Tijara Fort : The 19th Century Fortress, Hours From Delhi

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Image Courtesy of Neemrana Hotels

Crawling through the vivacious village of Tijara, passing car mechanics, fruit stalls, carpenters and street vendors, I wondered if we’d taken a wrong turn? But as the traffic subsided, and settlements melted away into open road, the verdant Rajasthani countryside opens up ahead.

Located in Alwar, just 2-3 hours from Delhi and almost equidistant between the capital and Jaipur, Tijara Fort is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway, or to break up a long road trip. As you approach, the 19th-century fortress rises up from the ground like a volcano. Dominating the local landscape, it commands a sense of grandeur against a backdrop of rice paddy. A mix-and-match patchwork of agricultural themes. 

An arial view of Tijara Fort-Palace
Image courtesy of Neemrana Hotels

Its 63-rooms are spread across two buildings, the Mardana Mahal and the Rani Mahal, whilst the reception and dining hall are in the Hawa Mahal. The decor in the Mardana Mahal, in particular, is spectacular, with cavernous ceilings adorned by larger than life curtains and decorative Ikat tiles taking the places of dhurries. A beautiful space for an event. The spa is located in The Rani Mahal (the name given to the ladies’ quarters: makes sense) where traditional treatments and fragrant massages are on offer. If you like the keep fit there is an enormous swimming pool, great for a few lengths on a hot sunny afternoon. Alternatively, the hotel has seven manicured lawns and plenty of alcoves and yoga mats, so there is no shortage of spots to Surya Namaskar.

Anju Mahal in Rani Mahal wing
Anju Mahal Interior (Image courtesy of Neemrana Hotels)

The Rooms

Most of the rooms are of a good size, with separate lounge areas, though some of the fittings and furnishings could be spruced up. Surprising in a hotel that is only a few years old. Though the overall aesthetic is charming, classic Rajasthani charm with bright colours and statement furniture to match. Owner, Aman Nath, is close friends with some of India’s finest artists, and he has roped in many a famous name to add to the grandeur of the property. The Anjolie Mahal is particularly impressive, with an entire mural painted by the celebrated artist.

 

Anjolie Mahal
Anjolie Mahal Interior (Image Courtesy of Neemrana Hotels)

 

The Food

Generally averse to buffet meals, Tijara Fort’s culinary offerings came as a pleasant surprise. A daily changing menu of fresh salads, with plenty of Indian vegetarian options, followed by homemade ice-creams and baked tarts and pastries. A delicious broccoli soup was served with dinner accompanied by crusty bread rolls, perfect with a large chunk of butter. Breakfast was the usual selection of cereals, fresh fruits, eggs to order, as well as my favourite Indian breakfast: poha.

 

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The Dining Hall (Image Courtesy of Neemrana Hotels)

 

For direct bookings click here.

 

 

A Dose Of Vitamin Sea: Anahata Retreat

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Named after the heart chakra, Anahata is associated with balance, calmness and serenity: three things you’ll definitely find here. Ensconced by swaying palms to the east, the Arabian Sea to the west, and Mandrem and Morjim beaches to the north and south, it’s a hidden gem within walking distance of Goa’s most popular coastlines. But don’t be fooled by the rustic exteriors and laid-back vibe; owners Rishal and Angela play host to a list of chic clientele, from holidaying Londoners to weekenders from Mumbai.

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Sunset Views: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The 17 beach cottages and suites are concealed amidst an acre of palm grove, the prime spot an Ibiza-style lounge area with perfect sunset views. Ideal for those wanting to connect with people rather than the internet, Anahata hosts a variety of classes and workshops from power yoga to tai chi; 5-rhythms dance to Qigong; as well as offering authentic Ayurvedic massages. Healthy living and eating is encouraged (though happily not enforced), and the L’Atelier restaurant serves fresh salads and delicious European flavours… along with potent cocktails. Everything in perfect balance!

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Sunset deck: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The Rooms

The accommodation is split between various categories of cottage and suite, each with different views. The cottages have a luxurious desert-island feel, with exposed bamboo, thatched roofs, hanging lanterns and mirrors made from flotsam and jetsam. Light and airy, they open onto a private terrace area – book a Beachfront Cottage for uninterrupted sea views. Kingsize or twin beds have beautiful carved wooden headboards, and fans keep things cool. Walk-in wardrobes and open-plan shower bathrooms make good use of the curved space. If you value function over form, the suites, set in colourful Portuguese-style houses, are more practical. Air-conditioned and closest to the restaurant, they have charming terraces and simple white-on-white interiors.

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Sea View Cottage Interior: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat
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Garden Suite Interior: Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

The Food

The L’Atelier fusion restaurant is the heart of Anahata. Whitewashed tables are dotted around a sandy dining area, covered by the shade of palm trees by day and lit by twinkling lanterns by night. Insisting on an open-plan kitchen, Angela is pedantic about the food. Everything, from the sauces to the pickles, is made from scratch, and the meat and fish are sourced from the best local suppliers.

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Over cocktails as the sun went down, we chose from a dinner menu of simple, hearty dishes. My peri-peri kingfish was a succulent homage to Goa’s traditional Portuguese flavours. Breakfast showcases Anahata’s ethos of ‘balance’. I chose the healthy option – a tangy Bircher muesli with spirulina and toasted cashew nuts – but they’re just as happy to serve a Full English with all the trimmings.

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Image courtesy of Anahata Retreat

Best time to go: For the best weather, visit between November and February. The Christmas-New Year period can get very busy, but things quieten down a lot from mid-January to February. In keeping with the seasons, Anahata is closed from May through to October, during the monsoon.

Top tips: Goa’s northern coastline has a growing design scene. Just a 5-minute walk away, Morjim Beach is home to some great little independent shops, including Jade Jagger’s boutique and charming local offerings.

For direct bookings click here:

Bujera Fort: The Modern Mughal’s Abode

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

You’d be fooled for thinking that the little rural village had a long and colourful history with the imposing Bujera Fort. So seamlessly do its coral pink walls, cascading with bougainvillea, run through the town. One wonders about the tales of ruling Maharajas and long disbanded feudal systems. But in reality, this property is only a few years old. A miracle, that a new build fort could be created with such elegance and style; whilst most of its counterparts end up looking like gaudy cheap representations.

 

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

Bujera Fort balances the best of both worlds. Enter through a Mughal inspired quadrangle garden, complete with would be step-well turned swimming pool. No ancient crumbling walls in need of repair, instead pink stone (inspired by the walls of the nearby Kumbalgarh Fort) blending in seamlessly with the surrounding architecture. There are fourteen suites, each decorated in a unique style. Antique four posters, marble inlay drawers, and private balconies. Chintz fabrics add a quaint effect. Marble clad bathrooms include capacious baths, block printed dressing gowns (available to buy at the hotel gift shop) and complimentary Kama toiletries.

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

Owner Richard, believes that all guests should be made to feel at home, rather than as though they are staying at a hotel. This means that each of the rooms includes hand-picked book collections. The recent addition of two Labrador puppies makes this hotel feel even more like a home. The food is something to write home about, Richard is a keen cook and believes as much as possible should be made from scratch.

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Image courtesy of Bujera Fort

As British as apple crumble it was no mean feat for Richard taking on such an extensive building project in Udaipur and it was not without its high and lows. But hard work pays of and Bujera Fort is an utter success. An ideal spot from which to base yourself if you don’t want to be right in the heart of town.

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For direct bookings click here.

Nomadic Luxury in Nagaland: The Hornbill Festival

Nomadic Luxury in Nagaland: The Hornbill Festival

Piece published in SUITCASE magazine.

My Bell 412 helicopter searched for the helipad, a spherical silhouette on a patchwork of multicoloured terraced houses, slung out on a ground of undulating forest. I felt like Elizabeth Bowen, a lone female entering the Land of the Head Hunters – albeit by much more modern means. In these far-flung reaches of eastern India lies Nagaland, a region shrouded in mist, mystery and misconception. Every December, amidst a cacophony of colour and sound, the state’s 16 tribes put their differences aside and take part in the annual Hornbill Festival.

Heard of it? Probably not… but in India, the Naga’s notoriety precedes them. Despite government initiatives to increase footfall, only a trickle of tourists travel to this corner of the country every year. But the wheels of change are in motion. The 12-hour journey from Delhi has been slashed thanks to the introduction of daily flights to Dimapur and The Ultimate Travelling Camp, India’s most ingenious ‘hotel’ has embarked upon a pioneering venture to introduce luxury travel to the region.

I was not fortunate enough to enjoy such luxuries as direct flights but the private helicopter, courtesy of TUTC’s Kohima Camp, made up for it. Operational for just two weeks, from November 29 to December 12, the team has perfected the concept of nomadic luxury. Brainchild of General Deepak Raj, of former Indian Army fame and Dhun Cordo, wedding planner to the stars, this unlikely duo combined military precision with artistic flare to create the first camp of its kind. Nestled between the lush Dzüku Valleys in the village of Kigwema, it is just a 15-minute drive from the festival ground; when Modi is not in town.

Tribal Dance Khaki Tent

Having missed the opening ceremony (the Prime Minister does not do security by halves nor do I skip breakfast) Keja, my guide, updated me on the afternoon’s activities: a pork fat eating contest, a pork fat kicking contest and a pole, lathered in pork fat, climbing contest. So that myth was true: Naga’s love their pork. Lard-based activities aside, attendees can also look forward to traditional song and dance performances and peruse the tribal wares for obligatory souvenirs.

While we waited for Modi to complete his presidential duties, Keja took me to his tribe’s morung. Traditionally the physical and metaphorical centre of village life, a morung is a place for men to share stories, farming tips and the odd glass of rice beer. These days women are allowed in too and I was treated to a tankard of the stuff. I was beginning to enjoy myself as much as the locals, who’d been boozing since the AM.

“How about a traditional Angami lunch?” suggested Keja, “to accompany your traditional ‘aferitip’? They’ve got everything”. He was right, the Angami’s really did have everything on the menu: cows intestines in a blood gravy, fermented bean curry and tushichi which, for those of you that are not familiar with, is dog.

Stomach distinctly turned, I passed at the opportunity to take part in the infamous (and potentially fatal) chilli-eating contest. But for purveyors of peculiar foods or those in search of the unusual, Nagaland and the Hornbill Festival is the assault on the senses that many have been looking for. Be gone the Golden Triangle, this is India as you have never seen it before.

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Take the Road Less Travelled in Style: The Kohima Camp, Nagaland

Take the Road Less Travelled in Style: The Kohima Camp, Nagaland

A piece published in Delhi’s own Little Black Book, Delhi.

As a Brit, the words ‘festival’ and ‘camping’ conjure up memories of leaky tents, soggy clothing, and hangovers that just won’t budge. Whilst the concept of “glamping” has been around for a while, you will need very deep pockets to escape the mud: VIP tents at Glastonbury festival will set you back £7000+. Ever the innovators, the concept of “glamping” {glamorous camping} is enjoying a real moment in India right now. With many adventurists wanting to explore its roads less travelled; temporary, luxury accommodation is the perfect option for locations not frequented all year round.

Whilst India might not be able to compete in the way of music festivals, it has more religious and cultural celebrations that you can shake a sacred stick at, with many modern day pilgrims and travellers wanting to attend.

Presenting The Ultimate Travelling Camp; bringing you five star accommodation in seasonal or date specific locations. The first camp of its kind in India, it is a truly nomadic experience. Having only last month wrapped up their second season in Ladakh, where they were stationed for the Kalachakra festival, in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as I write this, TUTC is busy traversing the country’s most winding passes and remote hill stations, making its way to Nagaland in time for The Hornbill Festival.

At this annual festival, the sixteen tribes that make up the state come together to showcase their traditions, tribal fashion, culinary delights and musical talents. Despite their fearsome reputation of being the Land of the headhunters, for ten days, the Nagas put their differences aside for a jam-packed program of events. Running from the 1st to the 10th of December, with Mr. Modi inaugurating the event, there seriously is no better place to experience the festivities than from TUTC’s Kohima Camp, Nagaland.

Kohima Camp TentThe definition of ‘glamping’: a khaki luxury tent at The Kohima Camp

Forget sleeping bags, we’re talking four poster beds with memory foam mattresses. On returning from a day of exploring the Hornbill Festival, warm your feet by the roaring camp fire, and slip out of those well-worn hiking boots into a pair of fluffy hotel slippers. Maggi noodles and toasted marshmallows? Try freshly baked focaccia bread, to accompany your piping hot lobster bisque. The Kohima Camp, Nagaland has taken care of everything, and if there really is anything else you require, then your own personal butler {who you will literally want to take home with you when you leave} will take care of the rest.

This is camping like you have never experienced it before!

Notes in our Little Black Book | Four poster beds, luxury tents, a delectable menu, here’s presenting the ultimate traveling camp, bringing you five star accommodation in seasonal or date specific locations. Next up, the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland.

Where: Kohima Camp, Nagaland, Tekweuju, Above Japfu Christian College, Kigwema, Kohima, Nagaland

Kohima Camp is running a special limited edition for eleven days only, from 30th Nov to 10th December for The Hornbill Festival. Find out more at here.

Keeping It Cool in Coorg: The Scotland of India

Keeping It Cool in Coorg: The Scotland of India

This day could not get any worse, I mused mid-way through my ‘wild-wee’. I was meant to be lounging by the infinity pool in the mid-day heat of the Karnatakan sun; instead I was squatting in a field with a pair of bovine beauties giving me the eye. Our car had broken down, five hours into our six hour drive; or, as I am still convinced had run out of petrol.

825     Making friends on the road

In a Howard Beale moment of “I’m not going to take this anymore!” R and I had booked two tickets to GetMeTheHellOuttaHere, located some 1400 miles from the torturous Delhi summer. Less than 12 hours later we arrived in the ‘Garden City’ of India, Bangalore, before driving onwards to Coorg. Famed for its beautiful people and aromatic coffee (two of my favourite things) and its temperate climate it seemed like the perfect place to escape to. Until the break down. Long weekend slowly slipping away both the repair party and our emergency hotel pick up arrived at the same time. Naturally. We waved a quick goodbye to our new four-legged friends before the convoy set off for the Vivanta by Taj, Coorg.

844    Pool with a view

Now, I am not one of those people who never leaves the resort but at the Taj’s property in Coorg you just don’t feel you can. With a list of activities from nature walks, cycling and even pottery (yeah, I made an ashtray!) it really is a impossible to leave the beautiful surroundings. In fact that is what the property is all about – the views. Built into a hillcrest every area, from the reception, to the pool, to the lift(!) makes the most of its stunning vistas.

834    Reception with a view

841   Everything with a view   

And there is the spa. Not content with yoga by the poolside every morning we made more trips than necessary. Taj properties are known for their excellent JIVA spas and with an on sight Ayruvedic doctor and this for an entrance, the one at Coorg is certainly one of the best.

830    Hoping this is not the disabled entrance

In fact the only time we did leave the property was on our way to the airport to buy coffee, for which the area is famous. About 3 kilos worth, enough to satiate even a caffeine addict like my self’s habit. Unfortunately there were no beautiful men to be purchased. In fact, one almost unwinds too much after a weekend spent here, resulting in us (accidentally on purpose) missing our flight and spending an extra night. Now, if that is not testament to a property’s perfection then I don’t know what is.