Lights & Colours & Fairs… Oh My! Check our package!

An introduction to the festivals of India.

16Nights|17Days touring
Group size: 2-6 travellers, guaranteed departure

The sound, the colour, the fragrant air, the press of humanity… get ready for daunting yet enchanting experiences back to back as you embark upon a once in a life time adventure of two most famous festivals of India–Diwali and the Pushkar Camel Fair. Come join us as we celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights commemorating the triumph of good over evil. Witness the pale brown sandy dunes of Pushkar as they erupt into a colourful frenzy during the camel fair. Arrive in style as we receive you as you come off your flight, escort you through immigration and customs, retrieve your baggage and travel by luxury ground transport to your hotel. Explore the Taj Mahal – an enduring masterpiece, stay at unique hospitality venues known only to the most discerning, knowledgeable travellers – the best kept secret royal homes, see Bengal tigers and leopards in their natural habitat, alongside local villages and much much more…….

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Tourist enjoying Pushkar Fair (Photo courtesy to the photographer & google)

MUMBAI – AGRA – FATEHPUR SIKRI – JAIPUR – SHAPURA – UDAIPUR – KUMBHALGARH – NARLAI – JODHPUR – ROHET – PUSHKAR – DELHI

 

16th Oct         Mumbai arrival

Kindly advise your flight details 

Upon arrival, our representative will receive you at the airport and transfer you to the hotel. VIP welcome, kindly look out for ‘Serene Journeys Placard with your name on it’ as you walk out aerobridge.

Overnight at hotel.

17th Oct         Mumbai

After a morning at leisure, explore the city’s classic sites, including the Gateway of India, an 85-foot-high arch with a design that reflects India’s Muslim and Hindu traditions. Visit the Prince of Wales Museum and Mani Bhawan, a museum dedicated to the life and works of Mahatma Gandhi. Next, see the Dhobi Ghat, the largest open-air laundry in the world and a wonderfully colorful spectacle to behold.

Evening around 7PM, enjoy a welcome dinner alongside fellow guests.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast & Dinner)

18th Oct         Mumbai – Delhi – Agra

By Vistara UK970, departure Mumbai @0845hrs, arrival Delhi @1100hrs

Early breakfast and we drive to Mumbai airport to board your flight to Delhi. Upon arrival in Delhi, we receive you at the airport and drive to Agra. Upon arrival in Agra, check in to the hotel.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

19th Oct         Agra

Pay your first visit to the masterpiece this sunrise, when the rising sun lends a warm orange tint to its marble face. Flawless in its proportions and breathtaking in its beauty, the Taj Mahal looks as though it were painted onto the sky itself — a vision of unrivalled magnificence.

Later come back for breakfast and brief rest.

Around 10am, we then go on a guided sightseeing of the impressive Agra Fort, built of red sandstone and marble, Agra Fort presents a formidable exterior and a graceful interior. Visit Itmad-ud-Daulah, nicknamed the Baby Taj, the exquisite tomb of Mizra Ghiyas Beg. Visit the local market, watch the locals shopping as they prepare to celebrate the festival of lights.

Evening go out with our guide to celebrate Diwali with an Indian family, watch the fireworks & the streets become lively. Get ready to be fed with lots of India sweets.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast) 

20th Oct         Agra – Jaipur via Fatehpur Sikri

After breakfast and around 9.30AM we drive to Jaipur en-route visiting Fatehpur Sikri. Built by Emperor Akbar as his palace in the 16th century and then later abandoned, “ruined” Fatehpur Sikri is a fairy-tale ghost city of delicately carved red sandstone.

Later continue to drive to Jaipur. Upon arrival, check in to your hotel.

Rest of the day is at leisure

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

21st Oct         Jaipur

After breakfast around 8AM, we go on a guided sightseeing of Jaipur.  We will visit Amber Fort, the former capital of royal Jaipur. Set on the dry wrinkled Aravali Hills and surrounded by fortified battlements, the palace straddles two sepia-hued tundra hills overlooking Maota Lake and its sprawling crenellated walls lattice the surrounding hills. We shall visit the Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds, a five-storied structure of pink sandstone with semi-octagonal and delicately honeycombed windows overlooking the main street of the old city. Also, we visit the Solar Observatory – an astronomical treasure house.

Later visit the local market selling fabrics to jewellery and lots more, get ready to bargain the Indian way 🙂

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

22nd Oct        Jaipur – Shahpura

After breakfast around 9AM, drive to Shahpura Bagh, an authentic royal home stay experience in Rajasthan. Life is unhurried here. Upon arrival, check in to the hotel.

Later visit Dhikhola Fort, a short 30 minute drive from the Bagh brings you to village Dhikhola, a quaint and rustic village where time has stood still. Visitors can explore the village and the fort owned by the family. Then enjoy a sundowner with one of the royal family overlooking the village from the fort.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

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Sundowner at Dhikhola Fort

23rd Oct        Shahpura – Udaipur

After breakfast, we drive to Udaipur. Upon arrival check in to your hotel.

Following an afternoon at leisure, enjoy a private cruise to Jag Mandir, a palace of splendidly carved marble on an island in Lake Pichola.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

24th Oct         Udaipur

After breakfast, around 9AM visit the City Palace, a marble complex of palaces and galleries that offers unforgettable views of the lake and its surroundings. Take a private tour of the Crystal Gallery in Fateh Prakesh Palace, and stroll through Sahelion Ki Bari (Garden of the Maids of Honor). Also visit the Vintage and classic car collection museum.

Rest of the day is at leisure / own activities

Evening, we visit Bagore Ki Haveli at Gangaur Ghat, the 17th century old historic mansion. Enjoy Dharohar a cultural event held inside Bagore ki haveli. This event is a musical concert combining 7 traditional Rajasthani folk dances performed.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

25th Oct         Udaipur – Narlai via Kumbhalgarh

After breakfast, around 9AM we drive to Narlai en-route visiting Kumbhalgarh. One of the many forts built by Rana Kumbha (r 1433–68), under whom Mewar reached its greatest extents, this isolated fort is perched 1100m above sea level, with endless views melting into blue distance. The journey to the fort, along twisting roads through the Aravalli Hills, is a highlight in itself.

Later continue to drive to Narlai. Upon arrival check in to the hotel.

Hidden away in the heart of Aravalli Hills, at the foot of a mammoth granite rock, surrounded by forested hills and rocky outcrops, Rawla Narlai is a beautifully maintained heritage resort, which was once a hunting lodge of Jodhpur’s Royal family. Still owned by members of the Jodhpur family, the resort is now transformed from a mere hunting lodge into a stunning, stylish boutique hotel albeit with all its original character and structure retained.

Evening we go for dinner at the step well. Taste the flavor of true Rajasthani royal hospitality at the 16th Century old Baori (Step-well) of Rawla Narlai. The journey that begins when you gather at the courtyard, sip a welcome drink with the resident royal who will regale you with stories & history of the locals while you get adorned with the turbans & scarf and transportation by bullock carts are arranged for you. Guided by a local into the dusk, swaying to the movement of the cart, watching the village slowly going to sleep and the starlit sky unfolding above you, passing the yogi who meditates by the blazing fire, you reach your destination that is lit by hundreds of lamps. Following this experience is the culinary journey that ignites your taste buds with elaborate fare offered over the next couple of hours while being entertained by the local jogi singing the devotional folk songs in his rich melodious voice. This culinary experience ends with the return to the hotel courtyard by our jeeps and a welcome cup of calming herbal tea.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast & Dinner)

26th Oct         Narlai

OPTIONAL: Morning go on a village walk with one of the locals and visit to cave temple.

Enjoy a half day trip on the meter gauge train that still runs through beautiful countryside, especially after the rain as the waterfalls can be experienced. A journey by the train along with local villagers and then pick up at the end station by car / jeep followed by a drive back to Hotel. It is the best way to enjoy the rugged and beautiful countryside!!!

Evening tea by lake side.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

27th Oct         Narlai – Rohet via Jodhpur

Leisurely breakfast, and around 9AM, we drive to Rohet en-route visiting Jodhpur.

We go on a guided sightseeing of Mehrangarh Fort, the massive fort which in olden days must have been impregnable since its rocky base is scraped straight down making it nearly impossible to ascend. Once inside, royal palaces abound with fascinating history and priceless jewels. We then proceed to the armoury and Jaswant Thada – the Royal Crematorium.  Visit the clock tower and walk around the town.

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

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

28th Oct         Rohet

Leisurely breakfast and around 11AM we go on a village jeep safari visiting the Bishnoi tribes, the Brahmins and the potters. Also try your hand on the opium tea.

Rest of the day is at leisure / indulge with several activities available at the hotel.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

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Just relax by the pool sipping your favourite cocktail

29th Oct         Rohet – Pushkar

After breakfast around 8.00AM, we drive to Pushkar to witness India’s ultimate rural festival.

Pushkar festival has religious origins which draws pilgrims from far and wide to this festival to bathe in the holy waters of Pushkar’s lake and pray to Lord Brahma. The sand dunes of Pushkar appear in the carnival mood. There is a huge inflow of pilgrims, camel traders, and tourists. It is a fascinating sight, and a great opportunity to witness the colors, aromas and mood of an old traditional style Indian festival. A huge carnival is held. There are musicians, dancers, acrobats, magicians, snake charmers, rides and food stalls to entertain the guests.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast & Dinner)

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Pushkar festival, photo courtesy to the photographer & google

30th Oct         Pushkar – Delhi

By Ajmer Shatabdi train 12016, departure Ajmer @1545hrs, arrival Delhi @2240hrs, on 1st AC

Today morning, we will attend Pushkar fair.

Afternoon, we drive to Ajmer railway station to board Shatabdi Express train for Delhi. Upon arrival in Delhi, we will receive you at the station and drive you to the hotel and check in.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

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Pushkar fair, photo courtesy to the photographer & google

31st Oct         Delhi

After breakfast around 10.00AM, we go on a guided sightseeing of Old Delhi. Visit the great Jama Masjid, the most important mosque in India. Then set off on an exciting rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, inching your way through a maze of ox carts, cars and the occasional wandering cow, explore the spice markets, jewellery market & the clothes market. We visit the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the most prominent Sikh house of worship in Delhi, visit Gandhi Smriti (Birla House). Later on to Humayun’s Tomb, a Mughal complex that prefigured the Taj Mahal. Visit Qutub Minar, the second tallest minar in India.

At 5PM, with our compliments, indulge in a 60MIN complete relaxation and rejuvenation massage treatment and ease stressed muscles from your travels, by a male therapist.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

01st Nov        Delhi departure

Kindly advise your flight details

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

Hotels envisaged / similar
*Rooms are based on standard rooms

City HOTELS
MUMBAI THE WATERSTONES HOTEL
AGRA DOUBLE TREE BY HILTON
JAIPUR KHANDELA HAVELI
SHAHPURA SHAPURA BAGH
UDAIPUR THE TRIDENT
NARLAI RAWLA NARLAI
ROHET ROHETGARH
PUSHKAR PUSHKAR FAIR CAMPS
DELHI THE CLARIDGES


TOUR QUOTE & VALIDITY:
 

Number of person Cost per person
Minimum 02 Paying Pax US $5350 approx
SGL Room Supplement US $1400 approx

LAST DATE FOR BOOKING IS 1ST AUGUST 2017.

INCLUSIONS:

  • 16 nights hotel accommodation. Stay in hotels on room & breakfast basis unless specified in the itinerary.
  • Arrival & departure assistance at airport.
  • VIP welcome on arrival in Mumbai as you walk out the aerobridge
  • Transportation using an air conditioned AC Innova car (SUV type)
  • Services of English speaking local guides as per the program
  • Services of a full time tour leader
  • Entrance fee to the monuments as per the program (01 time visit)
  • A relaxing massage treatment in Delhi with our compliments
  • Welcome dinner in Mumbai
  • Visit to Taj Mahal at Sunrise
  • Celebrate Diwali with an Indian family
  • Celebrate Pushkar festival
  • Holi celebration in Jaipur
  • Private boat cruise to Jag Mandir on Lake Pichola
  • Romantic step well dinner in Rawla Narlai
  • Half day trip on metre gauge train experience with the locals
  • Evening tea by lake side, watch the sunset in Narlai
  • Morning village walk / cave temple visit (optional)
  • Train ticket for the sector Ajmer – Delhi on 1st AC
  • Domestic flight tickets for the sector Mumbai – Delhi
  • All presently applicable taxes

EXCLUSIONS:

  • Any 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.

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 

We advise all customers to purchase traveller’s insurance in case of interruption, accidents or illness 

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.

 

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

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

 

 

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

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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.

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