2 Hotels in India Where Adventure Meets Luxury
The Brijrama Palace is a luxurious heritage hotel on the ghats (high embankments with steps leading into the river) in Varanasi. More than 200 years old, it’s been open since 2016, after 18 years of restoration. It is beautiful and opulently furnished with antiques and 18th-century art. Located on the Darbhanga Ghat, the only way to get there is by boat. Following a fascinating hour-long drive from the airport to the Mahishasura Assi Ghat, we took our first trip on the sacred Ganges. Luckily for us, once at the Brijrama, it’s the only hotel on the ghats with an elevator (the first in India). When we arrived, we were met by a priest who anointed our foreheads and gave us each a traditional marigold garland.
If you must consume alcohol and eat steak nightly, this is not the place for you. Since the Ganges is a holy river, there is no alcohol or meat served in facilities along its waters. Several kilometers inland you can eat and drink whatever.
This is one of the best ways to experience India as it has been for thousands of years and we were happy to forego cocktails, wine, and meat. From a culinary standpoint, the elegant restaurant Darbhanga at the Brijrama was wonderful and we really enjoyed our dinner of the traditional vegetarian Banarsari Thaali. It was actually more like a feast, delicious – I wish I knew what everything was.
Elevator or not, it’s not a venue for someone who is handicapped, there are still steps throughout, low doorways to duck under and slim balconies to visit. All of the building’s eccentricities are what make it so special and I’m sure contributed to the length of time it took to restore. There are only 32 rooms and ours was lovely and very comfortable, with traditional design features, complete with every modern touch, as well as treats and flowers. Power did blink off a couple of times in the hotel as well as the surrounding area, but it did not impact our activities; apparently, power outages are very typical in old Varanasi, so be forewarned.
There is a rooftop terrace (Udayan) with wonderful view up, down, and across the Ganges. It was a bit confusing to get lunch served, but we are persistent and did finally arrange a lite lunch along one of the hotel’s charming open balconies. In the evenings’ music and a local dancer entertained in the central atrium. A nice breakfast was included and when we had to leave at dawn on our day of departure, staff packed us a breakfast that was several times more than we could eat.
Location, location, location is the mantra real estate experts always tout and this was the perfect place to experience the Ganges, get out on the river, see burial rituals, and explore the old section of Varanasi. I don’t know if it was just for Diwali (festival of lights), but The Palace is one of the buildings along the river beautifully lit at night making it even more magical. It was an assault on every sense and an experience I will never forget.
Sher Bagh|Ranthambore National Park
Just on the outskirts of this famous tiger sanctuary, we stayed at Sher Bagh and it was an amazing experience. Our luxury tent was super comfortable, with a large private bathroom and every detail you’d expect to find in a first-class hotel. This is a permanent tented camp with full electricity, heat, and hot water. It’s also a Relais & Chateaux property and, as you can guess, the food does not disappoint.
We chose this accommodation partly because they were one of only a couple who could take us by private vehicle into Ranthambore National Park. Otherwise, visitors are on large, lumbering, noisy vehicles moving through the park’s 10 zones. Mornings were quite chilly and we piled on the fleece, ours and those they thoughtfully had waiting for us in our tent. The camp also provided clear eye protector glasses to keep out the dust as well as binoculars and water. On each of our safari drives, we stopped mid-way for tea or coffee and some snacks.
Tents were well-spaced along a paved path and at night the place is magical with hundreds of lights along walkways and in trees, pictures do not do it justice. An elegant tiger motive is featured throughout the property and carried into the expansive lobby tent and well-stocked bar. The spacious dining tent offered delicious a la carte dining and we were also treated to dining under the stars with local specialties. The entertainment was really special and we were honored to celebrate the annual Diwali festival while there. The gift shop offered a nice assortment of creative gift and souvenir items.
Even though we were not blessed with a tiger-sighting, we loved spotting other wildlife and forging through varied scenery including grasslands, lakes, mountains, and woodlands. Ranthambhore and Sher Bagh were real enhancements to our Indian journey – an experience not to be missed.