I was very lucky to be invited on a Fam with Mr India himself, Nikhil Chibbler from ITC. I was going to travel around Rajasthan staying in 5 star hotels and luxury Tented accommodations. Experiencing some of the wonders of India, so very excited to be going!!!
India a country full of colour and vibrancy. Where driving veers between insanity and incredible bravery!! You would have to have nerves of steel to get behind a wheel there, every mode of transport vying for the same piece of road, 4 lanes going into 2 where you will then find a Cow sitting in the middle of it all!!!
We started our trip in Mumbai, staying at The Taj Mahal Palace & Towers a beautiful hotel, we were here for 2 nights. It is a city with vibrant street life, India’s best nightlife and a wealth of bazaars. We had a whole day to explore the city, the cacophony when you first walk out and try to even cross the road is startling compared to the quiet I am accustomed to in Shropshire. So much to see and do, one of the things that has stayed in my memory was the laundry quarters, Dhobi Ghat, only one of its kind in the world. Such a hive of industry, people work so hard for pennies, inspiring and heart breaking at the same time.
We also went on a Slum Tour of Dharavi, it is the heart of small scale industry in Mumbai, which has an annual turnover of US$665 million. As you walk past huge sacks of spices it makes your eyes run, in tiny spaces you see recycling, pottery making, soap factory, leather tanning, poppadom making and too many others to mention them all. We also saw a little of the other side of Mumbai, we had lunch in a Colonial Members only Club, very British. We were taken out to see some of the vibrant nightlife too. Mumbai is also the home of Bollywood which produces over 1000 films a year.
We then flew to Udaipur for the next part of our adventure which I was really looking forward to Jawai Leopard Camp staying in a Luxury Tent. Udaipur is set on the shores of Lake Pichola and surrounded by hills. Udaipur grew in complete contrast to the harsh deserts of the rest of Rajasthan, there are beautiful palaces around the lake.
Back to Jawai, absolutely stunning, my tent was amazing it is funny zipping your door shut instead of closing it! Very relaxing and luxurious, food was fabulous as expected and a nice pool for relaxing in after your game drive. There was a wooden crocodile head floating in the pool the keep it clear of any other wildlife! We went out on an early game drive in search of Leopard, as you head out you pass the local village people taking their goats & cows out for grazing for the day plus young women wearing colourful Saris with baskets balanced on their delicate heads setting out for a day of working on the land.
The men wear Red turbans which look very intricate, apparently they keep their mobile phones, cigarettes etc inside the folds of the turbans !! We were very fortunate besides seeing a fabulous sunrise with amazing colours we did actually see a Leopard, we also stopped in the Bush for a delicious breakfast.
What a way to start your day! We went back out late afternoon and all the animals were being bought back closer to the Village to keep them safe at night from predators the Leopards being one! We visited a local village, it is really humbling the people have nothing, very basic housing, with a wooden cot bed, the kitchen consists of pots on the floor and a cooking ring of some sort. They have a communal tractor and hope to have running water and electricity for the whole village in the not too distant future. We met the Chief but also two older ladies who seemed to be the elders of the village. They were surrounded by all the children, most in bare feet, we spoke with them through Nikhil and gave them pens, paper and chocolate too. They were all delightful and so grateful, the young teenagers were all there too,we managed to communicate with them with great laughter.
Very humbling at how grateful and happy they are compared to Western children that have so much more materialistically.
We set off for the next part of our amazing adventure, we had 6-7 hour drive across Rajasthan via the beautiful mystical looking city of Jaisalmer. The golden city was founding in 1156AD, we had a short time wandering around the city which is famed for its intricately carved havelis and old Jain Temples before we continued our journey. Driving such a long distance is an education, you pass people herding cattle, cows wandering along on their own, caravans of camels, an old gentleman with a huge package of hay twice the size of himself balanced across his forehead, there was a large section of newly tarmacked road, it was just covered in branches to stop you driving onto it!!! As we had come to expect the driving was still quite bonkers at times, a convoy of huge tanks came towards us on our side of the road due we were almost breathing in as they passed!!!
We were heading for The Serai, Jaisalmer ,another fabulous tented camp but this time in the middle of the Rajasthan desert. As we approached the Hotel we were greeted by 6 young men on camels all in white wearing the fabulous Red Rajasthan turbans, they rode ahead of us. All very exciting, we were met by a gentleman in military attire on the largest camel I have ever seen at the entrance. After our long journey we were greeted with warm towels, a glass of champagne and a foot massage, now that is what you call a welcome.
Again I had a fabulous Tented room, I had a zipped lounge area, through to my zipped bedroomed through to my zipped bathroom, as well as an outside balcony area to sit and look at the bird life. While I was having my shower I had a bit of an ant invasion coming out of the plug, needless to say I did not linger for too long as they seemed to be on the march, despite the towels I put over them!!! I spoke to housekeeping and when I came back after dinner not an ant to be seen anywhere.
We had a two night stay in this magical location, we went for a camel ride at sunset, riding into the desert then watching the sunset sipping champagne.
I picked the camel with the lilac necklace which when it stood up was huge, probably one of the biggest in our group !! Food in the hotel was as you would expect, delicious. We had a very magical night where we walked into the desert after dinner, there was seating all setup plus fires burning in a lovely orange glow plus a bar. There was a group of traditional Indian musicians playing, the eldest gentleman was a musician of some note having played all over the world. It was so special, I hummed an Irish gig to them which they then played so we all managed to do a funny sandy gig in the middle of the Rajasthan desert.
One of those moments in time that I will never forget very special indeed and shows how music transcends nations
More things to do and see, another long drive 6-7 hour to the Sun City of Jodhpur. A very popular destination featuring many palaces, forts and temples set in the stark landscape of the Thar Desert. It is also known as the Blue City due to the Blue painted houses around the Mehrangarh Fort. The old city of Jodhpur is surrounded by a thick stone wall. We did manage a couple of hours around the Fort and the City but you could spend a couple of days here easily.
Now! Our next hotel, was the Umaid Bhawan Palace, this is off the scale of deluxe luxury it really is. On arrival we were greeted by drummers along the steps and as we went inside draped in our ring of flowers there were fabulous Indian dancers that took us to join them plus we were given a class of champagne to settle us in. My room was almost bigger than my house ! I was in a corner turret, everything was just so luxurious. We had a couple of hours to prepare for dinner, we were meeting on the steps at the back of the hotel overlooking the gardens looking at a beautiful Colonnaded Marble seating area. As we sipped our champagne looking out there was an actual firework display just for us. We walked along a red carpet to the Marble area where dinner was set up where we were looking back at this stunning hotel which is a former palace. We had dancers and musicians so once again an absolutely unforgettable evening with food to die for. By this time we had actually mastered some of the dance so did join in when asked !!
Back at our rooms we had white cotton outfits waiting for us, we were to meet before breakfast where we had eaten dinner the night before. We had a Yoga session with an actual Indian Yogi, brilliant relaxing way to start your day.
Our adventurous day was to continue after breakfast we were guided into one of the reception rooms, the girls were all given beautiful coloured scarves, the boys were all fitted with very colourful turbans, quite an art watching them being wound onto their heads, I had a turban too, it is made up of yards of material. The next Nikhil surprise was awaiting us as we went outside there was a fleet of open topped vintage cars, they all looked like Rolls Royce’s to me but they were not. So off we set resplendent in our turbans for a drive into the city. It was the funniest thing ever, we are in these amazing vehicles with old cars, tuk tuks, carts being pulled by camels all around us, not to mention people with carts that are so overloaded they look like they could tip at any moment. I think I would have had a nervous breakdown if it had been my car ! We had a wander around the Fort for an hour. We then had another Nikhil surprise awaiting us, we had a fleet of flower laden tuk tuks waiting to whisk us through the town. Once again it was the funniest and exciting ride ever, with horns blaring we dodged our way into the old town, dodging stalls, people, cows, cars, tuk tuks, carts laden with good for a rip roaring trip holding on for dear life, just the best it really was.
We were now coming towards the end of our amazing trip with a flight and a two night stay in Delhi. We were staying at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi. Delhi is India’s capital and a major gateway to the country, contemporary Delhi is a bustling metropolis but there is still older part of Delhi which is the part I love having visited before. Nikhil wanted to show us a different side to Delhi so we wandered around Central Delhi, Chandni Chowk Area. Again to us it looked almost derelict but an absolute hive of industry, as you walk in the sacks of spices made your eyes run, all sorts of herbs and spices on sale. We used tuk tuks too, driving past small shops full of beautifully coloured material for saris, lamps, lanterns, flowers all for sale.
That evening we visited an Indian Family home for a cooking class, first of all visiting the local grocery market, where we bought herbs and spices ourselves. The Chilli I bought home is soooo hot compared to the stuff we buy here, you only need the tiniest bit or it is way too hot! We had a cookery class where we were shown cooking methods of the North Indian delicacies. Well I watched and left the boys to it, which was quite funny to watch ! Our final night was one more totally delicious dinner this time in the Imperial Hotel.
What an adventure, can’t wait to go back …