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INSPIRED TRAVEL EXPERIENCES

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Representing the Worlds most inspired travel experiences, united by a belief in the singular power of travel to surprise, delight and transform. 

Posts in Banyan Tours - India
Elephant encounters and awe-inspiring adventures
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Few countries offer a more dramatic mix of adventure for all ages than India. Taking the family to this beautiful country allows the opportunity to discover a far-off land with a culture and lifestyle that excites the soul and delights the senses. Every journey is a discovery, every experience unexpected.

For many families, the magic can be found in the state of Rajasthan. It's hard to imagine a sight more exciting to a child than a parade of elephants. Set behind the hills of the historic Amer Fort, the family-run Dera Amer Elephant camp is located at the foothills of the rugged Aravali Range about 45 minutes from Jaipur. Surrounded by the wilderness of a reserve forest, it is offered to guests on an exclusive basis and features accommodation in simple, beautifully-crafted tents complete with electric lighting and shower rooms. Families and couples alike enjoy the opportunity to spend time with the resident elephants who have been rescued from the arduous work of carrying tourists up to Amer Fort. Guests can spend quality time with these magnificent creatures and take a walk with them into the forest for their evening stroll, ending the night at a campfire in the forest, feasting on freshly made tandoori food under a blanket of stars.

Rajasthan also offers the chance to tap into a families artistic side. A block printing lesson making t-shirts, a private pottery lesson with a family carrying on the tradition of their ancestors in the famous blue pottery style, a hands-on cookery lesson in a private home or a visit to a private studio for a Bollywood dance lesson (having been to a traditional shop to choose dancing clothes to mark the occasion).

Sport-mad families can indulge in India's most popular sport with an impromptu game of cricket against the children of a Rajasthani village. For those seeking a digital detox combined with real adventure, there is Sunset Zip wiring at a fort or a morning cycle ride into local villages. The Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh offers hiking, village walks, cycling, rafting and cultural immersion away from the madding crowd.

With India being one of the most spiritually diverse nations, Banyan also offers hands-on work in a Sikh temple community kitchen. Aligned with volunteerism and community support being central tenets of Sikhism, it is ideal for families wishing to broaden their cultural horizons and perspective on life. And finally, the chance in Rajasthan to have a private blessing in a temple - a special experience that will reveal many elements of the Hindu religion and create shared family memories that will last a lifetime.

Access all Indias
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Banyan curate uniquely personal and tailor-made travel experiences in India, combined with exclusive access to the most coveted destinations. Their impressive portfolio truly is a cut above the rest.

India is replete with splendid palaces embodying the historical opulence of past and present. The impressive City Palace is one of the most revered attractions in Jaipur, and still home to the last ruling Royal Family. Carefully crafted tours allow exclusive access to the private rooms of the palace to marvel at its resplendent architecture and verdant gardens.

Widely considered one of the most beautiful and moving religious ceremonies in the world, the Ganga Aarti ceremony in Varanasi is a sight to behold and an unabated tradition. Occuring at the crack of dawn on the Assi Ghat or at sunset at Holy Dashaswamedh Ghat, this devotional offering is a highly choreographed affair, performed by young priests in ceremonial dress on the riverbank. Commencing with the blowing of a conch shell (believed to eliminate all negative energy and heighten senses), large lit lamps, music, bells and incense fill the air, offering devotion to the river Ganga. The whole event is a riot of colour and a unique aesthetic experience to witness at least once in a lifetime.

One of the best-preserved and largest forts in India, the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, is a must-see, awe-inspiring destination. Towering 400 feet above the city, it contains one of the country's most impressive museums. Clients can enjoy exclusive, unprecedented access to the fort, glass of bubbly in hand, alongside an expert curator bringing this majestic fort to life with personal stories and anecdotes.

Safari and India are not two things often associated with each other, yet India is a country replete with wilderness, harbouring not just tigers, elephants and leopards, but fantastic flora and fauna. It also remains one of the best places to see a tiger in the wild. Expert naturalists offer exclusive jeep excursions into tiger reserves long after the general public have left. Coupled with high-end accommodation, it's a privilege few have experienced.

For a truly authentic perspective, clients can embark on a carefully conceived guided tour through the bustling streets of Dehli, led by former street children, with The Salaam Baalak Trust City Walk. The tour allows travellers to hear personal stories from the children themselves and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain real insight into urban India life. Revenue from the tours contributes towards counselling, education and support for more than 5000 children.

India is a country that constantly surprises and never fails to impress. Jungle-smothered wilderness, snow-capped vistas of the Himalayas, awe-inspiring palaces....it's a country where time has well and truly stood still and where experiences not only exceed the norm but surpass it.

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Rejuvenating India
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India’s ancient wellness heritage and stunning landscapes excite the senses, allowing plenty of opportunities for travellers to disconnect from everyday life and reconnect with themselves.

With so many holistic choices in India – the birthplace of yoga – clients can indulge both mind and body as part of their journey. A former maharajah's residence, The Amanbagh - which means “peaceful garden” - resides in the shadow of the Aravalli Mountains. Set in the verdant grounds of the resort’s oasis setting, its holistic spa provides a range of therapies and advanced treatments to rejuvenate and detoxify, using traditional Indian techniques.

A South Indian journey can be enhanced with a self-discovery visit to Shreyas retreat in Bangalore. Recognized as one of the finest retreats in the world, yoga is taught in traditional ashram style within a luxurious zen-inspired setting. Guest experiences are personally tailored to cater for every wellbeing whim.  It's the perfect place to forget (or remember) oneself. 

Shakti Kumaon, Shakti Ladakh and Shakti Sikkim were conceived to combine the rejuvenating and de-stressing influence of remote surroundings with luxury accommodation and tours. Private lodges in the little-known region of Kuamaon Himalaya avoid the influx of tourists, allowing for a fully immersive experience. The minimalist mountaintop lodge of Shakti Leti 360° will leave guests feeling on top of the world...figuratively and literally. Awe-inspiring scenery, cookery classes with a Tibetan chef, private yoga sessions, meditation and no wifi or phone signal... it's the perfect spot for those wishing to switch off from the stresses of everyday life. 

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EFFORTLESSLY ROMANTIC
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The remarkable splendour of India is timeless.  Its natural beauty is some of the most awe-inspiring and serene; from Himalayan peaks to Kerala's beautiful backwaters; from coastal retreats to tiger-trodden jungles; from romantic palaces to cliff top bars.  India ticks every romantic box, and if done properly, an Indian honeymoon still represents about the most romantic on the planet. 

Rajasthan captivates the soul, offering luxurious accommodation, camel safaris, magnificent forts and pristine lakes.  Visit the Golden Triangle, home to royal palaces, temples, forts and the Taj Mahal, surely the world's greatest monument to love.  The 'Pink city' of Jaipur is a photographer's dream from vibrant markets to hot air balloon rides over sunset desert scenes.  The impressive Mehrangarh Fort provides a backdrop to the 'Blue City' of Jodhpur where the proud desert people sport turbans and saris in colours of the rainbow.  Udaipur, 'the Venice of the East,' is just made for couples.  Stroll its cobbled streets; explore ancient forts and creamy white havelis.  It is one of India's most charming cities and the perfect place to pop the question, renew vows or simply soak up the magical atmosphere. 

The 1100-year old stepwell dining experience at Narlai village, in the Pali District of Rajasthan is mesmerising.  Illuminated by thousands of oil lamps, travellers are transported back to 6th century Rajasthan.  Dressing for dinner with Rajput turbans and scarves, they arrive at the destination by bullock cart and dine on authentic Rajput delicacies.  

Where tigers roam, the anticipation is palpable, and a safari through the jungles of Ranthambore, Kanha or Bandivgarh National Parks is nostalgic, romantic and exciting.  India's desert landscapes too, are home to a lesser-known big cat...exquisitely beautiful leopards.  The best chance to see wild leopards is from Sujan Jawai, a camp offering impossibly romantic tents with private decks (including one Royal Tented Suite with its own pool) set in a landscape of craggy caves and winding sand river-beds. 

Venture further from the well-beaten tourist trail and into village life in Ladakh with Shakti.  Spend time in renovated village houses in the remote Indian Himalayas, hosted by expert guides.  Days are filled with walking, biking, picnics, rafting, yoga, meditation and delicious authentic fare.  Above all, Shakti adventures are best shared with someone you love. 

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SPICY TO SWEET...SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
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Locavores will appreciate India's dedication to authentic food.  Banyan can introduce you to the families, chefs and locals behind the naan, biryani, curries and chutneys.  From cooking a traditional Goan Pork Vindaloo to learning more about Indian spices, food holds it's own against the backdrop of India's impressive landscape.  

Cosmopolitan and diverse, the food scene in Kolkata is something else.  Banyan's guides take you through the back alleys of Kolkata discovering the hole in the wall eateries that the locals love.  

If you have even the slightest interest in food or cooking, you owe it to yourself to visit Nimmy Paul's amazing in-home cooking school.  Nimmy gives all she has to her cooking and the end result is wondorous: a meal filled with the flavours of her home and garden and, most importantly, her soul.  

It is said the cuisine of Shakti Himalaya surpasses the upmarket hotels in India.  Signature to Shakti are the hot gourmet picnic lunches with not a road or house in sight. 

Dera Amer is a tented safari camp with plenty of creature comforts.  Sample Shikhari (hunter) cuisine in a forest-set dining pavilion lit with mashals (flaming torches); wash and paint the resident elephants before trekking with them to forests, villages and temples.  Enjoy bonfires, barbecues and blissfully comfortable beds back at boutique base camp.  

Illuminated by thousands of oil lamps, the 1100-year old stepwell dining experience transports guests back to 6th century Rajasthan.  Ignite your taste buds with sumptuous food all within a gloriously traditional setting.  

Banyan are also on hand to assist with restaurant recommendations and reservations.  Have dinner at Trishna, Mumbai, an outstanding and intimate seafood restaurant.  The crab with butter, black pepper and garlic or Hyderabadi fish tikka are house specialities and warrant the hype!  Or sample Indian Accent in Delhi, who serve up a contemporary twist on Indian cuisine.

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SHAKTI HIMALAYA, INNER JOURNEYS OUTDOORS
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Shakti was founded in Kumaon, in the foothills of the Himalayas, when three village houses were smartened up for international travellers; to these were added four luxury cottages, known as 'Leti 360.'  Again, using village houses, Shakti started a similar concept in the former Buddhist Kingdom of Sikkhim in the Eastern Himalaya.  Continuing this unique idea, Shakti's third village experience is seven houses in Ladakh.  

These traditional village houses offer an authentic experience, the opportunity to mingle with locals and the chance to get well off the usual tourist tracks of India.  So remote are these regions that internet and mobile phone reception are never guaranteed.  Electricity and air conditioning can be patchy - this all adds to the adventure and to an understanding of the 'real' India.  

Throughout your Shakti journey you will have your own driver (to get you to the walking trails), porters, chef and private guide to help you navigate the stunning terrain and appreciate the local culture.  At the end of each active day, enjoy sundowners with spectacular views, time around the campfire and some of the best organic food in India, before overnighting in an undeniably comfortable bed...You will never sleep so well.  Furthermore, everything is included in your stay, so you never need to reach into your pocket except for a potential discretionary tip at the end of the holiday.   

For walkers that wish to push themselves, Shakti Himalaya offer trekking and camping in impossibly remote, wild and beautiful locations.  Shakti tented camps offer dome tents for nights under canvas and all the usual Shakti services-in-style.  Enjoy great food, friendly staff, outstanding mountain views and some of the clearest night skies to be found in the world.  

From October - April, Leti, Kumaon and Sikkim village houses are operational and then, when the monsoon hits, the guides move to Ladakh (May - September) for the summer months.  

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YESHI
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Yeshi Sumdup Lama or as he is more fondly known, Lamaji, is the Shakti head chef.  

Yeshi Lama was born in January 1964, in Jimmythang, a small village in Arunachal Pradesh.  His father was a Tantric monk from the Niema sect, the type of monks who are permitted to marry.  When Yeshi was only eight years old, his father sadly died and he was sent to the local monastery where he joined the Gyalukpa Sect.  Studying Tantric Buddhism, he remained there until he was 25.

The student monks were taken to Nepal for a two month holiday but the adventurous Yeshi stayed on for six months which meant he was not allowed to return to the monastery.  Ready to explore and have some adventures, he travelled to Delhi and then on to Dharamsala and Manali where he worked on trekking expeditions as a porter.

On his return to Delhi, he took a job in a hotel kitchen quickly climbing the ladder to become Head Chef.  Soon he began to miss the mountains, so returned to Manali to work as a chef on the treks.  In 2005, Yeshi started to work for Shakti and is today, one of the most loved characters within the Shakti family.
 
His knowledge comes exclusively from hands-on experience and a love of food versus formal training.  Yeshi simply loves to teach his guests how to cook special signature Shakti dishes. Many dishes from the eclectic menu are made from family heirloom recipes of Shakti’s owner, Mr Jamshyd Sethna. Ranging from Parsi cuisine, dishes such as apricot chicken, the delicious Burmese dish Khowsuey and Samosas are just a few of the favourites. Shakti 360 Leti was awarded Relais & Chateaux status – the smallest property in the world to claim this! Fingers crossed a Yeshi cook book is planned for the future!

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Good Morning Mumbai - the Banyan Tours way - Experience the city the way the locals do
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The best time to explore Mumbai is early morning when the roads are peaceful and quiet.  Meet your guide and transfer to the colourful, noisy and bustling Dadar flower market where the action gets started at 4am!  Mumbai's largest wholesale flower market has more than 700 stalls overflowing with blooms and the whole place comes alive as the overnight deliveries are unloaded.   The busy market hours are from 5am to 11:30am when the buyers visit this sprawling undercover bazaar; a delight for any photographer.  The flowers are supplied to local street vendors who use them to make religious garlands, as well as event managers and wedding decorators. 

From here, visit Dhobi Ghat to see the city’s famous open-air laundry in action.  It is an unforgettable glimpse into the working life of Mumbai.  Dirty laundry from all over the city is brought here and painstakingly hand washed by the dhobis (washermen) in the seemingly endless rows of concrete troughs.  Thousands of dhobis spend hours each day standing up to their knees in water filled with chemicals, manually scrubbing and beating the dirt out of each item of laundry. The Ghat is owned by the municipal council, which charges the washermen rent and maintenance costs for the troughs. There are hundreds of men living at the Dhobi Ghat, where generations of families have been doing the washing work for decades; most are migrants from other parts of India. 

Dhobi Ghat even appears in the Guinness Book of Records: in March 2011, it achieved the world record for the largest number of people (496) simultaneously hand washing clothes at a single location.  Your guide will explain the impact that the introduction of modern machinery is having; eliminating the need for so much manual work might sound positive, but it is affecting the livelihood of the washermen.  

Next on the agenda is a wonderful winding drive through the British Heritage District, another excellent photo opportunity, before arriving at Sassoon Docks.  See the trawlers come in with the day's fishing catch and the city's fisherfolk at their chaotic best! Enjoy a walk through the buzzing markets, taking in the local culture and a chance to experience the daily life and rituals of these friendly locals. 

Before heading back to the hotel, make a stop at an early 20th century building which was once a Japanese bank.  These days, however, it houses the diesel-fired ovens of Yazdani, a Parsi bakery that produces delicious handmade treats.  Enjoy a chai and a bun - the owner is a character and loves a chat!  

TOP TIP – Have dinner at Trishna – an outstanding and intimate seafood restaurant. The crab with butter, black pepper and garlic and Hyderabadi fish tikka are house specialities and warrant the hype!

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Glamping with Banyan Tours
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We all know that India is full of exotic and unique experiences.  Banyan Tours is taking it to a whole new level by offering happy glampers cosy canvas experiences in the desert, the mountains, on working farms and at the beach.

Picture this -
Just beyond Jodhpur, arrive at a private tented camp in time for a spectacular desert sunset.  Freshen up before settling in to drinks by the camp fire and a fabulous feast of local flavours accompanied by musicians from the village.  All this under an endless canopy of stars.

Tucked into the Aravali Hills near Jaipur, new for the season, is a private camp reached on elephant back. These rescued elephants are treated as members of the family.  The owner is committed to the welfare of the elephants believing that he offers them a better environment roaming free for most of the day, rather than working on the busy hot and polluted roads in the city or ferrying tourists to and from the fort. The private camp is perfect for either a little romance or a family adventure.

Wrap yourself in a cashmere blanket as the moon rises over Himalayan peaks.  For active glampers, Shakti Himalaya offers trekking and camping in remote mountain regions. Shakti’s tents may be the ordinary dome style but the service, style and setting are quite simply extraordinary!

Inspired by Africa, Aman-i-Khas is set in rugged countryside on the outskirts of Ranthambore National Park. The 10 guest tents are a generous 108 square metres each and reflect a rich Mughal style with luxurious airy rooms, separated by white cotton drapes.  In the evening, guests gather around the outdoor fireplace to relax and share their wildlife sightings.

The newest tented jewel in India’s camping crown - Jawai Leopard Camp - is located between Jodhpur and Udaipur. This is the only property in a huge wilderness area where leopards roam free. Ultra-sophisticated and gorgeous, Jawai is a superb example of low impact eco-tourism and makes an uncompromising commitment to conservation. The camp has just 10 luxurious tents (including a family tent); each is spacious, private and decked-out in contemporary Out-of-Africa-style, with a Rajasthani twist.

Banyan’s first-hand experience of Indian glamping enables them to recommend the right experience for each traveller – be it in the mountains, desert, jungle or unexplored countryside

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TRAVEL AS A FAMILY WITH BANYAN
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Your sense of adventure doesn’t disappear just because you have children, so why should your family holidays be limited to the usual suspects?  India crackles with energy and colour and is a great holiday destination for families.  There are vibrant and exciting cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta, blissfully cool tea plantations and the soaring Himalayas. India is easier to get to than most people imagine and a good timetable of scheduled flights means that you can get from Europe to Delhi and into the heart of Rajasthan fairly easily.

Tailor made family adventures, that favour real life experiences over virtual ones, begin with child-friendly hotels (Banyan know the best inter-connecting rooms to use).  Then sprinkle in the adventures; a tuk-tuk ride through the streets of Delhi, a Bollywood dance lesson or hands on work in a Sikh Temple's community kitchen or head out on safari in search of tiger in the National Parks.

Rajasthan is a treasure trove for families and long relationships with guides and with the owners of hotels and lodges throughout the State means that we can design each day around a family’s interests.  Such things as playing a cricket match against the children of a Rajasthani village or bathing and painting elephants followed by a ride into the forest for dinner are just two experiences that make for perfect family memories.

Travel by mule cart with only the light of kerosene lamps to arrive at a candle-lit dinner, accompanied by musicians and fire-eaters, on the steps of an ornate and ancient well - all organised just for your family.  The tropical south has a different pace to the rest of India - the perfect destination if you are looking for a relaxing, yet culturally stimulating escape. Learn to cook Keralan specialities with a charming host and cycle the backwaters with a local guide.

For an off-the-beaten-track trip of a lifetime we recommend the high Himalayas.  Ideal for families seeking something beyond five-star luxury and wanting a digital detox for the children, a trek away from the well-trodden paths enables a more intimate experience of India's landscape, people and their living cultures.

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Bicycle with Banyan

The Banyan team are constantly looking for experiences to enhance an itinerary and set their partners apart in the design of a clients' journey. Riding a bike is an ideal way to get closer to the action and maximise interactions with local people - there is always a friendly welcome or wave for cyclists.

I recently spent a month in India and took the opportunity to explore on 2 wheels as much as I could. Discovering the back lanes of Delhi on a bicycle is a must!

I spent a morning cycling around Mehrauli (South West Delhi), an area not many tourists visit and yet it is packed with historic monuments, mosques, tombs and gardens. My guide left his home in Calcutta when he was 11 years old and arrived at Delhi railway station homeless and friendless. He was one of the lucky ones and supported by the Salaam Baalak Trust has been able to have choices and now has a successful career as a photographer.

Nobody knows Delhi's streets better and as we explored he shared the story of his life. Other highlights were seeing the stunning 3-storied Lodi-era stepwell, Raja Ki Baolik and discovering a secret rose garden.

Learn about the spicy past of Fort Cochin cycling the narrow tangle of alleyways.  In Fort Cochin (the ancient port and spice trading hub) an early morning bike ride with a local guide is a great way to get your bearings and avoid the crowds. We went through areas and streets that I would never have seen on my own. I loved cycling through all the different quarters – an old Jewish quarter with a synagogue, Portuguese churches, Hindu temples, the Dutch-built Mattancherry Palace, merchant houses and markets. Highlights were finding tucked away in a corner the quarter for the Dhobi or washer folk – a caste specialised in washing clothes who continue to toil as they have done for more than half a century. Also a visit to the fish market to see the day's catch and watch the auctioneers shout their deals while buyers negotiate for the best price

From the bustling fort city of Cochin to the serene backwaters.  People tend to explore this area by boat but I hopped on a bike and cycled along the backwaters that skirt rice paddies, spice, coconut and rubber plantations.  Top Tip: cool off with a refreshing coconut juice!

The idea is for clients to experience India by connecting to its history, people and culture.  We understand it is often the little things that make the difference; booking accommodation is important but not complicated; however planning and tailoring your itinerary with full service, support, local knowledge and, most importantly, personal contact sets us apart. 

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