How is it that India’s vast capital city, roundly maligned in the past as among the world’s most toxic metropolises, now strives to be pollution-free? It’s a story line as unlikely as, say, Slum Dog Millionaire sweeping the Oscars. Our pick for your base camp.
India is continual contradiction. She is constant surprise. Here in New Delhi I find two hotels that are not only very green but have been designed with the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification standards. Even more intriguingly, they did so taking two distinctly different paths.
In New Delhi, go to the Dilli Haat market in the south of the city. Not only will you find excellent traditional Indian handicrafts and artisan goods from all over the country, there’s an organic Slow Food Café and shop run by Dr. Shiva, the world-renowned environmental guru.
ITC, the Indian luxury group that calls itself the greenest hotel chain on earth, has added specially cleaned and filtered rooms to its sustainability portfolio. ITC Maurya, the company’s New Delhi flagship, also upgraded heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems to eliminate ultra-fine particles that cause illness.
This is a tale of two Tajs. Both are in vast, captivating Mumbai, a city equally well known for unparalleled elegance and sprawling urban slums. Both are luxury hotels of the first order yet could not be more different in style. Yet they do share one other interesting trait—both are green, even if quietly so, without having to be.
Kerala is India’s greenest state, literally and environmentally. Historic Fort Cochin (Kochi) is the green traveler’s best jumping off point for a Kerala exploration. It is a pleasant place of stately homes, old churches and thick-walled buildings from the colonial past.
About a decade ago, rice boats began to be reborn as tourist conveyances. You cruise for a few hours or a few days, seeing firsthand the backwater way of life and the unspoiled backwater universe.
Midway up the Malabar Coast is a coastal fishing village with boats shaped like watermelon slices, fishermen mending nets in their shade. It has an exceptionally fine stretch of beach, quiet and unspoiled, and that is why it is also home to this resort where you can have your own—almost—sugar-soft sand, and be green as grass to boot.
We’re now in the High Country of the Indian state of Kerala. The Cardamom Hills. Where spices still flourish and tigers still roam. Our destination: a resort that is certified organic with 52 tribal-styled, thatch-roof cottages on a gently rolling landscape of fruit and other trees.
If your notion is going to Goa for a short green vacation, be forewarned: it’s the Hotel California of India—you may never leave. Believe me, I know. Goa’s soft embrace almost feels a world apart from India’s numbing extremes and jarring contrasts.
A 5-star resort in South Goa, the Alila Diwa marries, with seeming seamlessness, the rare combination of elegance, environmental stewardship and social consciousness.
Rajasthan is famous for its palaces. But the palaces of in the southwestern part of this storied state, on placid Lake Pichola in Udaipur, hold special fascination for the green traveler. They represent both a glorious past and a promising future.
The standard guidebooks warn of pickpockets and pushy touts who pretend to be guides. As green travel sleuths, though, we worry about the basics when we’re in Agra, home to the iconic Taj Mahal. Where can we be assured of clean, healthy food (preferably local and organic)? Lodging that’s both green and great?
Two young Royal Bengal tigers are gorging themselves on freshly-killed chital. This is the moment I had come on safari in India for. The moment everyone comes for. I feel safe atop my massive Indian elephant.
You must come to Varanasi. Here in this holiest of Hindu cities edged by the holiest of Hindu rivers, your eyes are opened to the mystical India, an unfathomable place which defies so-called rational (i.e., Western) explanation and challenges all your senses, all at the same time, almost all of the time.
To the outside world, the state of Karnataka is best known for Bangalore, the high-tech hub. But we’ve lost our way in a Karnataka that’s a mystery to most foreign travelers—the wildly lush and richly biodiverse mountain range known as the Western Ghats. Our destination: an eco-conscious, family-run bed-and-breakfast on an organic farm.