India: From the Raj to the Taj

It has been over 2 years since the Carnegie Museums Travelers visited India in January 2016. However, the vibrant culture and experiences have yet to be forgotten. As the title of this blog post suggests, the group traveled From the Raj to the Taj, with the luxury tour company Cox and Kings, visiting Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Varanasi. Take a trip down memory lane with us, as we recount our adventures through India.


 

Our adventure started in Mumbai, and after landing, we were immediately hit with an energetic mélange of culture, aroma, and flavor. For 3 days, our local guide, Chandana, escorted us around Mumbai, showing us the Gateway of India, Queen’s Necklace, Victoria Terminus, Prince of Wales Museum, and the General Post Office. Chandana also showed us the true India, with visits to Crawford (best for fruits and vegetables) and Gold (best for jewelry) Markets, Dhobi Ghat, the open-air laundromat , and pointed out the Dabbawala or Tiffin Men along the way. An extraordinary sight to see, and one that can only be found in India, the Dabbawala, deliver hundreds of lunchboxes daily to the business workers in the city.

During our time in Mumbai, we stayed at the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. First open in 1903, the Taj Mahal Palace, is located along the harbor and overlooks the Gateway of India. The location of the hotel is ideal for a first-time traveler to India, placing you right in the middle of the touristy and artist section, shopping and museum area, and the financial district.

After Mumbai, we flew to Delhi for 3 days. To kickoff our arrival, we were welcomed at The Imperial Hotel with a traditional Indian welcome ceremony. If you are looking for a hotel that combines luxury and history, then look no further than The Imperial. Built by an associate of Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect of India Gate, The Imperial brings together iconic luxury and colonial heritage. The hotel is also located nearby Connaught Place Shopping District.

Our time in Delhi was quite exhausting, as this city can easily overwhelm. Traffic is insufferable and it is best practice to stay in a hotel that is centrally located allowing you to walk instead of ride. Our guide, Yogesh, who also accompanied us to Agra and Jaipur, made the city more bearable and enjoyable by handling the logistics and organization. Our recommendation is to skip a visit to Delhi, as India has so much more to offer, but if this city is a must on your list, make sure you allot enough time here, since you will not be able to do too much in one day.

We were able to visit, Qutab Minar Tower, the Rail Museum, Jama Masjid Mosque, Red Fort, and Raj Ghat. We also attended the India Art Fair, which is what brought us to Delhi in the first place. The India Art Fair takes place annually from January to February and features modern and contemporary art from South Asia. The best part of our time in Delhi and what we recommend all visitors do, is to take a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, the oldest and busiest market in Delhi. There is no other experience than sitting back in a rickshaw as it quickly rushes by hundreds of stalls and people in the market.

Next, we traded Delhi in for a relaxing and tranquil stay in the city of Agra. A smaller city compared to our previous visits, Agra is, as everyone knows, home to the Taj Mahal. All you need it one or two days here to experience the Taj Mahal, but another historical place to visit is Kohinoor Jewelers, the traditional jewelers to the Mughal Court. With a deep-rooted legacy and glamorous past, Kohinoor Jewelers is by far the best place to purchase jewelry in India.

After our short stay in Agra, we headed to Jaipur, the magnificent Pink City. Our itinerary included visits to the Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, the City Palace Museum, Jantar Mantar Observatory, Albert Hall Museum, and numerous bazaars and emporiums. The highlight of our stay was visiting the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. A secret gem of the city, the Anokhi museum and store are a must see for any curious traveler.

When in Jaipur the only place to stay is The Rambagh Palace, the former residence of a Maharaja. The hotel has hosted guests from Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles, and Jackie Kennedy and appropriately has suites named after them. The hotel also offers a complimentary historical tour, led by a scholar, which we highly recommend.

Before ending our adventure in India, we made one last stop to Varanasi, the religious hub of India. Home to more than a thousand Buddhists and Hindu temples and shrines and the Ganges River, Varanasi provides a completely different experience than anywhere else in India. We visited Sarnath and the Garden of Spiritual Wisdom, experienced Kushti wrestling at the ghats, took an evening boat ride on the Ganges, and witnessed an aarti ceremony at the ghats. The aarti ceremony, a traditional Hindu religious ritual, was quite breathtaking to watch. The ritual is powerful and uplifting and extols greetings to the Hindu Deities.

We were also very fortunate to visit Nadesar Palace, after our tour company Cox and Kings pulled a few strings. Although we did not stay at this hotel, we were able to visit and have dinner here. One of the top hotels in Varanasi, Nadesar Palace offers many amenities and activities, from golf to spa treatments to a historical horse drawn carriage tour around the complex.

Throughout the  5 cities we visited it is clear that India is bigger than life. Featuring a population that exceeds a billion, 23 official languages and more than a million square miles of land, the one common thread that runs through it is – India floods your senses from every direction.


Interested in learning more about India? Read about various trips to India with National Geographic‘s Travel Guide, found here.

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