Udaipur City Palace, India

Paul’s Return to India

I have just got back from an amazing educational visit to India – after an 8-hour flight from Heathrow we arrived in Mumbai & and a city of huge contrasts! Our transfer took us past shanty towns to the waterfront where we visited the 5-star Taj hotel which overlooks the Gateway of India – the iconic monument built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1913. We spent the afternoon exploring a market that supplies props to the Bollywood movie studios before a night in the Oberoi hotel (most comfy bed ever!)

(Lots of customers worry about the food when visiting India but I have now been twice and managed to escape “Delhi belly” – as long as you avoid the street food you should be fine and in every hotel the dishes, I tried were superb & there were always western options.)

Next stop was Udaipur, one of India’s most picturesque and romantic cities. We took a cruise on the beautiful Lake Pichola and explored the City Palace complex before checking in to Fateh Niwas Palace – it’s worth a google or have a look on our Instagram, my room was amazing!

Days 3 & 4 were off the main tourist trail exploring rural Rajasthan, we travelled to Narlai for a 2-night stay at the heritage resort of Rawla Narlai (again amazing). On route from Udaipur we stopped at Ranakpur to see the spectacular Jain temples. While staying in Narlai we walked around the village visiting local families learning about the lifestyle,food, customs and traditions of the region. I could have spent a week here; the area is beautiful and teeming with wildlife! Some of the group saw a leopard and cubs while I had to make do with families of monkeys feeding in the trees next to my room. The highlight of our stay was dinner at the hotels16th-century stepwell, illuminated by hundreds of oil lamps.

Next, we headed to my favourite Indian city (so far) Jodhpur which is bustling and chaotic but very friendly and we were guided through the markets and bazaars which are fantastic places to pick up a bargain or ten! Jodhpur has some amazing architecture & the formidable Mehrangarh fort.

After a fantastic 2 days in Jodpur we set off to drive to Bikaner in the heart of the Thar desert for an overnight stay at the magnificent Narendra Bhawan, a stunning property that was home to the maharajah of Bikaner (for anyone interested in Interior design Google this hotel – the public areas and rooms are stunning, probably the most beautiful I visited on the whole trip) .After a long but interesting drive (best people watching ever) we arrived at  the hotel where were serenaded by a bugler (I’m guessing he’s not popular with the neighbours!) then it was in to 4 x 4 jeeps for a safari into the desert to witness the spectacular sunset over the dunes.

Next morning we set off to Jaipur via a visit to Bikaner Fort where we walked straight in to a celebration of world tourist day! Indian bagpipes and drums were played and we were all given garlands of local flowers, then decorated camels arrived along with press photographers who took pictures of us with dignitaries and a local gentleman with a moustache so long he kept it in a hair net.  Within seconds we were given the spectacle of him unravelling his moustache, passing it along us on both sides, until it was fully extended to around 6 meters long (interesting but weird!).

Then back to our road trip to Jaipur and more people watching – crops being picked by ladies wearing brightly coloured sari’s , markets with fantastic displays of fresh fruit & veg, colourful very overloaded lorries carrying everything from livestock, sacks, crops – some with people balanced on top. Camels, donkeys, water buffalo all pulling carts, motorbikes carrying up to 5 people & their shopping.

Our last full day in India was in Jaipur so we crammed a lot in with visits to the stunning Pink Palace, the Astronomical gardens which were built in 1734 & have huge sun dials and pillars all accurate to the second. Nest was a visit to Amber Fort a huge hilltop, pink sandstone building, with lots of Moghul minarets, pillars, courtyards, gardens.

All in all India was spectacular, yes they often drive the wrong way down a dual carriage way & are constantly swerving to avoid a cow, pig or water buffalo but it all part of the fun! The food was fantastic & if Indian food isn’t to your taste all the hotels will do western food and Delhi belly seems to have been flushed away with much improved health & hygiene!

One hotel I forgot to mention in the last edition was Mihir Garth a really special place & a favourite destination for Madonna. It was exquisite, each room individually decorated, some with private plunge pool – great place special occasion or honeymoon.

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