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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.

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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

 

 

 

The Only Way to See the Taj Mahal

Oberoi view from balcony

If like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge you’re planning a visit to the Taj Mahal, there’s only one way to do it in style and that’s by staying at the Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra.

Not only does this glamorous, film set of a resort have a bird’s eye view of the iconic monument from most of its rooms and terraces, it’s also the only hotel in Agra to have private access via golf buggy right up to the gates.

http://www.oberoihotels.com

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