Tonight, I'm writing from the middle of a thunderstorm, the temperature has dropped significantly and while the sky lights up, the rain pours down and the heavens sound like they're coming down, there's a certain feeling of safety than can only be achieved when you're taking refuge in a fort that's been standing since the fourteenth century! They certainly don't build them like this anymore, although these days there is a tendency towards waterproofing and windows. Nevertheless, the view from our roof (not content with three terraces we also have one on the roof, complete with seating arrangement and views substantial enough to justify it being there) is spectacular right now.
180km north-east of Mumbai lies the picturesque city of Nashik, one of the holiest and fastest growing cities in India. For several years now it has been known as The Wine Capital of India thanks to the work of Rajeev Samant and his business partner and winemaker Kerry Damskey. Their combined hard work, innovative thinking and expertise has borne fruit and they now own India’s most successful wine label, Sula.
Centuries of tradition and thoroughly modern lifestyles are intertwined on so many levels in Rajasthan, it’s just how things are done here and it very much defines its unique atmosphere. Ayush Kasliwal, an innovative and insightful designer based in Jaipur knows better than anyone how to recreate this feeling of temporal fusion in his designs.
Water has been the overriding theme of today which is a little strange when we're in a the 'desert state'. Last night's mild precipitation (ahem...) left the entire region reveling in slightly lower temperatures and water levels elevated from zero to a swimmable depth. And it's not only the humans enjoying the wet stuff - in almost every village we've seen water buffalo, with a rare opportunity to live up to their name, swimming alongside children in the local pond.
Planning a luxury trip to Rajasthan? Get our top tips for making sure that everything lives up to your expectations and exacting standards.
One of India's most eligible bachelors, prince Shivraj Singh of Jodhpur is set to marry in November, in an atmosphere that will be nothing less than overstated. Word is already out and the world's A-list celebrities are already gearing up for what promises to be a spectacular event unifying tradition with and an unprecedented level of pomp and circumstance. HRH Gaj Singh has already sent envoys and personal messages to the great and the good around the globe...
Leaving Agra behind was something of a relief – even though we love the Taj Mahal and the Baby Taj, it has to be said that the hawkers and shopkeepers in Uttar Pradesh seem somewhat hardcore when compared with their Rajasthani counterparts. I think most people would agree – it's one of the frustrating things about travelling, and eventually you have to develop an equally agressive brush off technique.
Directly between the lavish City Palace in Jaipur and the breathtaking Taj Mahal in Agra it’s no wonder that the small town of Karauli often slips under the radar. It is however well known amongst Hindu devotees who undertake the ritual of Kanak Dandoti, whereby each pilgrim covers a distance of 15-20km by prostrating themselves, marking lines with their hands on the ground and then advancing to that mark only to prostrate themselves once again. With that in mind, this unsuspecting town built from pale red sandstone must have something special to offer.
Recreate a classic Rajasthani dish, quickly and without fuss with our simple recipe for mouthwatering results!
When you read about Van Vihar, there's also mention of Ram Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary and in print, it sounds like they might be somehow interconnected. Given the distance we'd already covered and that empty lakes (Ram Sagar...sagar meaning lake) are occasionally hard to locate we just assumed we'd passed it. Wrong!
Nestled between Jodphur and Udaipur and at the very heart of Rajasthan, is the ultimate gem for all luxury travellers - Deogarh Mahal. A 17th century Mewari fort that once sat at the centre of one of Rajasthan’s largest feudal empires, today it is a heritage hotel, renowned for its hospitality, stylish suites and delicious food - all setting the standard to which other properties might only aspire.
With some experts estimating that there are less than 1450 tigers left in India it’s no wonder then that a chance encounter with a tiger on the streets of Rajasthan is about as likely as meeting the Pope along your local high street. However, with a little organisation and a lot of luck you might be able to get within a breathtaking distance of these beautiful creatures at Sariska or Ranthambore National Park, both within driving distance from Jaipur.
After the long drive yesterday, a hearty breakfast was exactly what we needed. We're in Karauli and our hotel is the home of the Maharajah of Karauli – a very jovial and engaging gentleman who we were introduced to once we'd finished feasting. He's from the old school and although the rooms of the property are undergoing modernisation, much of the rest is frozen in time. Perhaps not everyone's cup of tea – staying in a living museum, but then sometimes you just have to try something different.
In every issue of RJ we give a voice to the locals to let you know how they feel about their home state, what they particulary like about Rajasthan and why they think you will have a great time here as well. Man Singh is 37 years old and lives with his extended family, his parents, three brothers and their wives and children, in Chak, a small village about 60km North-East from Jaipur and makes a living doing the finest embroidery you've ever come across.
There are few things in this world that would incite me to get out of bed at 5.30am, especially after minimal sleep. But today was one of those rare occasions, and boy was it worth it. Yes, we were in Ranthambore National Park this morning - and Ranthambore means tigers. And yes, we actually saw one!
The Taragarh Fort is propped high on a hillside, overlooking the refreshingly peaceful city of Bundi. Although the ‘Star Fort’ may have lost some of its original sparkle, it is by no means lacking in charm with its impressive gateways, enormous 16th century bastions and breath-taking night time illuminations.
We arrived in Bundi last night, slightly worn out after the early start (I'll say it again - yes, we actually saw a tiger) but still in high spirits. The journey was long, but we found enough energy to fit in Kota along the way and after visiting the royal museum one of the attendants took pity on us and brandishing a bunch of keys, bit by bit opened up the city palace allowing us our own private viewing. You have to bear in mind that it's low season right now and Kota isn't exactly top of list of places to visit for most people, so when you do show up at this time of year, you do get some odd looks.
5th November 2010 will see India all aglow for Diwali, the Festival of Lights. And there's no better place to experience this wonderful Hindu celebration than in the divine serenity boutique hotel Raas.
Being back in Bundi seems strangely like being somewhere you've known all your life. Not that I can claim to have been here more than once prior to this visit, but still. Last time we were here we fell in love with the palace. This time, it's the Taragarh Fort. Perched along a ridge, high above the palace, it's lit up at night and from the pool of our hotel was already looking inviting last night. Even though we'd promised ourselves a lie-in and some quality pool time, after lunch we'd already committed to seeing at least the fort before sundown.
As one of the oldest civilisations on earth, the Indian government decided a while ago that it was about time that their currency – the Rupee, got it's own symbol.
The word on the street is that Bundi is the next big thing. Give it two or three years they're saying. And it's quite possibly true, although we'd like to think that it will always be the small town with the friendly people. Having only been there once before there was a definite feelgood factor about a handful of people actually remembering you.
Almost a century ago, cheetahs became extinct in India - but soon the world's fastest animal will be re-introduced at three locations, including a reserve near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. The Indian government has set aside thirty million Rupees (approximately £400,000) to fund the programme, including restoring the natural habitats in which these animals used to thrive. Once complete, cheetahs will be 'imported' from Africa, Iran and the Middle East.
Today we headed for Chittorgarh with mixed feelings about leaving Bundi (and the pool at the hotel) behind us. But onwards we must go, and without a shadow of a doubt we'll be back soon...
Following her death in July 2009, the will of Gayatri Devi - fashion icon and glamorous last Maharani of Jaipur, is set to become the cause of a bitter family feud and legal battle.
On the way back to Bijaipur, we drove past Bassi, denoted by the signs depicting a leopard. It's not the first time we have seen such signs, but that is not to say that we've actually seen any leopard in our time in Rajasthan. Perhaps, we thought, that might change...
You hear plenty about the how dry Rajasthan is, well, it's 70% desert so it's understandably nicknamed the “Desert State of India”. But a recent survey conducted by the Union Forest and Environment ministry has revealed an increase of 186 sq km of forest cover in the last five years. That's an area the size of Aberdeen that has been turned green despite a drop in rainfall in the same period.
Chittorgarh is mostly known for its immense Fort – and if we put 'immense' in to numbers, we're talking 700 hectares! In fact the complex is so large and sprawling, you have to drive around it, from one building or monument to the next. The fort is also known as the 'Water Fort' due to the fact that, despite the high altitude it had enough wells, step wells and reserves to provide water for an army of 50,000 men... for four years.
Sariska Tiger Reserve located between Delhi and Jaipur is due to receive a tiger and tigress to add to the disputed 'three' big cats currently living in the reserve.
We happened to mention to Mr Singh, the owner of Deogarh Mahal our mission to explore the region further, heading in the direction of Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur. By the time we left, we had in our possession a detailed hand-drawn map of all the places that we simply should not miss along the way. It turned out to be one very important piece of paper!
Well, we made it. Out of the office that is – and yes, the Rajasthan Research Run is officially underway! After weeks of preparation and talking about it, it feels good to actually get on to the back roads, in to the countryside and be surrounded by what can only be described as breathtaking scenery. No matter how many times you think you've seen it, there's always another perspective, and today was certainly no exception.
Ranakpur is without a doubt one of our favorite places in Rajasthan. Or should I say our favourite areas, as Ranakpur itself is not even really a village or a town – just a stop off point along the main road running between Jodhpur and Udaipur. It's a blink and you've missed it sort of place, and apart from the world-famous Jain temple complex (which is an important pilgrimage site) you might be forgiven for thinking it wasn't up to much.
It’s officially 12 days until we leave to start our Rajasthan Research Run, and we’re still crazy busy in the office – not only with the last minute planning for the trip, but also working on the website as well. The excitement is mounting, and there’s not much sleep being had by any of us – due partly to the tension, but mainly to the sweltering heat. Highs of 45 degrees C, which means that when we leave the air-conditioned office, it’s like walking in to a blanket of heat! Better than rain though, so we’re not really complaining – just whining a little.
The settlement of Ranakpur has its origins in some rather unlikely roots. Legend has it that a local hermit had a dream of building a magnificent temple, unparallelled in its beauty and at a very particular location. The hermit went to the Rana of Mewar, upon who's land he planned the temple. The Rana agreed, but on condition that the place be named after him in some way...and hence Ranak-pur.
The thing about the Thar Desert is that it's hard to define it's boundaries, both visually and mentally. The word 'desert' implies huge dunes of sands stretching as far as the eye can see, like in the Sahara. But the Thar seems to be more of a moving feast, and a sporadic one at that.
Well, our findings from the Rajasthan Research Run are already being put to very good use - we've just finished working on the new LOVE tour! We thought long and hard about creating a tour that's designed for couples to enjoy all the amazing sights and sounds of Rajasthan, but also to be able to spend some quality time together, in some pretty romantic settings.
October 3rd 2010 sees the start of the long anticipated Commonwealth Games, being held in Delhi. For India it is a momentous occasion - the Games represent the largest sporting and cultural event ever held in the country. Around 6000 athletes from 71 participating nations will be flocking to India's capital for the 12 days of sports and ceremonial activities. The newly renovated Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has been upgraded to seat 75,000 expected spectators from all over the globe.
L'Occitane de Provence the French luxury skincare and beauty products retailer has taken its first steps in to the Indian market, signing deal with the top-end hotel chain Devi Resorts.
You see street dogs everywhere in India and don't pay them much mind - they come in all shapes and sizes. Sleeping under rickshaws, zig-zagging through traffic, scavenging for food in piles of rubbish. For the most part though they don't bother anyone and no-one seems to mind them, apart from giving them perhaps a slightly wide berth. They seem healthy enough...only the older ones look like they may have seen better days and even the ones with only three legs seem to hop along merrily, doing...well exactly what dogs do.
Elephants have been a common sight in Rajasthan for hundreds years - they carried the Maharajahs to their palaces and forts, were used in warfare and also as working animals. Even today more than a hundred elephants still work on a daily basis in Jaipur, ferrying tourists up the steep climb to the Amber Fort. But with ever-increasing temperatures in the region, there has been some vocal criticism concerning the welfare of these gentle giants.
For us, doing research and having fun often go together. And as we're constantly researching new destinations, sights and experiences, we get to have a lot of fun. Take our visit to Chak as an example...
So you decide to go to the supermarket in the city, it's drizzling a bit and you should be back in an hour or two. Before you've reached the end of the street the rain is pouring down and the wipers on the windscreen can hardly cope with the downpour. You consider turning back, but decided that by the time you've done a few kilometres on the highway everything will be fine.
There's much chatter on the internet these days about affordable - picking up great discount deals and making the most of your travel budget. At Wire we decided to look at what we could do to create a collection of tours that retain the luxury - but that are a bit easier on the wallet. For us, the most important factor was not to sacrifice our high standards just in the name of price. But, we think we've managed to find a balance that still lives up to ours - and hopefully our clients' expectations.
It's official - I've added leopard spotting to my rather odd list of talents. Not so strange you might think - given that we're living in Rajasthan, the land where big cats surely just roam the streets. We all know that tiger numbers are alarmingly low in India - somewhere around the 1400 mark, which may sound a lot - but it isn't. We've heard stories of Sariska with its failing breeding programme, tourists disappointed with a lack of tiger on their tiger safari and perhaps most bizarrely, importing cheetahs from Syria to live in Jaisalmer. Of all places. But the humble leopard seems to have slipped off the radar, perhaps because it's so shy and retiring - or simply that their PR company isn't up to the job. Well, at Wire we've completely fallen in love with this underrated and under-represented species and have decided to do something about it. With a little help our course.
Nothing less than a whirlwind romance topped of with an amourous holiday in Rajasthan, which included a proposal - celebrity couple Katy Perry and Russel Brand decided it was apt that they should bring a select group of friends and family back to India for their wedding celebrations.
Yes, there is so much to see in Rajasthan, so much to do, so many fantastic locations... and still, we decided to go a little further beyond. Equally amazing and giving our clients the essential highlights of North India, Delhi, Agra and Varanasi are fantastic additions to a Rajasthan itinerary. Given the distances and modes of transport, it's often a little tricky to piece everything together in a trip of less than two weeks – but our latest tour, THE NORTH manages to do exactly that with its up-tempo pace and our selection of some of the most luxurious stays in India.
Traditionally, the monsoon months in India are July and August - refreshing rains sweep across the country, easing summer temperatures and reviving the landscape. September flourishes and everyone prepares for the influx of visitors, marked by the moderate temperatures from October through to March. In Rajasthan, a predominantly desert state the monsoon rains are much anticipated, the life source for agriculture on which its people depend. In the six years leading up to 2010, the annual monsoons had been something of a disappointment leading to scarce supplies and even more than usual revealing dried up river beds and empty lakes. Vast swathes of land revealed themselves where once massive bodies of water had stood. And so with great trepidation, everyone waited for the 2010 monsoon.
Although our work is never-ending, now is the time that when we can slow down just a tiny bit. Briefly. As the “tourist season” draws to a close, we've got a whole host of things lined up for the summer (including more tours!) but, essentially we'll also have a little bit of time to take stock and reflect on what has been a fantastic first season for Wire.
We've just returned from Delhi and what should have been a cumbersome administrative chore, took a rather pleasant turn! As ever, we're always on the lookout for different places to stay in Delhi, so each time we stop of in the nation's capital, we endeavour to try something new (staving off the urge to return to old favourites) and expand our horizons. And so we checked in to The Manor, in the ever-so-slightly swanky Friends Colony. I'm not sure quite what we were expecting, especially after a six-hour drive from Jaipur... but as we drove in to the courtyard, we were in fact entering a whole other dimension. I'm still reeling. The exquisiteness of it all is almost too good to be true.