Six days, 5 trains, 4 safaris, 3 i-escape hotels, 2 tiger sightings and one Royal palace…Our Marketing Manager Sarah lets us in on her unforgettable India adventure.
Working at i-escape is pretty cool; we personally visit and revisit all our hotels, so we get to go to some incredible places. Personally, I’ve always been totally bananas about India – there’s just so much to see and do, it’s like a whole world wrapped up in one amazing country. I find it utterly fascinating and always leave wanting to come back and see more. So, when I got the opportunity to check out a hot new palace hotel in Jaipur, as well as some old i-escape favourites in Ranthambhore National Park, I couldn’t wait. Here’s a little peek at where we stayed…
Our first stop was a 18th-century royal palace in the heart of Jaipur. Having recently been exquisitely restored with a fresh, modern twist, it’s tipped to be the hot new place to stay in Rajasthan. Expect serious wow-factor! Pink-turbaned staff greeted us at the grand main entrance, where a vintage Thunderbird (one of only 2 in the world) sat parked under the porch. Inside we found a dizzying array of rooms to explore, including a polo bar studded with trophies won by Maharajas and the prettiest all-pink dining room we’d ever seen.
We stayed in The Kennedy Suite, a palatial turquoise and hot-pink space accessed via a grand marble staircase and through tall mirrored glass doors. Jackie O stayed in this very room for 3 months during her visit to Rajasthan in 1962. We adored it. Spacious and private, it would spoil any modern-day Maharani let alone us mere mortals. And the grounds are just as stunning: there’s a beautiful Art Deco pool, lawns, terraces and an organic kitchen garden surrounded by tamarind trees filled with parakeets, bulbuls and kingfishers. We spent a wonderful few days walking in the gardens and relaxing by the pool, drooling over the Thunderbird (him) and flouncing around in our room pretending to be Jackie O (me).
– An amazing experience, staying in a real-life palace; wonderful staff soon know you by name
– Relaxing on comfy cushioned loungers around the Art Deco pool
– Great food, including High Tea on the lawn; the royal recipe cheese toasts are exceptional
– The rich colour schemes won’t be to everyone’s taste
– The train station is a few minutes’ walk away so occasional noise filters through to outside areas
This was our first stop in Ranthambhore – and the only time we were lucky enough to see tigers during a safari drive! Just outside the national park, the vibe is old-school luxury and interiors hark back to the twenties with lavish campaign-style furniture and surprisingly luxurious bathrooms – there’s even a butler bell next to the bed. I got to have a peek inside the 2 new suites, too. More spacious and indulgent than the Luxury Tents, the Pukka Sahib Suite has an outdoor shower and Jacuzzi whilst the Royal Suite has its own private pool. Both felt very private and secluded, perfect for honeymooners.
The food was excellent – I loved the honey- and brandy-laced porridge before the early-morning drives (yum!) and a campfire dinner where staff tied big white bibs onto us for a buffet-style thali served on silver trays. At first we felt a little silly but it was actually a great ice-breaker and soon everyone was chatting away – one of the highlights of our trip.
– The camp managers are utterly charming and there’s a wonderful atmosphere at night: a starry sky, the pathways lit by fire torches and everyone sitting around the campfire
– Spectacular wildlife: the camp borders the national park and even tigers have been spotted nearby (no guarantees though!)
– Lots of excellent food! And spoiling extras like hot water bottles and blankets for early morning drives
– It’s a bit off the beaten track – the journey may be a bit stressful, but the destination is worth it
– It’s expensive and the extras can really add up – we spent a small fortune on G&Ts
– Tiger safaris need to be booked at least 6-8 weeks in advance and there’s always the risk you won’t see tigers, but the odds are better than they’ve been in years
Just next door to Sher Bagh, Khem Villas is a real treat. It offers a more pared-down kind of luxury that concentrates on its eco-credentials, lush gardens and incredible natural surroundings. We stayed in one of the Luxury Cottages (there are also tents) and loved hanging out on our private porch watching birdlife by day and stargazing by night. Wherever you stay, I highly recommend taking a walk with Khem Villa’s knowledgeable resident naturalist, Mittal. She has an extraordinary ability to spot birds and critters that you would otherwise walk straight past. We saw heaps of birds, deer, peacocks and monkeys, and there are even a few resident crocs!
Meals are all vegetarian and, whenever possible, home-grown in the enormous vegetable garden. There’s also home-baked bread and even the cows are fed organic to make their milk extra tasty! After dinner drinks are taken around the camp fire so you can swap safari stories with other guests and have a chat with Khem’s inspirational owners Goverdhan and Usha.
– A warm welcome: big smiles, chilled face towels and sweet lime juice instantly revive you
– Little indulgences: a cooling plunge pool, a small spa offering relaxing massages and fun evening drinks around the campfire
– An ethical lodge: the owners have set up a local hospital and school, introduced animal husbandry, and only employ local staff
– There’s not a lot of light in the bedrooms at night and tents lack air-conditioning
– A bit off the beaten track – although you can arrive by train and get collected from the station, the journey is a bit stressful