Leela Palace Jaipur
Experience a world that glows in brilliant technicolor rich with beauty when you travel to India.
India is vast. She intrigues and inspires. India now has the fifth largest economy and is likely to have the third largest by 2030. It is time to discover, explore and travel to India!
In the insightful words of Keith Bellows, former editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler, “There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first traveled to India, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds. It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.”
Traveling to India is a study of contrasts. As noted by the brilliant Cambridge University economist, Joan Robinson, “Whatever you can say about India, the opposite is also true.” Let us plan your first trip to India focusing on several of her best, ICONIC destinations and properties. Everywhere you go, you will see and experience India’s fascinating world of opposites.
Mumbai, an international gateway, is a great place to begin. With India’s largest port, Mumbai is its commercial and industrial hub, as well as its fashion capital and the heart of Bollywood (India’s thriving and unique film industry). The city is endlessly fascinating and, initially, an intimidating hive of activity. A gentle start is to sail away from the city and visit Elephanta Caves located 6 miles away and accessible only by boat. Elephanta are a group of Buddhist and Hindu caves which date from around the 7th century. Famous for exquisite and vibrant sculptures, they also represent evolved Brahmanical rock-cut architecture. Traveling there by public ferry is a perfect start to enjoying magical interactions with friendly locals, including mothers handing you their babies so they may take a photo with you. Locals consider it an honor to welcome and be photographed with foreign visitors. In India, if you are blond, tall, and/or very muscular, these requests to have you in photos may become a frequent occurrence and a bit overwhelming.
We love taking clients off the beaten track for a dawn visit to Sassoon Docks to see the fish, vegetable, and flower markets, and then to visit a garden and watch people do Laughter Yoga. Also visit the opposite side of town for an insider’s tour of the Dharavi slum, featured in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Goa
To continue to ease you into India and provide R&R to recharge you after long flights, a visit to Goa and her beaches is recommended. I like staying in the southern part of Goa where there are a couple of favorite beachfront resorts on pristine beaches on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Clients thank me for this opportunity to regroup and refresh, if time permits. If you prefer something different from the beach, perhaps the place for you is a wellness/ayurvedic center, a palace stay, and/or a nature reserve visit.
Now you are rested and ready to dive in and visit one of my favorite and most gentle cities in India, Udaipur in Rajasthan. Udaipur is known by many names including City of Sunrise, Jewel of Mewar, and City of Lakes. It is one of India’s most romantic cities and a very popular destination for Indian weddings! It is nestled between the glassy waters of its famous lakes and the ancient Aravalli Hills. Although it is one of Rajasthan’s largest cities, Udaipur manages to retain a charming small town vibe.
On your arrival afternoon, take a private sunset boat cruise on the placid waters of Lake Pichola. From the boat you will be able to view the city, its famous palaces and reflections on the lake.
Udaipur sites to see include the City Palace, Crystal Gallery, Royal Vintage Car Museum of the Maharana of Udaipur, Jagdish Hindu Temple at prayer time, and to experience great shopping. In addition, there are wonderful sites to be enjoyed on day trips and excursions from Udaipur. Approximately 2 miles away are the Ahar Cenotaphs, a monumental group of more than 250 huge marble cenotaphs built over 350 years commemorating the Kings of Mewar. Cenotaphs are tomb-like structures built in honor of kings, queens, and people of significant and crucial importance, and to mark the valor and bravery of the kings of Mewar. It is a hauntingly beautiful place which often has few tourists.
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Other favorite rich heritage sites nearby are the 1,000+ year old Hindu temples, Nagda and Eklingji, which are about a 45 minute drive from Udaipur. Also, well worth the 1.5 hour day trip drive north of Udaipur is Chittorgarh Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This vast 7th century Maurya dynasty fort covers an area of 700 acres and stands on a hill with seven gates. It has four palaces, nineteen temples, 22 water bodies, four memorials, and two commemoration towers. Beauty, nature, history, heritage, grandeur, and spirituality abound here!
SUJÁN JAWAI, Jawai Bandh
JAWAI CONSERVATION RESERVE, STOPPING EN ROUTE IN RANAKPUR.
Rajasthan is worth exploring! Jawai, about a 4 hour drive from Udaipur, is a wonderful visit en route to Jodhpur with a stop in Ranakpur. The Ranakpur Jain Temples are among the finest examples of Jain art with exquisite carvings inside. These temples were created in the 15th century CE, during the reign of Rana Kumbha and are enclosed within a walled compound. The temple is an astounding creation with 29 halls and 1,444 pills carved distinctly. Rising in three stores, the central Caumukha Temple has four small shrines with 80 spires supported by 420 columns. If time and energy levels permit, do include hiking in and around the imposing Kumbhalgarh Fort, a Mewar fortress which is also known as the Great Wall of India and is surrounded by the Aravali Mountain ranges.
Then, continue your drive to Jawai Conservation Reserve and check into the SUJAN Jawai Leopard Camp. Wilderness drives with expert rangers explore living in the wilderness, animal behavior, and game viewing with a focus on local fauna, including, of course, leopards. Here, you will also discover rural Rajasthan. There are plenty of activities options including a village walk, a trek with a shepherd to Mount Baliraja, or cycling around the area. I love combining cities and history with back to nature visits.
Next, you will have about a 3.5 hour drive and arrive in Jodhpur, another not to be missed destination and a personal favorite where there is also great shopping for textiles, jewelry, and antique treasures! A dazzling blaze of blue on the eastern edge of the Thar desert, Jodhpur is dominated by the imposing fortress that towers above the city on a sandstone ridge. It is awesome! Located strategically on the overland trade route, the city also houses the most recent and the largest residential palace in India, the Umaid Bhawan Palace. Only Buckingham Palace in England is larger. Set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens, it is part museum, part royal residence, and part stunning hotel called the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace. It is grand and ornate yet has playful and strong art deco design details and furnishings throughout.
Discover Jodhpur’s most commanding monument, the Mehrangarh Fort. It is one of the most majestic of Rajasthan’s forts and the best preserved fort in India. It was described by Rudyard Kipling as “the creation of angels, fairies, and giants“. Its forbidding ramparts are in sharp contrast to the flamboyantly decorated palaces within. Founded in 1459, the sandstone fort was added to by later rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries. Explore the massive fort complex and the exquisitely curated and maintained museum collection of treasures from the 17th to the 20th centuries, including coronation thrones, miniature paintings, textiles, arms, armor, furniture, cradles, jewelry, metal work, glass, and woodwork. When leaving the fort, it is a delight to wander among the locals, and explore day to day life in the old city area.
Guests love visiting the nearby Bishnoi Village Safari, which is designed to showcase the vibrant Marwar rural lifestyle and environmental protections. A visit begins with a sanctuary visit to see local wildlife, including black buck, peacocks, and demoiselle cranes. Next, watch centuries old methods of hand block printing, pottery making, and dhurrie weaving. The Bishnoi movement started in the 1700s. It is one of the first environmentalist groups in the world. The Bishnoi movement is a staunch proponent of eco-conservation, wildlife protection, and green living. In the 1730s, when the Maharaja of Jodhpur was building his new palace, he ordered his soldiers to cut down the trees for wood in nearby villages. The Bishnoi was the first group that used the strategy of hugging and embracing trees to protect them. 363 Bishnois laid down their lives for the protection of Khejri trees.
Leela Palace Jaipur
Jaipur was founded in 1728 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. Here modernity and tradition exist side by side, but the pressure of traffic and crowds can be overwhelming, so this is not my favorite spot. That said, Jaipur is a rich destination for shopping, great sites, and fine hotels. Shoppers love the bustling Old Market bazaar where artisans fashion puppets, silver jewelry, lac bangles, and other handicrafts in their workshops.
There are fascinating sites in and near Jaipur. A highlight is a visit to the Amber Fort in Amer, 7 miles from Jaipur. This was the ancient citadel of the ruling Kachhawa clan of Amer before the capital was shifted to present day Jaipur. It is known for is unique artistic style, blending both
Hindu and Mughal elements, and its ornate and breath-taking artistic mastery.
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In Jaipur, is the City Palace, which is a complex, wonderfully laid out with large courtyards, balconies, cupolas, arched entrances, and gardens. It is a prime example of Rajput architecture. Its museum displays the rich heritage of Jaipur in paintings, textiles, garments, books and manuscripts, carpets, palanquins, and weapons dating back to the 15th century. During the tour, our guests will have the opportunity of visiting the private chambers.
A Jaipur “must see” is the Jantar Mantar, a collection of 19 astronomical instruments completed in 1734. It features the world’s largest stone sundial and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The astrological observatory houses precise instruments for measuring “the harmony of heavens”. Each instrument serves a particular function and gives an accurate reading. Also, please plan to stop and see Jaipur’s most famous building with its pink sandstone facade. The Hawa Mahal, also known as the “Palace of Breeze” was built in 1799 as an extension to the Royal City Palace. At the time, the Purdah system was followed strictly whereby Rajput ladies were not to be seen by strangers, nor to appear in any public area. The construction of Hawa Mahal allowed the royal ladies to be able to watch royal processions and activities on the street without being seen by the public.
Our ‘Best of the Best’ journey to India will continue in my next story!
A “Best of the Best of Northern India” recommended itinerary with luxury accommodations:
(1) 3 nights in Mumbai at Taj Mahal Palace or Oberoi Mumbai
(2) 3-5 nights in Goa at St Regis Goa Resort or Taj Exotica Resort & Spa
(3) 2-4 nights in Udaipur at Oberoi Udaivilas, Taj Lake Palace or Leela Palace
(4) 2-3 nights in Jawai Conservation Reserve at SUJAN JAWAI
(5) 3 nights in Jodhpur at Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace or RAAS Jodhpur
(6) 1-2 nights in Jaipur at Taj Rambagh Palace, Oberoi Rajvilas or Rajmahal Palace RAAS Jaipur
(7) 2-4 nights at Six Senses Fort Barwara
(8) 2-3 nights near Ranthambore National Park at SUJAN Sher Bagh or Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort
(9) 2-3 nights in Agra at Oberoi Amarvilas
(10) 2-3 nights in Varanasi at Taj Nadesar Palace or Brij Rama Palace
(11) 3-5 nights at Ananda in the Himalayas
(12) 1-3 nights in Delhi at Oberoi New Delhi, The Imperial, The Lodhi, Leela Palace, Taj Mahal New Delhi, Oberoi Gurgaon (near DEL airport)
NOTE: All hotels above are great for Weddings and Milestone Events!
Plus, add to the list above: Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, RAAS Devigarh in Rajasthan, and Mihir Garh in Rajasthan.
THE GIFT OF GIVING
The American Indian Foundation (AIF) is committed to improving the lives of India’s underprivileged, with a special focus on women, children, and youth. In a country where extreme contrasts of wealth and poverty coexist in everyday life, we hear hopeful stories of India’s rise and rapid growth. However, 800 million people – more than the entire population of Africa – live on less than two dollars per day in India. AFI has created countless opportunities for India’s poor to live successful, productive lives while creating impactful change at an unprecedented scale, changing the lives of more than 8.4 million of India’s less fortunate.
The American India Foundation is committed to catalyzing social and economic change in India and building a lasting bridge between the United States and India through high-impact interventions in education, livelihoods, public health, and leadership development.
To get involved, find out more and give, go to www.aif.org
READY TO GO?
To book your business and leisure travels worldwide, call on David Rubin and his team at DavidTravel. In 1996, David moved from a successful law practice, followed a deep passion for travel, and launched his travel company. For more than a decade, David has been on both the Travel + Leisure Magazine “A-List” and the Conde Nast Traveler Magazine “Specialist List” of the best travel advisors in the world. DavidTravel delivers unparalleled style, attention to detail, and insider access uniquely responding to each client’s goals, budget, interests and dreams.