The Hidden Sanctuary of Northern Kerala

The Refuge of Peace

To most travellers, a trip to Kerala conjures an image of an idyllic cruise on the backwaters of Alappuzha. Indeed, there are now over 500 houseboats on the backwaters of Alappuzha alone. But there is much more to South India’s most serenely beautiful State than cruising in the increasingly busy backwaters.

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Theyyam dance make-up

In search for serenity, I headed to Northern Kerala and arrived at Neeleshwar Hermitage, a cloistered tropical paradise set in a secluded palm grove beside the Arabian Sea. I was overwhelmed by this boutique sanctuary: it took my breath away and could truly be described as a haven of perfection. Eighteen beautiful cottages, each named after a traditional yogic virtue, come with a garden or pool view and private pool. The beach is just 20 steps away from the retreat where you can enjoy breakfast to the sound of the waves watching the fishermen returning from the sea.

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Isn’t it rare to see a crowdless beach?

After a wonderful 3-night stay at this refuge of peace and tranquillity, we drove to a small jetty a ten minute drive south from Neeleshwar Hermitage situated on the banks of the Tejaswini river. I boarded The Lotus, a two bedroom rice barge offering total comfort in tasteful style and elegance.

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The Lotus Houseboat

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The cruise covers about 25kms of the Valiyaparamba backwater, a large inland lake several miles due east of the Hermitage. As you sail further south, the only sound is the lapping of water or the occasional jumping of huge red snappers. The cruise also takes you on a short walk through the sleepy village to the monkey island. A taxi ride to Shri Mutthappan temple, a highly atmospheric shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva in his form as a local tribal hunter offers the opportunity to witness the evening ritual involving the priest acting as a trance-medium for Shiva and serving as an oracle for worshippers.

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Where the river & sea meets

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A perfect sunset from the deck

To appreciate the joys of this part of ‘God’s Own Country’ aim to spend at least 4 days and enjoy the remote peacefulness where days can easily and slowly turn into weeks.

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Sunset and wine goes quite well together

Nearest Airport: Calicut or Mangalore

Need help? Write to us at robin@serenejourneys.co or steve@serenejourneys.co (For UK & Ireland)
Visit our website at Serene Journeys

Robindro Saikhom (Robin)
Founder, Serene Journeys

Robin is the owner of Serene Journeys, a bespoke travel specialist for LGBT & communities based in New Delhi and a freelance travel photographer.  Follow him on Instagram @serenejourneys or Facebook @Serene Journeys.

 

The Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights
End of  fall and ultimate pampering

 

28th Oct                     Jodhpur – Rohet (30-45mins drive)

Suggested Flight: AI 475 departure Delhi @12.40hrs, arrival Jodhpur @ 14.00hrs

Today, we will receive you at Jodhpur airport and drive you to a magical fort.

Built in 2009 AD….MIHIR GARH…. or ‘The Fort of the Sun’ is an indulgent initiative from the House of Rohet. Mihir Garh is a 5 star Heritage hotel in Rajasthan, Jodhpur, India. Manifesting out of the golden sands of Marwar, it stands majestically to embrace the discerning traveler and shower upon him the legendary hospitality and the diverse flavors of the land.

Rest of the day is at leisure; watch the beautiful sunset sipping your favorite cocktail from the infinity pool or your own private plunge pool.

Live music entertainment, desert song

Overnight at Mihirgarh.

29th Oct                     Rohet – Jodhpur – Rohet

After breakfast at 8AM, we start our day trip to Jodhpur visiting Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jaswant Thada, Ghanta Ghar.

Later we continue to go on a zeep safari to Bishnoi village and witness the opium tea ceremony.  Taste the opium tea if you are adventurous 🙂

Later come back to the hotel.

Live music entertainment, desert song

Overnight at Mihirgarh (Breakfast)

30th Oct                     Rohet 

HAPPY DIPAWALITHE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

Leisurely breakfast and enjoy the magical fort.

Later we will take you through the unique experience of culinary demonstrations and workshops. The recipes come from Late Thakurani Sahbia Jayenda Kumari’s books (owner’s mother) on traditional Rajasthani food.  You can experiment with your own favorite recipes until you are confident that they can re-create the same taste at their homes. Else, you can remain mere spectators of the fine art of cooking – and later enjoy the delicacies at a special dinner.

This evening we shall celebrate it with style, say no to fire crackers instead release lots and lots of sky lanterns and lit the sky.

Overnight at Mihirgarh (Breakfast & Dinner)

31st Oct                     Rohet – Jodhpur departure 

Suggested Flight: AI 476. departure Jodhpur @14.35hrs, arrival Delhi @15.50hrs

After breakfast, we will transfer you to Jodhpur airport to board your onward flight.

 

HOTELS:(28 Oct – 31st Oct’16)

CITY HOTEL
Rohet Mihirgarh (Suite)

TOUR QUOTE:

Number of pax Rates
02 pax in twin sharing INR 95,280/- per person on twin sharing

(inclusive all taxes)

Single supplement INR 48,620/- Per Single

INCLUSIONS:

  • 03 nights hotel accommodation.  Stay in hotels on room & breakfast basis unless specified
  • Arrival and departure assistance
  • Transportation using an air conditioned vehicle (INNOVA (03 PAX)/TT (07 Max.PAX)
  • Services of English speaking local guides as per the program
  • Entrance fee to the monuments as per the program (01 time visit)
  • Village jeep safari in Rohet
  • Cooking class in Rohet
  • Diwali celebration in Rohet with sky lanterns
  • Strike a pose – photographer onsite, a bottle of Indian wine with our compliments in your room
  • All presently applicable taxes

EXCLUSIONS:

  • Any Airfare | travel insurance | visa fees
  • Any item of personal nature such as table drinks, laundry, telephone calls, mineral water etc.
  • Any other meals (except those mentioned above).
  • Camera fee at the monuments
  • Tipping, etc.

Cancellation & Refund Policy:

We advise all customers to purchase traveller’s insurance in case of interruption, accidents, illness, or anything else that may come up.

Unless stated differently on the tour, cancellations received 120 days prior to departure date will be refunded in full less a 10% handling fee. Thereafter, cancellation fees are as follows: 

  • 119 to 90 days prior to departure = 25% of tour cost
  • 89 to 60 days prior to departure = 50% of tour cost
  • 59 to 30 days prior to departure = 75% of tour cost
  • 29 days prior to departure forfeits full tour price, including no shows. 

If the tour is cancelled by Serene Journeys, a full refund of all deposits and/or payments will be given. 

PRECAUTIONS DURING YOUR TRAVEL IN INDIA

Here is a list of precautions which will help you to enjoy your holidays in India fully. You need to be very attentive and careful about your documents, luggage and health during your India travel.

  • On streets keep all money in zipped pockets.
  • Keep all your important documents like passport, health certificate and international driving permit with you always.
  • Most of the diseases in India are water born there for always keep a flask of boiled water with you and never eat anything from shops or stalls which serve uncovered eatables.
  • Always keep a medical kit with you when you travel to India and stock up on aspirins, diarrhea tablets, insect cream, salt tablets and other first-aid essentials.
  • Always buy beverages and juices of good brand and check the seal and expiry date before buying.
  • Always peel your own fruit and vegetables, stay clear of raw vegetables salads, raw sugarcane or (a big cause of amoebic dysentery) iced cane-juice.
  • While traveling in dry climate you need to have a lots of fluids and to soak up all the excess liquid you might want to pick some solid eatables like biscuit, bread etc.
  • While traveling in dry places like Rajasthan have lots of water in-store with u.
  • If you wish to over stay, you are advised to contact the nearest Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office.
  • For personal side trips in the city, try to use pre-paid taxis/auto-rickshaws or pay by meter or ask for fare chart when you travel within India. Lots of reliable app based taxis like Uber, Ola etc are available as well.

 

The Wonders of Rajasthan: Past & Present

The Wonders of Rajasthan: Past & Present

An exclusive journey rich in culture & palaces – A treasure trove for photography enthusiasts
18 Days / 17 Nights touring

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Delhi – Udaipur – Khempur – Ranakpur – Rohet – Jodhpur – Shahpura – Bhainsrorgarh – Ranthambore National Park – Jaipur – Agra – Delhi

 

24th Oct                     Delhi arrival

(Please book your flights accordingly & advise your flight details, Check-in time is 14.00hrs)

Upon arrival, our representative will greet you at the airport with flower garlands and transfer you to the hotel with our compliments.

Overnight at The Claridges / The Oberoi Maiden.

25th Oct                     Delhi

After breakfast around 9AM, visit the great Jama Masjid, the most important mosque in India.  Also a quick stop at Agrasen Ki Baoli. Then set off on an exciting rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, inching your way through a maze of bicycles, cars and the occasional wandering cow. Stop for lunch & visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the most prominent Sikh house of worship in Delhi, then on to Humayun’s Tomb, a Mughal complex that prefigured the Taj Mahal. Visit Qutub Minar, the second tallest minar in India.

Evening around 7.30PM, welcome dinner at a north Indian cuisine restaurant with our representative at Veda.

Overnight at The Claridges / The Oberoi Maiden (Breakfast & Dinner)

26th Oct                     Delhi – Udaipur by flight – Khempur 

By Air India departure Delhi at 1.30pm, arrival Udaipur at 2.45pm.

Leisurely breakfast and around 10.30AM we transfer you to the airport to board your flight to Udaipur.  Upon arrival, we receive you at the airport drive to Khempur, a village in Udaipur district, Rajasthan noted for its Ravla Khempur, an equestrian hotel which was originally the palace of a tribal chieftain. It featured as the hotel in the 2012 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Do carry your swim brief, the pool is the new edition at The Marigold Hotel.

Later go on a guided village sightseeing on an ox cart or a camel cart followed by sundowner by the lake if time permits else next day.

Rest of the evening is at leisure.

Overnight at Ravla Khempur (Breakfast & Dinner)

27th Oct                     Khempur – Udaipur – Khempur

After breakfast, we start our day trip at 8.00AM to Udaipur visiting the magnificent city palace, monsoon palace, Jagdish temple; enjoy a boat ride on Lake Pichola.  Also visit Eklingji.

Later drive back to the hotel.

Overnight at Ravla Khempur (Breakfast & Dinner)

28th Oct                     Khempur – Rohet (4-5hrs)

After breakfast at 9AM, drive to Rohet situated on the edge of the Thar Desert.  Upon arrival check in to the hotel.

Built in 2009 AD….MIHIR GARH…. or ‘The Fort of the Sun’ is an indulgent initiative from the House of Rohet. Mihir Garh is a 5 star Heritage hotel in Rajasthan, Jodhpur, India. Manifesting out of the golden sands of Marwar, it stands majestically to embrace the discerning traveler and shower upon him the legendary hospitality and the diverse flavors of the land.

Rest of the day is at leisure; watch the beautiful sunset sipping your favorite cocktail from the infinity pool.

Overnight at Mihirgarh (Breakfast)

29th Oct                     Rohet – Jodhpur – Rohet

After breakfast at 8AM, we start our day trip to Jodhpur visiting Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jaswant Thada, Ghanta Ghar.

Later we continue to go on a zeep safari to Bishnoi village and witness the opium tea ceremony.  Taste the opium tea if you are adventurous 🙂

Later come back to the hotel.

Overnight at Mihirgarh (Breakfast)

30th Oct                     Rohet 

HAPPY DIPAWALI – THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

Leisurely breakfast and enjoy the magical fort.

Later we will take you through the unique experience of culinary demonstrations and workshops. The recipes come from Late Thakurani Sahbia Jayenda Kumari’s books (owner’s mother) on traditional Rajasthani food.  You can experiment with your own favorite recipes until you are confident that they can re-create the same taste at their homes. Else, you can remain mere spectators of the fine art of cooking – and later enjoy the delicacies at a special dinner.

This evening we shall celebrate it with style, say no to fire crackers instead release lots and lots of sky lanterns and lit the sky.

Overnight at Mihirgarh (Breakfast & Dinner)

31st Oct                     Rohet – Shahpura (5hrs)

After breakfast at 9AM, we drive to Shahpura.  Upon arrival, check in to the hotel.

Late afternoon, we visit the Dikhola village, a quaint and rustic village where time has stood still.  Explore the village and the fort and sundowner.

Overnight at Shahpura Bagh (Breakfast & Dinner)

1st Nov                      Shahpura

Morning go on a birdwatching nature trail at the hotel, enjoy a boat ride at the lake if the water level is up.

After breakfast we go on an excursion at the farm.

Rest of the day is at leisure / free to explore on your own

Overnight at Shahpura Bagh (All meals)

2nd Nov                     Shahpura – Bhainsrorgarh (3-4hrs) 

After breakfast, drive to Bhainrorgarh, perched dramatically atop a 200 feet slate ridge over the shimmering Chambal river with views that surpass the imagination.

Brief rest, and we go on a sunset safari. A ride through the country side in an open four-by-four takes you through farms of wheat and mustard, typical villages under local governance and a tribal village which continue to live without electricity. The drive that takes you over half an hour from the fort finally ends near the village of Balapura that rests by the edge of a reservoir. Ideally timed before sunset, tea and snacks are organized for guests while they take in the beauty and tranquility of a sunset in the country – birds settling down to the end of the day, stealthy jungle cats getting ready for their nocturnal prowls, village sounds of temple bells and the hustle of evening chores.

Evening is at leisure.

Overnight at Bhainsrorgarh Fort (Breakfast & Dinner)

3rd Nov                      Bhainsrorgarh 

After breakfast, visit the Badoli Temples, a work of architectural brilliance, built in the 9th century by the Hun Rulers followed by picnic lunch on the river island where one can see the elusive Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), a highly endangered species of crocodile found mainly in the Yamuna and Chambal Rivers.  In the mood for some fun, we will carry fishing rods and see if we get lucky to catch some big fish 🙂

Rest of the day is at leisure / free to explore on your own

Overnight at Bhainsrorgarh Fort (All meals) 

4th Nov                      Bhainsrorgarh – Ranthambore NP enroute Bundi (6hrs)

After breakfast, we drive to Ranthambore National park, en-route visiting Bundi.

Bundi is a beautiful town surrounded by the Aravalli hills on the three sides and is circumscribed by a massive wall with four gateways.  We will visit Taragarh fort, the 14th century old and one of the most impressive and in days gone by, impregnable forts in Rajasthan.

It has four enormous water reservoirs which were built to cater to the water requirements of the fort.

Later continue to drive to Ranthambore.  Upon arrival, check in to the hotel.

Rest of the day is at leisure / free to explore on your own

Overnight at Nahargarh / The Tigress (Breakfast & Dinner)

5th Nov                      Ranthambore NP

Early morning go on a tiger safari on an open jeep, sharing.  Later come back for breakfast.

Later in the afternoon, go for another jeep safari.

Overnight at Nahargarh / The Tigress (All meals)

6th Nov                      Ranthambore – Jaipur (4-5hrs)

After breakfast, we drive to Jaipur. Upon arrival, check in to the hotel.

Overnight at Fairmont / ITC Rajputana (Breakfast)

7th Nov                      Jaipur

Early breakfast and visit the Amber Fort on an elephant back.  Visit city place, Hawa mahal, Jantar Mantar and explore the local market.

Rest of the day is at leisure / free to explore on your own

Overnight at Fairmont / ITC Rajputana (Breakfast)

8th Nov                      Jaipur – Agra (4/5hrs)

After breakfast, we drive to Agra.  Upon arrival, check in to the hotel.

Rest of the day is at leisure.

Late afternoon, visit our secret spot for the ultimate view of Taj Mahal at sunset.

Overnight at Courtyard by Marriott (Breakfast) 

9th Nov                      Agra – Delhi

Early morning visit to the Taj Mahal, watch the white marble glow when the first ray of sunlight falls on this stunning monument. (Closed on Fridays)

Later come back for breakfast and brief rest.

Check out and we drive back to Delhi. Upon arrival, check in to the hotel.

Rest of the day is at leisure / free to explore on your own.

Overnight at The Park (Breakfast)

10th Nov                    Delhi departure

(Please book your flights accordingly & advise your flight details)

Today we transfer you to the airport to board your onward flight.

(Extended tours are available on request to Kerala / Goa / Amritsar / Kolkata / Andaman)

HOTELS:

CITY HOTEL
Delhi The Claridges / Oberoi Maidens
Khempur Ravla Khempur
Rohet Mihirgarh
Shahpura Shahpura Bagh
Bhainsrorgarh Bhainsrorgarh Fort
Ranthambore NP Nahargarh Fort / The Tigress
Jaipur Fairmont / ITC Rajputana
Agra Courtyard by Marriott
Delhi The Park
  • Tour is priced @ INR 327,645/- per person on twin sharing (Approx US $4910).
  • Single room supplement @ INR 171,806/- (Approx $2580)
  • Group Size: 10-14 pax
  • Tour dates: 24th Oct 2016 to 10th Nov 2016
  • Please read our cancellation & refund policy below carefully.

INCLUSIONS:

  • 17 nights hotel accommodation. Stay in hotels on room & breakfast basis unless as specified in the itnerary.
  • Transportation using AC tempo traveller
  • Services of English speaking local guides as per the program
  • Entrance fee to the monuments as per the program (01 time visit)
  • Welcome Dinner at Veda restaurant in Delhi (Beverages not included)
  • Village sightseeing on an ox cart or a camel cart followed by sundowner by the lake in Khempur
  • Boat ride on Lake Pichola in Udaipur
  • Bishnoi Village jeep safari in Rohet
  • Cooking class in Rohet
  • Diwali celebration in Rohet
  • Excursion to Fort and sundowner in Shahpura
  • Sunset Safari in Bhainsrorgarh
  • Picnic lunch on the river island in Bhainsrorgarh
  • 2 tiger safari in Ranthambore in jeep sharing basis
  • One way elephant ride/jeep at Amber Fort in Jaipur
  • Domestic flights for sector Delhi – Udaipur by Air India (Baggage allowance 25kg)
  • All presently applicable taxes

EXCLUSIONS:

  • International Airfare | travel insurance | visa fees
  • Any item of personal nature such as table drinks, laundry, telephone calls, mineral water etc.
  • Any other meals (except those mentioned above).
  • Camera fee at the monuments
  • Tipping, etc.

For reservation query, please email us at
robin@serenejourneys.co
steve@serenejourneys.co (enquiries from UK and Ireland)

Robin is the founder of Serene Journeys, a boutique travel company in India and a freelance travel photographer, birder and rural explorer.  Follow him on Instagram @ serenejourneys or Facebook @ Serene Journeys or tweet @serenejourneys1

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

 Cancellation & Refund Policy:

We advise all customers to purchase traveller’s insurance in case of interruption, accidents, illness, or anything else that may come up.

Unless stated differently on the tour, cancellations received 120 days prior to departure date will be refunded in full less a 10% handling fee. Thereafter, cancellation fees are as follows: 

  • 119 to 90 days prior to departure = 25% of tour cost
  • 89 to 60 days prior to departure = 50% of tour cost
  • 59 to 30 days prior to departure = 75% of tour cost
  • 29 days prior to departure forfeits full tour price, including no shows. 

If the tour is cancelled by Serene Journeys, a full refund of all deposits and/or payments will be given. 

PRECAUTIONS DURING YOUR TRAVEL IN INDIA

Here is a list of precautions which will help you to enjoy your holidays in India fully. You need to be very attentive and careful about your documents, luggage and health during your India travel.

  • On streets keep all money in zipped pockets.
  • Keep all your important documents like passport, health certificate and international driving permit with you always.
  • Most of the diseases in India are water born there for always keep a flask of boiled water with you and never eat anything from shops or stalls which serve uncovered eatables.
  • Always keep a medical kit with you when you travel to India and stock up on aspirins, diarrhea tablets, insect cream, salt tablets and other first-aid essentials.
  • Always buy beverages and juices of good brand and check the seal and expiry date before buying.
  • Always peel your own fruit and vegetables, stay clear of raw vegetables salads, raw sugarcane or (a big cause of amoebic dysentery) iced cane-juice.
  • While traveling in dry climate you need to have a lots of fluids and to soak up all the excess liquid you might want to pick some solid eatables like biscuit, bread etc.
  • While traveling in dry places like Rajasthan have lots of water in-store with u.
  • If you wish to over stay, you are advised to contact the nearest Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office.
  • For personal side trips in the city, try to use pre-paid taxis/auto-rickshaws or pay by meter or ask for fare chart when you travel within India. Lots of reliable app based taxis like Uber, Ola etc are available as well.

ITC Grand Bharat, Gurgaon

A luxury retreat for discerning guests

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Have you ever wanted a weekend retreat from Delhi or to celebrate a special occasion without having to travel too far?  Then look no further than the luxurious ITC Grand Bharat at the foothills of the Aravallis overlooking beautiful landscaped gardens in the shade of the mountains.

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Located in Mewat region approximately 45 km from center of Delhi towards Gurgaon, this property boasts 100 deluxe suites with semi-private pools or terraces offering magnificent views of the picturesque surroundings. The retreat also features 4 Presidential Villas offering unrivaled luxury with butler services provided by a dedicated retreat host. Each of the Presidential Villas reflects a particular era of India’s rich and fascinating history and their decor draws inspiration from the Maurya, Chola, Mughal and Maratha dynasties.

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The retreat is a perfect place to relax, connect with nature or indulge in more adventurous activities including hiking, cycling, rock climbing or mountain-biking The hotel is also a haven for golf enthusiasts featuring a 27-hole, championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

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When I arrived at the hotel, I was received by friendly, smiling staff dressed in traditional attire, in a huge lobby area with palatial seating and a very impressive chandelier hanging atop. Guests staying in the Presidential Suites can choose to drive in directly to the arrival court, to a ceremonial welcome, without having to go to ‘The Palace’ or the main block to check-in.

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The hotel houses four restaurants, each offering its own unique culinary experience. You can choose to dine al fresco, poolside, in the opulent Aravali Pavilion or take a journey through India’s colonial past in the India Room offering European dishes from Greece, Portugal, Holland, France and Britain. The property also features the Peacock Bar, inspired by India’s national bird and serving classic cocktails and premium spirits. Relax with your favourite cocktail prepared by Zac Abbott, the master mixologist whilst enjoying some mild jazz.

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India is the birthplace of Yoga, ayurveda and meditation and ITC Grand Bharat offers you the ultimate experience in wellbeing and health services with therapeutic and aromatic massages at Kaya Kalp – The Royal Spa or experience magical togetherness at the Yoga Pavilion. Take the opportunity to revitalise your senses in this island of tranquility.

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Picture Courtesy ITC Grand Bharat

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Picture Courtesy ITC Grand Bharat

Paying tribute to the glory of India, ITC Grand Bharat is a unique retreat for anyone living in Delhi, passing through on a stop-over before or returning from Agra or Jaipur. The staff are gracious and helpful and a warm welcome is extended to all guests.

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

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.

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.