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November 1, 2013

14 Days: The India Less Traveled

By Chris Boyle


Journeys to India are as intense as its colors are vibrant; senses become alive, and even chaos resonates with beauty. But India becomes its most profound when you truly live it.

Ker & Downey’s new Experiential Luxuries of India does just that. Designed as the ultimate India dream trip, this 14-day itinerary weaves together the best of India outside the major cities, and with customized “wow” experiences in each destination, this unique private jet tour of the subcontinent promises unparalleled access that gives a total sense of place.

The Divine Soul of India, Varanasi

At Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport, your Ker & Downey rep ushers you through customs and introduces you to Indradjeet, an expert Varanasi guide.

On the way to your hotel, learn about one of the oldest continuously living cities in the world and why India’s spiritual center is important to many major religions. Pass through the gates of your first—and with only 10 suites, the most intimate— royal residence, the Taj Nadesar Palace. Gong chimes, incense, chanted blessings, jasmine garlands, and a vermillion bindi placed on your forehead combine to give you an unmistakable sense of place. Like Queen Elizabeth, you’ll stay in the Royal Suite (from about $781 a night). After lunch and a rest, experience Aarti, a daily sunset ritual at the ghats of the Ganges that has been taking place for hundreds of years. Back on the terrace of your palace, a champagne toast and an introduction to Banarasi- Varanasi cuisine complete your day.

Ritual & Purity, Varanasi

Jet lag is on your side for a sunrise boat tour on the Ganges. A riot of temples, shrines, and humanity line the shore of this sacred spot where the river turns to look back at its source in the Himalayas.

Witness morning bathing rituals, offerings to Mother Ganga, and Hindu funeral pyres as your boatman paddles past the ghats. Acquire your Rudraksha prayer beads from a Sadu before returning to the palace to immerse yourself in luxury with Jiva Spa’s Abhisheka purifying bathing ritual, which combines pure source water from the Ganges, rose petals, yogurt, honey, and a sandalwood scrub. In the afternoon visit Sarnath, where Buddha first preached his Dharma Deshana, then return to the hotel for a tour of the palace grounds in a centuries-old horse-drawn carriage. After sunset, make your way to the palace’s 400-year-old temple for Aarti, then follow the sitar to your Baradari Dinner celebration, a mogul’s feast with fireworks.

Jiva Spa: Director Sushmita Sarangi

91- 2266651285

Indo-European Splendor, Hyderabad

Jet to the gateway of Southern India, Hyderabad, an ancient city famous for its pearls and diamonds. Head by Jaguar to Falaknuma Palace, which Taj Hotels spent 10 years restoring to its 19th-century glory.

A cascade of petals confirms your royal status as you retrace the paths of the nizam, once the richest man in the world. Ascend the grand marble staircase past French tapestries and a two-ton pipe organ to meet the palace historian for a champagne tour of the fascinating property’s 22 halls whose highlights include a huge Venetian chandelier collection. In the afternoon, designer Vinita Pittie will swathe you in the height of modern Indian fashion, you’ll shop at the Laad Bazaar, famous for its carved bangles, and fourth-generation ittar perfume makers will customize a scent for you in time for your private dinner for two at a dining table measuring 108 feet, and seating 101.

Taj Falaknuma Palace: General Manager Girish Sehgal


Unveiling Hyderabad

4_Wake up in the two-story Grand Presidential Suite (from about $11,410 a night), the largest in India, and plunge into the suite’s pool while your exemplary butler Himanshu sets your breakfast table with Versace.

Explore the city’s past and present at the Charminar monument/mosque, Chowmahalla palace, and several private residences where a biryani cooking demonstration will lead to lunch at Taj Krishna’s Firdaus, known for the best biryani in town. Freshen up back at Falaknuma before your meeting with the visionary designer credited with returning the palace to its former glory, Her Highness Princess Ezra, in her private residence on palace grounds (subject to prior arrangements). Savor your Shikaar Kaa Khaana Hunting Experience Dinner on the Royal Terrace, 2,000 feet above the sparkling lights of Hyderabad.

Local Tranquility, Kerala Backwaters

5_Fly south to decompress in Kerala where after meeting your guide Radhika, you head to Alleppey for a houseboat tour of the gentle backwaters.

Totaling 560 miles, these narrow, intertwining waterways just inland of the coast are lined with lush vegetation and palms. An overnight on a local houseboat is an undisputed must, and you’ll do so in style aboard Injourni, the best in the region (about $1,500 a night). Cantilevered nets dip in and out of the water as you make your way past small fishing villages, where you’ll glimpse colorful flashes of a simpler way of life. Put your feet up, take in the passing scenery, and completely unplug as you cruise deep into the narrow channels and your private chef prepares delicious meals on board.

Injourni: Pooja Kapoor


Revitalization, Lake Kumarakom

6_Wake up with the sun’s rays hitting coconut palms as you float past the morning fishermen. Cruise to Vembrand Lake, the largest in Kerala for breakfast and try to spot otters on the shoreline.

After fishing on the lake check into the Presidential Suite ($1,200 a night) with a private pool at KumarakomLake Resort and make your way directly to the spa. Kerala is the home of Ayurveda, and it’s here that you’ll meet with an Ayurvedic doctor who will prescribe the right mix of herbs for your Sirodhara treatment that, when blended with warm coconut oil and applied in a gentile stream on your head for 45 minutes, reduces stress and mental tension. Follow this up with a therapeutic massage and relax in your suite until evening, when you’ll taste regional specialties from the sea in Ettukettu, an eight-sided mansion commissioned by King Marthanda Varma as a gift to his martial arts tutor.

Kumarakom Lake Resort: General Manager Neelkantan Damodaran


Cultural Immersion, Cochin

7_An early morning transfer through tea, cardamom, pepper, and rubber plantations ends at the Arabian Sea-side town of Cochin.

Take the ferry across what is believed to be the finest harbor in the world and the oldest European settlement in India. Check into a Deluxe Sea Facing Suite ($715 a night) at historic, 22-room Brunton Boatyard Hotel. Try the chef’s fish curry at lunch then head out to explore the 500-year-old Fort Kochi before walking through rambling alleys resplendent with Dutch and Portuguese architecture to Jew Street, a designer’s paradise full of brass sculptures, old wooden carvings, and antique nautical items. Marvel at an evening performance of Kathakali, an ancient art of silent facial expressions and dance. Afterwards, join the cast of the Cochin Cultural Center for the ultimate Kerala photo session, where they’ll transform your party into the characters, an exacting process involving facial and body prosthetics, heavy makeup, headgear, bells, and, for the purists, sollanum seeds to redden the whites of the eyes.

Brunton Boatyard Hotel: General Manager Radha Krishna Shenoi


Sand, Sun, and Fun, Goa

8_As commercial connections aren’t the easiest to Goa, a jet definitely maximizes time and affords the opportunity for a true beach break as you make your way to Northern India.

From Dabolim Airport head south through the jungle past centuries-old Portuguese mansions and fishing villages to Margao’s Fatorda District to shop at Fab India for contemporary Indian home décor and clothing that makes great resort wear. At The Leela Goa your butler welcomes you into your 4,305-square-foot Presidential Suite (about $2,834 a night). The time is yours to recharge: Take a dip in your private plunge pool or Jacuzzi, play a round on the 12-hole golf course outside your door, or work up an appetite by strolling on the pristine beach just beyond. A driver stands by to deliver partiers to the legendary nightlife and internationally renowned music scene at Gaudí-esque LPK, aka Love, Passion, Karma.

The Leela Goa: General Manager Shridhar Nair


Live Like a Maharaja, Jodhpur

Jet off to Jodhpur, known as the Blue City, where, well before landing, you’ll see your Chittar sandstone palace proudly standing on a 26-acre hilltop overlooking the desert capital.

Royal butler Sikander and your Ker & Downey guide escort you home in a vintage Jaguar, where live music, showers of rose petals, and champagne welcome you into the Umaid Bhawan Palace. This royal splurge is worth every rupee when checking into the Indo-European/Art Deco masterpieces that are the Maharaja and Maharani Suites (about $12,225 a night). Built by Maharaja Umaid Singh between 1929 and 1943, this wing of two separate his-and-her private residences has hosted Madonna, Elizabeth Hurley, and other luminaries. Whether Sikander is teaching a lesson in nine meters of precision turban tying, delivering fresh cool towels by the subterranean 1930s Zodiac-themed pool, assisting in photo shoots during a historical tour, or serving cocktails and canapés in the maharaja’s former living room, this star butler is at your service to help you enjoy the palace, creatively and authentically, throughout your stay.

Umaid Bhawan Palace: General Manager Vincent Ramos


Exploring Jodhpur

10_The sun illuminates the cliffs of Mehrangarh Fort as Sikander serves an Indian breakfast on the maharani’s private terrace.

Prior arrangements allow for exclusive pre-opening access to the fort, where you make your grand entrance upon a painted elephant. After touring the residence of maharajas past, built in 1459, visit Chamunda Temple and Jaswant Thada, then lunch in the gardens at On the Rocks with the maharaja’s nephew as your host. Fill your jet with antique pashminas, linens, and other treasures woven for Etro and Hermès by Maharani Textiles. Back in the suite, Sikander outfits you in traditional attire and the royal jeweler delivers an exquisite array of finely cut emeralds from the same collections with which he supplied Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Fireworks light up the palace during your private Royal Rajasthani Thali Dinner in the garden, a feast that continues to surprise with a parade of singers, dancers, and sitar players who accompany each course. A nightcap in the Trophy Bar crowns another day fit for a king.

Maharani Art Exporters: OwnerMukesh Jain


Desert Escape, Jaisalmer

11_Skip the six-hour drive to Jaisalmer: Ker & Downey has cleared you for landing in the Golden City where no commercial planes fly.

Check into The Serai, a 21-tent luxury camp on the edge of The Great Thar Desert. The Royal Suite ($1,131 a night) harks to the days of maharajas’ lavish hunting safaris, and boasts a private garden, spa, outdoor pool, and separate tents in which to dine, lounge, and sleep in the air-conditioned comfort of this 100-acre oasis. Dining at this Relais&Châteaux destination is as delicious as the silence is serene and the views breathtakingly vast.

The Serai: General Manager Jtin Sahni


Jaisalmer Adventures

12_After a leisurely breakfast in your tented compound, venture into the 800-year-old Jaisalmer Fort, identical to what was seen by 12th-century merchants on camel caravans.

Shopping is fun but touristy, so get out quick to spend more time at your next home, Suryagarh, a newly built haven that combines modern and ancient, while sensually celebrating the exotic. By creating tailored experiences for each guest, hotelier Karan Singh delivers an uncompromising sense of place with the magic of Prospero. Full moon Dinners on the Dunes with desert performances, camel excursions to opium tea ceremonies, desert rallies in fortified Humvees, haunted midnight hikes into an abandoned village, and spiritual awakenings in both the Rait Spa and out on the dunes are all possible for those who are open to letting the desert, and your host, take the reins for a day.

Suryagarh: General Manager Karan Singh


The Last Meals, Jaisalmer & Delhi

13_Wake up in the Jaisalmer Suite (about $1,216 a night) before dawn and head out to a surprise destination for a scotch and cigar breakfast in the company of hundreds of wild peacocks who join you to greet the sun.

Afterwards, relax in your suite’s rooftop pool to savor your last moments in the Thar before pointing the jet to Delhi. Ease back into civilization in the Presidential Suite (about $4,809 a night) of the new Oberoi, Gurgaon close to the airport. Butler Sumit Vashisht packs and takes care of airport formalities while you attend a farewell dinner at Amaranta, where a tasting menu of freshly caught seafood has been flown in for you. The Indian breads sprinkled with salts and spices from each of the regions you visited, along with Kerala fish curry, butter paper garlic crab from Goa, and lobster in banana leaves inspire conversations of recently made India memories that are bound to become stories of a lifetime.

The Oberoi, Gurgaon: General Manager David Mathews


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