Goa and the Magical Monsoon – II

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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!

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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.

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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!!!!!

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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.

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

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One rainy day… Picture Courtesy: PHG

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Who does’t love a Sunday Brunch

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

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The grill counter

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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 

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

 

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

 

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.