Travel agents need to explore new destinations and experiences within India, which is brimming with rich history and culture. ‘Look at things beyond the obvious and you will have new experiences in places that have existed for years,’ says Mehernosh Colombowalla.
I recently travelled to East India and would like to share my experiences.
Antara Cruises, Kolkata
Kolkata, India’s erstwhile capital under the British Raj is known for its grand colonial architecture, art galleries and cultural festivals. Look further and you will find some of the world’s best luxury river cruising on the Ganges. Antara Cruises, voted among the six best river cruises in the world, hosted a few luxury travel agents on a curated two-night itinerary and sailed past some of the most iconic heritage sites along its river bank and to some interesting villages.
The ship had huge cabins with large bathrooms, exquisite food and on-board service to match international standards. We had the very gracious chairman, Raj Singh, sailing with us, whose knowledge and passion on hospitality and the destination notched up the experience a hundred fold. Antara Cruises, which has been extremely popular with inbound guests, has now curated sailings for the domestic market.
You can team your cruise with a stay in the City of Joy at the Glenburn Penthouse, an elegant residence in the heart of historic Kolkata. With just nine spacious suites, this is a haven of sophisticated luxury where visitors can savour the culture, history and cuisine of Bengal. I strongly recommend the early morning heritage walk with the owner Husna Prakash, where you succumb to the magic of the bygone era through her knowledge of the past and present – an experience not to be missed. The drawing and dining rooms are adorned with bespoke wallpaper, with scenes of rural India from days gone by. Leading off this gracious sitting room is a balcony and a Tea Verandah overlooking Victoria Memorial, perfect for outdoor dining, and where breakfast and afternoon tea is served in congenial weather.
Later, a few travel colleagues and I visited the Rajbari Bawali, a 300-year old heritage property, exhibiting the opulence, style and grace of the Zamindars of Bengal. Enjoy old-world charm at this heritage luxury resort just an hour and 30 minutes from Kolkata. Here you are immediately transported into the bygone era as you unwind in one of their spacious rooms. Ajay Rawla, the owner, not only entertained us with his wit but also arranged some unforgettable rural experiences for us.
Glenburn Tea Estate
Our next short flight was to Bagdogra. Drive three hours to a heavenly little plantation retreat, high in the Himalayas, overlooked by the mighty Kanchenjunga mountain range. You will then reach, ‘A corner of heaven’ – The Glenburn Tea Estate. Stunning scenery, old-fashioned elegance and the opportunity to see the rituals of tea production, makes this estate a compelling blend. Currently owned by the acclaimed ‘Chaiwala Family’, it is an all-inclusive retreat where fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables and spices are sourced from their own garden. One can not only praise the tea plantation but also raise a toast of freshly brewed tea and buy the varieties. With just 8 elegant suites, when you stay there, its almost as if the Prakash family decided to open their own tea estate for guests who may be interested in knowing about how a tea leaf makes it to their tea cup.
Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa, Darjeeling
We completed our journey at Taj’s newest property – the Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa, Darjeeling. It has spacious rooms, signature spa and all the trappings of luxury at the resort. The staff is extremely courteous and go out of their way to make your stay a comfortable one.
The mélange of beautiful locations, relaxing ambience and pampering hospitality, is what essentially defines India’s finest luxury resorts. Intended for facilitating a soothing and revitalizing experience to visitors, these resorts have elevated the bar of extravagance to a new level.