Although visiting India always interested me, I had put it off because of other people. Over the years I had noticed that thoughts and opinions about the subcontinent were intensely binary – people loved it or hated it with very little middle ground. Knowing my own tastes and personality quirks, I assumed that I would be in the camp of not liking it, and so I just didn’t go. In the back of my head though, I knew that one day I would visit but only if certain conditions were met, namely traveling comfortably and with the accoutrements that a luxury travel experience provides. So when Abercrombie & Kent and I began talking about a collaboration, there was little doubt in my mind where I wanted to go – India. It was my third adventure with Abercrombie & Kent and by now I’ve come to understand and even depend on their unique style of experiential luxury travel. I trust them to never make a mistake and to always provide incredible experiences, and that was certainly the case once again in India. Now that I’m a little removed from the trip though I thought I’d try to be objective and identify key moments during the trip and what my honest thoughts about India are today.
Based on the many accounts of traveling to India I’d read over the years, I was prepared for a level of chaos akin to a dystopian novel. So, imagine my surprise when I instead discovered a country like many others around the world. Is it chaotic? Yes. Is it loud? Yes, and if I never hear another car horn again I’m ok with that. But it’s no different from many other countries I’ve visited around the world in Africa, Central and Southeast Asia. It’s not as fearsome as I thought it would be. India is a developing nation of 1.3 billion people. There is a stark divide between the rich and the poor, although the middle class is growing like gangbusters at the moment. There are issues, I’m not disputing that and I’m not trying to portray a Pollyannaish image that’s inaccurate. No, instead I do believe that some accounts of India have been grossly off the mark and I think I know at least one reason for that. Many people visit India only briefly, there to see top sights like the Taj Mahal. If your only experience visiting India are the cities of Agra (where the Taj is located) and the capital city of Delhi then no, you won’t have positive impressions of the country. However, if you veer off into other areas of the country like I did with Abercrombie & Kent, then a more complete and robust image of the country will start to form. That’s actually one of the many advantages of taking a Tailor Made Journey to India. The trip was designed just for me and my interests, allowing me the opportunity to explore at my pace and to only experience those places and activities that truly interested me. As a result, I enjoyed nearly everything I did during my 9 days in India. Abercrombie sets travelers up for success with this style of trip, but that wasn’t news to me. It’s also how I experienced Tanzania with them in 2015, but India reaffirmed that their Tailor Made experiences may be the best concept in the travel world.
Food is delicious
Indian cuisine is arguably one of the world’s most popular styles and I was excited for my own foodie experiences around the country. I was cautious, naturally, but whether in luxury hotels or quiet cafes, every meal was an event unto itself. One of the highlights for me though was learning more about traditional street food culture on a very unique tour in Old Delhi. In scenes that reminded me more of a bustling Cairo bazaar, my guide expertly ushered me through the maze of streets and lanes to some of the most popular food purveyors in the city. Tasting foods new to me, I certainly enjoyed the culinary aspect of the morning, but I also appreciated the cultural lessons along the way. Whether it was watching the rough and tumble world of the spice trade, or learning more about the Jains, it was a crash course into Delhi life that I simply couldn’t have otherwise experienced, and certainly not on a more run of the mill tour. It brought Delhi to life for me, it gave it color and character and made me appreciate the city much more than any UNESCO site possibly could.
More than one or two sights
Many travel to India with their sights set on the Taj Mahal and maybe a couple of other spots, which is fine. But don’t limit yourself to those key spots, and plan to spend as much time as you can exploring the width and breadth of the country. Even though I only saw a tiny sliver of India, what I experienced was jam packed with gorgeous cities and amazing experiences. I didn’t expect that to be honest, to be wowed by places I’d never even heard of, but that’s part of the allure of India I think. Mumbai surprised me for its modernity and seaside charm, but destinations like Udaipur and Jaipur have a different but equally captivating allure. It’s impossible to put into words how the varied landscapes and visual chaos all come together to create a holistic experience, but they do and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. So plan your time wisely but also include places you may not know a lot about, but which will add to your own India story.
Best hotels in the world, maybe
We all travel in different ways and for me hotels and resorts are an extremely important part of every trip. That’s one of many reasons why I always love traveling with Abercrombie & Kent, I know that they only work with the very best hotels in the world. India takes luxury hotels up a notch though and after just a few days, I was convinced that the country is home to some of the best hotels in the world. I mostly stayed with Taj and Oberoi properties around the country, each one unique in its style and history but also sharing one commonality – service. Luxury hotels are so much more than golden fixtures and expensive art; anyone can do that. No, what makes a luxury hotel special is the service, and that can’t be purchased. It’s a product of training, corporate culture and just simple caring. Individual staff members at every level have to care about their guests, and that’s more rare than one would expect. In India though, it’s the hallmark of the luxury travel experience and my hotel stays over the span of more than a week now count amongst my all-time most memorable.
India is what you make it
When the topic of traveling to India comes up there are thousands of different opinions and none seem to agree with the other. Some criticize if you take a luxury trip because you’re not seeing “the real India” which doesn’t make any sense and still others bemoan so-called poverty tourism, also correctly pointing out that’s not India either. The truth is that India is a large country with 1.3 billion people; it’s dynamic and expansive which means that it’s all of this and more. You can’t paint the entire country with the same misconceived brush, and it’s only through traveling in India that this becomes clear and obvious. At the same time, India is what you make it to be. If you try to expand your comfort zone a little and enjoy experiences new to you, you will be richly rewarded in return. I’m thankful I finally visited India but I know that I wouldn’t have gone without Abercrombie & Kent. I’m just not comfortable with solo independent travel around the country and I’d much rather have pros but together the logistics so that I can just enjoy my trip. Add in the exceptional service and quality that only Abercrombie & Kent provides, and for me it’s the ideal way to travel around India. Everyone is different though and so the best piece of advice I can give is to don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t delay, go now because I guarantee that as soon as you visit you’ll want to plan a return trip as soon as possible; it’s just that kind of a place.