On my research trip this year I started in Delhi, staying for two days at the wonderful Imperial Hotel. In Delhi, I visited the Maidens, a lovely heritage hotel in Old Delhi and The Manor a small boutique hotel, with an excellent spa and the acclaimed Indian Accent restaurant.
From Delhi a long, dull drive through endless industrial areas for over two hours, Delhi is such a vast city, eventually the countryside.I stopped at a small converted palace called Patan Mahal, nobody staying, nearby was the 17th-century palace and high on the hill an old fort.
I then pushed on to Shekhavati, an area of towns and villages that used to be on the silk route, the town of Nawalgarh where I stayed is famous for the old Havelis.
Fascinating to explore, some have been restored, I preferred the untouched ones. Walked through the market, very busy with stalls selling fruit, vegetables, and snacks, tempted to try them, but cannot risk tummy trouble on a tour!
Stayed at Roop Niwas Palace, a lovely property on the edge of the town with delightful gardens, a pool and stable full of Marwari horses, they have a stud farm here, 4 stallions and about 30 mares. The next morning, I went for a ride in the countryside at 6.30 am before the heat of the day, my Mare was very obedient but had fast paces and I had to use voice commands – I don’t think she understood me! wonderful to ride through the small villages, dogs and children rushing out, on our return the groom sat me down gave me water and removed my boots, Ragagh was taken off for a hose down, I wanted one too!
From Nawalgarh to Jaipur, a very smooth and quick journey on a fast new road, about 3 hours. The Jaipur traffic hasn’t improved since my last visit two years ago still building the Metro!
Stayed at the fabulous Raj Mahal Palace, recently opened, this small palace was built in 1832 and used as the British residency for many years.
The rooms are all different, superbly decorated and furnished, I slept in the Prince Charles suite with a bed large enough for four, Very nice too!
A day spent visiting hotels and my favourite jewellery shop, Ratnavali an excellent jeweller, Mahendra remodelled a ring I bought from him 5 years ago for me in 24 hours.
From Jaipur an evening flight to Delhi, no driver to meet me, decided to take a local taxi, spoke no English but nodded in that annoying Indian way when you are not sure if they have understood or not -luckily I spotted the hotel, stayed overnight at a very smart but dull airport hotel as the following morning I was flying south to Cochin in Kerala. Vivek rang just as I checked in very apologetic, stuck in awful traffic, finally arrived 40 minutes late.
Up at 4.30 am for a 6.30 flight, the airport was packed at that time, security took an age, flight with excellent Indigo I left on time.
Arrived in Cochin at 09.30, 3 hours flying time to the south, such a vast continent! Met at the airport by Jerry and Shibu, bearing flowers. SO humid.
First stop was the Athirapally waterfalls, what a magnificent site, as September is just after the Monsoon the falls were in full spate.
Had lunch at the rain Forrest hotel overlooking the falls, they have a serious monkey problem here. This weekend marks the start of the Onam festival, the Hindu equivalent of our harvest festival, traditionally people buy new clothes and decorate the doorstep of their houses with lovely murals made of flower petals. The traffic was awful as everyone was out shopping or visiting, a two-hour journey took five.
Finally arrived at Vanilla county, a charming homestay owned by Mr Baby Mathew, the youngest of 5- now aged about 60! The house is situated in unspoilt countryside near a river, excellent food and spice garden.
A short journey for once to Dewalokham one of my favourite properties in Kerala, situated by a river, with an organic farm and dairy herd.
Visited a nearby waterfall and swam in the river, lovely and cool, no crocodiles!
They do excellent cookery demonstrations every evening and have built a large yoga platform next to the river. My first two-night break for a week, very good to stop, relax and get my washing done!
Our next stop was Munnar the highest tea growing area in southern India.
Since my last visit two years ago mass tourism has arrived with many new hotels being built, the place has been ruined sadly, at least the surrounding countryside is very beautiful, but the roads are twisty. Spent the night on a cardamom estate called Neelakurunji, about 20 km from the town, very quiet, lovely walks on the estate, but in the clouds for most of the stay and very cold.
Onto Thekkady for a two nights stay at Aanavilasam, a modern property on a cardamom estate, I had a pool villa, too cold to swim, reached over a long footbridge through the Forrest, great for birdwatching, the hornbills were busy eating the huge ripe jackfruit near my room. Visited several properties in Kumilly, spice village as good as ever, Wildernest almost next door is an excellent budget option, both close to the Periyar National park entrance.
Shibu my lovely driver took me shoe shopping as I needed trainers, only visited two shops!
A great drive descending the hills, though tea and cardamom estates to stay at Paradisa a fabulous property perched on the hillside with outstanding views, much warmer here! Stayed in a spacious old Kerala house with a large veranda and view, all the cottages are well spaced with a view, excellent food and a pool. Good walks around the estate and an interesting Church nearby, containing plaques and graves of the former British planters.
Life must have been very hard up here in the early part of the 20th century.
The following day we drove for about 3 hours through rubber plantations to the town of Aranmula, located on the river this is famous for the ancient temple, which was very impressive decked out for Onam and the snake boat race which was taking place today. The property we visited is called Malakkarethu house, a small homestay overlooking the river and the course of the boat race. A special Onam lunch was served, Shibu joined us, all served on a banana leaf and eaten by hand, not easy!
About 30 boats taking part each with around 50 men on board all clad in dhotis some rowing, some playing music and other holding parasols, as they row they chant songs, made Henley regatta look very dull!
The local fire brigade was stationed on the river to fish people out with their dinghy & several heats took place before the big race, the grandstand next to us was full of VIPs.
Another 2 hours to Marari on the beach, such a relief to arrive at one of my favourite places for two nights. I was so tired I managed to lock myself out of my room, hopeless!
I walked down to the beautiful beach, must be 10 km long, still very few hotels so unspoilt. I then visited a couple of nearby places such a Marari Sands a small resort, good cottages, right in the beach, also Marari Villas, sadly the beach has now gone in front of two villas and has been replaced by a vast rock sea wall.
But the beach is only a short walk and they now have a pool.