Twenty Places to fall in Love with India
By Cosmo Brockway
India is a beguiling, energetic, romantic and colourful country, awash with a variety of diverse travel experiences for both the daring and the cautious traveller. From vibrant festivals to quiet sunsets, here are twenty places you will fall head over heels in love with one of our favourite destinations…
1). Sunset on Udaipur’s Lake Pichola
Whether with a loved one or soaking up in solitude, the sunset over this most romantic lake will, against the backdrop of the pearl-white Taj Lake Palace, stay with you forever. For those on a stricter budget, Rosie’s retreat home stay, is a boutique choice on the water’s edge.
2). A boat journey on Colaba Harbour, Mumbai
Set sail from Mumbai’s historic harbour and see the famous city from a new angle. The panorama of Colaba and Malabar hill is a memorable experience away from the crowds - and you may see dolphins! Stay at the iconic Taj Mahal Palace and spot your window from the waves.
3). A Portuguese feast at Gunpowder, Goa
Join the trail of insider foodies to this heritage villa in Goa for an evening meal of home-cooked, deeply authentic Goan delights under the stars and enjoy the best people-watching around. The pretty village of Assagao also harbours The Project Cafe set in a hundred-year old Portuguese house.
4). Ride Marwari horses in the desert
Discover the miniature fort of Mihir Garh and take to horseback through painted villages and ancient temples. Our other favourite experiences include Dundlod Fort safaris and the regal horse festival Ashwa Poojan in Udaipur led by the royal family every October on the 9th day of Hindu festival Navratra.
5). Go Provençal in Pondicherry
Go behind the pastel-pink, blossom-draped gates of the new Coromandel Cafe in Pondicherry’s French Quarter and drink rosé surrounded by murals of palm trees and chandeliers fashioned from silk. Sink into sleep at the 19th century colonial-meets-contemporary La Villa.
6). Explore the ruined fantasy of Orchha
A hidden gem off the usual tourist trail, this historic town is filled with fantastical forts, temples and cenotaphs. Savour the laid-back atmosphere and explore the Indo-Islamic architecture of monuments such as the Jahengir Mahal and the 16th century Chaturbhuj Temple. Stay at the heritage Amar Mahal.
7). Experience Dev Deepawali in Varanasi
An atmosphere of cosmic forces meeting earth, the light of ten thousand candles along the Ganges river bank, the chanting of pilgrims... Dev Deepawali, held fifteen days after Diwali, in the holy city of Varanasi, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Base yourself at the stately Brijrama Palace for a front row seat and luxurious stay.
8). Watch block printing at Brigitte Singh’s studio
The art of block printing has come back into fashion in the west with leading fashion and interior designers incorporating it into their collections. Venture outside Jaipur to renowned ateller of Brigitte Singh to watch the process and pick up covetable linens, quilts and Singh’s beautiful new book, Printress of the Mughal Garden. Samode Haveli is the place to stay at the heart of Jaipur shopping heaven.
9). Play polo in Ladakh
….or at least watch it and relish the thrilling setting on the world’s highest polo ground during the mountain kingdom of Ladakh’s annual polo festival every July. Base yourself at 19th-century Stok Palace heritage hotel, still the home of the King and his family and enjoy cultural shows, local cuisine and the in-house museum.
10). Listen to Sufi music at Nagaur Fort, Rajasthan
A scene reminiscent of a thousand and one nights, the grounds of ancient Nagaur Fort are lit by 5000 oil lamps and overtaken by a sea of tents as India’s great and good descend to listen to the magical, haunting sounds of qawwali, traditional sufi music, watch whirling dervishes and feast on local delicacies under a moonlit canopy at this intimate event hosted every February by the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
11). Live on a tea plantation near Darjeeling
Glenburn Tea Estate is the epitome of a scenic tea bungalow perched at the base of Mount Kanchenjunga with spectacular views, timeless atmosphere, delicious food and the freshest air on earth. The home of the fourth generation of the Prakash family, Glenburn has a devoted following and is spoken of with longing from New York to Hong Kong.
12). Spot rhino at the Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Be at one with nature staying at the remote and eco-friendly Diphlu River Lodge on the edge of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park. A wide range of activities are on offer including river cruises, village day trips and elephant bathing.
13). Hornbill festival, Nagaland
Tribal colours, sounds and sights - this festival, held every December, showcasing the culture of Naga tribes is a unique experience. Naga troupes sing folk songs, perform traditional dances and play indigenous games and sports. Local artists, food and music all add to the visual melange.
14). The romance of Hyderabad
With the recent unveiling of the newly-restored British Residency, there has been no better time for lovers of history to visit Hyderabad. One of the two jewels of the city, the other being Taj Falaknuma Palace, the residency is a palladian villa built by Englishman Col James Kirkpatrick for his Muslim wife, Khair un Nissa and a testament to their doomed love story, told by William Dalrymple in White Mughals. To stand on the sweeping staircase is to breath in a moment of 18th century India and be transported to the days of the Urdu-writing, hookah-smoking colonial desi sahibs.
15). Breakfast with the eagles at Shakti 360 Leti, Himalaya
Climb to the roof of the world and stay in a modernist glass-walled cottage complete with roaring stove, sheepskin rugs and eco-bathroom. Soul-soaring views of glaciers, wooded valleys and Nepalese peaks make this retreat worth every minute of journey to reach here. Communal dining with claret and candlelight makes the perfect ending to days spent exploring waterfalls, hidden villages and pristine wildlife.
16). Dine with a Rajah at Shahpura Bagh
A green oasis in the middle of the Rajasthan desert, Shahpura Bagh is country house hospitality mingled with Rajput history. Be treated like a treasured family friend by the charming Shahpura family who relish hosting visitors at their colonial style residence. Dine en famille with owners, The Rajah Sahib and his sisters in the grand dining room and be charmed by tales of Mountbatten, military history and favourite hounds.
17). Catch a Bollywood movie at Delhi’s most fabulous cinema hall
Gleaming art deco design, brass details and velvet upholstery - this is a cinema harking back to the golden age of theatre-going in the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic district. Indulge in an over-the-top Bollywood classic after perusing the likes of Hermes and Nicobar at the equally smart DLF Emporio's The Chanakya mall - Ampersand tip - the food-hall is akin to stepping into Le Bon Marché or Selfridges and a blissful respite from the hectic city outside.
18). Join in the communal kitchen of the Golden Temple, Amritsar
A thousand hands work in unison here, with one motive - to serve. A surprising serenity reigns over the communal hall as a vast collection of volunteers from all over the world prepare food, wash dishes, chop vegetables and love each other through action. The immaculate Taj Swarna is a perfect base to explore this frontier city.
19). Take a night walking tour of Ahmedabad
The period gem House Of MG organises this unique experience to discover the historic havelis, markets and lanes of Gujarat’s capital city as it prepares for sleep. A highlight is the chance to sit with the hereditary family of drummers as they announce the closing of the city gates, a ceremony unchanged for hundreds of years
20). Attend the Zee Jaipur Literary Festival
Still the best and most cosmopolitan line-up of any festival in India, if not the world, for sheer scope of speakers, views and sheer colour. Stay at glamorous Sujan Rajmahal and you might find yourself, as I did, having breakfast next to Stephen Fry. Be sure to attend the after parties and concerts as well as fringe events at the Jaipur Railway station and Narain Niwas Hotel.