Disregard the undeserving repetition of Kolkata and be instantly rewarded with one of the most sophisticated cities in India. Home of Tagore, one of India’s greatest poets, the city has a strong artistic heart. The masterpiece of the British Raj, this city is a tropical haven punctuated with whitewashed Victorian buildings. The new ITC Hotel will be among the tallest buildings of Kolkata and the trusted hands of Glenburn will see the opening of The Penthouse, the city’s first boutique hotel. Venture outside Kolkata, to Rajbari Bawali, a lovingly restored neoclassical palace. Pioneer the east along the mighty Hugli, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.
The Assam Bengal Navigation cruises take you to the remotest corners uncovering islands, untouched jungle, tea towns, temples, and lesser-known old colonial settlements along the way. Cross the single sliver of West Bengal that takes you into the frontier lands of the Seven Sister States. East India – one of the last frontiers that has much to reward the intrepid traveller – reaches from the Himalayan heights down to the Bay of Bengal, via the wild mangroves and swamps of the Sundarbans. Take a cruise and you may be lucky enough to spy a flash of the tiger’s stripe as it prowls through the dense watery undergrowth. Drink in the tea-scented countryside aboard the ‘toy train’, that gently loops through the terraced tea plantations to the Victorian resort of Darjeeling.
Step back in time at the impossibly charming Glenburn Tea Estate, which boasts bedroom views of the spellbinding Kanchenjunga. Vast ethnic diversity has continued to fracture these fragile lands that border Tibet. Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. However, here you will find the world’s most ancient forests, tribal culture and mountains blanketed in rainbow-hued flora. Go walking in the alpine forest of Sikkim or travel to Nagaland to see the Hornbill Festival with a stay at the TUTC. In Assam, go in pursuit of the one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park while staying at the charming Diphlu River Lodge. Bihar and Jharkhand dominate the eastern Ganges basin, and are replete with spiritual sites, for this is the birthplace of Buddhism and home to the Jain site of Parasnath Hill. Head to the monument-strewn beaches of Odisha, and Puri – home to the vast Jagannath temple.
The south – a peninsula where the arid plains of the Deccan Plateau are guarded by the undulating Eastern and Western Ghats – then gives way to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. An abundance of rugged shoreline, temple towns, ancient relics, palm-fringed backwaters, aromatic spice gardens and steamy hinterlands are where you will find a gentler pace of life. Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana) is the land of the Nizams.
Begin with the atmospheric city of Hyderabad and stay at the ethereal Taj Falaknuma – one of the world’s most ornate palace hotels. Discover the mosques, mausoleums and medieval forts of the erstwhile royals before heading to the kitsch coastal town of Visakhapatnam for a seaside stay at the vibrant Park Hotel. Karnataka is a cradle of stone architecture, fabled cities and empires of old. Uncover the magical ruins and relics of Hassan, Belur and Halebid, and do take time for Hampi, the legendary Vijayanagara capital.
This summer saw the opening of the new Orange County hotel which celebrates the pomp and pageantry of these former dynasties. Fly into the garden state of Bangalore and enjoy the cooler climes at the sumptuous Leela Hotel before heading to the flower markets of Mysuru (Mysore) and beyond to the verdant forests of Nagahole where the wild elephants roam. Go deeper into the deciduous rain forests of the Western Ghats staying at glass-fronted Vivanta by Taj. Madikeri. End with the hippie beach-haunt of Gokarna staying at the simple yet serene yoga resort, Swaswara.
Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh provide the transition where the Hindi-speaking north gives way to the distinctive southern states of Kerala and the Dravidian heartland of Tamil Nadu. Ancient pilgrimage routes map out vibrant temple towns where the garish gods and goddesses dance across the gopurams (towers) that soar above the tropical canopies. Start with Chennai, the gentleseaside capital, and stay at The ITC Grand Cholawith its award-winning cuisine. Or enjoy the luxury Leela Hotel with its panoramic sea views. Escape the heat up in the Nilgiris at the quaint hill stations of Ooty and Kodaikanal, or take a sojourn at the once French colony of Pondicherry, a delightful melange of Indian and French culture. Stay at the elegant CGH Earth Palais de Mahe or the delectable La villa.
A visit to Chettinad provides another distinctive flavour with its opulent mansions and spicy cuisine. Thisyear saw the opening of Svatma, a restored, traditional, century-old family mansion and the first luxury offering in Tanjavur. The sultry Western Ghats rise in the east, and a multitude of rivers, canals and waterways crisscross through the hill stations, coconut groves and spice gardens down to the hungry Arabian sea. This is God’s own country. Kerala. Watch the fishing boats go by at the Brunton Boartyard, or dine at the eclectic Malabar House, in the historic state capital Fort Cochin – a heady mix of Keralan, Portuguese. British and Jewish culture.
Travel to the rustic retreat of Shalimar Spice Garden in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary before heading to the spice plantations of Munnar and the Windermere Estate. Discover the backwaters aboard the luxury Oberoi MV Vrinda for a taste of decadence as you watch the world go by. The abundance of beaches provides endless Ayurvedic spas and beach resorts – from the northern tip with its virgin backwaters and the dreamy Neeleshwar Hermitage – to the wide expanse of Marari Beach and the southern beaches of Thirumullavaram and Kovalam. Stay at Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra, and watch the sun sink slowly into the ocean.