Friday, July 29, 2011


(includes following regions: Bihar; Gujarat (includes Ahmedabad); Madhya Pradesh; Punjab; Tamil Nadu; Uttar Pradesh; and West Bengal (includes Darjeeling)).

APT – Suite 530 - World Trade Centre, 999 Canada Place (Vancouver, Canada); 800-290-8687;; Australian outfit that has 3 different itineraries, each of which includes 7-day journey through West Bengal.

Bodhgaya – Bodhgaya, in north-eastern Bihar state; center of Buddhis universe, no matter school; here, in 531 BCE, young prince Siddhartha Gautama sat under spreading peepul or Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) to meditate on death and life for 6 years until attained Nirvana or enlightenment.
Karma Temple – Temple Street (near Great Buddha Statue); 011-91-094-3128-0812;; run by Kagyupa Vajrayana Buddhist Monastery; suggested donation includes communal bathroom use; meals are not included.
Aahar Restaurant – Dumhan Road (in Embassy Hotel); 011-91-063-1220-07711; opposite Thai Temple; American-style breakfasts.
Tibetan Market – near Kalachakra Grounds; Buddhist-themed food tents serving Tibetan dishes like momos (meat or vegetable dumplings) and other Tibetan specialties.
Sights & Sites
Cankamana Cloisters Walk – place where Buddha paced back and forth in deep meditation; lotus flowers carved in stone after records saying that lotus flower sprang wherever Buddha placed feet; small shrine on left of entrance contains circular stone said to bear actual footprints.
Mahabodhi Temple of Great Enlightenment – world heritage site; behind temple is sacred Bodhi tree.
Thai Temple – town’s 2nd most prominent landmark.

GUJARAT (Note: Gujarat is largely vegetarian and alcohol free state.)
House of MG – opposite Sidi Saiyad Mosque (Lal Darwaja); 011-91-079-2550-6946;; converted and restored 1924 mansion; 15 rooms; in city center next to Sidi Saiyed Mosque; book Mangaldas or Verandah Suite; owner, Abhay Mangaldas, mill-owning family scion, on site and valuable resource for city information.
Le Meriden Ahmedabad – near Nehru Bridge; 011-91-079-2550-5505;; overlooks Sabarmati River; typical conveniences of business chain.
Agashiye – opposite Sidi Saiyad Mosque (Lal Darwaja); 011-91-079-2550-6946;; rooftop eatery at House of MG; thalis (multi-course, local cuisine dinners).
Mangaldas ni Haveli – Laka Patel ni Pol; 011-91-079-2550-6946;; rooftop cafĂ© serving Gujarat snacks and daily, changing a la carte vegetarian menu; in 18th Century, restored house in old city center.
Vishala – 30 Regal Estate (opposite Vasana Tol Naka); 011-91-079-2276-1401;; rustic, alfresco spot; local institution serving local fare.
Bandhej – Freeway Mall, S.G. Road, or Shreekrishna Centre; 011-91-079-2642-2181;; contemporary textiles, dyed, loomed, and printed by hand from across India.
Sights & Sites
Adalaj Vav – Gandhinagar Highway; conceived to store and provide easy access to water, stepwells (vavs) were somewhat common community gifts from royal women; cool communal spaces provide recreation and relaxation; this 1 has 5 underground stories, with massive columns and intricate carved friezes.
Calico Museum of Textiles – opposite Underbridge (Shahibag); 011-91-079-2286-8172;; by appointment only; 1 of finest fabric collections in world.
IIM Ahmedabad – Dr. Vikram Sarabhai Marg (Vastrapur); 011-91-079-6632-4071;; Louis Kahn-designed Indian Institute of Management.
Jami Masjid (“Friday Mosque”) – Mahatma Gandhi Road (east side of Teen Darwaza); built as city’s main congregational mosque; grandiose, columned structure with monumental arch; elaborately carved, pierced stone screens (jails designed to let in air but reduce sun and, therefore, heat).
Millowner’s Building – Ashram Road; 011-91-079-2658-2273;; Le Corbusier-designed; concrete, grid-based structure. [Note: Le Corbusier also designed 2 villas in area: Shodan Villa (closed to public) and Sarabhai (on Calico Museum grounds).]
Queen’s Palace – Sarkhej Road; 011-91-079-2682-8675;; 2-story, haunting ruin near Sarkhej Roza.
Sanskar Kendra (“City Museum”) – Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (Kocharale, Paldi, opposite National Institute of Design); 011-91-079-6578-8369; tribute to Le Corbusier.
Sarkhej Roza – Sarkhej Road; 011-91-079-2682-8675;; Shaikh Ahmed Khattu’s, Sufi Muslim Saint, home.
Sidi Saiyed Mosque – near Lal Darwaja; fabulous jails; sinuous plant carvings form stone latticework.
Utensils Museum – Vechaar Vishalla Environmental Center (opposite Vasama Toll Maka); 011-91-079-2660-2422 or 2643-0065.

HIMALAYAS (includes Himachal Pradesh & Ladakh)
Ananda in Himalayas – Palace Estate (Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal); 011-91-013-7822-7500;; spa pampering underpinned by Ayurvedic doctors, yogis, and teachers; great chef.

Simla (Shimla)
Wildflower Hall – Mashobra (Chharabra); 011-91-017-7264-8585 or 800-562-3764;; built at Himalayas’ base, Lord Kitchener’s former residence; after spending day horseback riding through apple orchards and nearby villages, head to Spa Pavilion to loosen up with Ayurveda massage tables.

360° Leti – Almora, Uttaranchal; 011-91-011-4173-4788;; closed June-September, when monsoons cause mudslides; ideal times are: March-April, when rhododendrons in bloom; autumn, when skies are clear and cold; or December-January, when best views.

Steppes Travel – 51 Castle Street (Cirencester, U.K.); 011-44-012-8560-1495 or 855-203-7885;; organizes itineraries.
Wild Frontiers – 78 Glentham Road (London, U.K.); 011-44-020-7736-3968 or 800-454-1080;; organizes itineraries.

Chamba Camp Thiksey – Ki Ki Naga (near Government High School Thiksey, on Leh-Manali Road); 011-91-011-4090-2222;; luxury camp.
Sights & Sites
Thikse Monastery – National (Leh Manali Highway) Highway 3 (12 miles east of Leh); 011-91-019-4247-2449;; gompa (monastery) affiliated with Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism; noted for resemblance to Potala Palace (Lhasa, Tibet); located at 11.800' in Indus Valley; 12-story complex that houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings & swords; among main points of interest is Maitreya Temple, installed to commemorate visit of 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970; it contains 49' high statue of Maitreya, largest such statue in Ladakh, covering 2 stories of building.

Stok Palace – Stok (15 kms south of Leh); 011-44-020-7736-3968;; 77-room royal residence now has 3 guest suites including 1 in lapis blue & another in ruby red, with balconies overlooking Indus Valley; 2 more rooms are under way; every detail carefully handcrafted, from Ladakhi & Tibetan rugs to brightly painted woodwork by local artisans.
Sights & Sites
Stok Palace – Stok (15 kms south of Leh); 011-44-020-7736-3968;; Ladakh’s former royal family were stripped of their power in 1846 & now live comparatively modest life, dividing time between private mansion in Manali & stately Stok Palace; vaguely potala-like, with wobbly, colorful window frames; cafeteria has great open terrace; several rooms on 2 levels form palace museum displaying family treasures, including queen’s ancient turquoise-&-gold yub-jhur (crown) & photo of young king in sneakers.

Nimmu House – National Highway 1D; 011-91-084-4775-7518;; imposing, 3-story, Tibetan-style house finished with local stone & Kashmiri latticed wood; overlooks Indus Valley; set in apple, apricot & walnut orchard; 12 guest rooms & suites, dining room, library, living room, rooftop terrace, yoga & meditation spaces, spa and local craft store.
Shakti Tours – 903-904 (Vatika City Point Sector 25, MG Road, Gurgaon); 011-91-012-4456-3899;; can arrange hiking and river-rafting; also, has restored village houses into tasteful, white-washed lodges where walkers can sleep between crisp, clean sheets.

Sights & Sites
Shalimar Bagh – Dal Lake (northeast side, on right bank);; former Mughal garden, now public park, linked through channel to Dal Lake; other names are Shalamar Garden, Shalamar Bagh, Farah Baksh, and Faiz Baksh; other famous shoreline garden nearby is Nishat Bagh; built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan, in 1619; Mughal horticulture high point; ancient history traced to 2nd Century when built during Pravarsena II’s reign (he founded Srinagar and ruled in Kashmir 79-139 CE, naming his residence Shalimar); in 1630, under Emperor Shah Jahan’s orders, Kashmir Governor Zafar Khan extended into pleasure place for Pathan and Sikh governors who followed Zafar Khan; under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, marble pavilion built as guest house for European visitors; built on flat land on square plan with 4 radiating arms from central water source; central channel, known as Shah Nahar, is garden’s main axis, running through 3 terraces; covers 31 acres; terraces fitted with fountains and chinar (sycamore) tree-lined vistas; now in woeful condition.

Bandhavgarh National Park
Mahua Kothi – Bandhavgarh National Park; 866-969-1825;; co-venture between Taj Resorts & Palaces hotel group and CC Africa to establish 5-park tiger circuit in central India; CC Africa offers game-watching expertise (luxe 4x4 jeeps, English-speaking drivers trained as naturalists, and outreach to local people on whom wildlife survival depends) while Taj offers local roots and culinary experience; comprises 12 kutiyas, mud-walled cottages similar to many Indian village huts; meals taken family style but extraordinary food and service; high season is December-January but for less frigid early morning game drives and lower prices, go in October-November or February-March.
Sight & Sights
Bandhavgarh National Park –; 1 of India’s largest national parks, located in Madhya Pradesh’s Umaria district; name derives from area’s most prominent hill, said to be given by Hindu Lord Rama to brother, Laxman, to keep watch on Sri Lanka (Ceylon), hence Bandhavgarh (Sanskrit for “Brother’s Fort”); tiger population density among highest known in India; large breeding populations of panthers, bison, and various deer species; once had large white tiger population but Maharaja Martand Singh (of Rewa) captured last known 1 in 1951; this white tiger, Mohan, now stuffed and on display in Maharajas of Rewa’s palace; 39 caves in Bandhavgarh fort and surrounding hillocks up to 5 km radius; oldest cave is of 1st Century; several caves carry Brahmi script inscriptions; some caves have embossed figures (such as tigers, pigs, elephants, and horsemen); “Badi gufa,” largest cave, has broad entrance, 9 small rooms, and several pillars; it dates back to 10th Century; cave appears primitive, lacking elaborate statues and carvings seen in other Buddhist period caves; purpose remains mystery; no records available to show when Bandhavgarh Fort constructed; thought, to be 2K years old; references to it in ancient books, Narad-Panch Ratra and Shiva Purana; various dynasties have ruled Fort; last inhabitants deserted Fort in 1935; prior to becoming national park, forests around Bandhavgarh long maintained as Shikargah (game preserve) by Maharajas.

Sights & Sites
Ahilya Fort – on River Narmada; 011-91-011-4155-1575;; getting here is hell – 1 hour, 20 minute flight from Delhi to Indore, then 3 hour drive on turning, twisting highway; restored fort-palace; restored; 12 rooms and 2 garden tents; views from ancient ramparts; meals everywhere, even on secret and nearby, moonlit islands in river; “must see.”

Pench National Park
Baghvan – Pench National Park; 866-969-1825;; co-venture between Taj Resorts & Palaces hotel group and CC Africa to establish 5-park tiger circuit in central India; CC Africa offers game-watching expertise (luxe 4x4 jeeps, English-speaking drivers trained as naturalists, and outreach to local people on whom wildlife survival depends) while Taj offers local roots and culinary experience; Baghvan offers 12 bungalows with walled courtyards in colonial style with outdoor showers, mosquito-netted beds, and look-out area (machan); main lodge is more funkily and distinctively designed; high season is December-January but for less frigid early morning game drives and lower prices, go in October-November or February-March.
Sights & Sites
Pench National Park –

Makhan Fish – Majitha Road (Madaan Hospital); 011-91-098-1519-3241;

Sights & Sites
Sikh Golden Temple (Hari Mandir) – Golden Temple Road; 011-91-018-3255-3954;; among most tangibly spiritual places in country; most sacred part is Hari Mandir Sahib (Divine Temple) or Darbar Sahib (Lord’s Court); construction began in 1574, with ongoing embellishment and restoration over years; museum on site.

Annamalai Hills
Sights & Sites
Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary & National Park – Pollachi Coimbatore (Topslip); 011-91-042-5922-5356;

Fisherman’s Cove – Covelong Beach, Kanchipuram District; 011-91-044-6741-3333;; on 20 acres on beach; built on 18th Century Dutch fort’s remains; 88 rooms, 20 with ocean views and hammocks; excellent restaurant, Bay View; good spa.
Park Hotel – 601 Anna Salai; 011-91-044-4267-6000;; hippest spot in town; former film studio site; 214 rooms, pool, and day spa; request 1 of beech-floor rooms on 6th-7th floors.
Taj Coromandel Hotel – 37 Mahatma Gandhi Road; 011-91-044-6600-2827;; centrally located, 213 rooms; dated appearance; ask for redone room.
Bay View – Covelong Beach, Kanchipuram District;; 011-91-044-6741-3333; Indian-accented seafood under thatched umbrellas overlooking Bengal Bay.
Saravana Bhavan – 70 Kapaleeswarar Temple, North Mada Street; 011-91-044-2461-5588; have coffee and dosas for breakfast.
Southern Spice – 37 Mahatma Gandhi Road (at Taj Coromandel Hotel); 011-91-044-6600-2827;; Tamil Cuisine.
Guides – Peirce & Leslie (ask for Kala Balasubramaniam); 011-91-012-4404-9361;
Amethyst – 14 Padamavathy Road (in Gopalapuram); 011-91-044-2835-3581; contemporary clothing, high-end jewelry, and vintage photography; stick around for morning tea or lunch in garden or on veranda.
Sights & Sites
Cholamandal Artists’ Village – East Coast Road (near Spencers Daily Injambakkam, Thiruvanmiyur); 011-91-044-2449-0092;; established in 1966; India’s largest artists’ commune; credited for Madras Movement of Art (1950s-1980s), which brought modernism to art in southern India; over 20 resident painters and sculptors, who live as community and pool skills; they also run Artists’ Handicrafts Association, cooperative that manages village and works’ sale.
Connemara Public Library – Pantheon Road (Egmore); 011-91-044-2819-3751;; built by British Empire (named for Lord Connemara, Anglo-Irish Madras governor; inspired by traditional Indo-Saracenic architecture; inside, teak arches carved with intricate floral patterns, stained-glass windows filter sun’s rays; original marble floors intact; only main entrance open to public.
Fort George – Pantheon Road, along Marina Beach; active military base from 1653-present.
Gopalapuram – neighborhood area with shops that sell contemporary clothing, high-end jewelry, and vintage photography.
High Court – North Fort Road, Parrys, George Town; 011-91-044-2530-1349;; red sandstone building; world’s 2nd-largest judicial complex.
Kapaleeswarar Temple – North Mada Street; pyramid-shaped tower covered in colorful carvings and paintings of Hindu deities.
M. Rm. Rm. Cultural Foundation – 70 MRC Nagar Main Road, MRC Nagar, Raja Annamalai Puram; 011-91-044-2462-2505 or 011-91-044-2461-4313;; non-profit organization that supports and undertakes documentations of, and works towards, rural crafts revival.
Madras Club – Nandanam; 011-91-044-2435-0121;; sprawling 9 acre property on Adyar River since 1832.
Mahabalipuram – 1-hour south of Chennai on scenic East Coast Road; UNESCO World Heritage site, punctuated with 7th-8th Century rock carvings; see Murugan Temple and bas-reliefs (and rathas (“chariots”)) from 6th-9th Century Pallava Kingdom, carved into boulders; of particular note are Arjuna’s Penance, Descent of Ganges, and Tiger Cave; in village, visit Architecture & Sculpture Centre (66 East Raja Street), where small stone pieces are inspired by local rock art and popular deities.
Marina Beach – 7-mile drive; pass colonial buildings and churches; in particular, note police station, Vivekananda Illam (former British icehouse, now cultural center), Fort George (active military base from 1653-present), and St. Mary’s Church (Westminster of East, among India’s oldest extant British churches).
Mylapore – ancient village withing walking distance; retains true Tamil ways; sari-clad women, jasmine garlands in their hair, walk streets and buy items for prayer ceremonies; make sure to visit Kapaleeswarar Temple.
St. Mary’s Church – along Marina Beach; Westminster of East; among oldest extant British churches in India.
Shore Temple – Mahabalipuram;; built 700-728; so-named because overlooks Bengal Bayshore; granite, 5-story structural temple, dedicated to Shiva, built during Pallava Dynasty reign of Narasimhavarman II; UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Vivekananda Illam – near Marina Beach; cultural center.

Bangala Hotel – Devakottai Road (Senjai); 011-91-044-2493-4851 or 011-91-044-4206-6790;; 25 room hotel more like private home than hotel; must-visit place.

Serendipity – Palani Hills; Guesthouse retreat designed by Loulou Van Damme.

Sights & Sites
Maha Kumbh Mela –; world’s largest religious festival; held every 12 years; mass faith pilgrimage in which Hindus gather to bathe in sacred river; largest peaceful gathering in world where around 80M people visited during Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013; held every 3rd year at 1 of 4 places by rotation: (1) Haridwar; (2) Allahabad (Prayaga); (3) Nashik; & (4) Ujjain (thus Kumbh Mela held at Allahabad every 12th year; rivers are Ganges (at Haridwar), confluence (Sangam) of Ganges & Yamuna and mythical Saraswati (at Allahabad), Godawari (at Nashik), Shipra (at Ujjain) & Kausiki (at Chataradham); Kumbha means pitcher, Mela means fair, both in Sanskrit; at each of these 4 places it is believed in Hinduism that nectar drops fell from kumbha carried by gods after sea was churned.

Kushinagar – 1 of Buddhism’s 4 major centers; place where Buddha breathed his last after preaching last sermon, saying, “All things must pass. Decay is inherent in all things.”
Japan-Sri Lanka Buddhist Center – Ramabar Road; 011-91-055-6427-3042, 43, or 44;; Atago Asshin Kyokai World Buddhist Culture Association; rooms for suggested donation, including breakfast.
Yama Cafe – Mahaparinirvana Path (near Chinese Temple); 011-91-099-5611-2749; mandatory stop for ample dishes and scrumptious thukpa, Tibetan noodle soup; just don’t look in kitchen.
Sights & Sites
Mahaparinirvana Temple – huge Buddha statue in reclining position.
Mathakuar Shrine – where Buddha gave last sermon.
Rambhar Stupa – most important landmark; built where Buddha cremated in 483 BCE.

Sights & Sites
Kaiserbagh Palace – Lucknow Centre; remarkable architecture: Hindu umbrellas, ionic columns, Moorish minarets, lanterns, banisters and pediments; palace center holds highly decorated structure, Baradari, formerly covered with silver.

Myanmar Buddhist Temple-Dhammachakka Vihara – behind archaeological park; 011-91-054-2259-5199;; rooms available for unspecified donation; meals not included.
Shangri-la Tibetan Restaurant – Dharmapala Road; 011-91-098-8992-8289; serves great thukpa.
Sights & Sites
Sarnath Archaeological Museum – 30 minutes outside Varanasi; 011-91-054-2259-5095; Sarnath is where Buddha gave 1st speech after enlightenment.

Khaladhungi Hotels
Camp Corbett – Corbett Nagar (Khaladhungi); 011-91-059-4224-2126;; cottages; good base from which to go birdwatching.
Sights & Sites
Jim Corbett National Park – Nainital District; 011-91-059-4725-3977;; great birdwatching.

Jungle Lore – Nainital District; 011-91-011-4412-8785;; bird-watching accommodation.
Mountain Quail Lodge – Kilbury Forest Road; 011-91-011-5942-242-126;; inviting cottages with lovely views; good birdwatching base.

Varanasi (Benares, Banaras, Kashi – “City of Divine Light”; formerly called Benares; old as Babylon; 1 of Hindu religion’s 7 sacred cities).
Hotel Ganges View – Assi Ghat; 011-91-054-2231-3218;; 14-room, heritage hotel located on Asi Ghats; “authentic stay.”
Taj Ganges – Nadesar Palace Grounds; 011-91-054-2250-3001;; 130 rooms outside main town.
Chef & I – 57 Patel Nagar (at Meraden Grand Hotel); 011-91-054-2250-9952; 1st rate North Indian cuisine prepared in open kitchen.
Tadka – Mall, Cantonment (at Ramada Plaza JHV); 011-91-054-2251-0000; 1st rate North Indian cuisine prepared in open kitchen.
Varuna – Nadesar Palace Grounds (at Taj Ganges); 011-91-054-2250-3001;; try satvik thali, condiment and vegetable sampling; excellent local fare.
Guide – Devesh Aggarwal; 011-91-098-3904-2343;
H.M. Textiles (or Kasim Enterprises) – 52/58 Dulli Gaddi (Pili Kothi, near Yamuna Talkies); 011-91-054-2244-0592; shop owned by Hasin Mohamed; finest silks; shawls are art works.
Silkways – Qazi Sadullahpura (behind Hotel Clarks); 011-91-054-2221-0791; silk shawls.
Sights & Sites
Bharat Kala Bhavan – Varanasi Hindu University; 011-91-054-2230-7621;; 1 of India’s richest public architecture and art collections.
Dasaswamedh Ghat – where most boats are.
Godaulia – area noted for gallis (“lanes”), in hopeless confusion.
Jnana Pravaha – south of Samne Ghat; 011-91-054-2236-6326;; lively institute committed to archaeology and Indology, as well as Indian fine art collection.
Qazi Sadullahpura – silk-weaving district.
Thatheri Bazaar – where brass and papier-mache masks made for October’s Ram Lila festival; also, adjacent to lane labyrinth that makes up Varanasi’s silk market, best visited in late afternoon when weavers deliver boxed work to dealers.
Vishwanath Galli & Jnana Vapi – wonderful shopping area for jewelry, precious stones, silverware, and temple offerings.
Vishwanath Khanda – oldest town part; lies behind Dasaswamedh Ghat, where most boats are.
Vishwanath Temple –; 1 of most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva; on Ganges River’s west bank; claims to be in world’s oldest living city.

Glenburn Tea Estate – about hour from Darjeeling (fly into Bagdogra, from which hotel provides transfer); 011-91-033-2288-5630 or -1805 (Calcutta number);; boutique inn on working plantation; 4 lovely suites in Burra Bungalow, original planter’s colonial guesthouse; each suite individually decorated with hand-painted furniture, floaty muslin curtains, and hand-embroidered bedlinens; also, Water Lily Villa, newly built, colonial-style cottage, joins bungalow; new villa will contain mountain range views and luxe bathrooms; hiking is breath-taking and once in lifetime opportunity to see rural communities.

Shantiniketan (take Shantiniketan Express from Kolkata)
Mitali Homestays – Phuldanga; 011-91-094-3307-5853;; delightful B&B; clean, with lush gardens, impressive library, and delicious food; will lend you bicycle for day and offer suggestions about what to do.
Sights & Sites
Rabindra Bhavan Museum – Bolpur-Shantiniketan Road (Uttarayan Complex); features several of his original manuscripts, as well as letters and photographs; also 5 homes lived in by Tagore, with original paintings by Rabindranath; closed Wednesdays.


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