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Rajasthan and then a Joyful Brief Visit to Kabini

In the early hours of the morning we drove to Delhi Station to board the Shatabdhi Express to Dholpur.  The train left on time, full of Europeans who were going to see The Taj Mahal at Agra – Dholpur is the next stop after Agra.  The train was delayed by the considerable fog along the way but eventually we arrived to a warm welcome in sunshine by Raj Niwas manager Vijay Hada and his wife Bhavana.   It was eight years exactly since we had been at Raj Niwas the palace of the Dholpur royalty.   Vasundhara Raje is the Chief Minister of Rajasthan and her son Dushyant was there too.   Much has been done at Raj Niwas and the cottages and suites are lovely with stylish interiors and beautiful green lawns with peacocks parading and calling.   We then went on a river safari on the Chambal river and saw plenty crocodiles and gharials and turtles and birdlife.   Lunch in the sunshine under a colourful umbrella on the lawn was a delight, with interesting birdlife darting amongst the trees.   The Old Palace is now closed but opened for museum visits to see its eccentricities that go back to 1876 when the then Maharajah of Dholpur built the whole palace to receive the then Prince of Wales…. Queen Victoria’s heir.  We had stayed in the Palace in 2008 and had experienced the vintage plumbing and huge fully tiled rooms with beautiful tiles that would have been manufactured in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire I am pretty sure…. sometimes it had felt as if we were sleeping on the floor of a Victorian swimming pool!  The Palace is essential viewing for visitors.

View photos of Dholpur in Rajasthan 2016

Agra and Sariska Wildlife Park

View photos of Sariska Wildlife ParkWe then drove on and skirted Agra, but the road to Agra is very good now and so it is an easy place to stay from which to visit the Taj Mahal and other outstanding World Heritage Sites in the vicinity.   We spent a night at Laxmi Niwas at Bharatpur…. a place we had visited previously also in 2008.  Sadly the great Keoladeo Bird Park seems still to be bereft of water.  I recall it in 1997 when it was so beautiful and full of birdlife.

We arrived finally at Vanaashrya which is a lovely Tented Resort with swimming pool, Spa and excellent facilities very near to Sariska Wildlife Park.   This we enjoyed hugely and the Tent was so comfortable with glorious beds and careful comfortable facilities.   The welcome was huge and the food was good.   I had a most splendid foot massage after a long day and the musicians sang and played and it was a convivial evening with excellent dinner.   The night had the noises of a wild place with jackals keening and then peacocks calling.   We were up at dawn for entry to the park.  This is a very pleasant park which is often overlooked but repays careful attention.  We also liked that it was laid back and had few vehicles but we were with a careful Naturalist.   A good morning, then back for breakfast, a shower and farewell.  I could have easily stayed another night just relaxing and enjoying the ambience.

Legends of of Bhangarh Fort

En route to Ranthambhore we went to Bhangarh which is a deserted fort and village not far away from Vanaashrya. The Bhangarh Fort is located on the border of the Sariska Reserve in the Aravalli range of hills in Alwar district of Rajasthan. The nearest village is Golakabaas. The fort is situated at the foot of the hills on sloping terrain. The ruins of the King’s palace are located on the lower slopes of the hills and trees surround the pond area and a natural stream falls into the pond within the premises of the palace.

There are two legends narrated as to the history of the fort city which is reported to be haunted and no one is allowed to remain in the precincts of the fort at night as per a notice board put up by the Archaeological Survey of India at the entrance.

One version of the legend is that a sadhu named Baba Balanath lived within the fort area. It was his injunction that any houses built in the precincts of the fort should not be taller than his house and in case the shadow of any such house falling on his house would result in destruction of the fort town

In another version, the wizard who was adept in black magic fell in love with Ratnavati, the princess of Bhangarh who was very beautiful and had suitors to marry her from many royal families of the country. One day while the princess, 18 years of age, went shopping with her friends and was buying Attar (scent) the wizard saw this and replaced the scent with some potion in order to ensnare the princess. He offered the potion to her so that she took a liking for him and marry him.  However, the princess saw through the wizard's trickery and when he offered her the bowl of potion, she threw it on a big boulder nearby and as a result the boulder started rolling down towards the wizard and crushed him. Before he died he cursed that Bhangarh would be destroyed soon and no one will be able to live within its precincts. Subsequent to the curse Bhangarh Fort was invaded by the Mughals from the north and the city was surrounded and sacked; 10,000 people lived in the fort city at that time. All the people in the fort including the princess were killed. The present state of the fort is attributed to the curse of the wizard and people believe the ghosts in the fort are that of the princess and the wizard.  Since that day, it is believed that paranormal activities take place here during the nights.

View album photographs

Well I really do not know about all that, but I enjoyed visiting in the hot sunshine of the noon day sun.  Eventually, after a long drive, we reached Sawai Madhopur which is the town next to which Ranthambhore Wildlife Park is located.  I know it well from previous visits.  This time we again stayed at the very reliable Ranthambhore Regency Hotel and were given a very warm efficient welcome and were glad of tea and biscuits on the lawn.  This is a busy hotel which is efficiently run.  The owner of Vanaashrya is Arvind Jain and his brother Ravindra owns the Regency…. or both own them as a family business.  Either way these hotels are well managed.  At the Regency it was completely full, mostly with British tourists all eager to spot a tiger.

View album photographs

Sleeping Tiger absolute delight

Sleeping Tiger T74- click to view more imagesThere is a swimming pool, elegant large rooms and modern bathrooms, a Spa, good food and good observant service plus efficient management of jeeps and cantaurs for wildlife spotting in the Park.  We went out the next morning and heh presto….our jeep came upon a most beautiful sleepy male Tiger T74.  He was a delight and we had ages in which to observe and photograph him.   Then we had to undergo the usual hiatus with a whole lot of jeeps and cantaurs arriving and matters got out of hand.  The only living being behaving appropriately was His Highness the Tiger.

Enough said!   We moved on and spied other lovely wildlife, birds, crocodiles, sambur and chital.  Then just at the end having returned to cross the river we again saw T74 who had not moved at all and on the way out we came across Arrowhead the female and she too was sleepy.   It was a splendid morning and we were both delighted.  That afternoon after a good light lunch we went to the old Fort in the Ranthambhore Wildlife Park.  We had first visited in 2002 but this time we clashed with a religious festival and the place was covered in crowds and infested with monkeys so after a while we beat a retreat…. nevertheless, enjoying driving through the Park in warm sunshine.   We then visited the shop called Tribal-Wild Women Craft.  It is a good place with eager staff.  I ordered two short kurtas and a hand painted version of a bird on silk.  All this for our departure the next morning.  We bought the obligatory T Shirts for the five grandchildren and had a pleasant time interacting with the owner and his wide awake young son Udit Rathore.   I always try to buy something locally and in this places the local Tribal Women were sitting outside sewing and embroidering their typical pieces which was nice to see.  Masala chai went down well too.

Tea on the lawn and the others who had returned to the Park were either full of wonder at having seen tigers or sad that they hadn’t.  I felt blessed with the two we had seen at Pench and now two at Ranthambhore.  Years ago I had seen the legendary Maachli and three tiger cubs here. The next morning we collected our order from Tribal Wild Women Craft and were on our way.  Again a long drive and this time to Shahpura Haveli.

We went by way of Ramgarh Lodge Hotel.  The Gateway Hotel Ramgarh Lodge Jaipur was once the favourite hunting retreat of the Maharaja of Jaipur. ... The Ramgarh Lodge was built in 1933 designed by Sir Swinton Jacob with a Spanish theme almost 30 years after the man-made lake was created in 1903 at Jamwa Ramgarh.  This was a favourite retreat for the legendary Maharani of Jaipur….later known well as Rajmata Jaipur when the Maharaja sadly died of a polo accident.  I recall them all in their splendour as a child at polo tournaments in Kolkata in the 1950s and early 1960s.   Ayesha Jaipur’s mother the legendary Ma Cooch Behar wrote a book with my own grandmother Aline Rose, after whom I was named about 100 years ago!  (I combined the photos of Ramgarh Lodge with Bhangarh Fort earlier)

We arrived at Shahpura Haveli in time for tea…. all drives in India seem to take about four hours and this one had been slightly longer as we had stopped for lunch.  There was a warm welcome from the manager of Shahpura Haveli.  It has been restored with care and enthusiasm and there are further plans to progress the restoration.  We were given a sumptuous suite, currently there are only four suites.   We enjoyed ourselves but were the only people staying.  The food is good and the management responded to our requests.   The town of Shahpura is cut in half by the main highway.  It is a typical little Rajasthan town with good and challenging points.  There is an attempt at cleaning and neatness…. but there is a very long way to go.   We did a town walk and watched a sweet young Muslim girl make bangles.  This was fascinating and we bought two she made to our requirements for our granddaughter in her favourite colours.  What heartened me was the information that the young girl is in fact studying Geography and Sanskrit at the local university and has another different sort of employment, but does this craft in the family firm.  A young woman with choices which warms my heart.  We visited local sites of heritage interest and then a Charity that houses and educates orphan children which we found very worthwhile.  There are no photographs at their request. I interacted with the boys, there are also girls but I did not meet them.  I spoke in Hindi but was helped out by the young manager from Shahpura.   It was also an encouraging visit. Bal Ashram (Bachpan Bachao Andolan) was founded by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and has significant property and garden area with good amenities quite close to Jaipur.  There was a young footballer who came to talk to us.  He had been sent on a six-month secondment to help teach football and team spirit and all the values that are worthwhile.  www.bba.org.in/balashram

View ablum photographs

Onward to Jaipur

We moved on to Jaipur the following day and arrived at Shahpura House.  This is a very nice old city mansion which has had a new efficient elegant and comfortable Wing added to it which is very new.  I liked it.  There are the usual amenities of a swimming pool, the Spa, good dining room and rooftop dining plus a very good shop.  The shower was excellent which always is a top consideration for me!   This hotel was busy with many Europeans and Australians.

Whilst in Jaipur we were the Guests of Mahindra World City.  In 2015 we had been the special guests of Mahindra World City in Chennai and really enjoyed the whole experience including their Mahindra World School.  Here the MWC is quite young and there is no school as yet.  It is however about twice the size of the Chennai city and has huge potential right on the edge of a burgeoning Rajasthani city which is the capital of the State and now designated a Smart City.  We were warmly welcomed by Mr Sanjay Srivastava the COO and his senior colleagues and given a presentation of the MWC Jaipur and its aspirations.   It really is very encouraging and I have no doubt that if I were to return in a few years the whole place will have matured with fine trees and vegetation and instead of 65 companies being represented there will be twice that number.   We discussed the whole aspect of new cities…. after all, in the UK in post-World War II Britain in the late 1950s and right through the 1960s the various governments established whole new towns in both England and Scotland…. I am more au fait with the Scottish ones and 60 years on some of them are excellent.  Some it has to be said were victims of depressing architecture and a soulless ambience.  Sadly, it seems only architects are paid to make mistakes….and we live with their mistakes forever after.  In the case of Glasgow however and some parts of London they realised their errors and some buildings have been demolished to make way for more modern realistic ideas.

Mahindra World City Jaipur 2016- view photos

In India the emphasis must be on the environment and cleanliness and greening an area (which is arid semi desert anyway) and the general aspiration of providing a place that reflects the Mahindra Mantra.  LIVELIHOOD, LIVING, LIFE.  I agree wholeheartedly.  www.mahindraworldcity.com

In the late afternoon we visited the delightful boutique of Princess Bhargavi Kumari Mewar called Aashka in the Hotel Narain Niwas Palace gardens.  It is an elegant delight and full of lovely items of clothing and household soft furnishings and objets d’art.   Afterward Aavi and Loku took us to tea at Rambagh Palace which is always a delight to experience.  A special memory. www.aashkaindia.com

Karnataka

Welcome back to Kabini in Orange CountyAll too soon we were on a flight down to Bengaluru with Indigo.   It is a long drive to Orange County Kabini and we hit some obstacles that made it longer.  Therefore it was a great pleasure to arrive as the sun set to a very warm welcome and the sheer bliss of this lovely place.  We had not been for four years and the vegetation and trees have all matured and it looks so wonderful.  How I recall a decade ago being shown the plans and then looking out over Lake Kabini…. now it is a beautiful comfortable place but totally in keeping with its setting in a wild area of Karnataka.   We had a wonderful dinner and glorious bed.   The next morning the birdsong woke me pre sunrise and I walked around enjoying the whole ambience.  I worked on my tablet at the pool lounge where there is Wi Fi.   These cottages are so roomy and comfortable and breakfast was a lovely dosa and fruits.  Then we asked chef if he would make us plain yoghurt in matka pots which he did and we loved.

We went on a boat safari that afternoon and saw plenty from the comfort of the boat.  As the sun set we arrived back to a welcome tea and eats.  The infinity swimming pool called (the pool cottages have their own little pools) and looking out on the lake as the light went was sublime.   Four nights here was a perfect end to our two months in India.  We had a dawn safari which was pleasant.  I personally feel that Karnataka Forestry have to up their game with regard to the vehicles they provide and their whole ethos….but then I have said this before.  Make your visitors welcome, they bring you good revenue and do NOT frighten the wildlife!   Our last afternoon was the pool, tea under an umbrella, watching the elephant plod by with various people on her back, then the bullock cart trundle by doing a similar job, someone was in a coracle experiencing that and we were just drinking up a beautiful sunset and precious memories of a most favourite place.   We saw a hare…. lollop by our villa…. shy but not that scared and the birdlife was excellent too.   We saw wild elephants and crocodiles and deer and gaur…. we did not see the black leopard or the tiger sadly but others did. A precious time indeed.

The next day we drove to Bengaluru and stayed at The Paul.  This is an excellent hotel in the good shopping district and business area of Blare.  We have stayed there previously and it is owned by the man who owns Kumarakom Lake Resort.  A high standard of comfort and food and welcome.

We flew home on Emirates.  Bengaluru Airport is a delight and such a contrast to our arrival at Mumbai.  Beautiful gardens surrounding it, clean efficient airport and communicative personnel on the immigration and passport control. 

Now we are back in our beloved home; Spring has sprung to our joy…may it be a good summer full of sunshine and promise of good things to come.  In our memories are all the beloved places, the special experiences, some of the challenges and our poignant Phir Milengi…. until we meet again in …… India.