India

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in India.

Royal Indian Train Rides

PALACE ON WHEELS

PALACE ON WHEELS

A traditional welcome with garlands and Vermillion awaits pas­sengers who board the Palace on Wheels. This luxury train starts in Delhi and loops through many famous tourist attractions in Rajasthan, before returning to Delhi via Agra Its elegant sa­loons, restaurants serving Rajasthani and continental cuisine, and furniture with inlay work take passengers back to a time when maharajas ruled the land. Palace on Wheels showcases the best heritage and wildlife along India’s Golden Triangle, includ­ing the grandeur of Hawa Mahal and Amber Fort in Jaipur, the wilderness of Ranthambore National Park, the timeless sands of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, and Agra’s centrepiece the Taj Mahal.

MAHARAJAS EXPRESS

MAHARAJAS-EXPRESS-interior

Those looking to experience the best of central and northwestern India in the lap of luxury should board the opulent Maharajas’ Express. The train runs on five separate routes across the states of Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. Depending on the journey chosen, passengers may visit a dinosaur excavation site in Gujarat, feast on local delica­cies, and explore the temples of Khajuraho. In addition they get to relax in luxurious suites with large windows and have their meals in elegant dining cars.

THE GOLDEN CHARIOT

THE GOLDEN CHARIOT

Be it the erstwhile hunting grounds of Mysore’s maharajas in Kabini,Tipu Sultan’s Daria DaulatBagh palace in Srirangapatna, or the temples of Mamallapuram, The Golden Chariot flaunts the best of South India’s wonders. The train runs on two routes, both of which begin and end in Bengaluru. On board, guests live in cabins with modern decor tinged with traditional elements. The cuisine changes with the region the train is passing through, and local artists often perform in the train.

THE DECCAN ODYSSEY

THE DECCAN ODYSSEY india

Dubbed the ‘blue limousine,” the interiors of this train bring to mind the era of Deccan rulers, thanks to its jewel colours, extensive woodwork, and attendants dressed in traditional Maharashtrian attire. Its two restaurants, Peshwa I and Peshwa II serve Indian and continental cuisine. Rooms on the train have modern ameni­ties and decor with a traditional touch. The Deccan Odyssey runs on six routes across the Deccan, and also covers Delhi, Mumbai, Aurangabad, and parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

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Along The Indian Coast By Train

BOAT MAIL EXPRESS

BOAT MAIL EXPRESS

Snaking along the coast of Tamil Nadu, the Boat Mail Express connects Chennai in the north to the temple town of Rameswaram on Pamban Island, in the southeastern part of the state. It passes through the port town of Cuddalore, offering lovely coastal vistas. But the high point of the journey is when the train gets on to Pamban Bridge, connecting the town of Mandapam on the mainland to Pamban Island. Waves lash about in the Palk Strait underneath as the train crosses the bridge at an easy pace, filling the last minutes of the journey with scenic bliss.

MANDOVI EXPRESS

MANDOVI EXPRESS

The Mandovi Express travels through an endless montage of enchanting vistas, including at some points, the Arabian Sea Impossibly green swathes of the Western Ghats, cliffs, and endless fields punctuate the journey between Mumbai and Goa. One of the highlights is travelling on the 213-foot-high Panval Nadi viaduct, believed to be the highest in India. But the main perk of the journey is that the sights change rapidly, from the 90-plus tunnels to a valley, followed by a stop at a low-key station.

GOA EXPRESS

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The most charming section of this route that connects New Delhi to Goa is the coastal section between Goa and the town of Londa in Karnataka. It is here that the Goa Express winds through forests and hills, passing peaks and valleys of the Western Ghats. But the undisputed highlight of this joyride is when passengers get to see the long silvery cascade of Dudhsagar Falls. This is best viewed on the outbound journey from Goa to Delhi when the waterfall is visible in the clear light of day.

ISLAND EXPRESS

ISLAND-EXPRESS

Seated at the window of the Island Express, passengers can watch the swaying palm trees of Kerala, and view the backwaters between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. The Island Express runs between Kanyakumari and Bengaluru, but it is especially scenic on the stretch between Kanyakumari and Thiruvananthapuram. It offers travellers an opportunity to see the southwestern coast of India and glimpse life as it unfolds along the way.

For a journey back in time, book a ticket on the Steam Express Tour from New Delhi to Alwar. Visitors travel in an air-conditioned saloon car pulled by a steam locomotive built in 1965. It’s a photogenic engine, with a buIging nose and a siIver star on it. The journey includes a safari to Sariska National Park.

Other Beautiful Indian Rail Routes:

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Hill Sojourn – A Scenic Rail Route In India

JAMMU MAIL

JAMMU-MAIL

The beauty of India’s northernmost state with its green vales and charming towns unspools like a film when one looks out the windows of the Jammu Mail. The train starts in Delhi and makes it way north. Entering Jammu & Kashmir, it winds past photogenic stations with sloping roofs and green fields dotted with coniferous trees. Snowy Himalayan peaks form a continuous backdrop along the way. While the view is reason enough for many to hop on to this train, the recently extended route from Udhampur to Katra also brings in a different crowd, that of pilgrims making their way to Vaishno Devi.

BARAMULLA-BANIHAL DEMU

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The Baramulla-Banihal DEMU can shovel through layers of thick snow, and passengers can enjoy Kashmir’s winter landscape on their journey

Without a doubt, the best time for a journey aboard this train that runs within Jammu and Kashmir is when thick layers of snow cover every inch of the Kashmir Valley. Groves oickirutr are slathered in white and cottages are adorned with gleaming icicles. Vast meadows spread out like fluffy white canvases, and children bundled up in winter wear frolic in the snow as the train chugs its way through this winter wonderland. En route to Baramulla, the Baramulla-Banihal DEMU train runs through an 11.2-kilometre-long tunnel cut into the Pir Panjal range. The longest and highest tunnel in the country, it is a feat of railway engineering that’s enabled access to northern parts of J&K. To extend this route, a massive rail bridge is being built over the River Chenab. Once complete, it will be among the tallest bridges in the world.

VISAKHAPATNAM-KIRANDUL PASSENGER

VISAKHAPATNAM-KIRANDUL PASSENGER

Only one train, the Visakhapatnam-Kiiandul Passenger, travels through Andhra Pradesh’s picturesque Araku Valley, past the lush green Anantagiri hills and sprawling coffee plantations. It passes through 58 tunnels and traverses more than 84 bridges during the Kothavalasa-Kirandul stretch, which is the most beautiful part of the journey. Along the way it stops at Shimliguda station, located at a height of 3,264 feet; this was once the highest broad gauge railway station in the country. The popular hill station of Araku Valley is located in the thickly forested Eastern Ghats with its deep gorges and cascading waterfalls.

A JOURNEY THROUGH ASSAM: Starting from Si I char, close to the Assam-Bangladesh border, the railway line passes through British-era tea gardens in the Barak Valley. It then curves along the emerald hills of the Haflong Valley to reach Lumding in the central part of the state. This track through the verdant valleys of Assam is one of the most scenic rail routes in the country. Long-distance trains like the Kanchanjunga Express ply this stretch.

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The Desert Circuit Train

Golden sands, brooding camels, and smiling men and women in colourful clothes and ornate silver jewellery—all the imagery typical of Rajasthan—make an appearance on this Desert Circuit route. Starting in Delhi, this semi-luxury train makes its first stop at Jaisalmer. Passengers explore the city duringthe day, while the evening is spent on the Sam Dunes with a camel/jeep safari, dinner, and folk music. As the train winds its way across the state’s varied sights, its history and legends come alive. These include Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort, and Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, and City Palace in Jaipur. The sojourn ends with a traditional Rajasthani meal.

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Vast stretches of Rajasthan’s Thar dominate the vistas from abroad the Desert Circuit Train

Letter for a Loo

In 1909, Okhil Chandra Sen wrote a letter to the Sahibganj divisional railway office that has been carefully preserved at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi. The letter is believed to have been one of the reasons that we have loos on trains today.

“I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotah in one hand and dhoti in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station.

Th is too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait tra in five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report! to papers.”

Other Beautiful Indian Rail Routes:

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Holi (Festival of Colors) – India and Nepal

END OF FEBRUARY OR EARLY MARCH.

CAN’T YOU NARROW DOWN THE LOCATION FOR US A BIT MORE?

Holi, or the Festival of Colour, as it has come to be known, is primarily a Hindu festival and it’s celebrated with wild parties and crazy colour fights all over India and Nepal in areas with large Hindu populations. You’ll know you’ve found one when you spot the revellers who look like they’ve walked through a rainbow waterfall.

A COLOUR FIGHT?

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Holi is a celebration of the victory of one’s inner good over evil but has basically become a frolicking free-for-all involving coloured powder and water. In a joyous and raucous street fight, participants throw powder and water at each other using the bright, exuberant colours to signify the start of spring, the power of love, and the generosity of humanity.

SOUNDS LIKE SOME SERIOUSLY MESSY FUN.

Just try to resist the truly jubilant spirit of the festival – everyone, and we mean everyone, comes together to play, laugh, forgive and give thanks. What’s not to like?

udaipur

A Royal Town – Udaipur, Rajasthan

Ho, we’re not suggesting you enact the The Prince and the Pauper — Rajasthan has a reputation for being royal, but there’s plenty there you can do at a commoner’s prices. Start with the 400-year-old City Palace and make your way through royal history. Then, spend an enchanting hour on the water with a boat ride on Lake Pichola, the 14th-century waterbody surrounded by fantastic architecture.

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City Palace of Udaipur

The Saheliyon ki Bari gardens, built in the 18th century for a queen and her attendants, is a delightful landscape of lotus pools, fountains and flowers. If that makes you want some testosterone, head to the Vintage and Classic Car Collection Museum and sigh over art that moves — literally. If you’d like to soak in Udaipur, spend some time on the acclaimed Delwara Heritage Walk that covers temples, palaces, regional culture and history.

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Saheliyon ki Bari Gardens

Or head to the Kami Mata Temple for gorgeous city and lake views. After spiritual blessings, it’s time for material ones – go shopping for bargains at Jagdish Temple Road, specifically jootis and leather stationery; remember to haggle like fisherwomen. You can also shop for handmade souvenirs at Sadhna and take home more than memories of Udaipur. Other must-sees are the Bagore ki Haveli museum with its excellent showcase of Mewar arts and and the lit-up Sajjangarh Monsoon Palace in the evening. The Eklinji Temple (avoid on Mondays) and the Ahar Cenotaphs offer space for quiet reflection. If you have a longer stay in Udaipur, consider day-trips to Ranakpur’s Jain Temples (90km), the massive Kumbalgarh Fort (100km) and Chittorgarh Fort, which is India’s largest (120km).

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Sajjangarh Monsoon Palace


LEAVE ON A JET PLANE OR TRAIN: Return flights from Mumbai start at 72USD and from New Delhi at 53USD. If you’re taking the train, take the 12963 Mewar Express  and return by the 12964 Mewar Express. From Mumbai, take the 22901 UDZ Super Fast and return by the 12996 UDZ BDTS Super Fast.
GET AROUND: Udaipur is fairly compact and you can walk or take autos- remember to haggle an fix auto rates beforehand. You can hire a two wheeler. For travelling outside Udaipur, you can use local or private bus services.
STAY: Neat, traditional and welcoming, Madri Haveli is a real find Ortry Devra Homestay  Multi-city chain Zostel Udaipur is a great option for young people. And the quirkily-named Moustache Hostel has amazing views of Lake Pichola.

madri-haveli

Madri Haveli

EAT AND DRINK: There are some definitive Rajasthani experiences you must have in Udaipur-a hearty, traditional thali at Natraj Dining Hall is one of them. Experience a sundowner with delicious cuisine at Ambrai, overlooking Lake PicholaOr head to 1559 AD, named for the year Udaipur was founded, for authentic cuisine.
WHEN TO GO: July to August is off-peak season, with the rains in attendance and deals like cheap hotels, lesser crowds and cool weather- so we’d recommend going then.

brahmaputra-river

Explore The Brahmaputra River – India

Our convoy of taxis stopped at the top of the muddy river- bank, a few steps from a creaking bamboo gangway’ that connected us with our home for the week, the 46-passenger Mahabaahu. Not sleek like Europe’s riverboats, this one was appealingly quirky with its stubby funnel and red cargo davits poking out from the stem, and a hull cluttered with a necklace of tires. I loved it already.

The 2011-built boat, owned and operated by India-based Adventure Resorts & Cruises, a subsidiary of tour operator Far Horizon Tours, was moored below us along the Brahmaputra River, one of India’s most important inland waterways. Named after the son of Lord Brahma, it is India’s only “male” river, and the Mahabaahu is one of only a few tourist riverboats sailing on it.

Our upstream journey began in Guwahati and ended 232 miles later in Jorhat, both in the state of Assam. Neither city is particularly attractive, but what’s in between them is magical.

Mahabaahu-cruise

Mahabaahu Cruise

From its glacial source in southwestern Tibet on the slopes of the Himalayan Mountains, the 1,800-mile-long river surges east, cutting through deep canyons and gorges before making a sharp U-tum and entering the northeastern corner of India. It continues into the Assam Valley en route to the confluence with the Ganges River and empties into Bangladesh’s flood-prone Bay of Bengal. In Assam the Brahmaputra widens greatly- some five miles at its broadest-and redistributes an enormous amount of sediment collected along the way, resulting in a river system braided with islands of sand.

Before we got to those serene expanses of sand, we’d get a dose of India in overdrive. Our first excursion, en route to the Mahabaahu from the airport, was a visit to the 17th century Kamakhya Temple complex, with its traditional beehive domes, practice of animal sacrifice and association with the teachings of sacred sex. We removed our shoes as required at the entrance and tried not to think about what we might step in as we waded through the throngs behind Venky, our guide and naturalist for the week. Dedicated to the goddess of desire, Kamakhya Devi, and her various avatars, stone reliefs of female deities along the outside of the temples, were smeared in blood-red paint and kumkuma powder to symbolize fertility.

At this Hindu pilgrimage site, important especially for newlyweds wanting to start families, we watched devotees swipe bits of the red powder from the statues’ groins and apply a dash to their own foreheads for good luck. Stepping around nosy goats spared from the knife, we walked around the bustling compound, fascinated by the bare-chested sadhus (holy men) with their dreadlocks and wild eyes.

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Watching Marvelous Birds  in Dehradun – Uttarakhand

FANTASTIC BIRDS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Since it was first described in 1991, the wren-babbler was thought to be endemic to Nepal. So, you can imagine the surprise (and delight) of Indian ornithologists when, in 2003, this diminutive, stub­tailed, weak-voiced little thing was seen in the forests of Dehradun. Perhaps it was only fair that it be spotted in Walterre, Bikram Grewal’s four-bedroom villa resort, along the banks on the Tons River. Bikram had, after all, chosen his backyard with great care. Now the ‘establishment’ might consider him an upstart, but he sure knows his birds. Having authored many books on the subject, including the immensely popular Birds of India, he also knows a thing or two about their habitat and distribution.

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Laughingthrushes are just one of the stunning species that abound here

So, Walterre is located perfectly: the Himalayan foothills ensure the presence of the north and northeast species, and, at 2,200ft, the climate remains gentle enough through the year. The Nepal wren-babblers seem to concur, and have since taken up residence in the garden.

Spread over three acres, it’s not a very large area – a fact birders used to trudging for miles on end will surely appreciate- but the bird life is spectacular. You might be joined by crimson sunbirds for breakfast on the terrace, the extremely garrulous white-crested laughingthrushes will descend in droves every evening, and red-billed leiothrixes can be found gambolling in the undergrowth through the day. But that’s just the start of it. This resort has a birding checklist of 350 species, so you’ll find little reason to leave the property. But it’s not just the birding that’ll keep you back.

The well-maintained gardens are another. Spread over many levels, they’re bursting with flowers: geranium, petunia, heliconia and begonia, to name a few. These bedeck the area around the house, while kachnar trees (phanera variegata) tower above the entrance to the property.

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The start of summer means you get to see many flowers in bloom

Step into the house, and you’ll find treasures of another kind. There’s period furniture, rare lithographs, and a parlour crowded with curios including, for some odd reason, about a hundred paperweights. The library boasts a wide and eclectic collection, and comes with a super-comfy single seater right next to the shelves. Being 14km away from Dehradun city, there’s plenty of quietude, so you can really catch up on your reading. The terrace offers great views of the Himalayas during the day, and the lights of Mussoorie shimmer in the distance at night. The bedrooms have comfy four-poster beds and some strange inclusions, like a full-sized easy chair inside one of the bathrooms.

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You’ll find a different bird in almost every corner in the garden

Should you decide to venture into the city, a heritage walk with Been There Doon That (BTDT) is an interesting way to spend a morning. Dehradun has a rich history, and the intrepid folks at BTDT are helping people discover the interesting back stories of structures you normally wouldn’t give a second glance; every Sun morning; free). You’ll hear about the freebooter and British army deserter, Fredrick ‘pahadi‘ Wilson, the sad tale of an Afghan king in exile, and the supposedly rare hexagonal clock tower. Back at the property, a stroll along the banks of the Tons River is worth your time. You’ll almost certainly spot yellow-billed blue magpies along the sides of the road.

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Try and have many meals as you can on the picturesque terrace

But it won’t be long before the thrushes, flycatchers, scimitars and other summer denizens start calling you back to the villa, and that’s one invitation you’re well advised to accept.

 

GETTING AROUND

Walterre can arrange for a transfer from the airport or the railway station. The property is 14km from Dehradun, and local transport isn’t available easily, so it’s best to hire a car to get around.

WHERE TO STAY

Walterre: As expected, all four rooms in the hotel are named after birds. The ones on the first floor are a better bet as they offer easier access to the large terrace. The Peacock Suite also has a small TV room. Asian Adventures handles reservations for this property.

WHERE TO EAT

Each meal is an elaborate affair here, with some of the ingredients sourced from the backyard. While there’s no menu to choose from, the staff is particularly accommodating of special requests. Alpana Grewal’s signature mutton curry comes recommended.

The terrace is a great setting for meals – the passion flower vines snaking across the sides are bird magnets, and spotting five different species of sunbirds over lunch can be an unforgettable experience.

 

honnemardu-karnataka

Having Some Outdoor Fun – Honnemardu, Karnataka

WATER BABY

You’re floating on the Sharavathi River and the winter sun is lulling you to close your eyes and enjoy bobbing on the gentle waves with the mountains rising up from all sides. What makes the moment even more perfect is when Nomito Kamdar of the Indian Institute of Adventure Applications (IIAA) tells you that the pied hornbill, which just flew past, is slowly returning to the Sharavathi Valley. This sweet spot where watersports meets conservation makes even a couple of days in Honnemardu time well spent.

The campus is your base, so you eat, sleep and do all the activities around here. But before you start packing your bags, you should know that the facilities here are very basic. You have to be the grown-up that you are and, except for cooking your meals, do everything on your own. That means cleaning up after yourself as well as roughing it out. Welcome to adulthood; you’ll love it here!

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Apart from canoeing, you can also kayak, windsurf, sail and go on coracle rides

IIAA was started 25 years ago with the goal of conserving the biodiversity of the Western Ghats and using the outdoors as a platform for learning.

Run by The Adventurers, ‘a wilderness school’ and managed by Dr SLN Swamy and Nomito Kamdar, the activities push you and demand more of you.

The unpolluted waters of the Sharavathi River host many activities.

Pick from coracling, kayaking, wind surfing and sailing and spend the better part of the day in the water. You’re likely to experience a range of emotions – some for the first time here. It could be anxiety: will the coracle topple and ruin your expensive camera? Uncertainty: can you kayak on your own; exhilaration: yes, you can! And an ‘Aha!’ moment when you realise that few things compare to the joy of being outdoors.

But, if the water doesn’t excite you at that moment, take a rain check and head for the hills. There are several guided treks you can take, the closest one being to the Bhimanahejje Hill, which offers beautiful views of the Sharavathi River’s backwaters (2.5 hours). En route, you learn about how banning plastic and taking back any trash you generate has meant that this tiny corner of the Western Ghats can truly be described as pristine.

As you’re here to enjoy everything that nature has to offer, you spend the night camping out on an island.

The staff packs your dinner and you’re off in a coracle. With the sun setting in the background, pitching the tents feels less like a task and more like a fun activity. When you set out to collect firewood, beginning with twigs and moving up to thick branches, you realise the exercise is a survival guide that would make Bear Grylls proud. He’d love it even more as there’s no glamping here and you’re truly one with the elements.

More surprises await in this region, like the 16th-century Aghoreshvara Temple, which is a lesson in the Nayaka style of architecture (6km from Sagar, lkkeri;free). If you have a few extra hours, learn the basics of the local chittara art. While it can be confused for Warli art, chittara places more of an emphasises on geometry.

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Aghoreshvara Temple

Chandrashekhar Gowrichandrashekhar runs Chitrasiri from his home and exhibits and sells paintings too (00-91-94496 98979; chitrasiri@gmaii.com). Who knew the little village of Honnemardu hid such a fount of art, adventure and architecture?

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

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Karnataka is one of the major producers of betel nuts, so, en route to Honnemardu, you’ll come across many village homes drying this nut on their roofs

Closest city: Bangalore (418km) is the closest metro, it’s an eight-hour drive through some of Karnataka’s smaller towns.
Closest airports: Mangalore’s Bajpe Airport is the closest (230km). Spicejet and Jet Airways fly here from Bangalore. Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport (435km) is a longer drive, but better connected to Indian metros and cities.
Closest railhead: Bangalore Cityjunction is the major train station (SBC; 415km). The nearest railway station is Talguppa (TLGP; 10km). Take the 16227 Talguppa Express (leaves SBC 11pm, arrives TLGP 7.15am;) and return by the 16228 Bangalore Express (leaves TLGP 8.15pm, arrives SBC 4.30am;).

WHERE TO STAY

Indian Institute of Adventure Applications

Indian Institute of Adventure Applications

Indian Institute of Adventure Applications: Once you’ve reached the IIAA campus, you’re in their able hand.

Sagar (28km) is the town closest to Honnemardu and has some decent hotels if you want to check out theAghoreshvara Temple and surrounds.
Green Embassy: This is a three-star hotel with free wi-fi, car parking and a good restaurant.
Tip-Top Residency: This three-star hotel is another decent option, with room service and an all-day bar.

WHERE TO EAT

The food served at the IIAA campus is extremely simple vegetarian fare. Expect upma and pongal for breakfast; sambhar, rice, a locally-grown vegetable and buttermilk for lunch; and chapattis, rice, sambhar or rasam, and a vegetable again for dinner. And, of course, tea or coffee along with breakfast and in the evening. Remember, you have to wash your own dishes.

The Indian Lifestyle Will Make You Feel Special

With more than half a million people of Indian origin living in London, it’s possible to taste the entire subcontinent without ever leaving the UK. On Shared City’s Tour & Thali, local guide Nidhi introduces the Gujarati community along Wembley’s Baling Road, visiting an intricately carved Hindu temple as well as sari and spice shops. Stops for street food and a thali meal are included. Get a double helping of Indian cuisine by spending the next day with home chef Monisha, who in nearby Hounslow teaches cookery classes ranging from South Indian vegetarian dishes to mastering the art of a good dosa.

Wembley Central Shopping Centre

Wembley Central Shopping Centre

  • ARRIVE – Wembley Central and Hounslow West are the nearest stations for the tour and cooking class. Both connect to London’s major stations and airports.
  • STAY – Brook Green Hotel is less than half an hour by tube from Hounslow West.