I have just returned from an exciting trip to India to set up next year’s programme. This will be the last time I will take people to discover one of my favourite countries. I have divided it into two separate programmes for people who do not have enough time to take in north and south, but I do recommend the complete experience so that you can savour all the delights of this multi-faceted country. The food is very regional and I will introduce you to a completely new eating experience. In Goa and the Malabar Coast the incredibly fresh fish and shellfish are often cooked with coconut, while the local pomfret is either grilled with garlic and butter (western influence) or enriched with masala. The delicious exotic fruit turns every meal into a feast and brave souls finish with feni , the local cashew liqueur. Breakfast can be spiced up with a masala omlette, delectable dosas or amazing appams , that look like lacy flying saucers.
Goa and Kerala 25 January to 2 February 2018
Delhi, Rajasthan and Mumbai 2 to 13 February
We will start our adventure in laid-back Goa, so that you can relax and recover from the journey, sipping mojitos, Kingfisher beer or nimbu pani, under the coconut palms, enjoying the gentle sea breezes. Goa was under the Portuguese until 1961, and there is still the siesta culture, where everything shuts down for a few hours after lunch. It soon becomes addictive.
We will enjoy leisurely lunches on the beach at Zeebops, shopping in Panjim and Margao, visits to Old Goa and the heritage Portuguese mansions in Chandor. My favourite house is Celia and Ruben’s historic Palacio do Deao in Quepem. The house and gardens have been lovingly restored and it is magical to be greeted by a haunting Portuguese fado as we arrive for a delectable dinner on the fragrant, flowery terrace.
After 5 nights in Goa we will fly to Kerala where we will stay in a Heritage hotel in Fort Cochin.
When I first visited Cochin, many years ago, while I was researching my Indian cook book, the spices lay in great heaps at the docks, waiting to be shipped all over the world. I remember sneezing uncontrollably as my car got near. Today the spices are packed and sealed for shipping, and Jew Town is home to fascinating little shops as most of the Jews have left for Israel. We will visit the old Synagogue, which is now open only for special occasions, and enjoy an afternoon tea on one of the rice boats, drifting along the inland waterways. We will shop for spices, toiletries, presents and small antiques.
We will fly from Goa to Cochin. Flights are not included but they are inexpensive. We will get group tickets nearer the date.
After the comparatively peaceful south, Delhi is constant assault on the senses. The noise is often deafening and the volume of people is astonishing. I have booked us into a relaxed Heritage hotel with large, cool rooms and soothing gardens where we will withdraw at regular intervals to repair our nerves. Modern, vibrant Delhi lives in the shadow of two great empires, the Moghul dynasty and the British Raj. We will explore them both.
Places to be visited : the Red Fort, Old Delhi bazaars, Lutyens New Delhi built after the 1911 Delhi Durbar, when the King Emperor, George V, decided to move power from Calcutta to Delhi. We will see majestic Viceroy House (Rashtrapati Bharan) and India Gate. There are some excellent restaurants in Delhi and we will eat at the award-winning Indian Accent, which has a sister restaurant in New York, and the fabulous Bukhara with food from the North West frontier. When I was researching my Indian cook book I was taken under the wing of the erudite, eminent Jiggs Kalra. We will have a lunch at his Masala Library.
Jaipur (5-8) Udaipur (8-10)
The Moghul princes introduced the warrior Rajputs to a very refined cuisine, with elegant creamy sauces, subtle flavours, and saffron, rose scented rice and meat. We will now see a change in menu.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, and the lovely Pink City, painted in 1876 to welcome the Prince of Wales, is now noisy and hectic. Some of the Marigold Hotel film was shot here. I have chosen a quiet, relaxed Heritage hotel in the centre, protected from much of the hubbub by gardens and peaceful swimming pool. I have booked a fleet of reliable tuktuks to take us in two and fours to sightsee and shop in the narrow, city lanes.
Places to visit : Palace of Winds, City Palace and Jantar Mantar.
Further afield cars can be used to visit Amber, The Tiger Fort and Monkey temple.
We will take lunch or afternoon tea at the hotel that was the Viceroy Club in the Marigold film.
I have found a very good textile shop on several floors employing some 30 tailors to make our clothes and house furnishings in a few hours.
A short flight takes us to Udaipur, the city of lakes. This is a quieter city with a more relaxed feel. I discovered a small, slightly shabby Heritage hotel right on Lake Pichola. All the rooms have lake views, and many have small balconies. It only has three floors and the roof terrace restaurant has amazing views at night. The first evening I was so enchanted I declared that I would eat there again the following day, even if the food was bad. Happily the food was good so no compromise was called for. The staff are very friendly and helpful.
Again we will explore and shop with tuktuks. Years ago I stayed at the Taj Lake Palace hotel which must be one of the most romantic hotels in the world. It is now very glossy and expensive but many describe it as a once in a lifetime experience. You can decide when we get to India.
From Udaipur we will take a minibus to move on and discover rural Rajasthan and some places off the tourist trail. En route we will first stop to visit the Jain temple at Ranakpur, followed by a light vegetarian lunch. Then we will drive to spend two nights at Rawla Narlai.
Rawla Narlai (10-12)
This a beautiful Heritage hotel where you can choose just to relax by the pool, visit small villages or take a car to Kumbhalgarh Fort, a Mewar fortress and Unesco World Heritage site.
International flights will leave from Mumbai or Delhi. I will make Mumbai an add-on so that people can decide what they want to do. I like to finish in style staying at the iconic Taj Palace Hotel, in front of the historic Gateway to India. I will work on this when I get some feedback, but this is what I will do.