Newsletter For August 2010

In this month’s newsletter we’re focusing not on a specific region but on a couple of recent innovations which enable visitors to see and experience certain parts of India in a new way- by walking and by hot-air balloon!

Of course, walking is perhaps the most common means of transport for the vast majority of India’s population, but all too often visitors are whisked from place to place by car with little opportunity to get amongst the local street-life and the excellent opportunities this creates for meeting people and getting a taste for the ‘real India’. Ballooning is something of a recent innovation in India but those who have experienced this novel way of sightseeing are in universal agreement that it is a must-do.

But firstly a few words about an exciting fully-escorted group tour which we are running in North-east India in March and April 2011.

This trip will be lead by our Product Development Manager, Tim Hawley, who has led several trips in different regions of India in the past. The planned itinerary begins in Calcutta, before heading to the mountains of Sikkim and West Bengal for a taste of the fascinating cultures which thrive there.

Spectacular mountain scenery, time sipping tea on an estate, a yak ride around a high-altitude lake (Tim and Tashi the yak pictured right), and a ride on the famous Darjeeling toy train are all part of the plan.

The final week of the 19-day tour will be spent in the state of Assam with time at Kaziranga National Park being a major part of this; Kaziranga is the only park in India where visitors have the chance of seeing tigers, elephants and Indian rhinos in one place.

As well as elephant-back safaris in the Park, we’ll also touch on the unique tribal cultures of Assam and drink some more fine tea before flying back to Calcutta. This tour will be limited to 10 people and will be accompanied by Tim (who is from New Zealand) and a local guide. We already have several people confirmed for the tour; they are all previous clients of Indian Panorama so if you’d like more information including a full day-by-day itinerary, please email Tim . Exact dates and further details will be on the site by the end of September.

Walking tours are a great way to explore the historic aspects of some of India’s most popular tourist destinations as well as getting a much more hands-on impression of life in an Indian city. While these walks are best undertaken during the cooler winter months, our partners who operate them in the various locations will do their utmost to ensure your comfort at any time of the year. In each of the cities discussed below there are several options, these are just a few of the possibilities.

In Mumbai it may often feel that it’s quicker to walk than to sit in traffic so the idea of a walking tour here is a very sensible one. A popular option is to walk through a slum area; while at first glance this may feel a bit voyeuristic and insensitive, the truth is that when conducted in a responsible way, and with significant portions of the proceeds being put back into community development in Mumbai’s slums, this a truly rewarding experience for tourists and locals alike. While we don’t seek to glamorise the lot of slum-dwellers, the community spirit in these areas is strong and the people as proud as those of any of India’s more salubrious areas. The Dharavi Slum, the largest in Asia, is a vibrant mini-city of temples and mosques, factories, industries and people living their lives with dignity and courage. The myriad day to day dramas and triumphs of its residents, while far removed from the lives we lead at home, are nonetheless inspiring in their humanism and a visit to Dharavi is an unforgettable one.

The high mountains of the Western Ghats and the vast arid plains of the Deccan Plateau to the north meant that it was difficult if not impossible for invading forces to reach Tamil Nadu, leaving its ancient culture intact until relatively recently. And the strength of the culture is such that while modernity is never far away, the sense of timelessness and connection to their history is such an element of pride for the Tamil people that this state of affairs is unlikely to change in the immediate future.

The local Historical Society in Ahmadabad, the capital of Gujarat, has been taking visitors on a wonderfully atmospheric and quite low-key tour of the Old City (indeed the majority of these tours throughout India focus on the older, more historic parts of the various cities) for many years. This 2-hour long walking journey begins at the oldest wooden temple in the city, continues past Jain and Hindu temples, explores many small lanes and alleyways and offers the visitor at least a glimpse of the illustrious past of Ahmadabad. The tour concludes at the city’s main mosque, the Jama Masjid, which is richly carved and highly ornate. Another option in Ahmadabad is to join the walking tour operated by House of MG, the city’s best heritage hotel. This tour runs in the evening and concludes with the unforgettable sight (and sounds!) of the city gates being locked for the night to the accompaniment of massed drummers- a 600-year-old ritual which is enacted every night.

Calcutta Walks have been operating in that city for a few years now and their on-foot explorations of India’s ‘cultural capital’ are rapidly becoming a must for any visitor. The historic heart of the city, centred on the Park Street area, is full of interesting sites including the colonial-era cemetery, the home and mission of Mother Theresa and Newmarket- one of the most compelling shopping districts in India. There are many different options for walking in Calcutta but equally interesting is the chance to take to the waters of the Hooghly River on board a riverboat and wend your way around the city to gain an alternative perspective on this bustling metropolis.

The Coast of Tamil Nadu

It would take months, if not years, to fully explore Delhi on foot but many of the highlights, particularly of Old Delhi, can be covered in a day or two. It has long been a popular option to take a cycle-rickshaw around Chandni Chowk, the central and oldest market in Old Delhi, but a walk through this bustling area is an even more immediate way to experience on of the most fascinating areas of the Indian capital. There are many sub-markets within this bustling area include the silver market (Dariba Kalan) and the Kinari Bazaar or wedding market. There is evening a laneway where every stall is dedicated to making parathas- north Indian flat breads. This compact but incredibly varied area of Delhi is a great place to gain an insight into the way of life of the local population.

Among the most commonly visited cities of Rajasthan, none lends itself as well to on-foot exploration as Jodhpur, the ‘Blue City’. With a tightly-packed old city area of blue-painted homes and fascinating bazaars clustered under the imposing shadow of the mighty Meherangarh Fort, a walking-tour of Old Jodhpur will offer new vistas at every turn and a glimpse of a nearly-vanished lifestyle.

In Panjim, close to the heart of Old Goa, a 3 hour walking tour the many historic sites with connections to the state’s Portuguese heritage is a must.

In many of our favourite small towns around Rajasthan, walking tours in the company of a member of staff of your hotel can be arranged on a more ad hoc basis. Whether this is a morning stroll to the vegetable market or something a bit more extensive, taking the opportunity to walk while you are in India is, we feel, essential to getting the fullest possible range of experiences from your visit.

Hot Air Balloon Tours

While walking is unquestionably the oldest and most traditional method of getting around in India, a more modern innovation which is now gaining in popularity is to take a hot-air balloon ride in the skies over some of Rajasthan’s most famous monuments.

While balloon flights have long been a popular way to view big game in Africa, this is a relatively new thing in India and Sky Waltz are at the forefront of this exciting development. As you will see from thephotographs on this page the panoramic views on offer from a few hundred metres above the ground are quite breathtaking and offer a truly new way to see India.

While the service operates on a regular basis in Udaipur, Jaipur and over Ranthambore National Park, there are seasonal trips offered in Pushkar, Delhi and even Jaisalmer at the time of the Desert Festival there in January. Any one of these flights will leave an indelible impression on the visitor and we heartily recommend a Sky Waltz flight as a addition to your next trip to Rajasthan.