The Tea leaves of India A Journey Through the Extraordinary History & Culture
India is a study in contrasts, a historical backdrop for a modern-day industrial narrative, a traditional outlook co-existing with fresh, global lifestyles, and an ensemble of ethnic disparities creating a cohesive cultural identity. India is a sensory potpourri; of colorful, exuberant scenes and folks, tangible, delectable cuisines and flavors, dialects and tongues exchanged like currency and the ebb and flow of a billion people working through their daily routines!
The eastern part of India is fertile, mysterious, and still untouched by the impact of over-tourism. Staying at the restored boutique hotels in the countryside of Bengal, along with a river cruise experience, presents you with an opportunity to visit the destinations at your pace and interest. There are community cultures to be seen, traditions to be experienced, food to be savored, and rural vignettes to be photographed. It would not be incorrect to mention that while Kolkata bustles with urban life, there are many facets to the city and the rest of the places on this journey that will remain a ‘throwback’ to the times that were.
Designed Differently, Explored Sustainbly
Price starts at 900. Land per person, per day, double occupancy.
Day 01| ARRIVE IN KOLKATA, INDIA
On arrival at Kolkata airport, a VIP Meet, and Greet service is arranged for you. A representative will then transfer you to the hotel in a private vehicle. THE GLENBURN PENTHOUSE
The Glenburn Penthouse: A nine-suite boutique hotel on the edge of Kolkata’s business district, boasts views of Victoria Memorial, Eden Gardens, and the Howrah Bridge. An offering of the Prakash family, the same visionaries who gave us the enchanting Glenburn tea estate in Darjeeling, The Penthouse is a mix of a lot of the old with contemporary highlights. Guests can choose a room with a balcony overlooking Kolkata’s iconic landscapes or tuck into a suite that overlooks the city lights. The hotel’s main highlight has to be the rooftop which boasts a pool and the perfect spot to enjoy your tea at sunset. Overlooking the Victoria Memorial offers a romantic setting after a day spent exploring the city or the breakfast terrace to begin the day when the sun rises just over the monument.
Day 02| KOLKATA
The port city of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta –is a city of trade ties. Kolkata soon became a British capital, and later during India’s struggle for independence, was a hotbed of revolutionary unrest and freedom movements. Rabindranath Tagore, a poet-composer, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, a philosopher-poet who founded a utopian city, Satyajit Ray, a filmmaker extraordinaire, are some of the legendary people whose roots were in Kolkata and have made significant contributions to the fields of literature, music, and movies. Kolkata is a rich, cultural potpourri of a quintessential Indian experience – the colonial elements overlaid by patriotic, revolutionary zeal.
Explore Kolkata with an expert guide, discovering her historic architecture, bustling markets, local gastronomy, and interesting local residents.
Start with a heritage walk around the historic Dalhousie Square. Alongside Armenian and Portuguese churches and Jewish Synagogues, embark upon a journey that started the British Raj in India, dating back to the time of the Black Hole, from where it transformed itself into a City of Palaces.
Following a tea break, visit some famous city museums and landmarks. The almost forgotten Park Street Cemetery dates back a few centuries with poignant images of its early society, and the majestic Victoria Memorial was embarked upon and completed just as the same conquerors abandoned their majestic capital to build another in Delhi. The museum has a permanent collection of Art and a well laid out Kolkata Gallery telling the history of the city. The Indian Museum, Metcalfe Hall, and the Currency Building – all house fabulous collections of art, antiques, and exhibitions of the city and can also be included.
Enjoy an authentic Bengali lunch for a rare glimpse of the old Calcutta way of life. The host, an art collector and socialite is delighted to welcome visitors into his charming heritage flat on historic Chowringhee Road.
In the afternoon, stop by one of the shopping haunts and head back to the hotel for afternoon tea. Dinner will be a fusion of local nostalgia blended with an exotic twist. THE GLENBURN PENTHOUSE (B,L,D)
Day 03| KOLKATA
Start the day on the banks of the grand River Hooghly, where the trade battles of Europe were fought through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. There is no better time to walk through this vibrant and bustling city than in the morning and as the city wakes up. Witness the passage of humanity from the streets where her people live and work to the river where they perform their early morning rituals to cleanse and purify themselves. Where better to witness this than in the colorful riverside flower market where all the city’s religious flowers originate.
Thereafter, travel to North Calcutta – “The Black Town,” where a parallel culture heavily influenced by the Europeans flourished among the pioneering families of Bengal. The Marble Palace is perhaps the most bizarre of the Bengali mansions of this area. Built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, a wealthy Bengali merchant with a passion for collecting works of art, it houses a kitsch collection of paintings, marble sculptures, and Belgian glass. On the grounds of the mansion, you will find remnants of the first Indian zoo and exotic Indian birds, including peacocks, hornbills, pelicans, and several species of deer.
Proceed to the calm, intellectual heart of the Bengali Quarter, the bastion of Bengali culture and home of the multi-talented poet, novelist, musician, painter, and playwright, the famous Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. His grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore built this grand mansion in the 18th century, and the museum showcases the life of the family in 19th century Bengal and their involvement in the Bengal Renaissance, the Brahmo Samaj movement, and finally, the Freedom Struggle of India.
Enjoy a Kolkata Chinese Lunch at Eau Chew – one of the city’s first Chinese restaurants, where the family will cook their signature dishes. Also, you may want to visit the Motherhouse, Mother Teresa’s home, and the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity. Feast on the signature Nawabi Biryani Dinner – inspired by the kitchen of Wajid Ali Shah, the exiled King of Awadh (Lucknow), and the transformation of his traditional Biryani modified to suit the ingredients and atmosphere of 19th century Kolkata. THE GLENBURN PENTHOUSE (B, L,D)
Day 04| KOLKATA / BALAKHANA Journey: 4 hours’ approx.
Following breakfast, proceed on a journey to Balakhana. Reach the gracious home of your hosts, who will welcome you to spend 2 nights at one of the only 2 Indigo plantation houses still standing.
Franco-Italian in its architecture, built by an Italian doctor, John Angelo Savi, who was married to Elizabeth, a French lady. It was built in 1780 as a Neel Kothi or ‘Indigo House’ and remained so for three generations. Balakhana, the residency and the factory at Maheshganj Estate, became the center of indigo plantations surrounding it. Balakhana came into the family when Nafarchandra Palchoudhuri, a prominent landowner and first President of the Bengal Landholders’ Association of the day, bought the property for his brother Bipradas, who was then a student of engineering in England and had seen an advertisement for it. Upon returning home, Bipradas built a life that spanned Balakhana in Maheshganj, Calcutta, and Darjeeling in North Bengal and Assam, where he became an intrepid pioneer Planter of tea gardens.
This homestay is designed to open a conversation that may be uncomfortable for some. It is an important part of India’s history, and we at Big Five believe in sharing that to allow our travelers to form their own opinion.
In the afternoon, take a stroll around the plantation, through a local village, and down to the river as the sun sets with your host. He will regale you with stories about his family, the plantation house, the secrets of Indigo, and how it turned fortunes. Enjoy an afternoon tea on the vast colonial verandah, followed by a home-cooked dinner.
Heritage Homestay: Inside an estate is your gateway amid nature, orchards, farmland, green fields, and gardens. It is an early 19th-century villa, French by provenance, the architectural heirloom of a distinguished Bengali Zamindari family, who still live there on a 16-acre estate. PLANTATION BUNGALOWS (B,L,D)
Day 05| BALAKHANA
Explore the temple town of Kalna, known for its muslin weaving center and stunning collection of Terracotta Temples, quintessentially Bengali and dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Later, visit the nearby Mayapur Chandrodaya Temple of ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which attracts devotees from around the world. PLANTATION BUNGALOWS (B,L,D)
Day 06| BALAKHANA / MURSHIDABAD 3 hours’ drive approx.
Depart for Murshidabad, the former capital of Bengal.
It was here that Nawab Murshid Quli Khan shifted to from Dhaka, and which soon became the richest and most glamourous city of 18th century India, attracting artisans and traders – both local and international – creating a sink of wealth rumored to be 5% of the world’s GDP at the time, its own mint and a successful community of “Jagat Seth” bankers that even financed the English royal family!
The Sheherwali community evolved passionately over 300 years, creating incredible temples, a distinctive style of architecture encompassing Greek, Roman, and French features into their lavish palaces, and a unique vegetarian cuisine. The food is a mélange of flavors complementing dishes from their native Rajasthan with Mughal-inspired creations from their new home. Famous for silk, muslin and woven saris, the exquisite textiles and terracotta temples of this region showcase the incredible talent and creativity of the artisans of this time.
Proceed on a story-telling tour of the heritage hotel to see the royal nooks of the property. Enjoy a boat cruise with tea on the River Ganges, visiting a complex of Terracotta temples and some local farms and orchards.
The day culminates with a cultural program, followed by a lavish Sheherwali dinner in the ornate dining hall.
Your stay in Murshidabad: Bari Kothi is a 15-suite boutique hotel that is the culmination of a magnificent restoration project by the Dhudoria family. Step into the property, and it feels like you have walked into the set of a period film. Every nook and corner is decorated in bright colors and rich fabrics, showcasing the wealth and opulence of the merchants that once called this beautiful mansion home. One can get lost in its corridors as they lead into various purpose-built rooms and chowks (courtyards) embellished with colorful glass and patterned tiles. Guest suites are richly decorated with ornate pieces of furniture, fine fabrics, checkered tiles, and decorated windows. BARI KOTHI (B,L,D)
Day 07| MURSHIDABAD
Early morning, take a heritage walk to local Jain temples and palaces in the immediate neighborhood. Savor breakfast on the Ganges, followed by a full-day sightseeing, including visits to the Katra Mosque, Footi Masjid, Hazarduari Palace and Imambara, Katgola Palace, Khoshbagh and the Tantipara Weavers Village, where the famous silk sarees are created.
End the day with a cultural program and dinner at the hotel. BARI KOTHI (B,L,D)
Day 08| MURSHIDABAD/MAYAPUR-CRUISE 3 hours’ drive approx.
After a spiritual walk, proceed on a drive to Mayapur to embark on the cruise. Check-into your cabin and enjoy the comforts of the vessel as it sails downstream to the next destination.
Your stay: Assam Bengal Navigation Rajmahal– The 22 cabins feature en suite facilities, French balconies, a writing desk, and all modern amenities for travelers. ABN Rajmahal is a boutique vessel with colonial elegance. The ship features a comfortable saloon and bar, a dining room, and a canopied sundeck, along with interesting offshore group excursions. ABN RAJMAHAL (B, L,D)
Day 09| RIVER CRUISE TO CHANDERNAGORE
This morning, visit a saree-weaving village. Continue to Chandernagore, a French possession until 1950, to visit the 18th-century church and Dupleix’s House of the erstwhile Governor-General of French India.
Later, sail downstream to Kolkata. ABN RAJMAHAL (B,L,D)
Day 10| CHANDERNAGORE / KOLKATA
After breakfast, disembark, and you will be picked up for your transfer to the hotel.
The rest of the day is at leisure. THE GLENBURN PENTHOUSE (B,L,D)
Day 11| KOLKATA / DEPART
In time, you will be transferred to the international airport for your home flight. The memories of the trip will keep you company on the long flight back home.
3 Nights THE GLENBURN TEA ESTATE – Darjeeling
3 Nights DIPHLU RIVER LODGE – Kaziranga
2 Nights THE RAJBARI BAWALI – Bawali
From 900 per person per day, land only, double occupancy