August 21, 2017
Among ancient forts, sandstone temples, national parks where tigers loom, and along the sacred Ganges, discover India’s heartlands. India’s Hidden Heart is a 21-day journey through Madhya Pradesh and surrounds, a new itinerary from India Unbound.
By Lincoln Harris
The sun is still rousing the day as we lean against the rampart wall at Gwalior, taking in the view of the city sprawling below us. Children linger as they pass by, inching down the steep path, heading for school, pausing to stare at us just as we pause to take in all that we were seeing for the first time. Buster, my five-year-old son, and I are soaking in the city view and marvelling at the magnificent fort towering over us. We are exploring `the heart’ of India and Gwalior is just one of the stops on our journey.
Each year I devote several months to visiting India and Sri Lanka. Even after almost 20 years there are plenty of new places and experiences for me to see and try, and favourites that I like to return to. It also means that what we offer to you in an India Unbound journey is current and special.
These reconnaissance trips are also the time I spend developing new itineraries – creating interesting and original journeys that we know work logistically and are worth your holiday time and money. Often I do this with my family – they are important critics at the early stages of new trip planning. (A 5-year-old will certainly tell you how many hours are too many in a car on India’s patchy, and at times unbearable, roads.)
In January this year, we spent several weeks exploring Madhya Pradesh – a state located in central India and referred to as the nation’s heart because of its geographical position. Along the way we visited some of India’s great architectural and historical sights, marvelled at powerful forts, palaces and World Heritage temples and met some fascinating hosts.
The result is a fascinating 21-day itinerary I am pleased to now share with you called India’s Hidden Heart: an in-depth journey through central India that will reveal parts of the country that are less-visited, though nonetheless amazing.
India’s Hidden Heart
21 days DELHI – JAIPUR
Delhi – Lucknow – Varanasi – Khajuraho – Panna – Orchha – Fort Rampura – Gwalior – Jaipur
Highlights: Savour barbeque tikkas and kebabs on a guided culinary tour in Lucknow, a city famous for its food. Witness India’s spiritual heart along the ghats of Varanasi. Search for tigers on safari and experience India’s rural beauty at Panna. Marvel at the magnificent Gwalior Fort and its palaces. Explore the palaces and temples of Orchha. Visit Jaipur – the `Pink City’ of India.
Gwalior – With mighty walls, exquisite glazed tiles as blue as the clear skies above, and maze-like palaces, Gwalior Fort is one of the most impressive forts I’ve seen in India. Believed to date back to the 3rd century AD, the fort stretches almost 3 kilometres atop a 100-metre high sandstone and basalt hill, its fort walls soaring 10 metres high, enclosing its lovely palaces, step wells and temples. Inside the fort is Man Mandir Palace, where you can lose yourself exploring its inner layers and chambers. Make sure to stop at the fort’s walls and take in the sweeping views of Gwalior below and imagine yourself as an ancient ruler surveying your kingdom.
Orchha – A small town easily explored by bicycle, Orchha is one of India’s most marvellous Moghul sites with its 16th and 17th century palaces and temples. We visited the fort complex with its magnificent square courtyard and palaces as the sun was fading – the building turns beautiful dusky reds and browns in the afternoon light. Unlike the forts and palaces of Rajasthan with their colours and pomp, the stripped-back feel of Orchha allows you to appreciate its architecture and design, its muted tones and understated grandness.
Khajuraho – Well-known for its World Heritage-listed temples featuring erotic carvings and soaring spires, what attracts us to Khajuraho lies a short drive out of town. Sarai at Toria is a small eco lodge where you can experience some of India’s natural beauty, see its wildlife and meet two people who have devoted their life to conservation in India. Hosts Joanna and Ragu are both such genuinely warm, welcoming and extremely knowledge people. It’s easy to enjoy yourself in their company and a pleasure to have the time to sit and speak with them. Plus, there are fabulous meals prepared using fresh ingredients from their kitchen garden, recipes passed down from Ragu’s family, scrumptious desserts and lunch served outside under the shade of the broad neem tree.
Varanasi – Known as the City of Light, Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India, where pilgrims journey to see and bathe in the Ganges, believed to be the holiest of rivers by Hindus. Witness the morning daily rituals that take place on her banks – from bathing to washing clothes – and hold your breath for the mesmerising Ganga Aarti at night, a powerful devotional ritual using fire. Explore the city’s narrow lanes and twisting streets, see the burning pyres where Hindus end their life journeys and the colourful ghats. Or simply pause for a moment by this mighty river.
For more details on India’s Hidden Heart contact India Unbound or visit our website. This blog first appeared in The Unbound Way – an independent travel magazine by India Unbound. Contact us to receive a copy today.