It’s the most talked about country this year. Its properties never fail to dazzle the checklist readers in search of where to go next; descriptions of fabled palaces and romantic architecture fill issue after issue of notable travel magazines and online blogs. It seems the world is abuzz with India. Yet matching its massive reputation is its incredible size, making the journey to India quite a daunting one. So we searched the country, went on safari, scoured the cities, and drove clear into the desert to map out the top seven places not to miss in this year’s hottest country.
Topping the Travel + Leisure World’s Best City List in 2009, Udaipur is nothing short of spectacular, capturing the world’s attention with its rolling hills and whimsical palaces. Since it was formed by Maharana Udai Singh II in the mid-16th century, this “Venice of the East” has become a city on everyone’s must-see list, a destination featured in countless magazines, TV shows, and films. However, despite the high tourist demand for Udaipur, the city has been able to retain its charm and character.
What to do: Udaipur City Palace: The beautiful, not-so-little City Palace of Udaipur is posed carfeully over the fascinating Lake Pichola and is one of the most palatial structures in all of India. The elegant palace originally built by Maharana Udai Singh II rises sharply above the lake adding a poetic contrast against the sky. It has numerous palaces both big and small on its premises, along with a selection of museums and the gardens. But beyond its impressive stature, the City Palace is also famously known for its unique architectural design – a rich blend of Rajasthani, Mughal, Medieval, European and Chinese Architecture. The extravagance of the design permeates the whole complex, built entirely of granite and marble. The interiors of the palace complex and its balconies and cupolas exhibit delicate mirror-work, marble-work, murals, wall paintings, and silver-work.
Lake Pichola Sunset Cruise: The beautiful Lake Pichola is the perfect spot to catch an evening sundowner and sip your favorite cocktail as the sun fades.
Where to Stay: The Leela Kempinski Udaipur: The Leela Palace Kempinski Udaipur rests on one of the best locations off the waters of Lake Pichola. With its breathtaking view of the Aravali Mountains, The Leela Palace evokes the grandeur and opulence of a bygone era, as all of its 72 Rooms and 8 Suites overlook the tranquil waters of the lake. The Heritage and Lake View Rooms are luxuriously appointed with artifacts and furnishings representing the old handicrafts of Rajasthan. The suites are purposefully focused on an inspiring sense of architecture and the natural detailing of traditional Indian palaces. Whether arriving by decorated boat or by luxury car, The Leela Palace Kempinski Udaipur offers an unsurpassed tranquility and beauty while providing opportunity for exploration of the rich heritage of its surroundings in style and comfort.
It’s the corybantic capital of Rajasthan. Dubbed the “Pink City” in honor of the Queen’s visit, Jaipur is one of the great cities of India, named for its great king, Maharaja Sawai Jai Sing II, who ruled in the early 18th century and moved the intial capital from Amber City. With a long-lived royal history, the well known Rajput city has seen its fair share of golden days and gilded legacies, and the ones of present seem to be no different. Jaipur still retains much of its cultural appeal and mystique, while lending itself to the modernities that world travelers can’t seem to do without.
What to do: Jaipur City Palace: A mixture of old world Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, the Jaipur City Palace is a massive complex of courtyards, gardens and buildings, originally built by Sawai Jai Singh II in the 1700’s. Don’t miss a private guided tour of this royal home.
Hawa Mahal: Also known as “Palace of the Winds,” the Hawa Mahal is one of the most photographed structures in all of India. It sits along the main thoroughfare in Jaipur’s business center, with all of its astonishing 953 windows, or jharokhas, facing the citylife; it was originally designed in this way to allow royal women the opportunity to see the city without being seen.
Amber Fort: The Amber Fort dates back to the late 16th century and spreads out over a rocky hill. Inside, its Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory) is full of beautiful inlaid panels and mirrored ceilings worth seeing.
Where to stay: Rambagh Palace: For nearly two centuries, the Rambagh Palace has been home to generations of royals. Originally built as a modest structure in 1835 for the queen’s favourite handmaiden, it was later converted into a palace and became the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Now operated by the prestigious Taj Hotels, this luxurious palace has been welcomed by Leading Small Hotels of the World in light of its fine tradition of Rajput hospitality, offering its guests a taste of royal living – a luxury and extravagance that once belonged only to kings.
Apart from its royal legacies, which include the City Palace complex and several forts, Jaipur is renowned for its sensational shopping with a splendid array of modern boutiques and medieval-flavored bazaars.
National Capital Territory - Delhi
The most likely point of entry to the country, Delhi serves as the unmistakable front door of the country, and more importantly, an indelible first impression. Home to some of the world’s biggest monuments, including the biggest Hindu temple, the largest mosque, and the largest shopping mall, not to mention its large population (17 million), India’s capital city is nothing short of a sprawling urban hotspot; yet its monstrosity is not why people leave the country inspired: the widesweeping roads and overhanging Victorian-style arches; the disarmingly intimate hospitality; its global affinity for world business, media, technology, and fashion; its whole swaths of gardens, parks, and protected woodlands dedicated to Delhi’s green existence – all these nuances point straight to the beauty that exists here, from its ancient history to today.
What to do: Tour of Delhi: Enjoy a drive past the magnificent Red Fort, a marvel of sandstone, the hand-carved 12th century minartet Qutab inar, Humayun’s Tomb, and the impressive India Gate.
Where to stay: The Leela Palace Kempinski New Delhi: Located in the diplomatic enclave of New Delhi, the Leela Palace Kempinski New Delhi is a luxurious high rise in close proximity to the Presidential Palace, Prime Minister’s office, ministries, embassies, central business districts and historical monuments. Try the Royal Premiere Rooms, an elegant mix of royal colors with a large bed and marbled tile.
Uttar Pradesh, India - Agra
Although the city of Agra, located approximately 124 miles south of Delhi, is nothing spectacular, the clear reason to visit Agra is simple: to see one of the world’s greatest physical monuments to love, the Taj Mahal.
What to do: Private guided tour of the Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal king Shah Jahan as the final resting place for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. A labor of love which took a dedicated 22 years and roughly 20,000 jewelers and masons to finish the Shah’s pride and joy, the thing he loved the most even after being held captive by his son for the remaining years of his life. The beauty and mystery of this monument is easy to discover when you have a private guide amidst the many crowds that visit on a daily basis.
Where to stay: Oberoi Amarvilas: Built in a style inspired by Moorish and Mughal architecture, the resort is a splendid display of terraced lawns, fountains, reflection pools, and pavilions with rich interiors that take you back to an era of Emperors and Princes. All rooms and suites feature separate walk-in closets, beautiful marble bathrooms that feature both a bathtub and a separate shower with deluxe toiletries. For the best views, try the Premier Rooms which have a private open-air terrace.
Otherwise known as the “blue city,” (named for its endless vision of ocean blue colored houses as best seen from the Mehrangarh Fort) Jodhpur makes for a great base city for exploring Rajasthan, as it is located in the near geographical center of the state. Jodhpur is known most famously for its massive Mehrangarh Fort and its equally impressive Umaid Bhawan Palace, both stunning sights to see in Jodhpur’s always sunny weather.
What to do: Mehrangarh Fort: Situated carefully a lofty 400 feet above the rest of Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh Fort is an awe inspiring sight to behold, even behind its imposing thick walls. Inside the fort’s boundaries there are several palaces, all of which are known for their intricate carvings and enormous courtyards. However, the fort is most impressive from the top. From here you can get a bird’s eye view and an amazing photograph of the old city to the Jaswant Thada, an imposing marble cenotaph built in 1899 for Maharaja Jaswant Sing II, and smaller memorials to other Maharajas of Jodhpur.
Umaid Bhwan Palace: Unlike others in India, the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur has managed to retain its royal significance, still functioning as one of the residences for the royal family of Jodhpur. Surprisingly enough, while being one of India’s most lavish palaces, it is also one of the youngest, built in 15 years during an economic drought from 1929-1943. It was later sectioned off into three parts, the royal residence, a heritage hotel, and a museum. It has a total of 347 rooms making it the biggest private residence in world.
Where to stay: The Umaid Bhawan Palace: Without a doubt, the Umaid Bhawan is one of the most exclusive and elegant hotels the world has ever seen. Its majestic 105-foot high cupola is influenced by the Renaissance, while the towers draw inspiration from Rajput tradition. In the Royal Suites, luxurious Art Deco style offers mirror finished terrazzos and large bedroom and sitting areas, overlooking Palace Lawns and the fountain courtyard. These are extremely spacious with a living room area, a bedroom, bathroom, dressing area, and a broad balcony. These suites overlook the well-laid out gardens of the palace where peacocks strut on the lawns in the mornings and in the distance, the city, and the Mehrangarh Fort perched atop a hill.
Rajasthan, India - Jaisalmer
An old saying goes, “To get to Jaisalmer, you need a horse made of wood, a heart of stone, and clothes of iron.” Located out in the Thar Desert, Jaislamer is an extraordinary town full of character and life. You know you’ve arrived when out of the sand rises the turrets of a single fortress. This is Rajasthan’s only fort with a settlement inside – where every home large enough has become a guest house and desert views come standard with every restaurant, hut, or temple.
What to do: Haveli Tours: One of the highlights of a visit to the desert kingdom includes a historic walk down the ancient streets lined with havelis (villas). These ornate homes were more like status symbols than anything else – a passive contest between Marwaris to have the best and the biggest. Along the tour, you’ll discover that many of the havelis are noted for their intricate stonework, beautifully carved lattices and bas reliefs that cover entire fascades. Step inside some of the most famous villas, including the Patwon ki Haveli, a magnificent testament to the riches made by merchant families from the old silk route.
Golden Fort: One of the largest forts in the world, the Jaisalmer Fort was built in 1156 AD by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal. It stands alone in the great Thar Desert atop the Trikuta Hill, the scene of many historic battles. Its enormous yellow sandstone walls fade to honey-gold as the sun sets making the fort nearly invisible in the desert. It is for this reason the massive structure is known as the “Golden Fort”.
Where to stay: The Serai: Famous for its spot on Travel + Leisure’s It List in 2010 and a scintillating location in the vast Thar Desert, the Serai is truly a vision to behold. Madonna paid a visit in 2007 which helped to cement the reputation of Rajasthan in the world’s upper travel echelons and a place in the global style arena, but the new Serai Jaisalmer has far exceeded luxury expectations. This is the region’s most lavish tented camp, a billowy canvas dream set on 30 acres. The campus totals twenty-one 1,400-square-foot canvas guest rooms that rest on smooth Jaisalmer stone foundations, each with oversized covered verandas and some that come with private plunge pools. Ker & Downey guests will have access to the full spectrum of desert excursions, from a guided tour of the Golden Fort to wildlife camel safaris in search of rare desert life.
Maharashtra, India - Mumbai
The world knows of Mumbai (Bombay, as it was called until 1995): the capital of Bollywood; the country’s media, advertising, and financial center; and the home to a dynamic generation of over 13 million people. While other large cities like Delhi have room to sprawl out, Mumbai has no choice but to sprawl up, its mass confined to an island of 169 square miles. Yet when its inhabitants descend at 5:00 for work’s recess, Mumbai is nothing short of a proverbial playground, full of nightlife in the Khala Ghoda district or the Bandra suburb of Mumbai, most similar to California’s Beverly Hills.
What to do: Mumbai private tour: In the afternoon, a panoramic city tour reveals the bustling city, starting with the Gateway of India, Mumbai’s principle landmark. This arch was erected on the waterfront to commemorate King George V’s visit. Drive past the Afghan Church, the Secretariat of the Maharashtra Government and along the famous Marine Drive. Visit the amazing Hanging Gardens and also Mani Bhavan where Mahatma Gandhi spent 17 years of his life. The Prince of Wales Museum is also a must see.
Where to stay: The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower: From CEO’s and entertainers to diplomats and royalty, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Mumbai has played the perfect host for elite guests since its opening in 1903. The hotel is an architectural marvel, combining Moorish, Oriental, and Florentine design into a striking landmark in Mumbai and offering panoramic views of the Arabian Sea and the Gateway of India. The hotel is composed of two wings, the Palace complex and the Tower. Each room and suite is generously appointed with period furnishings and original art, creating an atmosphere of royal splendor. The original section of the hotel, the Palace, features three room and four suite types, while the Taj Club Rooms feature the added bonus of an invisible butler to attend to your every need during your stay at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower.
For more information about customizing your journey India or any other destination, contact your travel professional or visit www.kerdowney.com.