Tag Archives: hotels in India

Homestays in Rajasthan – Castle Bera, Hem Guesthouse and Chandelao
Homestays in Rajasthan – Castle Bera, Hem Guesthouse and Chandelao

 

Hem guesthouse, Jodhpur Hem guesthouse, Jodhpur

Staying at Castle Bera

Not quite sure what I envisioned for a home-stay. Perhaps something rustic like the small Hmong village I stayed at in northern Vietnam. I certainly didn’t picture a beautiful white castle with a marble-floored suite, replete with antique wood furniture, photos of maharanas (kings), and a chieftain to dine with. When my driver dropped me off, I thought we had just entered another walled city – it was actually the grounds of Castle Bera!

India Someday has exposed to me to an array of accommodations, all quite clean, architecturally interesting and filled with character and characters!  I haven’t researched any of them beforehand, leaving myself open to surprise in each locale. From tastefully restored Havelis (private mansions) to hotels with exquisite rooftop views, I have been blessed with safe, comfortable and generally pleasant stays (I do wish the WIFI would work better though – getting these blogs up is sometimes a challenge!) Some of my favorite accommodations have been the home-stays.

At Castle Bera, in Jawai, I was greeted by Thakur Baljeet Singh and it took me a while to grasp the nature of the place. We climbed the stairs and entered one of the many doors and sat in his personal living room, filled with family photos, plush furniture and with a well-lived in feel. We chatted for a bit about our late afternoon leopard safari, what time I wanted lunch and which part of the castle I wanted to stay in.

I had used the washroom in a large guestroom just off the living room – and there were other guest rooms to choose from just off the courtyard. His staff (I wish I could remember his name) walked me around a bit, pointed out the dining area where lunch would be served and we agreed on the beautiful guest room I would stay in. It’s arched-entry hallway, sitting area with nature magazines, king size bed, beautiful wooden antique furniture, changing room area, large bathroom, regal carpets and working fans and AC were all quite welcoming.

 

Castle bera, Rajasthan Castle Bera, Rajasthan

ramblinairum, castle bera, rajahstan Castle Bera, Rajasthan

Curious and hungry, I went to the dining room as scheduled and was pleasantly surprised to see two place settings set up on the long dining table, an aspect of the homestay experience I quite appreciated. As I waited for the owner to join me, I enjoyed looking at the array of photos filling the walls, from family shots to royal visitors to leopard pictures taken by some of the most renowned wildlife photographers who have also stayed there.

It was a pleasant opportunity to get a better understanding of the rich history of the castle and his family, and to talk about contemporary life in India – our jobs, travels, work philosophies and more. I can’t lie, it was a bit awkward at first to make conversation and feel my way around the situation but it was exciting to get my first flavor of a homestay in India – and to be in a place where the proprietor opens up his home and shares experiences. After my bike ride through the area villages (accompanied by his friendly staff,) we embarked on our leopard safari. While it sadly didn’t turn up any leopards, it was a beautiful excursion. We returned to enjoy drinks, popcorn, and other snacks in the restorative garden, followed by yet another delicious Indian home cooked meal.

ramblinairum, leopard safari, rajahstan Leopard safari, Rajasthan

My next homestay was at the HEM Guesthouse in Jodhpur. The driver arranged for me by India Someday dropped me off just outside the clock tower area where I was met, on a motorbike, by one of the two exceptionally sweet brothers who carry on the legacy of their hospitable mother Hem who founded and ran the homestay before she passed away.

Greeted by an adorable two year boy old (who generously handed me a toy truck), colorfully decorated wood furniture (the brothers’ other business), bean bag style chairs and a cup of hot chai, I immediately felt the family feel of this operation. The five-year-old animated daughter came home from school in her endearing little school dress, and excitedly held up her plastic container, sharing with great enthusiasm that she hadn’t eaten her banana! Very sweet.

The Nepalese teen who works for Hem’s walked me up a couple flights of stairs, where we passed the family’s kitchen and on the next floor, the clean and small (only relative to the other places I’ve stayed) room and finally, the beautiful rooftop view of the fort. En suite bathroom, a small balcony and fun artwork on the walls made it a pleasant place to catch up on some sleep and take advantage of the WIFI for writing.

Eager to experience more delicious home-cooked food, I was a tad disappointed by the lunch and the very thin (runny) lassi I ordered. Similarly, perhaps I should have chosen Indian style for the morning breakfast, but I was getting used to the lavish western spreads at my first few accommodations and was let down here as well, only to later learn that Hem is very popular for it’s Indian cuisine.

I think my disappointment in the food could likely be attributed to the caliber I had been receiving at my other places – and it was probably a big dinner meal that could have wooed me at Hem’s but I never gave it a try. In fact, working hard on writing and resting, I could not connect nearly as much with this exceptionally warm and friendly family as I’d have liked and as it seems they’re open to. Most regretfully, I didn’t get to know the women of the house. Pregnant and radiant, they probably would have been amazing to speak with and learn from.

ramblinarium, hem guesthouse, jodhpur ramblinarium, hem guesthouse, jodhpur

Chandelao, my other recent homestay offered a glorious, relaxing and restorative environment (the bright blue pool waters called my name loud and clear) coupled by a rich experience of personal connections. I entered the beautiful fort residence and again had to pinch myself that this is where I would be staying.

In the family for generations, the land was gifted to them for having fought for the Maharana centuries ago. I had the opportunity to visit the women’s empowerment and craft-making center serving the local village, and to meet three of the generations, each one warmer than the next. I enjoyed lunch with the mother/grandmother (pains me to not recall first names) of Chandelao. Though she didn’t eat, we enjoyed our conversation, despite some language challenges! She was excited that her daughter and grandson would be joining for dinner.

It was a joy to meet them as well, to talk about everything from women’s issues to the family history and Bollywood film! We will likely get together in Jaipur to go see one. Veer, her grandson, had an infectious laugh. As I laptopped away with giant grasshoppers and other insects accosting me, he chatted on the phone with a friend he would connect me with in Jaisalmer, laughing hysterically for the duration of the call.  Always a great sound!

ramblinarium, chendelao, rajasthan Chandelao, Rajasthan

ramblinarium, chendelao, rajasthan ramblinarium, Chandelao, Rajasthan

ramblinarium, chendelao, rajasthan ramblinarium, Chandelao, Rajasthan

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Personal connections, shared elaborate meals, interesting architecture, luscious pools and a sampling of real-life living (wherever it might fall on the social class spectrum) has been a true joy to experience here in India.  Figuring out the norms of each place presents its own unique challenge but overall, I highly recommend breaking away from the backpacker hostels or 5-star conglomerates to give the home-stay a try.

Thank you India Someday for making sure I have some truly memorable home-stay experiences!


Farm Stay at Krishna Ranch – near Udaipur
Farm Stay at Krishna Ranch – near Udaipur
Udaipur Diaries: Krishna Ranch

 

ramblinarium, krishna ranch ramblinarium, krishna ranch

Udaipur charmed me. I was wooed. The breathtaking rooftop views of endless mountains in the distance; the sense of vibrancy surrounding the picturesque lakes; the constant buzz of activity; the chilled out meandering cows; the enchanting architecture; the striking colors of fruits, vegetables and women donned in exquisite saris; the maze of winding streets and even the outrageous traffic scenarios – I was enthralled by it all. Udaipur re-welcomed me to India and to this travel journey, in a whole new way. I was beginning to feel quite at home here.

I was being picked up at 10 am for my next jaunt. Eager as I was for what lay ahead, I was sad to be moving on so quickly. I hadn’t even visited City Palace or biked around the lakes. Greeted by the driver who would take me to Krishna Ranch where I would be staying for one evening, I hopped in his car (though sort of wish I arranged to bike instead) and enjoyed his detailed descriptions and unexpected tour-guiding as we exited the bustling city life of Udaipur and made our way through the serene countryside.

Those glorious mountains I gazed at from the rooftops were now right in front me, lush and green. The quiet streets were filled with women in striking colors, each carrying a silver tray as she walked away from yet another religious celebration of sorts.

 Udaipur, India Udaipur, India

As we drove through the quiet hills, I saw a couple of high end resorts and a newly constructed, pretty remarkable fort being built by a wealthy family who is apparently in the marble/stone industry. The street became narrower and was lined on both sides with flowers blossoming and fluttering a butterfly welcoming me to this alternate side of Udaipur.

Krishna ranch Flowers adding color to my stay

Having entered the grounds of the Krishna Ranch, I exited the car and was welcomed by a beautiful stable full of horses.  Francine (originally from Holland) came to meet me and while I became intoxicated by the nature sounds and beautiful grounds, she showed me my cottage, a very clean, tastefully decorated room with a queen size bed, seating area with chairs and table, a daybed alcove sitting section surrounded by windows and an outdoor seating area for taking in the unending splendor. The spacious modern bathroom looked pretty good too (still beyond grateful for my digestive health!)

krishna ranch farm Krishna Ranch farm

Over a delicious cup of aromatic tea, we sat at the long wooden table in the main open-air structure and officially checked me in to this picture-perfect farm setting where I would be the only guest during this slow travel season (they’re pretty much booked during other times. I can’t imagine it being more beautiful – although I guess when the trees are filled with mangoes and other luscious fruits, it probably isn’t too bad here!) I met Dinesh, her horse-loving Indian husband and we all shared stories of travel, farming/gardening and more. I enjoyed a peaceful rest before being served a delicious home-cooked meal using almost all Krishna or otherwise locally-grown, organic ingredients.

Krishna ranch Krishna ranch

Krishna Ranch

An inordinate amount of food was served and I did my best to make a dent in it, dining to a chorus of chirping birds and a rich green scene in every direction.  I was thrilled to see a beautiful shelf unit full of real, paper books. I don’t care how much books weigh, I can’t imagine using an e-reader in this serene atmosphere. I meandered the grounds for a bit, saying hello to the camel, horses, goats and chickens and then rested and read a bit more.

Krishna ranch Krishna ranch

At 3:30, I met up with Dinesh, donned my helmet and climbed upon a beautiful horse to begin an excursion around the countryside. I haven’t had too many horse back riding experiences so it took us a bit of time to become comfy with one another, though once we did, the sound of clicking horse steps became truly meditative. We rode on dirt paths, passing through farmland and small villages, children of all ages greeting me with big hellos and goodbyes. Dinesh was a wonderful guide and pointed interesting things out along the way, from types of trees to methods of farming to the antelopes and peacocks roaming the fields.

We returned to the ranch and we all, including the horses, got ready to relax and have some dinner.   A special pile of sand was set up for the horses to each have a quick roll in before settling in for the eve.

Krishna ranch Krishna ranch

I chilled out at my villa, taking in the array of nature sounds and the diminishing light.   Animals I couldn’t begin to identify howled and cooed in the distance. I learned later that I was probably hearing monkeys. The night sky now dark, I couldn’t bear to turn on my lights and was beyond ecstatic for this tranquility.

I returned to the beautiful wooden table where I was served yet another gorgeous home-cooked meal prepared by Narayani. I was delighted to have her join me while I ate and loved hearing her stories about her life as a woman in Udaipur.   My thali-style meal included mutar panner, dahl, chapatti (with flour made right here), halwa (absolutely amazing) and her home-made pickled sauces.  They also offer me a steady flow of filtered water.

ramblinarium, krishna ranch Krishna ranch

Thrilled to not have WiFi, I retreated to my villa for some reading, writing and full mind/body restoration. I had to pinch myself a couple of times to ensure this was all for real and continued counting my blessings for somehow landing in this magical world of wonder.

Inviting as my villa’s bed was, I longed for a tent to savor in the fresh night breeze and twinkling stars above. I figured it out – I opened all of the windows and set up my mosquito net in the day bed area, barely separated from the steady sounds of nature and the mountain views I would wake to see as a new day dawned.   And so it did.

A breakfast spread to dream of – fresh made yogurt, brilliant red pomegranate, pieces of papaya, toast with more of that delicious butter, eggs, Chai, bananas, apples and of course some filtered water.

I spent a bit more time with Francine & Dinesh and asked them about the intense sounds I heard last night, loud rustling and two bursts of mysterious animal screams.   Did a chicken just get killed? Did it wake from a bad nightmare? They suggested it was likely a peacock killed by some type of wildcat or possibly a leopard. The farm property abuts the wildlife preserve and many have been spotted. Startling as it was, it sure beats the sound of cop cars in NYC.

ramblinarium, krishna ranch Breakfast at Krishna ranch

Just a few minutes before my ride would pick me up. Intrigued and animated for what I knew would be another wondrous chapter, I couldn’t help but but mourn the end of my time at the beautiful Krishna Ranch. I took many deep breaths and inhaled the healing tranquility I vowed to carry with me. I am also sending sweet little doses of it to you all.

Thank you universe.

Thank you India Someday.

Thank you You Wander We Pay.

Namaste.


My first nights in India: Staying at the Travellers Inn
My first nights in India: Staying at the Travellers Inn

 

The Journey Begins..

I made it to India!  A lifelong dream finally realized, thanks to India Someday and the amazing contest called #YouWanderWePay, which basically has my name on it! A social worker from New York City with a deep passion for all things local and an insatiable zest for experiencing life around our globe, I devoured my delicious Indian food aboard my Jet Airways flight and eagerly awaited the adventure of a lifetime.

ramblinarium, flying to india, #YouWanderWePay Ramblinarium, flying to india, #YouWanderWePay

After a smooth landing, I donned my well-traveled backpack, and exited the air-conditioned terminal to experience my first dose of the hot, astoundingly humid air, immediately feeling my curls become frizz.  I connected with Harsh, one of the India Someday founders and his exceptionally warm and friendly wife Arpita. They pampered me with good water, my first late-night veggie roti, and a fun drive orienting me to the layout and design of Bombay.  Driving alongside the sea, scores of people lined the walls overlooking the water.  Streets were mostly empty but the size, sounds and shapes of the various vehicles (and animals on the street) quickly reminded me that I had almost magically entered this mind-stirring land.

First thoughts on Mumbai and Travellers Inn

Harsh dropped me off at my first accommodation, the Travellers Inn, a clean, basic, well-located hotel in the Fort neighborhood. Not yet having any perspective on accommodations in India, I was pleased with the smooth late-night check-in and the helpful staff. My air-conditioned room had a full-size bed, en-suite bathroom (with showerhead basically right above the toilet) and cable television, which provided the perfect background (who doesn’t love an Indian cooking show!) while I settled in and used their strong Wi-Fi network to connect with family and friends back home, both to confim my safe arrival and to share excitement for some epic travel.

My bed was adequately comfy (though anything horizontal probably would have done the trick at this point.) I enjoyed a solid night of sleep and loved the tasty breakfast of eggs, fruit, deliciously buttered toast and Indian tea, delivered to my room in the morning  (included in the room price).  Getting ready to venture out into the streets of Bombay (seems to be the name used by many folks here) I had hoped to run into some fellow backpackers. Aside from a couple of computers and a book-swap shelf, there didn’t seem to be much common area for socializing. The very sweet owner however, brought me to the roof to show me the great work in progress for a new community space and even sought my ideas for what would make it best.

 

ramblinarium, breakfast at travelers inn, mumbai Ramblinarium, breakfast at travelers inn, mumbai

Not having seen other accommodations in Mumbai/Bombay to compare it to, but knowing how important a safe, well-located, clean establishment is, I would definitely recommend Travellers Inn to my fellow budget travellers. Ambience might not yet be its strong point (does seem like it’s on its way,) but helpful staff, cable TV, strong AC and good Wi-Fi (that never failed) surely enhanced my first experiences of India.

Huge thanks to the India Someday team, to the “clean” food vendors whose flavors I loved (and I haven’t yet gotten sick from), to the cows and goats on the streets, to the beautiful people and amazing banyan trees, to Harsh’s family for their wonderful Indian hospitality and to the fun characters like my friend Aditi’s friend Joseph. What a fabulous welcome to India you have offered.  Next up…train to Ahmedabad. Can’t wait for more! #YouWanderWePay

ramblinarium, banyan tree, mumbai ramblinarium, banyan tree, mumbai

ramblinarium, joseph in mumbai ramblinarium, joseph in mumbai

ramblinarium, vada pav, street food, mumbai ramblinarium, vada pav, street food, mumbai

ramblinarium, sweet lime juice in mumbai ramblinarium, sweet lime juice in mumbai

ramblinarium, thali lunch in mumbai ramblinarium, thali lunch in mumbai

ramblinarium, indian hospitality ramblinarium, indian hospitality

ramblinarium, train station, mumbai ramblinarium, train station, mumbai

 


Travelling to North East India
Travelling to North East India

North East India is one of the most remote regions of India and relatively untouched by the overbearing tourism industry. It consists of the seven states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The North East is a part of the second largest biodiversity hotspot in the world, with more than 60% of the area under forest cover. Although the cultures of this area are often banded dismissively together, they are in fact incredibly diverse and very well worth discovering.

The red panda  (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/djGs2F) The red panda (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/djGs2F)

How to get around in North East India?

Being a remote and hilly area, infrastructure is not well developed. With the exception of Assam where they have 4 lane cemented highways, the roads can be pretty bad. In Arunachal and Nagaland roads are continuously winding and poorly maintained restricting top speed to 30 kmph, making journeys between two places long and arduous. Having said this, the views are spectacular and will keep you spellbound almost all the way.

North East India Himalayas (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/hUwXnC) North East India Himalayas (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/hUwXnC)

Accommodation in North East India

Accommodation is pretty basic in most places. Hotels often do not have geysers or showers so hot water for bathing is provided in buckets. Some places may not even have western style toilets so be prepared to squat. Assam, Sikkim and Gangtok do have some extremely comfortable places for travellers, and a growing interest in the area promises newer options.

Who is it for?

North East has a very raw and rugged beauty, bearing a closer affinity to South East Asia than to the general perception of India. If you like to travel rough and honestly experience the lives of other cultures then this is the place for you. Expect the unexpected when travelling in this region. Despite the idea most people have of the North East being incredibly primitive and and backward, they have the most widespread rock music scene in all of India. Look up college festivals and local concerts and competitions to get a chance to experience something terrific. They also play host to quite a few music festivals that draw in crowds and bands from across the country.

 

There are very few luxury hotels in the North East and those which exist are found only in selected places like Kaziranga, Shillong, Jorhat and Dibrugarh. So if you are a luxury seeker and like to be pampered on your vacation then you might want to look elsewhere.

Cost of travel in North East India

Being a remote area the cost of trips to North East works out nearly 20% higher than a similar trip in any other place in India. The main reason is the transportation cost which is quite high due to roads being steep and in poor condition. Hence it is most economical to travel in groups of 4 or above. Hotel charges are also higher than other places in India. A big bonus is that the cost of living is low, and you’re unlikely to come across touts whose only aim is to fleece foreigners.

Seasons in North East India

Generally speaking November to May is a good time to visit the North East, but depending the the kind of trip and places you would like to visit certain months might be more favourable than others.

Food in North East India

While sticky rice is the staple diet of almost all the tribes in the North East, they compliment it with a dazzling array of meats, pickles, vegetables and beans cooked in endless variety. They love meat; pork being the favourite but vying among several other contenders ranging from chicken and fish to snail and smaller game. The residents of the North-East are famous for cooking anything that moves, a topic you should probably not bring up directly if you don’t want to offend your host but definitely something to look forward to if you really want to dive into a new culture.

 

Alcohol goes well with all the meat they eat. Rice and millet make the base for delicious local brews.

Glimpses of North East India (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/ko5oRz) Glimpses of North East India (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/ko5oRz)

Permits for North East India

Foreigners do not require permits to enter any of the North Eastern states besides Arunachal Pradesh. For visiting Arunachal foreigners need a PAP (Protected Area Permit) which costs US$100 for 2 people and is granted for a duration of 30 days. The permit has to be applied for through a tour operator recognised by the Government of Arunachal.

In conclusion we at India Someday would recommend that you keep at least 10 days for a trip to the North East since the region is pretty remote and has so much to discover, but with slow internal travel. Road journeys are long and tiresome so it is best to have more days at hand to see the region in a more relaxed manner. Most circuits in Nagaland and Arunachal would need around 15 to 20 days if you wish to properly experience the varied culture.

Hong Village Arunachal (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/9Fwyfc) Hong Village Arunachal (photo credit https://flic.kr/p/9Fwyfc)