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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

Rajasthan for Romantics: Tree of Life Resort & Spa, Jaipur

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

A world away from the frenetic Pink City and Jaipur’s modern metro city, The Tree Of Life exists in its own micro-climate of peace and tranquility. With a focus on Ayurveda, each of the rooms are named after a different tree, and their decor reflects its colour. We stayed in the Champa Villa, adorned from floor to ceiling with fuschia pink and splashes of lime green – synonymous with the shrub that shares its name. Whilst the decor borrows from traditional Rajasthani designs, especially in its vibrant colour palettes, interiors avoid the usual cliches. The private pool and in room spa area, plus indoor and outdoor showers and an outdoor bath are the height of romance.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

In fact this property is made for couples. Even fully booked (which it is most weekends) you will barely see another soul. For making the forty minute drive outside of Jaipur guests are rewarded with complete privacy. Dinner can be arranged in room, a candle lit affair by the pool or a private setting at the sunset lookout. Whether in-room or at the spa, couples therapies are available. The Aravali bath, a rose petal filled affair with fragrant oils is an indulgent experience.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

As with all Tree of Life properties, the food is superb. Chef will consult on a daily basis what you would like for dinner and create a menu tailored to you. The food, both Western and Indian, is superb, with many of the vegetables coming from the on site organic vegetable garden, and as much sourced locally and in-season.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

Yoga and meditation are available in the ‘Ganesh Abode’ as well as guided village and nature walks. Plus you are only twenty minutes from Jaipur’s most famous (and must visit) attraction: Amer Fort. An utterly relaxing escape on the outskirts of a frenetic city.

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Image courtesy of Tree of Life Resort & Spa

Great for: A relaxing couples retreat. You can still tick all the Jaipur tourist boxes, Amer Fort is only twenty minutes drive and ‘The Pink City’ is a further twenty.

Best time to go: Between October – March is the best time to visit Jaipur, though it can be quite magical during the monsoon. Expect it to be chilly in the evening between December and January. In January the city plays host to The Jaipur Literary Festival, which sees literati from across the world descend upon Diggi Palace. A must visit for bookworms and Indophiles.

For direct bookings click here.

A Jaipur Gem: 28 Kothi

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As reviewed for i-escape:

Hidden down an unassuming lane in Jaipur’s residential Civil Lines district, 28 Kothi brings a new level of luxury to the guesthouse experience. A joint venture between Siddharth Kasliwal (co-owner of Gem Palace, India’s most glamorous jewellery business) and Abhishek Honawar (eminent Bombay chef), it opened its doors in early 2016 to instant acclaim. It was envisaged as a place for Kasliwal’s clients to stay that would be “as extraordinary as the jewels they come to Jaipur for”, and is filled with stunning objets d’art and eye-catching commissions.

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With just five stylish rooms, a lush garden, a peaceful library and a bijou spa, the atmosphere is particularly special; intimate and welcoming, and ideal for solo travellers as well as couples. There’s no restaurant or formal menu; meals are made to order using farm-fresh vegetarian ingredients – you’ll breakfast on the terrace and dine under the stars at night. But most seductive of all is the peace here – it’s a true urban oasis. You’re more likely to hear the resonant call of a peacock than the thrum of traffic, yet Jaipur’s ‘Pink City’ and its numerous attractions are just a tuk-tuk ride away.

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Interiors lovers will lust after designer Nur Kaoukji’s flawless rooms. Her passion for the organic percolates its way throughout the entire property, from the miniature Indian mural in the library to the palm prints and bespoke Rajasthani furnishings in the bedrooms. Each of the 5 is decorated in the colour palette of the gemstone that bears its name, and ornate beds have mirrored headboards worthy of a Maharani.

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The largest suite, Sapphire, has a floor all to itself and doors leading out onto a private terrace; perfect for couples who want complete privacy. Topaz also has a private terrace – a welcome extra for a standard room – whilst the other standard Spinel has a lovely cushioned window seat. Suite Moonstone is the only room with a bathtub (a fabulous, deep-soaking affair), and Peridot is a great-sized single room that’s excellent value for long-stay guests or families with an older child.

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Co-owned by culinary legend Abhishek Honawar, you’d expect the food here to be first-class – and by all accounts, it is. With an emphasis on the freshest food of the best quality, meals are strictly vegetarian with international flavours, market produce dictating the daily-changing menus. On balmy evenings, dining under the stars is a real treat. We love the sound of a chickpea and vegetable Moroccan stew served with warm herbed couscous, or a spicy Rajasthani thali with gluten-free chapatis and chilled cucumber raita.
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Come morning, a continental or Indian breakfast is served on the terrace – try the Rajasthani version with green split-pea pancakes and an exotic fruit salad. Teas are sourced from Goa (marigold, saffron, lemon green tea), coffee is roasted in Delhi, and the Bhuira strawberry preserve and bitter orange marmalade are handmade in a local village. Provenance is paramount here. Reliable WiFi, bathrobes and air con are welcome extras, and toiletries by KAMA Ayurveda are a fragrant treat, with old soup ladles for soap dishes.

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Best time to go: October to early April, when it’s warm and dry, is the best time to visit. December, January and February can be cold in the mornings and evenings, though warm and sunny during the daytime. March and April are fairly hot. In May and June it gets humid and the heat can become intense and uncomfortable. The monsoon breaks in July and lasts until September. January sees the city play host to the Jaipur Literary Festival and bookworms from around the world descend.

Top Tips: For the best insider’s guide, bring a copy of Fiona Caulfield’s Love Jaipur, which is filled with local tips such as the splendid Saturday Hatwara flea market; whilst fashionistas can create amazing souvenirs at the Anokhi Museum of Handprinting, where you can block-print your own shirt!

For direct bookings click here.

 

Rural Rajasthani Refinement at Shahpura Bagh

As reviewed for The Hotel Guru:

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Amidst sprawling gardens this historic estate oozes elegance and charm. Suites fit for a maharaja include four-posters, ornate textiles and large, airy windows. A feast of traditional Rajasthani dishes is served in the dining room or al-fresco whilst the heated outdoor pool is the place to relax.

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An oasis in unexplored Rajasthan. Dating back to the 19th century, Shahpura Bagh provides a stay amidst history with the family of this ancestral mansion house. As you take the turning off the main highway spluttering traffic and screeching truck horns are replaced by stubborn bullock carts driven by be-turbaned Rajasthani farmers in dusty dhotis. Wandering distance from colourful town centre the white gates of Shahpura Bagh are a portal to a bygone age of refined luxury and undisturbed tranquility.

3118049-shahpura-bagh-rajasthan-indiaAccommodation is spread across two colonial style bungalows, ensconced by 40 acres of verdant lawns and farmland, plus a heated pool. An intimate affair there are just nine rooms, all divine, packed with antiques and featuring lounge areas meant for lingering; bathtubs meant for soaking. Our favourites would have to be the Royal Suites for their capacious four posters and open fire places. Generous touches such as complimentary birdwatching and farm visits or sundowners at Dikhola Fort make one feel truly spoilt.

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Getting to know your fellow guests over drinks, canapés and an open fire make you feel right at home. Dine surrounded by family portraits and hunting trophies to the beat of a long unplayed rock n roll score. Another whiskey, sir? Why on earth not. A daily set menu of regional dishes (it is a veritable feast) is served, whilst a continental spread is provided each morning and lunch is set to order. Let’s just say you will not go hungry here! But what is most impressive about Shahpura Bagh is how committed Jai, Sat and their families are to their local community. From monetary donations, personal property converted into schools and employing a team of all local staff, Shahpura Bagh and its town are one. For an authentic yet luxurious, rural Rajasthan experience stay here: no questions asked.

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Great for: A bucolic break between Jaipur and Udaipur and is easily accessible from Jodhpur and Ranthambore.

Best time to go: Between October – March is the best time to visit Rajasthan, though it can be quite magical during the monsoon. Expect it to be chilly in the evening between December and January.

For direct bookings click here.

Jodhpur: A Hotel Guide

Jodhpur: A Hotel Guide

Working in travel one has to be sympathetic towards almost any whim, requirement and diet fad of a client. Life and people are full of surprises but when trying to second guess someones preferences it is necessary to (like it or not) pigeon hole. Luckily I am very familiar with each of the extremes. On the one hand we have myself: I will literally eat, sleep, pee anywhere and on the other: my mother, who to put it simply, will not. Even the most globalised of cities in India could prove a culture shock to some but there are certain places that offer a pretty PG portrayal of India.

Jodhpur is one of these and a pretty safe bet for even the most cautious of travelers. Saying this, a client of potentially difficult disposition is not going to rock up at any old guest house. For some travelers, hotels are as experiential as the cities that house them. My most recent jaunt in Jodhpur was a self-appointed work trip which meant I visited and stayed in some stunning hotels that I would certainly not have been able to afford myself – especially on my Indian salary! So, here is my whistle stop tour of the best hotels in Jodhpur.

RAAS

It claims to be a heritage property when in reality about 400 sq feet of this hotel is heritage. Why? I do not know. RAAS is beautiful and does not need to pretend to be anything it is not. An excellent Design Hotel RAAS is “three parts Rajasthan, one part LA”, implementing traditional Jodhpur colours and textiles with a modern twist. And with the best views of Mehrangarh Fort as its backdrop, RAAS is an excellent option for anyone wanting high end luxury in a town setting. The food is lip-smackingly good (they have pretty much re-invented the chicken korma), the service Western standard and the staff are beyond friendly. An afternoon spent lounging by the pool listening to the Asr call to prayer, home-made lemonade in hand, would be an afternoon well spent.

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The pool at RAAS and the view from most of its rooms.

Things to bear in mind:

  • RAAS’s central location is great for being able to wonder straight out your front door into the thick of things. However it also means that the thick of things is right out your front door.
  • Garden View rooms (as the name might suggest) do not have a view of the fort, which considering they are some of the best in the Jodhpur seems an awful shame.

Who is it good for?

  • A city dweller. Someone used to five star luxury who does not mind a bit of back ground noise.

Ratan Vilas

Do not let the website fool you. I was so pleasantly surprised when I arrived at this little gem of a property. A colonial heritage hotel located just a few kilometres outside of town, Ratan Vilas offers guests an incomparably personal experience and piece of history. Now in its fourth generation of ownership, the current owner Maharaj Bharat Singh and his wife do their best to personally greet all the guests and answer any questions they might have about the property. The hotel itself is decorated with portraits of long lost family members: from successful polo players to keen hunters and much of it is furnished with antiques from when the hotel was still a permanent residence. With a delightful swimming pool and lots of cool shady areas to retreat to with cup of their delicious masala chai, Excellent value for money!

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The tranquil pool area and shady courtyard at Ratan Vilas

Things to bear in mind:

  • Request a room in the front courtyard – it is in the older wing and much more quaint.
  • The “continental” breakfast was very average however I would imagine that their India food would be excellent.

Who is it good for?

  • A country bumpkin looking for a family experience.

Pal Haveli

This very Indian Haveli is a great way to ‘play pretend’ and really step back into Jodhpur’s past. The rooms are decorated in traditional haveli style: kitsch to some; tacky to others. Personally it’s my least favourite of the the four but the rooms are really “fun”. Pal Haveli has an exceptional roof top from where diners can “witness all of Jodhpur’s history” with 360 views of Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan and the clock tower. Private Bhopal dinners can also be arranged at the restaurant for a truly memorable evening or party.

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An extravagantly decorated bedroom at Pal Haveli and the view from its rooftop restaurant.

Things to bear in mind:

  • Not good for older people. This property has more narrow, winding staircases than the Hogwarts astronomy tower.

Who is it good for?

  • The undisputed Indophile.

Umaid Bhawan

The history surrounding this property is as fascinating as the building itself. The Palace was allegedly built “to provide employment to thousands of people during the time of famine” which seems like a very elaborate solution to me: “Give a man a fish…” and all that, I suppose. The architect behind Umaid Bhawan, Henry Lanchester, also designed Leeds University’s (where I spent three blurry years) Parkinson Building. Maybe it is something in Lanchester’s architecture but I felt the need to whisper as I shuffled along the bordering austere corridors of Umaid Bhawan. It is stunning, don’t get me wrong, but it is a little too flawless for me. I looked like some sort of street rat wandering around (not so) fresh from the day’s sightseeing. The grounds on the other hand I love and I share my friend Ellie Boulstridge’s appreciation for its pristine lawns (she is borderline obsessive for a well maintained bit of turf). However for me it is the view from the swimming pool and the peacocks strutting around like they own the place that makes it such a memorable property. Plus the fact that you can see its’ silhouette from just about all of Jodhpur.

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Umaid Bhawan, the pool area and its award winning Jiva Spa (excuse me in the background)

Things to bear in mind:

  • Luxury comes with a price tag and palaces don’t come cheap. Whilst a stay at Umaid Bhawan is worth the money (if you can afford it) you get a lot more for your rupee for certain rooms in the same category. Being a palace all rooms will differ but to be on the same side ask for a Garden View Room rather than a courtyard.

Who is it good for?

  • My mother. Plus those for who the hotel is as much a part of the experience as the place.

I’ll leave you with this: the prettiest tuk-tuk in town found in the RAAS driveway. Sadly it was not for hire.

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