THE 2K14 FORECAST TO WHAT’S HOT IN INDIA: WHY 2014 IS SET TO BE INDIA’S YEAR…

With an incredible new ship setting sail on the Ganges, India’s first truly mobile luxury camp extending their calendar for the year ahead and the debut of a new expert-guided food tour, India is one of Asia’s most dynamic and exciting destinations right now. Here are the finest new experiences in India we will have our eye on in 2014.

THE INDIA HOT LIST

…For the adventurous

THE ULTIMATE TRAVELLING CAMP: THIKSEY – NAGALAND – KOHIMA: NOVEMBER 2013 – MARCH 2014
The Ultimate Travelling Camp, India (1)
August 2013 saw the launch of The Ultimate Travelling Camp – a brand new travelling camp around India. As the first truly mobile luxury camps in India, the camps span over a calendar of destinations and festivals in India throughout late 2013 and into 2014 and encompass mountains, deserts, countryside, and jungles. Guests of the camp will get the chance to venture to unexplored and off-the-beaten-track places while staying in true Nomadic style with added luxury – each of the tents feature en suite bathrooms, private decks, and a private butler. Experiences can include catching glimpses of the elusive tiger in the golden hue of the evening sky in Dudhwa, meeting gurus from the far reaches of the Himalayas, rafting down the River Indus, watching a game of polo at 12,000 feet and dining on a deserted mountain pass. The first Camp to launch was The Chamba Camp in Thiskey, which is situated in the shadow of the Thiskey Monastery but further scheduled camps for the remainder of 2013/14 include the Nagaland Camp running 27 November – 5 December 2013 over the Hornbill Festival, Duhwa Camp from 15 November 2013 – 20 March 2014 and the Kohima Camp from 15 November – 30 March 2014. From £3298.00 per person, based on two sharing and including return international economy flights from London – Delhi, return domestic flights between Delhi – Leh and airport transfers, 5 nights full board in a luxury tent at the Chamba Camp, 2 nights B&B at Trident Gurgaon, and 2 half day tours of Delhi.

…For the ultimate foodie

THE ART OF LIVING TO EAT, A CULINARY TOUR FROM AHMEDABAD – AMRITSAR – CALCUTTA – HYDERABAD: 7 – 19 JANUARY 2014
food tour of India
Debuting in January, The Art of Living to Eat is a foodie tour like no other and a true feast for the mind with passionate Indian food historian, Jonty Rajagopolan. The 13- day culinary journey will see food lovers travel from the food of the streets to the kitchens of the Kings between the cities of Ahmedabad – Amritsar – Calcutta – Hyderabad, experiencing a way of life where every meal is a celebration of life itself. Jonty will reveal fresh insight into how food is so closely influenced by both the country’s religion and culture and will also highlight how each region’s character comes into its own in the kitchen. Highlights of the trip include a visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar and being welcomed into local village homes for traditional feasts. The January 2014 tour is the first in a series running throughout the year.
The 13-day Art of Living to Eat tour is available from £5,860 per person, based on two sharing and including international flights, domestic flights in India, 13 nights accommodation, all meals, activities, entrances, road transport and tour leader plus a daily gift.

…For spa worshippers

THE LAUNCH OF VANA RETREAT, MALSI ESTATE: JANUARY 2014
Launching January 2014, Vana Malsi Estate is already being tipped to become the best destination spa in India. Located in Dehradun, the 21-acre estate is set amidst Sal forest with peaceful views of the lower Himalayan foothills and will offer ayurveda and yoga in their purest form, along with holistic oriental therapies, spa treatments, aqua therapies, fitness, meditation and nutrition, to create personalised retreats that ensure results. In addition to the 90 contemporary designed guestrooms, suites and villas, there will be two restaurants, both with unique concepts of reflecting wellness and ayurvedic principles.
7 nights from £3,100 per person including full board accommodation in a Garden Room, return domestic flights from Delhi, use of all resort facilities, specialist consultations and spa treatment of choice.

…For those with a love of the water

THE LAUNCH OF ABN RAJMAHAL GANGES: FEBRUARY 2014
Launching on the waters of the Ganges in mid-February 2014, this brand new, specially-designed ship will offer a schedule of weekly 7-night Ganges cruises from Patna right up to the city of Varanasi. Operating only in periods of high water, when India is at its most lush and attractive, the boat will explore untouched villages and towns of rural India with sightseeing excursions to some of the regions most important historical and religious sites, including two daysof sightseeing in Varanasi itself. The ship itself will boast 22 spacious cabins: 14 doubles on the upper deck, 4 doubles on the main deck and 4 singles, all of which will have full length French balconies. The dining room features a saloon with bar, while other facilities include a small Mimasa spa, library and vast sun deck with demountable canopy – this feature, together with a draught of only 1 metre, allows the ship to reach as far upstream as Varanasi at certain times of the year.
From £2555 per person, including a 7 night cruise, 1 night in Patna, 1 in Varanasi and international flights.

INTRODUCING SUKOON – A NEW ECO LUXURY HOUSEBOAT IN SRINAGAR, KASHMIR
Sukoon, Kashmir, North India (4)
The summer capital of Kashmir, standing on the picturesque Dal Lake and Jhelum River, Srinagar is an alpine paradise of high Himalayan mountains, snow clad high altitude lakes, streams, rivers and spectacular landscapes. The lakes and waterways in and around Srinagar are serene in beauty and a trip to Kashmir is not complete without a stay on a houseboat – a throwback from the Raj when the British were not allowed to build their homes on land. The latest and arguably Kashmir’s most stylish houseboat is the Sukoon. Moored on the Dal Lake in the heart of the verdant Kashmir Valley, Sukoon – a Sufi term for an elevated state of mind combining peace, wisdom and contentment – has five en-suite bedrooms each named after the famous Mughal Gardens. There is a communal sitting and dining room to relax in by day while nights can be spent dining under the endless canopy of stars, lulled by the gently lapping water. Other activities available in the vicinity include mountaineering, trekking, water trekking, snow skiing, heli-skiing, rafting, water skiing, trout fishing and river rafting.
5 nights from £1,170 per person including international and domestic flights plus return transfers from Srinagar Airport.

…For wildlife lovers

SUJAN EXPANDS PORTFOLIO WITH THE LAUNCH OF JAWAI LEOPARD CAMP, RAJASTHAN
jawai-leopard-camp-banner2This December sees the launch of the JAWAI Leopard Camp – the latest addition to the SUJAN portfolio, located in the heart of Rajasthan’s untrammelled wilderness between the former kingdoms of Jodhpur and Udaipur. The Camp will comprise eight luxurious tented suites and is the only property to lie within this unexplored region of outstanding natural beauty. The landscape hosts a diverse eco-system, at the top of which sits the leopard. While sightings are not easy throughout its global range and in India, at JAWAI the probability if seeing the felines is close to 75%.

…For tea aficionados

NEW TEA TOURS AT THE TALAYAR VALLEY BUNGALOW, MUNNAR
Located 20km from the town of Munnar, The Talayar Valley Bunglow is a stunning four suite original bungalow built for a British plantation manager and exudes colonial character throughout. Brand new for 2014, Talayar will offer tea excursions to guests, enabling them to get to grips with how tea is produced – from learning to pluck tea from the field to operating the machinery in the tea factories.
5 nights from £1,350 per person including international flights and return transfers from Kochi Airport.

…For a seat with a view

NEW 10-SEATER KERALA SEA PLANE SERVICE:
Cochin Airport – Cochin City – Kumarakom – Alleppey – Kollam – Bekal
June 2013 saw the first seaplane service in Kerala launch, allowing tourists to travel the abundant water bodies across the state while enjoying the amazing views of Kerala’s luscious scenery. The new services now allows tourists to travel from Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Mangalore to several points in the backwaters like Alleppey, Kollam, Allapuzha, Kasargode and Ernakulam.

ALSO FOR THE RADAR, SOME AMPERSAND FAVOURITES FOR 2014

…Hot Hyderabad Hotels

Located deep in the southern part of central India, Hyderabad is a tale of two cities – the ancient and the modern. Whilst boasting hotels steeped in tradition such as the legendary Taj Falaknuma Palace, formerly the residence of Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan with 360 degree views over the city, remain a number of uber contemporary hotels have also recently sprung onto the scene. These include The Park – easily the funkiest hotel in Hyderabad with its quirky façade designed to emulate the metalwork found in the Nizam’s jewellery collection. Located in the heart of the city with 270 super contemporary guestrooms and suites, the hotel is also home to a spectacular 3D horizon pool, four restaurants, spa, salon, health club and nightclub.
Banjara Hils meanwhile is one of Hyderabad’s swanky new suburbs and the lavish Park Hyatt Hyderabad marked the first urban Park Hyatt in India when it launched in the area in March 2012. The hotel’s chandeliers take inspiration from the surrounding area in which some of the world’s biggest diamonds including the Koh-i- Noor were mined. In addition to its 209 rooms and suites and 42 serviced apartments, there is an impressive spa and four restaurants. A mecca for Hyderabad’s high society figures, the hotel also boasts the best brunch in town at weekends.
• 5 night stay at Taj Falaknuma Palace in a Palace Room from £2,280 per person including international flights and return airport transfers.
• 5 night stay at The Park in a Luxury Room from £1,290 per person including international flights and return airport transfers.
• 5 night stay at Park Hyatt Hyderabad in a View King Room from £1,490 per person including international flights and return airport transfers.

…Next big destination in Kerala

BEKAL
Located approx. 16km south on the national highway in the northern most district of Kerala, Bekal is a new destination on the tourist map. Known as Kasaragod, it is renowned as the land of Gods, forts, rivers, hills and beautiful beaches – the Bekal Fort is one of the largest and best preserved forts in Kerala. Vivanta by Taj Bekal is the newest property to launch in the area with 71 stylish villas and rooms, with Kettuvallam house boat motifs woven in Balinese design.
5 night stay at Taj Bekal in a Deluxe Delight with Courtyard room from £1,550 per person including international and domestic flights plus return transfers from Mangalore Airport.

…Just for the love of it

RAJAKKAD ESTATE, DINDIGUL, TAMIL NADU
IMG_6996Unveiled Autumn 2012, Rajakkad Estate is an intimate garden hotel with 7 unique bedrooms set within an 18th century wooden structure built in Keralan style with thousands of interlocking beams, panels and screens. The Rajakkad mansion is elevated 1000m above sea level deep within the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu and exudes a traditional yet refined style with colourful interiors. Rajakkad’s 45 acre estate is bursting with agricultural life.
5 night stay in a Deluxe Room from £1,310 per person including international and domestic flights plus return transfers from Madurai Airport.

PALAIS DE MAHÉ, PONDICHERRY
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Located in the French Quarter of the gracious town of Pondicherry, famed by Life of Pi, the Palais de Mahé is the latest property from Indian hotel group, CGH Earth. Launched just last December, this elegant three-storey mansion with walkways, porticos and a pièce de résistance swimming pool, is by far the best accommodation in Pondicherry. The hotel offers 18 spacious rooms and features unique architecture in French colonial style.
5 night stay from £1,140 including international flights and return transfers from Chennai Airport.

LAKSHMAN SAGAR, RAJASTHAN
Lakshman Sagar, Rajasthan, India
Launched July 2012 and founded by Singh Kochhar, Lashman Sagar is the third property to have launched under new hospitality brand Sewara. It is a boho chic property located a 2 and 1⁄2 hours drive from Jodhpur. Built in the late 19th century as a hunting lodge by the then Thakur of Raipur, accommodation now comprises of a dozen secluded mud-and-stone cottages each with their own plunge pool. Guests can enjoy copious activities including Nature Walks, Jeep Safaris and Horse Safaris through the ‘Badlands of India’ to a Fatehgarh dinner complete with Bullock Cart ride to the Raipur fort.
5 night stay from £1,370 per person including international and domestic flights plus return transfers from Jodhpur Airport.

SATPURA TIGER RESERVE, MADHYA PRADESH
The Satpura Tiger Reserve is an amalgamation of the Satpura National Park, the Bori Wild Life Sanctuary and the Pachmarhi Sanctuary. This prime wildlife habitat is relatively unknown and is rightly believed to be one of India’s best kept secrets. Here, patrons can explore true wilderness without crowds but also enjoy a diverse and unique range of activities. Apart from Jeep, Elephant and Boat Safaris, Satpura is the only park of its kind in Central India that offers Walking Safaris, giving enthusiasts a ‘one of a kind’ opportunity to explore tiger country on foot. Visitors are likely to sight Leopards, Sloth Bear, Indian Wild Dogs, hordes of Indian Gaur, Sambhar plus other herbivores found in Central India.
5 night stay at the Reni Pani Lodge from £1,500 per person including international and domestic flights plus return transfers from Bhopal Airport.

Contact us for more information or to book your tailor-made holiday to India – info@ampersandtravel.com / +44 (0)20 7819 9770

PHOTOBLOG: Our Top 10 Highlights of Bagan, Burma

Min ga la ba” and hello from Ellie and Sacha in the temple-strewn plains of Bagan! From the elegant southern city of Yangon, the second stop on our Burma reccy has taken us to central Burma – a breathtakingly beautiful landscape which is literally littered with thousands of ancient temples. Alas, it is time for us to leave (next stop: Mandalay), but these have been the Top 10 highlights of our stay in Bagan:

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A pre-breakfast dip in the pool at gorgeous Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort on the banks of the Irrawaddy River.

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The extraordinary views over hundreds of ancient ruins and pagodas which peek out from this remote jungle. Dawn is the best time to watch Bagan coming to life as the sun lights up her intricately carved temples, yet the temperature is not too hot.

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Ellie sampling some homemade alcohol at a toddy palm juice production plant at 9am!

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The ubiquitous tea leaf salad and green tea – a traditional Burmese welcome given to every guest who enters the home.

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We fell head over heels for Popa Mountain Resort, set high up in the hills not far from Bagan; the infinity pool provides the ultimate viewing spot of Mount Popa temple.

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But the ‘Best Swimming Pool in Bagan’ award really has to go to the Aureum Palace – check out that view!

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Our sunset boat cruise along the Irrawaddy rewarded us with panoramic views of the riverbank silhouetted by countless temples, near and far… a tremendously romantic experience as the sky turned pink.

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The utterly charming and remarkably named ‘Be Kind to Animals, The Moon’ vegetarian restaurant. The atmosphere is very sweet and the food is clearly made with love; we highly recommend trying the aubergine salad and the tea leaf salad.

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Horse-back riding is a great way to take in the quiet splendour of Bagan’s ancient temples. It is an experience as yet undiscovered by the majority of tourists and it lets you explore this vast archaeological site in a unique way.

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As if we needed persuading, this sunset on our final night here confirmed our desire to return to Bagan as soon as possible!

PHOTOBLOG: A perfect first day in Burma

Greeting from Yangon! Ampersand sales consultant, Ellie, and marketing manager, Sacha, are here on a 2 week reccy and have kicked off in style at the Governor’s Residence – Ampersand’s favourite hotel in Yangon. In amongst several hotel inspections, today we visited serene Kandawgyi Lake, the gigantic Reclining Buddha (Chaukhtatgyi Paya) and the shimmering Shwedagon Pagoda, which was so beautiful it seemed as if it had been dipped in liquid gold as the sun set on our first day in Burma.

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Breakfast with a view at the Governor’s Residence, Yangon

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The serenely seductive swimming pool at the Governor’s Residence, our favourite hotel in Yangon

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Mohinga, traditional Burmese breakfast of fish noodle soup at the Governor’s Residence, Yangon

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Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, as seen from across Kandawgyi Lake with Kandawgyi Palace Hotel sitting handsomely beneath it

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Reclining Buddha, Chaukhtatgyi Paya, Yangon

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Reclining Buddha, Chaukhtatgyi Paya, Yangon

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Ellie lighting a candle for wisdom at the Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Next stop: Bagan – one of the richest archaeological sites in the world, with some 5,000 monuments scattered across 26 square miles along the Irrawaddy riverbanks. To be continued…

Ampersand’s 7 Wonders of the Asian world

As the much admired Indian independence hero Nehru once said, “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. At Ampersand we couldn’t agree more and share India’s first Prime Minister’s voracious attitude towards travel. There are countless wonders to be discovered in the world, all one needs to do is to seek them out for yourself. And what better way to do so than in the height of luxury. Therefore we have compiled our own personal list of what we believe to be some of the most unmissable sights and experiences throughout the Asian continent. So, in no particular order – including a combination of man-made and natural marvels – these are Ampersand’s Seven Wonders of the Asian World.

1. Great Wall of China, China

Beijing, China (9)

The building of The Great Wall of China began in some sections as early as 7th century BC. It was largely maintained by the Ming Dynasty in order to prevent attacks from the surrounding nomadic tribes and was most famously penetrated by Genghis Khan and his formidable army. Still today, its remains represent as much of a psychological reminder of China’s strength, as a physical one. Easily accessible from Beijing, you can either visit the popular Jinshanling section of the wall or embark upon an unforgettable trek following the ancient Silk Road and tea trails. On his most recent trip to China, Ampersand MD, James Jayasundera, was astounded at the incredible standard of hotels, even in rural areas. We have several China itineraries that include a visit to the Great Wall for you to find some inspiration for your next trip.

2. Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia

Raja Ampat, Indonesia (5)

Located just off the island of New Guinea’s West Papua province, the Raja Ampat islands, otherwise known as the “Four Kings”, enjoy some of the most spectacular marine-biodiversity in the world. Whilst the coral reefs surrounding them may not be the largest in the world, scientists agree that these waters contain the most species-rich and bio-diverse in the ocean. Whether you are a first time snorkeller or seasoned diver you will be astounded by the incredible array of corals, fishes and other sea life there is to discover. Indonesia is also home to some of the most luxurious hotels in Asia, as well as several magnificent private charter boats, for the height of tailor-made luxury travel. We have several Indonesia itineraries that do or can include the Raja Ampat islands – many of our favourite resorts and boats are located or pass through there so we are sure you will find plenty of inspiration for your next trip to Indonesia!

3. The Potala Palace, Tibet

Potala Palace

Maybe not as well known as some of the other inclusions on our list and certainly not as frequently visited, the Potala Palace is a stark contrast to otherwise infinitely expansive landscape of Tibet. Situated at an altitude of 12,000 feet high it is the highest monastery on the planet. Built almost five centuries ago as the chief residence of the Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace is a living relic to the Buddhist religion. Still in use today, visitors will hear the same sounds of the monks chanting and smells of incense burning that have been filling its corridors for centuries. Whilst the accommodation in Tibet is basic, its endless, unspoiled, rugged vistas are a spectacle worth visiting. Tibet combines very well with Nepal.

4. The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Taj Mahal

We could not forgive ourselves, nor would any of our clients, if we did not include the Taj Mahal in our list of The Seven Wonders of the Asian World. Another member of the official modern wonders of the world, the Taj epitomises ‘seeing is believing’. All of our travel consultants have been there, most countless times, such is the draw of this incredible example of Mughal architecture. The story behind the building is almost as dramatic as the structure itself. The English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold describes it as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones”. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is a physical portrayal of everlasting love. We recommend sunrise as the best time to visit the Taj, to avoid the crowds and see the pink and golden hues of dawn reflected of its glowing, alabaster surface. Almost all of our North Indian itineraries visit the Taj Mahal so we are sure you will find something to wet your appetite. With Diwali and the Pushkar Camel Fair right round the corner (both in November), there has seldom been a better time to visit India.

5. Inle Lake, Burma 

Inle Lake

Inle Lake may not be the largest in Burma, but we think it is the most beautiful. As James Jayasundera, Ampersand’s MD, vividly describes upon his most recent visit:

Slicing through the water on Burma’s Inle Lake on a long-tail boat: The water, mountain and sky seemed to merge with one another and the colours were washed out into shades of blue and grey. It was cool – almost cold – and it felt surreal. Here, whole villages live on the water and crops are grown on small strips of floating islands. Rarely has reality felt more dreamlike.

There are a huge range of memorable activities on Inle Lake, from boat rides in a traditional long boat with their unique method of rowing with one foot, to a trip to the local markets to pick up some souvenirs from your trip; or one can simply sit back and watch the local villagers continue their daily life. Burma has opened up hugely in the last few years, becoming a much more accessible place for tourists. We cannot recommend it highly enough as a travel destination. The fact that a visit to Inle Lake could also mean a stay Ampersand favourite Inle Princess Resort makes this trip even more appealing! Several of our Burmese itineraries include Inle Lake.

6. The Himalayas

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Europe has the Alps; Asia has the Himalayas. Whilst the latter is not quite as popular a ski destination it is undisputedly more epic. Home to the planet’s highest peaks, including the formidable Mount Everest, the Himalayas has witnessed many a man try and fail to cross its mountain ranges. Nowadays, travel throughout the Himalayas is much more accessible, however, the higher you go, the less accommodating it becomes. Spanning Bhutan, India, Nepal, China and Pakistan the Himalayan mountain range crosses several destinations that we specialise in. There are some excellent spas and retreats located here for those looking for the ultimate escapist break. A perusal through some of the itineraries may well lead to the beginning of your Himalayan trip of a lifetime.

7. Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma

Shwedagon Pagoda

The second wonder of the Asian world to be located in Burma, The Shwedagon Pagoda, truly is testament to how culturally rich Burma is as a destination. Located in Yangon, to the west of the Kandawgyi Lake, it reaches almost 100 meters in height and is covered in glimmering gold leaf – an imposing and impressive sight and one that dominates the city’s skyline. It houses several relics sacred to Buddhist religion including eight strands of Gautama Buddha’s hair and a piece of Kassapa’s robe. We recommend that you visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in the afternoon to witness the setting sun being reflected of the pagoda’s golden domes. Unlike the Taj Mahal, we feel that on this occasion the presence of crowds heightens the experience, making the atmosphere electric and the event more tangible. A trip to Burma could mean ticking off two of Ampersand’s 7 Wonders of the Asian World!

For more information on these destinations or for more  inspiration please get in touch with one of our travel specialists on +44 (0)20 7819 9770, email info@ampersandtravel.com or browse our website http://www.ampersandtravel.com.

A GASTRONOMIC JOURNEY THROUGH INDIA – FROM MOUTH-WATERING STREET FOOD TO THE KITCHENS OF THE KINGS

THE ART OF LIVING TO EAT:
AHMEDABAD – AMRITSAR – CALCUTTA – HYDERABAD
5 – 18 JANUARY 2014
food tour of India

We are tremendously excited to invite you to join the ultimate culinary journey through the culturally diverse north, east, south and west of India. Created and led by passionate Indian food historian and a dear friend of ours, Jonty Rajagopolan, food lovers will experience a way of life where every meal is a celebration of life itself.  On a foodie tour like no other, Jonty’s feast for the mind teaches the art of living to eat.

Travelling with Jonty through India’s foodie heartland, she will reveal a fresh insight into how food is closely connected and influenced by both the country’s religion and culture. You will explore two of the country’s gastronomic ‘hubs’ – Hyderabad and Calcutta, and the emerging destinations of Amritsar and Ahmedabad, highlighting how each region’s character comes into its own in the kitchen.You will visit some of Jonty’s favourite temples, including the Golden Temple at Amritsar, and throughout this extraordinary journey you will discover some of India’s finest spice and vegetable markets and be warmly welcomed into village homes. A rare opportunity to see and understand how food and life has been so heavily influenced by Hindu and Jain beliefs.

Making its debut in January this thirteen-day tour will be the first in a series on offer throughout 2014, staying in some of the country’s finest hotels such as The Oberoi Grand, Calcutta and Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad. Regional highlights include:

  • Ahmedabad – located in the Western part of India and home to one of the country’s largest vegetarian populations, the guests will explore the connection between religion and food habits and the role played by Jainism in the growth of vegetarianism in the country.
  • Amritsar – located in the north west, bordering Pakistan, is where Jonty provides a fascinating insight into how this region has been influenced by Sikhism and its strong focus on the role of the community. This region with its fertile fields is also known for its culture of hospitality.
  • Calcutta – On the Eastern side of the country, Kolkata was the capital of the British East India Company and home to arguably the most evolved of all the Indian cuisines. A city obsessed with food, apart from authentic Bengali food, the guests will taste the best of the street food from Jhaal Muri to the Kathi rolls. Guests will also experience the legacy of the British through the Anglo-Indian cuisine, as well as discovering the ‘Indianisation’ of Chinese food. This state is also home to the most sought after Darjeeling tea, which guests will try during a tea-tasting lesson.
  • Hyderabad – located further South, the region is definitely one of the country’s leading foodie destinations and is synonymous with India’s most royal dish – the Biryani. The Nizams of Hyderabad came from the north with their Mughlai food and adopted some of the local flavours, leaving behind a distinctive cuisine filled with kebabs and curries. The region is also known for its fiery chillies and myriad of chutneys and pickles.
The 13-day Art of Living to Eat tour is available from £5,860 per person, based on two sharing and including international flights, domestic flights in India, 13 nights accommodation, all meals, activities, entrances, road transport and tour leader plus daily gift.The tour can also be tailor-made to cater for individual tastes. The first tour will depart on 5 January with further dates available throughout 2014. Please click here: ‘A Culinary Tour of India‘ to read the full itinerary.

Please do get in touch if you would like more information:
+44 (0)20 7819 9770
info@ampersandtravel.com
www.ampersandtravel.com

Telegraph Travel Awards Competition – Vote for Ampersand Travel!

As part of a massive £170,000 worth of holiday prizes to be won in conjunction with the Telegraph Travel Awards 2013, Ampersand Travel are offering a seven night holiday to India for two people with Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts, which is worth over £6,000. The prize includes return international flights, three nights at The Leela Palace in Delhi and four nights at The Leela Palace in Udaipur.

Entering yourself to win this amazing prize couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is vote in the 2013 Telegraph Travel Awards. Read more about the prizes to be won here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-competitions/10262288/Win-a-6000-Indian-holiday.html

You can vote for Ampersand Travel as best ‘Specialist Tour Operator’ here: https://ecustomeropinions.com/survey/survey.php?sid=187934811

Click on the images below to view a pop-up carousel of the journey you could win… Best of luck!

China: Why, Where and How to Travel

CHINA - Shanghai skyline

The world’s second largest, yet most populous country is still growing fast, there are currently an astounding 38 new airports being built in China. The architecture of the hotels in China is truly exceptional – standouts include the Park Hyatt in Shanghai with its award winning architecture and iconic pool on the 87th floor, the daring, arty and super sexy Opposite House in Beijing and the Peninsula in Shanghai.

Peninsula Shanghai

The Peninsula, Shanghai

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Opposite House, Beijing

SAMPLE ITINERARIES:

Cultural China – a Beginner’s Luxury TourCHINA - great wall of China

This 12-day tour is the perfect itinerary for those who have never been to China before, striking an ideal balance between the fascinating and historical cities and the stunning rural countryside. Visiting five of China’s most exciting destinations, Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Yangshuo and Shanghai, the itinerary highlights include picnicking along the Great Wall of China, walking amongst the Terracotta Warrior Army, cycling through the beautiful karst mountains of Yangshuo and exploring the Bund in Shanghai – all whilst staying in some of China’s most exceptional hotels. The 12-day Cultural China-A Beginner’s Luxury Tour starts from £3990 per person, including accommodation in Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Yangshuo and Shanghai, flights and transfers.

A Gastronomic tour of ChinaCHINA - Street Chef, Lijiang, Yunnan

Whilst the majority of people have eaten Chinese cuisine before, nothing compares to exploring the different flavours and styles of China’s provinces and cities in person. The itinerary visits the classic sites of China, whilst savouring the diverse culinary specialities that the country has to offer. Travel from Chengdu in the Sichuan province with its spicy Szechuan cuisine, to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warrior Army, then on to the capital Beijing with its Peking Duck and barbecue; Shanghai follows with a buzzing metropolitan atmosphere; the itinerary finishes in Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province, where the fresh, soft flavours of the food are one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cuisine. Cooking classes with professional chefs can always be organised, who will lead tours through the food markets to explain everything that is on display. Learning how to cook Chinese food, and experiment, can be organised; from dumpling-making classes to preparing spicy boiled chicken feet. The 14-day ‘A taste of the Orient’ itinerary costs from £4970 per person and includes accommodation in Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, flights and transfers.

South of the clouds – Delve into China’s Yunnan ProvinceCHINA - Yunnan, countryside view

Yunnan – which literally means “South of the Clouds”, due to its location just south of the Tibetan Plateau – is home to some of the most diverse cultures, ecology and terrain in China. Each hotel in this 13-day itinerary has been carefully selected to make the most of the incredible natural beauty and cultural activities on offer. Trek through the valleys and mountains, visiting Buddhist monasteries and local villages. From the capital of Yunnan, Kunmig, travel west onto Dali, a Ming-era town, tucked away between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, and experience a traditional Bai Tea Ceremony. Travel north to Shaxi, then to Lijiang – the Venice of the East, which lies in the shadow of the Jade Snow Dragon Mountain, then over the Yangtze River and Tiger Leaping Gorge on to the famous Shangri-La. The 13-day ‘South of the Clouds’ itinerary costs from £4735 per person, with accommodation in Kunming, Dali, Shaxi, Lijiang and Shangri-La, flights and transfers.

Aman Summer Palace & Amanfayun Experience… Twin-centre China Holiday from Beijing to Hangzhou
CHINA - Amanfuyan, Hangzhou

Explore two of China’s extremes – from the imperial grandeur of Aman’s Summer Palace to the picturesque and supremely peaceful surroundings of Amanfayun in Hangzhou. This is an ideal for those experiencing China for the first time but who also want a truly luxurious and exotic break. 
The 8-day ‘Aman Summer Palace & Amanfayun Experience ’ itinerary costs from £3250 per person, with accommodation in Beijing and Hangzhou, flights, transfers and privately guided tours.

For further information please contact Ampersand’s China Sales Specialist, Mark Wright – 020 7 819 9770 / mark@ampersandtravel.com

Escape to the ultimate eco island resort this summer

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**Four nights for the price of two at the Song Saa Private Island Resort

Song Saa Private Island Resort is the perfect island summer getaway for any family – and this summer it is even more accessible. Between July and September they are offering two complimentary nights stay when you book two nights.

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Set on two interconnecting islands, Song Saa is a haven of tranquillity with plenty of room for children to explore and adults to relax. With something for everyone you and your children will never run out of things to do. From private village tours by buffalo cart and hiking through the jungle, to sea kayaking and snorkelling on the island’s own private reef, there is a seemingly endless list of activities to tire even the liveliest of adventurers out. Another benefit of Song Saa is that it is all-inclusive and its contemporary Khmer fusion cuisine is a major draw, so there are certainly no unappealing hotel buffets here.

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Over the last five years it has undergone extensive rejuvenation of its flora, fauna and coral. 2013 saw the launch of the Song Saa Foundation which not only protects and conserves the island’s environment but provides education and health care to the local people. Song Saa sets itself apart from the rest with its strong philanthropic emphasis towards the island and its inhabitants. Find out more about the Song Saa Foundation here.

With its eco-friendly approach to tourism Song Saa is an ideal place to discover a new side to Cambodia and it would make an excellent addition to any itinerary. For more inspiration take a look at our “Laid-back Luxury” itinerary which, if staying between July and September, will include the four night discounted stay at Song Saa. To experience Song Saa for yourself, please get in touch with one of our consultants who can tailor-make your holiday to Cambodia. This experience works wonderfully when combined with a trip to Siem Reap first to explore the temples of Angkor Wat and a night or two in Phnom Penh before your beach holiday at Song Saa.

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For more information on these hotels or for more Cambodian inspiration please get in touch with one of our travel specialists on +44 (0)20 7819 9770, email info@ampersandtravel.com or browse our website http://www.ampersandtravel.com.

Ampersand’s foodie favourites: Asia on your front doorstep

ImageAt Ampersand we love food almost as much as we do travel and any occasion that can combine the two is a winner in our books. In keeping with our foodie theme we thought that we would share some of the Ampersand Travel team’s top recommendations for Asian restaurants in London. We believe that food is one of the best ways to experience a country’s culture and customs and these culinary hotspots are a great way to make you feel as though you are on the other side of the world!

Our top picks from around London are:

Ellie: For a funky Indian Ellie recommends Mint Leaf, Haymarket or for a Chinese that would impress the Emperor Ming himself, Royal China, Baker Street.

Catriona: If you are looking for comforting Thai food then head to Rosa’s, Soho. Catriona recommends the battered calamari for starter and says the beef massaman is to die for!

Louisa: More upmarket than your average local Indian, Louisa recommends The Painted Heron, Chelsea.

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Sacha: Food is Sacha’s passion and whilst she could recommend an A-Z’s worth of restaurants her top pick would be the C&R Restaurant, Chinatown, for delicious and authentic Malaysian food – something found too seldom in London.

Mark: The menu changes every day at Hunan, Belgravia, Mark’s recommendation for quintessential Chinese food, but he assures us that whatever it is, it will make your mouth water!

Megan: If you are looking for simple but tasty Indian food with a smile, Megan recommends Dishoom, Covent Garden, or for (in her opinion) the best dim sum in London try Opium, Soho.

For more London eating tips or to book your tailor-made foodie journey to Asia please get in touch with us on +44 (0)20 7819 9770 or email info@ampersandtravel.com

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Glamorous Great Gatsby hotels

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

If you’ve re-read The Great Gatsby recently or seen Baz Luhrmann’s movie adaptation, you may be wishing you could be transported back to this indulgent era dripping in Art Deco palaces, glittering cocktail dress and hedonistic bon viveurs. We have picked out our most opulent “Gatsbyesque” properties – places where you could easily imagine the characters of the book stepping out of the pages to enjoy a glamorous cocktail party or an intimate soiree…

Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur, India: One of India’s finest luxury palace hotels as well as the current residence of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Umaid Bhawan was built between 1928 and 1943 as an employment project for the maharajah’s subjects during a period of famine. Designed by English architect Henry Lancaster, it is full of Art Deco opulence – including a private museum devoted to vintage cars and a squash court made from marble. Its most famous suites are the Maharajah and Maharani suite with its incredible art deco bathroom. Famous guests include Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Diana Ross, Sarah Ferguson, Bob Geldof and Eva Herzigova.

Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur, India
Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur, India -
Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur, India  -Baradari Dining

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, India: Once home to the Maharaja of Jaipur, this light and airy palace is relaxing and wistfully romantic; from the peacocks strutting across the lawns to the Indian classical musicians playing on cool verandahs. It was the setting for one of the most romantic royal love stories of the 20th Century, between Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and Princess Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar. They both lived here before his death on the polo field aged 58. The original art deco swimming pool is ultra glamorous and the Maharani used to do her laps here.

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, India - indoor swimming pool

Claridge’s, London, UK: Claridge’s was the centre of the London social scene in the frivolous and flapping 1920s, and it remains so today. Rooms are a seductive combination of Victorian grace, Art Deco glamour and timeless tradition; seductive touches like Art Deco mirrored desks, black and white marbled floors and Picasso prints all add panache. Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s is almost as famous as the hotel itself but you’ll also find the truly Art Deco Claridge’s Bar designed  by David Collins, the sexy Great-Gatsby-esque Fumoir and the all-day dining Reading Room.

Claridge's Bar
Claridge's Lobby

The Imperial Hotel, Delhi, India: The hotel was opened in 1931, designed with a mix of Victorian, colonial and Art Deco style by architect, D.J. Bromfield.  Its pool is a Gatsbyesque Deco masterpiece with a mosaic-tiled bottom and a fountain. The Deco suites are wonderfully spacious with opulent bathrooms, Bang & Olufsen electronics and a courtyard, terrace, or atrium view.

The Imperial, Delhi, India

The Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, South India: The Taj Falaknuma is a real-life fairytale, dripping in Venetian chandeliers, masterful paintings and the Nizam of Hyderabad’s original furniture, including the world’s longest dining table.  The Jade Room is wonderfully Gatsbyesque and was where dignitaries from across the world, kings, diplomats, artists and luminaries used to congregate and trade stories and admire rare collections of jade along with priceless treasures collected from around the world, Victorian style hand-painted ceilings and Belgian cut-glass chandeliers.

Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, India - Jade Bar -

Visalam, Chettinad, South India: Chettinad is a place for those who value lost grandeur, who choose elegance over excitement and who would prefer an evening’s walk through history’s shadows to a night at the nearest bar. Distinguished by its showy Art Deco façade, Visalam dates from the 1930s, when it was used for family weddings. The interiors preserve the feel of the period, with high-gloss wood furniture and walls painted in traditional limewash.

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La Residence Hotel & Spa, Hue, Vietnam: This former governor’s residence has been converted into a stunning hotel in a prime position on the banks of the Perfume River. The hotel’s signature suites are in the original mansion house and have been decorated in colonial style and complimented by the Art Deco design of the communal areas.

La Residence, Hue, Vietnam at night

Amanbagh, Alwar, India: Although more Mughal in style than roaring 1920s, there is simply no denying that Amanbagh would be the perfect backdrop to the most glamorous of parties. With acres of crisp green lawns, endless green marble private pools, private pool pavilions, an expansive rooftop open to the stars and, best of all, no one close enough to hear the party go on until dawn.

AmanBagh Terrace Dining 1

Sofitel Metropole, Hanoi, Vietnam: Set amidst the crumbling French colonialism of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the historic Sofitel Metropole is the Grand Dame of Vietnam, with vintage Citroens at the entrance and an elegant poolside cocktail bar. Celebrating the spirit of early Hollywood glamour and post-war creativity, the Opera Wing embraces the art deco interiors of the 1930s with splashes of bright red against polished black marble, glittering tiles and velvet floral motifs.

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The Peninsula, Shanghai, China: Inspired by the Art Deco period and Golden Age when Shanghai was the Paris of the East, this stylish new hotel provides the ultimate in sophistication and classic Art Deco style for glamorous Shanghai-dwellers. It has breathtaking views of the Bund, Huangpu River and Pudong; the idea behind its design was to re-create the serenity of a rich Chinese merchant’s home of the 1920s on a grand yet residential scale.

Peninsula Shanghai

For more information on these hotels or for more Great Gatsby inspiration please get in touch with one of our travel specialists on +44 (0)20 7819 9770, email info@ampersandtravel.com or browse our website http://www.ampersandtravel.com.