Niarra Travel is a next generation tour operator that operates according to its two guiding principles of transparency and purpose to ensure that each trip has a positive impact on the ground; they’ve just launched three itineraries that span India’s wonders.
Travel Researcher at Niarra Travel, Emily Cadzow has, in her own words, “lost her heart to India”.
India is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world thanks to its natural beauty, rich history and cultural heritage. It has many historical landmarks such as the Taj Mahal and Golden Temple – as well as vibrant cities that will assault the senses. Explore the Golden Triangle – and go on safari in search of rare snow leopards and tigers. From the snow-capped Himalayas to the tropical beaches of Goa, India is a destination that will leave you wanting more. Watch this space for Niarra’s new Indian itineraries, coming soon…
Emily, please share with us a little about your first impressions of India?
I think a lot of people have this perception that India is dirty and very busy with a lot of poverty – and of course there are unfortunately too many areas where this is true – but when you visit first hand you are blown away by how many dimensions there are to this country. It’s got so much to offer – history, culture, religion, architecture, scenery, wildlife – something for everyone! We need to change those misguided perceptions about India. Niarra does India really well – using the best guides and authentic places to really get under the skin of the country and offer a truly immersive experience.
Who did you travel with?
I have recently done two trips to India – I went on a honeymoon there in November 2022 and then did a research trip in early 2023, some of which my sister Freya joined me for. My mission was to seek out some of the special gems for Niarra’s new India programme. We like to support authentic, unique properties off the beaten track that not only exceed guest expectations but leave a positive impact on local people and our planet.
Tell us a bit about your tour?
We started off in Delhi which truly awakens all your senses! I loved the energy of Old Delhi and we did an incredible private Heritage and Spiritual walking tour with a specialist guide from Banyan Tours of the vegetable stalls, spice markets and a beautiful Sikh temple where they serve curry, rice and chapati free of charge to anyone who visits. I was overwhelmed by the community spirit and kindness of the volunteers there. We also hopped on tuk-tuks for a section of the tour and ended our day watching kites flying as the sun slowly set over the horizon. It was magical.
We then flew (about 2 hours) to Ladakh in the Himalayas. You need to stay there for two nights to acclimatise before exploring further but it was great to some rest and relaxation time after the business of Delhi.
We headed to the Lungmār Remote Camp for 3 nights which has buckets of rustic charm and their team does amazing conservation work for snow leopards. Their trackers are world-renowned and they head out in the early mornings to follow fresh spoor so that your chances of seeing a snow leopard are much better. Guests join the guides at around 7am and you go hiking with them. Interacting with these experts and other locals along the way is a massive part of the whole experience and makes you feel more like an explorer than a tourist. We saw five separate leopards in the distance – as well as blue sheep, wolves and bearded griffins.
Other highlights included a visit to the medieval Hemis Buddhist Monastery which is so remote it managed to avoid being raided and still holds a lot of its ancient treasures. It wasn’t touristy at all – a very raw and authentic experience, especially moving whilst observing morning prayers. We also visited a goat farm at the top of the valley where they make pashminas. Seeing the week-old kids was lovely – and learning about how the community is uplifted by tourism. The lodge helps build kraals for local farmers to protect their goats from the snow leopards and thus helps prevent human/wildlife conflict and hunting which was very inspiring.
We then headed back to Delhi and my sister flew home, leaving me to explore Udaipur.
I stayed at the iconic Taj Lake Palace which is one of the most photographed hotels in the world – located on a tiny island on Lake Pichola so it looks like it is floating – with breathtaking views of the City Palace. Many people will recognise it from the James Bond Octopussy film with Roger Moore back in 1983. Its opulent and ornate – and gives that real feeling of escapism to be staying in an Indian palace.
I did another private tour and loved the old temple with its miniature paintings of maharajas riding elephants in search of tigers. It’s a real slice of history and culture. I also did a rickshaw ride with my guide which was very enjoyable. Had to be done!
Next I stayed at RAAS Davidgarh which is an 18 th century Rajputana fort perched on a hilltop about 45 minutes away from Udaipur – which has been beautifully and sensitively converted into a hotel. The food was incredible and there’s a great pool to cool off in. I loved how sustainable the property was and how the walking tour into the village of Delwara supports the local community.
I then moved on to its sister property, RAAS Jodhpur, which is in the walled “blue city” – which is so scenic and photogenic. I loved the heated swimming pool – and the shopping was fantastic. I bought some lovely pillowcases and tablecloths. Banyan arranged for us to do another private tour of Mehrangarh at sunset, an awe-inspiring 15th-century fort – complete with a glass of bubbly.
Sticking with RAAS, my next stop was Chhatrasagar which is a fantastic spot for birders with beautiful views over the lake. I did a lovely walking safari there with the Naturalist and spotted some lovely deer. The accommodation is tented so you really feel connected with nature.
Next was Sujan Jawai which is probably one of the most responsibly luxurious camps in all of India. They’ve had amazing success with rewilding – creating a safe space for leopards which didn’t even exist ten years ago which has since seen over 100 different leopards call it home. I did an incredible horseback safari on their Marwari horses who have gorgeous curly ears! You can also go walking with the local Rabari tribe. It felt like a magical fairyland, all lit up by lanterns at night.
My itinerary then moved on to Jaipur – the “pink city” where I stayed at the 270-year-old Taj Rambagh Palace – once the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. There’s so much to see and do here from natural beauty of lakes to exploring historical forts and palaces. There’s a real buzz and the shopping is great. I visited a block printing workshop too as this is where it was invented.
Last stop was Ranthambore National Park for the long anticipated tiger trekking. I was lucky enough to stay at Sujan Sher Bagh which has a bit of an African safari vibe with gorgeous, tented accommodation and incredible food. The safaris are in the National Park so you do see other vehicles – but we were very lucky to see four tigers really close up! A big bucket list tick indeed before I headed home.
What were a couple of the standout moments of your trip?
Gosh so many to choose from!
Snow leopards are known for being very elusive…the so-called “ghosts of the mountains”…but we had one truly memorable sighting at Lungmar which will stay with me forever! Before we even arrived at the lodge we were alerted to a sighting. We sat and observed the most stunning leopardess for around 8 hours as she ate, dozed and was repeatedly annoyed by a magpie. The hours just flew past! Not everyone will experience this proximity so it really was very special.
Another moment that is close to my heart was dining with elephants! Although we don’t normally support anything with animal interactions due to ethical reasons, in Jaipur there is a sanctuary called Dera Amer where all the money you spend helps rehabilitate and feed rescued elephants from circuses, who cannot be released into the wild. You get to feed your dining companion with some bananas, give them a drink of water, help the mahout with the ellie’s bath and rubdown which you can see they love – and then go for a quiet stroll with them before tucking into a delicious dinner of your own.
1) Book early. I would recommend at least 6 months to a year ahead to ensure availability.
2) October to March is the best time to visit.
Who do you think this sort of holiday is best suited to?
India is fantastic for honeymooners – but also for families, couples and older travellers. Most of the drives are no longer than 3.5 hours.