These 4 Indian Activity Holidays, Worth Over US$5000, Are On every foreign traveller's wish list


The new crop of elite travellers has been there, done that. It has savoured tailor-made experiences — the customised holiday with concierge service, a private beach and full-service spa rounded off by a green tea. Its vision goes beyond the upscale marble suite and gold-leaf interiors, and its want, beyond bespoke and exclusive services. It seeks access over acquisition and experience over the exhibition of wealth. Meet the genus of new-age elite traveller that’s hoping to invest emotions in luxury travel more than just living by its face value. What it is looking for is a life-altering experience, a cultural immersion, a challenge that tests its limits, a personal transformation. Or perhaps, all of these rolled into one. To quench its thirst is a daunting task, especially when they are, by virtue of their status, high-maintenance. And this is what pushed me to survey every facet of one-of-its-kind, Indian sub-continent exclusive, high-end activity holidays in India, which are also on every foreign traveller's wish list, making me zero in on four journeys, each listed with top outfitters.

Image courtesy: TUTC/COX AND KINGS

Photo of Thikse Monastery, Thiksey by Shashi Priya
Photo of Kohima, Nagaland, India by Shashi Priya

Image courtesy: Noni Chawla/Ibex Expediitions

Photo of Siang Guest House, Pasighat by Shashi Priya

Image courtesy: Noni Chawla/Ibex Expediitions

Photo of Jim Corbett National Park, Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, India by Shashi Priya

Image courtesy: Noni Chawla/Ibex Expediitions

Photo of Upper Siang by Shashi Priya
Photo of Gulmarg by Shashi Priya
Photo of Hemis National Park by Shashi Priya
Photo of Hemis National Park by Shashi Priya

Luxury camping, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir and Kohima, Nagaland

This travelling camp lives upto its name and lets you pitch a tent right where you want - in the middle of all action or away from it, in an isolated corner to enjoy the calm or near the local festivals or fairs to take in the culture. Some of the best camping destinations in India include the Thikse and Diskit monasteries in Ladakh, and Nagaland around the time of the Hornbill festival. A taste of luxury in the lap of the great outdoors is on offer here, with an experience of the colourful festivals and fairs of Ladakh and Nagaland without any compromise on a lavish lifestyle. Accommodation options include individually designed, air-conditioned luxury tents with en suite facilities, complete with a private butler service and attentive valets.

How to: The Ultimate Travelling Camp, Cox & Kings offers royal caravan-like camps in India’s remote destinations. They launched private luxury camps in Thikse and Diskit in Ladakh and Kohima in Nagaland, with packages from £3,995 for Exotic Nagaland and £3,495 for Ladakh: Land of the Lamas.

Golden mahseer fishing, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand

This freshwater king, endowed with golden scales, is a favourite of literary geniuses. After all, writers fall in love with such beautiful specimens, and Rudyard Kipling was no exception. In his book Brushwood Boy, Kipling sings praises in the mahseer's glory: "the mahseer of the Poonch beside whom the tarpon is a herring, and he who lands him can say that he is a fisherman." But it wasn't just Kipling who was awe-struck by this large cyprinid, known to be the toughest among the freshwater sport fish. Jim Corbett describes an encounter with the mahseer as life-altering as he was pulled headlong in water by it and which, in his own words, “suddenly galvanised into life, and with a mighty splash dashed upstream” (Man Eaters of Kumaon). By now you must have a fair idea why anglers across the globe consider catching a golden mahseer an accomplishment. As Kipling and Corbett have described, the mahseer is a fighter. It tests the skill of the angler and challenges it, adding to the thrill. To embark on an angling quest for this one-of-its-kind fish in the upper Siang river in Arunachal Pradesh is the ultimate activity break for you.

How to: Adventure escapes and luxury tours service provider, Ibex Expeditions offers angling packages for the golden mahseer in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, from US$ 7000. The package includes air-conditioned mini bus, angling guides, private camps and cooks. Since the mahseer is an endangered species, it is a catch-and-release sport and the outfitter strictly maintains the same for its expeditions.

Snow leopard quest, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir

To spot an endangered cat in the plains of north India is one thing, and to spot one in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, another. Now add elusive to endangered and the thrill of spotting one is quadrupled. The snow leopard, or the ethereal ghost of the mighty Himalayas, is one such species that’s both. To spot it in its natural habitat is a challenge for travellers and locals alike. If you are lucky, it might oblige you with a glimpse while you are busy gulping lungful of thin, biting air. But when it does, you might just want to freeze the moment in time, quite literally in the high-altitude low temperature of Ladakh. However, by the time you settle your camera in your almost numb fingers, this swift mystic animal might just disappear in the snow that doubles up as camouflage for it. Most expeditions offer tracking the leopard on foot through Ulley valley but some also offer trekking through valleys around Husing, which has a record of maximum sightings.

How to: US-based Mountain Travel Sobek offers the “Quest for the Snow Leopard" package, from US$ 5,995, with an immersion of local nature and culture. If you prefer absolute luxury, opt for UK-based high-end outfitter Above & Beyond’s 13-day expedition from £5,726, with a stay in one of the valley's most premium lodges. Take your pick!

Heli-skiing, Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir

While the Rockies and the Alps remain classic ski favourites, nothing beats the adventure of the sport in up-and-coming Gulmarg. This once-tiny alpine hamlet is already on the world map for heli-skiing. Unctuous as this may sound, these are not just sentences to fill press releases. Here’s why: skiing in Gulmarg is wild, raw and adventurous, and to top it all, it has its homegrown snow – the curry powder. The dry and light, fluffy and granular snow, almost an exclusive speciality of Gulmarg, is every ski lover’s dream. This epic condition of powder that increases the chance for a single unbroken run for skiers, occurs in Gulmarg in abundance, every ski season, attracting hordes of skiers from the West in search of whiter, softer pastures for snow. The icing on the cake is heli-skiing that helps you escape queues for the lift - in this case, the gondola - and the regular ski trails and takes you to almost virgin powder locations.

How to: Kashmir HeliSki, started in 2010, offers access to the finest powder places and conditions through a team of guides and pilots, a mix of both local and international experts. It also provides back-country skiing and snowboarding in addition to a number of customisable packages. Its 5-star category week-long package starts from US$ 9,380.