India in Luxury in the Monsoon
This is the second part of my feature on visiting India in the monsoon months of July and August.
Having said farewell to our family after three weeks they departed for home and we continued to stay at our favourite place Kumarakom Lake Resort in Kerala just two hours drive from Kochi International airport. We like to remain for a whole three weeks to really relax, swim, read, walk in the gardens, have some Ayurvedic massage, choose to do Yoga and just enjoy the tranquillity of this lakeside paradise. We choose a heritage cottage with a courtyard pool but there are other choices like villas on the graceful meandering pool, presidential villas and some suites in a main building. After three weeks it was time to say farewell to KLR and move on. https://photos.app.goo.gl/o7Fl4RV6ZFSFK6sZ2
We were driven for an hour and half drive to the boutique hotel Forte Kochi which is in the old heritage district of Kochi (used to be known as Cochin) where all the interesting and intriguing heritage sites are to be found. The famous Chinese fishing nets, the Jewish Synagogue, the ancient Spice Auction house and warehouses, the first Christian Church in India where initially Vasco da Gama was buried, the Dutch cemetery and of course the various shops and boutiques with all their enticing wares are right there. There are many lovely hotels and guest houses from which to choose and now we were to experience Forte Kochi. It has been completely renovated and is so well located on the main shopping street, but close to the great harbour of Kochi. It is lovely, small, with great attention to detail, and respect for being initially the big mansion of a spice trader. Kochi and its origin at Muziris slightly to the north have been on the global map since civilisations first traded. Muziris was the global hub of trade in the times of the Romans, the Greeks, Ashoka the Great and the Middle East as it then was with Persia, Syria, Egypt and Yemen and Lebanon. Fascinating archaeology has given up the secrets of those times very recently and enormous careful restoration is being done to show what was there then and how Kerala became a melting pot of peoples and thus one finds today Greek surnames, Arab surnames, Syrian Christians, Roman Catholics, Jews and of course Hindus and Muslims. Kerala has 100% literacy and is a fascinating but small state of India. Today the modern city of Ernakulam is where trade flourishes as well as medical tourism with a big superb private hospital with some of the world’s medical experts, and the wonderful modern Kochi International airport which is fully solar powered makes for a warm welcome to the world.
Forte Kochi is a delight with the décor reminiscent of old times and clever use of tiles made in Chettinad in Tamil Nadu by hand which I love; it has a beautiful courtyard pool, lovely suites and glorious food.
Lots of folk came into dine when we were there so its reputation is spreading. I would suggest a heritage walk, visit to the spice warehouses, the Synagogue, the fishing nets, and if time take a sunset cruise on the great harbour. Naturally you would shop too! https://photos.app.goo.gl/oTdpZt15dZcv3p558
We flew out of Kochi domestic terminal the next day to Bengaluru airport. This again is another of India’s modern attractive efficient airports. Here we had a stop over for some hours but that is not a problem in such a place with plenty of bars and restaurants and transit lounges. We took the small plane to Vijaynagar which is the private airport for the big Jindal Steel works in northern Karnataka very close to Hampi Vijaynagar – the famous once great medieval city of the last great Hindu empire. The plane is a small plane and thus the flight has its challenges with turbulence, but hey ho, soon we were down on the small air strip and being whisked to our destination. We were visiting for four nights the Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace Resort. I had first visited Hampi in March 2006 and stayed at the only place in town then – it was not a happy visit though of course we so enjoyed the great medieval ruins of this city but endured the dire hotel. Now here we were in a beautiful place which is still very new and very popular as it makes a wonderful break for the busy executives from Bengaluru and Hyderabad to fly in and spend a couple of nights at a weekend. Evolve Back have made a beautiful spacious great resort that echoes the architectural designs to be found at Hampi. Here, in relatively wild Karnataka one can hear the peacocks calling at sunrise. There are nature walks, the grounds give room to roam around. There is a massive pool and then again, a children’s special activity corner and pool as families are most welcome.
There is an a la carte restaurant as well as the big main dining room. The shop is good, and the Ayurveda spa is outstanding.
We had a big suite which was charming with stunning views of the sunrise. The management are caring and do everything to make your stay special and having realised this was a Golden Wedding anniversary tour of India they arranged a special little party and cake ceremony for us too. I seriously recommend the place and we had some fun and of course naturally visited the great and impressive ruins of Hampi Vijaynagar with an excellent guide. Now the group are going to adopt parts of the historic site to help with its upkeep and maintenance which can only be a good thing. Tourism has progressed and this time there were electric buggies to transport one from the car park, whereas in 2006 we were the only Europeans visiting and roamed by car everywhere. The car is needed for certain areas as are the buggies, this is a vast site and cannot be done on foot. The countryside is magnificent in its great rock formations and one reflects upon the dynasty that created something so awesome that the then Portuguese traders and merchants likened it to the grandeur of Rome.
Again, I like to set up a rapport with the Staff and I taught the Chef an easy ice cream with which he was delighted and made whilst I was there.
Evolve Back have other lovely resorts in Coorg and Kabini and one I think coming up in Mandu in Madhya Pradesh which also has an ancient ruined kingdom, and another on the west coast of Karnataka;, and, and, would you believe it in Botswana – yes you read right in southern Africa – that is somewhere I want to visit as they will do it beautifully. In India my favourite has to be the one at Kabini on the shores of the lake with the wildlife – my great commitment is to Indian wildlife conservation. https://photos.app.goo.gl/uVerSAhUBUXT2y818 https://goo.gl/photos/g515pVYSUYYmiHUYA
Having said farewell to Kamalapura we boarded the small plane this time for Hyderabad. This time the flight was very smooth and in no time at all we were down on the ground and yet another of India’s lovely modern international airports. Hyderabad is a city that I had loved since I was a child 60 years ago. I had returned briefly in March 2005 but now here was the chance to spend four nights and get to know it all over again. We were very efficiently collected in a Jaguar saloon by the chauffeur of the Taj Falaknuma Palace hotel and driven into the old city. It was two days before the great Muslim Festival of Eid, so the streets were busy and congested that evening but finally we arrived. The driver courteously informed us that we would need to alight from the car and wait for the horses and coach. This was an engaging first and along came a beautiful coach and pair and we were transported up the last driveway to the beautiful heritage palace of the Nizams, Falaknuma. It was a splendid arrival followed with a welcome bouquet and warmth of greeting and from the front of the palace one could see the vista of Hyderabad below and the twinkling of millions of lights. We were shown to a most comfortable suite and we quickly settled and sorted because dinner called.
That evening we found ourselves in the covered elegant dining terrace and there were lots of diners all avidly listening to the Sufi Singers. It is a while since I heard Sufi music and, and this was intriguing. One must recall that essentially Hyderabad is a Muslim dominated city because of course its rulers were the legendary Nizams of Hyderabad State, and indeed in the early 20th century the Nizams were considered the richest men in the world and the British gave him the title His Exalted Highness. There is no room here to give you a potted history of Hyderabad but suffice to say these rulers were mostly very philanthropic and did much for their peoples, yet they accrued vast wealth and some of it in the most stunning vast collections of gems – and the Nizams loved pearls and spent a fortune on real pearls. To this day gorgeous pearls can be found to buy in Hyderabad and their jewellers have the most eye watering of jewels from which to choose. https://photos.app.goo.gl/rJkFJunzevzbXvvQ9
I was weary and went to my bed, but early the next morning I was up with a cup of tea on my little veranda and then quietly pottered off with my camera to take photographs before people stirred.
Great elegant rooms spoke to me in silence and grace and I could imagine the Nizam royal family using these rooms.
This palace was influenced by classic Grecian Corinthian architecture and only constructed in the 19th century but it is beautiful and in the days of its glory looking down from this green oasis perched on a hill it must have been a stunning paradise. Peacocks roam and the birdlife enchants. There is a lovely swimming pool, a Spa, beautiful shops, and I bought pearls, a choice of dining and afternoon tea and the Chefs yearn to serve.
As soon as they realised I am wheat intolerant gluten free breakfast dainties appeared for my delectation.
The library is full of thousands of worthwhile books, the drawing rooms with European style furniture and the dining room – well it has the longest dining table in the world. It is stunning and, in its time, the Nizam hosted viceroys and presidents and quite recently Mr Modi held a grand banquet here as well.
On the eve of Eid, the Deputy High Commissioner of the UK hosted us and showed us around Hyderabad, and we had the great good fortune to be in his diplomatic car in these sizeable crowds. We visited the Paigah Tombs which are a jewel in the crown of the architectural heritage of Hyderabad and are now being restored – these tombs are closely connected to the Hyderabad Nizam royal family. We were guests at The Good Talk Factory NGO at their conference – the aim of this new NGO is to help ordinary young people tell their stories and aspirations and some of their challenges overcome, most emphatically it is not for ‘celebs’ but local young people who are aspiring to achieve in the realms of helping their own people. I found it inspiring and was only too glad to give them my support from the podium. We then visited the famous Charminar, the icon of Hyderabad, and then amidst the stunning vast crowd we visited the great Mosque of Hyderabad and met its Superintendent and we were allowed to go inside and see the restoration being achieved. My Urdu came to the fore from time to time which pleased the officials. That evening we were given hospitality in a private home which made it very special and so to bed – at midnight! The next day was Eid so we rested but on our last full day we visited the Choumahalla Palace complex and absorbed the recent history of the royal family of the Nizams.
Princess Esra of Hyderabad married to the last Nizam has done so much to support and promote restoration of all this heritage and I would urge Hyderabadis to help continue this. The city might now be a great IT hub of India and have modern satellite cities but for the visitor it is the old heritage wonderful Hyderabad that fascinates. It is with sorrow that I noticed that so many of the great boulders and rock formations have been blasted away, they were truly impressive 60 years ago.
Little known to us on our last night there was a secret plan to give us a surprise and we were given a banquet for the two of us at this massive longest table in the world with two Chefs in attendance as well as waiters.
It was so beautiful and moving that they wanted to mark our Golden Wedding this way on our last night. Well of course we ate the beautiful food, but we talked to the Staff about Indian cuisines, western food, the challenges that we at our age had known in post war UK when food rationing was still in place – they were amazed and intrigued.
One last swim, a stunning meal and then the Jaguar took us to the airport for our departure from India.
Phir Milengi(until we meet again) and may we be back soon. A most memorable 6.5 weeks. https://photos.app.goo.gl/JmWqmvYiHS88ZwJK8