India: Luxury & Private Safaris
How does one describe a country that stretches from the 28,000-foot high snow-capped Himalayan Mountains in the north that shelter the elusive snow leopard, to the sun-kissed beaches and swaying palm trees on the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal in the south? On the edge of the great desert of Rajasthan, one finds the magical cities of Jaipur, Jodpur, Udaipur and Agra, renowned for the incredible palaces of their Maharajas and for magnificent forts and temples such as the Amber Fort. And of course, the Taj Mahal. Taking in the delicate details and perfect symmetry of this masterpiece of Muslim art at dawn is incredibly moving.
On the banks of the sacred Ganges, the city of Varanasi quite simply defies description—the epicenter of spirituality where death, rebirth, belief, and mundane life all meet. Jungles teeming with exotic birds, tigers, elephants, and even rhino, are bordered by sleepy villages where little has changed in the past 100 years. This is the land of Bollywood, where people really do bust out in song and dance. It is a highly spiritual country, home to Sikhs, Jains, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. You will find stunning natural beauty, peaceful villages, bustling cities, magnificent temples, and extraordinary birds, and wildlife. To experience India is to be deeply touched in one’s innermost being.
India, incredible India, a land of contrasts. Exquisite beauty, fabulous wealth, grinding poverty, pomp and ceremony, magnificent palaces, colorful saris, dusty landscapes, charm, politesse, patience, and acceptance are all juxtaposed at any one moment. Add a heady mix of incense, spice, flowers, chants, sitars, drums, and car horns. Not insistent, not saying “get out of my way” but rather, “toot toot, I’m behind you, passing on left.
Is India the right destination for you?
- Travelers who love to immerse themselves in other cultures will be incredibly stimulated in India. At some point your eyes will burn from the intensity of chili in the air, your ears will be filled with the music and the constant hooting of horns, and your brain will reel trying to establish order within the chaos. Most people speak English and love to engage with visitors. You will be welcomed in temples and mosques, homes and shops. India is paradise for the curious.
- India truly has some of the most original and beautiful hotels in the world where you will be lavished with attention and care and surrounded by exquisite beauty. If you’ve ever dreamed of staying in a palace, you will be delighted at every turn.
- Foodies will relish the opportunity to sample a plethora of flavors, where specialty dishes vary by region and fusion is king.
- Wildlife enthusiasts will be enticed by the country’s 47 tiger reserves, brimming with knowledgeable and dedicated guides and wardens.
When to visit India?
For most of India, the best time is from October thru May, with the ideal time for wildlife viewing being February and March. India has an extraordinary variety of climatic regions, ranging from tropical in the south to temperate and alpine in the Himalayan north. In December and January, temperatures average around 50–59°F in the area around New Delhi. Temperatures rise as one proceeds towards the equator, peaking around 68–77°F in mainland India’s southeast. December and January can have freezing temperatures at night in Rajasthan and at the higher elevations in the north, though most of the northern states experience cool and dry winters as they are sheltered by the Himalayas.
How much should I budget for a trip to India?
What does a trip to India cost?
The cost of a trip to India will vary widely based on the type of accommodation you select. If you are exclusively visiting cities, there are many economical Western hotels offering a good clean bed at the end of a day’s exploring. For those looking to revel in the opulence of the Maharajas, India boasts numerous palaces that have been converted into hotels. To take advantage of the fabulous hotels and camps that we consider part of the experience, you should plan on $5000 to $10,000 per person for two weeks.
Our favorite areas in India
- Though the Golden Triangle is considered a must-see, we much prefer the quieter life of southern India or the far north. Floating on your private boat among the rice fields in the backwater of Kerala, home of Ayurveda, is our idea of heaven.
- Gujarat is noted for its amazing crafts and delightful villages as is the northern state of Punjab, home to the Sikh Golden Temple at Amritsar.
- Being safari aficionados, pride of place has to go to the game parks, of which there are many. The experience is not as wild as parks in East Africa or Botswana, but the scenery is outstanding, the wildlife plentiful, and the camps we recommend are true “wow” experiences. Seeing a tiger is heart-stopping.
- For those who revel in intense sensation and challenge, Varanasi should not be missed.
What else should I know before planning a trip to India?
Many people dislike India for all the reasons that others love it. For some, the dirt, the traffic, and the immersion in such a different culture is just not their idea of vacation. And if you don’t like spicy food, you will be hungry.
The lowdown on safari
Tigers are eponymous with a safari experience in India and while their numbers are strong, they are elusive. Unlike safari in Africa, permits by zone are assigned based on availability when you confirm your trip. Early bookings have their choice of zones, often claiming ones with the highest tiger densities well in advance. Last minute trips aren’t at a loss though on the Tatkal system, which allocates permits for every zone on the day of the drive. Though you aren’t guaranteed a permit, we’ve yet to have a client not receive one. Full day permits allow you extended hours beyond the morning and afternoon drives and let you cross into any zone.
Another key difference from safari in Africa is the crowds you’ll encounter. At the park gates you’ll find a lineup of jeeps ready to channel their inner F1 driver as soon as the clock strikes. It’s a madhouse, but isn’t that also the fun of India? The vehicles shortly disperse among their assigned zones and quiet quickly settles.
Ways to experience India
You can walk beside elephants; ride a camel into the desert; and take a train bearing names such as Royal Rajasthan, Palace on Wheels, or the opulent Maharaja’s Express. The palm tree-lined back waters of Kerala are best experienced on an overnight journey on a picturesque private boat. Walk through colorful bazaars, busy cities, and small villages. Wherever you go, you will be well received. In the game parks (Kanha, Pench, and Bandavgarh are our favorites) you will be in open sided 4X4 vehicles, very similar to those in Africa.
Secrets and Tips from our Experts
- To get the most out of your time in India, use the services of one of our private guides. You’ll find yourself on many long drives and having a charismatic companion will greatly enhance the journey.
- Train rides are interesting and can often be faster than driving.
- End your journey with a boat ride on the backwaters of Kerala.
- Do a ‘full day’ safari in Central India’s parks for a taste of the wild and visit with Bengal tigers portrayed in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.