Luxury hotels, jungle lodges, palaces and even tented camps may be rather routine in India, but what makes them stand out is the level of extravagance and attention to service that they deliver. It’s the lavish details throughout, including those showered upon guests, that make a world of difference in travelers’ stays.
The local Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces (866-WOW 1 TAJ; tajhotels.com) is one of India’s oldest leading players in the country’s luxury landscape, converting royal palaces into posh hotels that defy imagination. Among these is the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, a vision in white overlooking Lake Pichola, and Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace, the last of India’s great palaces and still the home of the city’s royal family. Built in desert sandstone, the Umaid Bhawan is flush with Art Deco touches yet retains many local details, including its towers.
The Leela Palaces Hotels and Resorts have also made their mark here with seven properties that capture the “essence of India.” Among these is The Leela Kempinski Kovalam Beach in Kerala, which sits atop a cliff, and The Leela Goa, which combines the region’s Indian and Portuguese heritage and offers everything from private plunge pools to exclusive butler service in The Club, dubbed “a resort within a resort.” Last April saw the unveiling of The Leela Palace New Delhi, said to have the largest guestrooms in the city plus a whiskey and wine bar, and an art collection valued at more than $5 million.
Another must in the list of posh escapes in India is Oberoi (800-562-3764; oberoihotels.com), known for offering unique experiences as far away as the Himalayas, where it has two hotels: Wildflower Hall and The Oberoi Cecil, the latter more than 100 years old. Postcard views seem to be a common theme with Oberoi’s leisure-oriented hotels—The Oberoi Amarvilas, for example, provides views of the Taj Majal for all guests.
Among the most iconic of properties in India is New Delhi’s The Imperial (800-323-7500; theimperialindia.com), which comes with its own art galleries and priceless art collections, including life-size portraits of past Indian rulers. The Victorian-style building packs tasteful luxury from arrival to check-out, with peaceful manicured gardens, unpacking assistance, and even Eliza rooms for “single lady travelers” that come with cameras just outside the room for added security.
Touring in Style
Quite a few luxury operators offer stays at some of India’s finest. Artisans of Leisure’s (800-214-8144; artisansofleisure.com) 16-day India in Style visits quite a few of the properties mentioned above, with in-depth visits in New Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. Highlights include safaris for possible tiger spotting, rickshaw rides around Old Delhi and elephant rides to view the surroundings from a different vantage point, with plenty of time to explore bazaars and palaces.
Cox & Kings’ (800-999-1758; coxandkingsusa.com) India & Beyond program is generous in exclusive experiences, including 10 days of top-tier travel aboard the Maharajas’ Express luxury train, where opulent cabins and royal dining are the norm. With the Classical India option, travelers enjoy daily guided tours to landmarks such as the Agra Fort, the temple city of Khajuraho and the holy city of Varanasi, resuming their train journey in the evenings. On board, panoramic windows allow them to admire day-to-day life in their surroundings as they enjoy luxurious amenities and service.
Private travel with local guides is a common choice with Abercrombie & Kent (888-611-4711; abercrombiekent.com), but its array of signature journeys are just as fulfilling. Treasures of Northern India–Pushkar Fair indulges travelers in all matters of luxury experiences, including a private cruise along the Ganges and Lake Pichola, a rare visit to the Maharana’s Crystal Gallery in Udaipur and nothing but the best accommodations, of course. But it also offers an in-depth visit to the annual Pushkar Fair, a livestock and camel sale in the state of Rajasthan that draws tens of thousands with eclectic competitions, exhibitions, live music and more.
Beyond the Hotel Walls
Adventurous types will find no shortage of exciting yet luxurious alternatives for a different type of stay. The unique houseboats or kettuvallams that traverse the backwaters of Kerala, for instance, come with full bedrooms and dining areas, with meals prepared by an onboard staff.