South India Rail Odyssey
By Monique Burns
Japan’s Shinkansen “bullet train” might break speed records, but India—with 40,000 miles of track and more than 6,000 stations—has Asia’s largest rail network. For passengers aboard any one of India’s half-dozen luxury trains, the pace is leisurely—all the better for taking in centuries of cultural heritage sites while being coddled in a style once reserved for Maharajas.
The Golden Chariot is the first and only luxury train to explore India’s south. Its popular 8-day, 7-night “Pride of the South” itinerary visits culturally and geographically diverse Karnataka. Flanked by the peaks of the Eastern and Western Ghats, the state has 200 miles of gold sand beaches along the Arabian Sea as well as extensive jungle tracts replete with elephants, tigers and exotic birds. Karnataka is also a cultural treasure trove. In this “Cradle of Stone Architecture” are hundreds of elaborately carved Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and monuments, many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Agents can book seats on the Golden Chariot directly. But in India—a developing country with a reputation for bureaucracy—it’s helpful to work with a knowledgeable tour operator like Pallavi Shah, energetic founder and CEO of Our Personal Guest. Educated at Bombay University, she worked for 22 years at Air India, where she became Director of Specialty Marketing. In 1989, Shah launched Our Personal Guest. Agents booking trips through OPG earn a 10 percent commission, usually about $100 a day. That can really add up, says Shah, since most trips to India last 14-21 days.
All Aboard for South India!
The Golden Chariot travels round-trip from Bangalore, or Bengaluru, India’s high-tech hub. A 20 to 24-hour flight from the East Coast to Bangalore, India, including one or two stopovers, can be daunting. But a custom tour operator like OPG can design pre and post-trips. Before flying to Bangalore, a client might spend a night or two in Mumbai, or Bombay, India’s bustling fashion, financial and filmmaking hub. Here the most famous hotel is the 560-room Taj Mahal Palace (www.tajhotels.com), an ornate, block-long Victorian-style structure completely renovated after the November 2008 bombings. Doubles start at $335.
From Mumbai, it’s a two-hour flight to ultramodern Bengaluru International Airport. At Yeswantpur Station, the gleaming purple-and-yellow cars of the Golden Chariot, a joint venture between Indian Railways and Karnataka State Tourism, await passengers, who are greeted with traditional fresh-flower garlands. Turban-clad porters then whisk guests off to deluxe cabins featuring silk bed coverings and carved-wood furnishings as well as an LCD TV, a DVD player, Wi-Fi and a private bath. In addition to 44 cabins, there’s a gymnasium car with massage rooms and a conference-room coach for meetings of 25-30. There are also two restaurants, where most breakfasts, lunches and dinners are served, both continental fare and spicy Southern Indian specialties like chicken curry with fresh coconut.
The first night, the Golden Chariot travels two hours from Bangalore to Mysore, 85 miles southwest. In the morning, vans shuttle guests into Karnataka’s interior for a safari and overnight stay at one of two wildlife lodges run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts, Ltd. (www.junglelodges.com). Kabini River Lodge, with both tented and walled cottages, offers elephant sightings aboard traditional round wicker boats called coracles. Bandipur Safari Lodge runs jeep safaris into Bandipur National Park, a major tiger reserve.
The next afternoon, passengers visit Mysore, “City of Palaces.” Most famous is 1912 Mysore Palace, a confection of sculpted pillars and domed ceilings. Ten miles away is Srirangapatna. Fortress of Mogul warrior king Tipu Sultan, it includes his mosque, with twin minarets, and 9th-century Ranganathaswamy Temple. The day ends, with a dinner show at Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel (www.lalithamahalpalace.in), a 1931 domed Italianate palazzo.
Karnataka’s Great Temples
Over the next three days, the Golden Chariot explores some of India’s greatest temples. Sixty miles northwest of Mysore is Hassan and nearby Shravanbelagola, with a colossal 58-foot-high granite statue of Jain saint Gommateshwara. Pilgrims and other intrepid types climb 700 steps to the hilltop monument, built in the 10th century and believed to be the world’s largest monolithic statue. But Golden Chariot passengers can be borne aloft on traditional covered stretchers called palanquins.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Belur lies 23 miles northwest. Former capital of the Hoysala Empire, which ruled between the 10th and 14th centuries, Belur is renowned for its temple complex. Chennakeshava Temple—whose ornately carved façade features gods as well as elephants, horses and lions—took 103 years to build. Five miles east in Halebid, there’s yet another cluster of early temples. The standout is 12th-century Hoysaleswara Temple whose wall-to-wall carvings include a dancing Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god.
After visiting Halebid, guests enjoy a relaxing dinner aboard the Golden Chariot. Overnight, the train travels 160 miles north. At dawn, it pulls into the town of Hospet, gateway to Hampi, one of India’s grandest UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spread over 10 square miles, Hampi is former capital of the 14th-century Vijayanagar Empire. In the site’s Sacred Area, with more than a dozen temples and shrines, is one of India’s oldest functioning temples, 7th-century Virupaksha Temple, a mass of elaborate towers and courtyards.
In the site’s Royal Centre, Hazara Rama Temple is covered with hundreds of carved bas-reliefs based on the Ramayana and other epics. Other top attractions are the Queen’s Bath, with verandas and arched windows overlooking a romantic courtyard pool, and the Elephant Stables, with domed chambers for the royal pachyderms. The highlight of Hampi’s riverside ruins is 15th-century Vittala Temple. An architectural extravaganza of halls, temples and pavilions, it includes the Stone Chariot shrine, shaped like a temple chariot drawn by two stone elephants.
The next stop on the itinerary is Badami, capital of the Early Chalukya Dynasty of the 6th -8th centuries. Here are four sandstone cave temples, including one depicting the god Shiva in 81 different dance poses. Pattadakal, about 14 miles away, is where early rulers were crowned. It’s known as the “Red Town” because of its red sandstone temples, including the richly sculpted Virupaksha Temple.
From Portuguese Goa to High-tech Hyderabad
After several days of traipsing through 80-degree heat, even the most dedicated history buffs need to decompress. Fortunately, the next stop is the seaside paradise of Goa, about 120 miles west of Badami. From 1505 until 1961, a Portuguese colony flourished here, and the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with 17th-century Catholic churches.
The Baroque Church of Bom Jesus, with gilded altars and marble floors, contains the remains of St. Francis Xavier, Goa’s patron saint. On Monte Santo, or Holy Hill, the Church of St. Monica, the East’s first nunnery, houses the Museum of Christian Art, a treasury of religious artifacts, including gold and jewel-studded rosaries. Passengers can spend the afternoon at Majorda Beach Resort (www.majordabeachresort.com) whose lush, palm-studded gardens stretch down to a 16-mile white-sand beach.
From Goa, the Golden Chariot backtracks south to Bangalore, where the train trip ends. Guests can fly back the same day, or add a few more days of sightseeing. Though Bangalore is India’s high-tech capital, impressive early sites include the 1790 Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace with elaborate teak balconies and pillars. Centrally located, the historic 117-room Taj West End (www.tajhotels.com) has doubles starting at $260. A stay at the world-renowned Soukya International Holistic Health Centre (www.soukya.com), 13 miles outside the center city, is another good option (see box).
Hyderabad, to the north, is also a popular sidetrip. Nicknamed “Cyberabad” for its many high-tech business campuses, the city’s most famous site is the massive 13th-century Golconda Fort with bazaars, barracks, camel stables and armories. Hyderabad’s newest hotel is the 60-room Taj Falaknuma Palace (www.tajhotels.com), a grand hilltop retreat of crystal chandeliers and marble staircases where doubles start at $445.
A Soukya Wellness Retreat
From spa visits to overseas surgical procedures, medical tourism is on the rise. Melding ancient Hindu treatments with cutting-edge therapies, India is a world leader in holistic health. If you’re visiting Bangalore, consider a stay at Soukya International Holistic Health & Ayurvedic Treatment Centre.
Proclaimed “best wellness center” at India’s 2010 National Tourism Awards, Soukya balances the health of body, soul and mind. Guests from 40 countries stay on a 30-acre organic farm where fruits, vegetables and herbs are raised for healthy meals as well as ayurvedic medicines and oils. A Therapy Center offers yoga, acupuncture, reflexology, acupressure and other treatments. There’s also a library, Internet facilities, snooker and table tennis, a 1½-mile track for walking, jogging and biking, and a swimming pool.
Founder and medical director Dr. Issac Mathai, who trained in holistic health in London and studied at the Harvard Medical School, presides over the center with his wife, nutritionist Suja Issac, and seven other holistic doctors. Each guest receives a complete holistic health evaluation and an individualized treatment program. There are wellness programs to relax and rejuvenate, life management programs to improve the quality of life, and medical programs for more than a hundred diseases and chronic conditions, from alcoholism and allergies to AIDS and Parkinson’s disease.Visit www.soukya.com and www.ourpersonalguest.com.
For More Information
Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) has the most frequent departures to Bangalore from Newark International Airport. There are also departures from New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports aboard Jet Airways and other major carriers. The Golden Chariot has year-round departures. Per-person costs for the 8-day, 7-night train trip are $2,415 (triples) and $2,975 (doubles). Children 6-12 ride half-fare. Log on to www.thegoldenchariot.co.in or www.goldenchariot.org. To book train trips and other India excursions, contact Our Personal Guest at www.ourpersonalguest.com. For information on Karnataka and South India, log on to www.karnatakatourism.com or www.incredibleindia.org.
India – A Bright Future
By Kristan Schiller
Since the terrorist attacks on the Oberoi Mumbai (www.oberoihotels.com) and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower (www.tajhotels.com) two of Mumbai’s most elegant, international hotels two years ago, there has been a clear passage back to India since the hotels’ reopening in May.
According to Rajesh Khanna, Executive Director of Sales & Marketing for Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com) in India, India has become the most searched destination on A&K’s website and average keyword searches per day for India are up 19%. “Being in high-end luxury travel, business for A&K is yet to pick up to the levels witnessed during 2005-2007,” says Khanna. “But we are getting good requests for the first quarter of 2011 and we are hopeful that business will be returning to normal levels.”
What’s more, notes Khanna, as one of the BRIC countries, India has a GDP of 8.5% year on year. BRIC is an economic grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, and China; four countries deemed to be developing so rapidly that their combined economies could eclipse those of the richest in the world by 2050. In addition, the presence of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October 2010 has meant an increase in India’s infrastructure and luxury hotels, similar to the development of South Africa’s infrastructure for this past summer’s World Cup Games.
On a recent visit to India, I visited the extensively renovated Oberoi Mumbai where $45 million has gone towards completely restoring the hotel, adding a new restaurant and tightening security. In Mumbai, an exclusive chartered cruise wound through Mumbai Harbor to explore the caves of Elephanta Island and visit the Prince of Wales Museum and the famous outdoor “laundry,” a cultural immersion into daily Indian life. I then continued on to Jaipur where I stayed at Oberoi Rajvilas, a 32-acre hideaway that evokes princely Rajasthan with opulent villas and royal tents in a fort-like setting on the outskirts of the city. Sightseeing in Jaipur includes the pink sandstone Hawa Mahal, the City Palace, The Amber Fort, and the Jantar Mantar Observatory. There was also an elephant-back safari at the lovely private estate Dera Amer near Amber Fort in the Aravali Hills. The owner, a conservationist and animal lover, started these relaxed rides through the forest on elephant back at his family’s centuries-old estate to offer tourists something other than the uphill elephant-back rides to the Amber Fort in the blazing sun. Afterwards, we enjoyed a tasty high tea with champagne and fresh fruits. (What an incredible experience this was – the highlight of the trip!) From here, I traveled to Agra, where I enjoyed views of the Taj Mahal from my room at Oberoi Amarvilas and visited this age-old monument where I loved to see the spectacular change in colors at sunset and sunrise. The tour ended in New Delhi, where the buzzy cosmopolitan feel of the newly-renovated Oberoi New Delhi made an impression as did a special tour arranged with Sunil Raman, a BBC correspondent born and raised in Delhi with an intimate knowledge of the city’s culture, architecture, history and politics.
A&K’s attention to detail on this tour was impressive. I’d remarked in my pre-tour questionnaire, provided by the tour operator, that I suffered from iron-deficient anemia. A&K responded to this by ensuring that fresh almonds and apricots (both iron-rich foods) were placed in all of my hotel rooms throughout the tour. Sanjay Sethi, our guide, provided detailed suggestions on shopping, restaurants, and activities and was adaptable and congenial. At Oberoi Rajvilas, the head chef gave the tour participants a cooking demonstration of traditional Indian cuisine with step-by-step tastings and a tour of the property’s organic garden.
When I spoke with our guides about the effects of the 2008 Mumbai attacks on travel to India, they had slightly different takes. Sethi estimated that tourism dropped as much as 50% last year, attributing this not only to the terrorist attacks but to the international economic downturn as well.
Raman, who regularly reports on security issues in India for the BBC, told me that the Oberoi and Taj hotels have a symbolic importance for Mumbai, which is why the reopening of the hotels has received such attention. “Most Indian media companies and channels are dominated by people who have either stayed in or eaten at these hotels and that’s why it directly hit them. And the operations in Taj and Oberoi continued over three days,” he said.
Raman added that the Mumbai attacks ended the complacency of the Indian government on security concerns and as a result, large amounts of money are now being allocated to security issues in India. “In the last decade India has been on the terror map of both internal and external terror groups. More so, in the last few years since India has developed closer ties with the US government. After the 2008 attacks, a huge public outcry fueled by 24x7 television channels saw the federal government wake up to the crying need to secure the coastline.
The Coast Guard’s proposals for new fast interceptor boats to replace some old ones were cleared by the finance ministry. The government wanted to be seen as pro-active on security issues. State governments, too, got into action, sanctioning and looking at the need to secure land along the coastline.”
Due to their iconic status, Raman said, the reopening of these two hotels tells the world, “Now things are back to normal.”
Visit the homepage of India’s Ministry of Tourism at www.incredibleindia.org
Awestruck in India
By Julie Hatfield
Oscar de la Renta, the fashion designer from the colorful, tropical Dominican Republic, took a trip to India a couple of decades ago and was so blown away by the visual inspiration he found there that his collections for many seasons afterwards reflected more of India than the D.R.
We, as de la Renta, did not expect to be as enchanted by India as we were. Arriving in Delhi from the airport, the exotic sights, sounds and smells of the city give the traveler a startling sensory overload. Driving through Old Delhi on the way to our hotel, we felt as if we were on the set of a very exotic movie with the snaking lanes and smoke-filled air; bazaars and markets selling eggplant, spices and silver jewelry; doctors’ offices set next door to cobblers; rickshaw-style lorries driven by ancient men in Sikh turbans and long white beards; a plethora of people of every shape and size and color moving in no logically patterned way. A tourist to India should be able to move calmly through chaos, enjoy visiting historic sites and value the opportunity for cultural immersion over the ability to spread out on a beach—at least in Northern India.
New Delhi, built beside Old Delhi by the British in the 1920’s, has larger and more ordered streets but does not lack the lavish colors that can only be found here. How can they make a beautiful neon pink so strong we thought, watching a woman in a sari of that color, that it seems you almost have to close your eyes so it doesn’t blind you?
Other surprises awaited us at the hotel. We were in India in January when the weather permits outdoor celebrations, and there were several weddings taking place at our hotel in New Delhi. A wedding in India is a loud, festive, colorful outdoor celebration with jangling jewelry and horse-drawn carriages emblazoned with flowers. I remember the sound of a marching band passing under my window in the middle of the night when public celebrations are deliberately scheduled; because that’s the only time the streets are empty enough to allow marching bands and floats to parade down them.
You can pick and choose from an enormous number of historic sites and buildings in New Delhi, but one of the newest and most spectacular is the Lotus Temple of the Ba’hai religion. It was designed to look like a lotus flower and welcomes any visitors who want to go inside and see a service.
We flew to Udaipur, in the state of Rajasthan, to stay at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, a white marble mosaic jewel set in the middle of Lake Pichola. A summer residence of a princess of Mewar, built in 1746, it is a dreamlike building with nothing but water surrounding it, making it look like its own surreal island. When then First Lady Jackie Kennedy visited here with her sister, she suggested the palace would make a wonderful hotel, and the owners decided to do just that. One of many romantic destinations in this sensuous country, it features a dinner for two, if you choose, served by boat in the lake on a raft a hundred yards away from the hotel.
Take a short boat ride to the City Palace located on the mainland in Udaipur and you can tour through beautiful rooms and enjoy the artwork on the walls, the romantic swing for lovers set over a pool inside the palace, and the deliberately grooved cement elephant “parking lots” just outside, where the palace elephants used to rest. It was here, too, that we saw a woman in a sari of intense sapphire blue working construction on the palace, carrying cement blocks back and forth on her head!
The trip through crowded dusty roads to Agra to see the Taj Mahal is worth the time and trouble to get there from Delhi. No matter how many photographs and paintings you have seen of this incredible building, nothing prepares you for the real thing. There are only two things I have ever seen that moved me to tears from the sheer beauty of them: the Grand Canal in Venice and the Taj Mahal.
Tips on Getting Around
Perhaps the nicest hotel in Agra is the Oberoi Amarvilas, just 600 meters from the Taj Mahal. Those who stay there enjoy views of it at dusk and in the moonlight as well as in full daylight. There is no bad time to see the Taj Mahal. We stayed at a lower priced hotel without the view, but were enchanted when a musician played “morning music” on his sitar-like instrument, at breakfast. Monkeys scrambled over the rooftops of our outdoor patio restaurant at one lunch stop. Surprises such as this are part of a trip to India.
Unless you’re a yoga student traveling to meet your guru (and there are lots of these flying regularly from the U.S. to Delhi), you should link to a tour group on your first trip to India, which will take care of transportation through the crowds, hotels and sightseeing. You should also make sure to apply for a visa; it’s a necessity to even enter the airport in Delhi. You can tell tour guides whether you want to focus your India trip on rivers, or architecture, culture, wildlife, camel safaris and whatever else—India has all these and much more.
Beyond Sightseeing: New Travel Products for 2010-11
By Marian Goldberg
Second generation, family-owned, New Delhi-based Indebo Tours (www.indebo.com) has created a series of new culinary itineraries. One-week immersions focus on either Indian Coffee in Northern Kerala or Tea in Northeast Darjeeling. Emphasis is on comparative tastings, pick-your own with a guide, the refining process, and comfortable on-property bungalow-stays. They have also created a 12-day North-South culinary and yoga experience that hits Mumbai, Cochin, Kumarakom, Jodhpur, Delhi and Amritsar. The yoga helps participants maintain a balanced metabolism, as the tour intersperses hands-on cooking lessons with visits to a wheat farm (the source for roti), other organic farms and fishing villages. Stays include Taj properties and a camel camp.
Indebo’s culinary adventures will soon stretch farther a field into the burgeoning Nashik wine country, about 400 miles northwest of Mumbai. Here, they are crafting luxury FIT cycling excursions that include such wineries as Sula Vineyards, renowned for its Chenin Blanc and sparkling wine. Sula, which recently hosted the Miss India 2010 contestants, opened India’s first tasting room in 2005, added a modern three-bedroom guest house called “Beyond” two years ago and began firing up the tandoor ovens at its new fine dining Indian restaurant, Kareem’s @ Sula, in late 2009. Sula plans to open a 20-room eco-resort and spa this fall. Other area wineries include York Vineyards and the new Chateau Dori, which started with 100 acres at the base of the twin hills of Nhera-Ori but has another 300 acres just ready this year, along with a three-bedroom guest farmhouse with private Jacuzzi and swimming pool! The area might be reminiscent of the Napa Valley, save the workers wearing saris and the superb Indian cuisine.
Home-stays and Heritage Hotels
Ruby Chadha of MakeMyTrip.com (www.makemytrip.com) is also offering 10% commissionable five-night excursions in Northern India (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) including car, driver, and breakfast with home-stays at government approved 3-star privates houses and apartments for $250 per person land-only through September 2010, with $125 p.p. additional in October.
New Jersey-based photographer, chef, travel agent Subrato Bhattachaya (www.subratobhattacharya.com), has created home-stay experiences in heritage properties. The one-week South India programs incorporate in-depth cultural interactions with the local people and healthy, home-cooked meals with a guide and driver, and two domestic flights starting at $1,208 per person double. All the proceeds aid widows and other disadvantaged groups. He is also creating a similar program in North India in 2011.
In addition to heritage home-stays, historic heritage hotels beckon repeat travelers. Both Ravi Ramaswamy of Indebo and Victor Biswas of International Ventures and Travel (www.ivattravel.com) rave about the restored heritage hotels as a chance to experience traditional, upscale, Indian family life just outside the major cities. Notes Biswas, “Some of these properties belonged to former noblemen, descendents of the Maharajas.” They are restored and modernized, but maintain a timeless opulence.
According to Pallavi Shah of Our Personal Guest (www.ourpersonalguest.com), who just returned from India, there are several new things around that she found special and different. The first design hotel, the Park Vembanad (www.theparkhotels.com), opened in the lush backwaters in Kerala, which until now had been lacking in luxury properties. There is also a new luxury barge called the Apsara, which belongs to them. Pallavi is now combining this with Cochin for a lovely five-night Spice Coast Experience.
There is an increasing interest in traditional therapies. One of the most famous is ancient Ayurveda, or “the science of life.” Outside Bangalore, there is a picturesque holistic haven called Soukya (www.soukya.com), where you can rejuvenate body, mind and soul while living comfortably on a 30-acre organic farm.
Pallavi is combining this with a seven-night luxury train, to transport her clients to some of India’s most fascinating ancient sites in utter comfort, complete with concierge and gourmet meals. These areas, while fantastic, have been difficult to reach in the past. This makes for an unbeatable combination. Visit www.thegoldenchariot.co.in
For information call the India Government Tourism Office at 212-585-4901 or visit www.incredibleindia.org
India’s Branding Expands Tourism Territory
By Marian Goldberg
Recently Nareendra Kothiyal, Information Officer for the India Government Tourist Office (IGTO) in New York, spoke about India’s marketing activities. The New York office is IGTO’s regional office for the Americas, overseeing offices in Los Angeles, Canada, and South America. Their goal is to position India as a “global brand.”
Unlike tour operators, which tend to be interested in promoting popular sites in well- known and well-developed regions of India (i.e. places with good infrastructure and accommodations suitable for their clients), the tourist office’s mission is to promote all of India—especially emerging destinations that are lesser known, less developed and off the beaten path. For that reason, IGTO is particularly interested in expanding rural tourism and in promoting their newly formed (about 2 ½ years ago) states.
The trio of “New States” includes a destination in Northern India, one in Eastern and one in the Central part of the country. Uttarakhand, set in Northern India, is also known as the “Gateway to the Valley of the Gods,” and includes Haridwar, the area from which the Ganges River reaches the plains from the Himalayas. It is popular spot for spirituality, health and wellness. Jharkhand in Eastern India is rich in greenery, attractive waterfalls, and desirable minerals; and popular for its health and wellness retreats. Chhattisgarh, located in the heart of India, is renowned for its rich tribal populations and bio-diversity.
Explains Kothiyal, “The idea of rural tourism is for travelers to really get out into the villages, mingle with the local people, and really feel the village life.”
Festivals Lead to Rural Tourism
Naturally, the IGTO is working with tour operators to encourage them to develop more tour products beyond the “golden triangle” of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur; and the Kerala tourist routes to the south. One way they are doing this is with festivals. In fact, India has often been called “The Land of Festivals,” celebrating more than 500 festivals a year.
One in particular, the Kumbh Mela or Pitcher Festival, is held four times every 12 years and rotates among four locations: Haridwar along the Ganges River (in Uttarakhand, mentioned above); Allahabad (Prayag) at the confluence of the Ganges; Yamuna and mythical Saraswati river; Ujjain along the Kshipra River; and Nashik along the Godavari River. Thus, a Kumbh Mela is basically held every three years across the four locations.
The Kumbh Mela is a four-month-long celebration that is actually taking place this year in Haridwar, where it commenced on January 14th. As an example of the festival’s draw for pilgrims and tourists, more than 50 million people from India and abroad are expected to visit the holy city to bathe in the Ganges and cleanse themselves of their sins, speeding their way to nirvana or enlightenment.
Numerous tour companies now organize trips to this and other festivals. Recently, JAX FAX traveled with Indebo Tours (www.indebo.com) to Haridwar to experience a year-round sunset ceremony that lit the Ganges with floating candles at a spot called Har-ki-Pauri. Indebo also offers customized itineraries to Kumbh Mela. Visit their Facebook page to see photos.
The IGTO is also promoting rural tourism through farm and plantation stays, adventure and eco-tourism, and health/wellness/yoga immersions. They have even created a separate website (ww.exploreruralindia.org) linked to their main website (www.incredibleindia.org) to promote travel to the more remote regions of the country.
“Incredible” Marketing, Incredible Results
Kothiyal emphasized the “Incredible India” campaign is considered very successful. Prior to launching it in 2002, the UK had always been India’s largest tourist provider. By 2008 however, the US overtook the U.K. as the top generator of tourists to India with 800,000 Americans traveling to India that year.
Although tourism dropped last year, numbers rose in the last quarter of 2009 and first quarter bookings for 2010 are still on the rise. As part of the “Visit India Year 2009” promotion, the IGTO organized a series of Travel Trade Road Shows across the United States, bringing over a number of Indian DMCs and land operators to meet directly with US travel agents and tour operators. In addition, the Incredible India campaign continues to organize worldwide consumer-oriented India Festivals and India Food Festivals in key cities around the world, bringing artisans, chefs and performers to showcase Indian culture. Last summer and fall they held festivals in the Los Angeles area that included: yoga lessons; Bollywood dances and dance lessons; fashion shows; Indian musical performances; displays, sales, and demonstrations of handicrafts, jewelry, mehndi and henna tattoos; and tastings of Indian tea, beer and snacks.
India is constantly making efforts to speed the visa processing time. In December 2009, they instituted a one-year pilot Visa on Arrival program for five preliminary countries: Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Luxembourg, and Japan. Should the program be successful, it may be continued and expanded.
India’s fiscal year runs April through March. Therefore, as of late January 2010, the IGTO had not yet decided its promotional strategy for April 2010 through March 2011. They were still reviewing many great proposals.
For more information, contact the India Government Tourism Office, 212-586-4901; email email@example.com or visit www.incredibleindia.org.
Be sure to check out their experiential You Tube video at www.youtube.com/user/india.