Elegantly India

We all need someone to interpret India, most intoxicating, most beautiful, most shocking, exciting destination on earth.  We therefore suggest you travel with an energetic, highly experienced expert.

Louise Nicholson, an art historian, TV producer, journalist, and author of 26 books (!) including National Geographic Traveler guides to India and London, is a stellar guide.  She has been visiting and studying India for over 30 years.

Her infectious enthusiasm and empathy will help you gain perspective on the impossible cultural mulligatawny that is India today.

You’ve got one shot: February 1-15, 2014, to join her in-depth classical tour “North India Uncovered”. Under the aegis of the venerable Steppes Travel, pioneers of expert-led, custom-designed, in-depth itineraries for small groups. Perfect for solo travelers eager to absorb.

Plunge into the huge, jam-packed Nagaur Cattle Fair (far less commercial than Pushkar) and get up close to painted and festooned camels, bullocks, cattle, horses and the farmers themselves. Step into the magical lake city of Udaipur.  Explore Mumbai, frenetic embodiment of all India’s contemporary extremes. Visit the 2nd-6th c. BC rock-cut Buddhist caves and ancient sculptures of Ajanta and Ellora where the 34 “caves” were ancient monasteries carved into the vertical face of rock. Explore too the Rajasthani fairytale palaces built by insanely lavish maharajas.  And visit, of course, the iconic Taj Mahal, dazzling white marble mausoleum.

Stay in historic hotels, stroll in dizzily colorful markets. Meet lots of locals including master craftsmen and master chefs.  Ms. Nicholson’s trip is “a sensual feast, intellectually thrilling, and soul enriching.”  And not p.s., she founded “Save a Child” in1985, an NGO established in the UK and US, to help underprivileged Indian children.

The rate is $6905 for this 13-night tour (double occ basis.)  For an itinerary and all info, please write to:  enquiry@steppestravel.com.

Camel Lot

Pushkar Camel Fair, the annual Rajasthani outdoor festival, draws people from all over India and the world. And to call this festival “wild” would be an understatement. A tented city is set up near the sacred Pushkar Lake during the days of the full moon every November for this madly exotic, colorful and thrillingly intense ingathering of thousands of snortin’ camels accompanied by their herders, handlers, traders, buyers, sellers, riders, raiders and farmers. And for photographers … paradise.

Dust! Noise! Turbans! Tents! Tassels and Tattoos! Sand!
Saris and Sitars! Heat! Dancing! Music!

This year the Fair is Nov. 2-10, 2011 and there are as many opportunities to sleep (if you can) in a variety of tent types at various levels of luxury as there are tour operators to India. One rule: you must have a guide from a good tour operator to navigate the chaotic scene.

Check out the basics on wikitravel.org/en/Pushkar. Check out Cox and Kings, renowned British outfitters with a great deal of experience and a Florida office. Click: www.coxandkingsusa.com. Or look at: www.exoticjourneys.com/PushkarAndRjasthan.html

News Flash! Jonny Bealby’s London-based Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel advises The Chandrabhaga Cattle & Camel Fair near Jhalawar and also in Rajasthan shares the same full moon as the Pushkar festival and attracts as many Rabari tribespeople, but is far less touristico. Click: www.wildfrontiers.co.uk, Call 44-20-7736-3968 or email: jonny@wildfrontiers.co.uk

Choo Choo Overview

Train travel all over the world is almost limitless, and there is something mysteriously alluring with a whiff of romance (or at least foreign intrigue) in the puff of a train. Some are expensive and luxurious, like rolling, well-appointed 5-star hotels with exceptional staffs and food, but many are basic and good choices for the budget-minded. In addition to saving the cost of hotels, overnight trains deliver the thrill of waking up in a new city or even a new country.


Colossally fascinating and endlessly-intriguing, www.seat61.com is the cryptic name for the website for train travel throughout the world. Get schedules, costs, connections, and every inch of train travel in Europe including such off-the-beaten tracks as those in Macedonia, Cyprus, Andorra, and Belarus AND onward into Iran, Cambodia, and even Cuba (the Ferrocarriles de Cuba. which offers no official website and no toilet paper.)  Tap into this site and run the risk of getting lost in it!

The Good Web Guide UK says www.seat61.com “…has all the mystery of  a Le Carre epic. Who is this mysterious man who always books Seat 61 on the Eurostar and why has he set up a site devoted entirely to world rail travel? His name’s Mark Smith and he is passionate about long-distance rail travel….”

Alaska: For mesmerizing, non-stop beauty, check out the award-winning upper-deck domed window cars of the Denali Star during the 12-hour trip between Fairbanks and Anchorage. www.alaskarailroad.com

The Alps: Rocky Mountains Highs

In Switzerland, the Rhaetian Railway offers the highest rails in the Alps: the Albula and Bernina lines which are stellar examples of technical, architectural and environmental brilliance. In the northwest, the Albula pass wends through 42 tunnels and over 144 viaducts and bridges. The Bernina train “sails” through 13 tunnels and over 52 viaducts and bridges. And the gorgeous (usually snowy) area between Thusis, rich in forests, rivers, glaciers and gorges, and the tiny town of Tirano in northern Italy has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Click: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1276

P.S. Don’t forget the train trip between Switzerland’s two top ski resorts, St. Moritz and Zermatt, is simply a glorious 7-hour whiteout ride on the Glacier Express. Click: http://www.glacierexpress.ch/

From Adelaide to Alice Springs to Darwin, the Ghan crosses the spectacular transcontinental heart of Australia, north to south, in a 48-hour one-way ride with two nights on board. www.gsr.com.au

Although many trains stop running during their freezing winters, others chug along splendidly through great drifts, mounds and mountains of ice and snow.

Out west, the award-winning Rocky Mountaineer toot-toots through the Canadian Rockies on a variety of wintry routes. Phone 877-460-3200. www.winterrailvacations.com.

In Eastern Canada, look into the Agawa Canyon Snow Train which starts in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario – for a 4-hour, 114-mile rail cruise through rugged snowscapes and “diamonds of ice,” wildly colorful fall foliage as per season; chug 500 feet down over 10 miles to the floor of the billion-year old Agawa Canyon. To know more, phone 800-242-9287 or www.agawacanyontourtrain.com.

VIA Rail operates about 480 trains per week over a vast 9,000-mile network that spans and links all of Canada. This is huge. Excellent website makes it easy to navigate their fascinating network. http://www.viarail.ca/trains/en_trai_tous.html

India anyone?  The royally luxurious Deccan Odyssey departs from Mumbai and visits towns and villages all along the gorgeous coastline of the Arabian Sea for 8 days, including hottest beach spot on the subcontinent, the intensely sensual sandy city of Goa. http://www.deccan-odyssey-india.com.

…and stay tuned for more…