Kendra Thornton, president and owner of Royal Travel & Tours, just returned from India where she shares what she experienced in this amazing country.
Day 1: On our arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, we were met by VIP airport representatives and Greaves Tours, who escorted us through customs and transported us to our wonderful first hotel, The Leela Palace New Delhi. Opening the doors in 2011, The Leela has quickly become a favorite stopping place for many visitors to Delhi. The five-star hotel located right in the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic enclave has the perfect mix of traditional and modern decor. Having checked in, we enjoyed a relaxing spa experience and lounged at the incredible rooftop pool.
Since it was my first time in India, my initial impression was how clean the streets of New Delhi are, and also the abundance of luscious greenery and parks around town.
Day 2: Our afternoon consisted of a city tour of New Delhi with an explanation of its exciting history. New Delhi and Delhi are actually different places – New Delhi, which is India’s capital, was developed by the British and is the seat of India’s government, whereas Delhi is a much larger and older metropolitan area in the north.
Rajiv Kaul, president of Leela Hotels and Resorts, and Louis Sailer, Leela Palace general manager, hosted a dinner for the group at Le Cirque in Leela Palace on the group’s first official night.
Day 3: The next morning we departed from the Leela Palace early and headed out to explore two different hotels – The Leela Ambience Gurugram and the Taj City Centre Gurugram. Both are five-star hotels set in the heart of India’s financial and technological ‘Millennium City’ and truly deliver the essence of modern India in the exterior architecture and interior design. We had lunch at Trident Hotel Gurgaon and afterward toured The Oberoi, Gurgaon next door with its stunning white marble and rose displays. We concluded our afternoon back in New Delhi at The Oberoi, where we would spend the night. The interiors are a contemporary interpretation of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ New Delhi architecture.
The extremely lovely and humble Mr. and Mrs. Vikram Oberoi generously hosted us for drinks and dinner that evening. We enjoyed cocktails at the Rooftop Bar as we took in the beautiful sunset and lights of New Delhi below. Dinner was served in Baoshuan restaurant, which serves modern Chinese cuisine curated by Michelin star chef Andrew Wong.
Day 4: The next morning, we departed by motorcoach to Agra. A city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Agra is part of the Golden Tourism Triangle, along with Jaipur and Delhi. After checking into our hotel, The Oberoi Amarvilas, and taking in the splendid views of the Taj Mahal from our balconies, we enjoyed a casual lunch poolside in the hotel gardens.
We spent our afternoon touring the Taj Mahal, carved out of white marble, and learning the story and secrets behind the greatest love monument ever constructed. It was built for the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal after she died. Walking around this stunning property was truly breath-taking and it was a first-time experience for the majority of our group.
On returning to the hotel, many opted to experience a yoga class led by a local instructor since we were in the birthplace of yoga. At night, the Oberoi Amarvilas indulged us with incredible entertainment, featuring headdresses and henna tattoos and a lovely sit down dinner.
Day 5: The next morning we headed to Jaipur, also know as the Pink City due to the dominance of rose color scheme on its buildings. Jaipur is known for its rich culture and tradition, magnificent art and artifacts, as well as its brilliant past. Upon arrival, our first stop was Naila Fort for a stunning poolside lunch party at the private residence of Prithviraj Singh “Biki” Oberoi, executive chairman of the hotel company. Our garden party was a highlight for the group with palm readers and local artisans teaching us the ancient trades passed down from parent to child. Following lunch, we head to Taj Rambagh Palace where we were staying for the night.
After a royal welcome that included a parade of elephants and vintage cars (which we were invited to ride in) we met our personal “butlers” and had a tour of the expansive Palace grounds. Our tour ended in the salon with a tea and presentation by Gem Palace that included a spread of both new and vintage gemstones that the group delighted in trying. The Palace is elaborately decorated with hand-carved marble and beautiful Mughal Gardens. For dinner, every woman in our group was offered beautiful fabric, and a team of women dressed us in saris. There was a beautiful pre-dinner performance by dancers and musicians. The Maharaj of Japuir, whose family owns the Rambagh Palace, joined us for cocktails.
Our dinner that night was set under the stars in a tent strewn with rose petals – it was more incredible than the finest wedding. Rubbing shoulders with royalty in that magical setting, and those beautiful cloths, made us feel like true princes and princesses that evening, as we felt a dazzling connection to the Indian culture.
Day 6: The next morning we boarded an early plane to Udaipur, which is located in the southernmost part of Rajasthan, and is also known as the “city of lakes” because of its sophisticated lake system. On our arrival, we took a boat to Taj Lake Palace, which became world renowned after the James Bond film ‘Octopussy’ was shot here. Young prince, Maharana Jagat Singh II of Udaipur, built this spectacular “floating” palace in the 18th century, so he could have a palace of his own. Staying there you feel like your are the guest of royalty and the gardens and rooms are true antique masterpieces. After checking in and touring each other’s Palace rooms – each one unique and different – our next stop was a tour of The Oberoi Udaivilas, where we were welcomed with a shower of rose petals. The 50-acre property once belonged to the Maharana of Mewar and includes his original hunting lodge. The hotel has an intricate layout of interconnecting domes and corridors that reflects the layout of Udaipur itself, whose seven lakes are linked by canals. These domes and walkways are flooded with sunlight, and offer magnificent views of Lake Pichola and the gardens.
That night we had cocktails hosted by Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar, head of India’s oldest royal family, at his royal residence. Two of the Maharana’s children and their spouses also joined us and they were all kind and gracious people. After dinner, we were treated to a boat ride around the lake for a surprise dance show and fireworks.
Day 7: On the last day, we had breakfast on the Mewar Terrace followed by a conclusion workshop to discuss and share what we had learned and experienced while in India with our incredible hosts. After a farewell lunch at the Leela Palace Udaipur, the group enjoyed some downtime, in which some relaxed at the pool and spa while others shopped the markets of downtown Udaipur. That afternoon some of the group caught flights to continue on to Mumbai and the rest of us, including myself, made our way back home full of memories from India that will last a lifetime.