Oberoi Udaipur, India
This week, Guest Blogger and Jaunt Contributor, Jordan Zucker, takes us to the colorful world of India. An actress and native New Yorker, Zucker is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Mathematics who moved to LA ‘to satisfy her thirst for seaside sunsets and avocados.’ With a hearty appetite for adventure and a good dose of gypsy blood, currently, she can be found on syndicated reruns of [Scrubs] as “Lisa,” the intern.
PS. Jordan loves water chestnuts, but despises cilantro. “I mean, don’t even put us in the same room,” she (half) jokes.
India in Luxury: From Mumbai to Jaipur
By Jordan Zucker
So I went to Northern India for two weeks with the folks and here’s what I gathered for Jaunt. The places we went (in order) were: Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Mumbai. India is a large country so keep that in mind. We visited the North (Rajasthan) and what would be considered only one state out of 35 states and union territories. States were formed on a linguistic basis and, as Wikipedia notes, “India is home to two major linguistic families: Indo-Aryan (74%) and Dravidian (24%). Other languages spoken come from the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman linguistic families. Hindi, with the largest number of speakers, is the official language. English, which is used extensively in business, has the status of a ‘subsidiary official language. The constitution also recognizes in particular 21 other languages that are either abundantly spoken or have classical status.”
That should give you some idea of the rich -and ancient – cultural influences still present in India today. The country consists of historic trade routes, the Hindu people of the Indus Valley, Aryan-speaking tribal descendants, the tribes of Genghis Kahn, and, of course, a history of British rule. Religions are varied with Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian being the main four, and Jianism and Sikhism also originating from here. As the fastest growing and largest world democracy, with the second largest population in the world, India shares it’s borders with China, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. It goes without saying that it’s important territory from both a social and political framework. Somewhere between past and present, poverty and promise.
We saw a part of this awesome land on a two-week Sita Tour called ‘India in Luxury.’ Sita Tours offer organized travel for the ‘discerning’ guest. In this case, that meant staying at almost every 5-star Oberoi Hotel & Resort in India. My parents finished off the trip with a jaunt to Goa in the south, so I’ve included some pointers from there, as well.
Here are the pros and cons:
Pros: A great tour guide, fab hotels, and I didn’t get sick from street food. A few notes: you must bring money to use public bathrooms. Delhi isn’t as dirty as I had expected and Mumbai is like the NY of India. It is by far the most cosmopolitan, the most urban, the hippest. Delhi was large in geography but more flat and residential than I would have imagined. Traffic is crazy in Delhi. Apparently, there are multiple pedestrian deaths a day from people being hit by cars while crossing the street. Agra is just a tiny village in comparison, with streetfront box shops just as you’d picture Indian countryside. Also, most of the cities I saw were in Rajasthan. If I had continued to travel to the south – or to the Himalayas- like my folks did, I would have noticed a more drastic difference in culture between the areas, I’m sure. Something I found interesting was that the locals were not opposed to calling the cities by their British rule names (Madras, Calcutta, Bombay). We thought it would offend them but they sometimes prefer the old names.
When people talk about India, they often reference the poverty, the smells, the grit… Well, I have to say, the country didn’t smell half as bad as I’d anticipated. Yes, it was dirty, but it smelled more of jasmine than feces. There are far cleaner places that smell worse (ie. trash in NJ, BO in Istanbul, the cows at Harris Ranch halfway between LA and SF), but yes, you see TONS of starving people, you see 9 year-olds carrying infants to get pity money for their families, you see all of the poor. It is also common to see people just squatting on the curb and taking a dump. You actually see if fall to the ground like a dog’s would. I recommend carrying around a box of EO lavender hand sanitizers. I get them at Whole Foods.
Cons: Because we traveled in luxury, I felt the experience was a little ‘watered down.’ I felt like a tourist. I like to get a local view and really experience what life is like – authentically – where ever I am. Perhaps it was safer to see the country being shielded slightly from the culture, but if I had my choice…
I also felt that everything was too expensive where we went. Because we could afford to stay in the nicest hotels, the locals on the tour took advantage of that a little too much.
We stayed at the Oberoi’s in each city. As incredible as I find the Oberoi properties, I wouldn’t recommend the Oberoi in the big cities (ie. Delhi and Mumbai). There are better places there. In Mumbai, the place to stay is The Taj Hotel, built by renowned architect W. A. Stevens. The Taj ‘embodies Jamsetji Tata’s vision of a luxurious hotel’ and was the first property with electricity and modern sanitation. It’s an architectural gem with a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. We’re talking vaulted alabaster ceilings, Indian archways, crystal chandeliers, a stunning art collection and cantilever stairway. You can’t go wrong. It was also counted among the “1,000 places to see before you die” by the New York Times Best Seller and voted in Conde Nast Traveler’s “Best Places to Stay”.
I also heard that The Taj is good in Delhi too, but the Imperial is supposed to be the best. Known as a museum hotel, it’s been a property for artists for over 70 years and displays an impressive collection of the ‘British Art on India.’
That said, along the countryside, opt for the Oberoi Hotels. They’re fabulous when it comes to design and service. Here are my favs:
1) Oberoi Vanyavilas – Ranthambore – worth the trip just to go here.
And check out the Tiger Safari!
2) Oberoi Amarvilas – Agra – I could see the Taj Mahal from my balcony and had the best India moment out there – all senses on India overload!
3) Oberoi Udaivilas – Udaipur – This property had stunning grounds where you can dine on a patio overlooking the lake.
Special note: The Banyan Tree Spas at all of the Oberois are GORGEOUS!
Again, I felt a little limited in this department as we were always guided to eat at the hotels, but at least I didn’t get sick, right?
1) Bukhara – Delhi – Great Chicken Tikki, Family Naan, etc.
2) Trishna – Mumbai – Best seafood place in the city!!! Favorite of the locals as well!
3) Dome – Mumbai – This is the place to go for an evening cocktail to see the sunset
1) Mumbai, India – Bombay Electric – Great women’s clothing store
2) Jaipur, India – Elephant Ride. Do NOT take the elephant ride up the fort – the wait in line is hours. Take a jeep up, then get an elephant ride directly from the stable in town – no wait.
3) Delhi, India – Chandni Chowk (market). Pick out your own fabric, make a clothing item.
4) Goa, India – Ingo’s saturday night market is a must to go. Bring cash. Here you’ll get the best buys in everything you can imagine. Favorite shopping spot in Goa: Janota shoes # 64, yellow lane Arpora, Goa.
5) Arpora, Goa – Seasonal store “The Haystack.”
For info call Angela @ 9881773053 or go to http://www.janotagoa.com
My parents stayed at The Taj, but Jaunt editors found these two sites for boutique hotels in Goa.
For the upper-crust artsy crowd, Jaunt recommend sites like Tablet Hotels and Design Hotels for finding boutique digs that excel in design and service.
PHRASES TO LEARN
Shukria = thank you
Chalo = go away
Chordo = leave me alone. This is administered with a dismissive flick of the hand (the street vendors are relentless!)
Tuk tuks (mini taxis) = The rate that appears on the meter is the rate code, NOT the fare. You need to ask the driver for the rate card and pay what corresponds to the code! (ie. if the meter reads 350, you do not pay 350 rupees (about $8.50) you look on the card and see what rate 350 costs (probably around 32 rupees which is a little over a dollar)
Always check your bill! They’re notorious for overcharging in hopes that the tourists won’t check. As soon as you point out the ‘error’ they will apologize and remove the excess charges. Don’t take it personally – it’s just their culture.
When asked if I would go back, I’ll say this. There is only one place in the world I have been to that I didn’t like (Morocco) so saying I’d go back to India isn’t a big endorsement. That said, I am also the type of person that wouldn’t go back to a place for the mere reason that I’ve already been and there are far too many new places I need to conquer before I start repeating things.
Do I think it’s worth seeing? Definitely.
The first day we were there we went to a temple in Delhi and there were about 12 school trips there, so it was us and thousands of kids ages 6-14. They ALL wanted to shake our hand and say ‘Hi, how are you!!’ kind of to show off their english speaking skills. They were so excited to see ‘westerners’ and a group of the boys even asked for my autograph (just because I was something new they’d seen, not because of TV)
The people in India were lovely. I felt safer than in Morocco (SKETCHY! I didn’t even trust our tour guide), though they will be overly aggressive if they want you to buy something. Hindu and religion is their highest purpose. They’ll build a 40 year temple in 8 years but will never quite finish fixing the roads – just not as important or worthy a cause for them. There’s something to be said for that.
So I’ll close with my favorite highway sign:
MOTORCYCLES, SCOOTERS, DIPLOMATS, AND CAMELS – PLEASE STAY TO THE LEFT OF THE TOLL PLAZA!
14 Day Itinerary
INR 445,000 (US$ 11,125*)