My jolly band of fellow travellers whilst in India were all direct competitors, so this trip also provided an excellent opportunity to exchange news and gossip from the frontline of the leisure travel business.
Jet Airways were as good as ever - efficient, friendly, and the bubbly Bollinger and fully flat bed premiere service on the Boeing 777 to Mumbai set us up nicely for the smooth arrival into the spotless and super-efficient new International Terminal. We were whizzed across the sea-link bridge in just 45 minutes to the end of Marine Drive and the Oberoi Towers - bright, light, spacious, and a thoroughly stylish retreat in the heart of the world’s fourth most populous mega city of 20.5 million people. A brisk morning walk through the colonial area of Colaba revealed Bentley and Bvlgari showrooms, gothic galleries, Victorian churches and tantric temples. Only in Mumbai do Starbucks and street hawkers, slums and skyscrapers, cows and convertible supercars all appear in the same picture frame.
After the madness of Mumbai, I was delighted to see that the ‘lake city’ of Udaipur was as beautiful and peaceful as ever. The stunning vistas of green hills and lakeside palaces are truly special and Udaipur for me remains the highlight of any trip to Rajasthan. We explored the narrow alleyways near the Jagdish Temple both on foot and tuk-tuk to see the local fruit and vegetable markets, chai shops, school children, potters and sword makers quietly going about their daily business. And as the sun set behind the surrounding hills, we enjoyed a cruise on the shimmering waters of lovely Lake Pichola.
Journey to Jaipur
The road between Udaipur and Jaipur has improved with a four lane dual carriageway in some parts, but the journey still takes more than eight hours. With no scheduled flight connections or good day trains, it’s better to stop off for a night or two at one of the rural retreats that lie en route such as Shahpura Bagh or Chhatra Sagar. This will not only break the long and dusty journey but also give you the perfect opportunity to experience the secluded and picturesque rural side of Rajasthan.
The ‘pink city’ of Jaipur’s population has doubled from 1.5 to 3.3 million in the last twenty years and continues to expand at a rapid rate. But despite the chaotic traffic and sprawl of new concrete and chrome towers, the old walled city with its ancient palaces and bustling bazaars, as well as the colonial areas near Rambagh Circle, are still wonderful to explore. The colossal complex of three adjoining forts at Amber, Jaigarh and Nahargarh remain truly stunning in scale, and I thoroughly enjoyed feeding and hosing down my elephant Mandakini at Elefantastic - a wonderful new elephant village near Amer. Jaipur is also a paradise for shoppers with excellent jewellery, textiles, miniatures and leather goods to choose from. With so much to see and do, Jaipur should not be rushed, and three days here makes for a wonderful immersion into the colour, creativity and chaos that is ‘Incredible India’!