Aline’s Indian Journey Diary in early 2015
We spent seven weeks in India this year starting by flying into Chennai on 16th January. We spent a pleasant couple of days on arrival at the Radisson Blu airport hotel where we were made very welcome. I recommend it as a quick efficient transfer if one visits Chennai. Then we spent a short but delightful time at the ITC Grand Chola. This huge hotel we first encountered in 2013 so it was great to see how it had matured…the various restaurants are of a very high calibre and we had three superb meals, Indian, Pan Asian and then Fusion.
Soon we were off to the Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort for three weeks in a villa with pool. This is a place we know and it gave us all the relaxation that was anticipated with the lovely private pool but also the wonderful meandering pool which is the largest in Asia and the infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Beautiful gardens, walking on the beach close to the World Heritage Shore Temple, swimming daily and beautiful Spa treatments, as well as a good Ayurvedic physician made it very enjoyable.
We flew to Bengaluru for two days as the guests of Harsh Dungarpur for his eldest daughter’s wedding to the heir to the House of Rajkot. It was a delightful two days of functions and meeting lots of friendly people. The BBC also filmed it for a documentary for the BBC World channel. We wish the couple all happiness.
We then spent a short time at the wonderful ITC Gardenia hotel which is superb. They kindly gave us the Peacock Suite which is just sublime and the service and food was excellent; this must be one of B’lore’s most sought after destinations but also it has the accolade along with certain other ITC Hotels of being the ‘First on Earth’ to be accorded ‘LEED’ Platinum Certification which means Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design by the US Green Building Council.
I have to here comment that the Bengaluru Airport is impressive even after 7 years whereas the new Chennai Airport is totally depressing.
We were guests of Mahindra World City at their very impressive World City close to Chennai. This warmed my heart; it was so good to see a clean fresh efficient city with serious players like Infosys and BMW and other great names such as Cap Gemini all having their offices here in this tree lined green place. The Mahindra World School is excellent and I was able to give a talk to some of the pupils who were so keen and responsive. This should be the template for all modern cities or new satellite towns in India; they do have another at Jaipur.
When we said farewell to Tamil Nadu we went via Bengaluru to Nagpur. There are no direct flights from Chennai to Nagpur so this was the only efficient way and we had the pleasure of staying at The Paul Hotel. This delightful boutique hotel is in the heart of the city but beautiful and I had experienced it in 2011 and now it is mature and busy. They have added an Irish Pub which is very popular and the owner now has his own brewery and the four beers were outstanding. The Paul Group also owns Kumarakom Lake Resort in Kerala which is a most favourite destination for us.
We used Indigo which I like very much as a no frills on time airline…we were met at Nagpur by Aditya Dhanwatay who owns Tiger Trails Jungle Lodges at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. This is a lovely lodge, but without frills and its usp (unique selling point) is that it has its own entrance to the Park which is four minutes’ drive away and without any queues. We had such a good time for four nights and both the Lodge which serves good local Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine, and the Naturalists were so helpful. A really nice place and on the third day we saw the tigress Maya. Naturally we saw plenty of other animals but it would be hypocritical to say I wouldn’t have been disappointed if we had not set eyes on a tiger. This is a very good park with an ancient history as it is situated on the site of the ancient Gond Kingdom of which there are relics.
From Nagpur we flew to Delhi with Indigo and were efficiently welcomed at the airport by The Imperial Hotel’s greeter. A swift drive to the hotel had us in a beautiful heritage suite and beside the pool in no time! The Imperial I have known since I was just a teenager and I always relish being back there with its beauty, heritage, good service and excellent food.
We met up with old friends which was convivial and also visited the Sunder Nursery project which is progressing, though rather more slowly than I had thought it would. This garden will be magnificent once completed and the Aga Khan Trust has helped enormously with this and the renovation of Humayun’s Tomb which is nearby. We had a sweet taxi driver who is well-known to The Imperial and I enjoyed the interaction with him too and he remained with us for the day. A visit to Delhi would not be complete without a quick visit to Khan Market and I always go to Vishnu to see what they have new in the way of kurtas and other nice clothes.
The next morning found us flying to Jodhpur on Air India. That troubled airline was superb when I was a young girl but now manages to be constantly delayed and unimpressive. Arriving at Jodhpur is always fun because it is a small airport but well maintained and one comes swooping down and can see all the famous landmarks before landing. We were given a very warm welcome at the very new ITC Welcom Jodhpur Hotel. This is a little out of town but all the better for the peace and tranquillity. It is a veritable Oasis in the Desert and we have a lovely three nights there with excellent food, lovely suite, beautiful grounds and swimming pool and a lot of attention to detail.
We rose before dawn and went on a jeep ride to see the Land of the Bishnoi the next morning and loved all the wildlife…..Chinkaras, peacocks, parakeets, other bird life and observing the Bishnoi People whom I admire hugely. In a way it is quintessential India or the India that I love and treasure….village, countryside, wildlife, and dignified people going about their daily lives.
We visited the Sardar Market just to see it again and in the evening we were guests of HH Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur (Bapji) at his royal apartments in Umaid Bhavan Palace. Bapji is someone hugely respected for his role in promoting custodianship of India’s Heritage and his own he maintains beautifully. His little dogs proved very entertaining!
We again rose at dawn for a trip to Khimsar Fort and The Dunes. A long straight good road and we arrived in time for a late breakfast and very warm welcome. Khimsar Fort is lovely; beautifully maintained and impressive with eager Staff who want to make one comfortable. After breakfast we climbed into the jeep for a drive out into the country to see the Black Buck and the Nilgai which is the largest of the antelope family. Well, there were so many and it was such a pleasure to be able to drive close and see them with young, suckling and unafraid of us. That was a real pleasure and then we went to Khimsar’s Dunes Village. This involved riding in the camel cart. The camel always looks down his or her nose but their eye lashes are so impressive close up! The Dune Village is a total delight and I would have loved to spend a night there and see the sunset and the sunrise and just enjoy the peace and unique setting.
Khimsar for lunch was excellent and though Graham had a cold and was struggling I tucked in to all the wonderful dishes and then the mouth-watering Indian sweets which I love. Happy welcoming Staff and lovely place with fine swimming pool, bar, Spa, spacious suites and interesting.
We said our farewells to the ITC Jodhpur and went to stay at Balsamand Lake Palace hotel which belongs to Bapji. This is a lovely place on the edge of the lake and with beautiful gardens in which peacocks strut with parakeets and other birdlife. They made us very welcome and gave us the maharani suite and we enjoyed ourselves quietly. That evening we were guests of Karni Singh the Director of the Mehrangarh Museum at sunset. We were greeted with a glass of champagne and taken on a most interesting tour of the whole Museum. We last visited the Fort in November 1997 so it has been a long time and we were greatly impressed with all the progress and how the fort is displayed and the heritage maintained. We then had a very good dinner on the ramparts – a thali meal either vegetarian or non-vegetarian with wine or soft drinks. The next morning saw us up again for the sunrise for a visit to the Rao Jodha Desert Park which is alongside the Mehrangarh Fort. We loved it. This was an inspired idea to showcase all the desert flora and fauna and though it has to be visited in the cool of the day it is well worth doing. The young Naturalists are eager and well informed and I just loved it. I would like to take our young grandchildren to see it as the direct contrast to the green lush vegetation and flowers and trees of our northern country.
I visited the Royal Marwar Horse Show and was enthralled by the magnificent stallions on display. HH Jodhpur was there and indeed I was his guest. The stallions are quite truly awesome, which is not a word I use lightly. It was particularly good that a friend of ours won second place with his stallion…Sidarth Singh of Rohet who also has the most attractive heritage hotel Rohet Garh which we have known and loved since 1997. In fact we went and had a coffee there en route for Ranakpur the next day.
We left Jodhpur and travelled on the lovely modern road to Ranakpur. The famous Jain temple of Ranakpur I had last seen in 1997 and it was a pleasure to visit it again. We stayed at King’s Abode hotel which was very welcoming to us and by now I was not well and so glad to be able to rest and recoup in a comfortable suite with friendly service. Whilst staying there we were able to do a safari out into the countryside to try and spot leopards. Well it was a long way to drive and we had almost given up when, as the sun was setting, we saw two leopards on a rocky outcrop. It was truly excellent. Again this is rural India and camels, cattle, goats, bird life, crocodiles are all in evidence! It was good to jump in the shower upon return after a dusty drive!
The next morning we said our farewell to King’s Abode and drove to Kumbhalgarh. This is a fort I had never yet seen and so was full of anticipation. You may have read about the rich history of Rajasthan and in particularl the Land of Mewar….well Kumbhalgarh Fort has been witness to the glorious history of this area and its hospitable people. It is not generally known that Kumbhalgarh Fort has the longest wall after the Great Wall of China and it stretches unbroken for 36 km!
We stayed at The Aodhi which belongs to HRH Group of Hotels which belong to HH Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar. This is a pleasant place built out of stone and on the hillside looking over to the first of the great entrances of the fort. We were given a most comfortable suite which had a covered veranda which we loved overlooking the swimming pool and its terraces. There are several places to choose to eat, though one restaurant and the service is eager. Indeed, as I was still feeling below par I requested the classic hot milk with turmeric, ginger and sugar which really helps to make one feel better. The birdlife was all over with parakeets, tree pies, seven sisters, and peacocks calling at sunrise and sunset. There were naughty and curious monkeys in the trees which one had to ensure stayed just there….I made sure the mesh door to the bedroom was closed and locked to avoid unwanted curious visitors! We attended the son et lumiere in the evening which was impressive and then went back for dinner by the pool with Rajasthani dancing to entertain us. The next morning we made a thorough visit to the Kumbhalgarh Fort with the help of a guide and saw just exactly how impressive it is. I have written its story in an article for another magazine and travel website but suffice to say that the Land of Mewar was engulfed with invaders and marauders and it took all the resolution of its rulers to fend off these onslaughts and maintain their land and culture. They did this successfully and with great honour. Gradually Udaipur became the capital of Mewar.
We drove to Udaipur on the very good national highway and when we reached were given a very warm welcome at the Fateh Prakash Palace and shown to a sumptuous comfortable suite with delightful view of Lake Pichola and the Lake Palace (which is now a Taj hotel). We had a lovely time over four nights and were royally entertained and met up with HH Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar (Sriji) and talked of his great ancestry which stems from AD 734. Son et Lumiere, sunset viewing of the Lake Pichola, boat rides, a visit to Jag Mandir Island, visits to both the male and female sides of the City Palace, lunches and dinners at Shiv Niwas Palace, the royal classic car collection and all the fascination of an ancient city – Udaipur….I recommend. Go and enjoy and if possible stay in a heritage palace to add to the experience.
We flew to Delhi and were greeted by the Dusit Devarana representative at the domestic airport and whisked away to Dusit Devarana which is a new hotel between the IGI airport and Delhi. It is an elegant minimalist oasis of tranquillity with 1000 trees and water features and birdlife. They gave us a very warm welcome. The rooms are very comfortable and the service eager with a good Spa.
After one night we were greeted by the various executives who are connected with the very new ITC Grand Bharat Hotel. The drive accompanied by our personal butler was not too long and then we arrived to a most splendid welcome at this new lovely resort.
Set against the Aravali hills, the ITC Grand Bharat has been planned as the ultimate expression of luxury….and embodiment of the ITC credo ‘responsible luxury’. It is indeed that and we had a most superb two nights at this wonderful new leisure destination. The hotel has been carefully designed with three restaurants, some of them charming, all of them elegant and one nothing less than grand….The India Room, with the vibrant Peacock Bar and The Verandah. Kaya Kalp – The Royal Spa is present and I had a good massage in beautiful surroundings. The swimming pool is beautiful with poolside dining; there is a state of the art fitness centre and a comprehensive yoga regimen.
The suites are enchanting. Not huge but totally elegant and so well thought out with lots of little careful touches and beautiful decor. Each deluxe suite has access to a shared heated pool alongside or if upstairs with a terrace. There are three presidential villas. The golf course is 27 hole designed by the great Jack Nicklaus and there are also Adventure leisure activities. The conference facilities are impressive and altogether this is a superb Destination Leisure Resort, 50 minutes from the airport and similar distance from the centre of Delhi.
The Chefs are eager and the cuisines are impressive. The Butler, the service, the Staff, the total ambience makes it a most memorable place and once this lovely resort has matured it will become a global destination.
So, finally, seven weeks exactly came to its end and we departed for Scotland on Emirates. India as always was welcoming and we have many happy memories and wonderful experiences. Friendships rekindled and new friends made. I hope you enjoy the galleries!