Embracing India - Trinetra's Picks for 2023

Posted: 21 March 2023


For someone from the West, India provides an authentic adventure - stimulating, absorbing, daunting, sometimes moving and shocking. Here is one of the world's great dramas; an ancient, vast and crowded land committed to the most formidably challenging exercise in mass democracy. It is a spectacle in which hope, pride, paradox and uncertainty mingle and struggle. It is conducted on the whole, and to India's credit in the open. The lasting memories of the land are hospitality, kindness, good humor and generosity. Here is a society of over a 1000 million people, growing by a million a month, divided and united by language, caste, religion and regional loyalties. It has often been described as a functioning anarchy; and it is in many ways an amiable one, of marvelous fluidity and tolerance. Indeed, the true Indian motif is not the Taj Mahal, the elephant or the patient peasant behind the ox drawn plough. It is the crowd, the ocean of faces in the land of multitudes, endlessly stirring, pushing and moving. It is in this human circulation that one sees India's color, variety, busyness, and, senses also its power, vitality and grandeur.

It is this unique resplendence of India that we are endeavoring to bring to our esteemed members of the Trinetra Tours family. We are recommending two tours that would acquaint you with the grain of the destination. 


1. North East India (Orissa/Odisha)


If you are into savoring untouched jewels ensconced in the bosom of time, my recommendation would be to tread the Tribes And Heritage of Eastern India tour. This is my all-time favorite as we explore some amazing venues. 


1.a. Shillong


I have Shillong in the distant North east state of Meghalaya high on my recommendation list. In our visits to Shillong (Meghalaya) we come into contact with a near majority Christian and matriarchal society. Do not be surprised to find women (Wo)manning the pavement fish and pork stores or the vegetable stalls. The society in spite of its remoteness is very enlightened. Quaint accommodation, traditional lifestyles and an amazing variety of flora and birds are a highlight of the place.  We make fascinating local excursions including that to the picturesque regions of Cherrapunji. You would love the natural beauty, and, the hospitality of the locals.


1.b. Mawlynnong


While in Shillong, we will do an excursion to Mawlynnong (known for its cleanliness) (LINK to Itinerary). The village offers scenic natural beauty, a trek to the living-root bridge at village Riwai. Here you can see natural balancing rock. You will have time to explore a local remote village. Also, visit the Dawki border between India and Bangladesh. Here you can enjoy a country boat ride on Umngot river (famous for crystal clear water). This is truly outback and affords an opportunity to catch up with one’s own self .


1.c. Kaziranga


The suggested itinerary, also takes us to one of the Eastern destinations that has some amazing charm. The Kaziranga National Park in Assam is one of the prettiest game parks in the world.  This place should be the highlight of your tour. The main attractions of this game park are the one horned Rhino, and, riding on the elephants you get mighty close to these exquisite species. You also have an opportunity to view herds of elephants as well as wild buffaloes. Birds and flowers are also a specialty - especially orchids.


1.d. Kolkata


Then, the influence of the 'English Raj' cannot be mistaken in Kolkata as Victorian Buildings and art forms dominate the city. We are also doing something very special here. The city is famous for its bazaars, and we explore the colour and diversity of Kolkata on a bazaar tour along some of the amazing markets of the city.


1.e. Bawali Rajbari


Tribes And Heritage of Eastern India tour brings you a unique place called Bawali Rajbari located just outside of Kolkata in the green lands of Bengal. An erstwhile old palace belonged earlier to the Zamindars (landlords) is now converted into a Heritage hotel which is surrounded by a farmland and picturesque views of the surrounding countryside. This palace hotel is replete with decorative colonial architectural motifs, breezy balconies, and graceful colonnades; it was formerly the headquarters of a small kingdom ruled by the Mandal family of Bengal. Also, at Bawali, though there are no structured tours, but, you have an opportunity to explore the serene beauty of the surroundings.  You can walk through the village, engage with the locals, witness their simple lifestyles, and, let your heart be overwhelmed by the disarming hospitality of the natives.


Our East India Tour climaxes in the fascinatingly charming destination Orissa. The ancient and rich cultures and the rich natural beauty of Odisha makes it very unique. The ancient Hindu temples here are incredible examples of architecture. Then, the patch work handicraft of Pipli in Orissa is very popular.

Besides witnessing ancient and breath-taking architecture and handicrafts, the main focus of our tour in Odisha would be to show you the tribal culture that is found here. The tribes in Odisha are composed of skilful artisans and farmers. They work hard and find joy in the simplest of the things such as music & dancing. They earn their living through painting, weaving, and designing of ornaments. These tribal villages are the soul of Odisha and hence, we will travel to many such villages to get a taste of a different world and time. During the tour we would travel to remote areas to witness the tribal living untouched by modern times. Also, care has been taken to ensure that you do not have excessively long drives. However, it is important to visit these tribes on certain days of the week. This is when they come out of the jungles to the local tribal markets. For this reason, I have indicated the days of the week in my attached program.  If we keep to these days of the week we will be able to witness the very interesting weekly bazaars and see the tribals in large numbers here.

All in all, our Tribes And Heritage of Eastern India tourrecommendation is perfect for the repeat visitor who has already been baptized into the Indian experience. Now that you have got your feet wet, it is perhaps time enough to soak deeper into what makes for ‘real India’. 


2. The Jewels Of North Indian Himalayas (North India)


What makes India an enigma is how natural beauty and spirituality are so beautifully assimilated into each other. Perhaps, this is because, India is a land of diversity which manifests itself not only geographically, but, in terms of the beliefs and faiths of the people. My second recommendation for India is the, the Jewels Of North Indian Himalayas tour. The tour explores the enchanting magnificence of the Himalayas and brings to the fore the unique traditions that are ensconced in the bosom of the majestic snow-covered mountains. I will hold your hand through some of these amazing venues that can surely be life-defining, and, help you see your own lives in a different perspective. 


2.a. Paragpur


In the said itinerary, we will visit Paragpur. The latter is a small village in beautiful Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh which has been recognized as a heritage village. The village is almost 3 centuries old and showcases delightful architecture through slate roofed houses with mud plastered walls, inbuilt water tanks, and cobblestone streets. The Anglo-Indian architecture and Haveli like homes make this place a destination where you can enjoy your summer holiday in a royal yet peaceful manner as this is one of the less explored travel destinations.


2.b. Dharamshala


The Jewels Of North Indian Himalayas tour takes us to Dharamshala in the scenic Himalayas. The place is the base for the Tibetan government in exile and their community. Dharamshala is a very important Buddhist pilgrimage and learning center. We get to see several buildings and institutions related to Tibetan life and traditions in terms of worship , handicrafts, schools , monasteries and efforts made towards their sustainable economic as well as social rehabilitation. As you stop at the street stalls laden with artefacts from Tibet, crimson-robed monks meander through the lanes on their way to the monasteries and markets overlooked by pine covered mountains and hills. It is simply a divine feeling.


2.c. Palampur


Then, from Dharamshala, the tour traverses to Palampur, a pleasant hill station surrounded by old British tea plantations, is in Kangra district in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Dense oak and deodar forests surround Palampur, making it ideal for long walks. Behind this town stands the high ranges of Dhauladhar Mountains, whose peaks are covered with snow most part of the year. This hill station is not only known for its numerous tea gardens but also known for its nostalgic colonial architecture and temples.


2.d. Andretta


In the vicinity of Palampur is Andretta. This is a fascinating village and a gathering place for artists. The artists' colony here was established when Irish stage performer and environmentalist Norah Richards relocated to Andretta from Lahore in the 1920s.


2.e. Shimla  


It is not without reason that Shimla is considered to the Queen of Himalayan destinations in India. Shimla used to be the summer capital of the British. Our tour experiences the majesty of a city immortalized by many famous personalities from the colonial times. This is also the nature lover’s paradise. Pine forests and apple orchards, crisp, clean air and breath-taking views - that's Shimla in a nutshell.

Then while in Shimla, we will also get to experience a Toy train ride from Kandaghat to Shimla along the slopes of the Himalayas. This would give you a good experience of the natural beauty and the incredible engineering skills of the British at that time. The train ride is known for dramatic views of the hills and surrounding villages. The Railway was built in 1898 to connect Shimla, the summer capital of India during the British Raj, with the rest of the Indian rail system. At the time of construction 107 tunnels and 864 bridges, were built throughout the course of the track.

In Shimla, we also do something unusual. We undertake a heritage walk. However, I must assure you that this walk would be punctuated by stops at vantage points where we can rest, and take photos. We will also have stops on the way to try the local snacks, and have a lunch stop too. The latter would be in keeping with your food interest. This is the best way to explore the lovely hill town of Shimla. Walk through the Lanes & Trails of this British Himalayan Town. Breathe in the Himalayan fresh air and know more about the stories of a glorious bygone era that bequeathed for posterity an incredible legacy. This is an ideal walk for guests who wish to stretch their legs, treading past most interesting neighbourhoods. This is nothing like any other tour. It is a personal experience where the history and the Himalayan scenery become a part of your tour. Overall, this would be a fun day where you explore the heritage of the destination from up – close.

Also, during our stay in Shimla, we experience a royal hospitality and walk through the imperial forest: - Someone has rightly said that our Heritage is our identity. In the proposed schedule, when in Shimla we have a special activity for those who are interested in surrounding themselves with the natural heritage of the Himalayas. A breathtakingly scenic journey of 30 kilometers from Shimla brings us to the jewel of Dhami. Here, we arrive at the ancestral house of Kunwar Dushyant Singh, the present descendant of the house. The architecture of the palace is a blend of English and traditional local style. Mainly made of wood and stone, the house looks contemporary from outside but the rooms are decorated with a large number of antiques and animal skins. The latter were considered a style statement during the days of the British Raj. Dhami also boasts itself for inheriting a rich historical legacy.  Apart from all the grandeur Dhami offers, you will also experience and enjoy walking through some of the most interesting forest of the Himalayan foothills. These, actually used to be the activity grounds of the British Aristocrats. The walk brings to you the opportunity to experience the Himalayan vegetation as well as witness the rich bird life of the region. All in all this day brings to the visitors a unique glimpse into the natural heritage of the region. A highlight would be the opportunity to indulge in a cooking lesson with your host, and, join them over lunch.


2.f. Amritsar 


Our tour climaxes in Amritsar, the Mecca for Sikhs. In Amritsar, you MUST also visit the Golden temple after dinner when they put the holy book (Granth Sahib) to sleep. There is an elaborate ceremony when the head priests initially hold the book over his head and then places it into a golden palanquin. The book is then carried in this palanquin by turns on the shoulders of the devotees to the accompaniment of trumpets and drums as well as the chanting of verses by the priests. It is a soul stirring experience and I get goose bumps just talking to you about it. Also, find some time to sit in the compound of the Golden temple. It looks spectacular and has a different appeal at different times of the day. For me the effect here is even greater than the Taj Mahal. The place is alive and there is great spirituality. Of special mention is the sprawling community centre that feeds 100s of pilgrims and visitors continually. The Sikhs also believe in service or sewa. Be it keeping your shoes, cleaning the temple complex, preparing food and serving the hungry are all a part of service to the Lord. It is fascinating to be a witness to this charismatic setting.


2.g. Golden Temple


The spirituality of Amritsar and the Golden Temple is an alternate example of worship. Not only are their prayers and rituals, but, one witness’s devotion through service. You would be amazed at the massive community kitchen that continually feeds 100s for free. Then, there are no special cooks. As a form of worship devotees arrive and participate in the cooking, serving and cleaning of the place. Even the shoe keepers are devotees performing 'seva' or duty toward their guru. For me, the spirituality of the Golden Temple in Amritsar is a very moving experience. This is because the temple is alive and the spiritual charm touches the soul.

We would recommend that you have “Prasad” (blessings) at the community kitchen along with the other devotes at the Golden Temple of Amritsar (Itinerary LINK). Also, if you fancy so, you may also try to help with the cooking in the kitchen as a part of “Seva” (service). Do let your guide know that you wish to be a part of this service. 

Another uniqueness of Amritsar is the lowering of guard ceremony at the Wagha border between India and Pakistan. The ceremonial parade, synchronised commands quite a spectacle to behold.  

Besides the heart stopping sights of Amritsar that I discussed above, we also journey outside of the city to experience a local village. The soul of India lives in its villages. When in Amritsar we propose a special activity that would fascinate those who are interested in exploring and experiencing the ethnicity of rural India. A short excursion from Amritsar will take you into the heart of the Sikh land where life is full of verve, colour, and traditional existence. In this village of Amritsar, far from the hustle and bustle of the cities, you would get an opportunity to see and experience life in a different way- a herd of buffalo followed by women in their bright dresses, smoke rising from traditional cooking fire.

It is especially heartwarming for us to reaching out and inviting you to yet again uninhibitedly. The sites, smells, sounds and the disarming hospitality of the natives will once again rekindle your flames for India. Above all, your Trinetra Tours has always believed that they are there because you have permitted them to be. With the utmost purity of intentions, we will bring to your temple our offerings. Your acceptance of these is the blessing that would buoy us through the trying tides of time. 


Tapas Banerjee

Trinetra Tours Pvt. Ltd. 


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