Architecture, gardens, history, extraordinary shopping, textiles and awe-inspiring landscapes
Come and experience the Design Tour India – a “conscious luxury” exploration of the road less travelled in Calcutta and India’s fascinating North-East. From the beating heart of India’s most charming mega city, to forgotten palaces in the rural countryside, to beautiful tea plantations in the Himalayan mountains, this will be a trip to remember.
The pace of the trip allows for plenty of lingering over tea on the terrace, as well as hands-on experiences, so that we can slow down the pace and immerse ourselves in the moment – “doing” as well as “seeing”. From sketching and basket weaving sessions, to birdwatching and picnics by Himalayan streams, and many other surprises, we have allowed plenty of time at each destination so that we immerse ourselves in the rhythm of each place.
An extraordinary insider’s experience is assured by travelling with two well-connected India experts, designers Nicky Court (Sydney-based) and Kinny Sandhu (India-based). Through their extensive network of contacts, they have organised special walks with local experts, curated shopping experiences that highlight the richness and diversity of Indian craftsmanship, and appointment-only visits to botanic gardens, artisan workshops and private homes. The story of the place and its people will be told through these immersive experiences, so that you can sit back and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.
We will tour with a minimum group of 7, and a maximum of 14 – small enough to tailor boutique experiences but large enough to get to know a really interesting group of people.
Winter is a lovely time of year to visit with warm days (26°C) and cool nights (12°C).
Enquiries and bookings:
T: Nicky Court 0412443574 (Australia)
I have worked and adventured in India for the past 27 years over more than 20 trips. I have great connections and a wealth of design knowledge and history to share.
I designed and manufactured my soft furnishing range in India for a decade for my very successful wholesale homewares business, Acorn Trading, that supplied Australia's best retailers.
A deep love for combining traditional craft skills with a contemporary sensibility lead to a long collaboration with my friend, Kinny Sandhu, who produced my hand stitched ranges on her farm, located where the plains meet the foothills of the Himalayas. I embraced Kinny’s unwavering practice of providing local employment, and empowering women and their families, working to the highest design and quality standards.
For me, India has always been a place where anything I dream up is possible. The experiences I have had in India have been like living in a real-life fairytale, with typical dinner parties involving sitting beside high court judges, newspaper editors, ambassadors, film directors, princes and princesses, heads of NGO’s, artists, designers, makers and tiger safari lodge owners. It's that kind of place ...
Is this India’s most accomplished and well-connected woman? A member of high society, Kinny was born at the height of her philanthropic, entrepreneurial and cosmopolitan family’s powers – then one of the wealthiest families in India. Her family’s estate even has its own steam engine.
I have had many wonderful visits, staying with Kinny and her extended family, listening to stories that are like something out of a book, such as the time when her father and uncle were young men and were invited to try flying into Nepal by India's first ambassador there. They landed on the golf course and were the first to ever fly into Kathmandu – the king himself came out to welcome them.
Kinny’s great aunt is Amrita Sher-Gil, sometimes referred to as India’s Frida Kahlo. She was one of the greatest avant-garde women painters of the early 20th century. Kinny’s mother was a code breaker in the Australian Navy and met a dashing Indian Air Force officer in Melbourne during World War II when
he was posted there as an attaché. They married, moved to India and are now 99 years old and still going strong. Kinny straddles two worlds with extensive family in both India and Australia.
Kinny is a designer and maker with a passion for traditional crafts and the welfare of those in her local community. She has been producing textile ranges for local and international buyers for 40 years. She runs her production unit on her farm, is an accomplished artist and has just harvested her first crop of indigo – using it to experiment with shibori dyeing.
She loves keeping her finger on the pulse – many a time I have followed her into a busy bazaar or a dusty godown to meet a maker or seller of interesting goods, with each adventure accompanied by a delicious snack from a street food stand she happens to know nearby.
We begin the tour in Calcutta (now called Kolkata), the cultural and intellectual capital of India, and its most friendly, photogenic and soulful city. Its tradition of welcoming new talent has made it a city of creative energy.
After this previously rural backwater was signed over to the British East India Company in 1698, the British created a miniature version of London-on-Hooghly, with stately buildings, wide boulevards, English churches, private clubs, golf courses and grand formal gardens.
Fortunes were made in this pioneering city and it attracted entrepreneurs from all over the world, resulting in the fascinating 250-year old architectural heritage of buildings built by wealthy Indians and Europeans. Many wonderful examples of colonial and art deco architecture remain. More than a few of these fine buildings are in photogenic states of semi-collapse, which only adds to their charm.
One expedition will be a sundowner cruise on the River Hooghly, with the same ring-side view of the myriad happenings on the riverside ghats that would have greeted many a 19th century adventurer.
Plant collecting in the 19th century could be a dangerous business, politically and physically. We have arranged a behind-the-scenes visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Asia's oldest gardens. The tranquillity of today's green sanctuary belies the dramatic origins of the once globally important institution and the passions that arose around plant collecting in the 18th and 19th centuries when the identification and classification of plants was at the forefront of scientific enquiry. Gardens of science were also the nurseries of the Empire.
Now is a wonderful time to visit Calcutta as it boasts some of the best hotels, restaurants, markets and bazaars in India. We will explore them with a local, incorporating some wonderful food experiences, including Bengali specialities, a visit to a Jewish bakery and dumplings in the last remaining Chinatown in India, finishing by flying kites on the rooftop terrace with tea and snacks at sunset.
The Glenburn Penthouse is a haven of quiet luxury, centrally located in one of Calcutta's most historic, and upmarket, neighbourhoods, with spectacular views of all her iconic landmarks: from the Victoria Memorial to Eden Gardens, the lush green expanse of the Maidan and the majestic bridges that cross the River Hooghly.
Ute Junker from Traveller recently described this luxurious 9-suite hotel as, “decorated to spectacular effect with tropical frescoes and an eclectic assortment of furniture. It's as if your eccentric maiden aunt's place had been given a makeover by an exceptionally talented stylist. Head up to the rooftop, which is home to an infinity-edge pool with jaw-dropping views”.
The hotel is a short walk to the Victoria Memorial, the Maidan and Park Street’s restaurants and bars. The Glenburn’s concierge service has access to the best tables in local restaurants, private tailoring and secret, as well as mainstream, shopping recommendations.
We are very fortunate to have booked the whole of this luxurious boutique hotel for our group. It is one of the best hotels in India.
Once a stately home to the aristocratic Zamindars of Bengal, the Rajbari Bawali saw over 170 years of grand living, parties and eminent guests. However, by 2006, the 250 year old palatial home was in ruins – neglected since independence in 1947, crumbling and overgrown with vines. It has since been lovingly restored to its former glory, resulting in an award-winning heritage hotel, described by Conde Nast Traveller as being "straight out of a Satyajit Ray film".
Highlights include being royally welcomed with the auspicious "blowing of the conch (shell)", the beautiful 12 acres of grounds, a ramble with a local teacher through the idyllic village, a culinary demonstration, a sundowner cruise on the Ganges (fingers crossed we sight Gangetic dolphins) and exploring the ruins of the temple at Bawali, reminiscent of a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Photographs (5/9) of the Rajbari Bawali (below) by @stacieflinner
Nestled amidst a lush green backdrop of rolling hills and sparkling waterfalls is the Belgadia Palace, run by two dynamic young princesses. The Bhanj Deo royal family still live in the private section of the palace and the rooms feature antiques and artwork belonging to this fascinating family, making the experience of staying at Belgadia Palace personal and genuine.
One of the family will show us around the restoration of the 200 year old palace (which we are staying in), as featured in Architectural Digest earlier this year, and its 12 acres of extensive gardens, mango orchards and the organic farm that supplies the royal kitchens.
Our stay in Mayurbhanj will also include visiting the local flower markets and flower grower's farms. The tribal people of this area still practice the ancient art of lost wax metal casting and basket making with Sabai grass. We will visit the weavers for a basket making workshop.
The most celebrated tea region in India is located here in the foothills of the Himalayas, near the borders of Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.
The mid-19th century saw this hill station town serve as a retreat from the heat of the plains for the British elite, who later expanded into tea plantations that popularised the hybridised Darjeeling black tea across Europe. This charming town still retains its colonial flavour; with numerous boarding schools, bakeries, cafes and bookshops housed in old, stone structures. It is surrounded by snow-capped Kanchenjunga and the Himalayan mountain ranges. It has the wonderful advantage of having its own mild microclimate with average daily temperatures of 8°C (0°C at night) in January and the altitude is only 2000 m (no altitude acclimatisation required).
Travel to Darjeeling is via air (1 hour flight) and road (2 hours 30 minutes) and we will stay at the Windamere Hotel.
We will explore Darjeeling on a walk with a local, expert guide and take a joy ride on the World Heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Rail’s ‘Toy Train’.
A drive of approximately 1 hour 20 minutes through beautiful countryside with jaw-dropping mountain views will take us to Glenburn Tea Estate. If the day is clear, we will stop at Tiger Hill to see Mt Everest in the distance.
It’s rare to find good walking country in India where you won’t be disturbed by lots of other people and can sleep in luxurious surroundings each night. Step forward idyllic Glenburn, a working tea estate established in 1860 by Scottish tea planters, with 1,600 acres of verdant forest, rolling hills, tea picker villages and a pair of river valleys to explore.
It’s a window into a long-gone world of refinement: polished silver, bone china and mahogany four-poster beds. Conde Nast Traveller describes it as, "a time traveller's dream...you feel like a memsahib from 200 years ago, who takes afternoon tea with freshly baked scones and enjoys cocktails by the fire in the drawing room".
There is great service, delicious food and a choice of walks, from an hour to a day. Learn how tea is made, cross the hanging bridge into Sikkim, spot birds and butterflies, roam the estate in a 4x4, or sit and sketch the stunning landscapes. Head off to the stilted river lodge for picnics, stargazing or trout fishing.
At only 920 m above sea level, January temperatures are mild: 18°C in the day and 6°C at night.
We have booked the entire 8 suite estate for our group. This is one of India’s most charming hotels.
23rd to 24th January, 2021
We fly back to Kolkata (1 hour) on the 23rd and have our last night of the trip back at the luxurious Glenburn Penthouse. After a morning at leisure we check out of the hotel at midday and you will be transferred to Kolkata Airport in an air conditioned Toyota Innova car.
The hotels have been chosen from the RARE India community of independent hoteliers and hospitality groups who define luxury by the following constants:
• Deliverable community impact including training and employing staff from the local community
• Conservation of nature and wildlife
• Preservation of built heritage
• Promotion of intangible heritage through local experiences
• Sensitive land use and efficient resource utilisation
• Sustainable solutions and best practice
• Excellence in service, style and design
How to Book
• Please email email@example.com to request a booking form and detailed itinerary
• Deposits – To secure your booking, the following deposits are required:
(a) 20% deposit per person, to confirm your place at the time of booking;
(b) a further payment of 30%, per person is due 180 days before the tour start date; and
(c) full and final payment of 50% is due 120 days before the tour start date
• Full payment is required at the time of booking for reservations made less than 120 days before the tour start date
The cost per person of the 15 day/14 night tour is $11,950 (twin share). Single supplement $2,300.
• All prices are in Australian dollars
• Price based on a minimum of 7 guests
The tour starts and finishes in Calcutta, running from Sunday 10th to Sunday 24th January, 2021
• 14 nights hotel accommodation as per the itinerary
• Daily breakfasts (14), daily lunches (14), afternoon tea and snacks (3) and dinners (11), as per the itinerary
• Ground transport in air-conditioned vehicles (mini coach and Toyota Innova cars)
• Complimentary amenities in the vehicles such as bottled water and soft drinks
• All guided touring, activities and admissions, as indicated in the itinerary
• Domestic airfare (Kolkata to Bagdogra economy-class return) with 20 kg luggage allowance
• Group airport arrival and departure transfers, as well as group transfers throughout India, as indicted in the itinerary
• Expert guides, as indicated in the itinerary
• International airfares
• Airport transfers outside of group arrivals and departures
• Meals not specified on the itinerary
• Alcoholic beverages
• Any changes or cancellation made to the Kolkata – Bagdogra – Kolkata flights (which will be $80 per person per sector)
• Visa fees
• Health and travel insurance
• Medical emergencies
• Personal expenses for drinks, snacks, telephone calls, laundry, internet
• Expenses for re-routing due to voluntary or unforeseeable reasons
• Video camera fees at museums and monuments
• Tips and gratuities
If you wish to cancel your booking, you must provide notice in writing
Cancellation Fees per Person
• Cancellations received 180-120 days prior to tour start date will incur loss of deposit
• Cancellations received 119-60 days prior to tour start date will incur a 50% cancellation fee plus non-recoverable costs incurred
• Cancellations made 59–30 days prior to tour start date will incur a 75% cancellation fee plus non-recoverable costs incurred
• Cancellations made less than 30 days prior to tour start date will incur a 100% cancellation fee
A minimum of 7 confirmed bookings are required by 10th November 2020 for the tour to proceed. If the tour does not proceed because we have received less than 7 confirmed bookings by this date, you will be advised in writing on 11th November 2020, and refunded in full within 48 hours.
We look forward to you joining us on this very special trip.
I am passionate about collaborative relationships between designer, client, environment and budget, as well as all that is brought to the physical manifestation by the builder and the trade specialists (both installers and makers).
• My interior and landscape design work is for schools, residential, strata and commercial clients.
• The project I am most proud of is the design and project management of the renovation of a whole apartment block in Cammeray, staggered over a 4 year installation timeframe so that the whole project could be delivered without incurring any special levies - everything from internal common areas to the large outdoor common areas, from new entrance ways to outdoor lighting to a new pool area as well as the redesign and enhancement of one acre of gardens.
• I have renovated "forever" homes as well as renovated investment properties for profit.
• I have been designing for 30 years, including founding my own successful business (now sold), Acorn Trading - designing, manufacturing and wholesaling homewares and soft furnishings to high-end boutique retailers and designers in Australia and New Zealand.
I am creative, tenacious, a “do-er”, resourceful, responsible, capable, enthusiastic, a life-long learner, a research nut, a problem solver and kind-hearted. I am good at making things happen and I look forward to working with you
"You have done a fantastic job. You transformed our tired property into an oasis. It was all done on a budget with careful listening and inspired design ideas. We feel like we live in a resort and now feel proud of our home. Thank you. We love it. You are a dynamo!"
"Striking interiors and a wealth of luxury finishes create an inspiring home worthy of its setting."
"Nicole's attention to detail is second to none."
GARDEN DESIGN AND INSTALL – BLAXLAND RD, BELLEVUE HILL
We live in a small apartment block of five units. The large garden at the rear of our apartment block struggled to survive on a steep, eroded embankment and the soil was void of any nutrients. The old fence had collapsed, as had the overgrown jungle that clung to it. This resulted in us seeing far too much of our back neighbours. Even worse… they could see us!
Now, three months on, we have a new painted fence and a beautiful, established terraced garden, which is flourishing and thriving, thanks to Nicky and her team.
Nicky cares about plants and gardens. She is passionate, she knows what plants need and what combinations work best together. She knows this about people too. The way she handled all of us was exceptional. She heard all of our privacy and light needs, and showed real sensitivity and patience.
While planting, she provided lots of regular updates, and liaised with council on our behalf. She took care of, and educated us on garden waste, and provided generous after-care by checking in after severe weather.
All up, a great experience and a beautiful outcome!
Anna and Tom (Chair of the Executive Committee), Bellevue Hill
3 BEDROOM APARTMENT RENOVATION – SYDNEY RD, FAIRLIGHT
Whilst working for Garwoods Estate Agents, I had the pleasure of meeting Nicole, at Nicole and Craig's property's "open home". I immediately fell in love with their property and loved everything about their home and the renovations they had done. The feel of the apartment was that of home and was what I felt I was missing from my apartment in Fairlight. I asked Nicky if she would help me with my apartment with the purpose of bringing warmth and a feeling of home to my apartment which I’d not felt.
After our first meeting, I was very excited about the storyboard of ideas that Nicky had put together for my apartment and I engaged Nicky for my project.
The result speaks for itself. Nicky brought life into my apartment. I honestly fell in love with my apartment and I now feel that it is my home.
Nicky not only nailed the brief, she sourced the fittings and the right tradespeople, and exceeded my expectations in the time frame that the project was completed in.
Nicky thank you so so much,
Please email me firstname.lastname@example.org for a detailed itinerary or
to make a booking for the Design Tour India 10th to 24th January 2021
• • • • •
Please call me on 0412 443574 to make an appointment to
discuss your interior or garden project
Willoughby, New South Wales, Australia
Monday - Friday: By Appointment
Saturday - Sunday: Closed