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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in India.

Staying in Touch With The Indian Culture – ITC Hotels

Travel to India with ITC Hotels and experience warm hospitality, authenticity and grandeur, with an emphasis on responsible luxury ITC Hotels in association with The Luxury Collection, offers 11 unique properties across India, each inspired by the history and culture of the region in which they are located. These are opulent residences with roots: every hotel celebrates India through its warm hospitality architecture and cuisine while upholding the highest standards of sustainability.

The Golden Triangle

Begin amid the intoxicating sights, sounds and smells of New Delhi before retreating to ITC Maurya. Its instantly recognisable stupa design pays tribute to the Mauryan dynasty plus its home to Bukhara and Dum Pukht, two of the country’s most sought-after restaurants. Next stop Agra and the Taj Mahal, where ITC Mughal offers a regal welcome. Winner of the Aga Khan Award for its representation of Mughal architecture, this is a retreat in the truest sense of the word.

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ITC Mughal’s poolside

A must-visit on any Rajasthani journey is the pink city of Jaipur home to palaces, forts and bazaars. Here, ITC Rajputana, designed to echo the regions havelis, embraces the spirit of royal Rajasthan. To complete the Golden Triangle with ITC Hotels, check into ITC Grand Bharat back in New Delhi, India’s first all-suite luxury retreat. In an idyllic spot, it offers luxury creative cuisine, a vast spa and a 27-holeJack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

Southern splendour

Beyond the Golden Triangle, ITC Hotels brings other parts of India alive. In southern India, ITC Grand Chola is a landmark in Chennai from which you can stroll Marina Beach, soak up the sights and sounds of the city before retreating for rejuvination at the spa. Travel on to Bangalore and check-in at either ITC Gardenia (inspired by the city’s flourishing gardens) or aristocratic ITC Windsor. Sign off your southern sojourn in Hyderabad with a stay at ITC Kakatiya overlooking Hussain Sagar Lake.

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Bright lights, big cities

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ITC Grand Hotel – Mumbai

For those heading to either Mumbai or Kolkata, ITC Hotels has properties in both. There’s the vintage ITC Maratha or super-stylish ITC Grand Central for anyone Mumbai-bound and Kolkata is home to ITC Sonaj; India’s first business resort, nestled amid a million trees.

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The Banks of the Ganges: A Hindu Gateway To Another World

In Haridwar there were two kinds of people: those who wanted something and those who didn’t. Anyone could see that the people who didn’t want anything seemed to be having a good time, while those who wanted stuff were all aflutter. They had the air of stressed bankers faced with a black hole of several billions, an impending enquiry, and a talkative mistress. Haridwar is one of India’s fHaridwarour great tirthas, or crossing points between this world and the next, between what is and what might be, between your life and your hopes.

It is also one of the settings for the Kumbh Mela, the spectacular Hindu religious festival held every 12 years, and reputed to be the largest human gathering on the planet.

The last major Kumbh Mela, in 2013 at Allahabad (like Haridwar, a crossing point), attracted 120 million pilgrims, apparently somewhat short of expectations. Unsure I could face the loo queues, I had opted for a sort of Kumbh Lite, held every three years in Haridwar, on the moonless night of Shiva.

It pulls in only a million or so, barely loose change in the world of Indian crowds. I was staying in a tented camp, the Laskhmi Niwas, pitched in the grounds of the Nagar Kutir ashram on the fringes of the city, away from the crush. My fellow campers were a jolly piratical gang of sadhus, India’s ubiquitous holy men. Sadhus are the original dropouts. They had given it all up – homes, jobs, the chance of a freshly ironed shirt – to wander the highways and byways of India in search of enlightenment and a square meal. They travelled light with a cloth bag, a walking stick, a few dental issues. They had come here from their retreats high in the Himalayas to bathe in the Ganges. Down on the ghats, the stepped riverside embankments in the centre of town, a few hundred thousand pilgrims were struggling to get changed beneath bath towels.

Stepping gingerly on the wet stones, they approached the holy river: stringy men stripped to baggy white boxers, naked children sleek as otters, fleshy women in wet saris, frail old folk whose underwear looked like it might be swept away in the current. There was a carnival atmosphere about these ablutions, some strange cross between Blackpool on a bank holiday weekend and Lourdes on Good Friday. Music blared, priests prayed, dogs barked, loudspeakers crackled, cows pooped, children wailed, pilgrims held their arms aloft in supplication, itinerant salesmen worked the crowds selling hand-rolled cigarettes, balloons, towels, and shampoo while the pilgrims lowered themselves into the water, holding hands, squealing anxieties, ducking beneath the viscous surface. A blubbery young man at my elbow was keen on a photograph. ‘Could you?’ he asked.

The Ganges, India

The Ganges, India

Waist-deep in the river, he turned to face his smartphone, smiling and waving as if it was a holiday snap. Skipping back up the steps, he was trembling with excitement ‘I want to wash away my sins,’ he said. He didn’t go into details. Further along the ghats, pilgrims were decorating their kavads with plastic flowers and plastic teddy bears. An open wooden framework, three or four feet long, and carried across the shoulders like a yoke, the kavads were used to transport jugs of Ganges water home, invariably on foot barefoot for the seriously devout, shod for the backsliders. It was destined to bless friends, family, houses, crops, babies, new cars, business propositions, lovers, weddings, and whatever else seemed to be in need of a holy watering.

Everyone wanted the gods on their side, everyone desired divine intervention in an indifferent world – a fresh start, a second chance. Everyone wanted to better their life chances, to have a bit of a heavenly leg-up with the age-old issues of finding and keeping a mate, a decent job, a run of good fortune. Everyone, that is, except the sadhus. Indifferent to fate, aloof from the fevered pilgrims, they sat beneath banyan trees sipping tea and smoking cigarettes. Leaving the riverbanks, I plunged into the back alleys of Haridwar where I was borne along by a rising tide of freshly laundered pilgrims, past smoking food stalls and pyramids of spices, past loud hawkers and brightly lit shops. The currents eddied for a moment at an intersection where a young man was stirring a vast pot of steaming pilau and three old gentlemen were bent over treadle sewing machines that had been the latest innovation when Queen Victoria was still grappling with Albert’s English.

Meet The Classics: The Best 2017 Luxury Restaurants Worldwide

SEPIA – SYDNEY – It’s the little things that count here. Take the salmon ball presented as an amuse-bouche: bite into it and a filling of smoked salmon roe provokes tantalising shock-waves of intense flavour. This is what chef Martin Benn does best: create seemingly simple dishes that astonish with their complexity, combining French techniques with Japanese ingredients such as dashi jelly, wakami oil and sobacha. Spanner-crab meat is teamed with sake-vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish and folded as carefully as origami; a simple curl of squid, decorated with miso-cured egg yolk and a wasabi floweSepia, Sydneyr, calls to mind the curves of a Miro painting.

And Benn’s nine-course menus end as strongly as they begin, with puddings such as The Pearl, a pristine sphere of white chocolate and finger lime.

KEENS STEAKHOUSE, NEW YORK – Keens serves fantastic steak but became famous for its even more fantastic mutton. It opened in 1885 and in 1935 served its millionth mutton chop. Somebody played a fanfare on a bugle that had supposedly been used in the War of the Roses. The manager gave a speech and waived the bill. The great shepherd in the sky alone knows how many mutton chops Keens has sold since then. A flock of a lot. Even without the fanfare and the speech, and even if you have to pay the bill, a Keens mutton chop remains one of the glories of Midtown Manhattan. Look out for the 50,000 long-stemmed clay pipes that hang, with a peculiar elegance, from the ceiling – not that you’re likely to miss them. Lillie Langtry, JP Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth ate here. You should too.

THE WHITE ROOM, AMSTERDAM – Arctic-white walls exuberantly encrusted with gold give this venerable 19th-century building its name. There the history stops. A recent revamp has introduced funky spherical chandeliers, a classy-yet-cool tone and an invigoratingly fresh take on the food. Chef Jacob Jan Boerma is guided by three culinary fundaments – ‘citrus, spice and vegetables’ – and his dishes are delicate, full of secrets and liable to mini explosions of surprising flavours. A slice of lime gives prawn tartare a zing as it slips onto your tongue; an intense zap of lemon lurks beneath a perfectly cooked piece of trout, with green-mustard sabayon. Wasabi, curry, Indonesian spices all play cameo roles. Each plate is feat of beauty, with bold colours, odd shapes and energetic composition.

INDIAN ACCENT, NEW DELHI – India’s restaurant critics are notoriously picky, which makes the non-stop gushing that has flowed since chef Manish Mehrotra’s opened here in2009 so significant. His genius lies in splicing global ingredients into regional recipes from India’s 29 states. So the stuffing he uses in the traditional kulcha – one of the country’s 400-plus breads – is chilli hoisin duck, or applewood-smoked bacon, or wild mushrooms and truffle oil. Kofta, the delicately spiced Indian dumpling, is made herewith tofu instead of paneer and served with a wok-tossed quinoa pulao. The result is not so much fusion as synergy: inventive twists that serve to accentuate the complex flavours of Indian food, and reason enough to plan a trip to the Indian capital.

Indian Accent Restaurant

Indian Accent Restaurant

EL MERCADO, LIMA – Lima’s culinary boom may have produced fancier restaurants but none, surely, is better loved than El Mercado, the casual lunch-only affair opened in 2010 by superstar local chef Rafael Osterling. Tucked away down a Miraflores side street, the permanently packed, semi-open-air space has the informal clatter and hum of an actual market with bartenders serving superb Pisco Sours to the endlessly replenished queue. As well as a full range of top-grade ceviches, the menu also includes excellent tiraditos such as the Nikkei (yellowfin tuna sliced thin, marinated in lime and served with sesame oil and avocado aioli). Other highlights include a superlative shrimp burger and the causa original, Osterling’s upmarket take on the Peruvian staple of mashed potato terrine layered with seafood.

Jawai – Rajasthan, India

Big cats are notoriously elusive and tiger safaris especially require a fair dollop of managed expectations. Which is why Jawai – where leopards are the thing – is so extraordinary. This smart Rajasthani safari camp is in a district of small villages and farms rather than a wildlife sanctuary, and leopards are highly visible, coexisting in almost supernatural harmony with the human population (there hasn’t been a leopard attack in more than a century). The camp itself melts into a landscape of acacia forests and mustard fields, the horizon studded with the smooth-sided granite hills where the leopards live.

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Jawai, India

Its nine suites are in spruce, canopied safari tents outfitted with chrome campaign desks and crimson lampshades and cushions that echo the red turbans of the local Rabari herdsmen. Winding paths lead to a splash pool, a dining tent, and a clearing where guests feast on thali curry by starlight. This is safari but not as you know it: at dusk, watch the sleek silhouette of a female leopard padding down a rock face, ignoring children on the dusty road, while music plays noisily from a nearby temple. There’s magic at play in Jawai, and it’s of the most bewitching, tail-twitching variety.

Lost in Paradise – Juhu, Mumbai

With a stunning sea view and contemporary décor, the JW Marriott Hotel at Juhu, Mumbai will transport you into a world of idyllic opulence

If you’re looking for blissful luxury amid the chaotic, frenzied city of Mumbai, the JW Marriott Hotel, sited on Mumbai’s popular Juhu beach and overlooking the vast expanses of the Arabian seashore is your go-to destination. Conveniently located just 20 minutes away from Mumbai’s international and domestic airports, the hotel is the preferred choice for film celebrities, corporate clientele and socialites.

The lush green landscape of the hotel with its pristine lotus pond, offset by the glistening sea makes the view from the hotel rooms even more picturesque and postcard worthy.

With 355 well-appointed rooms boasting of contemporary decor and exquisite artwork, every endeavour is made to make your stay comfortable, yet plush. For your commutes and airport transfers, choose from the fleet of luxury cars complete with inbuilt Wi-Fi facilities.

The foodie in you will be spoilt for choice with the vast variety of cuisines ranging from traditional Italian at Mezzo Mezzo and authentic Awadhi cuisine at Saffron, to delectable spreads at the swanky Lotus Cafe and Bombay Baking Company. Enjoy breathtaking views, groovy lounge music and a bespoke menu at Dashanzi, the newly launched modern Asian cuisine restaurant and lounge, housing the city’s largest Gin bar with Asian infused cocktails.juhu-mumbai

To pamper your senses further, luxuriate in the hotel’s award-winning Quan Spa’s range of soothing massages and Ayurveda treatments. Or take a leisurely dip in one of its three outdoor pools – a sprawling infinity pool, a children’s pool and a salt water pool.

Spanning an impressive 29,954 sqft of banquet and meeting room space, JW Marriott Juhu recently launched ‘Mahi’, the next big destination to host grand weddings and events, with a beautiful outdoor section and salt water pool adding to the allure. An in-house team of event specialists will assist you with customizing your requirements to ensure that your experience is unique, cherished and memorable.

A Diner’s Paradise, India

Luxury in the lap of nature – JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa redefines the concept of al fresco dining with their unique and ethereal experiences

Lose yourself in the heart of the Himalayas when you stay at JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa. Wherever you stand, there are undisrupted views to embrace – from the majestic Garhwal Mountains on one side to the lush green walnut grove on the other, from the pretty pine forest to the beautiful Kempty fall stream.

To ensure that guests get to enjoy the scenic location to the fullest, the resort has introduced the concept of ‘Unique Dining Experiences’ – bespoke breakfasts, lunches and dinners at unusual locations in and around the resort. Imagine indulging in tastefully concocted dishes amidst the mountains and a gurgling stream. Or intimate set ups with customised menus and hearty meals overlooking the valley. JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa brings you the opportunity to eat fine food against unbeatable backdrops and intuitively meets your needs. Besides the stunning property, this is what makes staying here even more memorable.

jw-indiaThese inimitable experiences include options like ‘Breakfast in the Stream’ – a generous buffet spread with hot and cold stations in a stream near the resort. From the table set up in the middle of a clear mountain stream, surrounded by the enchanting Himalayas to the beautiful walk into the valley to the stream – it’s like a page out of a fairy-tale. Then, there’s ‘Lunch or High Tea at the JW Farms’, which features a farm-to-fork organic Italian meal with a table set at the farm overlooking the Garhwal range. Choose from a variety of handcrafted menus designed by the resort’s chefs and prepared with the finest handpicked ingredients from the farm. Another great experience is ‘Lunch at the Pine Forest’ – a relaxed, casual picnic lunch for couples or ‘Lunch or Hi Tea at the Greenhouse’ – an intimate meal in the greenhouse surrounded by fresh herbs and bright flowers.

Designed for the discerning and those looking for something different – from lavish five-course meals to effervescent afternoon high tea – these specially curated enchanting culinary journeys combine the magic of panoramic views with exceptional cuisine and service.

At Your Service – the Leela Residence, Bengaluru

Presenting the Leela Residences at Bhartiya City in Bengaluru, where unparalleled luxury, stylish residences, the best amenities and exceptional assistance aren’t just a dream, but a way of life

Known for showering its guests with unprecedented services, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts has carved a niche for itself in the hospitality industry. Now, the brand moves into the real estate industry with The Leela Residences at Bhartiya City, bringing its renowned Indian hospitality – which is often imitated but never quite equaled – to Bengaluru.

The latest urban development in Bengaluru’s Hebbal area, Bhartiya City – known as the City of Joy – provides an urban retreat in the bustling city for those select few who prefer life’s finer things. Making sure that this development lives up to its residents’ discerning tastes, Bhartiya has taken inspiration from cities such as Paris, Barcelona, London and New York and has tied up with teams from across the globe to create this blissful, private haven.

leela-residences-1The limited edition, The Leela Residences surpasses the notion of luxury living and has everything one would expect from a brand of this stature. Complementing the grandeur of the 256-room luxury hotel being developed alongside, it has every amenity possible. Right from the lobby that’s reminiscent of one of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts’ and the Clubhouse that boasts a restaurant and bar and the 24-hour gym to the residents-only spa, temperature-controlled swimming pool, private theatre and a cosy library – the property offers the best services and facilities.

Choose from one of the five apartments which include a studio space, 1BHK, 2BHK, 3BHK and 4BHK homes-that encompass every extravagance. Lavish interiors by PIA Interior, spacious kitchens by Boffi, private decks, walk-in closets and five-star services on call arc just some of the wonders that The Leela Residences promises.

A home at The Leela Residences also has access to all the facilities of Bhartiya City. Landscaped gardens complete with pedestrian-friendly paths, dedicated cycle tracks, classical and contemporary artworks at the Centre for Performing Arts, shops and niche boutiques, and many more indulgences are just a stone’s throw away.

So, when it comes to finding a new abode, reside in the best at The Leela Residences in Bhartiya City.

Get The Best Of Rajasthan With This Guide

Scott Fitzgerald once said, “It’s a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realize what has changed is you.” Over the years, coming home to Ajmer has mostly meant sleeping in till noon, spending the day with the family and friends, pottering about the house. As I stepped out at the crack of dawn, 5am, this day clearly was not one of those. I was going to the Ajmer dargah, officially the Hazral Khwaja Moinuddin Ohishti Dargah, which has become synonymous with the town. Dawn is the best time to go, because tourists on holiday don’t wake up this eIndia, Bharat, Rajasthan, Travel Destination, Udaipur, Lake Pichola and the City Palacearly, so you can linger at peace. As I neared the shrine, morning prayers had just ended and I could hear strains of qawwali.

The rest of the neighbourhood (Ajmer’s literally built itself around the dargah) was still waking up. Fresh flowers were being unloaded and the smell of roses permeated the entire street.

As I entered the dargah, I realised that while it’s not imposing, it has a quiet, assured authority, that possibly comes of having been at the exact same place for hundreds of years. I walked around on the cool marble floors, offered my prayers and just sat there for a while, listening to the music. There was no restlessness to reach out for my phone and check Twitter, no urge to Instagram. There was peace. Quiet. That which we seek and chase all over the world. And I had found it right here at home. When you think of a city in Rajasthan, your mind automatically conjures up images of imposing forts, magnificent palaces, sand dunes and heritage hotels with vintage cars and polo matches. Ajmer is the exact opposite. It’s a sleepy little town nestled in the Aravalis.

As you enter, you notice how old the buildings are, how narrow the roads, the camel-drawn cart next to your car at a traffic signal. Our most popular market is called Naya Bazaar; it’s been called that for decades. In theory, Ajmer (the district) is only famous for two things—the dargah and Pushkar, that place of pilgrimage 15km from Ajmer (the town). Both places largely lie ignored by the wayside, on a highway towards the curated glamour of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur. At best, most tourists stop for a few hours. But if you can, stay for a couple of days, poke around, talk to the locals and discover little-known secrets of these two towns, Ajmer and Pushkar. The people here are incredibly warm, with a robust sense of humour and great hospitality.

The most famous kulfi wala will urge you to first go have pyaaz kachoris elsewhere and then return to him for dessert. The local sabzi mandi is a lovely farmers’ market in the truest sense: men and women come here daily, from nearby villages to sell the freshest fruit and vegetables, and they happily chat with their customers as they do so. Like Ajmer’s famous miniature paintings, a lot of things here are bite-sized. From the 14th-century Taragarh Fort, built on the hilltop from where you can get a spectacular view of the town, its two beautiful lakes and the green hills around, to the museum in a tiny palace, built by Akbar. Within the city, there are no high-rises to speak of, so you can see the Aravalis from everywhere. If the centre of Ajmer is like a once-beautiful tapestry, the suburbs are all shiny new malls with glass facades, swanky multiplexes, chains like McDonald’s and Cafe Coffee Day.

Ajmer

Ajmer, Rajasthan

The most accurate indicator of Ajmer’s claim to being a ‘destination’, perhaps, is the arrival of chain hotels like the Taj, Marriott and (soon to open) ITC. Unlike most other places in the state, Ajmer was not ruled by any single family It was founded by a Rajput king in the 12th century, taken over by the Mughals and lost to the British, whose army used Taragarh as a sanatorium. As a result, there are some beautiful old buildings built in the Indo-Saracenic style. The most famous of these is Mayo College, which counts a venerable list of politicians, bureaucrats, writers and actors among its alumni. Other notable landmarks are two lakes, Foy Sagar and Ana Sagar. Well-maintained gardens with gazebos lie to one end of each.

Ana Sagar, though, has always been the livelier of the two, even back in the 16th century, prompting Shah Jahan to build a lovely baradari, or pavilion, in pristine white marble, which still frames the sunset perfectly each evening. A product of the central government’s Smart Cities Mission, there’s now a promenade along the lake, complete with cycling tracks and benches under the shade of trees. Where Ajmer is more urbane, Pushkar is Rajasthan’s own version of Goa. When you begin your descent into the Pushkar valley, the road is strewn with resorts, spas and yoga retreats that fit every budget. The tiny town is also home to 52 ghats that border Pushkar Lake, and these are dotted with more than 400 temples. The most important and well known of these is the Brahma temple, the only one in the world.

As a result, restaurants and hotels in Pushkar are all-vegetarian and alcohol-free. (Although both, sharab and kabab, are available at resorts just outside.) Most of the buildings in the main town are painted white, and serve as a great backdrop for the riot of colour on the bustling streets. It’s hard not to get swept up by the vibe. Today, the walls also feature a lot of street art and interesting graffiti. Being a heritage town, new construction is not allowed, so the old-world charm of the buildings, narrow streets and steep stone staircases is still intact. If you’re not a pilgrim, and you’re done with Ajmer, then Pushkar is where you eat and shop and chill. How tiny a town is can be gauged by how tiny its main street is.

And depending on how often you get distracted by the shops, it will take you anything between thirty minutes and an hour to walk through Pushkar’s. But I suggest you linger, for Pushkar is a treasure trove of goodies: bohemian clothes, antiques, second-hand books, music stores, vintage knick-knacks. My favourite shop here is called Roots of Pushkar, on Varah Ghat. It’s where I once spent hours riffling through vintage records and chanced upon the OST of Roman Holiday and Funny Girl. If Rajasthani folk music is your thing, the owner has his own label for that. And he also stocks the work of some seriously good local artistes. And then there is food. Gau Ghat is Pushkar’s food street, home to delights like freshly made malpuas with toppings of your choice, crisp, flaky dal kachoris served with a piping hot, tangy kadhi. And if it’s pizza, falafel and crepes you crave, then there are numerous little cafes and restaurants that dot the streets and sit on rooftops.

Pushkar

Pushkar

One of the best is Out Of The Blue, with its cheerfully coloured walls, airy balconies and a great view of the lake. The other not-to-be-missed spot is the atmospheric Pink Floyd Cafe, in a bylane just off main street. But the quintessential Pushkar experience, for me, is Sunset Cafe. Right next to Pushkar Palace, a heritage hotel, sits this little gem, with the best view of the entire lake and all the ghats, accompanied by excellent coffee. Despite its popularity, the place is never noisy. You look around and see dozens of people just sitting quietly and taking in the view. Or speaking very softly, as if in awe of the spectacle before them. Soon it’s time for the evening aartis, and one by one, the ghats light up with diyas. The sounds of bells and chants echo over the lake, the holy fires are reflected in the waters. You want to experience this powerful moment. Quietly. By yourself. Surrounded by a crowd.

One of Pushkar’s best-kept secrets is its off-road tracks. Late in the evening, vast stretches of dirt tracks are illuminated by the headlights of SUVs and the roar of revving engines that, in the hastening dark, sound like thunder. Just watching these cars go up and down the dunes is quite an adrenaline rush. There’s also dune-bashing on ATVs, camel safaris and treks to the surrounding hills. And if you happen to visit around the famous camel fair, walk at leisure admiring the men and their beasts—each one adorned like a bride or groom. But the one thing not to be missed at this time is a hot-air balloon ride. It is mesmerising, to say the least, to watch the thousands of men and animals moving around below, the many colours of Pushkar, the shimmer of the lakes. Before leaving, Pushkar will also lead you up a garden path. Literally. To its famous rose gardens, said to be the biggest in India.

You will see roses of all colours, sizes and varieties. It’s a beautiful sight and the fragrance is heady and rich. Do buy some rose water, rose oil, gulkand and any other rose-based product that might seduce you. Let it remind you of time spent here, like a treat from a doting grandparent. In fact, lately, I’ve realised how you always end up taking your hometown for granted, often feeling a sense of entitlement even when you’ve chosen another town over this one. And now, I find returning to Ajmer-Pushkar is like visiting your grandparents. You know they will indulge you and be proud of you, no matter what you do. And with them, you can truly be yourself, because they will accept you for who you are. That’s what it feels like. Yes, that’s what it feels like.

Let The Party Begin In Goa

Even as the weather gets cooler, the excitement and vibe around Goa gets hotter. December and January push the tourist season into overdrive. Over the next few months, there’s so much to see and do. Perhaps the only complaint can be that there’s too little time to take it all in. But fret not! This little piece lays out a useful roadmap on how you can make the most of your Goan sojourn around the high point of its tourist season.

A Saintly Journey – Goa in December is special The Christmassy feel is in the air right through the month. But, a few weeks before Christmas -December 3rd, precisely – the state celebrates the feast of St. Francis Xavier. While his missionary zeal took him further afield to Japan and Borneo, he is so strongly associated with Goa that his mortal remains and relics lie ceremoniously in a silver casket in the Church of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. Devotees and tourists from all over India and the world throng to venerate the casket that holds the Saint’s miraculously incorruptible body.

Countdown to Fun – The week bridging Christmas, on 25th December, and New Year is one endless party. The entire state is illuminated by the festivities… Parties happen everywhere, with endless music, dancing, feasting and bonhomie. New Year’s Eve parties are the headiest, as revellers groove under the night sky, finally greeted by an astounding sunrise – perfectly symbolising a new beginning!

Festivities Without End – The Christmas season is officially brought to closure by the Feast of Three Kings on January 6th. However, celebrated as it is over a period of ten days, the festivities go on, albeit taking a different twist. This unique event unfolds at Cansaulim, Chandor and Verim where a jovial crowd from all over the state congregates, and eventually meets at the chapel of Our Lady of Remedies. The symbolism of the Three Kings is followed by a jaunty fete and much revelry.

Let There be Kites! – Two years ago, the International Kite Festival came to Goa. It’s been such a popular attraction that it has now been added to the tourism calendar Hosted at Colva and Miramar beaches in the second week of January, it has attracted participation from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. The spectacular sight of kites of different shapes, sizes, dimensions and colours dotting the sky is something not to be missed.

 International Kite Festival

International Kite Festival

Fiesta of Flavours – As the calendar rolls through January, the festivities show no sign of letting up The Wine and Lifestyle Festival in late Jan is an opportunity to indulge in hedonistic delights This festival brings out the best in Goa’s F&B professionals, as hotels and restaurants outdo each other in laying out exotic spreads that leave foodies in a veritable trance But the festival goes beyond epicurean indulgences, spilling over into music, dance, drama and activities such as grape stomping. The highlight is a fashion show and the crowning of The Grape Escapade Queen.

Revelry on Parade – It’s all set up then for arguably Goa’s biggest and most loved festival. The Carnaval rules Goa for four days preceding the austere observance of Lent. Elaborate parades snake through the streets, complete with resplendent floats, bands, dancing and cacophonous music. Borrowing from European and Latin American celebrations, troupes of masked revellers dressed in exotic, even garish costumes, sing and dance in gayabandon. The Carnaval mesmerises visitors with Goa’s vibrant culture, music, dance and food.

There is an almost statewide ambiance of merriment that’s truly infectious. No wonder this street festival attracts tourists from all over. More so, because it is uniquely Goan it isn’t celebrated anywhere else in India, and differs from its Western counterparts thanks to a distinctly local flavour. The high point of the frenzied merriment is the appointment and arrival of the allegoric King Momo, figuratively throwing the festival open. In 2017, the Goa Carnival is scheduled to unfold from 25th to 28th February.

Goa Carnival

Goa Carnival

 

A Splash of Festive Colour – Come March, and it’s time for a different kind of parade. Shigmo begins on 13th March, the first day of Holi. Celebrated over ten days, it honours the homecoming of warriors Colourful parades with modern floats depicting Hindu mythology and graced by traditional dances wend their way through various cities. Rommatamel and Fugdi dances enthral onlookers. The best dancers and floats are also felicitated.

Activity Unlimited – Even as the seasonal festivities play themselves out, Goas year-round activities continue to keep tourists occupied and enthralled. There’s never a dull moment in Goa – what with Motorised Paragliding, Scuba Diving, Hot Air Ballooning, Jet Skiing, Parasailing, Duck Boats, Guided P7V Tours (Segway), Cycling Tours and lots more. For those seeking quiet, blissful tranquillity, the opportunity to take in picturesque beach sunsets presents itself every day. Amongst the newly introduced adventure options, Motorised Paragliding which is popular at beach hotspots around the world, is now available at Mandrem Beach in Goa.

It’s popularity is because of the combination of the adventure ride factor and that of sight-seeing proffering as it does some amazing panoramas of the vast ocean and inland sceneries alike. Hot Air Ballooning is an excellent choice for those desiring an aerial view of inland Goa. While most of the adventure action happens on the seaboard, this one takes tourists on an exotic trip over the state’s hinterland, showcasing it’s rich geography and breathtaking greenery.

Mandrem Beach

Mandrem Beach

Love is in the Air – A wedding is for a day, but marriage is fora lifetime, goes the clicha. But if you celebrate your wedding in Goa, it’s a memory to last a lifetime! Choose from a bouquet of setting options that give your special day an exotic touch… Beaches, historic and heritage sites, cruises, waterfronts as well as lavish hotel ambiences. With professional wedding planners freeing you of the entire logistical anxiety, you’ll virtually have to just turn up on your big day. It’s always a good time to holiday in magical Goa. But with the peak tourist season dotted with festivals as well as non-seasonal activities, Goa becomes a not-to-be-missed vacation destination this time of the year. Whatever else life may be throwing at you, there’s always Goa!

The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa, Chandigarh

Love those luxurious tented safari camps in Ranthambore? Adore that vast creamy architecture in Udaipur that just oozes romance? The Oberoi Group has transported the best elements of its uber-luxe ‘Vilas’ properties to the very tip of the 8,000-acre, protected Si swan Forest Range nealuxury-tent-bedroomr Chandigarh, creating Sukhvilas, its first destination spa and resort. (It is opening two more resorts in 2017—in Marrakech and Ajman, UAE.)

When the first Vilas property opened in Jaipur, back in 1997, it charted a new course for the Indian hotel chain, propelling it towards global stardom with its unparalleled level of personalised service for affluent international travellers. The newest Vilas property, Udaivilas, is already 14years old, and a hot favourite with Indian travellers.

And now, with the 60-key Sukhvilas, The Oberoi is hoping to replicate and build on these successes with a truly unique new offering. It just might pull it off. The 12,000-ft spa (opening early 2017) is a unique combination of ayurvedic, Eastern and Western therapies and includes hydrotherapy, an infrared sauna, a Turkish hammam and a Roman tepidarium as well as programmes for stress/weight management, detox and rejuvenation, that will be fully customised on-site.

But you needn’t visit Sukhvilas only for wellness; this is equally a getaway for nature-lovers. Go trekking or birdwatching in the lush Siswan forest, situated in the last fold of the outer Himalayas, and full of beautiful Indian mahogany trees (and the occasional leopard).

The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa

The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa

Return to a feast of authentic Punjabi cuisine, replete with homemade butter and mango pickle. The architecture is signature Vilas, with landscaped courtyards, cusped arches, gorgeous fountains and an outdoor pool that overlooks the forest. Perfect for a family getaway, the 22-acre resort is also set to become another destination wedding favourite: easily accessible, with a scenic backdrop, beautiful rooms, a ballroom that can fit up to 600 people—and, frankly, the best butter chicken I can remember eating anywhere.

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