Incredible India

Amber Tours family. Tim and I were adopted.

We flew BA Chicago/London/Hyderabad.  ORD Terminal 5 remains under construction, but much of the work has been completed.  Southwest and Delta are now based in T5 and the TSA security has been expanded.  Clear is now available in T5 for all passengers with Clear membership.  Pre-Check is also available.  With Clear, we cleared Security in less than 5 minutes.  The BA Lounge is rather small and cramped, but comfortable enough with a good range of food and beverage.

Falaknuma pool

We flew the A350 to London, which is by far the best Business Class seating configuration aboard BA.  1 x 2 x 1 with wide seats, plenty of storage bins, and a sliding door for privacy.  All aisles access.  The center 2-seat section is preferred for couples traveling.  Avoid the first 2 rows as the crew stages in the space in the first row which is quite disruptive.  We were in row 3, which is about as far forward as I would recommend.  There are 2 cabins.  The large forward cabin is separated by a galley from the smaller cabin.  My personal preference is the forward cabin offering better service and a little less disruption.  The 787-800 to Hyderabad were the old school front and rear-facing seats.  Very narrow, very old (my tray table sagged, and I had to hold the tray up with my knee so the plates would not slide off), and had no storage space.  Avoid selling these seats when possible.

The chaotic airports in India of the past are no longer.  We landed in Hyderabad at 05:00 to find a modern sparkling clean and well-equipped airport and Amazon Prime ads everywhere.    The Indian Airports all have different security regulations per the individual States, and we were surprised to pass through a metal detector and have our luggage X-rayed to enter the country.


Falaknuma Coronation Hall

Shanti Kohli and Amber Tours are highly connected in India and can open many closed doors for our clients.  Amber Tours is my personal favorite India DMC.  Our Amber Tours Guide met us at the gate and escorted us through Immigration to the Arrival Hall and we had a smooth transfer to the Falaknuma Palace.  Thankfully, our suite was available for immediate check-in.  We were upgraded to a Royal Suite which was very comfortable.

The Royal Suites are primarily very large junior suites with an open floor plan offering a large sitting area with 2 couches, a dining area, and an open bedroom.  The bathroom was massive with a very large tub, double basin sinks, and a large walk-in shower.  For the relatively small price difference from the entry-level Garden Rooms, the Royal Suites are well worth the additional cost.  Our favorite location was the 200 series rooms and suites in a courtyard off the main outdoor garden corridor.  This quiet location was near the Lobby, Spa, and Pool and a nice walk down to 3 restaurants.  The Nizam Suite is the top suite, one bedroom duplex with a bedroom upstairs (no worries about the stairs as there is an elevator).  Huge Suite with a private walled garden in the back with an enormous residential-style private pool.  Wow with a capital W.  Royal Suite 205 is the best Royal Suite in the house: adjacent to the Nizam Suite with access to the private pool as well as a great layout with a separate bedroom.

Falaknuma Dining Room seats 100, WOW!

Dining options are somewhat limited.  An outdoor terrace for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with Indian Cuisine.  Continental items are available.  Dinner is 10,000 INR supplement all-inclusive.  Adda is an adjacent indoor restaurant with Indian Cuisine, ala carte.  Celeste is an adjacent Italian restaurant.  We dined at all restaurants and the food and service were superb.  Falaknuma Palace is a historic building built in the 1890s and is extremely opulent.  Much of the public space is decorated with original furniture and art.  The Hotel Historian offers complimentary guided tours (about an hour) and is highly recommended.  Virtuoso breakfast is ala carte.

Taj Hampi courtyard

The service is off the hook.  A minimum of 2 waiters serving each table and 3 housekeepers for cleaning and turn down.  Everything came within minutes.  Overnight laundry service was very inexpensive and extremely welcome on longer journeys in India.  They also do elaborate flower art outside your door every evening while you are away at dinner and many times with candles perfectly located.  It is a beautiful custom within the Indian culture and makes you feel the real essence of India.

The extensive and elaborate grounds and gardens are marvelous, complete with hundreds of peacocks.  The Spa is large, well equipped, and offers very reasonably priced spa services.  PS.  For the ladies – no hair salon services.

Falaknuma is a destination in itself for those who appreciate historic palace hotels.  The downside is that the hotel is 20 – 30 minutes to the attractions and outside restaurants.

Ratish Nanda

Qtub Shahi Tombs

Hyderabad surprised us with touring to fill two full days.  Our guide Thomas was very good, and our driver Merhan was outstanding.  We toured the extensive Golconda Fort, several large Palaces, the bazaars, the old town, etc.  The highlight was the Qutub Shahi Tombs, a very large complex of Mausoleums built by the Golcanda Kings.  Shanti arranged a special private tour with Ratish Nanda who is the CEO of the Agha Khan Trust and in charge of the extensive renovation.  Fantastic site.  It is like going to see 40 Taj Mahals.

Golcanda Fort


We did a walking tour through the city palace and then to the streets for food and local shopping, where it is said you can buy anything from a pin to a piano and that is no lie.  We met a local baker and had some wonderful treats.  Since we were VIP, he invited to the back of the bakery for tea and cookies to get away from the crowds.  He was very proud of his bakery but we were standing next to the ovens!!!!  It appears the Indians are used to heat but we were melting, so we ate and drank quickly and resumed our walking tour.

We then flew Alliance Air to Vijayanagar, an easy 90-minute flight.  Alliance is a good airline utilizing ATR prop planes.  Row 1 is Bulkhead with considerably more legroom.  Good flight.  We landed in Vijayanagar, a very small but modern airport, and then drove 45 minutes to the surprisingly cool Evolve Back Hampi.



The arrival car to your villa is very special,




Ja Mahal

Hampi blew us away!  An entirely different Inda.  Peaceful, and clean, and the temples are endless.  Evolve Back is an Indian-owned family business with deep connections to the local community, heritage, sense of place, and sustainability. The architecture is derivative of the nearby 1000 + Hindu temples and UNESCO site.  The Main hotel building has very generous-sized rooms with 2 restaurants and a terrific Ayurveda Spa (downright cheap pricing).


Villa at Evolve Back Hampi

The preferred accommodations are Ja Mahal (translated-Water Palace).  Each unit is 3000 square feet entirely surrounded by lily ponds.  Complete privacy with a very large living room, dining room, and separate bedroom.  The bathroom is enormous with a giant tub and 3 separate outdoor shower heads.  All rooms open to a large deck with a residential-sized private swimming pool and a covered pavilion with a day bed.  Fantastic accommodation that was well appointed.  We particularly appreciated the Reverse Osmosis water faucet which supplied nonstop clean water without plastic bottles. The entire hotel was free of paper, plastic, and other earth-damaging products.

Tim and Dena with the friendly locals.

The people of Hampi are genuinely friendly and always greet you with welcoming great smiles.  Amazing.


Mohammed Ali, our driver in Hampi

Anu, Amber Tours amazing guide

Amber Tours arranged for a separate tour escort, Anu, to accompany us from Hyderabad through to Kochi.  Anu was invaluable.  Our local guide Verneesh and driver Mohamad Ali were 2 of the top drivers and guides we have had over the years.






Stone carriage and music halls

Hampi in a word is extraordinary.  A giant complex of Hindu Temples built into the rocks, rivers, and hills.  A very dry landscape, desert-like, but an abundance of rivers and underwater aquifers provide irrigation with rice paddies, bananas, and palm trees creating lush green valleys.

The Temples are of course the highlight.  This is a very rural area with limited infrastructure and appeals to the intrepid person with a keen interest in Hindu culture and temples in a rugged environment.  We loved it and were one of the few Westerners visiting.

Lots of monkeys in Hampi


Our river cruising boat

Sent from our guide Vaneesh



We scheduled 2 nights in the Kerala backwaters at Coconut Lagoon and 1 night in Kochi at the Taj Malabar.  As fate would have it, the Alliance Airline flights were both delayed well in advance of departure.  Anu was on top of the flights and alerted us of the delay and extended a late checkout and continued to monitor the flights.  He then advised that with the advance knowledge that we would land in Kochi at 12:00 am and have a 2 – ½ drive in the dark, we decided to cancel Coconut Grove and spend 3 nights in Kochi.  Anu changed the accommodations, canceled the Kerala Backwater Hotel and guide services, booked a room at the Taj Malabar, adjusted all of the transfers, confirmed 2 days of sightseeing, and secured tickets for the Bienalle art exhibit.  All in 2 hours…and invaluable.  We flew Alliance Air with a connection to Indigo Air.  There is no baggage agreement between the airlines and again Anu was invaluable in helping with the luggage, connection, and checking into Indigo Air.  Indigo Air is the second-best airline in India and offers Economy Class only.  Clean, modern, and efficient.  Indigo offers a branded fare with extra legroom seats in the Bulkhead, priority boarding, fast track, etc.  Indigo was very comfortable.


Local Laundry mostly ran by men.

We stayed at the Taj Malabar, a historic colonial-style hotel located on Widdington Island.  The Sea View rooms have great views of the Harbor and are all basically the same size.  The corner rooms are desired with 2 windows.  Please note these rooms are small and the bathrooms have a single basin, and shower stall, but no tub.  There are 6 Suites that are well worth the upgrade: A very large terrace, a large living room, and separate bedroom, an enormous bathroom with a large bath, a separate shower stall, a double basin sink, and a separate wardrobe.  The Hotel is closing this winter for a much-needed renovation.

Kochi is a very interesting city and is the second largest marine port in India after Mumbai.  Primarily Hindu, there are strong Catholic and Jewish influences from the 15th and 16th centuries.  The Main Palace (Hindu) has Catholic Churches and a Jewish Synagogue nearby.  We found Kochi to be an interesting city and worth 2 nights and 1 day.  While we had 2 full days of touring; one is adequate if necessary.  We found the famous Chinese Fishing Nets and watched how they caught the fish.  Honestly, it’s a lot of work for 1 or 2 fish, but they make lots of money on the tourist wanting to learn the nets.

We then flew Vistara Business Class to Delhi.  Vistara (Star Alliance) is the top airline flying within India.  Comfortable and clean.   We flew Business Class, which was similar to our domestic First Class.  Delhi’s new airport is modern and very efficient.




New Dehli

Old town Dehli tour. Gifts for the god’s flowers.

We were originally booked at The Oberoi.  The Taj management team wanted us to try the Taj Mahal Hotel.  The Taj Mahal Hotel has the best location in Delhi and has been completely renovated from top to bottom.  Elegant and beautiful.  Our one-bedroom suite was extremely large and well laid out and had Butler Service.  The Club floor offered a wide variety of food and beverage throughout the day.  The service was excellent.  The Taj Mahal Hotel is definitely the hotel of choice in Delhi.  Full amenities include a large outdoor pool and gardens.  Delhi was active and vibrant, and we toured Old Delhi which was unchanged.

Tim, Inder and Dena

Amber Tours’ 50th-anniversary party was held at Inder and Shanti’s house (formerly Shanti’s father Avinash Kohli’s house).  Extraordinary party with an exclusive guest list.  We connected with the top team members of Indian tourism and felt quite special to have been invited.  My father and Avinash were good friends with a friendship dating back to 1972 when Avi founded Amber Tours.  Avi was instrumental in establishing tourism in India, particularly in the more remote areas.  Avi was also very connected.  Avi and my Father attended the King of Bhutan’s wedding, and the Maharaja of Jaipur was a close friend, and the Maharaja and the Royal Family remain close friends of the Kohli’s.   My 2 favorite pictures at the party were Avi sitting at his desk with his pet full-grown Bengal Tiger named Jimmy, and a picture of the Beatles when they spent a year in Rishikesh.  Shanti told me Avi arranged the services for the Beatles in Rishikesh and the reason he was not in the picture was that he took the picture.


Our arrival at Rambagh Palace

There is a new modern divided tollway from Delhi to Mumbai.  Rather than flying, we drove 4 hours to Jaipur to the magnificent Rambagh Palace.  The Rambagh Palace was originally a hunting “lodge” for the Jaipur Royal family.  Built-in the 1800’s, the hotel is still owned by the Jaipur Royal Family.  Enormous grounds, exquisite, with extraordinary service.  We enjoyed a small dinner of 12 people hosted by the Maharaja, which was a unique experience.

Rambagh Palace Jaipur

The Rambagh Palace is beyond any place we’ve stayed in India.  The palace, gardens, peacocks (they are loud though), rooms, and service are so good you don’t ever want to leave.  It was built as the Maharaja’s hunting palace and our room was huge with a two-story bathroom.  The very large soaking tub was located up a set of marble stairs looking out to the garden.

Jaipur is a sophisticated city with a rich history.  Well known for gemstones and jewelry.  The Gajan family owns a 2nd generation Jeweler which produces for Bulgari. Amber Tours arranged for us to have lunch and tour the facility watching the gemologist make incredible pieces.

And offers access via private appointment only to tour the production facility and an extraordinary private collection of Rajasthan art and artifacts.  The art collection is well worth the visit and offers an intimate no pressure jewelry buying experience.


We then had dinner with the Maharaja at The City Palace which remains the residence of the Royal Family.  Our extraordinary welcome included 5 white Stallions with riders, 5 camels, 1 painted elephant, and a troupe of musicians and dancers.  Extraordinary.

True to form, BA screwed us up again and canceled the return flight on the day of departure.  I must say that I will avoid BA as much as possible.  5 of my last 10 flights have been delayed/canceled resulting in overnights at airport hotels or major inconvenience.  BA re-booked us 2 days after the original flight in Economy Class with no seat assignments…Fortunately, we got BA to protect us on Qatar and had fantastic return flights.  Qatar is quite simply one of the best airlines.

In any event, we flew Air India in a comfortable Business Class to Mumbai.  Air India’s aircraft was old and worn, but comfortable and efficient.  Mumbai is a brand-new efficient airport.  We had a 10-hour layover in Mumbai and stayed in a Day Room at the Taj.





Located 20 minutes from the airport, The Taj is in a happening area on the ocean and is a vibrant hotel.  Not a five-star, but very good – particularly for a quick overnight

The surroundings of The Taj Hotel are bustling with activity. The area attracts both tourists and locals, creating a vibrant atmosphere. You’ll find street vendors selling various items, artists showcasing their talents, and people enjoying leisurely walks along the promenade.

The view of the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea from the of Taj Hotel. The  Taj Hotel has breathtaking sea views.