Cooking & Culture trip co-hosted by Lee Fernandez of Rafi’s Spicebox UK

Learn to cook like a local in a real home kitchen
Delve deep into the culture
Celebrate the Holi Festival in Vrindavan

Bengaluru – Mysuru – Delhi – Agra – Chambal Valley
27 February – 13 March 2020
16 days / 15 nights

AUD8260 / GBP4480 per person twin share
AUD9890 / GBP5365 solo traveller with own room

  • maximum of twelve travellers
  • prices quoted are based on twelve travellers and subject to review based on final numbers
  • price does not include international airfares

Inclusions

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Accommodation

  • 9 nights – mix of heritage and boutique style hotels
  • 4 nights – apartment style hotel
  • 2 nights – safari lodge
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Transport

  • Private air-conditioned vehicles
  • Auto rickshaws
  • Bicycle rickshaws
  • Open-top jeeps
  • Flight from Bengaluru to Delhi
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Meals

  • Breakfast daily
  • 12 lunches
  • 8 dinners
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Highlights

  • Cooking classes
  • Market and street food tours
  • City tour by jeep
  • Visit a coffee and spice plantation
  • Dine in a palace
  • Delhi walking tours with a local NGO
  • Visit the Taj Mahal
  • Celebrate Holi in the holy cities of Vrindavan and Mathura
  • Chambal River Safari

Itinerary

Thursday 27 February

Arrive Bengaluru

Namaste. Welcome to India!

This traditional greeting literally means “I bow to the divine in you”. It is a gesture of love and respect and is the way that you will be greeted throughout your time in India. When spoken, it is with our hands in the prayer position, held at the level of our heart chakra and can be accompanied with a slight bow.

Arrive at Bengaluru International Airport. Catherine and Varis will be there to meet you. After your long journey you’ll be needing some rest so we are staying at The Taj Hotel just minutes from the airport.

Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) is the capital of the state of Karnataka in South India and is recognised as the IT capital.

Overnight: Taj Bengaluru (Deluxe room)

Wednesday Friday 28 February (B) (L) (D)

Bengaluru to Mysuru

After a leisurely breakfast, we are off to Mysuru (also known as Mysore) in a private air-conditioned vehicle. On the 3 – 4 hour journey to what is regarded as the cultural capital of South India, there is ample opportunity to observe the incredible traffic as we travel through smaller towns, each known for a local speciality. 

We will stop in the Srirangapatna, a village of deep religious, cultural and historical significance. The ghats (steps) on the river bank are the centre of many village practices including bathing, washing clothes, worshipping their deities and making offerings. Pilgrims from all over India travel to visit this holy place.

After lunch by the river, we will visit the town which is built on an island in the middle of the Cauvery River. Nearby is the ancient Vishnu Temple, consecrated in 984CE. The scale and vastness of this structure are humbling and it is fascinating to ponder how many millions of bare feet have trodden the large, smooth flagstones through the temple. 

We’ll arrive in Mysuru around 5pm and you can enjoy a drink in the grandeur of The Metropole Hotel’s courtyard while check-in is handled for you. A little later we’ll meet for dinner at the hotel.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole (Royal room)

Saturday 29 February (B) (L)

If you wish to start your day with yoga, free classes are held at 7am from Monday to Saturday at The Metropole. Mats are provided and everyone from beginners to advanced are welcome.

This morning we offer the choice of going shopping or heading off on a walking tour through the narrow laneways of the old city to visit artisan workshops. During this walk, you will meet local artisans making wooden inlay work, jewellery, baskets, embroidery, flower garlands and more.

If you opted for shopping for some local style clothing, a practical combination is a kurta, a longer length straight tunic for women and men with or without sleeves, worn over long trousers such as palazzos or tights. A matching dupatta (long scarf) can be used as protection for your head and neck and compliments this outfit.

There are no rules as to colour combinations, however, there is a multitude of colours and patterns from which to choose – unleash your creativity and feel fabulous dressing like a local, a gesture which is sincerely appreciated by the Indian people.

For lunch we will go to Anima Madhva Bhavan for a delicious traditional thali served on a banana leaf. If you haven’t tried it before, now is your chance to learn to eat with your hands’ Indian style. It is an enjoyable experience and the food is amazing, but if it’s all too much, we can always ask for some cutlery.

We will have a few hours free before meeting up at 5.30pm to embark on a city tour in open-top jeeps. As we drive past some of Mysuru’s most beautiful monuments and buildings you will feel a part of the hustle and bustle of the early evening as people wave to you as we pass by. We make our way up the winding road to Chamundi Hills which has a lookout over the city. There is an ancient temple of the Goddess Chamundeshwari, the Goddess of Mysuru at the top of the hill which is a place of pilgrimage for people from all over India. There will be great opportunities for some fun photos during this adventure. 

No plans for dinner tonight but we can offer lots of suggestions.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole 

Mysore Sunday 1 March (B) (L) (D)

This morning we head straight to Mysuru’s oldest market, Devaraja, to explore the narrow rows of fruit, vegetable and flower sellers. There are also stallholders selling kitchenware, incense and oils, essentials for performing pujas (rituals) at home, bags made from recycled rice sacks and so much more. The stallholders are even more interesting than the wares they grow, make and sell and Catherine has been known to be ‘lost’ for hours in the rows of flowers taking in the perfumes, the vendors calls and riot of colours. Varis can be found chatting to the men who make rustic and beautiful tools from recycled woods and metals; in India, everything is repurposed.

Later this morning we are invited to a local home where our host, Anu, will teach us how to combine spices to create the amazing flavours of India in this cooking class so we can eat what we prepared – a meal to remember! After lunch, there is time for a rest at the hotel before the evening activities begin.

Every evening the streets come to life. This is the most popular time for shopping so we’ll take a walking tour through the old city. Traditionally Indians eat dinner quite late, so snacking on local street food at this time of the day is a quintessential experience not to be missed. We know the best vendors from whom to buy their specialties and as we meander around the old city, we will wind up at the Mysuru Palace for the weekly illumination.

The visual of 97,000 incandescent light bulbs outlining these ornate buildings against the night sky is breathtaking and there is a collective and audible intake of breath expressing wonderment when the lights flash on.

Nearby is a rooftop restaurant where we can go for a drink, or return to Hotel Metropole to have a drink in the courtyard or an early night.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole

Monday 2 March (B) (L)

Getting out into the countryside is an adventure in itself as we pass through small towns along the way, see bullock carts, tractors, buses, scooters and local people working in the fields or herding their animals along the road.

 Today we are heading out of town for a trip to Coorg, a hill station area nestled in the Western Ghats mountain range only a couple of hours from Mysuru. We will be visiting a local coffee and spice plantation to learn about how spices are grown amongst the coffee, then picked and packed for sale locally and overseas. Our host Subbaiah grew up in this area. After a successful career working as a cinematographer in Mumbai, he chose to return to his roots and grow the quality of coffee that he couldn’t find on the shelves of the supermarkets in Mumbai. He has a great story to share, and we will enjoy a fabulous Coorgi style meal with him before making our way back to Mysuru.

 No plans for dinner tonight, but we suggest we all go to the Green Hotel, a lovely small palace with an outdoor garden restaurant.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole

Tuesday 3 March (B) (L) (D)

Later this morning you will be welcomed back into Anu’s kitchen to learn more wonderful recipes that you can take home and bring to life in your own kitchen. After cooking and learning together enjoy a sumptuous feast.

Tonight we will dine at the beautiful Lalitha Mahal just on the outskirts of Mysuru. A former palace built by the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysuru in the early 1900s, you will marvel at the beautiful dining room. Let your thoughts wander and imagine the dignitaries who would have dined and danced here over 100 years ago. Rumour has it this was the place where both royalty and dignitaries could let their hair down away from the public gaze. 

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole

Wednesday 4 March (B)

Mysuru to Delhi

Today we will depart Mysuru and head back to Bengaluru to take our flight to New Delhi where the next part of our adventure awaits us. It will be an early start and we should arrive at our hotel around 6pm. We will take care of the check-in process for you and arrange your luggage to be sent to your rooms. Our accommodation in Delhi is apartment-style, with a central living area and a shared kitchen. There are 3 or 4 bedrooms on each floor, each with an ensuite. The lovely owners have made painstaking efforts to make it feel like a home away from home.

We will wait and see how everyone feels after travelling today to decide what to do for dinner. There are many restaurants within an easy walk so we won’t be short of options.

Overnight: Bungalow 99

Thursday 5 March (B)

This morning we will be meetings our hosts from Reality Tours who will escort us on our walking tours during our time in Delhi. Founded in 2005 in Mumbai and born out of a desire to show the world a different side of India’s slums. The founders Chris from the UK and Krishna from Mumbai started with walking tours through Dharavi Slum to raise awareness about life in slums and simultaneously raise funds for local community projects. They expanded their operation to Delhi and continue their wonderful work supporting people from the Sanjay Colony, the largest slum in Delhi.

Their goal is to provide authentic and thought-provoking experiences and 80% of their profit goes back into the communities they work with through their NGO, Reality Gives. We are honoured to work with and support such a wonderful enterprise and we know you will enjoy meeting their guides and learning about the real India with them.

This mornings walk is called Forgotten Delhi. Rather than head off to all the most popular tourist spots, we have opted to explore a lesser-known part of Delhi’s history. We will take a walk through Mehrauli Archaeological Park where you will see treasures of a bygone era. This part of Delhi has been occupied for more than 1000 years.

We will continue to Khirki Village, a melting pot of cultures, and try the tantalizing range of ethnic cuisines along the way. Our walk will finish in Hauz Khas, a neighbourhood known for its old-world charm and modern culture. This area has many restaurants, cafes and art galleries dotted between the ancient water tanks, tombs, pavilions and more.

We’ll take some time out here and grab some lunch before we meet our Reality Tours Guide for an afternoon exploring Old Delhi Markets and Temples.

We will start in the spice market. This is a sensory and visual feast that you will never forget! Not only do the locals buy their spices here, but there is a huge export trade and these aromatic Indian spices are shipped all over the world.

Next, we’ll all jump onto bicycle rickshaws for a ride through the narrow streets of Old Delhi. There are no words to describe the exhilarating feeling of exploring these narrow alleys. Brace yourself for more colour and chaos than you thought imaginable!

For a complete change of pace, we will visit the Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, a Sikh Temple built in the late 1700s. Inside a Sikh Temple is a place of peace and tranquillity. We will have to remove our shoes and cover our heads before entering this sacred place. We will visit the langar (kitchen) where 35,000 meals are prepared every day to feed the pilgrims and any person of any creed or religious group, as all are welcome. Watching the incredible human machine at work cooking and serving the meals will blow your mind. We offer the opportunity to roll your sleeves up and spend some time volunteering here. The langar is run by volunteers, and all the food is donated. This is the essence of charity at work. Every Sikh Temple anywhere in the world offers this service to their community. 

After we finish our time at the temple, we can collectively decide if we’d like to return to our hotel to freshen up and head out somewhere local for dinner and drinks or go your own way. We’ll always be on hand with ideas and suggestions.

Overnight: Bungalow 99

Friday 6 March (B) (L) (D)

Today we will enjoy a cooking experience at Delhi’s Saffron Palate, a cooking school run by our host Neha. Having been brought up in a military family and living in many different parts of this vast country, Neha developed a love for India food from the many different states. After getting a degree and working for years as a corporate trainer, it was her love for the food of India and her desire to share it with the world that led her to create Saffron Palate. After an interactive cooking class, we will all feast on the delicious meal you have collectively prepared and you will have another lot of recipes to add to your cookbook when you get home.

After a couple of hours break, we will meet one of our Reality Tours guides for a walk through the Sanjay Colony Slum. This walk will open your eyes to the way of life of 60,000 inhabitants that live here. The area is a hub for sorting and recycling cloth and manufacturing clothing. We will visit many small workshops as we wander through the narrow lanes, a local temple to learn about the significance of religion in their daily lives and finish up on a rooftop overlooking the maze of narrow streets we’ve just wandered through. Along the way, we will learn about the education system and what Reality Gives is doing to support it. On this walking tour, there is a strict no photography rule to protect the privacy of the local people. Reality Tours have a series of photos taken in this area that they will happily share with you.

After this wonderful experience, meeting local people going about their daily lives, we will head back to our Delhi home with enough time to freshen up and relax before we head to Kahn Market for dinner and drinks at Sodabottleopenerwala! Yes, that is the name of the restaurant we have chosen for dinner tonight. We continue our exploration of the cuisines of India as here they serve a combination of Parsi and Bombay inspired food. It’s not too far from where we are staying, so we can relax and unwind. They make some great cocktails too for those who would like to indulge.

Overnight: Bungalow 99

Saturday 7 March (B) (D)

This morning we will head back to Khan Market where we enjoyed dinner last night to meet our Reality Tours guide. One of Delhi’s more upscale markets, you will see where traditional Indian aesthetics meets contemporary design. This is a favourite place for Delhiites to shop when looking for that something special. 

The 15th Century Lodhi Gardens sprawl over 90 acres and are a favourite place for early morning walks, yoga and picnics, contributing a beautiful green space to the crowded city.  Dotted with monuments, it is also a favourite place for wedding shoots. The photographer in you will be inspired as we stroll around enjoying this peaceful sanctuary in the heart of a city of more than 18 million people.

From here we will explore the Lodhi Colony which is a hub for street art and Delhi’s first public art district. Learn about the artists behind the murals and the messages they are conveying from our guide who doubles as an art expert and photographer too. This area is brimming with fabulous spots for the perfect pic. We’ll take our time exploring and have a great suggestion for lunch nearby. 

The rest of the afternoon is free to roam and there are some amazing local markets nearby to explore or look for some treasures to take home.

Tonight we are having dinner at a spectacularly restored 200-year-old haveli (mansion) in the heart of Old Delhi. If you enjoy dressing up, tonight is the perfect opportunity to wear one of your favourite outfits. We plan to arrive early so you can have time to wander around and soak up the atmosphere and beauty of this delightful hidden gem. Tonight we will be entertained by Kathak dancers and traditional music while we have a drink on  the balcony before sitting down to enjoy the intoxicating mix of flavours and the ambience of the Lakhori restaurant.

Overnight:  Bungalow 99

Sunday 8 March (B, L, D)

Delhi to Agra

This morning after breakfast we will say farewell to Delhi as we hit the road for Agra, home of the magnificent Taj Mahal. We have some fabulous experiences in store for you but we’ll take it a little easy today and conserve our energy for playing Holi tomorrow.

While we handle check-in enjoy a delicious meal prepared by the wonderful chef and team in Ekaa Villa’s kitchen. This lovely little boutique hotel has the feeling of a homestay, and before you know it you will feel like part of the family.

After allowing some time to settle into your rooms, we will meet and set off on a walking tour to get your first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. Today instead of going inside with all the crowds, we will wander down a country lane and visit a village next to the Yamuna River where you will see the most unique views of the Taj Mahal perched on the river bank. We will visit the home of a local farmer to meet the whole family and enjoy chai made with buffalo milk and lots of sugar. We will spend a little time here in this small village seeing how the locals live and being enchanted by their warm and welcoming ways.

We will head back to Ekka Villa for dinner. An early night might not be a bad idea as tomorrow we play Holi! 

Overnight:Ekaa Villa & Kitchen

Monday 9 March (B, L)

Holi Celebration in Vrindavan and Mathura

Let’s play Holi! Today we will take to the temples and streets of Vrindavan with people from all over India who have come to this sacred place to celebrate this festival in the city where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. 

A very special celebration takes place at the Bnke-Bihari temple today where Hindu priests throw coloured water and marigold garlands and flowers over the devotees as the people crowd around to get a glimpse of the beloved Lord Krishna.

Following this incredible spectacle and by now ourselves covered in colours, we will go to Mathura to participate in the Holi procession which starts at the Vishram Ghat and finishes at the Holi Gate. 

With an event like Holi you have to leave some room to go with the flow on the day, but be assured your safety and enjoyment of this wonderful festival is our first priority, and we do have a plan in place if anyone finds it all too much or wants to take a break from the crowds.

As the celebration comes to an end mid-afternoon, we’ll head back to the haven of Ekaa to bathe and rest before we get together again a little later to see how everyone feels and make a plan for dinner, drinks or both.

Our wonderful hosts will be more than happy to prepare dinner for us if everyone is a little too tired to go out. Perhaps dinner followed by a drink on the roof top will be just the thing to relax after a hectic but exhilarating day.

Overnight: Ekaa Villa & Kitchen

Tuesday 10 March (B) (L)

Holi continues today in Agra but we will set off early by autorickshaw to get up close with the worlds’ greatest monument to love, the Taj Mahal. This time we go inside and wander around the gardens and inside the mausoleum. Take your time to marvel at this wondrous building from each and every angle. Spend some time sitting and contemplating the symmetry, the beauty and the craftsmanship of the many thousands of artisans who worked night and day for 20 years to build the magnificent shrine before you.

Some people like to wear something a little special for the perfect photo. The India Unravelled team are quite handy photographers as is our local guide so we will be more than happy to help get that perfect snap!

Awestruck, we leave and head back to Ekka where our fabulous hosts will have a delicious lunch waiting.

Later this afternoon we will visit the Itmad-Ud-Daulah, often called either The Jewel Box or the Baby Taj. Built before the Taj Mahal, the story of the people buried in this mausoleum will enchant you, and the inlay work is possibly even more magnificent. This is the least visited monument in Agra after you see it we think you will also be wondering why.

As the day comes to an end we cross the Yamuna River to the Mehtab Bagh to watch the sunset over the Taj Mahal. The changing colours of the sky play across the marble dome and you can see the reflection in the river that separates us. 

We will decide on the day what to do for dinner.

Overnight: Ekaa Villa & Kitchen

Wednesday 11 March (B) (L) (D)

Agra to Chambal Safari Lodge

This morning we drive to Mela Kothi, also known as the Chambal Safari Lodge. Built in the late 1890s the building used to serve as the camp office for the local cattle fair. By the 1990’s the fair was no longer well attended and the office buildings fell into disrepair. Around 1999 the grandson of the owner and his wife took on the project of restoring the original buildings and making it the beautiful sanctuary that it is today. Ram Pratap and Anu Singh are our gracious hosts and this lovely lodge is set within 35 acres of farmland. Expect to wake up to the sound of peacock calls, see them dancing across the lawns, countless birds singing and flitting about and deer resting in the woods nearby.

 After our amazing time celebrating Holi and the chaos of it all, now is the time to slow down, relax and take it all in before preparing to go home.

 This is the perfect place to do nothing at all but indulge in the silence, the delicious food and warm hospitality.

 After settling in and having lunch we will visit the nearby village of Holipura. There are some fascinating stories about this area and during a walk through this charming village, you will hear many of them.

 A little further along the river are the Bateshwar Temples. There are more than 40 temples dedicated to Lord Shiva along the river and the ghats are reminiscent of Varanasi. Many different architectural styles are reflected in these simple shrines. Attending the evening aarti in the main temple is an experience that cannot be described in mere words. You will feel it with your heart. 

Back to our lovely lodge for dinner under the stars. A perfect end to a relaxing day.

 Overnight: Mela Kothi

Thursday 12 March (B) (L) (D)

It is well worth rising early to slowly float by small boat down the river which is framed by ravines and sandbanks. There is an abundance of wildlife and the calm waters are home to river dolphins, gharials and turtles. Brimming with both resident and migratory birds even if you aren’t a nature enthusiast this is a truly beautiful way to start the day. There are legends of bandits that lived in the ravines and our wonderful guide Bacchu is both a naturalist and a great storyteller.

We’ll be back at the lodge in time for breakfast, and the rest of the day is free to relax. There are other activities on offer if you are feeling restless, but we think the perfect end to an adventure is time to just be. Laze around in a hammock, read a book in the library, go for a walk or just enjoy the sounds of nature all around you.

This is our final evening together and we will dine under the stars again. With little to no light pollution, the stars fill the night sky.

Overnight: Mela Kothi

Friday 13 March (B) (L)

Chambal Safari Lodge to Delhi

Today we part ways and make our way back to Delhi for your onward journey or your flight home. We can have a leisurely morning before we check out and enjoy lunch with our hosts before leaving for the airport.

We have arranged 3 hours access for you at the Plaza Premium Lounge at Indira Gandhi International Airport where you can relax before your flight.

It has been our pleasure and privilege to share this wonderful journey with you and we thank you for choosing us for your Indian adventure. We hope it has been all you dreamed of and more and that you take home a heart full of memories.

Namaste.

Do you have a question?  Drop us a quick line.

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