Kissed by the pink Monsoon

Experience the Magical Monsoon of Kerala.

Serene Journeys monsoon getaway to Kerala, exclusively for MEN only & why not? 
The sunset at the chinese fishing net, an unforgettable journey through the villages alongside the backwaters, the enchanting beaches & the river life surrounded by the waters of the River Periyar. Explore life, people, culture, cuisines, experiences and interactions. This trip is all about you, enjoy your ‘ME’ time and you can thank us later.

Image © Robindro Saikhom

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COCHIN – KUMARAKOM – MARARIKULAM – PERUMBAVOOR – COCHIN

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Day 1   Cochin arrival

Arrive Cochin airport. Meet & greet at airport and transfer to hotel for check in.

Rest of the day at leisure
Overnight stay at hotel

Day 2   Cochin

This morning after breakfast sightseeing tour of Kochi. Visit the Dutch Palace (Friday closed), the Jewish Synagogue – (which remains closed on Friday & Saturday) St. Francis Church and the Santa Cruz Basilica. While driving along the coastline, at the Harbour’ s mouth, one can also view the unique and still-in-use “Chinese Fishing Nets” which were introduced by the Chinese traders in the 14th Century. The tour ends in the Fort Kochi area where you can walk through the historical Dutch and Portuguese buildings. Some parts of this nearly 500- year-old Fort are still amazingly well preserved.

Evening witness Kathakali dance performance Enjoy India’s most spectacular Dance Drama based on stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. The dancers are elaborately made up with paint and masks, accompanied with drummers and musicians.
Overnight at hotel.

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Day 3   Cochin – Kumarakom (40 KMS / 01 HOUR)

Today morning after breakfast drive to Kumarakom. Upon arrival check in to the hotel.

Kumarakom is a small village 14 km. west of Kottayam. It is a part of Kuttanad, which is a ‘ wonder land ‘, lying below sea level, comprising of a number of islands, in the backwaters. Kumarakom is an unbelievably beautiful paradise of mangrove forests, emerald green paddy fields and coconut groves interspersed with enchanting waterways and canals adorned with white lilies. Situated on the Vembanad Lake, this small water world has plenty of traditional country boats, crafts and canoes, which will take you in to the heart of scenic Kerala.

Rest of the day is at leisure, own activites.

You can enjoy spa and Ayurveda massage at hotel – on direct payment basis.

Overnight stay at hotel.

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Day 4   Kumarakom

After breakfast, we proceed for the houseboat day cruise followed by lunch (duration 03-04 hrs.) takes you through the intricate maze of backwaters, mesmerizing and surprising you at every turn with its serene beauty & simple charm. Enjoy the countryside of Kerala at its best. Soak your eyes & soul with array of coconut trees & endless paddy fields. You will also get chance to take a small stroll through the villages & interact with the locals.

Post cruise return to your hotel, rest of the day is at leisure.

Overnight stay at hotel.

Day 5   Kumarakom – Mararikulam (30 KMS / 45 MINS)

Morning at leisure, after a leisurely breakfast check out from hotel and drive to Mararikulam. Upon arrival check in at hotel.

Rest of the day is at leisure. Unwind & relax at the beach.
You can enjoy spa and Ayurveda massage at hotel – on direct payment basis.

Overnight stay at hotel

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Day 6     Mararikulam

Day is at leisure / own activity.

You can enjoy spa and Ayurveda massage at hotel – on direct payment basis.

Overnight stay at hotel

Day 7   Mararikulam – Perumbavoor (78 KMS / 2 HRS DRIVE)

Today morning after breakfast drive to Perumbavoor and check in at resort Quiet by the River situated in the Malayattoor forest range.

‘Quiet by the river’ is a scenic island resort, surrounded by the waters of the River Periyar. The approach to the resort involves a 30-minute ride aboard a 4×4 vehicle down a rugged forest trail to an embankment point, followed by a short ride across the river in a country canoe. For accommodation, there are four lodges, right on the banks of the river. The resort commands spectacular views of the gushing streams and the lush forest. The Thattekad Bird Sanctuary is close by and the area is frequented by lots of colorful birds. The location of the resort is ideal for spotting wildlife and one may even see elephant herds. The food is terrific – mostly, traditional homemade native dishes are served.

Overnight stay at hotel.

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Day 8   Perumbavoor

Day at leisure and free to experience various activities offered at the resort like a forest trek with a naturalist during day or night time. Early morning bird watching or a country canoe ride to explore the river.

Overnight stay at hotel

Day 9   Perumbavoor – Cochin departure (01 1⁄2 HOURS DRIVE)

In time transfer from hotel to airport to connect flight for onward destination.

 

PRICE ON REQUEST.
For reservations, email robin@serenejourneys.co (no com)

Hotel Envisaged:

DESTINATION HOTELs by CGH Earth
COCHIN BRUNTON BOATYARD, Sea Facing Room
KUMARAKOM COCONUT LAGOON, Heritage Bungalow
MARARIKULAM MARARI BEACH RESORT, Garden Villa
PERUMBAVOOR QUIET BY THE RIVER

INCLUSIONS:

  • 08 Nights hotel accommodation on twin sharing basis including all existing taxes.
  • Accommodation based on bed & breakfast basis except at Quiet by the River in Perumbavoor where it’s on APAI (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
  • Meals are Fixed Menu or Buffet at hotel restaurant
  • Meeting and assistance on arrival / departure by SJ representative
  • Transfer from airport to hotel and vice-versa.
  • All transportation by AC private car.
    Sightseeing, excursion and Surface travel as per program.
  • English speaking local guide at Cochin sightseeing tour in the program.
  • Kathakali Dance in Cochin.
    Day Houseboat on backwater followed by lunch
  • Entrances fee as per the program

Payment Schedule:

  • Deposit Per Person at Time of Booking: 30% (full-payment if within 120 days of departure).
  • Final Payment Due: 120 days prior to departure.

Cancellation Fees Per Person:

  • 121 days prior to departure or more: 10% of the tour price.
  • 120-91 days prior to departure: 20% of the tour price.
  • 90-61 days prior to departure: 50% of the tour price.
  • 60 days prior to departure or less: 100% of the tour price.

Cancellations must be received in writing.

NOT INCLUDED IN THE TOUR:

  • Travel Insurance; Any airfares.
  • Costs associated with obtaining passports or entry visas.
  • Excess baggage charges; gratuities to the Resident Tour Director.
  • Meals other than those specified in the itinerary; room service, beverages other than those noted in inclusions above.
  • Sightseeing not included in the published itinerary; and personal expenses such as laundry, telephone and optional activities (which are subject to availability).

HOTEL CHECK-IN & CHECK-OUT:

Most hotels allow check-in to take place during the mid-afternoon while check-out is expected by noon. Should you wish to have a guaranteed room ready for your immediate check-in upon arrival or late-check-out, it can be arranged for an additional charge.

ROOM UPGRADES/SPECIAL REQUESTS:

Upgrades are available on request at individual hotels. Specific requests such as adjacent or connecting rooms, bedding requests, smoking rooms and special dietary needs should be advised at time of booking. Please note that while every effort will be made to secure a special request, it cannot be guaranteed.

BAGGAGE:

Please note should your journey include internal/domestic flights, your luggage allowance may be less than two (2) pieces of baggage and weight/size restrictions. Standard check-in baggage allowance is 15Kg and additional costs may apply.

TRAVEL INSURANCE:

Travel insurance is not included in the price of the program and is recommended. Please purchase a good Travel Protection Program (which provides cancellation coverage, medical coverage and protection against lost or stolen or damaged luggage)

PHOTOGRAPHY DURING TRAVEL:

SJ reserves the right to take photographs and video during the operation of any tour and to use them for promotional purposes during the program and thereafter. By booking a program with SJ, guests agree to allow their images to be used in such photographs and video. Guests who prefer that their images not be used are asked to identify themselves to their Resident Tour Director at the beginning of their program.

Eating in Bangkok

Last night’s dinner started with a random stroll, just bumping along the road. We decided to walk around Suan Phlu Soi area and pick a Thai restaurant. We wanted something local, non-descript, undiscovered for us. As so often happens in Bangkok, we stumbled upon exactly what we were looking for in no time Larp Suanplu. Just the perfect little restaurant with 4-5 tables serving both Thai & Northern Thai style. Simple, very casual with delightful menu and great, friendly staff. We enjoyed a bounty of 9 different dishes…
 
• Fried rice with crab meat
• Fried rice with salted fish
• Stir-fried pork liver with black pepper
• Fried pork neck slices with fish sauce
• Papaya salad with crab
• Stir-fried century eggs with crispy basil
• Spicy shredded bamboo-shoot salad
• Sliced grilled pork neck salad
• Spicy chicken curry
 
Plus of course a local Singha to wash it down… All for around 700 baht ($20).
Ah!!!!!!! Bangkok.
 
By the way, fyi this is our unsolicited personal opinion. By no means, a requested review from the owners.
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Fried rice with crab meat

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Fried rice with salted fish

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Stir-fried pork liver with black pepper

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Fried pork neck slices with fish sauce

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Papaya salad with crab

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Stir-fried century eggs with crispy basil

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Spicy shredded bamboo-shoot salad

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Spicy shredded bamboo-shoot salad

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Sliced grilled pork neck salad

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Spicy chicken curry

Going Incredibly Asian.

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Jackfruit, the largest tree born fruit in the world, a species of the fig, mulberry, and breadfruit family. The jackfruit plant originated in southwest India, where it grows abundantly. And then, it spread to other parts of India, southeast Asia, the East Indies, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

It has a mildly unpleasant aroma if you are sensitive but not nearly as aggressively pungent as Durian. The flavour is a mix of banana & pineapple with a texture of chewy to succulent, depending on the ripeness.

Many consider the best part to be the giant seeds, which are a delicacy for the locals and popular among foodies & fruit connoisseurs. As I say, “when in Asia, go Asian”! The seeds are best boiled or roasted, and you will sometimes see them offered on the streets. The taste is a combination of Taro & boiled potato with a fine sweetness of chestnut.

Next time you buy jackfruit, don’t forget to keep the seeds. Enjoy!

 

Goa and the Magical Monsoon – II

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Birds-eye View of Planet Hollywood Goa (Picture Courtesy: PHG)

The penultimate last day of a memorable Serene Journey in Goa during the monsoon season.

The first few days were terrific and today was a real topper!

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The Pink Room Spa at Planet Hollywood Goa (Picture Courtesy: PHG)

After a relaxing deep tissue therapy at the Pink Room Spa, I was all set to explore with Planet Hollywood Sales Director Ms. Charmaine, the Braganza House in Chandor, a small village in South Goa. Built in the 17th century, the Braganza mansion was the home of Luis De Menezes Braganza, the champion of Goa’s freedom. The ancestors were Hindu ‘Desai’ before converted to Christianity after the Portuguese entry.

As we walk up the rickety stairs, we were greeted by Ashley Braganza from the 15th generation, who showed us around his family’s residential wing. The other wing was occupied by another sibling’s family. A short tour took us to the living room, ballroom, dining, master bedroom ensuite and a private chapel.

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the stairs to Braganza house

The house is a living museum including a collection of antiques by various members of the family.  Here you will find intricate wooden furniture, porcelain, in rooms bedecked with Venetian glass chandeliers and Italian marble flooring. We then went to the private chapel. When St. Francis Xavier’s remains were brought to Goa, a nail from his body was given to the family to keep as a relic in the chapel. Visitors are encouraged to make a donation, whether large or small, to help maintain the house and its historical character.  This concluded the sightseeing for the day after which I enjoyed a fabulous meal with Trupti Wesley founder of the Chickoo Tree Project restaurant at Margao followed by Feni (local alcohol) shopping.

And in conclusion…

GO TO GOA FOR THE MONSOON!!!!!

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The beaches of Goa have been ranked by CNN Travel as #3 in the world and National Geographic Travel ranks the nightlife in the top 10.  So many thinks of Goa as primarily an exotic beach party experience. Certainly, the beaches, the nightlife and the cuisine are world class. But Goa offers so much more to the traveller who explores the depths of its diverse culture. It’s a place where east truly meets west. An Indian palette painted upon a European canvas. It is truly a colorful, historical, spiritual and serene place…that just happens to be a lot of fun to boot!

I also can’t stress enough how truly wonderful Goa is in monsoon.  Here the rain falls softly and shares the day with the sun and lush tropical foliage. The monsoon is the epitome of renewal and nowhere is this more apparent than Goa.

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A big thank you to GM Anand, SD Charmaine, PR Rajveer, DM Wallance, Chauffeur Rahesh and team PHG.

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One rainy day… Picture Courtesy: PHG

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Who does’t love a Sunday Brunch

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oh yes, keep pouring please…. (Picture Courtesy: PHG)

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The grill counter

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thank you for the rainbow cake dessert

 

Robindro Saikhom
robin@serenejourneys.co
www.serenejourneys.co

Robin is the founder of Serene Journeys, a gay travel company based in Delhi and a freelance travel photographer, exploring the beauty of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Southeast Asia.
Check us out on Instagram Facebook Twitter Youtube 

Goa & the Magical Monsoon

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Sunset at Uttorda Beach

Goa is known as the most popular beachfront state in India lying along the Arabian Sea bounded by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and south. Its biggest draw is undoubtedly its virtually uninterrupted string of white-sand beaches each beach having its own personality from tropical retreat to backpacker haven to hippie bliss.

Over 450 years of Portuguese rule and the influence of the Portuguese culture presents visitors to Goa a cultural environment that is not found elsewhere in India. Goa is often described as a fusion between Eastern and Western culture with Portuguese culture having a dominant position in the state be it in its architectural, cultural or social settings.

Goa is visited by large numbers of international and domestic tourists each winter season given its top world ranking nightlife and beaches. But I chose to visit Goa in the monsoon season (July through September) when the foliage turns lush green from the rains. Beauty abounds while the tourist population recedes.

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I stayed for four wonderful days at the new Planet Hollywood. Well-appointed and comfortable along clean and quiet Utorda Beach with a most welcoming and hospitable staff. So many surprises awaited from day one, including a beautiful and very tasty greeting cake, an upgraded luxurious suite room and a handwritten personal welcome note from the GM. Each room is individually designed according to a Hollywood theme featuring creature comforts like massage chair, mood lighting, goose down pillows, plush towels, satin sheets, and designer toiletries. Rooms either overlook the Arabian Sea or feature a lush garden view.

As to meals while in residence, I was offered a menu but instead asked that the chef select all my meals choosing from local favorites like pork vindaloo, chicken xacuti, balchão, pomfret curry… all prepared to my taste using a mouth-watering array of Goan spices. I was never disappointed.  What a fantastic culinary experience!

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Welcome assortment and brownie topped with Serene Journeys

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Welcome note from GM Anand jee

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one of the walls at the lounge bar

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executive suite

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Prawn Kismur

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Pork Vindaloo

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Pomfret Recheado

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MargaFeni – Feni Margarita

The second day I enjoyed a bicycle breakfast picnic to Three Kings Church, a famous ‘haunted church’ once attended by three Portuguese kings… one poisoned the other two and then committed suicide. Dicey heritage, cool place for enjoying a picturesque view in a most serene setting. I dined on fresh fruit, fresh baked breads and muffins, an omelet, some Indian delicacies and of course all washed down with delightful local coffee and tea.

On the way back, we detoured through local rice fields, small villages and took a long photo-stop, as I was excitedly prepared to ‘shoot’ every unique beauty coming my way from ruined churches among the coconut trees, to the farmers in the field and the butterflies. I spent the day at leisure along the beach watching beachgoers and cricket matches along the Sea as fisherman brought in their ‘treasures of the deep’.  My day ended still at the beach embraced by the patina of a golden sunset through the clouds and into the Arabian Sea.

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Wallance & I getting ready for the adventure

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the road to three kings church

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the spots decided

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we have a picnic butler 🙂

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under the tree on a beautiful morning

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beautiful moth

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this tree is beautifully creepy LOL!

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The ruins at Three Kings Church

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Picturesque view from Three Kings Church

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Three Kings Church

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The caretaker makes sure this fire does not go off

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another abandoned church on the way back

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The third day we toured many of Goa’s famous historical religious sites. Goa has a rich spiritual history where east meet west, Hindu meets Christianity.  First stop was the Basilica de Bom Jesus housing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, a UNESCO world heritage site. Dating to 1605, the basilica is an outstanding example of baroque architecture… one of the most important destinations for Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Then on to the Se Cathedral which is the cathedral of the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Goa and Daman as well as the seat of the Patriarch of the East Indies. Next, I visited the church of St. Francis of Assisi built in 1660 by the Portuguese as a chapel later gaining status as a church. Then on to the church of St. Augustine completed in 1602 and now a famous ruin with the only remaining structure being a 46-meter bell tower constructed of laterite.   Last but not least on the list was Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church built in 1541 and featuring the second largest bell in Goa. I enjoyed a fish fry thali for lunch at the famous Ritz Classic.

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Basilica de Bom Jesus

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the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier

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Se Cathedral

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The ruin around the church of St. Francis of Assisi

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The ruin around the church of St. Francis of Assisi

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the church of St. Augustine

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the church of St. Augustine

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the church of St. Augustine

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the church of St. Augustine

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Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church

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View from Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church

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Blue building is Singbal’s Book House, Church Square

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Given my diverse religious background (a prodigy of both Hinduism and Chritianity) I visited several Hindu temples each surrounded by flower vendors stringing garlands and making beautiful floral arrangements to place in the temples. I visited Shantadurga Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess who served as a messenger between Shiva and Vishnu. Formerly a small laterite mud shrine with a small idol during Portuguese times it is now converted into a beautiful full-scale place of spiritual enlightenment featuring a blend of Indian and Portuguese design. Next was the 400-year-old Mangeshi Temple founded during 16thcentury dedicated to Bhagavan Manguesh a incarnation of Lord Shiva.

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Shantadurga Temple

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Wallance & Chauffeur Rakesh ended up doing their own little shopping

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the 400-year-old Mangeshi Temple

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Stay tuned for Part 2 of ‘Serene Journey’s Excellent Goa Adventure with Planet Hollywood

 

Robindro Saikhom
robin@serenejourneys.co
www.serenejourneys.co

Robin is the founder of Serene Journeys, a gay travel company based in Delhi and a freelance travel photographer, exploring the beauty of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Southeast Asia.
Check us out on Instagram Facebook Twitter Youtube 

The Pink City

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Arrive in Style with Serene Journeys

While Delhi is the capital and Agra the home of the Taj Mahal, Jaipur is by far and away the most stimulating vertex of the Golden Triangle.  The film ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ was filmed near Jaipur and most will recall the character Evelyn Greenslade (Judy Dench) remarking that “India is an assault on the senses.”  She meant it in a nice way.

Jaipur is known as the Pink City.  In 1876, the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII of the British Empire embarked on an extensive tour of India.  Since pink denotes the color of hospitality, Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the entire city pink in color to welcome His Royal Highness.  The tradition has been followed through the years both inside and outside the walled historic center with every building being painted a terracotta pink with few exceptions.

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Albert Hall Museum

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A visitor at Albert Hall

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Staff lunching at Albert Hall

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Birla Temple

The Pink City is famous for its palaces and temples including the Hawa Mahal and its 953 windows used by women of the court to view the market screened behind the sandstone carving; the Amber Fort with its daily elephant entry procession; and the Water Palace that seems to sit atop the middle of Man Sagar Lake built by Maharaja Singh to provide a cool respite in the summer heat.  These are jut a few of the many, many examples of 17th and 18th century architecture found in abundance in Jaipur.

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A close-up of Hawa Mahal

Rajasthan is a desert culture featuring a colorful, harmonious lifestyle with natural elements that can occasionally be challenging.  In summer, while not as hot as Delhi or Agra, the temperature often climbs to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.   Elephants, camels, horses and donkeys still perform various transport tasks.  Rajasthani men wear sculpted mustaches and colorful, multifunctional turbans.  Popular sports include cricket, golf and polo.

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A Rajasthani man in his beautifully crafted turban

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Durga, owner of Dera Mandawa, working on my turban

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Durga and I, at Dera Mandawa

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Rajasthani men and their turban & moustache, truly fascinating

Jaipur is particularly noted for its arts and handicrafts especially marble carving, printed and woven fabrics and handwoven carpets.  The markets from inside the walls of the old city to the outskirts are always busy with locals and tourists finding treasures and striking bargains.

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Rickshaw ride anyone?

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The beautiful courtyard at Dera Mandawa

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Colorful sheets for charpai

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Pigeon feeding

The culinary style of the region is reflective of the bellicose lifestyle of the natives.  Rajasthani breads are made from corn, wheat, and other grains which are typically roasted on the tandoor or in frying pans.  Unavailability of many fresh vegetables, and other ingredients due to the arid climate have a profound effect on cooking style including the use of mild and other water substitutes in cooking.  Although predominantly a vegetarian region, the influence of the non-vegetarian Rajputs who favored lamb, chicken, pork and occasionally wild game is ever present.  Be ready for flavor as Rajasthani cuisine is inherently rich in spices appealing to every palate.

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Rajasthani Thali with Laal Maans, at Dera Mandawa

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Indian snacks street style, different kind of peanuts & green peas and chickpeas

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Suvarna Mahal restaurant at Taj Ramgarh Palace

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Suvarna Mahal at Taj Ramgarh Palace

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Papad platter at Suvarna Mahal

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Lamb tikka

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Pakoda

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3 course meal thali at Suvarna Mahal

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With Chef Sunil at Suvarna Mahal

So when visiting India’s Golden Triangle be sure to include Jaipur along the way.  Walk in the steps of the Maharaja’s, enjoy the colorful desert lifestyle, sample the local cuisine, and shop til you drop.

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Travel like Royals with Serene Journeys

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Make sure you get some shirts made with hand block print cotton fabrics

Puppet shows & cultural Rajasthani folk music are highlights of the evening at almost all hotelsPartcipate, and be part of the culture & you will truly enjoy your holiday.

 

Robindro Saikhom
robin@serenejourneys.co
www.serenejourneys.co

Robin is the founder of Serene Journeys, a gay travel company in India and a freelance travel photographer.  Follow him on Instagram @ serenejourneys or Facebook @ Serene Journeys.