THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE
I started my trip around ‘The Golden Triangle’ in Jaipur, famously known as ‘The Pink City’, which more than lived up to my expectations. I was lucky enough to see both the pink sandstone City Palace and the iconic Hawa Mahal, as well as the royal observatory Jantar Mantar that is absolutely fascinating – even to a non-scientist like me!
To get a deeper experience of Jaipur, after I’d admired the wears of bygone Maharajas in the City Palace Museum, I saw how carpets are hand-made and had a go at block printing (I’ll probably leave that to the experts!). I then enjoyed a cooking lesson with a local Indian couple and, while I picked up how to make delicious curries, what I really learned was something of their traditions and culture that they kindly shared with me.
A stay in Jaipur would be remiss without a visit to the impressive, mosaicked Amber Fort, and I would also really recommend anyone visit Dera Amer. Dera Amer is a former polo ground of Maharajas who brought elephants from Ranthambore to play polo – while the Maharajas are long gone, the elephants remain. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to meet them, painting them with traditional patterns and riding them before enjoying a locally-grown dinner in the candlelit tent.
THE OBEROI RAJVILAS
Modelled on the Oberoi family’s fort residence and built around an 18th century spa and temple, The Oberoi Rajvilas is a tranquil oasis a short drive away from Jaipur. You feel like royalty as you float around in the large pool being brought beverages on ice, receive a traditional blessing in the temple and sip an excellent gin cocktail in the colonial-style Rajwada Library Bar.
Without a doubt, Samode Haveli oozes charm as the former regal residence of the rulers of Samode built 175 years ago. Even as the Samode family have converted the mansion into a luxury hotel, it has not lost its homely feel and every intricate detail combines to create a real sense of place just 5 minutes from the Amber Fort.
47 JOBNER BAGH
This new boutique hotel, owned by a local jewelry designer and tucked away down a side street, is a real hidden gem. 47 Jobner Bagh delights you with unexpected features from its verdant, historic gardens to its beautiful collection of antiques and its rooftop seating area and bar from where you can look out towards the Aravali hills.
Attracting celebrities and royals alike, Rambagh Palace continues in the vein of its historic role hosting kings, princes and their guests in exquisite opulence. Transcending time, the hotel allows you to experience a past that has not yet disappeared, promenading around its expansive gardens, drinking from gold glasses dining in the former ballroom and playing polo as the Maharaja did.
Agra, set around the winding holy Yamuna River, felt so magical to me. The legacy of the Mughals who briefly had their capital here is tangible when you visit Fatehpur Sikri, a hauntingly ruined city, and the Agra Fort.
The Itmad-ud-Daula (Baby Taj) is worth a detour and, as for the great Taj Mahal itself, described as ‘a teardrop on the cheek of eternity’, it truly is a good idea to get there at dawn when the crowds are smaller. I had the chance to take in the stunning beauty of the marbled masterpiece in peace – even snapping some people-free pictures!
THE OBEROI AMARVILAS
The Oberoi Amarvilas is definitely the place to stay in Agra. Close to the Taj Mahal, it is the only hotel to have views of the Taj that can, moreover, be seen from the lounge, the bar and every room. You can join in the cooking of your meal in the Indian restaurant and enjoy nightly traditional dance performances… a few ladies from the hotel even went and got me my very own sari and showed me how to tie it properly!
Not to be missed in Delhi are the Jama Masjid mosque, where Ghandi is buried, and the Mughal Red Fort. I sped around in a rickshaw, a manic but brilliant way to see the backstreets, markets and food stalls!
Adorned with heritage artwork and antiques, The Imperial is a must for history buffs; Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten met here to discuss the partition of India for the creation of Pakistan. There are a whopping 8 places to eat and 2 bars, so popular that I’d still recommend booking! The standout for me was the relaxing spa that felt like a temple in design.
This hotel dished up some of the best food of my trip! The bakery creates all sorts of delicious masterpieces, smelling like heaven. The restaurants serve everything – Italian, Indian, Asian and European, The Lodhi has is covered. In the evenings, Anidra is perfect for a light supper just before it turns into a night club, and the rooms are spacious and modern too.
THE OBEROI NEW DELHI
I loved the atmosphere at The Oberoi New Delhi, in particular at the well-known buffet restaurant where the locals come to see and be seen. From the rooms you can look out over the lush green golf course, where you can have a complimentary round. Enjoying a private cheese and wine tasting is fun, but the showstopper is the rooftop Asian restaurant with its breath-taking views.
THE LEELA PALACE
This palatial hotel teeters on the edge of Lake Pichola’s calm waters, with the stunning Aravalli mountains as a backdrop. It has 4 restaurants and a bar, a rooftop temperature-controlled swimming pool and a world-class Spa by ESPA. All of the rooms are spacious, graceful and elegant, and one of the quirks I loved is that there is an astrologer and numerologist on call.
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By Alice Glaze