India

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Girls Just Wanna See India

Learn, see, experience and enjoy the best of India, especially if you’re a woman

What would Madonna do? When in doubt, we ask ourselves this and usually know what to do. However, of all the things the pop star is known for, travelling extensively in India isn’t one of them. Which is why we stepped up, fingerless gloves on, to make a list of all the things you can do in the subcontinent, when you’re a woman. From adventure to shopping to wildlife (no, we don’t mean traffic) and culture, India has an experience for you that’s safe and easy to do. Ready, blow-dry, travel!

Let’s have an adventure!

1. Rock-Climb to Gloryrock-climbing

WHERE: Badami, Karnataka

WHAT: Woman against mountain. That’s pretty much the essence of rock-climbing, with cramps, scrapes, soreness and additional pain thrown in. This rigorous sport is something of a craze in Badami’s sandstone hills, among India’s best routes. Find out how to leverage holds, tie clove hitches, belay other climbers and cut arcs. You’ll learn to dangle in the air and like it, as well as to trust your instincts. And, while you’re finding out what your body is truly capable of, you’ll also feast on the amazing landscapes from those heights. Geronimo!

FOR WHOM: Solo travellers

GETTING THERE: Drive up from Bangalore (455km) or Panjim (273km).

2. Kick Like a Beast

WHERE: Kozhikode, Kerala

WHAT: Kalarippayattu has 18 techniques, legendarily said to have influenced the 18 hands of Buddha, via Bodhidharma, the monk who took it back to China. Postures are derived from animals and birds, and kicks, leaps, jumps and stances are taught over a two-day workshop at CVN Kalarai Nadakav, allowing students to build strength, balance, stamina and flexibility. Advanced classes involving fighting with wooden sticks and metal weaponry are also available. Relaxing ayurvedic massages are part of the training, and treat any muscle trauma or soreness you might experience. You can stay at the Ayush Ayurveda Ashram, an option offered by CVN, and you must stop for breakfasts at the Bombay Hotel, which serves amazing Malayali food as well as the intriguingly-named biryani chai.

FOR WHOM: Travellers looking to learn something new

GETTING THERE: Fly into Calicut International Airport (30km). Kozhikode has a railway station, and you can also drive from Bangalore (360km) or Kochi (180km).

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A Diner’s Paradise, India

Luxury in the lap of nature – JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa redefines the concept of al fresco dining with their unique and ethereal experiences

Lose yourself in the heart of the Himalayas when you stay at JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa. Wherever you stand, there are undisrupted views to embrace – from the majestic Garhwal Mountains on one side to the lush green walnut grove on the other, from the pretty pine forest to the beautiful Kempty fall stream.

To ensure that guests get to enjoy the scenic location to the fullest, the resort has introduced the concept of ‘Unique Dining Experiences’ – bespoke breakfasts, lunches and dinners at unusual locations in and around the resort. Imagine indulging in tastefully concocted dishes amidst the mountains and a gurgling stream. Or intimate set ups with customised menus and hearty meals overlooking the valley. JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa brings you the opportunity to eat fine food against unbeatable backdrops and intuitively meets your needs. Besides the stunning property, this is what makes staying here even more memorable.

jw-indiaThese inimitable experiences include options like ‘Breakfast in the Stream’ – a generous buffet spread with hot and cold stations in a stream near the resort. From the table set up in the middle of a clear mountain stream, surrounded by the enchanting Himalayas to the beautiful walk into the valley to the stream – it’s like a page out of a fairy-tale. Then, there’s ‘Lunch or High Tea at the JW Farms’, which features a farm-to-fork organic Italian meal with a table set at the farm overlooking the Garhwal range. Choose from a variety of handcrafted menus designed by the resort’s chefs and prepared with the finest handpicked ingredients from the farm. Another great experience is ‘Lunch at the Pine Forest’ – a relaxed, casual picnic lunch for couples or ‘Lunch or Hi Tea at the Greenhouse’ – an intimate meal in the greenhouse surrounded by fresh herbs and bright flowers.

Designed for the discerning and those looking for something different – from lavish five-course meals to effervescent afternoon high tea – these specially curated enchanting culinary journeys combine the magic of panoramic views with exceptional cuisine and service.

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At Your Service – the Leela Residence, Bengaluru

Presenting the Leela Residences at Bhartiya City in Bengaluru, where unparalleled luxury, stylish residences, the best amenities and exceptional assistance aren’t just a dream, but a way of life

Known for showering its guests with unprecedented services, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts has carved a niche for itself in the hospitality industry. Now, the brand moves into the real estate industry with The Leela Residences at Bhartiya City, bringing its renowned Indian hospitality – which is often imitated but never quite equaled – to Bengaluru.

The latest urban development in Bengaluru’s Hebbal area, Bhartiya City – known as the City of Joy – provides an urban retreat in the bustling city for those select few who prefer life’s finer things. Making sure that this development lives up to its residents’ discerning tastes, Bhartiya has taken inspiration from cities such as Paris, Barcelona, London and New York and has tied up with teams from across the globe to create this blissful, private haven.

leela-residences-1The limited edition, The Leela Residences surpasses the notion of luxury living and has everything one would expect from a brand of this stature. Complementing the grandeur of the 256-room luxury hotel being developed alongside, it has every amenity possible. Right from the lobby that’s reminiscent of one of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts’ and the Clubhouse that boasts a restaurant and bar and the 24-hour gym to the residents-only spa, temperature-controlled swimming pool, private theatre and a cosy library – the property offers the best services and facilities.

Choose from one of the five apartments which include a studio space, 1BHK, 2BHK, 3BHK and 4BHK homes-that encompass every extravagance. Lavish interiors by PIA Interior, spacious kitchens by Boffi, private decks, walk-in closets and five-star services on call arc just some of the wonders that The Leela Residences promises.

A home at The Leela Residences also has access to all the facilities of Bhartiya City. Landscaped gardens complete with pedestrian-friendly paths, dedicated cycle tracks, classical and contemporary artworks at the Centre for Performing Arts, shops and niche boutiques, and many more indulgences are just a stone’s throw away.

So, when it comes to finding a new abode, reside in the best at The Leela Residences in Bhartiya City.

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The Cradle of Yoga – India

India is an assault on the senses, challenging you with its extremes, prompting you to contemplate who you are and where you stand in the world

India, the largest democracy in the world is also the world’s second largest nation with 1.25 billion people calling it home. Seemingly homogeneous at first glance, this nation of 29 states and 7 union territories is actually so diverse it is almost shocking. Nearly all of the world’s religions are represented here, while 22 different languages are officially recognised with many others being spoken across the country. India has had its share of foreign rule as well that spans over 1,100 years, with the British claiming 300 and the Mughals 800. This hotbed of various influences allowed for the shaping of Indian society as we see it today.

There is no concrete history of the birth of yoga – many of the sacred texts and teachings were transmitted orally and were considered secret for many years. While the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation of northern India is widely credited with yoga’s beginnings over 5,000 years ago, some historians believe yoga may have started as early as ten millennia ago.

Pre-classical yoga was developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers); they documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, of which the most renowned is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 BC. The Upanishads taught that excellence could only be achieved through the sacrifice of the ego via self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga). In classical yoga, there is an ‘eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment.

In contrast, post-classical and modern yoga rejected the ancient teachings in favour of embracing the physical body as the true path to achieving enlightenment; the yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life, and developed a new form of practice called Tantra Yoga (what we refer to today as Hatha Yoga), consisting radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind in a bid to free the flesh from the binds of physical existence.

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My journey started in New Delhi, all ready for International Yoga Day on 21 June – it was in its second year of celebrations following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well-being.” Having been adopted by the majority of the member nations. International Yoga Day is celebrated by yogis worldwide.

Delhi is recognised amongst the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities and longest serving capitals. Known as the city of seven towns, the city has not forgotten the importance of its past glory and continues to pay tribute to the rice and diverse cultures that call it home.

Ladakh

The High Life

Fine hospitality in an inhospitable terrain

This was our second trip to La­dakh, and we hadn’t thought we’d go back. It is not our thing to return to places we’ve visited, trying to repeat an experi­ence, or recapture a moment. But the prospect of Ladakh pranced in front of us insistently – one way or the other, it was to be these mountains, this summer, this desert, this valley, these gompas, these rivers, these people.

The first time, eight years ago, we went to trek up the imposing Stok Kangri, which naturally fell under the label of ‘roughing it’. This trip required me to stay in a tent as well, but the similarities, as they say, end there. This time, we were camping with a capital ‘G’. Glamping, they call it, glamorous camping.

The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC) pitches its luxury tents for only a few months a year in two beautiful locations in Ladakh – in Thiksey, 25km from Leh, and in Diskit, the headquar­ters of Nubra Valley, 150km north of Leh. The window is only as wide as the high-altitude summer permits but TUTC gives you a marvellous experience: su­perb vantage points, classy luxury, first-rate service, fine dining, tailor-made excursions and experiences… A holiday where you can do as much or as little as you care to and maximise it all anyway.

At the reception (which is a handsome affair with curios, board games and a library with seating nooks), we got a taste of the kind of attention we were to receive. We were to have a guide for the entire week, a car at our disposal and a butler. The medic-on-call mea­sured our oxygen levels and, soon, our butler was leading us through the camp. The garden was planted with a riot of flowers and the tent itself turned out to be a plush affair with pretty four-poster beds with sheer net canopies, charming furniture and fittings, and a generous en suite bathroom space with ample cup­ boards. I was going to like it here. A lot.

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Bactrian camel rides on the sand dunes of Nubra

We took it very easy that first day to acclimatise to the high altitude, but we were clever enough to do some pranayama right away and the oxygen levels crept up. In spite of plans to get in more rest, some activity formed itself the next day and we got away early under the aegis of Akanksha, the camp’s in-house naturalist. A morning of wildlife spotting in the direc­tion of Wari La – and what a morning it was! We ticked off chukar partridges, hill pigeons, two species of snowfinch, several horned larks, red-billed choughs, ravens… We surprised a little owl on a rock by the road and he dropped a head­less carcass of a hare as he flew a little distance away. We saw a woolly-naped hare bounding away, and some marmots, comically surveying the world. And, of course, lammergeier in the distance, circling the thermals. No fox, no wolf… and, ahem, no snow leopard. I’d have to go back in the winter for that one.

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The Vineyard In Your Backyard

A couple of hours from fabulous Hampi lies another fascinating site: the Krsma Winery

Once the seat of the great­est of South Indian civilisations, the ruined city of Hampi is a fascinating place to visit. Four dynasties of the Vijayanagara Empire ruled a vast kingdom over a period of more than two centuries (1336-1565 AD). And wine was very much part of everyday life. The Ramayana tells the story of how King Sugriva’s private vineyard on the outskirts of Hampi was plundered by a marauding band of vanaras who were celebrating Hanuman’s successful search for Sita.

Driving two hours to the north of Hampi, us, modern-day visitors were rather more welcome as we wound our way slowly up the small hill where the KRSMA winery is located. Named for a union of the first names of the founders Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati (Krs-Ma), the story of how this winery came into being is rapidly becoming the stuff of legend.

The young Krishna first tasted wine as a schoolboy through the local bishop who had imported some from the Vati­can. Hooked at first sip, he then began to experiment by producing them in his backyard. Then the business of real life took over and he spent the next two decades building up a very successful granules business before returning to his passion in 2007 with his wife. The opportunity came in the form of the dis­tress sale of a parcel of land that was un­der wine cultivation by a local farmer’s cooperative at that time.

While the limestone, mineral-rich soil and dry weather with minimal rainfall were ideal for grape cultivation, other challenges of the terroir were daunting. Water had to be pumped from three kilometres away, the rocky nature of the ground meant no topsoil and trained manpower was scarce in this remote outpost. Little by little, through sheer grit and determination, Krishna and Uma overcame these obstacles and the proof of their blood, sweat and tears now stands in a wine that has won accolades on the world stage. A remarkable achievement given that they have been around less than a decade.

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Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Chennai – India

With the opening of the Chennai Metro Rail, the first integrated mass transit system in India, Chennai plans to raise its profile on the international stage.

Essential information:

Population: 4,4 million

Foreign visitors per year: 3.5 million

Language: Tamil

Major industries: automobiles, IT, finance

Unit of currency: rupee (Rs)

Cost index: cup of chai Rs8 (US$0.13), masala dosa Rs15-50 (US$0.25-0.83), double hotel room per night Rs500- 2000 (US$8.30-33.30)

Why go ASAP?

Chennai has always been the most overlooked of India’s megacities. While travellers rave about Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the capital of India’s steamy south has long been seen as a stepping-stone to other parts of India, rather than somewhere to visit on its own merits. Ask the average person to name the most famous sight in Chennai and many would struggle to reply.

With the opening of the Chennai Metro Rail, the first integrated mass transit system in India, Chennai plans to raise its profile on the international stage and earn a reputation as more than just a jumping-off point for `more interesting’ places nearby. If nothing else, the fast and frequent air-conditioned trains will certainly transform the experience of exploring this hot and humid metropolis.

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Kapaleeshwarar Temple – Chennai, India

And there’s plenty to see: statue-covered Dravidian temples, institutes for Indian classical dance, fascinating museums, British-era fortifications and churches, a 3km-long beach that throngs with locals night and day, and India’s second-largest movie industry, centred on `Kollywood’ in the western suburb of Kodambakkam.

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Kodambakkam Bridge – Chennai, India

Festivals & Events:

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Cows at Pongal festival

Cows are in seventh heaven for Pongal, when treats made from rice and cane sugar are offered to all and sundry, including any sacred bovines in the vicinity.

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Mylapore’s Kapaleeshwarar Temple – Chennai, India

In March or April, locals flock to Mylapore’s Kapaleeshwarar Temple to witness the annual parade of Lord Shiva and family during the energetic Arubathu Moovar festival.

Psychedelically coloured statues of Ganesh are ritually immersed in wells, tanks, ponds, rivers and the ocean for the Vinayaka Chaturthi festival.

Life-changing experience:

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Marina Beach – Chennai

Strolling on Marina Beach is the quintessential Chennai experience. This broad strip of sand is where Chennai comes to unwind, and early evening is prime time to promenade, go jogging, play beach cricket, fly a kite, catch a fish, buy a giant balloon, munch on street food, swim (fully clothed, of course), or just sit on the sand looking out at the Bay of Bengal. OK, it’s not Waikiki, but the frenetic beachside activity offers a mesmerising window onto the rhythms of the Indian south.

Current craze:

Breaking records – Chennaites have got the bug for record-breaking stunts, and the city has garnered many laurels in recent years, including the awards for the longest continuous drumming session (50 hours) and the largest group of people playing keyboards together at one time (229).

Trending topic:

The lives, loves and larger-than-life screen personas of Tamil film stars. Enjoyed by an estimated 77 million Tamils across the globe, the films produced in Kodambakkam take the social mediasphere by storm, as locals debate the latest hits, flops, dance routines, romances, love triangles, marriages and separations of the big Kollywood stars.

Random facts:

  • The city changed its name from Madras to Chennai in 1996 as part of a national process of de-Anglicisation, but both terms were British abbreviations for the names of local villages.

  • Chennai is known as the Detroit of India thanks to its prolific automobile industry, producing 40% of India’s cars.

  • Chennai sits on the thermal equator, meaning the climate is as hot, hot, hot as the city’s famously spicy south Indian curries

Classic restaurant experience:

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Tamil canteen – Chennai, India

No starched white tablecloths here – Chennai’s finest food is served on a banana leaf in a humble Tamil canteen. The first branch of Hotel Saravana Bhavan was out in the Chennai suburbs, but the cooking was so spectacular that branches sprang up across the city, then across the country, then across the world. At any branch, locals queue round the block at lunchtime for stunningly spiced thalis (plate meals), dosas (rice-flour pancakes) and south Indian snacks, all served with the secret-recipe house sambar (tamarind sauce).

Most bizarre sight:

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The tomb of St Thomas the Apostle – India

Probably the tomb of St Thomas the Apostle, reputedly killed on St Thomas Mount in Chennai in AD 72 while spreading the Christian message in southern India, just 14 centuries earlier than the `official’ arrival of Christianity with the Portuguese in 1498. Whether Thomas the Apostle really died in India has never been verified, but locals have venerated the site since at least Roman times, according to the writings of ancient scribes.

Ranvas Rajasthan – Another Fine Example of Indian Luxury

WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE LOOK?

Spread across ten 18th-century havelis (private mansions) built for the queens of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Ranvas retains an air of regal elegance. Conceived as a pleasure palace, its common spaces (like the courtyard above) are just as lovely as its bedrooms – from the open dining pavilion, to the central courtyard with fountain and preening peacocks.
WHICH ROOMS ARE MOST MEMORABLE?

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Light floods through the intricate stone arches of the top-floor Royal Suites.

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Bangladesh – Everything You Need to Know About This South Asian Secret

A South Asian secret best revealed among its waterways and tea-clad hills

DOESN’T INDIA OFFER RICHER EXPERIENCES?

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A Royal Bengal Tiger – South Asia, Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s top experiences rival those of its neighbour to the west, especially when it comes to tea and tigers. The Sundarbans region supports as many as 400 rare Bengal tigers, the world’s largest single population, roaming the largest mangrove forest. Set over gently rolling hills, the tea plantations of Srimangal are a dream for hikers and cyclists. Plus there are historic treasures aplenty.

ISN’T IT FLAT AND WET?

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The rocket steamer is approaching in the Sundarbarns Delta – Bangladesh

Rainy it can be (visit during the October to March dry season), but all that water makes for wonderfully green, lush scenery – and feeds the web of over 700 rivers quintessential to life here.
A river journey is a highlight of any trip, whether floating along in a small rowboat or staying on one of the last Rockets, paddle-wheel steamers from the 1920s. The forested peaks of Chittagong and Sylhet meanwhile offer some height (and hikes).

WHAT SORT OF WELCOME CAN I EXPECT?

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Some local children holding the flag of Bangladesh

Travel in Bangladesh tends to be slow-paced but rich, with many opportunities to explore local culture. The few tourists to the country generally experience a warm, open reception and less of the hassle encountered in more high-profile tourist destinations within India. Even with a population of 150 million it’s possible, in quieter rural areas, to feel like you have the country all to yourself.

HOW DO I MAKE IT HAPPEN?

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Srimangal’s tea plantations – Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s tourist facilities are still developing, so it’s best to go with an operator. Exodus’s 15-day Discover Bangladesh trip includes a cruise in the Sundarbans, Srimangal’s tea plantations, and Unesco-listed temples and mosques (from £1,949 inc flights). Explore offers trips combining Bangladesh with India (15 days from £1,819 inc flights;), as well as with Bhutan and Nepal.

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LAKSHMAN SAGAR – RAJASTHAN, INDIA

This somewhat stark beauty was once a 19th-century hunting lodge belonging to the Thakur of Raipur and it sits in an undulating desert setting of craggy outcrops, thorn trees and scrubland. There are 12 stone-and-adobe thatched guest cottages dotted around, some reached by a path that winds beneath an ancient banyan tree, others near a lake, where antelope and peacocks trip and sip each evening. There’s a swimming pool hollowed out of rock and a spa in a stone water tank.

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A room at Lakshman Sagar – Rajasthan, India

A shikar mahal that was the women’s quarters has been converted into a seating area, with plenty of shaded, cushioned nooks to escape the midday sun and a roof terrace for sundowners. Rooms are evidence of a zero-kilometre design philosophy: sari-upholstered benches add zip to the mud tones and chandeliers are created from dangling copper pots and wooden spoons. And as darkness falls, guests feast on cardamom – spiced lamb in the open-air pavilion, the night aglow with candlelight and magic.