Goa & the Magical Monsoon

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Sunset at Uttorda Beach

Goa is known as the most popular beachfront state in India lying along the Arabian Sea bounded by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and south. Its biggest draw is undoubtedly its virtually uninterrupted string of white-sand beaches each beach having its own personality from tropical retreat to backpacker haven to hippie bliss.

Over 450 years of Portuguese rule and the influence of the Portuguese culture presents visitors to Goa a cultural environment that is not found elsewhere in India. Goa is often described as a fusion between Eastern and Western culture with Portuguese culture having a dominant position in the state be it in its architectural, cultural or social settings.

Goa is visited by large numbers of international and domestic tourists each winter season given its top world ranking nightlife and beaches. But I chose to visit Goa in the monsoon season (July through September) when the foliage turns lush green from the rains. Beauty abounds while the tourist population recedes.

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I stayed for four wonderful days at the new Planet Hollywood. Well-appointed and comfortable along clean and quiet Utorda Beach with a most welcoming and hospitable staff. So many surprises awaited from day one, including a beautiful and very tasty greeting cake, an upgraded luxurious suite room and a handwritten personal welcome note from the GM. Each room is individually designed according to a Hollywood theme featuring creature comforts like massage chair, mood lighting, goose down pillows, plush towels, satin sheets, and designer toiletries. Rooms either overlook the Arabian Sea or feature a lush garden view.

As to meals while in residence, I was offered a menu but instead asked that the chef select all my meals choosing from local favorites like pork vindaloo, chicken xacuti, balchão, pomfret curry… all prepared to my taste using a mouth-watering array of Goan spices. I was never disappointed.  What a fantastic culinary experience!

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Welcome assortment and brownie topped with Serene Journeys

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Welcome note from GM Anand jee

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one of the walls at the lounge bar

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executive suite

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Prawn Kismur

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Pork Vindaloo

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Pomfret Recheado

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MargaFeni – Feni Margarita

The second day I enjoyed a bicycle breakfast picnic to Three Kings Church, a famous ‘haunted church’ once attended by three Portuguese kings… one poisoned the other two and then committed suicide. Dicey heritage, cool place for enjoying a picturesque view in a most serene setting. I dined on fresh fruit, fresh baked breads and muffins, an omelet, some Indian delicacies and of course all washed down with delightful local coffee and tea.

On the way back, we detoured through local rice fields, small villages and took a long photo-stop, as I was excitedly prepared to ‘shoot’ every unique beauty coming my way from ruined churches among the coconut trees, to the farmers in the field and the butterflies. I spent the day at leisure along the beach watching beachgoers and cricket matches along the Sea as fisherman brought in their ‘treasures of the deep’.  My day ended still at the beach embraced by the patina of a golden sunset through the clouds and into the Arabian Sea.

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Wallance & I getting ready for the adventure

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the road to three kings church

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the spots decided

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we have a picnic butler 🙂

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under the tree on a beautiful morning

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beautiful moth

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this tree is beautifully creepy LOL!

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The ruins at Three Kings Church

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Picturesque view from Three Kings Church

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Three Kings Church

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The caretaker makes sure this fire does not go off

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another abandoned church on the way back

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The third day we toured many of Goa’s famous historical religious sites. Goa has a rich spiritual history where east meet west, Hindu meets Christianity.  First stop was the Basilica de Bom Jesus housing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, a UNESCO world heritage site. Dating to 1605, the basilica is an outstanding example of baroque architecture… one of the most important destinations for Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Then on to the Se Cathedral which is the cathedral of the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Goa and Daman as well as the seat of the Patriarch of the East Indies. Next, I visited the church of St. Francis of Assisi built in 1660 by the Portuguese as a chapel later gaining status as a church. Then on to the church of St. Augustine completed in 1602 and now a famous ruin with the only remaining structure being a 46-meter bell tower constructed of laterite.   Last but not least on the list was Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church built in 1541 and featuring the second largest bell in Goa. I enjoyed a fish fry thali for lunch at the famous Ritz Classic.

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Basilica de Bom Jesus

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the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier

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Se Cathedral

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The ruin around the church of St. Francis of Assisi

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The ruin around the church of St. Francis of Assisi

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the church of St. Augustine

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the church of St. Augustine

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the church of St. Augustine

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the church of St. Augustine

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Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church

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View from Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church

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Blue building is Singbal’s Book House, Church Square

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Given my diverse religious background (a prodigy of both Hinduism and Chritianity) I visited several Hindu temples each surrounded by flower vendors stringing garlands and making beautiful floral arrangements to place in the temples. I visited Shantadurga Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess who served as a messenger between Shiva and Vishnu. Formerly a small laterite mud shrine with a small idol during Portuguese times it is now converted into a beautiful full-scale place of spiritual enlightenment featuring a blend of Indian and Portuguese design. Next was the 400-year-old Mangeshi Temple founded during 16thcentury dedicated to Bhagavan Manguesh a incarnation of Lord Shiva.

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Shantadurga Temple

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Wallance & Chauffeur Rakesh ended up doing their own little shopping

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the 400-year-old Mangeshi Temple

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Stay tuned for Part 2 of ‘Serene Journey’s Excellent Goa Adventure with Planet Hollywood

 

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 

Water Colours in the Air

An introduction to Holi celebration, the Indian way

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

DELHI – AGRA – JAIPUR – RANTHAMBORE – BUNDI – CHITTAURGARH – UDAIPUR – KUMBHALGARH – NARLAI – ROHET – JODHPUR – DELHI

 

27th Feb        Delhi arrival

Kindly take the flight which arrive Delhi by 1600hrs or earlier.

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.

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.

8

Taj Mahal, Agra

28th Feb        Delhi – Agra

After breakfast, around 8AM we drive to Agra. Upon arrival, check in to the hotel and brief rest.

Around 2pm, we start our 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.

Then pay your first visit to the masterpiece this sunset, 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.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

1st Mar          Agra – Jaipur via Fatehpur Sikri

Leisurely 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.

Later in the evening, witness the ritual of people light bonfire to mark the occasion of evil spirits in a ritual called Holika Dahan. Prahlad, a young follower of Lord Vishnu was forcefully taken into the burning fire but escaped the fire which proved to be a miracle. This was thus regarded as the triumph over evil.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

9

Holi Festival

2nd Mar         Jaipur

This morning, celebrate the victory with vibrant colors, singing, dancing, eating delicacies and celebrate the joyous moment of life by socializing with everyone. People dance to the beats of drums, sing, play games, drink bhanng and enjoy the festival in full energy and spirit.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

3rd Mar          Jaipur – Ranthambore NP

After breakfast around 8AM, check out and 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.

We then drive to Ranthambore National Park, a vast wildlife reserve which was a former royal hunting ground and home to tigers, leopards and marsh crocodiles.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast & Dinner)

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Tiger at Ranthambore NP

4th Mar          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 hotel (all meals)

6

Bundi Fort

5th Mar          Ranthambore NP – Bundi

Leisurely breakfast and we drive to Bundi, a captivating town with narrow lanes of Brahmin-blue houses, lakes, hills, bazaars, and a temple at every turn, Bundi is dominated by a fantastical palace of faded parchment cupolas and loggias rising from the hillside above the town.

Upon arrival check in to the hotel and freshen up.

Later go on a guided visit to Bundi Palace. This extraordinary, partly decaying edifice – described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the work of goblins rather than of men’ – almost seems to grow out of the rock of the hillside it stands on. The Taragarh Fort crowns the crest of a steep hill overlooking the town, while the Garh Palace spills picturesquely down the hillside. This palace is Bundi’s – and Rajasthan’s – jewel.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

6th Mar          Bundi – Udaipur via Chittaurgarh

After breakfast, around 9AM, we drive to Udaipur en-route visiting Chittaurgarh fort. Chittorgarh (the fort, garh, at Chittor) is the largest fort complex in India, and a fascinating place to explore. It rises from the plains like a huge rock island, nearly 6km long and surrounded on all sides by 150m-plus cliffs. Its history epitomises Rajput romanticism, chivalry and tragedy, and it holds a special place in the hearts of many Rajputs.

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

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

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Udaipur City Palace view from Lake Pichola

7th Mar          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. Later come back to the hotel for brief rest.

Late afternoon, enjoy a private sunset boat cruise on Lake Pichola.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

8th Mar          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)

9th Mar          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)

10th Mar        Narlai – Rohet via Jodhpur

Leisurely breakfast, and around 10AM 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)

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Jeep safari to Bishnoi Village near Jodhpur

11th Mar        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)

12th Mar        Rohet – Jodhpur – Delhi 

By Jet Airways 2552, departure Jodhpur @11.35hrs, arrival Delhi @13.15hrs

After breakfast and around we drive to Jodhpur airport to board your flight to Delhi.

Upon arrival, we receive you at the airport and transfer you to the hotel.

Brief rest and around 3PM, 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.

Overnight at hotel (Breakfast)

13th Mar        Delhi

After breakfast around 10.00AM, we go on a guided visit to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the most prominent Sikh house of worship in Delhi, visit Gandhi Smriti (Birla House). Later on to ISCKON temple, Bahai’s temple and 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)

14th Mar        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
DELHI The Park
AGRA DOUBLE TREE BY HILTON
JAIPUR KANDELA HAVELI
RANTHAMBORE NAHARGARH FORT
BUNDI THE HADOTI PALACE
UDAIPUR THE TRIDENT
NARLAI RAWLA NARLAI
ROHET ROHETGARH
DELHI THE CLARIDGES

 

TOUR QUOTE & VALIDITY:

Number of person Cost per person
Minimum 02 Paying Pax INR 332,764 per person

(US $5199 approx)

SGL Room Supplement INR 78,136 per single

(US $1220 approx)

 

INCLUSIONS:

  • 15 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 Delhi 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 twice
  • Visit to Taj Mahal at Sunset
  • Celebrate Holi eve, lighting of fire in Jaipur
  • 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)
  • Domestic flight tickets for the sector Jodhpur – 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.

 

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.

 

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.