Mark Scrivener, the branch manager at our travel agents in Bury St. Edmunds, spent ten nights experience the luxurious of India. Here are his memories from a trip that included visits to Mumbai, Jodhpur and Delhi.
Destination: India – Palaces of India
Operator/Host: Western and Oriental
Accommodation (Hotel names/Ship name): Umaid Bhawan Palace – Jodhpur, Taj Mahal Palace – Mumbai, Taj Falaknuma Palace – Hyderabad, Taj Imperial Hotel – Delhi
Airline: Virgin Atlantic
Outbound – Premium Economy. Inbound – Upper Class.
I really liked the space in Premium Economy and I am 6’3″. There was brilliant seat back entertainment and the food provided was of a high standard. The temperature in the cabin was comfortable and we were provided with an amenities bag with socks/eyeshade/toothbrush etc. along with ice cream to watch the films. I managed to watch three films each way so time flew by.
I really appreciated the opportunity to travel Upper Class on the return. It was a strange layout as all seats face forward in a herringbone shape. If you were travelling with a partner you could not sit beside them and I could not see anyone from my seat unless I peered around the corner. The seats convert to flatbed and quilt and pillows provided. There was also a very high standard of food, including individual afternoon tea cake stand.
Upper Class has a bar with seats, should you wish to use it, at the rear of the cabin between the two toilets. There’s free access to fruit, chocolate and snacks from here. Nobody used it on the flight and the area looked a bit gloomy; to be honest I missed my Premium Economy seat.
Umaid Bhawan Palace – Jodhpur
I can honestly say that the Umaid Bhawan Palace is the best hotel I have ever stayed in – and I have stayed in a lot over the last 30 years. This Palace was built between 1929 and 1945 and retains its original Art Deco theme from the 1930′s, including some of the original furnishings. The Palace is split into two halves. The right-hand side being the hotel rooms (64) and the left-hand side is still the current Maharaja’s home (he wasn’t there, unfortunately). I stayed in a Historical Suite which was, of course, huge with sitting area and a massive terrace. The grounds were immaculate and had a wedding pavilion at the bottom (Elizabeth Hurley got married here). There were 13 peacocks in the garden and with their eerie calls you knew you were somewhere exotic. The staff were so polite and always smiled and bowed with clasped hands. This is somewhere special.
Taj Mahal Palace – Mumbai
The Taj Mahal Palace recently appeared on television in a documentary called “Hotel India”. Having seen the programme, I also managed to meet some of the staff who appeared on it. This is an iconic hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea and next to the “Gateway of India” – an arch-shaped monument of great interest. It is a very historic hotel and is where all royalty and celebrities stay when they come to Mumbai. The service was incredible here as they have so many staff and the excellent location is perfect for walking out to explore the old colonial parts of Mumbai and the waterfront promenade. I stayed in a sea facing room overlooking the arch.
Taj Falaknuma Palace – Hyderabad
The Taj Falaknuma Palace is a vast hotel which really was like stepping back in time. Set high above Hyderabad with 360-degree views, it was designed in Colonial style complete with original furnishings and I felt like I was a guest in a stately home but with the added benefit of being allowed to use all the facilities.
I stayed in a garden suite with high ceilings; very palatial. Again, the hotel was somewhere very special and had a clear goal to make you feel like a king. It works. It is home to the world’s longest dining table which seats 101 (100 guests and 1 for the Maharaja) and takes a full three hours to it to be laid. We were lucky enough to have afternoon tea here.
The whole trip was superb from start to finish. Western and Oriental are second to none for contacts in India. Nikhil, the UK reservations manager, really is Mr India and everyone knew him. It is the best familiarisation trip I have ever been on. It was designed to show you the real luxury of India and to meet the people and I still think about it every day and know that I will return. This was an experience and not just a visit to India.
Staying in the Palace in Jodhpur was outstanding. I loved the vintage open-top car ride in Jodhpur; it is something really special that we can be pre-booked for anyone. The rickshaw ride in Delhi was very exciting, but not for the faint hearted.
I would not really recommend the camel ride in the Thar Desert. Not that it wasn’t exciting, it’s just I felt it was a little unsafe due to the fact there is nothing to really hold onto apart from a two-inch brass knob at the front of the saddle. Some people on the trip vowed never to ride a camel again after that.
Whilst the Slum Tour was interesting, no photographs are allowed, so seemed a bit pointless really as you cannot share with others.
This would be a real special trip for a special occasion. It would be tailor-made to suit you, of course, and would need a fair sized budget.
It was all about experiencing real luxury of India; the food, the people and the Colonial history. Not a trip for someone to just “tick off” India as done.
I would not trust any other Indian tour operator with high-end tailor-made enquiries. W&O have the contacts and the agreements that no one else has.
Must see? Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel
Must do? Rickshaw ride in Delhi. Vintage car ride in Jodhpur
Must try? Street food, but only freshly cooked
If you too would like to experience the luxury that India can offer, we can help tailor-make a trip similar to Mark’s. Visit any of our travel stores in East Anglia and speak to our knowledgeable staff for more details.