Category Archives: India

2 Hotels in India Where Adventure Meets Luxury

Brijrama Palace in Varanasi India all lit up for Diwali.

Brijrama Palace|Varanasi

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.

An Indian feast at the Brijrama Palace, Varanasi.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. Read the rest of this entry

Slumdog Millionaire

In a space 1/2 the size of Central Park over one million people live in the Dharavi slum. A few years ago an enterprising group decided to launch Reality Tours & Travel to show people the truth behind the slum and dispel misconceptions. Our young, energetic guide Javed grew up in Dharavi and still lives there. It was eye-opening and more than a little disturbing to see how all these people live in these cramped conditions, but they seemed content. Men were working, women shopping, kids running around just doing what kids do. Of note, everyone has a cell phone. They have Wi-Fi with a password and satellite dishes are mounted on the upper floors of many of the buildings. There are banks, a large shopping district with a farmer’s market, lots of motorbikes, and even their own police force. There are public and private schools, and since 1995, electricity and plumbing – I didn’t expect that. Read the rest of this entry

Bombay or Mumbai?

Gateway of India.

I know today it’s officially Mumbai, but many still call it Bombay – a name given by the Portuguese in 1534. I prefer the exotic promise of the name Bombay, so that’s what I’m going with.

In Bombay, I had a bit of a meltdown – came down with a cold (again). So I missed a few planned adventures, but got some much-needed sleep, good meds, and the caring attention of the butler staff at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and am back in action. Read the rest of this entry

Stamp it out

 

We learned about the centuries-old craft of block print stamping on fabrics.

Our first female guide of the trip, Meetu, took us about a half-hour outside of Jaipur to the Chippa village of Bagru. 250 families have been in this business for 400 years. It was particularly interesting to learn how they got the reverse process by using mud stamps before dying the fabric in indigo. Then we tried our hand, each making a small red and green piece. Even the stamping is much harder than it looks. I have a whole new respect and understanding of this process. Read the rest of this entry

Jaipur – not really a pink city

Jaipur looks like the India of my imagination. Opulent, luxurious, and a bit of mystery.

We drove more than four hours through farmland and small villages of Rajasthan to arrive at the “Pink City.” It should really be called the Coral City since the buildings in the old city are all a lovely, soft terracotta color. Signs are all in black and white, resulting in a very organized look among the throngs of people crowding the streets. 

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Entrance to our heritage hotel, Samode Haveli.

After Indian independence in 1947, many aristocratic and royal families converted their properties to hotels and resorts, often living in just one section. Our heritage hotel was the city residence of a nearby royal family, built by a man who later was Prime Minister of Jaipur. Two of the brothers still live there. Bizarrely, we checked in to the soft sounds of Kenny Rodgers playing in the background on the hotel sound system.  Read the rest of this entry

“PR” in Jaipur

 

Can’t escape the media.  Our guide from yesterday was very excited when he called this morning. . . . .

Ironically, (because I’ve had a career in PR) he was telling us my picture was in today’s local paper.

We’ve been in Jaipur for the last few days and were visiting Jantar Mantar, one of several observatories built by Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734. Since it was a holiday there were lots of school children visiting and quite a few were asking to take pictures with us.

I have no idea who took the picture. I’m told the story is about visitors adding color to the area. Go figure.

Tiger Trek

Spoiler alert – we did not see a tiger.  As disappointing as that was, our visit to Ranthambhore National Park was a wonderful experience.  

The weather was beautiful, clear, low humidity, blue skies, and cool. The scenery was so much more varied than I imagined.  We traveled through dense forest and open fields, around huge lakes, along sandstone cliffs, forded rivers and saw more types of vegetation than I will ever sort out.

Birds were plentiful and we saw many of the species we see in south Florida as well as bright blue flycatchers and huge owls. There were plenty of spotted deer, and huge Sambar deer, both good prey for the 60 tigers and 80+ leopards that inhabit the Park. Marsh Crocodiles and monitor lizards reminded us of our American Crocs and iguanas. On our third drive, we spent a long time waiting in hopes of seeing a tiger because the deer and the monkeys were all sounding their warning calls repeatedly.  I just know the big cats could see us . . . even if we didn’t see them. Read the rest of this entry

Agra and beyond

View from our suite.

There is a bit more to Agra than the Taj Mahal and we tried to cover the bases.  

First, I want to acknowledge the staff at the Oberoi Amarvilas. Making a few adjustments to our itinerary we made our own arrangements with the Oberoi. And WOW, they were amazing.  We are still not quite sure how we deserved the incredible upgrade they gave us to the Robert Burns Suite, or all the other things they did for us including the bespoke touches in our suite.  But we loved every minute. Read the rest of this entry

The incomparable Taj Mahal

Enough said.

More on Agra later . . . .

Navigating Varanasi

The flower market.

Our guide said it was like we had walked into a movie set and the director screamed “action.” It was a perfect representation, everyone and every vehicle were in motion.

For three hours we walked through the streets and alleyways of downtown and northern Varanasi. It was at once surreal and a bit intimidating. Intimidating because I felt like I could get mowed down by a motorbike or Three-Wheeler at any moment. Our 30ish guide encouraged us to find the flow of the city and just move with it.  Let me tell you that is easier said than done.

The alleys were just wide enough for a motorbike, a person pressed against a wall, and maybe a sleeping dog, trash, or a randomly placed step. If a cow appeared, all bets were off.  One time a large (possibly aggressive ) monkey blocked our passage. The pathways are uneven and wet. Sometimes shopkeepers were dumpling water to clean the area in front of their shop, often they were sweeping – but both the water and the swept trash have nowhere to go except a few feet ahead. When the “wet” was not from water it was best not to think about it. Read the rest of this entry