The Pink City

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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.

 

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.

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