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The Grand Tour of India

5 October - 5 November 2007

A unique adventure of discovery - driving your own 4x4

An unforgettable experience

In a two-month period, January to March 2007, Tim “Jingers” Riley, Arne Hertz and I, accompanied by colleagues from our Indian partners Go India Journeys, undertook a comprehensive survey of the route, checking all the accommodation to be used and attractions along the way.  We covered over 15,000 km - around twice the final route distance.

This was a wonderful experience for all concerned and we can promise you a truly fabulous trip.  India surpassed our expectations in many, many ways, and surprised us in many others.

The final route follows the general lines of the original Provisional Itinerary, but takes account of the constructive and helpful comments made to us after La Aventura Panamericana - in particular, the wish for some days to be a little shorter - and of the realities of motoring in India, where comfortable average speeds tend to be lower than in other parts of the world.  As a result, we have divided some of our original days by inserting an additional overnight halt, and we have put in an extra rest day - making seven instead of six.  To make this possible, we have had to cut out the southernmost loop of the route, including the overnights at Bangalore, Ooty and Mangalore.  I was sorry about Ooty, but I hope that our rest day at another major hill station, Shimla, will make up for its loss.

We also had to move Agra to a later point in the route, to avoid an impossibly long day on bad roads from Corbett to Gwalior, and have cut out the rest day here as, Taj Mahal apart (a two-hour visit before breakfast), there is much more to see at Jaipur.  One casualty of this route change may be our use of the Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel at Agra, where we are waitlisted for our new date there, but the alternative, the Taj-View, is a good hotel, and I believe that our two nights in Oberoi’s Wildflower Hall at Shimla will more than make up for any disappointment here.

Our visits to the tiger reserves made it clear that by far the best chances of actually seeing tigers are at Bandhavgarh and Kanha, so we have inserted an overnight at the former and cut out the second night at Corbett.  My own close-up view from elephant back of two tigers feeding will remain one of the unforgettable experiences of my life.

The lack of reliable maps made it a long, hard job to find the kind of route we were looking for: quiet and pleasant secondary and rural roads through interesting scenery, off the beaten track, away from busy main highways.  However, I am delighted to say that we have succeeded in putting together an itinerary that fully meets these aims.  On the three or four occasions where we do use longer stretches of trunk highway, to cover long distances quickly, we found these in every case to be relatively traffic free, enabling good average speeds to be comfortably maintained.

Finally, I am glad to report that we were able to record a GPS track of the whole route (apart from a few optional detours), as well as some 500 waypoints, on our Garmin GPSmap 276C, and plan to make a CD of these available to participants.  In view of the lack of good maps, I think this will be an invaluable navigation aid.

John Brown

15 March 2007

Revised Itinerary

as at 15 March 2007

Thursday 4 October  Most participants are arriving in Mumbai (Bombay) on this day or earlier.  If you do, this will greatly facilitate the speedy collection of your vehicle, as the import carnet has to be stamped into the first driver’s passport.  Hired vehicles, too, are better collected today if possible.  Special rates for this and any previous extra nights. Taj Mahal Hotel

Friday 5 October  If your vehicle is being shipped in, you should arrive at the latest early this morning in Mumbai (Bombay) at our HQ hotel, the sumptuous and historic waterfront Taj Mahal, watering hole of the British Raj.  Collect your vehicle from our shipping agent or rental company - your entry fee includes shipment of your own vehicle or rental of a local 4x4.  Evening: get-together reception and dinner at an exclusive Mumbai venue.  Taj Mahal Hotel

Saturday 6 October  Registration of participants; last minute preparation and official inspection of vehicles.  Evening: send-off party and dinner in our hotel.  Taj Mahal Hotel

Sunday 7 October: Day One: Mumbai - Aurangabad (432 km/270 mi)  We avoid Mumbai’s notorious traffic jams by making an early start in front of the hotel, with a ceremonial flagging-off at the Gateway of India, the great waterfront arch built by the British which for many was their first sight of India.  We take an easy route out of the city, then use quiet secondary roads to climb the spectacular 800m (2,600ft) Malshej pass into the rocky Western Ghats, where a loop on minor roads brings our first experience of rural India.  Then an easy run across the plateau takes us to the amazing rock-carved temples of the Ellora Caves, dating from 600-1,000 AD; allow at least an hour here.  We pass the great hilltop Daulatabad Fort before arriving at our overnight halt, AurangabadTaj Residency Hotel

Monday 8 October: Day Two: Aurangabad - Indore (406 km/254 mi)  We spend a couple of hours visiting the equally fantastic (but earlier - 200 BC to 650 AD) Ajanta Caves, and then take a pleasant run northwards, with short detours to a couple of India’s unknown surprises, an impressive but seldom visited hilltop fort reached by a 4 km jeep trail, and a great modern Hindu temple complex.  Overnight at the modern industrial city of IndoreFortune Landmark Hotel

Tuesday 9 October: Day Three: Indore - Udaipur (398 km/249 mi)  A cross country run into the desert province of Rajasthan, through the little town of Sailana, full of picturesque old houses, where we can visit another unknown surprise, the maharajah’s palace and cactus garden.  At Udaipur, city of palaces, we overnight in Condé Nast’s “most romantic hotel in the world”, a fabulous maharajah’s extravagance on an island in the lake.  Lake Palace

Wednesday 10 October: Day Four: Udaipur - Jodhpur (336 km/210 mi)  A shorter day’s run allows plenty of time for sightseeing, as we use lovely country roads through the hills to visit two terrific places off the beaten track, great rambling Kumbalgarh Fort and the impressive Jain holy site of Ranakpur, a medieval cathedral of richly carved translucent marble.  There’s an optional 15-km 4x4 forest trail.  We stay the night at Jodhpur in the unsurpassable luxury of the amazing Umaid Bhawan Palace, scene of Elizabeth Hurley’s recent wedding, and if it’s fine we will enjoy a candlelit dinner on the lawns at the actual site of the marriage ceremony.  Don’t miss a dip in the Maharajah’s sumptuous period indoor swimming pool.  Umaid Bhawan Palace

Thursday 11 October: Day Five: Jodhpur - Jaipur  (403 km/252 mi)  A day of forts.  We start with a quick drive up to Jodhpur’s great Mehrangarh Fort, towering over the Blue City, then take easy secondary roads across the arid land, where camel carts abound, to Pushkar, whose temple-lined holy lake is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus and hippies alike - you can make an optional 4km tour round it.  We take quiet minor roads past a couple more small hilltop forts, with an optional detour to another imposing one at Khuchaman, now a hotel where a jeep will take you up the precipitous cobbled access road to lunch.  We pass at least five more forts and the great Sambhar Salt Lake, en route to the city of Jaipur and another pair of superb hotels in rajah’s palaces.  Rambagh Palace/Jai Mahal Palace  

Friday 12 October: Day Six: rest day, Jaipur.  The old walled town of Jaipur, the Pink City, is so beautiful, so unspoiled and has so much to see and do (including excellent museums and wonderful shopping) that we just had to make it a rest day.  Tonight, weather permitting, we will have an elephant polo match (UK v Rest of the World), followed by a candlelit dinner, on the private lawns of the Maharajah of Jaipur’s palace.  Rambagh Palace/Jai Mahal Palace  

Saturday 13 October: Day Seven: Jaipur - Delhi  (342 km/214 mi)  On the way out of Jaipur, there’s an optional detour to visit Nahargarh and Jaigarh forts, before we pause at the famous Amber Fort, where you can take an elephant ride up to the main gate.  Then we take attractive secondary roads through the hills to Sariska National Park, before crossing to the expressway which takes us swiftly and easily into Delhi, where we pass through Sir Edwin Lutyens’ formal capital complex and along the great drive of the Rajpath to the India Gate, and on to our luxury hotel. Taj Mahal Hotel

Sunday 14 October: Day Eight: rest day, Delhi  There’s an optional tour to visit world-class sights like the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid Mosque, or you can rent a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) to explore the shops and markets of this great city, or just relax by the hotel pool.  Evening: optional son et lumière. Taj Mahal Hotel

Monday 15 October: Day Nine: Delhi - Amritsar (467 km/292 mi)  We take an easy route out of the city then use the free-flowing Grand Trunk expressway to reach the Punjab city whose name means Pool of the Nectar of Immortality.  Ritz Plaza Hotel/MK International Hotel

Tuesday 16 October: Day Ten: Amritsar - McLeodganj (201 km/125 mi)  The reason why Amritsar is a must is the fabulous Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh sites, an unforgettable place to visit; do so early in the morning, taking a tuk-tuk from the hotel.  A poignant place is the Jallianwala Bagh memorial garden on the site of the terrible massacre in 1919 of 379 unarmed civilians by British soldiers under the orders of General Dyer.  Then we head north-east to Pathankot, terminus of a little known narrow gauge railway.  We climb into the lower Himalayas, where there’s a long optional detour (132 km/83 mi extra) on super mountain roads to the old hill station of Dalhousie, before arriving at the Buddhist centre of Dharamshala, the Dalai Lama’s capital in exile.  Our hotel is further up the mountain at the old hill station of McLeodganj.  Surya Resort Hotel

Wednesday 17 October: Day Eleven: McLeodganj - Manali (179 km/112 mi)  Take a little time to stroll round McLeodganj or Dharamshala before setting off on this day, shorter in distance but using some spectacular but slow mountain roads, including 15km of gravel - there’s an asphalt option.  There’s a loop on by-roads to pass through “Little Tibet, a tea-growing area of colourful Buddhist stupas, temples and monasteries.  We overnight at the main resort in this part of the Himalayas, Manali.  Holiday Inn

Thursday 18 October: Day Twelve: Manali - Shimla (252 km/157 mi)  A short but stunning day’s drive through the mountains, including the rugged Jalori La pass (3,220m/10,550 ft), the highest point of the trip, brings us to our sumptuous country hotel 15 km before Shimla.  Oberoi Wildflower Hall

Friday 19 October: Day 13: rest day, Shimla.  A day to explore the virtual summer capital of the British raj, Shimla, where colonial administrators escaped Delhi’s fierce heat, and which still retains many reminders of those days; or take a short ride on the “toy train”, Shimla’s narrow gauge railway; or just chill our at our superb hotel.  Oberoi Wildflower Hall

Saturday 20 October: Day 14: Shimla - Ananda (297 km/186 mi)  Another great day’s drive through the mountains, starting with 100 km of scenic minor roads (some gravel), then using secondary highways skirting Dehra Dun to reach Rishikesh, where pilgrims purify themselves in the Ganga (Ganges), here a clear mountain river, and the hill resort of AnandaAnanda-in-the-Himalayas

Sunday 21 October: Day 15: rest day, Ananda  We spend the day at this fabulously luxurious spa, where a wide range of optional activities beckon, including white water rafting on the Ganges, and a visit to the evening ceremony at a temple in Rishikesh.  Ananda-in-the-Himalayas

Monday 22 October: Day 16: Ananda - Corbett Tiger Reserve (284 km/177 mi).  This is a real driver’s day, running almost continuously on remote, slow and twisting mountain roads, about 55 km on gravel, through spectacular scenery, including breathtaking views of the Ganges gorge.  You will need to carry spare fuel, as there are no filling stations after we leave Rishikesh.  We stay at a very pleasant lodge on the edge of the Reserve. The Corbett Hideaway

Tuesday 23 October: Day 17: Corbett Tiger Reserve - Agra (361 km/226 mi)  We start the day before breakfast, with a jungle safari by jeep, or (at extra cost) on elephant back; you will see plenty of interesting wildlife, but don’t expect to spot a tiger here.  Then we take well surfaced mainly truck-free secondary roads across the flat farming lands of Uttar Pradesh, perhaps crossing the Ganges by a memorable old pontoon bridge (unless its new concrete successor, nearing completion, is open).  Coming into Agra, we pause as the impressive Akbar’s Tomb, and pass in front of the great imperial seat of the Red FortOberoi Amarvilas Hotel (waitlisted) or Taj-View Hotel

Wednesday 24 October: Day 18: Agra - Gwalior (180 km/113 mi)  Today brings one of the unforgettable highlights of the event, an early morning visit to the magnificent Taj Mahal.  For our route survey crew, this (despite all the hype) far surpassed expectations.  Then we drive 40 km to the superb site of Fatehpur Sikri.  Built between 1571 and 1585 as a Moghul emperor’s capital, it was abandoned after just 14 years and remains in a remarkable state of preservation - don’t miss the Jama Masjid mosque.  We then travel on country roads to join the expressway to the historic city of Gwalior, where we visit the great hilltop fort.  Our hotel is yet another luxurious maharajah’s palace.  Usha Kiran Palace

Thursday 25 October: Day 19: Gwalior - Khajuraho (290 km/180 mi)  This is a day of great discoveries, visiting a succession of those wonderful but little known places with which India abounds.  We start by making detours from the main road to visit a superb complex of Jain temples at Sonagiri, the fascinating little walled city of Datia, and the great fort at Jhansi.  Then we explore the magnificent temple and palace complex of Orchha, another ancient abandoned city, before finally driving on to Khajuraho, whose great temples are notorious for their rampant writhing wealth of erotic sculptures, but have much more to offer.  If you arrive too late to see them tonight, don’t worry - you can go early tomorrow.  Taj Chandela Hotel

Friday 26 October: Day 20: Khajuraho - Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (304 km/190 mi)   The temples open at sunrise (about 06:05 today), and this may the best time to see the sculptures, before setting off on quiet, well surfaced roads down the hilly spine of the country; but leave before 09:00 if you want to arrive at Bandhavgarh in time for an afternoon game drive.  Tiger's Den Resort/Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge

Saturday 27 October: Day 21: Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve - Kanha Tiger Reserve (236 km/148 mi)  Nobody can guarantee that you will see a tiger in the wild, but your best chance of doing so is at one of these two national parks.  Through animal cries and other clues, the rangers and guides know where a kill is made during the night, and arrange for elephants stationed in the park to converge nearby.  Your jeep takes you to this point, where you mount on to elephant back to approach very close indeed to the tiger (or, in our survey crew’s case at Bandhavgarh, two tigers) devouring their prey.  A breathtaking, unforgettable sight.  After we return from the safari, we take a quick and easy journey on excellent, attractive country roads to Kanha, where we stay two nights in high quality game lodges.  Tuli Tiger Resort/Wild Chalet Resort

Sunday 28 October: Day 22: rest day, Kanha Tiger Reserve  We take morning and afternoon game drives spotting game, and looking for the elusive tiger - this is another good place for them - or just relaxing.  Tuli Tiger Resort/Wild Chalet Resort

Monday 29 October: Day 23: Kanha Tiger Reserve - Nagpur (267 km/166 mi)  A final morning game drive at Kanha before a fairly short cross-country journey, passing the ancient fort and temples of Ramtek, to the major city of NagpurTuli International Hotel

Tuesday 30 October: Day 24: Nagpur - Hyderabad (540 km/335 mi)  At Wardha, we make a pilgrimage to Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, preserved as he left it, a peaceful and memorable place, where you can see his personal belongings and watch hand spinning and other rural crafts; then it’s a long run south to the great old city of Hyderabad.  We had been afraid that the National Highway would be insufferably congested and dangerous, but we need not have worried; it is an easy and rapid run.  Our hotel is one of the Taj Group’s finest.  Taj Krishna Hotel

Wednesday 31 October: Day 25: rest day, Hyderabad  There’s an optional visit to the historic area around the famous Char Minar minarets, and the Lad Bazar, a wonderful place to find a bargain - Hyderabad is a world centre of the pearl market.  In the evening there’s the chance to see the son et lumière at the great Golconda Fort, followed by a traditional Chowki dinner at Falaknuma Palace, the Nizam of Hyderabad’s historic residence.  Taj Krishna Hotel

Thursday 1 November: Day 26: Hyderabad - Hospet (445 km/278 mi).  We make an early start for a long day’s drive across the Deccan plateau on quiet but fast secondary roads, via a couple of amazing unknown forts, to Hampi-Vijayanagara, the vast and rich abandoned capital of a Hindu empire, then on to the nearby town of HospetMalligi Hotel

Friday 2 November: Day 27: Hospet - Goa (345 km/216 mi)  A pleasant run on quiet and attractive roads, before the scenic descent of the Western Ghats into Goa.  We make a short tour of the wonderful Portuguese churches and other buildings of Old Goa before arriving at our hotel, a stunning oceanside resort.  Fort Aguada Beach Resort

Saturday 3 November: Day 28: rest day in Goa  Chill out on the gorgeous beach or by the pool; or browse the markets of this fascinating former Portuguese colony.  This evening enjoy a Goan seafood feast at a beach shack.  Fort Aguada Beach Resort

Sunday 4 November: Day 29: Goa - Chiplun (354 km/221 mi).  We meander up the coast, mainly on minor roads through attractive villages.  There’s an optional detour to Vijayadurg, a charming little port overlooked by an imposing fort.  Then we follow the main highway (not too busy here) through the small town of Chiplun to our excellent resort hotel, set high in the hills.  Riverview Resort

Monday 5 November: Day 30: Chiplun - Mumbai (255 km/159 mi).  Our last day is a short one, following the main highway (which isn’t too busy) up to Mumbai, to arrive early afternoon at the ceremonial finish at the Gateway to India.  Cars for shipping should if possible be taken to the docks today, especially if you plan to leave Mumbai tomorrow..  Tonight, there’s a special farewell party at the famous Salt Water Grill.  Taj Mahal Hotel

Tuesday 6 November  If not done yesterday, deliver your vehicle to the shipping agent (or back to the rental company) first thing, and fly home; but why not stay for a while and take advantage of the special deals we will be offering in Mumbai, Goa or elsewhere in India?

The above programme is provisional and subject to amendment.  The distances given are approximate.  The total distance is approximately 7,574 km/4,734 mi.

JB/s

17/3/2007

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