Who: VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: VegNews Great Adventure to India
Where: New Delhi, Agra, and the breathtaking state of Rajasthan
When: February 6–18, 2011
Why: Because VegNews Vacations are a great way to see the world, vegan style
The Scoop: Here's a little back story for you, in case you hadn't heard. When VegNews first decided to launch VegNews Vacations after a few years of toying with idea, we thought of it as an experiment. If it works, great! It will be a wonderful service to the veg community. If not, well, at least we tried it. But given the recession and uncertainty of the market for vegan trips around the world, we honestly thought it might not fly. Fast forward to the announcement of our first VegNews Great Adventure to India (October 2010) last March, and just days later, we were absolutely floored to have a sold-out trip, with a waitlist in the hundreds. When we announced our 2011 trips (another VegNews Great Adventure to India and a Food Lover's Tour to Thailand), the vacations sold out even faster. And after leading our second group just weeks ago in what was another incredible journey, I have no doubt that VegNews Vacations will be offering international getaways for years to come.
Publisher Joseph Connelly and I, along with our expert guides Zac Lovas and RK Singh from Veg Voyages, set off for the subcontinent in early February to travel through India with 25 VegNews' readers. In reflecting on why this trip was so spectacular, here are my top five reasons why I'd do it again and again:
1. The Group
Without a doubt, traveling with like-minded individuals is nothing short of phenomenal. Why hadn't I discovered this before? As someone who has done a lot of solo traveling, I am completely sold on sharing a travel experience with people you can really relate to. Every day brought great conversation (including what seemed to be a constant dialogue on veg restaurants and food), and sharing what we were experiencing with interesting, compassionate people really made the trip that much richer. Because of the group size, we were able to talk to different people every day, and wonderful bonds and lasting friendships were just a bonus of the already-stellar adventure.
2. The Sights
As amazing as traveling with other vegetarians is, it's even better because we were in India! You had to pinch us each day, as we just couldn't believe where we were and what we were seeing. Highlights include the Taj Mahal (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), the Gandhi museum in New Delhi, the Pink City, the breathtaking forts and palaces, the ancient stepwell, the temples (including one that was more than 3,000 years old!), the all-vegetarian village, and Animal Aid Hospital & Sanctuary. And that was just the beginning.
3. The Food
In short, the food was sensational. Every meal we experienced a different style or region of Indian cooking in a unique setting. And because many of us are food-obsessed, this was a huge part of the trip. But remember—India is very veg-friendly, but there is little to no knowledge of veganism. And since all VegNews Vacations are 100-percent vegan, it required a lot of effort to educate chefs and ensure that we were served only the very best vegan cuisine. Meal standouts include South Indian dosas, Indo-Chinese fusion, North Indian thalis, Rajasthani snacks, and Jaipur curries. And no meal would be complete without the incredible array of fresh-baked flat breads—from chapati to garlic naan (made vegan just for us) to onion-stuffed paratha. To the delight of guests, we always had soy and almond milk on hand (brought from the US) for those much-needed cups of coffee and tea.
4. The Hotels
There were no Hiltons or Holiday Inns on our adventure, but the places we stayed were one of the most memorable aspects of the trip. We hung our hats in centuries-old palaces, boutique inns, quaint bed and breakfasts, eco retreats, and lakeside villas—and were always treated like royalty. From being welcomed with fresh juice, a floral garland, and the requisite bindi to being invited for cocktails with the last recognized monarch in India, each hotel was totally unique.
5. The Extras
Besides seeing incredible sights, eating delicious food, and sleeping in palaces and villas (all while sharing the experience with a group of like-minded individuals), the little extras really made the trip over the top. We're talking morning yoga, sunrise hikes, the beautiful animals, the lovely Indian people and their unparalleled hospitality, Ayurvedic massage, the Hindi language lessons, the cooking class, the music, the dancing...
I could go on and on about the VegNews Great Adventure to India, but I'd rather let our just-launched photo gallery tell the rest of the story. Here's to traveling the world, vegan style!
The lovely Blair, learning to make Indian food in our cooking class
Just a few feet away from a blissful monkey, overlooking this majestic lake