The Diversity of Indian Safari
Indian safari has returned, and the country that has amazed explorers for centuries is welcoming travellers back to its diverse and resplendent landscapes.
Historically fascinating, naturally abundant and culturally captivating, this vast and multi-faceted land has so much to offer every flavour of traveller. From verdant tropical islands to bustling blue cities, profound religious festivals to exhilarating tiger tracking, calm waterways to arid desert regions, India is a country of many faces, invariably beaming at you with unprecedented warmth and hospitality.
Exploring the dichotomy of India’s landscapes and experiences, these six perspectives are by no means comprehensive, but offer a tantalising amuse bouche to India’s rich and extensive menu.
THE ICONIC INDIAN SAFARI
The region of Rajasthan was, for many years, the centre of regal safaris and tiger hunting. Elephant would be ridden through the jungle, vulnerable to the ferocity of the threatened big cats, while Rajas perched safely atop their beasts of burden.
Thankfully, these are scenes that have disappeared in time like dust in the wind, and the only shooting of tigers nowadays is done with cameras, the preservation of the world’s biggest of big cats now far more precious than the cost of their pelts. The royal elegance, however, remains, and the exceptional opulence of India’s erstwhile royalty can be enjoyed by visitors from around the world.
Staying at one of Rajasthan’s decadent palaces may seem like the best way to invoke the lifestyle of princes and princesses past, but an Indian safari camp reaches unparalleled echelons of luxury. Sweeping white canopies emulate the tent designs of generations past, staff cater to your every need, cuisine is served upon the finest china coupled with gleaming gold cutlery and elegant champagne flutes, and no effort is spared in the pursuit of absolute luxurious perfection.
They say the lion is King of the Jungle, but when looking upon the much larger, more powerful and spectacularly patterned Bengal tiger, one must consider a zoological coup d’état, a feline usurping, for the tiger is truly king of all he surveys.
As you wend through the dry grasses and dappled woodlands of the region, it is little wonder tigers have developed their distinctive colouring, and every pool of shadow or tussock of grass will make your heart leap in wishful hope that the striped scenery contains your quarry.
Colonial elegance remains in abundance. Your attendees dress in crisp, traditional linen, your sundowners served in crystal tumblers from antique leather portmanteau. Contemporary dwellings and modern properties can offer five-star luxury, but on an Indian Safari, you can truly and quite literally live like a king or queen.
SRI LANKA, FROM RIVER TO ROCK
A Mecca for surfers, a haven for hippies and a muse for creatives, Sri Lanka is as numerously enjoyed as the Indian mainland.
The fascinating waterways of Negombo and the 400-year-old Galle Fort offer an aquatic connection to this fascinating island, not to mention the exquisite beaches of Arugam Bay. Fishing is an integral part of life in Sri Lanka, and the fascinating stilt fishermen found in the Galle region are truly an incredible sight to behold.
While other areas of the Indian mainland, such as Kerala, incorporate seafood into their cuisine, Sri Lanka is particularly renowned for it, infusing classic Indian spices with local fish and fresher, zesty flavours particular to the island culture, especially cinnamon, for which it has been known since the time of the ancient Egyptians.
Spanning over 25,000 square miles – about the size of West Virginia – Sri Lanka is ripe for exploration, from its centuries-old Portuguese heritage to the millennia-old history of Indian Rajas a profound spiritual devotion. The World Heritage Site of Sigiriya is of particular significance. Rising from the forest floor, this mighty monolith is a peculiarity of the landscape, but this geological anomaly has another secret. Over 1,500 years ago, King Kashyapa decided to build a fortress city on its summit, where many ruins, and even elaborate frescos, can be found to this day.
Yala National Park provides a stunning safari experience, with the elephant so emblematic of the island nation in abundance. Here too, you will find leopard, Macaque monkeys, spotted deers, crocodiles, monitor lizards, sloth bear, wild boars and a cornucopia of birdlife.
The Blue Train, which runs through the spectacular mountainous countryside between Ella and Kandy is also a superb experience, yet despite the renown of their cyan siblings, it is the red trains that will provide a truly memorable journey. Weaving across a scenic network of routes, the red trains are of a more classic design, and even the staff wear more traditional uniforms. From the hill passes of the interior to the stunning shoreline of Galle, the journey of three or four hours will leave you breathless.
THE CUISINE & CULTURE OF KERALA
Kerala is a singularly spectacular destination, however you experience it. Known as God’s Own Country, it isn’t hard to understand why, and National Geographic Traveler has notably declared it one of the world’s ten paradises. With a history of over 7,000 years, Kerala – on the south-western coast of India – has many fascinating destinations, with a culture that equally reflects such an extensive past.
The alluring waterways of Alleppey provide captivating cruises and aquatic accommodation, with houseboats handcrafted in the traditional style drifting upon the tranquil canals. Similar to Sri Lanka, this southern Indian destination also has a wonderful range of stunning beaches, and the mineral springs of Varkala have been renowned for centuries for their therapeutic qualities.
Both tea and coffee are grown abundantly in the region, and sampling these celebrated beverages fresh from the plantation is simply unmissable. Kerala is a gastronomist;s delight, and traders have been exporting spices from the area for hundreds of years. Though Indian cuisine is highly distinctive, Kerala has its own flavours, dishes and ingredients that make it both unique and intriguing, spicy yet more suited to a Western palate. Stepping into the kitchen for an afternoon with one of Kerala’s expert chefs reveals the fascinating nuances of the region’s dishes incorporating locally-grown black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and the rich floral vanilla found in numerous delectable desserts.
Kerala is also a wonderful destination for nature. National parks, elephant sanctuaries and expansive forests allow visitors to enjoy Kerala’s fauna and help to protect and preserve endangered species.
This enchanting combination of cuisine, culture and nature makes Kerala an essential destination to add to your India safari itinerary,
INTO THE MOUNTAINS
Though tigers are definitively the big cat of India, the snow leopard – dubbed the ghost cat of the Himalayas – is possibly the most revered and precious sight. An Indian safari through the foothills of Ladakh in search of these profoundly elusive creatures is the journey of a lifetime, despite there being little guarantee of observing the timid ghost cat.
Hemis National Park is recognised as one of the best places for the opportunity of seeing snow leopard, but this is no average Indian safari. The park’s elevation requires altitude acclimatisation and, as the cat’s name suggests, the snowy hills present a challenging terrain. While it is the primary purpose for many travellers, spotting a snow leopard is not the only reason to visit Ladakh and, owing to the cat’s exceptional timidness, camouflage and rarity, nor should it be. The incredible mountainscapes, ancient temples, villages and vistas are, in their own right, equally as breathtaking and reason enough to visit this exceptional outpost of India.Treks reveal spotted ibex, wolf, blue sheep, Tibetan hares, and vibrant migratory birds that call Hemis National Park home at various times of the year.
Though your ultimate quest isn’t assured, with the right guide, enough time and a lot of patience, you may well be fortunate enough to spot a ghost cat in person, padding gently through the soft snow, its thick, patterned coat blending superbly with the dappled, rock-strewn landscape. Diligently protected, word of a snow leopard sighting on the surrounding mountains travels quickly, and the network of well-connected guides shares the news to provide opportunity for guests to witness the snow leopard as well as allow rangers to ensure its health and safety.
Though cold, challenging and potentially a fruitless journey, trekking through Ladakh in search of the ghost cat is absolutely unequalled, and at the very pinnacle of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
RELIGION & CULTURE
While an Indian safari may be considered the pursuits and observation of wildlife, a cultural safari is an unmissable element of a visit to this marvellous nation.
India is a country of powerful sensory experiences, from the spices and flavours to the song and dance and almost overwhelming vibrancy and colour. So much of life is a celebration in India and nothing is done by half. Strangers are welcomed into weddings, meals are a profoundly communal affair, and the jubilation in every occasion is palpable.
This is rarely more true than with India’s, possibly the world’s, most famous mausoleum, the Taj Mahal. Often thought of as a temple, the Taj Mahal is, in fact, an opulent tribute to the life and memory of Mumtaz Mahal, third wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Of course, the Taj Mahal is far from a unique or exclusive destination, but taking a sunset drink in the stunning park on the opposite bank of the Yamuna river is an experience only available to the elite few.
Religion is integral to daily life in India. Whether it is the powerful connection to the Ganga River, the vibrant, colourful celebration of Holi in honour of the victory of good over evil, or the fascinating swamis of Varanasi, India has a way of moving even the least religious of visitors.
Donning white linen garments, taking to the streets and revelling with the masses in the extensive plumes of coloured chalk dust of Holi is an incomparable experience, and one that often dictates the timing of travellers’ visits.
HISTORY THROUGH ARCHITECTURE
We have already mentioned the Taj Mahal – arguably India’s most recognised architectural monument – but the nation has a significant history of impressive architecture dating back well over 1,000 years.
The stepwells of Rajasthan have quenched the thirst of many generations and staved off even the hardest of droughts, giving life throughout the region, and across much of India. Spectacularly crafted, sometimes incredibly ornate, these multi-tiered structures are used to this day as never-ending water sources, and attract visitors from around the world.
Constructed in the mid-18th century, the Taj Lake Palace, a glistening jewel appearing to float on the tranquil surface of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, is probably best known in the modern western world as the magnificent haunt of James Bond’s paramour, Octopussy, in the movie of the same name.
Now a luxurious hotel, it is a simply divine venue that transports you into bygone days and allows you to live the life of a Raja or Ranee in impeccable style and class.
Overlooked by the equally impressive Mehrangarh Fort, the Blue City of Jodhpur is an essential destination for any Indian traveller. The city itself is wonderfully traditional, and wandering the narrow laneways and exploring the marketplaces is reward in itself. The fort, too, is a breathtaking feat of 15th-Century architecture and worthy of a half-day’s exploration. But it is the blue-washed buildings of the old town that Jodhpur has become most recognised. In an Indian reflection of Morocco’s Chefchaouen, a portion of Jodhpur’s city is swathed in sky-blue paint, ornate religious paintings adorning the azure walls, making for fascinating strolls and spectacular photos.
Wherever you look in India, there is an architectural example that will stop you in your tracks, whether in its resplendent majesty, its feat of human toil or, as with the Blue City, simply in its absolute uniqueness.
To define India in just six facets is to not do the wonderfully diverse, exciting and enthralling nation justice in any regard, but this handful of suggestions will, if nothing else, hopefully pique your curiosity and reflect the viability of India as the most magically varied vacation destination, from remote luxury safari to tropical coast and ornate palace.
Meet Viji – Our Indian Safari Expert
As a child, Viji’s worldview was shaped on her family trips around the world. Having travelled extensively, she learned early to be open to what the world can offer and to look beyond her environment and comfort zone. Viji has spent her life doing just that—pushing boundaries, trying new things, and appreciating the uniqueness in each culture yet identifying what unites people universally as well.
Twenty-five years ago, she chose to pursue a career in travel, hoping to bring the joy she has found in her travels to others. Travel designing with Viji incorporates her numerous skills and her extensive experience as well as her absolute love for the infinite possibilities of travel, a humanitarian connection, and overall wellness. If you are looking for a life-changing journey to India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, or Maldives let Viji craft one for you. We promise, the planning of the journey will be as beautiful as the journey itself.
Contact Viji today to discuss the diverse wealth of opportunities on an Indian Safari.