Trip of a Lifetime

31 July 2017

Ask just about anyone to name their “bucket list” trip, and they’ll have a destination in mind. But ask when they’re going, and you’ll likely hear…“someday.”

To help make "someday" happen a little earlier, Country Inns & Suites expanded on their partnership with lifestyle brand Beekman 1802 — creators of the exclusive line of White Water Collection bath amenity products rolled out in Country Inns & Suites across the Americas. The brand sponsored the Trip of a Lifetime Sweepstakes where one lucky winner and a guest joined a group of adventurers on a 10-day excursion in India, led by the Beekman Boys themselves.

To give you a look inside some of the breathtaking views, ancient history and cultural traditions that made this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one traveler shared his day-by-day travel log below. Enjoy seeing India through his eyes!

Day 1 & 2: Wheels up to India

Our expedition took off out of New York City. After a loooong day of travel — and a 9.5-hour time difference! — Day 2 started with a traditional Indian welcome at the Country Inn & Suites in Delhi Saket. The welcome ceremony blesses guests and includes flower garlands, oil lamps and teekas. After such an exhausting trip, it was so nice to receive such a warm welcome and stay in comfortable rooms that made you feel right at home.

After a restful night, we were ready for a week of adventure!

Day 3: A touch of history

We woke up to a hot, complimentary breakfast at Country Inn & Suites, Delhi Saket (I had the waffles). The selection was vast, including eggs, bacon, oatmeal, juice and endless coffee. It was even served on real dining ware (such a nice change of pace.)

With full stomachs, we ventured out to tour New Delhi — India’s capital. First stop: Humayun’s Tomb. Dating back to 1572, the tomb is the final resting place of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, his wife, Empress Bega Begum, and other relatives. 

The rest of the day was spent exploring the beautiful architecture of Lutyens’ Delhi — a city named for the man who helped design it. Pictured here is Qutb Minar, a 237-foot red sandstone tower from the 13th century.

Day 4: A sense of community

Today we worked with Salaam Baalak — an organization that provides support to working and homeless children in New Delhi and Mumbai. We stopped at the breathtaking Gurudwara Darbar Sikh Temple (left) and volunteered in their community kitchen, Langar (right), to make vegetarian lunches. Every day, a free, communal meal is offered to anyone regardless of their background. 

The remainder of the day was spent in Old Delhi discovering beautiful mosques and grand bazaars. The markets are so rich in color and flavor! Every step offered a new experience.

Day 5: Journey to Agra

This week is going by fast! Today, our first stop was at the historic Agra Fort. Built by Emperor Akbar, the fort is the Mughal’s shining example of blending defensive and decorative architecture.

As dusk approached, the Taj Mahal came into view. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favorite wife. During our trip, it was being cleaned for the first time in history — by hand! — using a mixture of clay, sawdust and honey. The cleaning is still in progress and is expected to be completed by late 2017 or early 2018.

Our final tour of the day was a factory where the Pietra dura is made. This inlay technique uses cut and fitted, highly polished, colored stones to create images. It’s a decorative art that was extensively used in the Taj Mahal.

Day 6: Architectural adventures

After a champagne breakfast overlooking the Taj Mahal, our group traveled to Jaipur. Along the way, we stopped at one of the Mughal Empire’s most inspired creations — Fatehpur Sikri. Built in the 16th century, it’s one of the empire’s first buildings during city planning.

Another interesting attraction along the way was the Harshat Mata temple. It symbolizes 10th century architecture, Chand Baori, which is fortified on all sides. This temple is also one of the largest step wells in India. 

Once in Jaipur, we were ready to relax and unwind after a long day of travel. We were grateful for a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow’s agenda will be nothing short of exhilarating. 

Day 7: Celebration of the year

Happy Holi!!! 

Holi is a once-a-year, free-for-all carnival of colors, where participants play, chase and color each other with dry powder and colored water. The friendly frolic signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring and the end of winter. For many it’s a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive.

We celebrated Holi at the Castle Kanota and enjoyed a special Rajasthani thali lunch made up of our host family’s favorite dishes. These recipes were collected over the years and bound into 50 handwritten books. Most of these recipes cannot be found anywhere else.

Day 8: Tribute to the past

We started the day at the local Lassi Walla for a taste of an Indian Lassi — a refreshing yogurt drink, served in traditional clay mugs.

We then visited the stunning Palace of the Winds and the City Palace followed by an astronomy lesson at the Jantar Mantar — an ancient observatory.

The iconic Palace of the Winds, or Hawa Mahal (bottom left), was built to allow the royal women to observe street festivals yet remain unseen by the public. We also stopped by City Palace (middle), which is a complex of courtyards, gardens and buildings where the descendants of the royal family still live today! Our tour ended at Jantar Mantar (far right). It’s the most significant, comprehensive and best-preserved observatory in India. Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, Jantar Mantar’s 19 sculptures embody several architectural and instrumental innovations.

Day 9: Hand-made tales

Today began at the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, which chronicles the regeneration of traditional hand block printing techniques. We were invited to participate in a hands-on block printing exercise and got a feel for the craftsmanship involved in this ancient art.

From there, we traveled to Amber Fort. This magnificent fort was the ancient citadel of the ruling Kachhwahas of Amber before the capital was shifted to the plains, the present day Jaipur. The forts used the natural defenses offered by the landscape: hills, deserts, rivers, and dense forests. They also have extensive water harvesting structures, largely still in use today.

After lunch, we travelled to Dera Amer, where we met an ancient form of transportation — elephants! We got to bond with these beautiful animals as we bathed, painted and decorated them on our way through the countryside to the al fresco dinner venue.

Talented local performers closed the evening with a special Kalbelia dance, celebrating every joyful moment in the community. These songs and dances are part of an oral tradition that is handed down and for which there are neither texts nor training manuals. In 2010, the Kalbelia folk songs and dances were added to UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage List. 

Day 10: Local taste

The last afternoon was spent exploring the shops and stalls of the local bazaar. They’re colorful, aromatic, happily chaotic and offer anything from famous Jaipur “minakari” jewelry to ordinary household goods.

Later in the evening, the majority of the group ate dinner at a specialty Indian restaurant, the Great Kabab Factory, located in a sister hotel of Country Inns & Suites. The award-winning restaurant offers six different vegetarian and non-vegetarian kebabs prepared in six different styles. (And you get to try them all!) The chefs create your kabobs table side, so you are fully immersed in the experience. They also offered chilled chaas, raitas, two varieties of dals vegetable gravy or non-vegetable curry and biryanis. Needless to say, no one left hungry.

Day 11: Farewell

While souvenirs commemorate a trip across the world, memories are what truly made this a trip of a lifetime. What makes these historic sites and old cities so unique is the new life visitors breath into them. And at the same time, you never feel like a visitor — especially at Country Inns & Suites. From the celebrated welcome to the plush rooms to the hearty breakfast, we were made to feel like family. So although we were oceans away from the life and culture we know, our group of travelers were welcomed to India with open arms. And we opened our hearts to the culture in return. 

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