Colonial Charm at The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata

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Image courtesy of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts
As reviewed for The Hotel Guru:

Known as the “Grande Dame of Calcutta” this iconic hotel, dating back to the 1880’s, is located in what was the heart of British India. Aside from a few mod-cons, little seems to have changed. Colonial charm still perforates every inch of this property and the at times ‘Fawlty Towers’ service only adds to the poeticism.

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Image courtesy of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts

From the moment you enter its gilded gates (complete with fleet of bright yellow Ambassador taxis awaiting outside) guests time-travel to a bygone era. Having been greeted by a team of staff at the door, complete with white gloves and shiny gold buttons, you will be whisked through reception, with its grandiose flower arrangements and ornate chandeliers. Not to mention that grand piano.

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Image courtesy of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts

Some might find the décor a little tired (the carpets could do with replacing) but overall this adds to the charm of this relic of a hotel. With classic green marble or wood-clad bathrooms, polished wood furnishings, artwork depicting a historic Calcutta and antique light and socket fittings the hotel evokes pangs of nostalgia at every turn.

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Image courtesy of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts

Complimentary Forest Essentials toiletries are included as standard and the best rooms feature pool views. Breakfast is not included in the room rate and at hefty price per head I would say it’s not worth the average fare – especially with so many great dining options on nearby Park Street. Baan Thai restaurant is worth investigating, however a G&T in one of the Peacock chairs by the pool is an absolute must.

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Image courtesy of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts

Oberoi’s spas are always worth a visit and this is no exception. Classic treatment rooms, a steam room and sauna plus a slightly old fashioned gym. A historic stay right in the heart of Kolkata.

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Image courtesy of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts

Leh Lady Leh: The Girl’s Guide To Ladakh

Leh Lady Leh: The Girl’s Guide To Ladakh

A piece published on one the bestest gal pals there is, Maia Sethna’s superb blog Girl Panic:

After flying solo and moving to Delhi almost a year ago, I felt like I needed a change of scenery. I had never even set foot in Ladakh, but you don’t get much more of a dramatic scenery change than here. In fact, as soon you step of the plane at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport (or Leh to you and me) there are two things you notice. One, the absence of that ‘open oven door’ sensation; the air is cool here, you can actually breathe. Two, that view. You might be mistaken for thinking you’d just touched down on the moon. It’s not named the ‘lunar landscape’ for nothing.

Once considered so remote that “only your best friend or worst enemy would visit you” there, or so the local adage goes, Ladakh is now a firm favourite on the tourist trail. With several daily flights from Delhi to Leh during season time, it has never been easier to reach: the perfect destination for a long weekend getaway out of the sweltering Delhi summer.

meg - ladakhShamless #selfie on a rare afternoon off

Upon arrival make sure to set your watches to “mountain time”. One adopts a different pace of life here: early to bed early to rise. My morning routine in Delhi generally involved dragging myself out of bed by 8.45, ready to leave the house by 9am (read 9.30). Now I am tucked up by 10, a good book my only bed partner, in order to be up at 5am before my sacred morning stroll. Yoga, shower, breakfast: check. I am generally ready to carpe the hell out of that diem by 7am.

But what to do? If you’re the kind of girl looking for poolside butler service then Ladakh is probably not your thing. But, if you’re on an odyssey for some adventure in your life then look no further: you have arrived. With more adrenaline fixes than a back-street physician’s medical bag, Ladakh is the destination for those craving a natural high. Or a literal high (it does sit at over 10,000 feet after all).

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From white water rafting to off-roading; mountain biking to climbing Ladakh provides a colourful array of ways to attempt to kill oneself. Or give your parents a scare. A trekkers mecca you can cover the same rocky passes that many before have tried and failed to complete. Near death experiences avoided, you might want to thank god (or Buddha) you are still alive. And with more monasteries than you can shake a dorjey at (google it) Ladakh is the perfect place to discover your inner sanctuary.

For the believers or the just plane curious, a trip to the oracle at Saboo makes for an enlightening afternoon. No she won’t be able to tell you who you are going to marry or whether or not your boyfriend really cheated, but she might just be able to shed some light on some personal or family gripes. Or for all your homeopathic health needs, there is the Amchi at Thiksey monastery – probably the happiest man in Ladakh. Save for my co-worker Captain Sonam. You haven’t known joy until you’ve met Captain Sonam.

In short, there is no short-age of things to do in Ladakh, especially over the summer season. And if you are man, or should I say woman enough, to brave its winter season and sub-zero temperatures, then you may well be rewarded with a rare snow leopard sighting. All I know is that I have been here for over a month, have another three to go and I have not covered even half of my “To Do” list. So I am sure you Delhiites darlings can fill up a long weekend!

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Room with a View: My new Home Sweet Home

 

Ladakh: The Low Down

Whilst I could write an exhaustive list of “Must Do’s” in Ladakh I will let you figure that out for yourself, but here are just a few of my favourites…

Monastery: Thiksey

Not the richest, not the oldest, but in my opinion the most beautiful (and home to the largest and most photographed statue of the Matreya Buddha in Ladakh). Wake up early for the morning prayers with the monks and several cups of butter tea if you can stomach it. Whilst you are there why not make a trip to the local herbal medicine man, the Amchi, who will tell you more about yourself than your childhood paediatrician. Every malady imaginable is prescribed with one of his foul smelling “Tibetan dirt balls” as I like to call them. Hold your nose, they taste as bad as they look.

Cycle route: Wari-La

You might want to leave it a couple of days before you exert yourself too heavily. Whether it’s your lack of physical prowess or those extra 3000 feet: the views will quite literally take your breath away. Look out for yaks, zos, marmots and a whole menagerie of wildlife not found around town.

Shop: Jigmet Couture

Whilst Ladakh is hardly a shopper’s paradise Jigmet Couture is the best place to pick up some tailor made souvenirs. The man behind the name is a real enigma. Using locally sourced textiles Jigmet offers Ladakhi fashion with a modern twist.

Place to eat: Nimmu House

Local new kid on the block with its French owner and French chef, Nimmu house provides a sophisticated alternative to momos and thukpa.

Sunset Spot: Victory Fort

Forget the crowds of Shanti Stupa, Victory Point is where those in the know go to witness the ending of another day. Watch as the afternoon shadow casts itself over the valley below like a blanket before bedtime. Romantic much?!

Drive: Towards Alchi

Traverse several different landscapes en-route to the (largest?) monastery in Ladakh. From the winding roads to open planes you will feel as though you have travelled a thousand miles in just a couple of hours. Finish up with a picnic lunch overlooking the the Alchi dam.

Book to read: “Servant of the Sahibs: A Book To Be Read Aloud” by Ghulam Rassul Galwan

This is one of those books that will stick in your mind. Francis Younghusband, friend, explorer and fellow player of The Great Game was not exaggerating when he wrote “There has never been another book remotely similar to Servant of the Sahibs”. As much a primary source as it is an adventure novel Rassul writes with such naked honesty readers (or listeners) are permitted a personal account of the caravan trails of Central Asia that no modern day historian could hope to create. An absolute must read when travelling to Ladakh!

Vana: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Art

Vana: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Art

As you take the turning off the main Mussoorie Road towards the Vana, Malsi Estate you leave behind with it the distractions of every day life. Car horns are replaced by bird call as the fragrant smell of the neighbouring sal forest stimulates the senses. Only a month old Vana is but a baby and located just round the corner from Ananda, India’s most luxurious yoga retreat, it has some serious competition. However Vana’s emphasis is not on luxury, it is on wellbeing, meaning “physical, mental, emotional and spiritual”. Whether you treat it as a modern day ashram or (as they put it) a utopian “microcosm of everyday life”, you will leave feeling refreshed and revitalised and ready for whatever life has to throw at you.

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Upon arrival you will have a one-to-one analysis of what your personal goals are and a tailored wellness programme will be devised for the duration of your stay, incorporating everything from your treatments to your meals. There are two restaurants at Vana: Salana, offering cuisine based on wellness principles and Anayu, offering Indian cuisine based on the principles of ayurveda. All of the produce is organic, locally sourced and new menu is devised seasonally. And with all of its chefs being specially trained in wellness cooking no-one will be left feeling as though they are eating rabbit food! Nurture yourself from the inside-out whilst bringing the outside in with a panoramic view of the surrounding forests, which all rooms benefit from.

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Set amidst the sprawling 21 acre Malsi Estate, the property itself looks like a work of modern art and the architecture, with its emphasis on straight lines and earthy palettes, blends in with the local surroundings. Their ethos of simple, stripped back luxury is apparent in every aspect of life at Vana, from the living spaces to the treatments.

Treatments on offer: Guests can benefit from Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Natural healing techniques as well as regular yoga classes, aqua therapy, fitness improvement and full spa facilities. Treatments cater for anything from mindfulness to weight loss meaning there really is something for everyone! The Signature Vana massage is a must!

Detox specials: Until August 2014 book between 3-5 nights and receive a complimentary nights stay.

Pricing: Starts from R32,000 a night with a minimum three night stay.

Vana is the place for any serious yogi (with a few rupees to spare) to head this 2014!