A Passage to India

With an awesome array of cuisine, colors and cultural experiences, the subcontinent offers an intoxicating adventure for every traveler.

scenic view of india
Photo courtesy of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts

Going to India is like falling in love. It’s a rush of emotions, a sensory overload, a constant, uncontrollable quickening of the heart. In India, sensibilities work overtime to chew, swallow and digest all you feel, taste, smell, hear and see. Like a dissonant symphony it emits a sonorous cacophony of contrast all at once and all the time. Both modern and ancient, tranquil and chaotic, bejeweled and somber, India takes you with the full heady onslaught of a romance begun. As a honeymoon destination, the adventure of India will pamper, amaze, humble and move you. Let the experience begin.

Explore the Spa at Udaipur

udaipur india
Photo courtesy of Aman Resorts 

A beguiling city built around four lakes and encircled by the ancient Aravalli hills, Udaipur seduces with its white palaces, labyrinthine streets and ethereal quietude. Touted as the most romantic place on earth, it was the refuge of a maharajah who savored the sight of the sun rising over Lake Pichola. When you board a boat to cross Lake Pichola, you sense the magnificence of another era. After passing Jag Mandir Palace, which occupies its own island in the heart of the lake, dock at Oberoi Udaivilas.

With views of the city, the hotel enchants with its medley of inlaid mosaics, pavilions, decorative fountains, archways and gilded art. And the hotel’s Kohinoor Suite could be considered its own palace with a private pool, a fireplace and views of both the lake and mountains. While kicking back in your private castle may be enticing, the spa and its indigenous Ayurvedic treatments beckon. Start with a body scrub with rose and veitiver, a chakra (energy point) balancing treatment that involves a massage, melodic bowls and a very messy (but soothing) hot-oil treatment called shirodara, which focuses on the third eye, an energy point located on the forehead.

In the evening, savor a romantic dinner on the hotel’s mid-lake, floating pontoon — it’s as if you’ve escaped to a private and luxurious island. Stars twinkle and the water whispers as it swirls about you; a trio of musicians performs while you sip champagne and enjoy various small plates of spiced dishes. Then, just as you begin dessert, like a grand finale, a storm of fireworks fills the sky with explosions of color. In your room, soak in the butler-drawn bath, perfumed with essential oils and illuminated by flickering, floating candles (room rates start at about $755 a night; oberoi.com).

Enjoy the View in Agra

agra indoor pool
Photo courtesy of Oberi Hotels & Resorts

Hop in a car for a dusty, bumpy ride toward Agra, the capital of the Great Mughal Empire, and along the way, marvel at the scenes of everyday life. There are people packed inside speeding trains, some clinging with haphazard abandon to the outside of the train car — as if holding on for dear life were an easy thing to do. Others ride atop the roofs of trucks, on the bumpers of cars and crammed into three-wheeled taxis called tuk tuks. You’ll even see people atop camels or straddling the crusty backs of painted elephants as children neatly attired in perfectly pressed school uniforms ride bicycles, single file along congested roads.

Once you hit the countryside and pass through the small villages, sacred cows and roadside dogs are common sites, as are men lounging on day beds smoking hookah pipes, priests chattering on mobile phones and statues of Hindu gods. stop off and purchase a papadam (a thin, crispy cracker most commonly made from chickpea flour) from a man on a bike who managed to pedal with a teetering skyscraper of the treats in his basket. Enjoy watching the snake-charmer — just don’t get too close to the basket — while you sip a spicy chai tea. Later along the drive, you may spy some village women working in gem-colored saris. Colorful and elegant in lemon, emerald, orange, ruby and cobalt they mottle the muted landscape like wildflowers, hauling water buckets and working in the fields.

At last, you’ll arrive at Agra and the jaw-droppingly elegant Oberoi Amarvilas. Classical Indian architecture is complemented by lush, endless gardens. Check into the Kohinoor Suite and from the balcony, the living room, the bedroom, the dining room — even from the marbled bathroom — you can see the Taj Mahal. It seems close enough to touch, both mystical and arresting. For a magical experience, visit the 17th-century monument at dusk when the light falls opalescent over the dome. Return to your suite for a candlelit dinner on the balcony, while dancers and sitar players perform on the lawn below. In the morning, marvel once again at the epic Taj Mahal when the dawn’s pink sherbet light outlines the architecture. After, take a yoga class on a green lawn, accompanied by the chatter of monkeys and the flutter of parrots above (room rates start at about $755 a night; oberoihotels.com).

Get the Royal Treatment in Jaipur

jaipur india golden bed
Photo courtesy of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces

Golden curries, shelled pistachios, smoky cardamom and pungent coriander are just some of the items you will find in the Jaipur Spice Market in Rajasthan’s ebullient capital city— best known for its pink stucco buildings. One, the Amer Fort, is a don’t miss. The sprawling marble and red sandstone lakeside compound was constructed in 1592. After exploring the four courtyards and various buildings spend the rest of your afternoon at the iconic Gem Palace, one of Jaipur’s most exclusive jewelers. Family-owned, this outpost has been the official jeweler to the maharajahs of Rajasthan for four generations. And when the royals were forced to sell off their jewels decades ago, Gem Palace was the discreet spot to do so. Now, you can admire the priceless treasures and buy some fine baubles for yourself. Ask about the combination of precious stones that ensure everlasting love, before inquiring about the famous back room. There, you’ll find antique necklaces and other jewels once proudly worn by local royalty. Note: Admittance to this area by invitation only.

Spend your stay at the stunningly restored Taj Rambagh Palace on the outskirts of town. For the ultimate regal experience, check into the Maharani Suite, once the private chamber of Maharani Gayatri Devi — famed as one of the world’s ten most beautiful women by Vogue in her youth. Decorated by her favorite designer, Hammond’s of London, the suite’s panache comes from its medley of intricate mirror work, tapestries, antiques and French windows that open onto tranquil gardens. Request the concierge to arrange for a visit from personal tailors to create bespoke saris, tunics and turbans from whatever fabric you choose (room rates start at about $750 a night; tajhotels.com).

jaipur india elephant polo
Photo courtesy of Taj Resorts Hotels and Palaces

Begin the next day with a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the desert. Then try your hand at the much-loved game of elephant polo. Accompanied by a mahout (jockey), do your best to urge your lumbering, decorated beast toward the ball. In the evening, don your sari (ask a hotel staff member to wrap the fabric around your body; it can take up to 15 minutes!) and his tunic/turban ensemble, and head to City Palace, a royal residence that dates to the 1730s, for a magical dinner. Once there, enter a carriage to proceed into the palace, escorted by a parade of painted elephants and flower-bedecked camels. Likewise, flute players, drummers, horn players, and giant puppets lead you into the courtyard where you are ensconced in a shower of fragrant rose petals. After sharing a meal of hearty local food, return to your suite for one last glass of champagne beneath the stars.

Walk on the Wild Side in Rathambore

rathambore india tiger safari
Photo courtesy of Aman Resorts

Once the personal hunting grounds of the maharajah of Jaipur, this vast forest reserve in Rajasthan is now a national park and home to about 40 tigers. On its edge sits Aman-i-Khas, a luxury wilderness camp, an oasis that conjures magic. Living up to its name (aman means “peace” in Sanskrit and khas signifies “special” in Urdu, a local language), this all-tent resort evokes the days of yore, while feeling both luxe and adventurous.

Mornings here start before dawn with a cup of tea in the lobby. Then, with a naturalist, you board an open-topped jeep for a safari adventure deep into the brushy, lake-studded terrain. You’re on the lookout for tigers (although guides warn that the sightings can be rare). As you ride along rutted roads, past ancient temples and the ruins of a mystical fort, you’ll likely spot myriad wild animals — monkeys, sloths, leopard, deer, some wild boar and crocodiles. Along the drive, your guide will share stories of the area, its history and the geographic details. Just then — shhh — there it is, a majestic tiger, lying on his back, warming himself in the early morning sun like a house cat.

rathambore india tented spa
Photo courtesy of Aman Resorts

Back at the resort, indulge in a late breakfast, spend time lounging by the pool or hit the tented spa. Then at 3:30, it’s time to get in the Jeep and explore the park again. Dinners, which are served around a communal fire and accompanied by story-telling, celebrate the local cuisine and feature veggies and herbs sourced from the resort’s organic garden (room rates start at $1,100; amanresorts.com)

rathambore india
Photo courtesy of Aman Resorts

Where to Shop

India is a boon for shoppers offering loads of textiles, antiques and natural beauty products at low prices. Remember: Bargaining isn’t only customary, it is expected. For tips on how to haggle go to bridalguide.com/bargaining.

Khan Market, Delhi
This venerable street market offers everything from designer wear to street clothes, silver jewelry and Ayurvedic skin products. Stop for a kebab at nearby Salim’s when hunger calls.

Anokhi, Jaipur
Founded on a love for traditional Indian hand printing, Anokhi creates clothing with a modern approach. Also producing beautiful linens, their day-to-day wear is in demand.

Old Delhi Street Market, Delhi
The ancient walled city of Delhi was founded by the Mughals in the 15th century. Enjoy shopping—and bargaining — in the quintessential Indian metropolis where you’ll find lace, bangles, street barbers, ear- rings, kohl and shoes, among other wares.

Rajexh Pratap Singh, Delhi, Mumbai
One of India’s most beloved designers creates clothing for men and women based on traditional customs while incorporating a Western fashion-house ethos.

Sabyasachi, Delhi, Mumbai
A pioneer in the use of traditional textiles in modern fashion wear, this clothing line is a favorite with celebrities around the world.

Orgaan Hauz, Delhi
A gallery for high style, this showcase features both emerging and established Indian designers. Many show their first collections here.