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Posts tagged ‘Luxury hotels in India’

Amanbagh: a Rajasthani Retreat

Pool and main building at night

Deep in the Rajasthani countryside Amanbagh is the perfect antidote to energetic Jaipur.  The former royal hunting ground turned exclusive retreat is part of the elite Aman resorts. As we draw near the landscape becomes rockier and the road bumpier until we reach the ancient walled grounds of Amanbagh. Within are palm, mango and fig trees and a camel trots down the driveway ahead of us. “He is Babu, our in house camel,” explains our driver. Lucky old Babu being an Aman camel I can’t help but think.

Although Amanbagh is 21st century built it’s classic fairytale India in its design: all romantic domes and archways, colonnades and courtyards, in pink marble and sandstone. Our room is a Pool Pavilion, a standalone villa with its own private swimming pool. We spend most of our time in the terraced garden and are joined variously by families of monkeys and colourful butterflies and birds that swoop over the pool.

Main pathways

Pool pavilion pool

Some guests come to Amanbagh for safari trips to the nearby Sariska Tiger Reserve (further afield Ranthambore may be more well known but Sariska is less crowded and has a high rate of tiger sightings); others book in for the four to 21 day Ayurvedic programmes. And there are easily doable day trips to lesser visited sites such as the temples of Neelkanth, serene Somsagar Lake (good for picnics or meditation) and the abandoned city of Bhangarh where you are more likely to encounter monkeys and peacocks than other tourists. As such it makes for a special place for a yoga session. But one of the unique, unforgettable experiences of Amanbagh is simply to witness rural Rajasthani life around you.

One evening we joined aarti at the local roadside temple where devout locals banged drums, rang bells and chanted to herald the last hour of prayer. Another night we joined The Cow Dust Tour, so named after the Indian phrase for the time of day when the cows are lead home, stirring up dust as they go.

Ajabgarh fort

Just before dusk we head out in an open topped jeep and pass a smattering of chhatri, a hillside fort and temple (once connected by tunnel) and a “haunted” village. In the golden light we pass camel and carts and goats being herded. Long, loopy tailed langur monkeys regard us from stone walls and smaller macaque monkeys crouch overhead in the trees. There’s an abundance of peacocks and it’s easy to see why this area is a bird watchers’ paradise even though at the time of our visit many have already migrated.

Women in brightly coloured safaris and headscarves of orange, yellow and purple farm the fields for wheat or okra, the former impressively balanced on their heads in huge parcels and the latter a local speciality that later we see being sold in the village centres. As we drive through tiny enclaves small children run out waving and calling “goodbye!” to us and we are invited in for chai several times.

Dining Terrace

That evening we sample both okra and goat on the Amanbagh’s superb pan Indian menu. We eschew the pleasant air conditioned dining room each meal for the terrace, overlooking the fabulous swimming pool and serenaded every night by traditional musicians. There are also opportunities for private dining on the lantern lit roof terrace or more intrepid locations in the surrounding countryside.

Experiences Chhatri dinner

As with all Amans there’s a calming energy about the resort that’s hard to leave. And of course the spa is fantastic (the suites are particularly stunning). As well as ayurvedic treatments, following a consultation with a traditional Indian medicine doctor, there’s a range of body treatments on offer such as the Maharaja or Maharani massage which I opt for. The masseuse applied just the right amount of firm pressure to sort out my back tension and I emerged feeling as if I was walking taller.

Spa

And if you haven’t had your fill of shopping by the time you reach Amanbagh, the boutique here has a tight, expert edit from some of Jaipur’s finest including The Gem Palace and Kashmir Loom. This being Aman they promise to fetch more from Jaipur if you wish.

https://www.aman.com/resorts/amanbagh

 

In the Pink at Sujan Rajmahal Palace

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Sujan Rajmahal Palace

In the middle of negotiating the hectic roads of Jaipur our driver suddenly swings the car into a discreet driveway. We pass through a turreted “elephant gate” painted a pretty pale pink and follow the graveled route flanked by verdant gardens before pulling up outside a palace painted in the same sugary shade as the regal entranceway. Jaipur was painted pink for the visit of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, but while the Rajasthan capital is more terracotta toned, this is a delightful, millennial pink.

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Sujan Rajmahal Palace

Smiling and smartly dressed men each wearing a distinctive candy coloured turban wait to welcome us. We are greeted – rather fittingly for The Pink City – with a glass of rose sparkling wine. So far, so Jaipur perhaps but inside is a complete surprise. Sujan Rajmahal Palace, now a luxury boutique hotel, may be approaching 300 years old but it has been interior decorated in a refreshingly contemporary way. Each of the public spaces is adorned with fantastically striking, custom made wallpaper from bright pinks and turquoise blues to sultry Art Deco chinoiserie and Indian inspired designs. The chandeliers, antiques and paintings remind you however that you are staying in a royal residence.

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Sujan Rajmahal Palace

As palaces go Rajmahal is on the petite side rather than a mammoth mausoleum with just 14 guest rooms – it was commissioned by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II for his wife. Society interior designer Adil Ahmad, recently commissioned to spruce the place up, has achieved a sumptuous cosiness that feels like a private home albeit a very grand one.

Jaipur’s royal family still own Rajmahal (it is run by Sujan the renowned company behind luxury tented camps throughout Rajasthan), the queen mother’s Thunderbird takes pride of place in the entranceway and the princess has an office in the grounds though they reside in the far larger City Palace in old Jaipur (the hotel can arrange a private tour of this palace as well as secure you a set in the royal box at the polo).

While still a royal residence, Rajmahal played host to the likes of Queen Elizabeth the second, the Prince and Princess of Wales and Jackie Kennedy as the framed black and white photographs and the names of the suites attest. Beautiful carpets gifted by another distinguished visitor, the Shah of Iran, hang on the walls as the Maharini magnanimously wanted everyone to enjoy them. The family’s love of “the sport of kings” is also reflected in The Polo Bar, lined with trophies and photographs.

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Sujan Rajmahal Palace

Our Palace Room is reached via a stunning marble staircase and curved corridor and like all the guest rooms and suites lies discreetly behind mirrored doors which adds to the feeling of a private home. Inside our host tells me “A Maharini does not make her own coffee,” before explaining that there are no facilities for hot beverages in the room: “You ring and we will bring you coffee.”

Another special touch is that afternoon tea is served to hotel guests every day between 4pm and 6pm. You may have it wherever you wish but an especially charming spot is on the manicured lawn under a series of charming open sided tents (pink hued of course).

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Sujan Rajmahal Palace

A pleasant surprise for the (relatively) diminutive size of the hotel is that there are three dining rooms, each more strikingly designed than the other: the grand Orient Occident is open for dinner while the cool mint Colonnade and 51 Shades of Pink (decorated as the name suggests) restaurants both serve breakfast and lunch. All offer the same menu of Indian and Western dishes, we stuck resolutely to the former which is excellent.

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Sujan Rajmahal Palace

We also tried one of the Sujan Rajmahal Palace’s private dining experiences one evening, dining in one of the aforementioned tents on the lawn. At night the scene is enticingly lit by lanterns and makes for a very pretty venue.

Once you’ve ticked off sightseeing inside the old walled city and the Amber Fort; and shopped ‘til you’ve dropped in the bazaars and boutiques, Rajmahal Palace provides a whimsical oasis. We spend our days exploring in the early mornings, after breakfasting on fresh juice and stuffed parathas, and retreating to Rajmahal in the heat of the afternoon.

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Sujan Rajmahal Palace

The hotel has the bonus of a large, glamorous looking swimming pool surrounded by inviting sun loungers.  The designer has had fun here too with a shady terrace complete with mirrors and modern chandeliers which looks spectacular at dusk.

And a note for shopping fans: there’s a branch of the revered New Delhi based Kashmir Loom at Rajmahal so you can stock up on the best cashmere shawls without leaving the grounds.

www.sujanluxury.com

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Best and Worst Hotels of the Year

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Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

The Good

Good is an understatement: exceptional would be more apt when describing the best hotel Chopstix checked into this year: the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India.

There are some hotels that have such a stellar reputation that staying at them can be a disappointment. Not so the Lake Palace which actually exceeded  our expectations.

Read more

Spotting Leopards in Style at Jawai

 

jawai-tent

What is it?

Jawai Leopard Camp is a luxury tented camp in the wilderness near Jawai Bandh, Rajasthan, halfway between Jodhpur and Udaipur and a couple of hours car ride from both.

What makes it different from the other safari camps in India?

While Ranthambore is more well known with the big ticket draw of tigers, at Jawai (where leopards are the attraction) you won’t encounter a mass of jeeps crowded around every animal. As Jawai is the only camp in the vicinity and has just nine double tents plus a family suite, the safari feels exclusive.

Jawai shepherds

What’s the design concept?

Contemporary safari chic. Based on the idea of a moveable camp, it’s all canvas and metal with a black, white and red colour scheme – inspired by the local Rabari herdsmen’s outfits that are topped with striking scarlet turbans. Stunning black and white photographs of leopards and shepherds are dotted throughout. There are two open sided communal tents one for lounging and the other for dining, both overlooking the rocky Aravalli hills. The guest tents are a short walk away – after nightfall and before dawn (more of which later) you’ll be guided back and fore by shepherds carrying lanterns.

 

What are the guest tents like?

Very comfortable. The roomy bedroom has a double bed and liberal amounts of locally designed throws and rugs. Each tent has a private verandah complete with writing desk for that Out of India feeling. The bathrooms are particularly impressive: free standing wood and metal double basins and a large, wood slatted shower. Plus a proper loo of course – this is glamping after all.

Jawai guest tent

Tell me about the leopard spotting

Personable and knowledgable guides take you on two jeep drives a day, skillfully negotiating the scrubland and granite hills to find the best spot for viewing the leopards. Days are dictated by the wilderness drives. You’ll be heading off before dawn for the first in the hope of a sunrise sighting (coffee and binoculars provided). Then back out around 5.30pm for an evening drive. Each time you arrive back at camp you’ll be greeted jeep-side with a refreshing drink and chilled towel. All very civilised.

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Are there any other animals?

You’ll see monkeys and peacocks aplenty but a notable wildlife draw are the migratory birds. The area is a veritable twitchers’ paradise, particularly near the Jawai Bandh reservoir.

So I can go off piste from the leopard spotting?

Certainly. You may want to organise a private drive combining bird watching with a vintage jeep ride to catch the sunset (along with a few sundowners) at the picturesque reservoir.

When will I eat?

Meals are pretty flexible and worked around the safaris. Breakfast is available from the moment you get back from the early morning drive, there’s a leisurely lunch slot, afternoon tea before you leave for the evening wilderness drive and dinner available when you return – in a delightful al fresco and lantern strewn setting. You’ll want to sit around the campfire first for an aperitif though.

What’s the food like?

A mix of modern international and traditional Rajasthani and all very good. Chefs work from an open kitchen and source vegetables from their own garden. Meat is procured from local farmers and fish from the nearby lake.

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What else is there to do?

With the early starts you’ll probably want a nap in the afternoon but there’s also a sleek looking swimming pool and massages are available either in the spa tent or on your own verandah. Nearby is the impressive Ranakpur temple complex and a little further afield, Kumbhalgarh, a stunning fort that’s doable as a day trip.

Anything else I should know?

Go dressed for your pick up. When you’re dropped off at the meeting point you’ll be straight in an open topped 4×4 then it’s about a 20 minute off road bumpy drive so an outfit you can clamber in and out of a jeep, sun tan lotion and a hat that stays on your head are advisable.

What’s the damage?

Rates start at HK$6,898 (59,000 INR) per tent plus taxes and a Conservation Contribution of HK$117 (1000 INR) per person per night, including all meals, two wilderness drives a day, WI FI and laundry.

www.sujanluxury.com/jawai

 

 

 

 

 

Is this the Best Hotel in the World?

Taj umaid palace exterior on horizon

Is the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace, on a hill overlooking Jodhpur in Rajasthan, northern India, really the Best Hotel in the World as declared by Trip Advisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards 2016? Having stayed earlier this year, Chopstix can confirm it’s definitely up there. Here’s why:

1.The sheer scale and grandeur – Yes it’s a palace and it’s staggeringly vast (our first sight of the place was from the plane coming into Jodhpur airport, it’s so big and majestic you can’t miss it). The sight of it is overwhelming when you draw up outside and that feeling never really leaves you throughout your stay.

2.The Royal Welcome – we don’t want to spoil the surprise but it really is special.

3.The Maharaja lives here – Maharaja Gaj Sing and his family still occupy one of the wings. In fact his Highness doesn’t want you to think of it as a hotel but a home.

4.The lobby – you’ll be lead here for a welcoming drink of bubbly when you arrive and take a moment to sit down and marvel at this marble wonder with domed ceiling. International designers flock here for inspiration – Rolex modelled a watch face on the design.

Taj umaid palace lobby fisheye view

5.The elevator – just off the lobby, manned by a uniformed butler and including a cushioned banquette.

6.The indoor pool -subterranean, circular, art deco and flanked by steamer chairs. Need we say more.

7.The outdoor pool – with a view of the impressive Mehrangarh Fort in the distance.

Taj Umaid swimming pool with Fort

8.The gardens – vast and ornamental. And home to several strutting peacocks.

Umaid Bhawan Palace/Jodhpur/India

9.The restaurants – choose between the outdoor terrace of Pillars with a stunning view of the gardens and Fort, both flood lit at night or lavish Risala (which also has a pretty terrace). Or don’t – you can opt for either menu (European or Indian) at both restaurants.

Taj Umaid Pillars restaurant

10.The service – attentive without being obtrusive. And the only hotel we’ve stayed at where we were asked what they could improve – the answer is nothing.

http://www.taj.tajhotels.com

 

 

 

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