Hampi comes alive...

Hampi re visited.
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Hampi Comes Alive

Last month my colleague and I were invited by the Orange County Hotels to experience their newest property, in Hampi.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this luxurious Peace Haven, and it is the best thing that could have happened to Hampi. 
This awesome site continues to fascinate me as it did when I visited Hampi for the first time in 1991.
We now welcome you to visit this last Hindu Kingdom, now in ruins. 


Hampi is the last great Hindu Kingdom that fell to the Deccan Muslim confederacy in 1565. It was then pillaged for nearly a decade before being abandoned. 

The ruins of Hampi are living testimony to what was once a great empire. 

The  scenery here is a perfect example of the integration between archaeology and geology.

Five things we learnt about Hampi from our latest visit...
  • Orange County’s newest retreat hotel is the place to stay.
  • The Krsma vineyards are 90 kms away on your way to Badami. A compulsory stop.
  • As yet Mango tree is the only restaurant worth its salt in Hampi.
  • The Kaladham MUSEUM is open from 5:30 PM everyday.
  • There are some great rural roads you can take on your way to Hampi from Bangalore. 
Where is Hampi...

Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in India located near Hospet town in the Karnataka state.

How to get there?

The best way to get to Hampi is to drive either on country roads or take the northern highway and visit the hanging pillar at Lepakshi.

What can you do in Hampi?

Here are Incent's TOP 5 recommendations

Discover or re-discover Hampi in 3D...

The “Place Hampi” museum exhibit is nothing like a museum; you put on 3D glasses and virtually walk your way through the ruins of Hampi, stopping along to notice things you never would otherwise. 

Even if you aren't a museum buff, this discovery or re-discovery of Hampi will leave you spellbound.


Take a ride down the Tungabhadra River...

Coracles are traditional fishing boats for the state and are made from bamboo shoots, coir ropes, black plastic sheet and a generous coat of bitumen that makes it water proof. 

Two oarsmen punt this contraption down stream and the 45 minutes cruise is as exhilarating as it is breathtaking, doing past massive boulders, that hide some ruins. Wear a pair of good trainers and hop off and on the coracle while exploring the hidden ruins of Hampi. 

Stop by an unusual vineyard on your way to the Badami Caves...

KRSMA vineyards are located 90kms North from Hospet town. The owners gave their names to this brand of wines, by combining their names Krishna and Uma, and it is a testimony of their shared passion for wine-making.

KRSMA wines are now among the best labels being produced in India at present. You can watch over the planting, pruning, watering, harvesting and, of course, guiding the wine-making process and continue further to visit to the Badami Caves. Or when returning, make a stop over and have lunch. 

The Hanging Pillar of Lepakshi...

The Lepakshi temple dates back to 1583 and is built on a low, rocky hill that resembles a tortoise shell. 

There are about 70 pillars at this fabulous 16th-century stone temple, but the famed Hanging Column is the best known and is a tribute to the engineering genius of ancient and medieval India’s temple builders. 

At 27ft in length and 15ft in height, the spectacular Nandi located almost a mile before the main temple is, reputedly India’s biggest monolithic Bull.

Rediscover ancient secrets of water management...

Take lessons in Sustainable Hydrology as you uncover a reservoir system dating to the Hindu empire of ancient Vijayanagara, circa 1000AD, that had sustained a population of half million people for hundreds of years with very little rainfall. 

Stay at the Orange County, Hampi...

With their newest hotel in Hampi, Orange County Hotels have raised the bar. This resort inspired by the ruins of the once might Vijayanagara Empire barely 4 Km from it, is surrounded, by forests, boulders and countless species of birds. 

The resort offers  accommodation in 38 suites, and nine Pool Villas with two restaurants offering a fine selection local delicacies and excellent continental fare, a large  Infinity Pool, and a Spa offering traditional Ayurvedic wellness therapies, this is pampered luxury at its best. 

Orange County Hampi

So if you want to get the real substance of Hampi, beat the crowds, enjoy the monsoons, capture a glimpse of real village life in and around Hampi, this is the time to take a trip...Hop over and experience the magic with Incent!

Meeting Venues

Plan your next meeting at one of these exclusive venues

Four Seasons - Mumbai

Located in the heart of Mumbai city, The Four Seasons Hotel is one of the city's finest in hospitality, luxury and dining. 
'The Mansion', their new residential style meeting space is designed by Japan's famous design studio SPIN, and is spread over 25,500 square feet, across 3 levels.  It includes indoor as well as outdoor space, and is suitable for meetings for up to 1200 guests.

Mumbai is accessible by air from most major cities in the world. The hotel is located 45 minutes from both, the international and domestic, airports. 

Guest Rooms
202, including 24 suites

02 Restaurants, 01 pool deck, 01 rooftop bar

The Lodhi - New Delhi

The Lodhi Hotel (previously The Aman) is located a few minutes from Delhi's city centre, and showcases  contemporary India in its decor, style, food and art. 
The all suite hotel has a dynamic partnership with the Apparao galleries of Chennai; and  contemporary Indian art and sculpture are displayed in public and private living spaces around the hotel at all times.  
The Library Lounge and the Cigar Lounge are ideal locations for small meetings, and can accommodate up to 30 guests each. They are located next to each other, separated by a water body, and can be used together to host a gathering of 60 guests.

Delhi is accessible by air from all major cities in the world. The hotel is located 45 minutes from both, the international and domestic, airports. 

Guest Rooms
40 (All rooms have private plunge pools which are cool in summer and heated in winter)

 02 Restaurants, 01 poolside cafe, 01 bar / night club

Dusit Devarana - New Delhi

The first 'Dusit' property in India, the Dusit Devarana is a charming boutique hotel, perfectly located between the historical attractions of New Delhi and the corporate hub of Gurgaon.
 The hotel offers a world class spa, serene living spaces, and various meeting spaces for small to medium sized groups.

Delhi is accessible by air from all major cities in the world. The hotel is located 15 minutes from both, the international and domestic, airports. 

Guest Rooms
50 rooms , including 11 Devarana Pool View with extra 40 meter square of private pool deck, and direct access to the pool. 

 02 Restaurants, including a Michelin Star restaurant, and 01 bar

Park Hyatt - Chennai

Designed by acclaimed designer George Wong, The Park Hyatt Chennai is located 10 minutes away from the Chennai business district and is ideal for the business traveller.
'The Apartment' at the hotel  is a unique residential-style venue that offers 747 square metres of flexible meeting and banquet space for upto 340 guests (reception style). 

Chennai is the gateway to south India, and is accessible by air from most major cities in India and the rest of the world. The hotel is located 15 minutes from the airport. 

Guest Rooms
201 rooms , including 20 suites

 02 Restaurants, including 'The Flying Elephant' - an architectural masterpiece spread over multiple levels

Brunton Boatyard - Kochi

Part of the CGH Earth group of hotels, Brunton Boatyard is moored on a historic stretch of Cochin's famed harbour, and has been resurrected from the remains of a Victorian shipbuilding yard. 
Small meetings can be organised in the central lawn. 

Chennai is the gateway to south India, and is accessible by air from most major cities in India and the rest of the world. The hotel is located 15 minutes from the airport. 

Guest Rooms
26 rooms

 02 restaurants and 01 bar

Dwarika's Hotel - Kathmandu

Dwarika's hotel is undoubtedly Kathmandu's finest, and reflects the rich tradition of Nepali hospitality while incorporating some of the country’s most exquisite architectural traditions. 
Meeting facilities include a banquet hall that can accommodate between 80 - 100 guests; and a smaller meeting room for 15 - 20 guests.

Kathmandu is accessible by air from most major cities. The hotel is located 20 minutes from the airport. 

Guest Rooms
86 rooms , including 43 suites

03 restaurants and 01 bar

Zhiwaling - Paro

Set across 10 acres, the Zhiwa Ling  is the first Bhutanese-owned hotel in its class, and is a tribute to the ornate architectural arts of the kingdom. Every piece of the hotel is handmade, from the masterful stonework to the wooden columns, cornices and beams that were hand-carved over three years by 60 talented artisans. 
The hotel has 02 meeting rooms, and can accommodate up to 160 guests in a theatre style setup.

Paro is accessible from most parts of the world through flights via Delhi, Mumbai, Kathmandu, Singapore and Bangkok. 

Guest Rooms
45 rooms (all suites)

 02 Restaurants, a tea house, and "The Mad Monk' bar

Galle Face - Colombo

One of the oldest hotels east of the Suez, the Galle Face Hotel was established in 1864.
It is Sri Lanka’s iconic historic hotel, and is situated in the heart of Colombo, along the seafront, facing the famous Galle Face Green.
The classic wing, that houses the conference and meeting facilities, is currently under renovation and is expected to resume operations in April 2015. 

Colombo is accessible by air from most parts of the world through direct or connecting flights

Guest Rooms
81 rooms including suites

03 Restaurants including a seafood specialty restaurant; a gastro - pub, and a poolside bar and terrace

Ritz Carlton - Bengaluru

The first Ritz Carlton hotel in India, the uber luxurious Ritz Carlton Bangalore provides business and leisure travellers with the perfect home base from which to explore “India’s Silicon Valley” and beyond. The hotel offers 18,000 square feet (1,700 square meters) of meeting space that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests.

Bangalore has a world class international airport, with flights coming in from across the globe.

Guest Rooms
277 rooms including suites

03 Restaurants, 03 bars and a pastry shop

Ramgarh Lodge - Jaipur

The Ramgarh Lodge, located 35 km from Jaipur, was once the favourite hunting retreat of the Maharaja of Jaipur. The Lodge is now run by the Taj Hotels, and still retains its old world charm. 
You could organise a meeting for up to 40 in the conference room or rent the entire lodge for an exclusive meeting experience.

Jaipur is easily accessible by air and rail from various cities; and by road from Delhi.
The lodge is located 35 km from the city centre, 40 km from the railway station, and 60 km from the airport

Guest Rooms
14 rooms including suites

01 restaurant

Hilton Shillim - Pune

The Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa is located midway between the cities of Mumbai and Pune.
It consists of 'all villa' accommodation and is spread over 320 acres of wilderness, that are part of a 3,500 acre estate. 
The spa resort offers three meeting rooms that accommodate up to 20 people each.
It features a world class spa, a cooking school, and breathtaking views among other things. 

The hotel is a 1.5 hour drive from the Pune airport, and a 2.5 drive hour drive from the Mumbai airport.  
Helicopter transfers are available as well.

Guest Rooms
64 villas

02 Restaurants, 02 bars, a wine cellar and a tea house

Nepal Revisited

In 1977, Kathmandu’s  New Road  had more “made in Japan” and “made in Germany” foreign goods, foods, cars, alcohols, and music cassettes, than the India or Indians of that époque could have dreamt of.   
 A trip to Kathmandu was a trip of a lifetime, especially if you flew with Royal Nepal Airlines, which served, in 90 minutes,  a range of alcoholic beverages that could compare with top international airlines of that period. 
 Needless to say, most passengers, got off the plane in a completely inebriated state  and had to be assisted.

Restaurants were few and far in between, and the only hotels, worth their salt were the Shankar and Annapura, and the lesser mortals stayed at the Crystal Hotel, off New road.
 This was the Kathmandu into which many of us first walked in, many before me, and while some of them stayed back and became synonymous with Kathmandu and Nepal,  I kept making trips, up and down, until my recent trip in June.
 Kathmandu roads are being widened, there's a four lane highway that links it to Bhaktapur, there's talk of a 6 lane fast track that will crisscross the country, real estate is booming, hotels are witnessing record occupancies, you can go on a sightseeing tour of the Royal Palace - are among the many changes that struck me.
 Oh and through all this my friend Caroline’s restaurant Chez Caroline is doing remarkably well, run as efficiently as ever by the faithful duo of Gopal and Madhu. 
 It is always a pleasure to walk into Babar Mahal an ancient Rana palace outhouse which has been restored and now houses, a string of rest bars, designer boutiques, music,  antique stores and of course Chez Caroline. It is  the watering hole of the expat community.

Indigo flight 31 touched down on time at 1 PM local time at Tribhuvan International airport, and my friend and partner Deepak whisked me away past immigration and customs to Dwarika’s, where Sheba the charming Director of Sales met us and I labored on a club sandwich before we drove back to the airport to catch the flight to Pokhara, gateway to the Annapurna sanctuary and Nepal's second biggest city. 
Back in 1977 Pokhara airfield had cows grazing on either side of the strip that would obediently move away every time the siren went off, signaling an approaching aircraft. All that has changed -  the 1466 m runway is fully tarred,  it has a proper ATC and a terminal building. Luggage is still delivered by hand..

  Our Land cruiser was waiting for us and our local contact Chandra drove us to the Temple Tree hotel that is located in the heart of town. It is  a charming 54 room hotel, has a swimming pool,  a bar and a restaurant not to mention a Spa. The rooms are small, but well-appointed and I wouldn't mind staying here for a night.
 Our site inspection continued and we dropped in on our old mates at the Shangrila Village Resort, Pokhara.  The Swiss geologist Toni Hagen  was one of the first Europeans allowed into Nepal , and he walked all over the country setting a precedent for the 200, 000 odd trekkers who now visit every year.  The Shangri-La Village stands where he once stood in Pokhara  soaking in the  best mountain views in the valley .
 This resort hotel is now sadly surrounded by residences but has lost none of its charm… The rooms stood still frozen in time and the pool was as inviting as it was when our dear friends from Communication Voyages inaugurated the hotel in 1996.  I remembered Christian planting  - a  stone plaque to commemorate this momentous occasion – and a bit of investigative working and after clearing a few branches revealed the Epitap
 The Shangri-La Village Resort  (SVR)  is probably the best hotel in Pokhara and great value for money. Its advantage being the mother hotel in Kathmandu,  both  run by another efficient, aristocratic friend Raju and his very efficient team of passionate and committed people.

Pokhara is the gateway to the Annapurna sanctuary and on a clear day you can see the peaks of the Western Himalayas - Dhaulagiri, Annapurna , Machapucchere, Hiuchuli  etc. … 
 A trek past  Birethanthi for an overnight bivouac on a ledge only to wake up the next day to watch the sunrise on the majestic Himalayan peaks. Walking results in moments of happiness , these are some money cannot buy experiences of a lifetime.
You can also jeep up to Naudanda at sunrise and walk along the ridge.  It’s less strenuous and the 3 hours to  reach Sarangkot is easy going with the Annapurna looming over you the entire trek.  Stop at the trail side tables and order breakfast -  all fresh and cooked to order. It’s a great way to see the Himalayas and the mountains do not disappoint.  From Sarangkot if you are inclined for a further walk  it is a 2 hour descent to the lakeside or now zip line down in 120 seconds flat. 
Our expedition headed back downtown and we walked the High street of Pokhara to the left of which is the famous Phewa Lake, which surprisingly was very clean.. 
The high street is dotted with shoestring hotels, hundreds of restaurants, karaoke bars, coffee shops, trekking gear shops and my favorite shop Urban Yeti where you get the best T shirts. 
Pokhara’ s landscape is fast changing. The morning sky is filled with Para gliders and ultra-lite flights; the government  is going full steam metalling what were once pathways and as my friend Manish would call them rumble roads … a far cry from my first visit there in 1977..

The GM of the SVR highly recommended a visit to the Fishtail Lodge, which sits on an island in the Phewa Lake. It is  without a doubt the best address in Pokhara -  there are chalets.. which have been named after its illustrious occupants and there are two block houses, which have  regulation rooms for the best views of the lake,  one must stay in the chalets… no question. The hotel is accessed either by boat or a shuttle float which is pulled by ropes from either side..
As we headed back to the hotel the skies opened up and it came down pouring… the monsoons had arrived and I discovered that Nepal has an interesting festival called the paddy sowing festival. The staple food of Nepal is rice and dal.. There we sat Deepak, Chandra  and I sipping our G & Ts and ate an insipid dinner before turning in.

We left Pokhara early hoping to take in as much as we could on our drive back to Kathmandu, which in hindsight was a big mistake but a valuable lesson.
We stopped briefly at The Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge set on a rural hilltop in the outskirts of Pokhara. Although  closed for  spring cleaning,  Ishwar was kind enough to let us have a peek and bring us up to date. The 18 odd rooms are arranged in a cluster of cottages with a central bar / lounge and dining area. No mountain views this time of the year, but all around everything beautifully enveloped in all shades of  green .
The Tiger Mountain Brand has now joined forces with RARE as their first non-India property . We marveled at their water harvesting as we did their home grown herbs and garden salads ; and their Energy, Water and Waste management set standards for Responsible Tourism . Even from the little that we saw, things are happening here. 

Our old haunt Brigand's Bend on the other hand is no more ..
"A home like no place can be"  Brigand's Bend in Thaguwater –on-Trisuli used to advertise itself as
Amongst the flowers, the birds and the trees,
Verdant surroundings is all you can see,
With gourmet cuisine and your kind of tea,
Just the kind of holiday, you might wish it to be.
On a hot summers day, in May 1995, Brigand's Bend was host to our  TF 1 group in the Yeti to Tiger program when in one day  a group of 90 French media tycoons  had breakfast in Langtang at 5,000 m, lunch at Brigand's bend and dinner at Chitwan at 50 m . A first of its kind, Nepal has not seen another undertaking of this kind. Talk of AHA moments, it doesnt get bigger or better than this. 
A poultry farm now stands where Brigand's Bend used to be , but we found out Brian had moved further upstream creating a resort for a hotel chain.  The resort painted in subtle hues of yellow,  has 9 quaint rooms overlooking the Trishuli and you can't miss Brian's trademark large open kitchen with the adjoining dining and sitting area. Very inviting. but you gotta get across the river.

Closer to Kathmandu, a trek through the countryside to the sacred Namobuddha shrine  revealed that much has changed. I remember the time when there was the stone tablet depicting the compassion of Buddha, a small chapel besides it, a rest house with about a dozen rooms, and simple dwellings for the lamas. The place was a focus for worship and meditation and  we aptly created a Body and Soul program for the lost visitors seeking instant nirvana.  
Time has changed all that. While the tablet dedicated to the Buddha is "as is", the sanctuary has been embellished.  A new monastery sits on the hilltop and its gilded roof towers over the countryside. The new chapel is grandiose with polished wooden floors, colourful textile wall décor, and an impressive gilt image of the Buddha.
Outside, strings of prayer flags fly as before , but modern day wind powered prayer wheels also  carry prayers to Heaven. The road leading to Namobuddha is being widened and will eventually be black topped. So it is inevitable that a hilltop so prominent  will attract  more people.
But the views of the Himalayas are the best from within the valley, the lamas delightfully hospitable, and the trip still spiritually rejuvenating for the Body and Soul.

Upon our return it was wonderful reconnecting with Sangeeta who took us on an extended show of The Dwarika’s Resort in Dhulikhel. Like a sphinx rising from the ashes, the resort is all set to be the new norm among spas. Private indoor and outdoor living, ancient Buddhist medicine and traditional Vedic Philosophy, fresh local produce all put together to offer a holistic experience.  It’s a winner all right, and Sangeeta’s  passion will make sure of that... And their flagship 80 room Dwarika’s in Kathmandu remains an oasis for the privileged few... with half the rooms now converted into suites.
Further on up the road, is The Last Resort. Closer to Tibet than Kathmandu, the pristine surroundings of The Last Resort  are a relief after the drive.  Nestled between the raging Bhote Koshi (which actually is its western boundary) and the surrounding hills - the trimmed lawns, spread out tented camp, and nearby facilities for bungee jumping, canoeing, and rafting etc. make it the ideal location for team building...

Patan is the valley’s  second medieval city with its palace complex, lavish temples and bustling bazaar. However it is for the one of its kind Patan Museum, that  I keep returning to Patan again and again.
On this trip I discovered the lesser-known Patan.  An alternate walk away from the tourist route, through isolated  alleyways,  ducking  through doorways and sheltered passageways,  past ignored old houses with beautiful woodwork, latticed windows,  monastery courtyards with chaityas,  and sunken stone spouts,  brought me to  Swotha Square, right next to the Durbar Square . 
Tucked away in a quiet by lane off Swotha  was another one of its kind - Traditional Homes – a  90 year old Newari residence brought back to life and converted to an intimate 7 room bed and breakfast .
At this rustic chic guest house we discovered  a sunny terrace overlooking Patan’s pagoda-strewn roofscape, and beyond it a glimpse of the Himalaya; and downstairs, a small café corner with the best Himalayan Java and Yoghurt Cake.  It cannot get more authentic…

Back in Kathmandu, we pay homage to Budanilkantha – the Sleeping Vishnu. Back in 1977, just a few kilometres to the north of the Shankar hotel, it was a good half day off road excursion to this sleepy hamlet. Helas like the rest of Kathmandu , the scenic paddy fields  along the route  have now been replaced with affluent bungalows, and the temple shrine itself  is lost  in a maze of shops selling incense, prayer paraphernalia, and vivid flower garlands.
But amidst all this chaos – the Sleeping Vishnu lies peacefully pondering the fate of its living incarnate the last Shah King Gyanendra.
An election for the Second  Constitution Assembly is slotted for later this year in November , and the hard-core royalists have not thrown  in the towel yet, wishfully reliving a revival of the monarchy. A return to Kathmandu would have been incomplete without a  visit to the indomitable Bodnath. It was to be our last stop before the return flight home.
Kathmandu has grown both upwards and outwards, high rises are appearing all over the valley, cars and motorbikes have taken over most of Kathmandu streets; broadband internet and anytime money (ATM) banking have reached the city courtyards. But the inner sanctum of Bodnath remains just as spiritual and unchanged (almost – except for the Roadhouse Café nestled above a thangka painters atelier). Bodnath is as vibrant and unfettered as ever and I left with the same “good feeling” as I did when I first visited it in 1977 and  have, every time since.

Breakfast Venues

There's no better way to start your day than with a sumptuous breakfast at any of these stunning locations in India, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri lanka...


Slumdog & Millionaires

The Sea lounge on the first  floor of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, is an institution, where businessmen, bellhops, bodyguards and bombshells all put on impressive performances. Although it is famous for its afternoon high tea, this wonderful dining room overlooks the Gateway of India and there's no better a way to start your day than to be seated by the windows overlooking the Mumbai harbour; order a sumptuous English breakfast and wash it down with some freshly brewed Assam Pekoe. 
The Taj Mahal Palace, Hotel & Towers, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai - 400 001. India. 

Not so new, but Noteworthy

Now I am not a beach bum, but this place actually got me to change my opinion of those who are! The white sands of Nilaveli Beach Resort stretch for miles from North to South; and right opposite the Hotel is Pigeon Island, a marine national park.
Your private butler will serve you an authentic Sri Lankan breakfast of string and egg hoppers with fiery Fish curry and Sambol - a dry chutney made out of coconut gravy, dry cillies and curry leaves. Sweating already?
OK. Curd and treacle is at hand to calm your taste buds and if your body is on fire then take a plunge in the calm sea.

Km. 19, Pulmoddai road, Nilaveli, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.

Buddha & the Sahibs

Even though the English were seen here from early in the 19th century, their longing for a full English breakfast must have been a dream. 
10 years ago, Jigmed Wangchuk Namgyal, the King of Stok, Ladakh,  kindly allowed us the use of his Palace courtyard to witness traditional Ladakhi dances. His generosity overflowed when he called us all into his charming Durbar Hall where we feasted upon a hearty Kashmiri Wazwan meal. Doesn't sound Ladakhi at all does it? 
Don't worry momos and thukpas were served for starters and thats what you'll get  at The Stok Palace Heritage Hotel - a mere 9 miles east of Leh in Ladakh. 
Here, for breakfast, you'll be served momos with hot soy and chilli sauce; and Thanktuk - a very popular local soup; and of course Thukpa. You'll need this kind of food here to keep yourself warm, and we hope you have the stomach to gulp down cups of Yak butter tea to wash it all down!

Plain tales from the Taj

An oasis of romance for the well heeled Taj Pilgrims, the the Oberoi Amar Vilas is perhaps the only other building in Agra which can rival the Taj Mahal - possibly the most photographed monument in the world. 
Book a room with a balcony, or stay in one of the elegant suites to catch stunning views of the marble mausoleum. And while you contemplate whether to renew your wedding vows or simply propose marriage, a champagne breakfast, with strawberries, in bed must definitely be an AHA! moment.
The Oberoi Amar Vilas Hotel,  East Gate Road, Agra. India. 

Forts & Palaces on steroids

If you have a fetish for forts like I do, chances are you will end up at the Ajaibgarh fort, tucked away in a valley, surrounded by the Aravali ranges. Here you will also find the Bhangarh fort with its 11th century 'Narayani Mata' temple. And in these surroundings, dotted with other forts and crumbly Palaces, is a garden estate that was the erstwhile hunting grounds of His Highness, The Maharaja of Alwar. 
Beautifully crafted sandstone, and pink marble cupolas and arches make up the 40 exquisite dwellings (some with their own heated pools) we know as the Amanbagh. It is rustic chic personified. 
You can have breakfast anywhere, but, my preferred spot is just outside this luxury spa resort, at Somsagar, a reservoir lake tucked in the hills behind the fort.
I went there trekking and reached the spot 45 minutes later. There I received my first ever yoga lesson; and by the time my guru was done with me, a healthy breakfast consisting of fruits, cereals and yoghurts was laid out by our guide, Swaroop. 
I wouldn't mind going back there again. You should visit too. 
The Amanbagh is owned and run by Aman Hotels, and is 75 Km North East of Jaipur, Rajasthan. 

Shabby Chic

Walk  over a hanging wooden bridge (it's harnessed) and you'll come to the open air reception of the Sarai @ Toria, which sits on a promontory; and 150 feet below flows the Ken river. Using rural technology and marrying it with the most modern (practical) amenities, Raghu and Joanna have crafted six beautiful cottages, each one different. Everything about this place is perfect as is the breakfast al fresco !! 
The striped cat is making a come back in the Panna National Park and here's your chance to come face to face with a Tiger in (well) complete solitude. Go for it. 
Sarai Toria is 25 km S.E. of Khajuraho, in Central India, and is famous for its erotic temples depicting the Kamasutra!
Sarai at Toria, off the road to Panna. Khajuraho. India. 

The King & I

The legendary Yul Brynner and Baapji Hukam His Royal Highnes, Jodhpur, would have gotten along like a house on fire and I could have been born here or lived in this magnificent art deco Palace in a previous avatar.
And at Umaid Bhawan is where you'll probably get as close as you can to the Royals of India. Yes, this is the only Palace which a Royal family shares with its paying guests.
Sprawling lawns, a marble gazebo and the 'Pillars' all make up for a perfect breakfast venue. Try the Marwari breakfast. Green chilli dumplings and fiery Chutneys with a bowl of curd, just incase things get hot!
The Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur is managed by the Taj Group of Hotels, India.  

Pink Gin & Patiala Pegs

I came of age at the Imperial, and don't you go reading between the lines!
Most of you weren't born then, and the Spice Route  (yes, the legendary Spice Route) now sits on what used to be then called the TAVERN, a dingy night club cum eatery of sorts. And before you were hit by the din of "wont you take me to funky town" you had to go past the gatekeeper.  
It was a Sloth bear whose eyeballs had been donated by the taxidermist who had stuffed him, and replaced them with a  pair of red and a green incandescent bulbs! It obediently held a tray on which stood two bottles of undrinkable Bosca wines! Hard to believe eh?
Since those heady days of funk, and shabby chic, stale railway cutlets and butter toast, the Imperial has metamorphosed into India's premier heritage hotel. The best place to have an English breakfast  (with all its trappings) is '1911' which the erstwhile (garden party) coffee shop is now called. 
Hotel The Imperial, Janpath, New Delhi, India.  

Tipple & a Tiger

Samode Safari lodge symbolises the maturing of Yadavendra Singh, Samode, as a "hotelier" or shall we say a “non hotelier”. Whether its the cast iron artifacts that litter the property, or the “tribal” Gond murals in the bathrooms, the stairs leading to the dining area, the telescope, the trunk; every single thing, every object, has been well thought of, thoroughly researched, and then put into position; and he has a commodity which is becoming scarce by the day. People.
It's a hugely exciting new hotel which will be unparalleled in Bandhavgarh, as it will cater to so many different tastes. Dining, in itself an indulgent treat, is a daily surprise – different menu, different venue - and is either indoors or alfresco, depending on the weather.
Get lucky. Spot the stripes on safari and there'll be a chilled glass of bubbly that you can wash down your breakfast with, at the treetop restaurant! So? What are you waiting for?  
Samode Safari lodge,  Bandhavgarh National Park. Madhya Pradesh, India. 

Simians & Silent Stones - Boulders of Hampi 

Have you ever wanted to be part of an Indian Jones type of adventure?..
..complete with lost city, hidden treasures, crumbling temples and screeching monkeys?
Well, here is your chance. Rewind to Hampi. Once the imperial capital of the fabulously rich Vijayanagar Empire, it is probably the closest you will get to the real Indiana Jones experience.
The majestic ruins of the last great Hindu empire lie scattered among the hills and on the banks of the meandering Tungabhadra River. Although centuries of plunder have reduced the once thriving civilisation to a crumbling granite skeleton, the place has lost none of its aura of power and beauty.
We recommend you to stay at Boulders which is amongst very rare resorts of the world. You stay in a small cottage surrounded by stunning countryside that has been set aside as a nature reserve & has sloth bears, leopards and a variety of birds around.
Your host Bobby (the local crocodile Dundee) will be waiting for you at the one spot on this resort that dominates the river below and the ruins in the distance. Watch the story of Hampi come alive while you enjoy a sumptuous local breakfast as must have the rulers of VIjayanagar. 
The Boulders, Hampi, Karnataka. India. 

The merchants & their mansions

Chettinad could well be the Shekhavati of the South!
Unlike their more illustrious cousins from the North, who left their villages in search of fame and fortune, these merchant princes travelled the seas. They went overseas to Malaysia, Burma, Vietnam and Singapore, and made their fortunes in the teakwood business among other things. 
These Chettiars, as they were called, kept their links with the motherland, and today the 74 villages of which perhaps Karaikudi is the most famous, has some outrageous mansions - their kitsch and colour only matched by Bollywood's garish dance sets! 
Visalam  though is a little more circumspect, and the 14 rooms of this mansion have been delicately retouched to welcome you in this off beat place. It is run by the CGH Earth group of hotels. 
Enjoy a hearty south Indian breakfast of string hoppers, with a spicy lentil soup and chutneys, with steamed rice cakes and a hot cup of Arabica to boot. 
Visalam by CGH Earth Hotels

Brews with views

The Swiss geologist Toni Hagen  was one of the first Europeans allowed into Nepal , and he walked all over the country setting a precedent for the 200,000 odd trekkers who now visit every year. 
The Shangri-La Village Resort stands where he once stood in Pokhara, soaking in the  best mountain views in the valley. There's also the Fishtail Lodge and the Tiger Mountain lodge for those seeking comfort, but there ain't nothing better than a trek past Birethanthi for an overnight bivouac on a ledge, only to wake up the next day to watch the sunrise on the majestic Annapurna range. Walking results in moments of happiness, and these are some experiences of a lifetime that money cannot buy.
A hot cuppa to wake you up, and then the famous Sherpa breakfast of hot porridge with honey and scrambled eggs on toast; all make this a true AHA moment.

Of monks & divine madmen

Guru Padmasambhava flew on the back of a Tiger and landed on a cliff which we all now know as the Tiger Nest ! Here, in a cave, he meditated for three years, three months, three days and if he is the tutelary deity of Bhutan, then Drukpa Kunley, (the divine madman)  whose temple Chimi Lakhang lies just before Punakha, is equally credited as having brought Budhhism to Bhutan in 1499 and promoted it in a somewhat unorthodox way. So don't be surprised if you see flying male phalusses welcoming you at the entrance of  Bhutanese homes! 
A trek to Chimi Lakhang though, is a lot less strenuous. You can walk alongside the paddy fields and come up to the monastery in less than an hour, where a picnic breakfast awaits you. But, before that you must receive the blessings of the divine madman. Tiger's Nest is a little more challenging but you can always get half way up there on a pony.
At the Takstang Cafetaria, which is midway between you and Tigers Nest, enjoy the the regular cuppa or be adventurous and drink some Yak butter salted tea! That should give you the energy you need to take that leap of faith and receive the gurus blessings! Allow 4 - 5 hours from start to finish.
For the anecdote, the average Bhutanese consumes 2 Kg of red chilli every month! A typical breakfsat consists of rice, soya, butter tea and ezay chilli paste!    
When in Paro, stay at the Zhiwaling Hotel.  

Kumbh Mela - Of God men, and the Ganges


Hoping to extract “Amrita" or the Nectar of immortality by churning the oceans, the demigods went about their laborious task for a thousand years using a conical mountain as the churning rod and the King of snakes as the rope.  Drinking this “elixir of immortality" would rid them off the curse, placed by an ancient sage believed to be an incarnation of Shiva.

They were helped by the demons in this churning enterprise. When at lastthe nectar poured forth, it was drained into a “KUMBH" or a PITCHER and was handed over to the attending physician (ostensibly) for safe keeping. On learning that they had been tricked, the demons chased the physician through the heavens and earth for 12 long days.  During this chase, 4 drops of the nectar fell upon the holy cities Nasik, Ujjain, Haridwar and Allahabad.

The Hindus celebrate this epic chase every 4 years on a small scale (read 10 million) and on an epic scale every 12 years (read 78 million). This religious festival lasts for about 8 weeks an attracts, pilgrims and saints, initiates and touristsin equal measure. Its called the Kumbh Mela.

Welcome to the Kumbh, the very word resonates with the energy of a million A-bombs. so incredibly powerful is the energy here, this is the place where earth,wind,fire and water come together. The sky which is the fifth element provides the perfect cover, (albeit a bit cloudy) and the building blocks of the universe are in perfect harmony. Legend has it that the creation of the universe began here.

It is the mother of all festivals and events, whose logistics defy imagination.

Here are some interesting figures…

The 2012 London Olympics cost over 10 billion Dollars to stage, attracted half a million visitors, and had 40,000 security personnel.

The 2010 World Cup Soccer cost over 4.5 billion Dollars attracted 375000 spectators and 41,000 security personnel.

In comparison the Kumbh cost 225 million Dollars to setup.

50,000 Policemen 400 companies (8000 men/women) of Police Armed Constabulary… were deployed. It attracted over 80 million pilgrims, saints, tourists and others.. over 55 days.. AND GENERATED 2 BILLION DOLLARS IN INCOME!

The Olympics had been in planning for over 4 years, the World cup over 6.

To stage the Kumbh, the local administration had roughly about 12 weeks to setup the whole infrastructure, including buoys on which would stand temporary bridges, erect electricity poles, flatten the river bed, create roads, alleys and avenues, provide drinking water, setup 35,000 toilets, provide medical facilities, ambulances, fire tenders, ensure crowd and traffic control.

And they had to get it right. There were no site inspections here… And I arrived into this chaos or what was left of it on 16 Feb. with my mates Didier and Patrice. And here begins the story of my visit to the Kumbh Mela.

The tide of humanity had ebbed by the time we got to Allahabad. and by that I mean there were about a million souls of all genders, sizes and religious beliefs, compared to the 31 million two days previous. And I am scared to think what might have been, had the rains not played spoilsport.  We reached the Jhusi mound from where you get a birds eye view of the Kumbh Campsite. A full 180˚view. Mesmerizing.

We settled in nicely into our lodgings at Laxmi Kutir and went on foot into the Kumbh Mela.. And what a sight it was… A sea of humanity jostling, moving, signing, marching, worshipping, bathing, easing themselves in 2000 hectares of land ! Spectacular ! This was event management at its best. Two days before we arrived, some 30 million had plunged into the cold waters at the confluence and its believed that you can attain good karma and salvation, by taking a dip in these waters.

We met many interesting characters along the way, and we returned to attend an Aarti ceremony with our resident Sadhu babas who were offering their prayers to another demi-god called Dattatreya who is considered to be the Indian Trinity rolled into one.. But thats another story. The aarti over, we made our way back to the camp and settled in for the night after a sumptuous vegetarian meal.

As I snuggled into my bed that evening, my mind drifted to “THE DOORS” the legendary American Rock band, whose leader Jimmy Morrisson sang that epic song, “When the music’s over turn off the lights" !

The music was over for him. He lay in peace at Pere Lachaise dead, since 3 July, 1971, but here at the Kumbh, the question was “who would turn off the lights when the music got over?” !

The electricity had been cut off,… (the tents had been flooded from 2 days of rains, and were soaking wet and they didn’t want us to have a hair raising experience!) but the Music? There was no way this music was gonna get over. For it kept coming one wave after another, hitting you were it hurt most (in the ears!)

The decibel level had reached a crescendo and now there was no stopping the devotees, and the saints !! alike.. And there was every kind music to be heard. Indian devotional, Classic, devotional rock, Masala, disco devotional with a generous sprinkling of top hits from the Bollywood movies..

I plugged my ears. In vain. … thankfully the hot water bottle served as a surrogate Single Malt (on my belly) and soon I wafted into my dreamworld and slept like a baby !

But to understand all it complexities, of logistics and other things, that go on at the KUMBH imagine yourself attending WTM or ITB or even EIBTM. The only difference is that you won’t be a HOSTED BUYER! and the fair perhaps 100,000 times bigger ! than all three put together !

The exhibitors (literally) live in clusters called AKHARAS, which means a (“wrestling arena”) or an organization of the different sects of Sadhusor Hindu renunciates each practicing different rituals, the purpose of which is to strengthen the Hindu religion and seek enlightenment at the same time !!

These stalls are divided into different camps according the the gods they worship. But mostly its the HIndu Trinity. of Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva and their offshoots and re-incarnations.

As with the concept at most trade shows, they are further sub divided on the lines of GLOBAL VILLAGE, by Zones, like Continents, Tourist Boards,  airlines, restaurant areas etc.

The biggest of these stalls is the JUNA AKHADA which is so because it has the largest number of saints in it, the big chief is called the ACHARYA and then his subalterns who go by names like Mahamandaleswar (Hindu monks of a particular sect of renunciates).

There are two important dates during this 8 week fete, which kicks off on 14 January when the members of the Mahanirvani AKHARA are the first ones to descend upon the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Their Praveshi or (entry) and the rituals that subsequently end with a bath in the rivers, officially marks the beginning of the festival.

The only business thats conducted here is the business of induction and salvation. There are plenty of adverts, from Coke to Redbull, from Iskconites, selling Krishna propaganda, dancing japanese girls, to naked yogis riding a bi-cycle, there is never a dull moment. And while the trade shows, close in the evenings and parties take place elsewhere, this is one non stop party. Its one big festival with religious shades.

The Shahi Snan or the Royal Bath, the main bathing date (is the most important) on which the saints come out in a colourful procession sitting on gilded chariots, and elephants while the NAGA SADHUS walk towards the rivers edgeled by their Mahant who sits atop an elephant on a Silver throne. The ascetics walk alongside, brandishing lances, and swords their naked bodies smeared in ash, this is a cortege that has all the trappings of a Royal procession.

I can only imagine what a spectacle that must have been. Most of the camps had been dismantled and truckloads of camping and other equipment were on the move. The Naga Sadhus had all left the Kumbh on their journey to the holiest of Hindu cities. Benares. Here they will camp until 10 March to celebrate Maha Shivaratri (the day Shiva married Parvati) perform the rituals and head back to their cavernous dwellings, in the Himalayas.

It was time for us to move on as well and despite a detour into the city of Allahabad, we made it to Civilian air terminal at Bamrauli airforce base to board our flight back to Delhi. And it is only in this city of Allah and sacrifice could one see the true benefits of being a son-in-law…

A notice board at the airport displays a list of persons exempted from security checks. It begins with the President of India, which is correct and all is well until you scroll down. No 32 is no “MANGO MAN" for he is none other than Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi and has been awarded this special dispensation, when escorted by Z Sec, which is most of the time…

Ah the advantages, of being Sonia ji’s son-in-law. But this is Incredible India and we are LIKE THAT ONLY…

And for the record Allahabad, was known as “Prayag until the great Mughal emperor Akbar erected a strategic fort, and renamed it Allahabad.

It was home to our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru,The Allahabad high court sent Indira Gandhi to Jail, and last but not least Allahabad observatory sets the Indian Standard Time. It is exactly 5:30 hours ahead of GMT.

Until we meet again at the Kumbh(s) in
Haridwar where the Ganges enters the plains from the mighty Himalayas. April 2018
The sacred Prayag (confluence) in Allahabad of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati (which is the invisible river) 2022 - 2025
On the banks of Shipra River at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. April. 2016
On the banks of Godavari River at Nasik in Maharashtra. August. 2015
May the blessings of the holy trinity be upon you ! This Kumbh Mela was called Maha Kumbh (occurs every 144 years) as it was the culmination of 12 successive Kumbhs. It couldn’t have been more auspicious !