India is a land cloaked in magic all its own. By day its streets unfold in an endless cascade of technicolor, perfumed by the scent of a thousand spices. As evening descends, the Indian sun seems almost loath to take his exit, setting the celestial crown of the Himalayas ablaze with a golden rim of lingering light.
As the country’s endless streams of bicycles give way to the magic of a snake charmer’s moon, the stars eagerly take their seats over a land of fables. Ancient gods descend to stroll the streets, bathed in the music of laughter, single-syllable prayers, and dreams.
Welcome to a country where the people’s favorite jewelry is a smile.
As the CEO of a leading luxury gay group tour company, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the magic of India many times over. There I’ve made connections with incredible people, from fellow travelers to Indian Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the world’s first openly gay prince, and an avid LGBTQ+ and human rights activist. I’m looking forward to continuing this love of India when we return in March 2023 for our Colors of India & The Holi Festival journey.
India cannot be captured in one article. Even the two I have planned won’t do it justice. But I wanted to share my experiences with anyone looking to explore this magical and complicated country.
In this Part One article, I will focus on the first of the two major cities most gay travelers to India plan; Delhi. In addition, I share a couple of other cities that are oftentimes included in a Northern India small group tour, sometimes called the Golden Triangle.
Each city you’ll find here holds its own unique possibilities for a truly transformative chapter in the journey of life. It’s my pleasure to help you choose the perfect approach to delving into the mind, body, and spirit of a truly remarkable country.
Delhi: A Unique Blend of Past and Present
It was the 16th century when the massive walls of the Red Fort were first ordered to guard the heart and soul of the Mughal empire. Centuries later, they’ve yet to stand down. The footsteps of emperors may no longer echo throughout the white marble and precious stones of the Diwan-i-Khas. But many travelers could swear the very heart of Delhi has taken up residence within these majestic walls.
The Red Fort is just one of the many awe-inspiring sites you’ll enjoy on a journey through New Delhi and Old Delhi. India’s capital city bustles with colorful bazaars, raucous rickshaws, and unforgettable cultural treasures.
An architectural paradise, the city is also home to sites such as the Swaminarayan Akshardham and Humayun’s Tomb, the original Indian garden temple.
But just beyond the towering 13th-century Qutab Minar (a UNESCO World Heritage Sight), you’ll also find a pocket of flourishing modern Indian cultural trends.
Behind the unassuming, yet ever-evolving storefronts of Kahn Market you’ll discover a unique blend of shops and restaurants. A favorite hotspot of Delhi hipsters, the market’s up-scale boutiques and trendy restaurants seamlessly blend with the delightful chaos of tuk-tuks and street dogs.
A journey southward leads into the heart of Hauz Khas Village. There you’ll find an eclectic collage of medieval architecture and royal tombs, flanked by trendy rooftop bars and prominent art galleries such as Lokayata. But don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience the contemporary art renaissance that’s sprung up in the nearby neighborhoods of Labo Sarai and Gurgaon.
Hidden throughout the unassuming residential community, art seekers will find a wealth of hidden gems. Galleries such as Gallery1000a, Latitude 28, and Gallery Pioneer hold treasure troves of modern art that rival those found in New York’s most upscale venues. Recent years have seen a creative explosion of bold painting techniques, innovative photography, stunning sculpture, and beyond. Immerse yourself in the energy of southwest Delhi’s artistic revolution and rest assured that you’ll find most pieces very reasonably priced.
After securing local masterpieces for your walls, you’ll also enjoy the opportunity to upgrade your wardrobe. Fashion lovers will find India’s answer to Paris’ Rue de Rivoli in Kalka Das Marg. There, a string of high-end fashion shops has emerged into what’s collectively become known as the “Style Mile.”
Those in search of Delhi’s LGBTQ+ scene can expect to find it at the legendary Kitty Su Dance & Nightclub. Each weekend, the venue’s spectacular rooftop views attract a crowd of gay, transgender, and queer allies, all of whom come dressed to impress. Fans of EDM and global pop will feel right at home on the club’s intimate dance floor, which tends to keep the music flowing until 3 am. With a full bar, food menu, and resident DJ, Kitty Su will welcome visitors into the city’s gay scene with open arms.
As you can see, Delhi offers a unique blend of traditional and modern Indian culture. From ancient fortresses and monuments to contemporary art and fashion, the city offers the best of the past and present.
Arga: India’s Most Romantic Destination
There once lived an emperor whose love ran so deep that words alone could not hope to mine it from the depths of his heart. So, he chose instead to house his undying devotion in an elegant ivory castle, flanked by ethereal towers that seemed to kiss the clouds.
Today, the Taj Mahal is still counted among the seven wonders of the world and is one of the most romantic gestures that history has ever known. No Indian travel guide would be complete with a trip to Agra, where the enchanting landmark stands along the banks of the Yamuna River.
Many a gay group tour will welcome you along on an Agra day trip from Delhi, which is located roughly 140 miles away. Should you decide to use Agra as a home base, however, you’ll find excellent five-star accommodations available at the Oberoi, the only hotel where every room has a breathtaking view of the Taj Mahal.
Enjoy exploring the other sites that Agra has to offer, such as the resplendent Agra Fort. Located less than two miles away from the Taj Mahal, the colossal fortress served as the seat of the Mughal empire from the late 1500s to 1638.
Throughout its history, the fortress has borne witness to both the majesty of empires and heartbreaking tragedies. It was inside the walls of Agra Fort that Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who constructed the Taj Mahal, met a cruel end. Overthrown by his own son, Shah Jahan was forced to spend his last days locked in a tower that overlooked the stunning monument he’d constructed in loving memory of his late wife.
Just west of Agra, you’ll find the mystical 16th-century ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri. Though abandoned by the 17th century, the city’s palaces, mosques, and public buildings still stand as immaculately preserved masterworks of Mughal architecture.
Enjoy a Luxurious Holiday in Jaipur
Tucked into the walls of Jaipur’s City Palace stands a bedazzling fairytale castle called the Hawa Mahal. Five layers of opulently carved windows reach towards the heavens, collectively stacked in the shape of the crown of an ancient god.
As you pass by a series of fountains, you can almost hear the laughter of Indian princesses as they splashed and played among the colorful powders of long-past Holi celebrations. The breeze from 953 small windows cools the air as you explore the glittering honeycomb layers of the “Palace of Wind.”
You’ll find no stairs as you ascend its floors, as the finery of the Indian ladies who once graced these halls was far easier carried along a series of ramps. It was here that the royal women of India once gazed upon the outside world from a fortress of pink sandstone and semi-precious stones.
If there’s one place in India where you should plan to take plenty of photos, it’s Jaipur. From the splendor of the City Palace, Patrika Gate, and Amber Fort to the holy waters of the Monkey Temple, Jaipur is a city of otherworldly beauty. Luxury travelers can even enjoy the option of premium tours, which offer the chance to see the private sections of the palace still in use by the Jaipur royal family to this day.
Enjoy the best accommodations the area has to offer from a luxurious home base at the Rambagh Palace Hotel. Originally built in 1835, the opulent castle once served as the primary residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Today, the property is run by the luxurious Taj hotel chain, which invites guests to lodge in one of 78 rooms or suites. An array of various styles and themes are available, including the actual former chambers of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
The hotel also hosts numerous dining venues. Among the most impressive is the Suvarna Mahal, which is still adorned in all the splendor of its former life as the palace’s royal dining room. The hotel also recently debuted one of the area’s first farm-to-table fine outdoor dining restaurants, which welcomes guests to dine amid the gardens from which their meals are sourced.
Those in search of local nightlife will not have to look far, as Jaipur is home to plenty of clubs, bars, and restaurants that cater to the city’s huge young population. You may also have luck making friends on gay dating apps, where you’ll meet a variety of enthusiastic locals who have far more knowledge of the local scene than the average hotel concierge.
One final word about Jaipur. If you are interested in jewels and jewelry, this is where you want to shop. Be sure you visit a reputable dealer who will provide authentication for anything you purchase. You might even discuss getting a full refund if you appraise the jewelry back home and discover it is not worth the price you paid. A reputable jeweler will most likely be happy to take on this arrangement.
FAQ’s About LGBTQ+ Travel in India
Is India Safe for Gay Travelers?
Generally speaking, gay travelers should not expect to face issues in India, particularly in more liberal areas like Delhi and Mumbai. Overall, we’ve found it to be an incredibly welcoming destination for tourists from all walks of life.
That said, it’s very important to keep in mind that India as a whole is a socially conservative country. Like many other countries with booming tourism industries, foreigners tend to get a free pass on a number of things that ordinary citizens might not. Still, I strongly advise respecting local behavior, especially in public.
Is Homosexuality Legal in India?
While homosexuality is legal in India, things can get complicated for some members of the gay Indian community. If you do find yourself interested in a local, then it’s never a bad idea to let them take the lead to ensure both their safety and your own. It’s also worth mentioning that families in India tend to be very closely knit, so expecting to accompany someone home is not generally realistic.
How Do I Book a Same-Sex Hotel Room?
If booking a hotel room for yourself and your partner, it’s important to ask whether the hotel is comfortable with two people of the same gender sharing a bed.
Most will gladly welcome you, particularly if you choose to stay at a 5-star property. That said, surprises of any sort are not something you want to deal with on an international journey. Do your research on reputable places based on other gay travelers’ experiences.
What Should I Know About Public Social Decorum?
You should also be aware that it’s far more common in India to see straight men holding hands or otherwise openly displaying affection for one another. This should not be mistaken for sexual interest or as an open invitation to engage in a little PDA of your own.
Regardless of whether a couple is gay or straight, public displays of affection tend to be frowned upon across the board. In order to show respect for local culture, erring on the side of modesty is always recommended.
One More Thing…
India remains one of the most extraordinary destinations I have ever visited. I have returned, and always discover something new and exciting happening. The country is sprawling and the diversity of the people and food is unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere else. I think what has made it so special for me over the years is the people. They maintain an unwavering commitment to their heritage, value their tight-knit family bonds, and love their neighbor and visitors alike. As I mentioned at the start, locals’ favorite jewelry is a smile.
To continue exploring India for the gay traveler, visit our itinerary for the Colors of India & The Holi Festival journey. And check back next month when we publish India: A Complete Guide For the LGBTQ+ Traveler – Part Two.