We flew into Delhi on the last day of June with our son, his wife and their three children. For me a most wonderful opportunity to show them all India, the India that I know and love.
The timing is not what I would choose ordinarily but, considering the children’s long holiday starts end of June, and such a visit requires three weeks to enjoy a comprehensive experience of India as an introduction, we had to go then and brave the heat and the monsoon. It worked out well. Normally we prefer the months of November to end of March.
We stayed for three nights at The Imperial Hotel New Delhi; this fine heritage five-star luxury hotel has been in my conscious for sixty years and is a most wonderful welcome to the capital of India. The three generations of family were warmly welcomed into gracious suites and the pool enticed the children immediately – well like walking into a lukewarm bath but so welcome!
The cuisines are glorious and varied and we were given a Golden Wedding luncheon which proved memorable in the wonderful Spice Route restaurant. With air-conditioned vehicles and airconditioned hotels and the swimming pool in which to cool off. We limited our sightseeing to the very early morning or the late evening, and with some shopping in between. Humayun’s Tomb, The Sunder Nursery newly completed, the Lodi Gardens, Gandhi Smriti (where the great yet humble man was assassinated) were visited as well as drives around showing the grace and splendour of Lutyens’s New Delhi.
We also had two magnificent dinners – one at the Shangri-La Hotel with its wonderful choices and hospitality, and then a most splendid Golden Wedding dinner for us at The Oberoi, Delhi. This last hotel has had a complete remake and is truly beautiful. The service and warmth of welcome deeply appreciated by us all in all these lovely hotels.
We then drove to Samode Palace in the village of Samode in Rajasthan which is quite close to Jaipur. I had been there before and knew that for the children it would be intriguing and Samode Palace did not disappoint, with heritage suites, two swimming pools, a lovely shop, a village walk which enchanted the children who were shown bangle making out of resin, hand crafting of shoes, iron work and then the famous Gem Stone Man!
Oh! was that good. I had warned that we would likely not be able to afford his stunning gems, but the youngest undeterred asked the old gentleman “please tell me what is your cheapest gem?”
Adults sucked in their breath, but no, the old Muslim man calmly showed the little boy how one weighs and measures gems – glorious sapphires, aquamarines, topaz et al spilling out of his paper packets, but then, seeing his disappointment, he chose a crystal (which looked like a diamond about half an inch in size) and weighed it.
This was worth a sum of money that young grandson could afford, and he bought it with glee; that inspired me to buy some earrings and then our son bought his wife a most beautiful pendant of her choice. Before that we had enjoyed a camel ride, and a camel cart ride for those who didn’t want to mount the beast – we had delicious high tea at Samode Bagh nearby and then finally a wondrous thali meal of a banquet at the end back in the Palace. Oh! And I should add whenever possible we ate and gorged on ripe beautiful mangoes!
The next morning after a look at the stunning state rooms that are five hundred years old and most beautifully painted on every wall and ceiling surface, we said our farewells and drove to Dera Amer where I had arranged for us to play with their resident elephant. That was enchanting for all ages, and filled with cool drinks, chai and cookies where proud peacocks displayed their tails and the buffalo herd suddenly frisked, we left for Jaipur nearby.Rajasthan’s Jaipur: The Pink City
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and known as the Pink City – well it is a shade of peach/pink.
We were warmly welcomed to Samode Haveli and in no time were in their lovely pool followed by a good lunch. A visit to the Jantar Mantar and then a delightful hair- raising ride in two tuk tuks followed. We gave a small party that evening, and Jaipur was living up to its reputation – there is so much to see and enjoy.
Jai MahalNagaur in Northwest Rajasthan
The next morning provided a real monsoon shower at breakfast. We set off for Nagaur which is a desert town in northwest Rajasthan famous for the magnificent Ahhichatragarh Fort which has been recently retrieved and restored by the Maharaja Jodhpur and a band of committed restoration committees; it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Parts of the Fort date back to 4AD! Within this massive structure are the Ranvas which is loosely translated as The Abode of the Queens. Ten suites which are enchanting and comfortable, and we all loved our accommodations.
There is a lovely swimming pool which was much needed in that heat; the bird life close to the pool in the thorn trees was a delight – and the call of the peacocks all around evocative; the friendly welcome and service with delicious food replenished the seven of us after a lengthy drive. As for the history and the architecture – stunning indeed. Every year in February the world Sufi Spirit Festival takes place and the great fort is covered in thousands of candles; magnificent hereditary spiritual arts take one on a journey showcasing music and art and culture from all over India and the eastern world.Historical Jodhpur
We drove to Jodhpur the following day after a hearty breakfast and more wonderful mangoes! At Jodhpur we stayed at a favourite of ours, the Balsamand Lake Palace which belongs to HH Jodhpur. It is a green paradise of lawns, trees, shade, orchards, vegetable gardens, fountains and a swimming pool.
The Marwari Horse stables are located here where HH breeds this breed of Indian horse with the special ears, and again peacocks display their tails and herald the new day. The regal suites are just that huge rooms created in the early 19th century and the palace looks on to the Balsamand Lake – it was used as a summer retreat for the royal family of Marwar.
Swimming in the big pool and ordering mango lassis, or nimbu pani (fresh lemon water and sugar) – stunning breakfasts and dinners or your choice or kebabs on the lawn in the dark – truly a haven in a hot season of India.
Added to this the champagne tour of the mighty Mehrangarh Fort which is a cornucopia of exquisite heritage and great stories of this royal family was so enjoyable and one looks down on ‘blue Jodhpur’ in the light of sunset….and at dawn go and visit the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Garden nearby and see how the earth was fashioned over millennia with the desert stones and rocks in their amazing patterns, plus the local desert plants and bushes and trees that make this desert state so spectacular.
Udaipur & its Famous Lakes
We drove to Udaipur along the modern good road and arrived in early evening to be warmly welcomed at Fateh Prakash Palace, one of the two palaces that HH Maharana of Udaipur runs as hotels. Udaipur is justly famous for the lovely lakes.
These are gracious palaces with stunning views of Lake Pichola – I never tire of taking pictures of the lake and the hills beyond and all of life in Udaipur on the banks. These are very elegant suites with beautiful bathrooms and sitting rooms; breakfast is at the Sunset Restaurant with the maximum view of the Sunset in the evenings. Udaipur has much to see, the well curated City Palace, which is just a very short walk, but there are buggies to drive one around too. Shops, restaurants and the city beyond.
The Palace from the boat just before sunset
For us the Maharana’s collection of vintage cars is a big attraction and we went to see them, and all the males indulged in wonder at these great beasts of the internal combustion engine in beautiful condition – well I am a big fan too! After which a thali meal was enjoyed in the restaurant attached. A thali is the round tray on which come a selection of small bowls filled with different sauces and curries and rice and breads – this is strictly vegetarian. The island in the lake which also houses a small hotel and restaurant is the famous Jag Mandir.
Sunset at Udaipur
The Emperor Shah Jahan had been quartered there by a forgiving Maharana when he was fleeing the wrath of his own Mogul Emperor father Jahangir (his mother was a Rajput Princess of Mewar of which Udaipur is now the capital). Jag Mandir is lovely and after a small boat cruise around the lake the evening was spent on Jag Mandir with tea, then drinks, and a lovely meal whilst the sun sets was memorable.
Added to that, the Maharana’s own band chose to play and add to the ambience. Udaipur is a wonderful location for weddings and much respected as a very prestige venue for Indian society weddings. I love Udaipur for a variety of reasons and am never happier than when I return.
We said farewell to Udaipur and flew to Mumbai where we stayed at the ITC Maratha which is a beautiful five-star hotel very close to both airports with stunning facilities and restaurants.Nagpur: The Heart of India
From Mumbai we flew on to Nagpur which is truly the heart of India. We stayed at Tiger Trails Wildlife Lodge at Tadoba Wildlife Park and had the most wonderful tiger-sighting experience which enchanted us all. For an hour and a quarter, the tigress allowed us to follow her and watch and photograph her. A memorable experience for us all and those children have been so fortunate as many try to spot tiger for years but have no such luck.
The monsoon decided to make itself felt with heavy rain, but it was not cold and very soon the sunshine returned. Tiger Trails has a pool and its location in the buffer zone of Tadoba Wildlife Park is beautiful as with its own two water holes immediately adjacent, silently spotting wildlife can be done from the balcony or the windows of our luxury tent and the food is excellent.
We flew on to Kochi and were collected from the airport and driven to Kumarakom Lake Resort where we received the most warm and affectionate of welcomes. ‘KLR’ as I call it is a home from home to us, and the Management and Team were delighted to meet some of our family.
Heritage cottages each with a courtyard pool, or a villa on the meandering pool provide great comfort – green lawns, trees with vibrant birds, waterways and the infinity pool looking on to the great peaceful Lake Vembanad all provide a calm, cool, tranquil and comfortable ambiance.
The food is good – the mojitos a legend, there are activities for the children and professional Ayurveda and daily Yoga classes; cultural evenings of dance and local heritage provide interest and the service is legendary.
Sadly, that was the end of three wonderful weeks in India for our Family, but no doubt one day they will all return; certainly the children had a tick box of all the activities and places to which they hope to return and as ever with India – Guests are Gods and they will receive a warm welcome.
Aline Dobbie is an author of four books on India and a travel writer. She lives in Scotland but travels widely throughout the year with an annual visit to India where she was born & grew up. Aline’s earlier life was in the corporate world but now lives a rural life with emphasis on travel, gardening, cooking, and family. India, South Africa, England, Scotland, Greece and other lovely places are a constant delight to her.