Welcome to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – A 4 Day Sojourn

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Welcome to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – A 4 Day Sojourn

Day 1

After an early start for my slightly delayed flight from Delhi and following several triple espressos to wake me up, I’m finally on my way to Udaipur. I’m met at the airport by my driver who will take me to Ravia Khempur for my stay at the real Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and I’m filled with excitement and a little trepidation as I think about what may lie ahead of me and who might be my fellow guests at the original ‘hotel for the elderly and beautiful’.

Ravla Khempur is located in the heart of Mewar and is home to the real Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The nearest airport is Udaipur and the hotel is 21km from Udaipur airport.  The title ‘Ravla’ in Rajasthan refers to the “home of a village chieftain”.

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The car journey to the hotel takes us through narrow streets crowded with cyclists, cows, buffalo and people crammed into open trucks. The journey was made more charming as we drove through the monsoon rains creating a sort of wonderland inhabited by the happy faces of local people walking, cycling or enjoying the shelter of their homes that bordered the narrow streets and tiny alleyways. It seemed particularly appropriate that my driver was playing an old Bollywood song on the radio, a fitting soundtrack for this special journey.

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When we arrived at our destination, the now globally famous sign awaited us proclaiming “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly & Beautiful” Half-expecting Sonny to appear at any moment, I was instead greeted by the manager, Nitin who welcomed me to the hotel. A very convivial host, Nitin showed me to my room and informed me that, in the film, it had been inhabited by Sunaina and we laughed and joked together as I informed him that this room would suit me perfectly. Nitin offered to show me around the property and I was very interested to hear the stories attached to each of the rooms and which character from the movie was associated with which room, visiting the domains of Evelyn, Mrs Donnelly, Douglas, Norman and ending our tour in Sonny’s office.

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The hotel has 12 ensuite rooms exuding historical ambience and is graced with breathtaking surroundings. The lofty terraces, open courtyards, sprawling gardens, domes, arches and canopied balconies transport you back in time.

DSC_0120 DSC_0127This evening I met two English guests, Richard and John who are staying at the hotel. We had dinner together and enjoyed beautifully prepared, simple and authentic Indian food consisting of dal (lentils), chapatti (thin Indian bread), kaddu (pumpkin) and chicken curry followed by halwa (A sweet Indian dish consisting of  semolina boiled with milk, almonds, sugar, butter, and cardamom.). Having bid goodnight to my new friends I headed off to my room wondering whether Nitin might follow Sonny’s example of taking a roll call in the morning! A thoroughly enjoyable start to my stay in the hotel where nothing is exactly as it seems.

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Day 2

As the new day starts, I hear the peacocks and the priest performing his ritual at the temple as the early morning sunlight streams through the coloured glass windows. For a moment I lie in bed wondering whether there may be a roll-call but, almost disappointed and maybe slightly relieved, I arose to greet the day without my name being called. Richard and John joined me for a breakfast of bananas, papaya, masala chai, toast and pancakes: an adequate and simple start to our day. Nitin came to let us know that the government school next door was having a small function for Indian Independence Day and wondered if we would like to visit there. We enthusiastically followed his suggestion and walked to the school, taking pictures of the colourful houses along the way. All the village people had turned out for the function at the school, they were happy to welcome us to the celebration. The kids were smiling and wanted us to take pictures with them. The celebration was joyous and colourful with lots of traditional dance and shows performed by the students.

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On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the temple where the village elders were performing their regular rituals.  I was fascinated by the many different colours of turban, and asked Nitin to take me inside so I could take some photos of the elders.  The elders were very welcoming and were happy to pose for the click click click of my camera. They seemed happy with the results and I thanked them before heading back to the hotel.

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After a traditional lunch of dal, stir fried okra, rice and chapatti,  I took a wander round the hotel which is housed in a building dating back to 1628 AD.  I headed down to the stable where Babru, the full time stable caretaker introduced me to Gambler, the famous black stallion with 4 white socks and a white bless (panchkalyan) on his forehead. Later in the afternoon,  I explored more of the village when the local people were heading back from their daily work, some bringing back their cows and buffaloes. It was a joy to capture their contended smiles as they made their way home from the day’s labours.

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We have a new guest tonight, Bernice from France who just came by to see the property and decided to spend a night.  We were 4 of us for dinner, enjoying hot chapatis, dal tadka, tinda vegetable, rice and tawa chicken. Another lovely evening as we continue to chat about the movie and the fictional stories that have made this hotel an international icon.

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Day 3

A musical start to the day as I was awakened with the peacock singing his morning song and the priest playing ritual music with bells and drum. Today I didn’t wait for the name calls! When I arrived at breakfast, Bernice was already preparing to head off and continue her travels.  After breakfast the 3 remaining guests joined Nitin on a trip to Badgaon lake which is 10 km from the hotel. On arrival, I was very excited to see the beautiful lake appear as though from nowhere.  Nitin arranged a canoe for us and we were over to the other side of the lake. We spent a very serene afternoon bird-watching and relaxing as the little waves lapped against the shore. Although John and Richard were supposed to fly out this afternoon, they have decided to stay on for a night more, testament to the magic of this place and the attraction it holds for guests.  We spent another beautiful evening watching the sunset from the hotel and sharing stories of our lives.

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Day 4

As the morning sun came through the window and kissed my face, I opened my eyes smiling and thinking how happy I am to have decided to visit this beautiful, rustic place described by Guy Chamber as a “monastic palace”.  After breakfast I have a slightly heavy heart as I wave goodbye to everyone. The staff have been extremely friendly and helpful and I am already looking forward to returning to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in October and checking out new additions to the property which will include a swimming pool overlooking the stable, modernisation of some of the rooms and a stable themed restaurant and kitchen.

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Our tour “Bewitched at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is all set for departure for single, couples or a small group of friends.  If you are interested, please email us for detailed itinerary.

Robindro Saikhom & Steve O’Donnell
www.serenejourneys.co
Email: robin@serenejourneys.co
           steve@serenejourneys.co (enquiries from UK and Ireland)

Varanasi (9)

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.
Steve is Director (UK & Ireland) with Serene Journeys and a freelance travel writer and photographer.

Mysore Dasara 2015

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Mysuru (or Mysore) Dasara Festival. Be a Part of Royal Festivities in the City of Palaces.

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Fantabulous city festivities, live artist’s performances, caparisoned elephants on parade, dazzling fireworks.

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Symbolizing the victory of good in the form of Lord Rama over the evil represented by the demon King Ravana, Dasara is of great religious and social significance among the predominant Hindu community of India. Dasara is celebrated with great fervour across the country. Hence, visiting India at the time of Dasara is essentially becoming interwoven in India’s great colourful, spiritual and cultural persona. The ultimate Indian cultural treat with complexity of a fine south Indian culinary experience .

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Visit Mysuru, the city of palaces, during Dasara when the mystical and magical meet those mere mortals fortunate enough to enjoy the journey.

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By Robindro Saikhom with Steve O’Donnell
www.serenejourneys.co
Email: robin@serenejourneys.co
steve@serenejourneys.co (UK only)
The author, Robin, is the owner of Serene Journeys, a gay travel agent in India and a freelance travel photographer.  Follow him on Instagram @ serenejourneys or Facebook @ Serene Journeys.
Steve is a freelance travel writer and photographer and UK Consultant with Serene Journeys.

Serene Journeys Second Anniversary

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Looking back, I can still faintly see me chasing my dreams, wondering and exploring what I exactly want to become.  Coming from bioinformatics background, then switching to Animation, working at call centres, retail stores, marketing etc.  Until one day I accidentally came upon the travel line and it was like something waiting to happen.  I absolutely fell for what I now do on a daily basis, the whole concept of meeting travellers, travelling yourself, exploring the whole new world.

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It has been absolutely wonderful and feels like a calling.  A career pursuit which I really love and enjoy doing.

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As they say, “love the life you live, live the life you love” and that’s exactly what  I am doing.  That is, being a self-anointed Travelpreneur.

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Travel led me to practising my photography skills on the highways and byways  as I travel on and Voila another new passion is born…not quite full circle to animation but nonetheless a enjoyment of all things visual! It has been the best combination I could ever imagine.

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I am now an aspiring self-taught photographer bringing the travel experience through my eyes to whomever graces me with their notice whether it be on my Serene Journeys gallery, Facebook, or just sending a few pics to friends and family.

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I would like to thank everyone who stood by me all these years  in making Serene Journeys one of the upcoming gay luxury travel guides  to India.  Come and celebrate with us.

Robindro Saikhom
Serene Journeys 
Email: robin@serenejourneys.co

Robindro is the owner of Serene Journeys, a gay travel agent to India and a freelance travel photographer. Follow him on Instagram @ serenejourneys or Facebook @ Serene Journeys
Steve O’Donnell is a freelance travel writer and photographer and UK Consultant with Serene Journeys.

Vincent’s Restaurant, Bangkok

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Visitors to Bangkok could easily miss Vincent’s restaurant as it is tucked away in a narrow street near Lumpini Park. Having recently moved to a new location on Sathorn Soi 1, the restaurant is now spread over 2 buildings with a romantic garden area where you can dine surrounded by orchids and an array of plants and trees. The two indoor areas are small and offer an intimate dining experience.

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The menu is varied and innovative offering mouth-watering Thai and Taiwanese cuisine alongside some western dishes with Vincent’s new addition of Thai flavoured burgers for those looking for a quick bite.  A good selection of wines and draft beer is available to complement your dining experience.

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We have visited the restaurant several times and would highly recommend it for a romantic dinner or to celebrate a special occasion. The garden area can be booked for small parties and provides an ideal setting for friends to get together in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

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The restaurant has free parking and is open Monday to Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner and prices are very reasonable. Treat yourself to a great dining experience in this hidden gem where you will be assured of a warm welcome by Vincent and his friendly staff.

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By Robindro Saikhom with Steve O’Donnell

Serene Journeys
Email: robin@serenejourneys.co

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

Steve is a freelance travel writer and photographer and UK Consultant with Serene Journeys

Vincent’s Restaurant

Vana Belle, a luxury collection resort, Koh Samui

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Vana Belle is a luxury resort situated on Koh Samui’s Chaweng Noi Beach with breathtaking views over the Gulf of Siam. Offering tastefully furnished and modern luxurious suites and villas, the property is, as stated on their website “more than just a resort”

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Bruce Humphry is the general manager of the property, a charming man who offered me a warm welcome and was happy to show me round the property. I was struck by his personal approach and attention to detail which I am sure is extended by all the staff to guests and visitors.

The resort comprises 73  suites andDSC_0748 7 villas.  Each suite and villa provides total privacy and is designed to indulge and spoil you with a private pool surrounded by tropical gardens.  Spacious in design and exquisite in decor, each suite has a different style reflecting Thailand’s culture and artistic heritage. Some of the villas have convenient access to the soft white sands of Chaweng Noi Beach.

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Although only 4 kilometers from the markets and vibrant nightlife of Chaweng Town, the resort offers a serene getaway to discerning visitors. If you are looking for a luxurious escape on one of Koh Samui’s most beautiful beaches, Vana Belle will not let you down.

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The resort also offers culinary delights guiding you on an epicurean journey of Southern Thai and Italian flavors. The signature restaurant, Kiree serves Thai and international dishes for breakfast and dinner while Italian cuisine is served in Panali, the beach-side restaurant.  Guests can enjoy drinks with an ocean view at the Pool Bar. The helpful concierge service can also recommend local restaurants as well as arranging sightseeing tours and providing a wealth of helpful local information.

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As I continue my tour of the property with Bruce, we visit the Vana Spa, comprising 4 double treatment rooms, 2 of them with a steam room and jacuzzi. The spa offers a truly pampering experience in exotic surroundings, promising to transport you to a realm of healing and revitalization after your day of sightseeing or soaking up the sun.

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Although our tour of the property is almost at an end, I am in no hurry to leave the Lobby Lounge enjoying Panoramic views of the Gulf of Siam while the soothing breeze cools us down. I chat to Bruce about the experience LGBTQ travelers might expect at the resort. He reassures me that many lesbian and gay travelers have thoroughly enjoyed their stays at Vana Belle and with a strong commitment to equality, LGBTQ travelers are always very welcome.

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If you are planning for a trip to Thailand, do not miss the delights of Koh Samui and a stay at this haven of peace and tranquility.   You will be amazed.

By Robindro Saikhom (Robin) with Steve O’Donnell
Serene Journeys
Email: robin@serenejourneys.co
The author, Robin, is the owner of Serene Journeys, a gay travel agent in India and a freelance travel photographer.  Follow him on Instagram @ serenejourneys or Facebook @ Serene Journeys.
The co-author, Steve, is a freelance travel writer and photographer and UK Consultant with Serene Journeys.

Vana Belle

Serene Journeys First Anniversary

Namaste! 

This is the first edition of my Serene Journeys blog.  I’m starting this in recognition of our first year in business.  It’s been a great year!  We’ve helped travelers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe make the most out of their Asian travel experience.

Serene Journeys was conceived to provide the ultimate customized travel service to discerning travelers interested in discovering India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.  Our destinations are fantastic but they need a little inside knowledge or a great experience can become less than great real fast.  Our attitude of personal service and constant communication before, during and after the travel experience insures the Serene Journeys traveler will get the best value from the travel dollar.

Anyone can make hotel, transport and tour arrangements.  But at Serene Journeys we pay attention to the small, small touches; the details that make a good trip an extraordinary one.  We consider our travelers our friends and try to get to know them by email, by phone but best of all in person.   I personally meet and greet every traveler early in their journey so they know who they can reach out to for those special needs. 

One great thing about the travel business is traveling to preview destinations and get to know the best a location has to offer.  During the last year my work has taken me on an odyssey has taken me throughout Southeast Asia, Nepal and of course my home, India.    

Traveling has also given me the chance to pursue my favorite pastime…photography.  My pictures really tell the story.  Please check them out at Serene Journeys Photos.  You can also find a chronicle of our traveler’s experiences and our own on our Facebook page at  Serene Journeys Page

Needless to say it’s been an awesome first year.  Without a doubt the first of many more to come. Big Big thank you to all my team – Amit, Nitin, Amit C, Nirajan, Fiona, Chi & Hien, and to my friends for all the love and support. 

Come see us! 

Robindro Saikhom | Serene Journeys

A moment with Sadhu's in Kathmandu

Five beach vacations in South Goa

Think Goa beaches and you have visuals of Arambol, Mandrem, Morjim, Vagator, Anjuna, Baga, Calangute, Candolim, Miramar and Dona Paula come to mind. There is no denying the fact that the beaches, most of them located in North Goa, are ideal for beach holidays.

But there is more to Goa and beaches in South Goa can match those to the north in scenic splendor. This tourist season, visit South Goa beaches and trust us, you will not be disappointed.

  • Palolem

A popular tourist attraction in South Goa, the crescent-shaped beach is surrounded by hillocks and palm trees. Palolem is a natural bay surrounded by lofty headlands on either side. Because of its crescent-shape, you can view the entire beach from either end. The beach, about one mile long, offers a lot in terms of water sports. The beach is featured as the Goan residence of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in the film The Bourne Supremacy (2004). The sea is shallowest at the northern end.

  • Polem

Goa’s southernmost beach rarely figures on the itineraries of tourists visiting the beach state. However, it has ensured Polem is bereft of the hordes that throng the beaches and made it an ideal for those wanting to enjoy a quiet holiday.

Polem lies 27 km from Palolem Beach and is the southernmost beach in Goa. About 700 m long, the Polem beach is sickle-shaped.

The beach is ideal for a picnic or a seaside stroll.

  • Patnem Beach

If you are looking to escape the crowds and laze on the beach, do some sunbathing and do nothing else, then Patnem fits your requirements.

The white sandy crescent shaped seashore is among the quietest beaches of South Goa.

Find a beach chair or a hammock and let the sea breeze lull you to sleep. When you wake up, gorge on some of the most sumptuous and exotic fresh seafood to try out the Goan cuisines. Once you are done with it, reclaim your position on the chair or the hammock.

  • Rajbagh beach

Nice, beautiful and clean, Rajbagh in South Goa is ideal for a do nothing vacation. Also known as Raj Baga or Rajbaga, Rajbagh Beach is situated close to Palolem. Almost the entire Rajbag coastline is occupied by luxury five-star. Though not a private beach, Rajbagh gets very few visitors other than the hotel guests.

Facilities are very few except for those provided by the hotel. Consequently, they are priced on the higher side.

  • Talpona beach

A sleepy little fisherman’s village, Talpona boasts of one of the cleanest beaches in South Goa. The beach is about one km stretch of golden sand and stands at the mouth of the Talpona River.

The sea is quiet and calm, water is clean and crystal-clear. Visitors to Talpona are rare and often the beach is completely empty. Talpona has escaped the rampant commercialization you find in the beaches elsewhere in Goa.

Talpona beach is ideal for those seeking solitude and don’t go if you are looking for watersports or other beach activities.

By Samod, Travel India

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