas tankers and container ships arriving and departing from all over the world. 80% of all trade with India passes through this massive port.

We were not in Mumbai for long, but really enjoyed riding around the city and visiting the historic Crawford Market (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai) which specializes in fruit and vegetables and pretty much everything else you could need. Our minds were blown by the Mahalaxmi Dobhi Ghat, the world’s largest open-air laundry where washer men spend hours every day standing up to their knees in chemical-infused water hand-washing and beating clothing and linens from all over the city in endless rows of concrete troughs. We did not visit, but heard from friends that Kala Ghoda, a crescent-shaped stretch housing Mumbai's best art galleries and museums is worth seeing. We also passed by the heavily-fortified Knesset Eliyahu, the city’s second oldest Sephardic Jewish synagogue established in 1884 by Jacob Elias Sassoon.

Carving from Elefanta Island, Mumbai, India

ELEFANTA ISLAND

The highlight of our stay in Mumbai was a ferry ride with our guide to visit the 2,000-year-old rock-cut caves on Elephanta Island. The hour-long trip departed from the Gateway of India, right in front of our hotel (The Taj Palace). Make sure you don’t miss the last return ferry, because tourists are not permitted to stay overnight! You will arrive at this lush green island (palm, mango and tamarind trees predominate) and walk up a bunch of stairs lined with trinket salespeople. The island houses about 1,200 people, mainly involved in growing rice, fishing, and repairing boats. You will also meet the adorable population of rambunctious rhesus monkeys (mind your food and drinks!) who live there.

These rock-cut cave temples date back to the 5th century, and feature amazing pillars, sculptures, and wall carvings depicting tales from Hindu mythology. The most famous is the enormous three faces of Lord Shiva. Apparently some of the destruction (including of the elephant for which the island is named) was caused by the Portuguese inquisition forces using the island as target practice. Do not miss this excursion!

Staying Healthy

Three months prior to departing, consult your doctor about what vaccines, and prescription medications you may need. The New York Center for Travel and Tropical Medicine and other clinics specializing in international travel health are great resources. To avoid arduous pharmacy-hunting, bring your own items like eye-drops, Advil, and anything else you might use regularly. Remember that jet lag, heat exhaustion, and dehydration are much more powerful immune-compromising factors than we give them credit for. Bring more meds than you need and donate what you don’t use before departing. Also note that given some of the political instability of recent years, the 5-star hotels and all tourist sites take extra security measures, including metal detectors and guards.

Our India health strategy fell into three categories, and we were just fine throughout our trip:

  • Hydration/water safety: Be sure to carry a cross-shoulder bag big enough for multiple bottles of safe water from your hotel. Do not drink “purified” water sold from street vendors or at any public drinking fountains. Avoid ice. Re-hydration salts are unpalatable, so opt for a sweeter commercial brand in individual packets. A good sun hat is essential.
  • Digestive health: No matter how tempting, avoid all street food. Be sure to bring prescription-strength anti-diarrheal medication such as Lomotil, as OTC brands may not be strong enough. Have your doctor give you a prescription for anti-nausea medication and antibiotics in case you need them. We also took Malaria pills and had Tetanus shots. Start your days by eating plenty of India-manufactured yogurt at breakfast.
  • Bugs, bacteria and bare feet: Pack a small spray bottle and individual insect repellent wipes with a high % of DEET. For exposed skin, apply a combination bug repellent and sunscreen daily before you go out. Bring plenty of individually wrapped anti-bacterial wipes to clean trains, planes, your hands, bathrooms and other surfaces along the way. Carry re-sealable packs of toilet paper, as some bathrooms are without. In areas (such as around the Varanasi cremation ghats) where the air may be polluted, consider wearing a light cotton breathing mask, even if it makes you feel ridiculous. When visiting Mosques, you must remove your shoes. We went barefoot and were fine, except when the outdoor stones heated up! Consider bringing a bunch of cheap, disposable ankle socks, particularly if you have cuts or blisters on your feet. Bring enough antibiotic cream, band aids, and moleskins and always take good care of your feet when you travel. Sturdy, comfortable, water-resistant footwear is a must. Google "best travel sandals" and break them in before you go. We found ourselves appreciating most the lightest possible cotton garments we brought, and a light shawl for temple visits and sun protection.

When to Go

North India weather is influenced by Himalayan ranges, the Indo-Gangetic plain and the Thar Desert.

  • Winter Season (October to March): Best for tourism
  • Summer Season (April to July): Extremely hot
  • Monsoon Season (August to September): We were there in mid-September, just before tourist season and it was very hot, but not too rainy and no tourist lines anywhere!

Cuisine of Northern India

Authentic Indian food is a whole vast subject unto itself. We will not even try to describe the many fabulous dishes we tasted on this trip. In general, the depth and spiciness of the food may take some getting used to but be sure and try everything you possibly can! Northern Indian cooking features lots of yummy breads and curries, samosas (invented here), Rajasthani chutneys, Punjabi tandoori, delicious biryanis, cow or water-buffalo cheese (paneer) and yogurt, complex garam masala spice mixtures and sour amchoor (mango powder.) Some of our favorite dishes were black lentil dal, roasted mustard broccoli, and spicy idli sambar. We could go on and on. Finish meals with Masala chai, for which every locale has a different recipe. 

One of the best meals we had were at chef B. Rajesh Kumar Singh's Varq at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi, where standout dishes included: Varqui Crab: layers of crabmeat and tandoori shrimp on crisp filo sheets; Palak Patta Chaat: crisp spinach leaves with tangy spinach dumplings; Pepper Prawns cooked with spices served over black coconut cashew rice; Lal moth kl maharani: red lentils simmered overnight; Burrani Raita: fried garlic, chili yoghurt and Lemon Leaf Naan bread.

The beautiful intimate balcony tables (pictured below) at Cinnamon, in the Jai Mahal Palace hotel in Jaipur, served authentic Indian dishes from throughout India and Kashmir, and is a wonderful place to explore different regional flavors. And you must relax with cocktails at their Marigold Bar.

Cinnamon restaurant at the Jai Mahal Palace Hotel, Jaipur, IndiaCinnamon restaurant at Jai Mahal Palace, Jaipur

MINT SAUCE RECIPE FROM OLD DELHI SPICE MARKET

Combine one heaping tablespoon of mint powder or chopped mint leaves; one small chopped green chili pepper; 1 teaspoon salt; 4 teaspoons fresh lime juice; (optional: 2-3 cilantro leaves); ½ cup of plain yogurt and blend. Serve with lamb, chicken or onion bhajis.

Northern India cuisine: spice market

Thank you to Protravel client Rebecca Gettleman who contributed many notes and photos to this article.

Where to Stay

The list below includes some of the wonderful hotels and palaces we stayed at on this trip, as well as others we recommend. Book with Protravel to enjoy the exclusive VIP amenities listed next to each.

Oberoi Hotel Deluxe Suite, New Delhi, India

Oberoi New Delhi

Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg. New Delhi, 110003 India

  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Daily Full Breakfast in restaurant for up to 2 in room guests in restaurant
  • Complimentary lunch for 2 people per room once during stay with exclusions
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
Taj Ganges Hotel Pool, Varanasi, India

Taj Ganges Hotel Varanasi

Grounds, Nadesar Palace, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221002, India

  • Contact your Protravel Advisor for amenities
Lobby of Lalit Hotel, Kajuraho, india

Lalit Temple View Khajuraho

Opposite Circuit House, Khajuraho 471606. India

  • Contact your Protravel Advisor for amenities
Oberoi Hotel Amarvilas, Agra, India

Oberoi Amarvilas

Taj East Gate Road Taj Nagri Scheme Agra, 282001 India

  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Daily Full Breakfast in restaurant for up to 2 in room guests in restaurant
  • Complimentary lunch for 2 people per room once during stay with exclusions
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
Jai Mahal Palace Hotel at night, Jaipur, India © Travel Weekly

Jai Mahal Palace Jaipur

Jacob Rd, Civil Lines, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302006, India

  • Contact your Protravel Advisor for amenities
Rambagh Palace Hotel at night, Jaipur, India

Rambagh Palace Hotel Jaipur

Bhawani Singh Rd, Rambagh, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302005, India

  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Full breakfast daily for up to two guests per bedroom in Rajput Room
  • 1 complimentary set menu lunch or dinner for up to 2 people per room exclusions apply
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
Beautiful grounds at Taj Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur, India

Taj Lake Palace Udaipur

Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan 313001, India

  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Complimentary daily full breakfast for two
  • Complimentary lunch or dinner for up to 2 per room once during stay with exclusions
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
Aerial view of Leela Palace Hotel, Udaipur, India arrival dock

Leela Palace Udaipur

Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan 313001, India

  • USD100 equivalent Food and Beverage credit to be used during stay with conditions
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel semi private pools, Udaipur, india

Oberoi Udaivilas Udaipur

Badi-Gorela-Mulla Talai Rd, Haridas Ji Ki Magri, Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan 313001, India

  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Daily Full Breakfast in restaurant for up to 2 in room guests in restaurant
  • Complimentary lunch for up to 2 people once during stay excluding alcohol and taxes and gratuities
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai

Opposite the Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Complimentary Buffet breakfast for two daily
  • Late check-out upon availability

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