14 day cooking and culture journey to India

including a celebration of Holi Festival

Come with us on a journey to discover the flavours and essence of India on a cooking  & cultural trip co-hosted by Lee Fernandez of Rafi’s Spicebox and the Skillstourism Team.

 Mysuru – Delhi – Agra

Saturday 9 – Friday 22 March 2019

This is a fully escorted bespoke trip for a maximum of eight travellers

AUD4645  | GBP2636 per person twin share
AUD5730   | GBP3252 solo traveller with own room

• prices quoted are based on a minimum of four travellers
• price does not include international airfares

Inclusions

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Accommodation

  • 8 nights in Mysuru in a 4 star heritage hotel
  • 3 nights in Delhi in a 4 star boutique hotel
  • 2 nights in Agra in a 5 star hotel with views of The Taj Mahal
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Transport

  • private air-conditioned vehicle for longer distances
  • autorickshaws
  • horse drawn tonga
  • cycle rickshaw
  • Delhi metro train
  • departure transfer to airport on last day
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Meals

  • Breakfast daily
  • 6 lunches
  • 5 dinners
  • 2 light meals during street food walking tours
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Highlights

  • four cooking classes
  • dinner in a family home in Delhi
  • market and street food walking tours
  • craft workshops
  • tour the city in an open top jeep
  • cycle rickshaw ride through the lanes of Chandni Chowk (Silver Street)
  • sunset and sunrise at The Taj Mahal
  • celebrate Holi Festival in Agra

Itinerary

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.

You will be met at Bengaluru Airport and transferred to your accommodation in Mysuru. (transfer is an additional cost)

During the three-hour drive, you will have your first introduction to the somewhat ordered chaos that are the roads of India. You’ll be amazed as you watch bikes, scooters, cars, trucks, buses and more weave their way along the road with seemingly no lanes and no road rules. The cacophony of beeping horns as the locals communicate with each other means your road trip to Mysuru will be an experience to remember and you can expect to see many wonderful and interesting things along the way. Welcome to India!

Catherine and Varis will meet you at your hotel around 5 pm for welcome drinks and a light dinner.

This morning you’ll have some time to relax and get some rest after travelling.

This afternoon your auto will be waiting to whisk you away, and we’ll meet up for a market and street food walking tour with our local guide. A walk through the markets is a sensory experience – you will smell the perfume of the flowers and hear the cheerful calls of the vendors. After the markets, you’ll wander the streets and sample all manner of tantalising street food. We know all the best places to try the local culinary delights. You won’t need dinner tonight.

Straight after the tour, you will jump into the waiting autorickshaws (locally known as autos) and head straight for Mysore Palace, which is less than ten minutes away. The outline of the palace is lit with 97,000 incandescent light globes creating a dramatic sight against the backdrop of the dark night sky. It seems all of Mysuru are in the palace grounds waiting, and hearing the collective intake of breath when the lights go on is a pleasure in itself.

Your auto driver will get you back to your hotel soon after 8 pm.

This morning you will meet our host who has invited us into her home to learn traditional Indian cooking. After learning about the different spices and lentils that are the essence of Indian food, together, you will cook some wonderful dishes which we will all enjoy for lunch. By the time we drop you back at your hotel, you will have a few hours free before our evening tour.

Around 5.30pm we will set off on a city tour in the back of an open-topped jeep. It is a wonderful way to get a feel for the Royal City that is Mysuru. This beautiful city has 13 palaces, countless temples, parks and statues larger than life. You will be fascinated by the mix of all that grandeur with cows wandering the streets, people everywhere you look, and more motorbikes and scooters than you can imagine weaving in and out among the cars.

Your choice whether to return to your hotel or be dropped at a local restaurant for dinner.

Before our cooking class this morning we’ll go to the market together to buy the fresh ingredients for today’s lunch.

This afternoon there is a choice of walking tours:

Tour of Mysore Palace – prepare to be wowed by the opulence and the rich history that lies within the palace walls.
Artisan workshop tour – a stroll through the narrow back streets of the old part of the city to visit small workshops where you can see a variety of craftsmen at work.

Tonight is a free evening to explore. Let us know if you would like some restaurant recommendations.

Let’s get out of Mysuru for the day and see some rural life on our way to visit a coffee and spice plantation in Coorg. It is a couple of hours drive from Mysuru and we’ll see all sorts of interesting things along the way. If we are really lucky, we might spot some wild elephants as they are plentiful in this area. We will be met by the owner Subbaiah who will show us around and share his knowledge of growing spices, and which ones are particularly suited to growing amongst the coffee plants. By the time we get back to Mysuru, we suspect you’ll be happy to grab a bite at the hotel or in a nearby restaurant as depending on what we stop to look at, and how long we linger over lunch, it may be 7 pm or later before we return.

This morning we visit Earth Loaf who handcraft their artisan chocolate in small batches.  They employ as many manual techniques as possible which demands skill and well-cultivated techniques.  Their chocolate is hand wrapped with care on beautiful paper that is silk screen printed by hand in Mysuru.  All ingredients are sourced from farms in India, 95% of which are organically certified. Their sourcing policy supports healthy and pristine agricultural land.  They employ local people and are teaching them transferable skills through their artisan training program.

We will learn about the bean to bar process and the founders’ journey to make India’s premier gourmet chocolate. And of course, we’ll be doing some tasting. The hardest part will be deciding which ones to buy to take home!

This afternoon we are back in the kitchen to learn some more delicious dishes and ways to combine spices. You will be experts by now. After enjoying the meal you helped prepare, you have a free evening to explore.

This morning is our last cooking class. You’ll be going home with not only lots of recipes but new techniques of blending spices ready to cook a delicious meal for friends and family at home.

After feasting on the fruits of your labour, the rest of the day is free. We have other activities you might like to do, or perhaps a massage and a relax by the pool. There are many things to see and do in Mysore and we are here for you to help you plan your free time to be as busy or relaxed as you wish.

After a leisurely breakfast, your auto driver will take you to your workshop or activity, (block printing, wooden inlay or silver jewellery making among others), to meet the artisan who will be guiding you through the process of your chosen craft. Lunch will be delivered by tiffin. Have you seen the movie The Lunch Box? If you haven’t it’s a fun one to whet your appetite for India! Not saying you’ll be getting the love notes, but having a tiffin delivered is like having a picnic Indian style.

We’ll be back in time for you to relax for a couple of hours before we meet for a drink followed by dinner at the beautiful Lalitha Mahal Palace. Sitting in the grand ballroom, you’ll find yourself wondering about the guests and dignitaries who dined and danced here in the early 1900s when the palace was built by the then Maharaja of Mysuru.

Tonight is our last night in Mysuru so we say goodbye to Varis, Ravitej and our local guides.

We will be up early for breakfast this morning as we are travelling to Delhi. An air-conditioned transfer will take you from Mysuru to Bengaluru airport to board our flight.

Delhi is a melting pot of cultures and religions. You can see India’s colourful past in its monuments, its palaces, and in the faces of its people. The pulse of the city is tangible and it’s a rather stark contrast to Mysuru which will now seem like a sleepy little town!

On arrival into Delhi, we go straight to Mona and Sanjay’s home. They have invited us to join them for dinner and drinks to experience real Indian hospitality before we continue onto our hotel where we will stay for the next three nights.

Today we will experience a ride on the Delhi Metro to Chawri Bazar metro station. Travelling on this world-class train and arriving at an area that has not changed much in the past 50 years is a true example of the parallel existence of old and new!

When we arrive we will walk through the lanes of Old Delhi towards Jama Masjid. Built between 1644 and 1656 it was constructed by more than 5000 workers. It was commissioned by Shah Jahan who also built the Red Fort in New Delhi and The Taj Mahal.

Next, we’ll jump onboard a cycle rickshaw and wind our way through the lanes of “Chandni Chowk” in Old Delhi experiencing the sights and sounds of this very busy part of Old Delhi. Chandni Chowk literally means “moonlit crossroads.” It’s a thrill being driven through its crowded bazaars, twisting lanes, a maze of small streets filled with the pungent aroma of spices and cries of shopkeepers and rickshaw-walas. This is Delhi’s most populated area and largest marketplace. This is an exciting part of the city filled with life as people go about their daily business.

This afternoon we will go on a walking tour through Old Delhi to sample the street food in the noisy labyrinth of Chawri Bazaar. The dishes one can savour in Old Delhi Food Walk are large, thick and juicy jalebis, glistening with ghee; Aloo chaat: crisply fried potato cutlets dunked in a mélange of chutneys and smattered with onions and spices; varieties of stuffed parathas -potato, onion, cottage cheese, cauliflower to name a few. There will be non-vegetarian options also, followed by dessert.

After our walking tour finishes, we will go back to our hotel early evening. Our guess is no-one will be wanting dinner tonight!

New Delhi: A touch of faith, philosophy and British India

The discovery of New Delhi starts with a visit to Qutab Minar, a 73 metre tall minaret which is the first of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites we will see over the next few days We will visit the mosques, mausoleums and ruins of forts that lie around it and learn about some of the history dating back to the 12th century.

We will also visit Humayun’s tomb – a magnificent structure in red sandstone and white marble. It is one of the finest examples of a garden tomb and a precursor to the Taj Mahal. Our second UNESCO World Heritage Site today.

Now we will head to one of the most colonial parts of New Delhi called Raisina Hill. We will see many buildings built by the British Architect Lutyen including the home of the President of India and the Indian Gate. We’ll take a drive around Connaught Place. When it came into being, this sprawling circular market was the largest of its kind in India.

We will visit a Sikh place of worship called a Gurdwara or Temple. This shrine is the scene of constant devotional music, whose ethereal tones are relayed throughout the entire complex. A Sikh temple without a community kitchen known as a “langar” in inconceivable. Food is served 24 hours a day to visitors without any distinction of caste creed, colour or religion. Approximately 40,000 visitors share meals here every day. We may join the queue here for lunch, or have lunch in a nearby restaurant.

After lunch, we will visit the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum before returning to our hotel in time to freshen up for dinner. Due to the traffic, we like to keep our days a bit fluid, so this is an optional visit and will depend somewhat on what time we leave the temple and how everyone is feeling on the day.

Tonight is a free evening and we will have lots of suggestions for places to dine with the locals and cool bars to relax in after a long day. Whether we all hang out together, or you prefer to go off and explore on your own, Lee and Catherine will be around to help plan your evening.

After breakfast, we will be leaving Delhi and driving in air-conditioned transport to Agra. Agra is a virtual gateway to a world of discovery. It is the city that created the most extravagant monument ever built for love. While you enjoy a buffet lunch at the hotel Catherine will arrange check-in.

After lunch, we will be visiting the Itmad-Ud-Daulah. This is one of the three most important monuments of Agra, also known as the Baby Taj in spite of the fact it was built first.

This evening we pile into our waiting autorickshaws and visit The Taj Mahal to see this monument by the light of the setting sun from a vantage point across the river.

Tonight we are taking part in an interactive cooking session in one of the kitchens at our hotel. This will give you some insight into North Indian cuisine, and how it differs to the South Indian cuisine we’ve been cooking and eating in Mysuru and an insight into how a kitchen in a 5-star hotel operates. Following this session, we’ll enjoy dinner at the restaurant.

Our hotel has a lovely rooftop restaurant/bar where you can relax after dinner. It has a wonderful view of The Taj Mahal, however, it is not lit at night. Can you guess the reason?

They say the Taj Mahal changes its moods with the seasons and the different times of the day. At dawn, the marble has a delicate bloom in shell pink, by noon it glitters majestically white, turning to a soft pearly grey at dusk.

This morning we will be visiting the Taj Mahal and see it by the light of the rising sun. To make the most of this experience we will be leaving our hotel before dawn so we can witness the changing beauty the sun brings to this spectacular monument.

We will return to the hotel for breakfast and to change into whatever you have decided you are willing to destroy today – let’s play Holi!

Holi is an ancient Hindu festival which originated as a celebration of the end of winter and beginning of spring. Today Holi is a time when Indians across the nation gather together with family, friends and neighbours to throw powder bombs, firewater pistols and splash coloured water as they run through the streets. Shops and businesses close for the day. The myths and legends that surround Holi differ around the country, but the basic principle remains the same. Holi is meant to symbolise the triumph of good over evil, the importance of love and of happiness, and supports the formation of new friendships.

This evening we’ve arranged a farewell dinner on the rooftop of our hotel. After a long day playing Holi staying close to home will be welcome. It’s our last evening together and by now we are sure you will be saying goodbye to new friends. (alcoholic drinks are payable direct)

This morning we have an optional visit to the Agra Fort using horse-drawn tonga’s to get to and from the fort. Within the fort are several fascinating buildings – the Pearl Mosque built of marble, the Hall of Public Audiences, the Hall of Private Audiences where the famous peacock throne was kept, the Octagonal Tower, the Jehangir Palace built by Akbar for his son Jehangir and the Khas Mahal, a beautiful white marble structure used as a private palace.

If you are too tired from playing Holi or have had enough of history and monuments, you can have a leisurely morning relaxing by the pool. If you would like to see some local handicrafts or visit some local shops, we will happily arrange this for you too.

After checkout, we recommend you have lunch before we drive back to Delhi to board your flight back home or onward to your next destination.

On arrival at Delhi International Airport, lounge facilities are provided by the Plaza Premium Lounge for two hours to freshen up again before your flight.

We hope you go home with a heart full of wonderful memories of our journey to India together. May the memories made on this trip we shared last a lifetime. We feel sure that you will have been touched by the people you have met, that you will have learnt much about India and its culture and perhaps a little something about yourself.  We thank you for joining us.

Namaste
Catherine, Varis, Lee from Rafi’s Spicebox and the Skillstourism Team

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

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