Tailor-made Tour 15 days from £3660 per person
Places Visited: Kolkata, Bhubaneshwar, Puri, Chilika Lake, Rayagada, Jeypore, Hyderabad
This is a route for India connoisseurs, or newbies to the country who want to sidestep the popular circuits in favor of a road less traveled. And what a varied and compelling road it is: fabulous medieval temples, ancient Buddhist sites, a world-class bird reserve, vibrant traditional crafts villages, surf-lashed beaches on the Bay of Bengal, and encounters with minority people in remote forest districts, all feature in the space of a fortnight. The tour is book-ended by stays in two mega cities with very different atmospheres: Kolkata, the former British capital on the Ganges where Raj-era buildings form the backdrop to old-world temples and markets; and Hyderabad, whose historic monuments rise from the fringes of a dynamic, modern metropolis.
Infrastructure, in terms of road conditions, accommodation and communications in parts of Odisha is limited and basic in nature but the experiential value of the region far outweighs the transient loss in creature comforts.
Cultural Holidays Landscape & Nature Holidays Active Holidays
Fly from the UK to Kolkata via the Middle East.
On arrival in the morning, you’ll be met by your TransIndus driver and guide, and escorted to your hotel for a two-night stay. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from the journey, perhaps venturing out to the College Street Coffee House as an acclimatiser.
One of our favourite places to get accustomed to the city’s distinctive ambience is the College Street Coffee House on Bankim Chatterjee Street– a favourite hangout for Bengali intellectuals and artists. Grab a table under one of the paddle fans, order a dosa and masala chai from one of the turbaned waiters and you’ll soon be drawn in to the local ‘adda’, or chit-chat.
A full day’s sightseeing today starts with a morning visit to the wholesale flower market at Mallick Ghat. Wind your way through the heaps of marigolds and jasmine blooms, then climb the steps up nearby Howrah Bridge for a great view over the riverfront.
Today’s tour covers most of the city’s must-see sights, including the iconic Victoria Building on Kolkata’s Maidan, the Indian Museum’s famous collection of antiquities, the Writers’ Building and Park Street Cemetery, where an evocative collection of 18th and 19th century Gothic tombs recalls the early days of British rule. In the evening, drive across town to the Kali Ghat temple, dedicated to a black-faced incarnation of the Goddess Durga. The temple is the most important Hindu shrine in the city. Noisy crowds attend rituals here from dawn til dusk, forming snaking queues in the temple precincts as they wait to fling hibiscus flowers at the three-eyed, gold-tongued deity in the main sanctum.
Fly to Bhubaneshwar, capital of Odisha, for a two-night stay. In the afternoon, visit the city’s medieval temples.
The state capital also holds a wonderful crop of intricately sculpted shrines dating from the 5th and 6th centuries – the most impressive of them the mighty Lingaraj Mandir, which boasts a huge, 45-metre sanctuary tower and welcomes upwards of 6,000 pilgrims each day. Not all of the shrines remain active, however. The best preserved and most lavishly carved stand in a municipal park on the south side of town. Your guide will show you how their architectural styles evolved as Shaivism gave way to Vaishnavism in the 12th and 13th centuries.
An excursion to the ancient rock-cut cave complexes on the fringes of Bhubaneshwar, then the Buddhist archaeological sites further north, take up most of today.
Drive to the coastal pilgrimage town of Puri for a two-night stay, visiting the Ashokean edict site at Dhauli, and the handicraft enclaves of Pilpi and Raghurajpur, en route.
Etched on a large boulder in ancient Brahmi script near the main road to the coast is an edict composed by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in 260BC. It marks the spot of a famous battle, and the Emperor’s subsequent renunciation of violence, in which 150,000 men were slain. A large white stupa on the adjacent hill forms a more contemporary reminder of the site’s historical significance.
Nearby Pipli is a village famous for its appliqué makers. Traditionally used to decorate shrines and giant deity cars, the craft is now deployed to fashion vibrant bedspreads and lampshades for sale to visitors. Tourism has also become the raison d’etre of another Odishan village: at Raghurajpur you can see painters in action producing colourful pattachitra panels and hangings.
Visit the magnificent Sun Temple at Konark in the morning. In the afternoon, soak up the heady religious atmosphere around Puri’s holy beach and Jagannath temple in the town centre.
Dedicated to the Sun God Surya and taking the form of a colossal, horse-drawn chariot, complete with huge wheels and rampant steeds, Konark’s temple ranks among the great treasures of ancient India. Early morning, when the sun is low over the nearby Bay of Bengal, is the best time to photograph it.
Puri has long since taken over Konark’s role as the region’s principal religious attraction, and is the focus of fascinating religious activity. Watch newly arrived worshippers taking dips in the surf on the town beach before making their way to the main temple on Car Street, venue for the annual Rath Yatra procession. Unfortunately, the complex is closed to non-Hindus, but you’re allowed peek over its walls from the roof of an adjacent library.
Drive to Barkul on Chilika Lake for an overnight stay.
A large salt-water lagoon on the Odishan coast, Chilika is the largest centre in India for migratory birds. Hundreds of species, many of which travel across the Himalayas from Central Asia and Mongolia to winter here, may be spotted on the water and islands of the lake, including flamingos, pelicans, painted storks, saras cranes, white-bellied sea eagles and spoonbills. This is also among the few places in the country where you can spot rare Irrawaddy dolphins. Birding safaris are conducted by launch.
Begin the day with an early morning spotting cruise on Chilika Lake, then drive onwards in the afternoon to Rayagada for an overnight stay.
Rayagada is a provincial market town set amid forested hills three hours drive inland. It serves as a handy base for visiting villages of the district’s minority communities. More details required.
Visit a local market, or haat, attended by the Dongria Kond and other local minority people. Your journey through the remote south of Odisha will then continue with a drive to Jeypore, where you’ll spend two nights.
Weekly haats provide a perfect opportunity to observe local life in remote districts. Minority people travel to them to barter for produce and livestock, often dressed in traditional garb. You’ll also be able to browse a wide array of traditional textiles, many handwoven in beautiful, earthy colours. With their facial tattoos and distinctive jewellery, the Dongria Kond are among the best-known groups outside Odisha thanks to their on-going conflict with a British multi-national, which intends to mine for bauxite on their sacred mountain, Niyam Dongar.
Jeypore is the largest town in the remote district of Koraput, in Odisha’s far south.
Spend the day visiting the villages and markets of the Bonda minority.
Bonda women maintain distinctive traditional dress, their shaven heads adorned by headbands made from plaited grass and beads. They also wear large, heavy, silver hoops called khagla around their necks. With literacy rates below 6%, the Bonda rank among the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in India. Tourism provides an additional income in some villages where they welcome visitors, sharing their traditional culture through music and dance recitals and crafts demonstrations.
A long day’s travel today as you leave the remoter reaches of southern Odisha and return to the coast at Vishakapatnam, where you’ll pick up an onward flight to Hyderabad.
The sprawling modern capital of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad once served as the seat of the fabulously wealthy Nizams, whose tombs and palaces are today its principal visitor attractions. The diamond trade was the root of the Nizams’ staggering wealth, most vividly reflected in the splendour of their palaces. Recently restored by the Taj hotel chain, the Falaknuma is a prime example, with hundreds of lavishly decorated rooms and halls blending Italian Baroque extravagance and Palladian grandeur with Indo-Sarcenic flamboyance. A priceless collection of paintings, jewellery, manuscripts and furniture is displayed inside the palace.
Enjoy a full day’s sightseeing today, including the Falaknuma Palace, former Residency building, Char Minar and fort and tomb complex at Golconda.
The legacy of the Nizams, and the highly refined, hybrid Indo-Muslim culture their rule gave rise to, endures in a wealth of historic buildings, the most iconic of them the Char Minar – a splendid, late 16th century mosque featuring a quartet of identical minarets supported by four grand arches.
The old Residency was the mansion built by British governor James Kirkpatrick during the time of the Nizams in the 18th century, and where he lived with his Hyderabadi wife, Khair-un-Nissa. Their love story forms the subject of William Dalrymple’s best-selling White Mughals.
Spend your final day in India exploring the ruins of Golconda Fort and nearby tombs, just outside the city. In the afternoon, relax by the pool and do a spot of last-minute souvenir shopping in Lal Bazaar.
The largest and most impressive stronghold of the Deccan region, Golconda Fort rises from scrubland on the western edge of Hyderabad. Inside its massive crenelated ramparts lay a self-contained town containing royal apartments, assembly halls, hareems, mosques, magazines, stables, bathouses and granaries. Golconda’s treasury included the legendary ‘Kohinoor’ diamond, now part of the British crown jewels.
Visible from the fort are the onion domes of the mausolea built by the Qutb Shahi Dynasty in the sixteenth century. Conceived in a style blending Persian, Afghan and Hindu styles, the tombs stand as evocative reminders of the spleadour of the Deccan’s lost kingdoms.
Fly back to the UK via the Middle East, arriving in London Heathrow the same day.
Tailor-made Tour 15 days from £3660 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 13 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Places and Experiences in this tour
Kolkata, or ‘Calcutta’ as it was known prior to 2001, is the capital of West Bengal state, and India’s third largest city, with a population of approximately 14.1 million. The tra...
Bhubaneshwar has been Odisha’s capital since the dawn of history in the subcontinent, when the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka defeated the local Kalingas in a bloody battle, and then erec...
As with any Indian megacity, the prosaic reality of modern Hyderabad can seem a far cry from the tales of its exotic past. But the legacy of the Nizams, and the highly refined, hy...
The ruined city of Golconda, the largest and most impressive stronghold of the Deccan region, rises from scrubland 11km west of Hyderabad. Encircled by massive crenelated ramparts...
Char Minar (Hyderabad)
Hyderabad’s iconic Char Minar (literally ‘Four Towers’) mosque was erected in 1591 by Sultan Muhammed Quli Qutb Shahi, to commemorate the eradication of plague from his newly esta...
Until its rediscovery by British archeologists in the Victorian era, the Sun Temple at Konark, just up the coast from Puri, lay under a sand dune. It must have been a large one, f...
The coastal state of Odisha (formerly ‘Orissa’) in eastern India is now something of a backwater – very traditional in its outlook, predominantly rural, with a large Adivasi (‘tri...
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