Hotels and Home stays of Rajasthan – Jodhpur & Ranakpur

Hotels and Home stays of Rajasthan – Jodhpur & Ranakpur

Rajasthan is a popular destination India that gets extensive coverage in foreign countries. Palaces, Desert Camping, Festive colors, Safaris, Fairs, Religious circuits; the state packages everything that ‘The Land’ has to offer. Rajasthan has one of the best road and air connectivity in the country and tempts many in to taking road trips across the state. The blog below, authored by my daughter Rashmi, seeks to capture the beauty of Rajasthan through her eyes and words. The trip was organized towards the closing stages of the tourist season in the month of March. The weather is warmer than usual during the day but the evenings are pleasant with the hangover of winter. This road trip across Rajasthan was done over a period of 7 Nights and 8 Days.

In Part 1 of the road trip, we covered Udaipur. Udaipur to Jodhpur is a 260 Km (161 miles) drive via NH8 and NH65 taking approximately 4 hrs and 30 mins. Jodhpur is the “Sun City”, second largest city in Rajasthan and served as the seat of the erstwhile Marwar Kingdom.

Day 3 – The Drive to Jodhpur

We started off early by saying bye to the Ramada resort, and drove down from Udaipur to Jodhpur. It was a 5-hour drive which was long yet comfortable because of the smooth and single roads along with the good highways. It was easy also because of the 3 stops we had in-between.

Our first stop in-between the journey to Jodhpur was DevShree in Deogarh. It is a boutique homestay. Owned by Mr Shatrunjay Singh and Mrs Bhavna Kumari, this is a small yet elegant property with currently 7 rooms. Inspite of a small amount of rooms, this homestay provides top-class facilities with excellent and spacious rooms. It is an amazing place for a mini getaway. The environment here consists of a lake, trees, birds including peacocks. You can eat food that feels like its home-cooked and experience a heritage stay. In today’s generation, such home stays are coming up rapidly and they are a must-visit. We had lunch here and spent time chit-chatting with the owners who have a charming personality as they were related to some of our old friends.

Devisree Deogarh, Mosaic corridor, The Haveli
Devisee Deogarh. A Heritage Home Stay with views of the Mehrangarh Fort
The Lounge, Dining area and luxurious seating
The interiors of Devisree Deogarh
The royalty, a Stuffed Owl, Water boiler and hot snacks
Interesting artifacts and snacks, of course

We next had a short stop for a property visit in Rohetgarh. This is also a nice place which is a heritage garden resort, situated in the outskirts of Jodhpur. It has got a very rural and rustic flavor and serves as a good base for travellers in the outskirts of the Jodhpur city, wanting to travel in the city.

Handwork and Garden seating at Rohetgarh
The Home Stay – RohetGarh in Ranakpur

We finally ended our drive by arriving into the city of Jodhpur and staying for 2 nights at a heritage homestay know as Ratanvilas. This place may be small and simple but the staff are extremely warm and helpful. The food here is simple and delicious. The property also includes a swimming pool that is set in a garden surrounded by a number of plants and flowers. It is a very peaceful place providing all facilities except for the wifi in rooms but in the common area. It is a very good choice for a short stay of maybe 2 nights in Jodhpur..

Ratanvilas
A Well laid out Meal to end the day

Day 4 – Exploring the Sun City

This was the second day of our stay in Jodhpur. Again, a fresh new day with good breakfast and a day full of hotel visits and city sightseeing.

After breakfast, me and my mother first went to the Mehrangarh Fort which is one of the largest forts of India. It was built around 1460 by Rao Jodha and is made up of thick and strong walls. It is also very high. This place is a very good place to know about the ancient Rajput period.

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Entrance to Mehrangarh – Welcome by Lord Ganesh

 

This place displays a variety of artifacts, paintings and royal objects obtained from the Rajput period. There are several galleries in this fort, that give us information on different things in the empire. One of them was the “Palanquins”- royal means of travel, usually used for the queens and princesses of the royal family, to travel from one place to another. They are also known as “palkis”. Another gallery displayed the armour used in the Rajput period by the soldiers and the kings. They look amazing, as they protect the person (who is wearing it) from being injured by any kind of explosive or harmful objects used by the enemy.

Jodhpur from above Mehrangarh fort
The external Facade of the fort and view of Jodhpur

Another gallery displayed the different paintings made by the nobles and other people during that period. They are fascinating and may be better than the paintings of today’s generation, as they are intricate and display moments that took place in the royal court. Each painting here displays a story or function taking place. This gallery also displays pictures(or I would say real diagrams) showing, how the brushes and paints were made during this period. There were many such more galleries in this fort displaying the other artifacts of this period. This is a wonderful place to visit and it is clean and well maintained. You can also view the “blue-city” from here and buy souvenirs in the Mehrangarh Fort Shop, having mugs, t-shirts and other interesting things related to the royal family of Jodhpur.

Murals of the Goddess
The Devi Murals at Mehrangarh

We then visited a luxury resort-Raas Haveli, a 5-star resort facing the Mehrangarh fort. This place has a romantic setting and is extremely peaceful, unlike the other rajasthani hotels who have cultural performances every evening and are very lively. This place is having a natural environment and is very calm. The staff are very kind and willing to serve and this place is most visited by foreigners. You will not find any board throughout the property, including the entrance, because the owners want their guests to feel as if they are staying at their home and not any hotel or resort.

Luxurious RaasHaveli, Swimming Pool, A Rickshaw and views of the fort
RaasHaveli of Jodhpur

After that, we bought some kachori and lassi in a famous snack shop on the way, and went back to the hotel, as it was getting very hot and I got a slight headache. After a short break in the afternoon, we went out to explore the local markets of jodhpur. These markets are extremely lively, as they are selling all kinds of things, which are bought by the locals at all times of the day. The markets are very long and never ending! You will find the saris, kurtas, western dresses and the traditional suites having the “ghotapatti” (glass like work on cloth materials) work on them, in a separate side. The crockery and cooking utensils are sold on another side of the market. These markets are crowded and big, but they are worth visiting!

Getting there – Jodhpur too is now connected via Air. Currently flights to Jodhpur originate only from Mumbai. Jet Airways and Air India are the only airlines offering connectivity, often with a hop at Udaipur or Jaipur.  Jodhpur also has a railhead and Indian Railways offers convenient overnight trains from Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.

Retirement Journeys

Retirement Journeys

Coimbatore has popularly been called the Textile Capital of India, Manchester of South India; That is now all set to be challenged. A Construction boom, Education, Retail and India’s services main stay – IT are fast altering the landscape and demographics of Coimbatore. Growing connectivity to India’s capital cities, Proximity to Kerala, gateway to Ooty access to the biodiversity of the UNESCO World heritage western ghats and a tolerable climate have made Coimbatore an attractive location for elders to begin their post-retirement Journey of life.

Elderly above 60 years constitute about 8% of India’s population; increasing life expectancy (currently at 69.1 years), a fragile pension system, children working overseas or in metro cities, spouseless retirees and access to quality healthcare are pushing the elderly to plan for their twilight years. It is in this context that Retirement homes are gaining in popularity and Coimbatore is being marketed as the perfect place to spend one’s twilight years.

One of the retirement homes that i visited, where my uncle and aunt live, is located 11 miles/18 kms from Coimbatore’s airport and about 8 kms from the heart of the city. The Gated community is a combination of Villas and apartments, each of them designed to accommodate the needs of the elderly – convenient access, ramps, natural lighting, clean surroundings, secure gated premises and defect free walkways. Each residential unit has all the regular conveniences of 3 phased electricity, Internet connections , fresh water and all the essentials that they may have been used to outside the gates of the community.

Retirement community with rows of Apartments and Villas
Well laid out lanes of Apartments and Row houses or Villas

An interesting aspect of these homes is the size of the kitchen; Just small enough to fit a person, house a small pantry and keep essentials stored. For all the other regular meals, one walks to the community dining room which is attached to a Hot Kitchen where meals are freshly cooked. For the old and infirm, for an additional fee, Coffee thermos flasks and meals are delivered at one’s doorstep. All that one has to do after consumption is to clean the utensils and place them back to enable the next service. Community dining rooms resemble a hostel mess where the elders use it as a great opportunity to network, backslap and share stories. Army men (I met a 1977 Bangladesh war retired Brigadier), corporate retirees, Public sector pensioners, bankers, housewives, retired teachers, Elders with unique talents all seem to have found a great way to channel their inner selves. No more running around for groceries, fruits, vegetables and other essentials; just walk in have a hygienic meal served on a banana leaf and walk out. The service providers keep themselves up to date on the medical condition of the residents, religious preferences and nutrition needs. All this is incorporated in a daily menu put up on a notice board which in turn becomes a great topic to discuss likes and dislikes. As far as dining is concerned, the service provider decides the menu and accommodates dishes suiting all palates but the feedback register does contain complaints and notes that reflect irritation.

The Dining Hall, Kitchen, Breakfast on Banana Leaves, Hot Coffee and Door service cart
Dining area and the Kitchen. Thoughtful and hygeinic service

Apart from the dining area, residents congregate in the temple within the premises, A reading room cum library, tables set out for a game of cards/carrom, a Gym and a meditation hall. Every festival and residents’ wedding anniversaries, birthdays are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Priests are always available to conduct religious ceremonies for families or en masse. Occasionally kith and kin come calling and they are either accommodated in the guest rooms or within their tenements with just the boarding expenses being paid for. On other occasions, they remain in touch over Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and other modern means of communication.

Residents Dining room, Temple, NewsPaper reading zone and Library Zone
Community spaces – Dining, Praying, Reading and Relaxing

Coimbatore has built a reputation for providing excellent medical care and the city has many functioning multi-speciality hospitals. At the community, a resident doctor and a 24 hour Nurse ensure Primary Medical care and provide the required assurance to the sick. Periodic visits by diabetologists, Dentists, Cardiac specialists provide the residents with opportunities to understand their conditions better.

Newer community spaces are emerging with top notch facilities including Swimming pools (A US returning couple was asking if it was heated!), Badminton courts, Movie theaters, Spa’s, Pedicure centers, Ayurvedic massage centers, mini supermarkets, Pharmacies, ATM’s etc.,

Temples, Gardens with Korean grass and clean surroundings
Newer Facilities in a Different phase
The luxury Theatre, Modern Gym, Meditation Hall and a Buggy to get around
The luxury Theatre, Modern Gym, Meditation Hall and a Buggy to get around

There are people who still struggle to cope with their new environs. The residents are predominantly Tamil speaking and non-Tamil speakers find it a huge challenge to mingle. Elders with recently deceased spouses too find it a challenge to live alone despite being in a community; The community becomes the cushion and lends a shoulder to lean on. It is crushing to see elders cope with personal tragedies and disabilities without the presence of kith and kin, but with fellow elders stepping in to those roles, coping hopefully is a lot more easier. As we in the IT industry talk about faceless remote support, need of the hour for everyone is, Emotional Support! The elders who i met and spoke with were hugely proud of their children and their achievements and were at ease in explaining their choice of living on their own, but no one knows what lies beneath. I felt that they were all hoping that they are well understood, nothing more!

Outside this world, at a distance of 4 miles/6 kms is located the temple precinct of Marudhamalai. The temple is dedicated to Lord Muruga (Lord of the Hills), son of Lord Siva. The temple is situated at the foot of the misty Western ghats and offers spectacular views of Coimbatore. The temple finds mention in the Skandapuran (A Hindu Religious text) and is the place where Lord Muruga, upon directions of his father, vanquished a demon by name Surapadma and restored order. The temple premises is well maintained and access to it is either via steps or a motor able road to the base of the temple. Shops selling offerings, snack counters, prayer counters, tonsuring zones and open spaces to relax are like set pieces that one will find in a south Indian temple.

Marudhamalai temple in the western ghats and Views of Coimbatore
Marudhamalai temple in the western ghats and Views of Coimbatore

That apart, the city is infected with the regular clothing super stores, Jewelry marts and Multiplex Malls. The clothing stores are multi storied, each to cater to a particular member of the family and the owners have made a sincere effort to infuse order and a service mindset in to their employees. The lighting, music and fragrance pull you to the counters and before you can breathe again, the counter salesman is sizing you up and trying to understand your preferences. Limited seating space ensures that you are constantly on the move, checking out things and constantly in the battle of buy v/s don’t buy. The sheer inventory, options, customizations, alteration facilities and patient customer service ensures that offline purchasing still shines despite the onslaught of online retail.

A Dazzling textile store with something for everyone
A Dazzling textile store with something for everyone

The Upanishads contains the phrase वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् (Vasudaiva Kutumbakam) or “The world is one Family”. The elders are letting go of their attachments and re-discovering themselves in the midst of new families and surroundings.

World Tourism Day 2015

World Tourism Day 2015

A significant public acknowledgement and celebration of World Tourism Day 2015 in India. 1 Billion tourists and 1 Billion Opportunities – The positive intent towards tourism is visible with ease of travel through e-visa currently in place for over 113 countries. 29 states and 7 union territories can combine to offer mind-blowing journeys for which one life time is not sufficient. With Narmada Holidays

Happy World Tourism Day!

World Tourism Day
India Celebrates world Tourism Day

Odisha – Jewel of India’s east

Odisha – Jewel of India’s east

Bande Utkala Janani……I adore Thee, O! Mother Utkal…..

Words written by Kantakabi Laxmikanta Mohapatra, when Odisha (www.odisha.gov.in) (Orissa till 2011) became independent on the 1st of April 1936.

Odisha’s etymology is “Odda Visaya” dating back to 1025 AD. It was historically also known as Kalinga which was conquered by Emperor Ashoka and also led him to take up a pacifist approach and ultimately embrace Buddhism.

Is Odisha the topmost travel destination in the country? Well, not at the moment but it is getting there. With Odisha tourism (www.odishatourism.gov.in) rebranding Odisha as a Scenic, Serne and Sublime destination, the state seems to be getting in to the “must visit” list of every discerning traveller. Mention Odisha and two things come to mind – The Jagannath Puri temple and the Konark Sun temple. Odisha offers a generous mix of religion, architecture, art, wildlife, food and of course a lot of beautiful beaches. Let us head to Odisha….

Bhubaneshwar is the capital and the most important Railhead on the east coast and a well-serviced airport. September was a pretty good month to visit Odisha; The scorching summer had abated and there was rain in good measure. Mumbai is well connected to Bhubaneshwar and preferred to take the Indigo connection. They had a morning service that would take us to the doorstep of our hotel, Trident Bhubaneshwar in time for a check in at 12 noon. The Bhubaneshwar airport is fairly large and quite clean. Our tour was planned by Narmada Holidays in collaboration with a local partner for logistics. We planned a visit spanning 4 nights and 5 days; ‘Longer duration trips can take you to the tribal hinterlands apart from the main highlights. Our vehicle for the next 5 days was a Toyota Innova which is a spacious SUV which can seat 5 people and yet have ample space for all the luggage. The ride to the city was on wide and extremely clean roads; comfortable and enjoyable at the same time.

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Day 1 – Check in done, it was time to get a good lunch for ourselves. Odiya cuisine offers excellent options for sea-food lovers and meat eaters alike. Being a coastal state the catch is among the freshest. For vegetarians, there is nothing to sweat as there are plenty of delicious options still around. We preferred a Santula (A vegetable stew with cumin and chillies) to go with our rice and Indian bread. A few hours rest and we were ready for our tour

Our first stop was the historical Udayagiri (sunrise hill) and Khandagiri caves. These caves are situated near Bhubaneshwar; Partly natural and partly artificial, the caves are of archeological, historical and religious importance. The archeological survey of India maintains the monuments; There are tickets to be purchased for foreign nationals whereas entry is free for Indian and SAARC nationals. There are a total of 33 caves within the precinct of the hills. The most important among these are the Ranigumpha (Rani – Queen, Gumpha – Cave) in Udayagiri, which is a double storeyed monastery and Hathigumpha (Hathi – elephant). The top of Khandagiri cave is a short climb and it offers fine views of Bhubaneshwar from its summit. Spend a couple of hours here refreshed with the cool evening breeze and a magnificent view of the setting sun.

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Evenings in Bhubaneshwar are either spent shopping or eating roadside snacks. A popular snack that we sampled was a cup of sprouted pulses, spiced up and garnished with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, lime and coriander. Cheap and nutritious, this one was quite a filler and gave us the energy to move around. Our guide got us to the Market Building shopping area which houses a lot of handloom and handicraft showrooms, book shops and other assorted shops. The local Handicrafts and handloom are promoted by a government showroom called Utkalika which has branches across the state. Priyadarshini, another handloom organization promotes traditional handloom of odisha – Tusser, Sambalpur and Ikkat. We window shopped and made enquiries to our hearts content. September is when the country celebrates Ganesh Chathurti (Festival of the Elephant god – Lord Ganesh). The streets were lined with finely decorated pandals housing the idols of the Lord. We were in time for the evening prayers following which Prasad was distributed among all the devotees. The Harekrishna Restaurant in Kharabela Nagar offers simple and excellent vegetarian fare, which helps keep you light before retiring for the day.

Day 2 – The nandankanan Zoo or The Garden of Gods houses a Zoological park and a Botanical garden. Located about 8 kms from Bhubaneshwar, the Zoo is a great outdoor experience for all ages. The park is well maintained and is a plastic free zone. We hired the services of a park ranger who was able to articulate the details around history of the zoo, the animals who are being reared in captivity and recent additions. The park ranger gave us valuable insights in to animal behavior, especially of the captive lions and Tigers. The Safari is not to be missed and one has to keep a watch on the timings for the same. Half a day well spent! Don’t forget to munch on a spicy cucumber sold on push carts outside the Zoo. Lunch on day 2 was at a place called Dalma, which offered local Odiya veg cuisine comprising of Dalma (lentil dish), vegetables, Indian bread and of course, Rice. Delicious and economical, it filled us up after a good 5 hours spent at Nandankanan on a hot and humid day.

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Temple time! Bhubaneshwar is a city of temples and there are over 50 of them and most of them are built to honor Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva. These temples are dated between 8th and the 12th century AD. It is said that King Ashoka developed a simple way of communicating with people of his kingdom. Rocks and stone poles were used to communicate his policy of Dhamma through edicts. Travel 5 miles south of the modern city to find a few of them. Standing out among these temples are the Parasurameshwar temple and the Lingaraj temple. The Parasurameshwar temple has stories carved all around it and it is worth taking the services of the temple priest to help you understand the finer details of the same. Make sure that your next stop is the Lingaraj temple, the largest and one of the oldest in Bhubaneshwar. Non-Hindus can take photos of the architecture from a machan like structure erected outside the western wall of the temple. Bhubaneshwar was also called “Ekamra Kshetra” as the deity Lingaraj was originally found under a Mango tree (Ekamra). On the whole, the temple is considered a guardian deity of the city. With enough time left in the evening, head out to shop for leather, handicrafts and other collectibles.

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Day 3 – The Konark temple beckoned us. Situated on the coast, this temple, a UNESCO world Heritage site, is approximately 65 kms from Bhubaneshwar. We had planned a good 2 hours to tour the temple complex with the help of an authorized guide. Konark comes from the combination of the Sanskrit words – Kona (corner) and Arka (sun); This temple thus is dedicated to the Sun god. An umbrella comes in handy during the tour. Make sure that you observe each of the 24 wheels, each telling you a different story. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore says of the temple, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of Man”. The road from Konark to Puri is dotted with pristine white sand beaches and rain trees lining the road. The temple town is one of the 4 holiest of places (char dham) in India and is home to the Jagannath temple and seat of the Puri Mutt (one of the four set up by the Adi Shankaracharya). The temple of Jagannatha is one of the tallest monuments in the entire. sub-continent of India and its height is about 214 feet from the ground (road) level. It stands on a ‘raised platform of stone, measuring about ten acres. It. is located in the hear! of the town and presents an imposing sight. The largest crowd in Puri is seen during the Car Festival of Jagannatha which takes place every year some time in June-July. The idols in the temple are made of the Margosa Tree (Neem) and they are replaced with a new Idol once in 14 years in an elaborate festival called Nabakalabera (New Body); Year 2015 is one such year. There are hotels to cater to every budget in puri and our stay was a comfortable one at the Hans Coco Palms. A good number of them are on the beach front and during heavy showers, the rain just lashes on the windows and doors, just right for you to order some pakoras and tea. The beach front also houses shacks selling fresh sea food and fried snacks. Apart from the temple, the alleys surrounding the temple house shops selling variety of knick knacks, milk based sweets and fresh milk based products.

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Day 4- The Chilika lake, world’s second largest lagoon is a day trip from Chilika. The brackish water lagoon is spread over 1100 sq kms and is home to over 160 species of migratory birds. The Irrawady Dolphin calls this place home and tourists set out in trawlers and catamarans to enjoy the marine fauna. Our trip to Chilika was cancelled owing to a fierce cyclone. Shrugging shoulders we headed back to Bhubaneshwar and planned to stop by at Raghurajpur, home to artisans skilled in Pattachitra. Everyday stories are handpainted on cloth and these families have been pursuing this art since the 5th century. The art has a Geographical indication thus protecting them from fakes. The street in Raghurajpur is lined with families on both sides and they welcome you in to their homes to show you live demonstrations and also offer finished work for sale. A little bargaining can get you some authentic and eye-catching work. More to come, the village of Pipli on the way to Bhubaneshwar is home to the Applique form of Handicrafts. The word Applique has a French origin and it involves placing one piece of fabric over a base layer and sewing it in place. The concept is used extensively in canopies, umbrellas and on the chariots of Jagannath temple. You can plan to pick up exquisitely designed bags, totes, umbrellas and other items, which are a nice gift to take back home. For those of you interested in unique things, pay a visit to the Bhubaneshwar Railway station, an important stop on the line to Kolkata. I am personally a fan of trains and train stations and consider stations akin to a cultural destination, a place where non-homogenous people converge. Retired after a good dinner at Hotel

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Day 5 – We still had one place to visit and that was the Museum of Tribal Arts and Artefacts. Tribes constitute about 22% of the state’s population (9% of the country) and as per last count, there are close to 62 distinct tribes of which 13 of them have been classified as “particularly vulnerable groups”. The local government has done an admirable job in curating arts and artefacts belonging to these tribes and presently house them in the Museum of Tribal arts and Artefacts. This must-do item helps one understand the state and India as a country and how it is trying to balance between preserving indigenous population against the need to industrialize. Hopping over to a few sweet shops to sample a local sweet called Chhena Phoda made of caramelized cottage cheese. With that sweet ending, we made our way to the friendly Bhubaneshwar airport in time for a check in for our flight to Mumbai.

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Odisha has thrown its doors open to the world. Are you next?