Collette Vacations’ Explorations Program, meanwhile, offers a 15-day Mysteries of India tour priced from $2,849 pp dbl. Guests stay in accommodations that capture the spirit of the region; enjoy first-hand culinary experiences; immerse themselves in local culture and actually meet the locals—all key components of Collette’s Explorations Program.
“The unique experiences for those traveling on the Explorations Mysteries of India tour include stays in Udaipur with accommodations at the Fateh Garh Palace, offering the perfect balance of architectural innovation and environmental responsibility. The tour offers exciting, cultural activities that include participating in a yoga class, enjoying a bindi demonstration, sitting down for a home-hosted dinner to engage in the locals’ daily lives, and embarking on a game drive through Ranthambore National Park,” says Krystle Ang, product manager (Asia, Hawaii, and the Middle East) for Collette Vacations.
Ang adds that while the Explorations Mysteries of India tour is the sole India tour offered for travelers, “…it combines a comprehensive introduction with hands-on-experiences and, on average, 22 passengers.”
After two days in Delhi, guests fly to Udaipur for an evening boat ride on Lake Pichola and a morning yoga class, learning basic exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert. The next day, after a short flight to Jaipur, clients ride an elephant to the top of the Amber Fort, and tap into local customs during lunch as they learn about turban and sari tying, stroll through a flower market for a glimpse into the art of making garlands used in traditional Indian welcome ceremonies and try out a henna tattoo.
After a couple of game viewing drives in Ranthambore National Park, guests get another look into Indian life with a visit to the Ranthambore School of Art, which recruits students from neighboring villages and trains them to be self-sufficient artists, followed by a visit to the Dastkar Ranthambore Project, founded in 1981 to protect India’s traditional artisans. Later, guests get a taste of local cuisine with dinner and a cooking demonstration.
The next day, an early morning train takes everyone to Bharatpur to visit Fatehpur Sikri, a red sandstone city built by a Mughal Emperor in the 16th century before heading on to Agra and the Taj Mahal and a visit to Mother Teresa’s Charity Home, a residence for orphans supported by the Collette Foundation.
After exploring the Chandel Temple complex, guests fly to Varanasi to experience an illuminated Aarti ceremony, followed by a lesson from a Hindu scholar. Here, too, they’ll cruise the Ganges observing people ritually cleansing themselves, tour the Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva; Benaras Hindu University; and Bharat Mata Temple, before continuing to Sarnath where Siddarth Gautama, later known as Buddha, gave his first sermon in a grove in the sixth century B.C.
If you’re looking for particular clients to sell to, according to Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, director of product international for Collette, the target audience are, “…seasoned travelers who enjoy touring in small groups and crave cultural and active experiences that test their senses through exciting sounds, tastes and sights.”
Insight Vacations just introduced 12 tours to India ranging from $2,365 to $9,610, a first for the premium and luxury escorted tour operator. This brand-new inaugural program features two luxury Gold tours, four Premium escorted tours and six optional extensions covering India (including Rajasthan, Kerala and India’s wildlife), Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations says, “India is a fascinating destination—one of the most diverse and culturally rich in the world, but it has been lacking a quality, escorted product that provides a hassle-free holiday with high attention to detail and a focus on comfort. Insight recognized this gap in the market, and a growing demand for this destination by our guests, so we’ve compiled a range of six escorted journeys and six optional extensions that really bring this colorful region to life in the style for which Insight is renowned.”
Building on the expansion of Insight’s luxury Gold series in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, U.S. and Canada, Insight included two Gold itineraries in this program: the 11-day Splendours of the Taj & Tiger (from $6,825 pp dbl land-only) and the 14-day Imperial Treasures of India, priced from $9,375. These tours are designed for the ultimate deluxe experience, backed by accommodations in historic palaces, exotic resorts and many leading luxury hotels such as The Leela Palaces, the award-winning Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, The Imperial Hotel and historic Taj Palaces. Insight also offers four Premium itineraries, ranging from eight to 14 days, covering classical routes throughout India.
Insight also compiled six 3- to 5-day optional extensions covering unique destinations such as Bhutan, the spiritual mecca of Amritsar, Sri Lanka, the Indian jungle and more, each designed to complement either Premium or Gold escorted journeys. Other new itineraries from Insight’s India & Nepal program include the 15-day Classical India with Nepal visiting Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Kathmandu, priced from $4,985 pp dbl, land-only and the 11-day Enchanting Kerala to Kochi, Thekkady, Kumararkom and Kovalam, priced from $2,925 pp dbl, land-only.
Barbara Sargent, Southern California and Arizona sales manager for Insight, did an 11-day program on a “train the trainer” trip and says, “India is a destination that people really want to wrap their arms around because it’s very spiritual and you just come away with a different feeling.” But, she adds, “Clients really need to go with a tour company because to do it on your own, it’s just impossible—even the driving,” pointing out that their country hosts meet and greet Insight clients at the airport with a private van, “so you feel you’re taken care of from the minute you walk off the airplane.”
Sargent says that Insight is currently doing intensive travel agent training and bookings are already coming in, even though the first tours don’t start until October. Domestic air is included in the land-only pricing and Sargent says, “…because we have live air, we can offer best price on international air on the airline of their choice.
Adventures Incorporated—a division of Goway—has some truly unique programs to India that are not for the faint of heart. The 15-day Slowly Down The Ganges has guests interacting with Indian hosts, camping under the stars in Bijaipur, scouting India’s Brahmin-blue roofs of Bundi, visiting holy men in Pushkar, experiencing India’s romantic Udaipur, spotting wildlife in Ranthambore National Park, marveling at the Taj Mahal, discovering multi-faceted Delhi, catching a Bollywood blockbuster in Jaipur and experiencing a taste of rural Rajasthan. Plus, there’s an emphasis on the holy city of Varanasi and nearby regions.
Diane Molzan, general manager, Asia, for Goway, says the Adventures Incorporated trips to India “… appeal to clients who have an adventurous spirit and want a culturally rich experience. One has to be open to new and different things. While I have seen many first-time travelers to Asia sign up for these tours, typically both programs are higher on the culture shock scale compared to say…Europe.” But at the same time, she adds, “Adventures Inc. offers clients the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the ‘real’ India while still maintaining a certain level of comfort. Most tour operators only offer highlights, while Adventures Inc. takes our travelers through the wonderful nooks and crannies of the country.”
The transport is no less eclectic, with guests utilizing everything from a cycle rickshaw, city transport and train, to a private vehicle, bus, auto rickshaw, Jeep and a 4×4 safari vehicle, so domestic flights are not necessary. Still, she says, “We do have very competitive international air we can offer.” The land-only rate is priced from just $1,420, with lower-priced three-star accommodations that add a culturally rich vacation experience.
On the 15-day Kathmandu to Delhi program, travelers embark on an adventure tour of Nepal and India, from the rich wildlife of the Himalayan foothills and across the sacred River Ganges, to the birthplace of Buddha in Lumbini. Between Kathmandu and Delhi, they’ll witness the pilgrimage to the ghats of Varanasi, go sightseeing in Delhi and get an up-close look at the magnificent Taj Mahal. Highlights include discovering ancient stone temples in Orchha, taking a riverboat down the Ganges, getting caught up in a bargaining negotiation in a Delhi bazaar and experiencing some of Asia’s best wildlife viewing. Priced from $1,550.
International Expeditions (IE) has spent the last couple of decades utilizing its eco-tourism expertise to bring visitors to a wealth of Heritage Sites—from Mumbai to India’s national forests, on tiger safaris and a whole lot more.