Goa and the Magical Monsoon – II

rs62

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!

rs81

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.

DSC_4224

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!!!!!

DSC_4236

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.

DSC_3617

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

rs5

One rainy day… Picture Courtesy: PHG

IMG_2044

Who does’t love a Sunday Brunch

rs57

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

DSC_3698

The grill counter

IMG_2043

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 

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.

 

ITC Grand Bharat, Gurgaon

A luxury retreat for discerning guests

1

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.

2

18

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.

20 27 28 23 8

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.

4 3

6 5

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.

34 27 7

9 10 14 15 16 17 12 11 13 21 22

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.

30 29 31 32 33

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.

glrySpaB1

Picture Courtesy ITC Grand Bharat

spa

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.

24

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

DSC_0476

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”.

DSC_0187 DSC_0191

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.

DSC_0227

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.

DSC_0103DSC_0112

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.

DSC_0455

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.

DSC_0059

DSC_0058
DSC_0188

DSC_0061

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.

DSC_0145

DSC_0097

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.

DSC_0146

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.

DSC_0293

DSC_0435 DSC_0388 DSC_0448 DSC_0450 DSC_0346

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.

DSC_0468

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.

DSC_0160

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.

Vana Belle, a luxury collection resort, Koh Samui

DSC_0746

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”

IMG_0014

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.

DSC_0744

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.

DSC_0734

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.

DSC_0745

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.

DSC_0740

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.

DSC_0751

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