INDIA UNEXPLORED Luxury travel frontiers in
Asiaâ€™s most dynamic nation
PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR Annapurna Mellor travels to the Pushkar Camel Fair deep in the Rajasthan desert and brings back otherworldly photos.
TURTUK: KING BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS The humble Yabgo Mohammad Khan Kacho rules over the buckwheat fields and quiet stone streets of Turtuk on Ladakh’s Pakistan borderlands.
INDIA UNEXPLORED 10 India destinations that are off the tourist trail and well worth the journey.
SHANTUM SETH ON MINDFUL TRAVEL
ASSAM The peaceful tea country of Assam is hiding adventure and rhinos in the wild heart of East India.
ORCHHA: LIFE IN THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM The great wonder of Orchha isn’t its architecture or even its rich history. It’s that it is empty.
TAWANG: MONKS, MONASTERIES, AND MIGHTY MOUNTAINS IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH India looks very different up the steep mountain roads of Arunachal Pradesh, a land of Buddhist history and Himalayan charm.
PHOTOGRAPHING DELHI WITH JORDAN HAMMOND
RICHARD HOLKAR ON MAHESHWAR & AHILYA FORT Remote Lands sits down with Richard Holkar, the prince who turned his home into a luxury hotel in Maheshwar.
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Editor’s Letter . . . India has a special place in our hearts here at Remote Lands. Nowhere in Asia has such a diversity of wonders — tribes, mountains, deserts, religions, beaches — and every year it gets harder to visit somewhere that hasn’t been turned upside down by tourism. But India is a vast country of a billion people. From the rugged travel frontiers of Ladakh to empty forts on the banks of the Narmada River, India is alive. For travelers looking to reach a little further, there is plenty of India left to discover. – Tyler Roney
Remote Lands Co-founder, CEO
Remote Lands Co-founder, COO
Phoebe Storm Designer Cover Photo Annapurna Mellor
John McMahon, Annapurna Mellor, Contributors Jay Tindall, Jordan Hammond Director of Product
Director of Business Development
Remote Lands, Inc., 120 East 56th Street, Floor 16, New York, NY 10022, USA, +1 (646) 760-2048
Remote Lands (Thailand) Co., Ltd., Mahatun Plaza Building, 7/F, 888/74 Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330, +66 (094) 957-3143
A PHOTOGRAPHERâ€™S GUIDE TO THE
CAMEL FAIR Story and Photography by Annapurna Mellor
very year in mid-November, the dunes around the tiny Rajasthani town of Pushkar transform. From barren desert plains, a mirage of camels appear. Traders from across the state arrive with their one-humped beasts, set up camp on the dunes, and get ready for one of the regionâ€™s most unique cultural sights: the Pushkar Camel Fair. The scene of smoking turbaned traders, golden glowing sunsets, and the faces of Rajasthani women make for a photographerâ€™s paradise. Yet this scene of apparent chaos can be a difficult one to shoot, particularity if you are short of time at the fair.
STARTS AT SUNRISE Life begins early in the Thar Desert, and during my time in Pushkar, I found that the best time to photograph authentic local life was early in the morning. Before the sun rises, chai begins brewing from small stoves outside the tented camps. The women heat warm milk and masala spices while the men tend to the camels, offering them the first feed of the day. At this time, there are few tourists around and interacting with the herders and their families
feels much more authentic. Accept the offering of a chai and enjoy the light rising over the landscape with a local family. When you photograph people in India, and anywhere around the world, it is important to ask for permission. The results make for a much more engaging portrait. You will find that many of the camel herders and their families are happy to be photographed, although some will ask for small change or tobacco in exchange.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT
Although the main happenings of the fair take place on the dunes outside of Pushkar, the festivities spill over into the narrow streets of the town, and you can get great photographs here as well. Like many of Rajasthan’s towns, Pushkar is an incredibly photogenic place. Buildings are painted an offwhite and you’ll find colorful street art on every corner. Turn down backstreets and you’ll come across hidden temples, beautiful spots of light, and vistas of everyday life. Pushkar centers around Pushkar Lake, a pool of water surrounded by steep white-stepped ghats. During the fair the herders and their families take the time to come to the lake and bathe in its holy waters, which were said to have appeared when lotus petals fell from the hands of Lord Brahma. While photographing the bathers is strictly prohibited, it’s possible to get sweeping wide shots of the lake and town, and it’s particularly glorious at sunset.
As well as the camel trading, a cultural program takes place for several days at a location a few minutes away from the main fair. The program consists of Rajasthani dancing, camel decorating competitions, live music, as well as the main attraction: the great mustache competition. The events take place in a stadium on the edges of the town, and while it’s not the prettiest backdrop, it is still possible to get great pictures here. A telephoto lens can help capture details of the performers without being too intrusive.
GET SOME SCALE BY
CLIMBING HIGH There are a number of viewpoints in Pushkar which can give you scale over the town and camel fair. Perhaps the most spectacular is Nag Pahar, otherwise known as Snake Mountain. It’s a long climb up a series of steps to reach the top, where you’ll find temples, some very cheeky monkeys, and an incredible view over the town and desert around. During the fair, local companies offer hot air balloon rides over the area, and if you can catch one of these at sunset it really gives an idea of scale in this vast landscape. Another spot to head to is the Pap Mochani Temple, which is better in the morning.
LIGHT While the sunrise in Pushkar is the best time to capture portraits and cultural interactions of the local people, it’s at sunset when the light shines through the dunes and creates the most breathtaking shapes, patterns, and shadows. Head back down to the main fair at this time, and feast your shutter on the silhouettes of camel humps, the smoking of campfires in the golden light, and find a vantage
point for panoramic layers. The fair is not just camels, and as the air begins to cool, the horse fair also comes to life. At sunset, you’ll find potential buyers racing horses across empty stretches of the desert, testing the speed of the animal. As the dusk swells into the air, it makes for some fantastic photographs – just don’t forget to raise your shutter speed to capture the rapid movement.
STICK AROUND IF YOU HAVE THE TIME
My biggest tip for photographers wanting to engage with the culture and people of a place is always to stay as long as you can to get to know the people you are capturing. This builds a relationship of trust, and makes for much more meaningful photographs. While you will find many photographers at the fair, most only
come for a day or two over the main cultural program. Arrive a week or so before, and youâ€™ll find you are one of the only photographers around, which gives you a unique advantage of being able to engage with the herders and their families and get a unique and engaging set of photographs.
Story and photography by Jay Tindall
The King Between the Mountains
The King of Turtuk, Yagbo King Mohammad Khan Kacho of the Baltistan Yabgo Dynasty 14
The People and Terrain of Turtuk
he Yabgo dynasty ruled this area for 2,000 years,” the king says. “The Turtuk people don’t mind that it is India, that it is Pakistan. It is politics.” Through the arid mountains of Ladakh on the border with Pakistan, there sits a king: Yabgo Mohammad Khan Kacho. He rules over the buckwheat fields and quiet stone streets of Turtuk. As we meet in his homelike royal palace, he insists on speaking English. Like most in Turtuk, the king is Muslim. “Turtuk is 100 percent Muslim,” he says, however, Ladakh’s Buddhist heritage still marks the landscape with gompas. There is one road into Turtuk, and Pakistan is only two kilometers away. “Ghengis Khan came here, […] Alexander (the Great) came here, and the British came to India – it is the same,” the king says.
The people who call Turtuk home today have lived under both Pakistan and India; village life has remained the same. The king of Turtuk himself has relatives over the Line of Control in Pakistan. “Oh, yes, I talk to them. My two sisters live in Pakistan at this time,” he says, adding that he can’t visit them. “With the two countries’ tension, it is not good.” My journey to Turtuk followed the Shyok river for 2.5 hours from Diskit. Along the way, I began to notice that the region was dotted with largely abandoned military posts and pillboxes. Today, these outposts feature Indian artillery ready to fire over the mountains into Pakistan. Only a few scattered villages from Baltistan remain under control of India, the spoils of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. This king’s unofficial suzerainty in the Nubra Valley comes from the Yabgo dynasty on the changing borders of Baltistan, a region almost entirely in Pakistan today.
“Ghengis Khan came here, […] Alexander (the Great) came here, and the British came to India – it is the same.”
On the road to Turtuk, the landscape is barren. The sharp peaks and intimidating expanses so famed in the region are traded for bucolic valleys filled with crops. Our first stop was to meet the king in his palace. Palace is a bit of a misnomer. The Balti Museum of Turtuk is more of a home and courtyard. Unpretentious, friendly, and excited to speak about the history of Baltistan and the Yabgo Dynasty, King Yabgo Mohammad Khan Kacho traces the heritage of the Yabgo back to a Chinese travel writer in the sixth century. On the wall just a few meters from where we speak, the whole line of this dynasty is set on the wall, titled, “The Pedigree of Rajas of Yabgo Dynasty Chhorbat Khapulu Baltistan.” Upstairs from the small courtyard is the museum: bows and arrows, artifacts, maps, the remnants of Baltistan’s kingdom in modern day India. The history whence this pride comes emanates from Beg Manthal who ruled Chorbat-Khaplu all the way to the western reaches of Ghizer. “Turtuk is an agricultural village,” the king tells me. “It’s good air quality. Fruits
and vegetables […] people’s income is apricots, walnuts, and this sort.” At one time, the king himself adopted farming as his profession, but his work now is maintaining the museum, for which he receives no funds from the authorities. It has been elsewhere noted that the king is an author – although of a book banned for blasphemy for which he regrets he does not retain a copy. The unofficial borders of Baltistan are actually quite large, extending all the way North to Afghanistan. For India, Baltistan is only a few dozen kilometers. Turtuk only recently opened to tourism in 2010, but even in the travel frontier that is Ladakh, Turtuk is far off the beaten track only 200 kilometers from Leh. “It is good for the income. They come here, the many tourists come here and the local people. This income source is good.” Even though you haven’t crossed into Pakistan, Indian Baltistan feels very much like crossing a border. From the very much Buddhist countryside to the predominately Muslim area is a stark contrast.
It is not just the king travelers come to visit. The town of Turtuk also boasts a waterfall, Balti Heritage Home, and Brokpa Fort. My main concern, however, was shooting Turtuk town and its people. As a photographer, the region presented something of a challenge. While the people of lower Ladakh are all-too happy to sit for portraits, this slice of Indian Baltistan is notorious for an aversion to photography. The village before Turtuk, I was told, is exceedingly jealous of Turtuk, which receives all the tourism. I soon learned this to be true while shooting when a child threw water at us. Similarly, most of the people of Turtuk are not keen to be photographed; for portraits, it was one of the most trying places I have ever been. At one point I was driven to give my camera to a woman in the village so that she might take pictures of those around her — yielding mixed results. “Having a king system is not good,” the king says, denoting his station. “All the world is a democracy and that’s good.”
Wa Ale accommodations
INDIA UNEXPLORED 10 LUXURY TRAVEL FRONTIERS IN ASIA’S MOST DYNAMIC NATION
igers traipse the jungles that inspired Rudyard Kipling, hikers climb the freezing peaks of Ladakh, and lonely desert travelers wander dunes on camelback. India is thousands of places, a land that encompasses the tribal competitions of the muggy hills
of Bengal and snowy colonial hill stations in the Himalayas. Getting away from Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra — the Golden Triangle of India travel — visitors to this fantastical land will find so much more to enjoy in the forests, forts, and under-traveled cities of the vast Indian subcontinent
and beyond. Beaches? Visit the isolated Andaman Islands. History? Explore towns and forts that have existed since the myths of the Mahabharata. Wildlife? Walk with tigers and sloth bears in Madhya Pradesh. Wellness? Do yoga on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. India is for everyone.
TIGERS AT KANHA
anthambore and Bandhavgarh are overflowing with travelers keen to spot a tiger. Things at Kanha are a little more laidback; finding a tiger isn’t as important as enjoying the sunsets on the dusty roads and forests teeming with deer and birds. With about 60 tigers, though, travelers who put in the effort should be able to find a Shere Khan of their very own. Found in Madhya Pradesh, it’s said Rudyard Kipling’s immortal The Jungle Book was inspired by the wildlife of Kanha Tiger Reserve and writings of British explorers in the region. While you’d be hard pressed to get the sloth bears to break out into song, the wild spirit of India is very much alive here. The likelihood of spotting certain species can vary with the seasons. The mighty guar, for instance, is most likely seen as winter ends. Travelers can best experience this wonder of nature by jumping in a 4x4 for full and half day jeep safaris through the park. Morning game drives are best, as both you and the animals will appreciate the cooler temperatures. Whether on foot or in a jeep, visitors will find dozens if not hundreds of deer on their safari and perhaps even a leopard if you’re lucky. Unforgettable experiences here include Bamni Dadar, a sunset point where travelers can watch the local wildlife milling about in scenes photographers dream their whole lives of capturing.
Male tiger at Kanha National Park Credit: Anuradha Marwah, Taj Hotels
Taj Banjaar Tola Tent
WHERE TO STAY
The digs in Khana are somewhat more plush than what Mowgli had: Taj Banjaar Tola. After braving days of wild fauna, travelers can recuperate in palatial surroundings with one of the most impressive brands in hospitality. Two intimate camps, nine tents each, comprise the Taj Banjaar Tola. Found amid 90 acres of private sal forest interspersed with bamboo and lush meadows, the tents and dwellings boast private pools and indoor and outdoor lounge areas. Tented suites feature glass doors that lead out to a floating verandah, dining decks, and a tranquil river backdrop.
mritsar is hardly an obscure India destination – certainly not for the million people who call the city home. But between the history of the Sikhs, extraordinary architecture, and the city’s status as a hotbed of Punjabi culture, Amritsar is becoming a place where travelers can delve a little deeper. The city is said to have begun with the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das, in the late 16th century, and still today the city is steeped in the heritage of its founding. Important for new travelers is Amritsar’s most popular sight: Harmandir Sahib, more popularly known as the Golden Temple. An open house temple to both men and women of all faiths, this is the most sacred pilgrimage site to all Sikhs, a gurdwara with a history that reaches back to 1577. The Sikhs have long eschewed the caste system and are noted for feeding the thousands of pilgrims who travel here. Other must-see sights in Amritsar include Durgiana Temple, Akal Takht, and other timeless works that have endured the city’s tumultuous past. However, one of the most fascinating cultural sights sits just outside of Amritsar at Wagah Gate: the famed border between India and Pakistan, where visitors can watch the curious spectacle of the Wagah border ceremony. Colorful, elaborate, and fascinating, every evening two hours before sunset visitors can witness a show of one of the most intense political rivalries in Asia, ending in a coordinated lowering of each nation’s flag. It is at this meeting of worlds that Amritsar finds itself, a growing travel destination at the crux of Punjabi culture, heritage, and cuisine.
“As the home of the Sikh religion, Amritsar is extremely spiritual and every Sikh person wants to do a pilgrimage there at some point in their lives.” — Remote Lands co-founder and CEO Catherine Heald
WHERE TO STAY
Without a doubt the finest accommodation in Amritsar is the Taj Swarna. The ultra-luxe traveler may want to avail themselves of the Presidential Suite, featuring a city view, 173 square meters of space, and a private balcony. Fine diners will find much to enjoy at the Grand Trunk, which enjoys a multi-cuisine menu and is an ideal place to try some signature Amritsar flavors; single malts and
signature cocktails can be had nearby at The Peg. For lovers of Chinese cuisine, the al fresco dining at The Chinese Room is sure to delight. Be it dining, wellness at the Jiva Spa, or wandering around Punjab, travelers are unlikely to find anything better than the Taj Swarna in Amritsar. This hotel lives up to the Taj brand quality, with elegant traditional design and five-star service.
Credit: Jay Tindall: Kohima Camp
Tribespeople at the Hornbill Festival
TRIBAL EXPERIENCES IN
The Ultimate Travelling Camp, Kohima Camp
“My favorites were the Yimchunger, who sport large horned headdresses, and the Konyak, who wear wild boar horns on their heads and are known for their artisan skills.” — Remote Lands co-founder and COO Jay Tindall
WHERE TO STAY
ast India isn’t visited as often as the subcontinent – despite having rhinos, the Himalayas, and a vibrant Buddhist culture in Arunachal Pradesh. But for lovers of all things tribal (photographers in particular), there is a certain celebration that blows away most other tribal gatherings in Asia: the Hornbill Festival. Held in Nagaland in December, the Hornbill Festival, or “Festival of Festivals” as it is known, features the region’s seventeen tribes in ten days of cultural exhortation, competition, and, of course, dancing. Travelers will find Naga warriors, Angami dodgeball, and non-stop tribal experiences in a celebration that has come to define Nagaland. To get the best out of the experience, visitors would be well advised to use helicopters to get around. The roads to some of the most famous sights in Assam and East India are long, winding, and can often be bumpy or dangerous. So travelers wanting to see the Hornbill Festival should board their chopper to the rhinos of Kaziranga and the monks of Tawang Monastery before landing at Mon and Kohima. Nature lovers should be reminded to check out Majuli, one of the world’s largest river islands on the mighty Brahmaputra river before or after the festival for some birdwatching, perhaps to spot the celebration’s eponymous hornbill.
When it comes to accommodation, there is really only one answer for Nagaland: The Ultimate Travelling Camp. Nagaland is about as far as one can get off the beaten track in India, so luxury accommodations don’t really exist – for long. Kohima Camp, Nagaland from The Ultimate Travelling Camp is found in a secluded forest just 15 minutes away from the grounds of the Hornbill Festival. These large, self-contained tents feature a private sit-out, netted windows, and an en suite bathroom. It’s a luxury safari-style tent with a four poster bed that allows travelers to enjoy the festivities in relative comfort. With chef-made cuisine at the dining tent, a library, and expert service, this camp is the only luxury vantage for the Hornbill Festival.
Credit: Aman Hotels and Resorts
Inside the Pool Pavilion at Amanbagh
Swimming pool at Amanbagh
WHERE TO STAY
ound halfway between Delhi and Jaipur, Alwar seems like it would make for a busy stop on the Golden Triangle, but it remains relatively uncrowded, especially for travelers who know where to stay. The must-see sight near Alwar is Bhangarh; apart from the beauty of 17th century architecture, this attraction is known as the most haunted place in India – so haunted in fact that entry is not permitted between sundown and sunrise. The story of this haunting goes back to the beautiful daughter of the ruler of Bhangarh who killed a tantric priest attempting to bewitch her. The priest cursed Bhangarh, causing, it is said, a war that killed the princess. For a touch of nature, travelers can venture into Sariska National Park, a 309-square-mile area in the rocky Aravalli Hills featuring crocodiles, macaques, leopards, and rare opportunities for tigers. Eagles and vultures can be seen above the trees, but proper birdwatchers will want to explore Mansarover Lake in a Kashmiri-built shikara boat from October to February.
The best place to stay in Alwar is also the best reason to go: Amanbagh. Alwar occupies a unique space in Rajasthan, and for luxury travelers and lovers of the Aman brand, the Amanbagh is a must-see. Once a mobile tiger hunting camp for the Maharaja of Alwar, Amanbagh was designed as a contemporary interpretation of India’s golden age of Mughal architecture. Of the accommodations available at Amanbagh, the Pool Pavilions are highly recommended: private pool, spacious garden, and even a covered dining area. With multi-day holistic Ayurvedic Wellness Immersions at the spa, green grounds, and a 33-meter swimming pool, Amanbagh is an ideal place to relax and take in Rajasthan at one’s own pace.
Leopard in Yala National Park
Apart from the well-known Radhanagar Beach, there are a number of shores to discover. Elephant Beach is known for its marine life and coral reefs, and Vijaynagar Beach is an established spot for swimming and surfing, famed for its shallow, sky-blue waters. Below the waves, Corbyn’s Cove, off the capital of Port Blair, is a popular diving destination, as is Wandoor Beach’s Mahatma Gandhi National
Marine Park where glass-bottom boating is available for those who prefer to view sealife in more comfort. The volcanic Barren Island, less frequented by tourists, provides more experienced divers the opportunity to swim with green sea turtles, colorful reef fish, octopus, and manta rays. Diving highlights include the walls off Havelock Island and Dixon’s Pinnacle, all best experienced from October to May.
Credit: Taj Exotica Resort: Reality Images
he Andaman and Nicobar Islands are India’s slice of Southeast Asia: beaches, tribes, and island magic. For Western travelers, this chain of islands separating the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea is rarely visited. The geographically isolated area is made even more difficult to visit travel restrictions, but recent years have seen this region’s popularity boom.
Swimming pool at the Taj Exotica Resort 30
WHERE TO STAY
Opening in 2018, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans is found in the Havelock Islands, the resort is set on the crescent-shaped Radhanagar Beach, once named the worldâ€™s seventh best beach by Time magazine. It is a world-class complex of 50 villas, encompassing 46 acres of mangrove and rainforest. The construction was inspired by the native Jarawa tribeâ€™s stilted huts with pitched roofs. This Taj resort allows for panoramic beach views and includes a 50-meter infinity swimming pool. The on-site restaurants consist of Shoreline, offering regional curries; the Turtle House, focusing on Italian, Mediterranean, and Indian grills; and The Settlers, specializing in fine-dining. One unique experience here is that of nocturnal kayaking through the mangroves, where bioluminescent phytoplankton entertain paddlers with their fluorescence.
BEACHES IN THE
ANDAMAN & NICOBAR
Chamba Camp Diskit
“The Ultimate Travelling Camp properties throughout India are synonymous with being the ne plus ultra of glamping, and truly the facility could surpass many a 5-star hotel.” – Victoria Hilley
adakh is India’s truest travel frontier. Travelers can search for snow leopards, meet a king in Turtuk, or climb the Himalayas. But two must-see stops in the region are Diskit and Thiksey. Visitors will likely be flying into Leh, so after a night in the sleepy city hills, guests will want to make their way south for Thiksey Monastery. This
photographer’s dreamland is a Tibetan-style gompa that will seem very out of place to anyone who only knows India through the south. With roots stretching back to the 15th century, this incredible Potala Palace-like structure is an unmissable part of any trip to Ladakh. From there visitors go through the Nubra Valley to Diskit. On the way, guests will traverse
Khardung La pass; one of the highest motorable passes in the world, you can spot two-humped bactrian camels and glaciers along the way. At Diskit travelers can rest their bones and enjoy the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh: Diskit Gompa. The Bhuddhist structures, statues, and artworks here are among the most impressive in Asia.
LADAKH GLAMPING IN
Ladakh may be the edge of the world, but there is still comfort to be had here, specifically with The Ultimate Travelling Camps in both Thiksey and Diskit. The spacious, exceedingly comfortable glamping tents for which TUTC is known are perhaps best exemplified at the
Thiksey Campâ€™s Presidential Suite. Here the whole family can join in a North India adventure in the style of a Himalayan safari: excellent food, spacious luxury accommodations, a verandah area, and an extra wing which can accommodate two more beds.
Chamba Camp Diskit just outside Diskit village is done in a more rustic style, a mystique enhanced by the landscape. Camp Diskit offers many excursions, including the sand dunes at Hundar for a camel ride and hiking the holy Yarab Tso Lake.
Credit:The Ultimate Travelling Camp
WHERE TO STAY
Thiksey Campâ€™s Presidential Suite
The Vice Regal Suite at Ananda in the Himalayas
Credit: Mikhail Ivannikov: Ananda
WHERE TO STAY 34
There’s no shortage of wellness retreats in Rishikesh. But, for luxury travelers, there’s really only one option worth mentioning: Ananda in the Himalayas. This is the ultimate wellness retreat cum resort in India – perhaps the world: an unmatched mix of luxury, dining, and relaxation. Once a maharajah’s palace, today it is a luxurious seventy-five room spa and resort overlooking the Ganges. Found on a 100-acre estate in the Himalayan foothills, Ananda offers a variety of energizing and
rejuvenating experiences designed to bring guests into their fullest physical and spiritual potential. With daily yoga, meditation classes, and treks, therapy programs are customized to meet personal goals for destressing, cleansing, and relaxing. A highly qualified team of nutritionists, physicians, therapists, and fitness experts lead residents toward a balanced, holistic stay. That said, Ananda in the Himalayas can also be a place to indulge, more specifically in the meals of the Treetop Deck and the drinks at The Pavilion.
ith the 2021 Kumbh Mela set outside Rishikesh in Haridwar, this North India treasure is sure to become more popular in the near future. The Beatles, yoga, ashrams, Ganges – Rishikesh is India’s capital of chillaxing in style. Every evening as the sun sets on the banks of the Ganges, devotees offer diyas (oil lamps) to Maa Ganga, goddess of the most holy river in India, during the divine light ceremony of the aarti. This restorative celebration is a favorite of travelers to Rishikesh. Another famous must-see is that of Swarg Ashram, one of the oldest yoga
ashrams in Rishikesh and a meditation center for eminent Hindu sages. Green forest hills, colorful orchards, and clean air serve as the backdrop for a complex of cafes, shops, meditation centers, restaurants, and hotels. Yoga is a favorite activity in Rishikesh. Indeed, travelers will notice foreigners and locals alike on the banks of the Ganges, stretching and taking in the mountain vistas. For the more adventure minded, there’s trekking, kayaking, camping, and whitewater rafting. For fans of music history and graffiti, the Beatles Ashram – or Chaurasi Kutia – is a must-see.
RISHIKESH Yoga on the banks of the Ganges River
Camel safari in the Great Thar Desert
The pool at SUJĂ N The Serai
ocated in the far western deserts of India, Jaisalmer is slowly becoming the heart of Rajasthani culture. Isolated from the bigger cities culturally and geographically, here the heritage of the desert thrives just 100 kilometers from the border with Pakistan. The first stop on most travelers’ itineraries is the impressive Jaisalmer Fort, which at certain times of the day
virtually blends into the desert sand. The heyday of this mighty fort is long gone, but it’s still one of the India’s rare “living forts,” with about 25 percent of Jaisalmer’s current population residing within the fort’s three ramparts. Time permitting, a walking tour of Jaisalmer is highly recommended. A healthy stroll should take you to Gadesar Lake, Jain temples, the city ramparts, and the old market. Travelers
should also plan to visit the deserted village of Kuldara from the 13th century as well as the ancient capital of the Bhatti Rajput Kings in Ludharva. Most, however, are keen to hop on a camel and hit the mighty sands of the Great Thar Desert. The best way to experience Jaisalmer’s deserts is on a private camel safari to the Maulana Dunes for thatched clay huts and the locals’ beautifully decorated camels.
WHERE TO STAY
JAISALMER Jaisalmer’s far western location means that it doesn’t have the abundance of choices found somewhere like Jodhpur or Udaipur. There is, however, a superbly luxurious desert camp on the city’s outskirts: SUJÁN The Serai. Found on a 100-acre private estate of desert scrub, The Serai draws its design inspiration from the royal caravan sites of Rajputana. Tented camp, resort,
desert oasis – The Serai is a bit of everything. The dining is firstrate, the service is world class, and the stargazing is spectacular. SUJÁN The Serai is made up of 21 intimate tents, and the best among these is the privacy and peace of the Royal Tented Suite. Set in a private encampment, this is a glamping experience complete with a heated outdoor plunge pool, a massage area, and tents for dining and lounging.
Credit SUJÁN The Serai
his out-of-the-way city hugging the Narmada River is steeped in myth and legend. For lovers of Indian mythology, this town is unbeatable, indelibly linked to the lineages and legends of the nation. From the Mahabharata and Ramayana to the families of Indore, Maheshwar is filled with Indian heritage. Sometimes referred to as the Varanasi of Central India, must-sees in Maheshwar include the sleepy old city streets and its many mosques, temples, and markets. A craft prominent in
the city since the 5th century, the colorful Maheshwari sarees are weaved with distinctive and intricate designs. For the spiritual traveler there is Omkareshwar, meaning Lord of the Om Sound. One of twelve revered shrines of Shiva and visited every year by a large number of pilgrims, the Omkareshwar sits on an island shaped like the holy Hindu Om symbol in the middle of the Narmada river, approachable only by boat. But the very best site to see is also the very best place to stay: Ahilya Fort.
As well as the main tourist attraction in the area, a lucky few will find their beds inside one of the most important sites in Madhya Pradesh: Ahilya Fort. The 18th-century Ahilya, built by the famed queen Ahilyabai Holkar, sits on the banks of the Narmada. Today, the hotel only offers 13 exclusive rooms, including a Maharaja Tent overlooking Ahilyeshwar Temple and the river.
“Ahilya Fort has become a ‘not to be missed’ destination for the experienced traveler who is looking for something authentic and out of the popular tourist locations,” says Richard Holkar, who restored his 300-year-old home and turned it into the Ahilya it is today. “My intention of giving the guest an experience of living in my home and not in a hotel has been widely acclaimed and appreciated.”
WHERE TO STAY
The Fort of Maheshwar on the Narmada River 38
Credit: Ahilya Fort : CRS Photo
“I lived in Manik bagh till the age of nine. I never felt that I was growing up in a piece of Indian history. Everything seemed so normal.” — Richard Holkar Inside Arjun’s Regal Tent at Ahilya Fort 39
SHIMLA PEACE IN
ften snowy, filled with forest, and an ideal base for exploring northern India, Shimla is a destination for nature lovers who prefer the quiet – if done properly. Adventure travelers can avail themselves of the skiing opportunities from January to March. In the warmer months,
visitors can mountain bike the country trails or tackle Jakhu Hill for a view of the surrounding Himalayas and a temple to Hanuman, a Hindu monkey deity, one of the highest statues in the world. However, most travelers want to go to Shimla to relax. For a more peaceful time, visitors can ramble around for a look
The Kalka-Shimla train waiting at Shimla railway station
at Viceregal Lodge and Christ Church – complete with a mural designed by Rudyard Kipling’s father – or climb aboard the adorable Kalka-Shimla Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage site with panoramic views. Many prefer to use the vantage of Shimla as a base for exploring the surrounding area’s Tibetan heritage.
WHERE TO STAY
As for where to stay, the answer is simple: Oberoi Wildflower Hall. This fascinating property rests atop the Himalayas at 8,250 feet and was once the estate of the British Lord Kitchener. With 87 suites and the reliable luxury of the Oberoi brand, travelers here have the best chance at finding the peace and quiet they are seeking in Shimla. Oberoi-style luxury and mountain views are the two best reasons to stay at Wildflower Hall, and visitors will find both of those things at the 882-square-foot Deluxe Suite. The plushest room to be had at Wildflower, however, is the inimitable Lord Kitchener Suite, perhaps the grandest room in the whole of northern India: spectacular views, an ornate fireplace, and 1,470 square feet of space. Oberoi Wildflower Hall is insulated from Shimla, and luckily the F&B scene will keep visitors sated with all-day fine dining at The Restaurant and whisky at Cavalry Bar.
Credit: Amit kg : Oberoi Hotels and Resorts
Pool at the Oberoi Wildflower Hall 41
ON MINDFUL TRAVEL
n ordained Dharmacharya in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh for the last 20 years, Shantum Seth has taught mindfulness to educators, police, the corporate sector, and more for the not-for-profit Ahimsa Trust. He is considered one of the foremost guides to Buddhist sites in India. Having led transformative journeys across Asia to countries such as Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, and Cambodia, Mr. Seth will be leading a private jet journey with Remote Lands later this year, Jet Journeys by Aman: A Mindful & Cultural Journey. What in your opinion is "mindful" travel? It is traveling with an awareness of what is going on outside of ourselves and within ourselves and bringing a nonjudgemental present moment presence to our experience; [it is] experiencing our journey with an intuitive sense of what is present in the here and now and touching the miracle in what can sometimes be considered mundane. Mindful travel allows us to be open to the journey and not just the destination. It cultivates an openness to what is happening as a direct experience of reality as it presents itself – what we call in Zen as having ‘beginner’s mind’. This allows us to appreciate different cultures and views with curiosity and non-reactivity.
On the upcoming Jet Journeys by Aman: A Mindful & Cultural Journey, what sort of mindful experiences can travelers look forward to in India? We will cultivate the energy of mindfulness through the journey, bringing an awareness to our breath, body, feelings, and mental patterns of perception. I shall offer guidance on practices such as mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful sitting, et cetera. We shall also have an opportunity to look at our habitual reactive responses and emotions with an enhanced awareness. We shall experience opportunities to have formal meditation practices and reflective periods. We shall bring attention to how our six senses are responding to the external stimuli of our trip and bring an appreciation of the gift of life and the joy of living. How did you come to the Zen tradition? I was brought up in a Hindu family and about 40 years ago, after a car crash in a sports car, I decided to get involved in the activist politics of peace and justice. This led to burn out and I went for a search for around six years for a path that would help me experience peace, rather than fight for peace. After meeting many teachers and spiritual traditions, I felt most comfortable in the Buddhist tradition. This appreciated the importance of embracing the felt experience of life being a starting point. I also agreed with the Buddha’s insight on the interconnectedness of everything. The
Buddha offered mindfulness as a path of practice that was universally accessible. Through my search with a number of Buddhist teachers, I met with the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh on a retreat for artists in 1987. On the second day of the retreat, during a walking meditation, I felt I touched peace for the first time as visceral experience. Since then he became my primary teacher and many of his teachings became my practice. Zen comes from the word dhyana, which means meditation. What are you most looking forward to on the upcoming Jet Journeys by Aman trip with Remote Lands? I am looking forward to meeting the people on the trip, getting to know them, and becoming friends and good travel companions. I want to facilitate a journey than can be both an exciting ‘outer journey’ to the places where we visit, and an ‘inner journey’ for the people participating as we create spaces for reflection and sharing. I will endeavour to create a harmonious group energy and a feeling of a community. I also look forward to experiencing the diverse cultures of Buddhism and other spiritual traditions practiced in many of the places we plan to visit. I love traveling, learning, and sharing, and being on this journey will afford that opportunity. I am looking forward to staying in and experiencing the beautiful spaces that Aman has created, and also working with Remote Lands.
ASSAM THE INDIA NATURE DESTINATION YOUâ€™VE BEEN MISSING By John McMahon
Credit: David Evison
onsidered to be one of the great rivers of Asia, the Brahamaputra is formed from the waters of the Angsi glacier high in the northern Tibetan Himalayas, where it flows easterly through India and Bangladesh and meets the sea at the end of its 1,100 kilometer course. The river has many names but its Indian name, Brahamaputra, meaning son of Brahma, gives it a rare masculine aspect among bodies of water in India, perhaps due to the fierce rapids that dominate much of its course. Itâ€™s those rapids, along with the pristine surrounds of the river, which attract kayakers and rafters from around the world to paddle class IV and V rapids. A wide range of outfitters offer multi-day and even multi-week tours giving visitors the ability to splash, swirl, and jostle their way through as many as 200 kilometers of river basin jungle with overnight stops on sand beaches, surrounded by mountain vistas and traditional villages along the banks. Travelers have the option of going up river on luxury cruise boats which transport passengers back to a more genteel time, with white-suited staff serving high tea on-deck between stops at national parks, colonial era tea estates, the ancient Ahom ruins at Sivasagare, and Majuliu Isle. Thereâ€™s a plenitude of national parks in Assam which harbor a rich diversity of some of the rarest wild animals on earth, but only Kaziranga and Manas parks provide much refuge for the Indian long-horned rhino. Kaziranga may have the widest diversity of flora and fauna of any preserve in India. Originally set aside to combat poachers in 1908, it was officially made a national park in 1974. Home to elephants, sloth bears, hog deer, and Holock gibbons, it is especially famous for its abundance of the Indian long-horned rhino. Safaris in the park offer the opportunity to view the animals in their natural habitat including extremely rare sightings of Bengal tigers. The park is accessible by air, road, and boat via the Brahmaputra River. Less accessible but equally as important for habitat and animal preservation is Manas National Park in the foothills of the Himalayas, straddling the Bhutanese border. A UNESCO natural World Heritage site, it functions both as a tiger and elephant preserve. Though once home to a thriving population of rhinos, the parkâ€™s herd suffered from cross-border strife and is now being reintroduced with animals from Kaziranga. The combination of staying at the national park paired with a night safari gives visitors the best opportunity to view rare and elusive birds and animals including the endangered golden langur.
ORCHHA Life in the Forgotten Kingdom
Story and photography by Jay Tindall 46
hen Generosity and Greed set out to visit Orccha, they saw a huge array of forts, towns, and villages – how could I possibly recount all their names.” These words were written by scholar and poet Keshavdas in the 16th century, a time of the great Rudra Pratap Singh, King of Orchha. The economic and political majesty are now gone. What remains is a forgotten medieval capital in the heart of India’s Madhya Pradesh. A small town, scattered chhatris, and a towering fortress complex are Orchha’s legacy. It is in that hollow reverence that Orchha is so unique. As Keshavdas said of a lake, “It is marvelous, clear, vast, and profound in its depths.” These days, travelers can stay in the fortress of Orchha itself if booked in advance; my journey there was somewhat more ad hoc. Arriving by train from Bhopal in the evening and staying overnight in an Orchha hotel, we woke at sunrise to see the chhatris on the Betwa River. The first thing that struck me was the quiet. Beyond the occasional loud car, the chhatris stood tall and still against the sky. If this were Rajasthan, I thought to myself, the stairs would be swarmed with tourists and touters. The Red Fort in Agra is inundated daily with thousands of selfie snapping tourists. But, in Orchha, there stood a line of delicately designed chhatris with only the company afforded by people bathing and praying in the shadow of these medieval wonders.
These chhatris, I would come to learn, were little wonders compared to the coming Jahangir Mahal and Raja Mahal. Started by a Bundela chief in the early 16th century, most of Orchha’s architectural magnificence comes after the Mughal invasions. Of those buildings, none is more impressive than the Jahangir Mahal, built by King Vir Sing for the Mughal prince Salim, known as Jahangir. Much of the wonders of India are no longer off the beaten track. This is. Found in a small town, this fortress for
kings is not often visited by foreigners. The halls, rooms, and stone balustrade-laden staircases are all quiet. For a photographer or videographer obsessed with geometry, Orchha is a goldmine. Despite the age of the Orchha temples, chhatris, and fortresses, it did not appear to be in disrepair – even compared to some of India’s more popular architectural wonders farther west. The paintings on the interiors were vivid, the stones worn but sharp. The Orchha fort complex also features
the Raj Mahal, the King’s Palace. Here, travelers and photographers will find the most impressive paintings and carvings on the ceilings and walls. The realm of Lord Rama, the deity of Madhukar Shah’s wife, this area of the complex is also home to the Chaturburj temple, and there are even, supposedly, quite a few secret passages. The 105-meterhigh Chaturburj temple – found on the outskirts of the fortress complex – was originally built to Rama, but it is currently worshiped for Radha Krishna.
Outside the quiet, empty fort is a different world – a more colorful Orchha. The town around Orchha may not be very big, but it is lively. The market was an active area with much going on, rows of tables kitted out with trinkets and necessities for the local and the occasional tourist. Hindu pilgrims were seen, and, of course, one will find the ever photogenic sadhus ready to have their photos taken – for a price. It was further into the town that
I was able to find a few musical and dance performances, some religious, some ceremonial. At one, people sat on the ground carefully singing hymns to a keyboard instrument worn brown with time and dirt. At another dance performance, young and old women with henna on their hands danced together quickly and with intensity. One woman was so overcome that she briefly passed out, caught by man dancing with the ladies. Spectators looked on clapping
along with the music. Brief as it was, my journey through Orchha was a memorable one – a region filled with the history of the Mughals and abiding religious architecture, yet maintaining the charm of a small India city. Having traveled extensively throughout India, it was a pleasure to see a fortress complex so large and intricate that hadn’t been taken over by tourists. Perhaps there are more to come.
ome 1,000 kilometers from the cities of Rajasthan and bustle of Delhi exists an Indian state few know well. Arunachal Pradesh is home to some of India’s highest mountains, a huge range of tribal cultures, and a variety of religious practices. You’ll find few saris,
Ganesh statues, or chapatis here, but instead a different kind of India. Nestled in a corner of Arunachal is Tawang. Not only does it take two days to drive here from Guwahati, the nearest airport, but in order to reach Tawang, you have to cross the Sela Pass at 4,170 meters, one of
the highest roads in the world. Tawang could be one of India’s premier attractions, but because of its location, it remains the country’s best-kept secret. For those who do make the journey, one of the world’s largest Buddhist monasteries, a unique tribal culture, and breathtaking scenery await.
MONKS, MONASTERIES, AND MIGHTY MOUNTAINS IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH Story and photography by Annapurna Mellor
Tawang Monastery for morning prayers The magnificent Tawang Monastery is hard to miss when you’re in Tawang. Its white exterior perches grandly on the mountainside above the town, surrounded by forested green hills and backed by the towering Himalayas. After Lhasa’s Potala Palace, it is the largest Buddhist monastery in the world and was founded in 1680. When the Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959, one of his first stops was the Tawang Monastery – and he continues to cross the mountain passes to visit the monastery to this day. Found at around 3,000 meters above sea level, the view from the monastery is – quite literally – breathtaking. At sunrise, light floods the valley floor and it’s not hard to grasp why the translation of Arunachal Pradesh is Land of Dawn Lit Mountains. While the white corridors and the elaborate gompas of the monastery are certainly beautiful, it is the daily life of the monastery’s 300 monks which are the real highlight of a visit here. If you can set your alarm early enough, morning prayers take place at 5:30am every day. Red robes flood into the Gompa and young monks sit in lines beneath the towering golden Buddha that dominates the room. The hour-long practice consists of reciting prayers, and the sounds of the gongs and Tibetan horns leak into the dramatic landscapes all around. The practice is followed by breakfast, classes, and then debating on the terrace – a fascinating sight to see. The monks here are very welcoming to the few foreigners who visit, and many will enjoy a short chat with you in order to practice their English.
Sunrise over the Tawang Valley
Tawang Monastery from the Big Buddha
To ge t the be s t vie w , he ad to th e 18 - foot Buddha s tatue j us t ou tsi de of the tow n. I n the m orning, you ’l l find locals practicing pros t ra ti on s around the s tatue and the mon a stery its e lf bake d in golde n m orn i n g l i ght.
You can’t miss Sela Pass if you are heading to Tawang, as it’s necessary to cross the pass to access the valley. While you could drive straight through the area, it’s worth stopping and taking in the surroundings (and breathing in that thin air) when you reach the top. At 4,170 meters, the Sela Pass is one of the world’s highest motorable roads. At the highest point of the pass, there is an ice-lake surrounded by mountains, a large painted gate, and a number of small tea shops selling the sweetest chai in India. As you approach the pass, you’ll feel yourself going further and further into the clouds, surrounded by stunning views and snowcapped peaks. If you have extra time on the way up, overnight stops in the small towns of Bomdila and Dirang are worth it to see more of the Monpa tribes and monasteries.
Sela Pass on the way to Tawang
A Monpa tribal dance A Nun of the Brahmadung Nunnery Monpa people occupy parts of Tibet and Bhutan, but the majority of them â€“ around 60,000 â€“ live in Arunachal Pradesh and many in the Tawang Valley. A trip to Tawang is the perfect opportunity to get closer to the culture and experience some of their unique foods, rituals, and customs through a homestay visit. Kitpi Village, a Monpa settlement in the Tawang Valley, is home to around 300 Monpa people. It welcomes visitors with prior notice, and the friendly village residents will offer tourists to the area local meals and performances. On arrival, we were greeted by a group of local women in vibrant pink dresses, the traditional costume of the Monpa tribe. In their hair, they wear black braids and their look is characteristically Tibetan, as you will find with most of the residents of this area of Arunachal Pradesh.
Tea in the Valley
A feast of homemade paneer curry, millet, momos, and daal is served alongside cups of Arra, a local alcoholic wine made from millet and butter. After dinner, the men of the village prepared elaborate masks and performed a traditional dance for us, while the women sang local songs in circles and encouraged us to get involved. If you want to experience more of Monpa culture, it is also possible to stay overnight in local villages. Hiring a local guide to help you connect with the Monpa and overcome the language barrier is essential. While monks are dominant in the valley due to the large Tawang Monastery, it is also well worth visiting the Brahmadung Nunnery to see how monastic women live. The friendly complex is known locally as Ani Gompa and is home to around 45 nuns who welcome visitors. Founded in 1816, the nunnery feels like a small, enclosed village. The houses are whitewashed, in a similar style to the Tawang Monastery, and the monastic life of the women here is much the same – although due to the size, there are fewer activities. If you’ve spent a few weeks in India before your visit to Tawang, you might be looking for a change from curries, rice, and chapatis. The cuisine in Tawang is primarily influenced by the food of Tibet and Bhutan. You’ll find delicious thukpas (Tibetan noodle soup) and momos (Tibetan dumplings) on every menu. Local Monpa food features a lot of chilis and homemade cheese and is filling and flavorful. While you’re in the area, you also must try the local tea which is flavored with a lump of salted butter.
Kitchen in a Monpa homestay 55
with Jordan Hammond
Yamuna Ghat 56
espite Delhi being pure and utter chaos, it is a city that you need to visit at least once to truly appreciate India. Throw yourself in the deep end and visit Khari Baoli, the biggest spice market in Asia, for some great portraits and street photography opportunities. The market is in full swing early in the morning, so make sure you’re there to witness it at its best. You can take the stairs up to the roof of the market next to the mosque for a unique perspective, and watch the locals get ready for a day of hard work. When your lungs can’t take the spices in the air anymore, make your way to the Jama Masjid Mosque, one of the largest mosques in India. The mosque is a prime example of Mughal architecture and was made by the same person that commissioned the Taj Mahal. I’d recommend going early whilst it is still relatively quiet and hope for the infamous Delhi pigeons to fly into prime position for your photographs.
HOLKAR on Maheshwar & Ahilya Fort
It’s been almost 20 years since you restored the Ahilya Fort to its former glory. What has been the reception of this unique property over the years? Ahilya Fort has become a “not to be missed” destination for the experienced traveler who is looking for something authentic and out of the popular tourist locations. My intention of giving the guest an experience of living in my home and not in a hotel has been widely acclaimed and appreciated. [...] Staff, accommodation, and food are resonant of staying in a private home. Would you care to educate our readers about your family history and the Holkar State? Holkar State was founded in 1740 by Malhar Rao Holkar. He established his capital in Indore. His daughter in law, through unusual circumstances, became the acknowledged ruler of the state in 1765 and moved the capital to Maheshwar Fort, on the banks of the sacred Narmada River. Here she built her residence and official buildings, which I transformed into Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel in the year 2000. Holkar State became one of the 10 most important princely states in India. My father, Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II, was the last Holkar maharaja. He brought Holkar State into the Indian union. From 1880 through 1947, the state made important
strides in bringing industry, women’s emancipation, local self government, and agricultural improvements to the people of the state. My father had a unique aesthetic in the Indian context and embraced modernism. In the early 30’s he built his palace, Manik Bagh, in Indore, and it is the preeminent example of the modernist style in the world. Why should luxury travelers make the journey to Maheshwar? The ultimate luxury is simplicity and good taste in an authentic environment. That is Ahilya Fort. With six buildings from which to choose, do you have a particular favorite spot or room at Ahilya Fort Hotel? Of course my apartment, but then for the traveler perhaps Hawa Bangala, truly perched over the magnificent river view. Guests feel that they are in the bow of a luxury yacht. What was it like growing up in a piece of Indian history? I lived in Manik bagh till the age of nine. I never felt that I was growing up in a piece of Indian history. Everything seemed so normal. This feeling is common among those who have only known a particular environment. They think the world outside is like that. Of course my thoughts changed when I went to the States for my schooling.
EXPERIENCE LUXURY CRAFTED BY TIME
Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur 18th century Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur
Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur 19th century Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
19th century Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad
Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad
20th century Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
Grand traditions commenced by royalty. Splendid courtyards that witnessed majestic celebrations. Secret recipes that won over generations of Emperors. Each Taj Palace is steeped in stories and history. Explore and live the life of an Indian royal. www.tajhotels.com |