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Living like a Maharaja in Udaipur!

So anyone who knows me at all…and all those who don’t know me but have read stuff that I’ve written- you’d probably know that it doesn’t take much for me to want to travel…I can make occasions out of almost anything and in my mind celebrations are occasions and are the perfect time to do something different, to travel, to explore, to dream and to make dreams come true!

It was the husband’s birthday last year and in true Divya-mystery style , I told him to take leave from work- ” I was going to kidnap him!” is what I said! And that’s totally what I planned! The Ultimate Kidnap! Nothing was bought via his Credit card.  Bookings were done on email and via the phone and Aditya who was delighted about the kidnapping stayed happily oblivious to all my intricate plans!

Now Aditya had only been very briefly to Rajasthan once when in school. It had been quick , short and unmemorable and he’d always talked of wanting to go back- to see the palaces. I have spent more than a few vacations in the Palaces of Rajasthan but this was a trip and a surprise I wanted to give him…so it was up to me to try and ensure that the trip catered to HIS very specific tastes  and so I went ahead and did my research! The Palace I chose was the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur.

The Taj Lake Palace has always been one of my favourite palaces. A white , carved beauty almost arising like a lotus from the lake- the Lake Palace was a palace used by the Royals for dancing, music and merriment. The Lake Palace stands proudly amidst Lake Pichola with the beautiful Aravalli range helping create the most picture-perfect backdrop!

The Royal WelcomeThe flights from Mumbai are limited and the one we took was rather early in the morning (3:30 or 4 am ish) so despite it being a short flight; both of us were quite exhausted! Udaipur airport is almost a shell structure with only basic facilities and I was happy to quickly get out!

All our exhaustion vanished the minute we stepped outside! A beautiful, heritage car had come to pick us up and Aditya was almost jumping in glee as he carefully examined the beautiful car! The car ride was full of  ‘I don’t believe it’s’….and  ‘What’s next?’s’ and before we knew it we were at the pier ready to take a boat to the fabulous Palace that stood gleaming majestically in the early rays of the morn!

The trip I had planned would be a trip fit for a King! After all my wonderful husband is my King and he deserves nothing less…so as we arrived we were ushered into one of the Palace suites! The suite was beautiful- a two level suite with all our bedroom windows overlooking the beautiful lake. The room was perfect- opulent , rich and comfortable and the minute our heads hit the bed we were off to sleep!A Palace in my palm!

But there had been much planning that had gone into this Celebration and so in a few hours I woke my husband to take him off for a special Spa session. Aditya loves spas, food, water and a relaxed break and I’m usually the total opposite- loving cities, noise, adventure and fun BUT this was Aditya’s celebrations and the plans were geared to him the time of his life! And the spa treatment did just that. With an outdoor spa bed overlooking the lake as the sun started setting, even I had to admit that there was no way that city noise could compete with the beautiful serenity of that moment! We relaxed. We talked. We de-stressed.

After some fabulous green tea, we grudgingly left the spa but started exploring the hotel. As soon as we found the beautiful pool we couldn’t hold ourselves back! We jumped in! A refreshing swim later- it was back to the room to dress for dinner!The Lily Pond

Now with the help of the hotel I had chosen some Unique Royal Dining Experiences for Aditya and me and our first was at the beautiful Lily Pond. A table had been set and our personal butler escorted us to our table where a musician regaled us with live music as we had traditional Rajasthani food sipping champagne under a beautiful moonlit sky! When we returned back to our room, our Butler had thoughtfully put out a cake, some more champagne and lit up the room so wonderfully – it must have taken him our entire dinner to have been able to make the room look so spectacular ! We cut Aditya’s birthday cake and finally called it a night!

Breakfast on the birthday morning was very special as well. I had pre-ordered breakfast and this was brought to a small garden outside our room and set up just for us! After a late night and with plenty of exciting plans today- this was a wonderful start for us!

Vintage TasteBreakfast over we headed back to the Pier where we had a Vintage car waiting to take us on a tour of the city. Stopping at a few select stores , we took a long break at a collection of the Maharaja’s cars. All restored. All spectacular. All drool worthy ! Now it was back to the hotel and a short heritage walk around the Palace. As that ended we were escorted back to the Upstairs spa ( my request after seeing how calm Aditya had been the previous day) and a new spa treatment. Equally relaxing and fabulous…this time we chose to just let the moment take control and slowly drifted off only to be awakened at the end of the treatment with warm tea.

The Octopussy Boat

Dressed to Impress

Now it was time for my HUGE SURPRISE and the reason why i had chosen we come to Udaipur! The Lake Palace owns and looks after the boat that was seen in the Bond movie Octopussy- the Gangaur! Aditya is a film buff and I knew it would be worth the extra expense to give him a birthday surprise he’d never have dreamed possible- dinner on the boat!The boat is kept in the middle of the lake and holds 10-20 guests but I booked it for just the 2 of us! A magnificent multi course meal on the lake had been booked while my Bond enjoyed the sunset, starters drinks and meal that I had pre-planned for him! The boat was decked exquisitely. With red carpets and 10 butlers , we were looked after like royalty. Both of us headed to the upper deck where a gadda (comfortable , padded mat) had been placed with cushions and we surveyed the whole city as it lay before us.

The City Palace

As drinks finished and the sun set, the boat had maneuvered around some ruins on the main land under the City Palace. Suddenly they came to life and were lit up with beautiful girls doing incredible dances among the ruins. Fabulous music, dances with fire and we felt like Maharjas (I too felt rather King-like!) watching courtesans dance as they might have done decades ago. This had been done especially for us and I was delighted when I saw Aditya’s happy surprise! The meal was served upstairs as we were so comfortable relaxing despite having seen a beautiful , intimate table set up downstairs on the boat. The food was a collection of kebabs, dals , biryanis and curries -each more delicious than the next, each more decadent than the next!

And then as the boat turned once again we saw the beautifully lit Mohan Mandir ( the temple island) and as it turned again Birthday fireworks erupted in the air once again especially for us! The excitement in the air was electric and we were really privileged to have been part of such a wonderful, well thought out experience. As dessert was served (once again a medley of all Aditya’s favourites) we wound down to live Indian music being played by our very own musicians on the boat (once again a special experience just for us!).

And then like a dream the evening ended and we floated back to our suite dreaming of the Rajasthani Royal past and grateful that we were able to have some of the experiences!

My husband felt like a King and I was proud to have been able to make him feel like that! Udaipur is the crown among Royal Rajasthani palaces and the Taj Lake Palace- the Kohinoor!

Price Factor-: Udaipur as a city is inexpensive for traditional Rajasthani handicrafts and materials. The hotels however are expensive and are traditionally between $320- $ 420 per night.

Best times to travel-: Dessert climes…so October thru to March is great to travel in though we had a wonderful time last July as well!

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Breathing Underwater – the Maldives

It was an anniversary and yet another excuse to take off! The husband loves the sea and the surf and I love him so it was off to Maldives (my second trip) …his first!

The most amazing thing about Maldives is the landing. Surrounded by water on both sides , the runway is this narrow strip of land surrounded by an ocean of the mostbrilliant blue you will ever see! Despite the fact that the flight took off at an unearthly hour and I was almost running on no sleep for 2 days..when you see that beautiful blue…everything seems to look a whole lot brighter to you!

For this trip we were staying at the Taj Coral Reef. The General Manager of the Taj Exotica in Goa had moved there and was a friend and in in true Taj fashion promised us a fabulously romantic anniversary and we’d always had a wonderful time at the Exotica…so we  thought …why not! That’s the thing with the Taj…employees are never just merely employees! They become friends and confidantes. They know your family. They remember their tastes. They remember birthdays and anniversaries. For a true taste of home even when you’re far away…there’s always the fabulous Taj and so there we went!

The Taj Coral Reef is just one among tens of superb luxury resorts in the Maldives and the next time I return, I will probably shift between the islands. I’d love to do the Banyan Tree, Six Senses , One and Only and for a taste of home try the Taj Exotica Maldives!

This was our quick break and one island would be more than sufficient , I was sure to give my husband the beach break that he needed and me the Anniversary celebrations that I loved!

We arrived at Male airport and within minutes we were whisked away by Luxury speedboat to the the Taj Coral reef! The speedboat takes approximately 45 minutes and on the way there we were both exhausted. We lay down on the sun bed and my next memory is arriving at the Island!

I had always wanted to stay in a water bungalow…one that is above water and so that is what we chose! My dream had always been to sit out at night and gaze in to the expanse of the ocean or venture out bravely for a moonlit swim or wake up and roll over into the ocean! I must confess I DID THEM ALL!

The bungalow was exquisite and the ladder from our room taking us into the lagoon which lead into the ocean was a wonderful idea and one that excited me the minute I reached!

Traveling most of the night, we quickly ordered some food at the beautiful and very comfortable Reef Bar and went back to our room to sleep!

After our first dip in the ocean and a quick cup of coffee in the evening we headed to the beach where much to our amazement Stingrays are hand fed by staff and guests everyevening as the sun sets at about 6 p.m.! Wearing plastic gloves, I nervously joined Aditya as he  fed the great beats with ease! I approached my first stingray who eagerly gobbled the food off the palm of my hand and even allowed me to pat it on the head as if thanking me for my efforts before it swam away! There were tens of them, all hungry, all greedy, all eager and this was an absolute treat! This was a once in a life time experience and I will always treasure it!

Dinner was at Open-The Grill with a fabulous Japanese chef showing off his incredible knife skills while we treated to the best Teppenyaki grill specialities- meats and vegetables alike! A wonderful evening with the GM and his family almost became a wonderful morning as we talked, caught up and just relaxed!

The Anniversary was special. The morning started with a knock on the door and a champagne breakfast in bed! The entire outside of our bungalow had been decorated with flowers and balloons and it seemed like everywhere we went on the island, they wished us on our special day! A fabulous start gave both of us the energy to once again ‘Take the Plunge’ and so we did! From the pier we jumped off into the ocean! Running on the pier and taking a leap into the clear blue water felt fabulous, freeing and incredible!

The thing with Maldives is fish are everywhere! When we jumped off the pier we often displaced entire schools of tiny fish on their way to feeding or shocked a big fish who was just swimming around! In the Maldives and at Coral Reef you are surrounded by the most beautiful fish- of varied colours and sizes and you can see them through the water which almost serves as a sheet of glass! You don’t need to snorkel to see the incredible marine life…it’s right there in front of you!

We are both avid snorkelers and divers and so by mid afternoon we headed to a nearby shipwreck to see more marine life and more coral! The coral in Maldives is every imaginable colour. The pinks are so pink. The yellows are cheerful and the blues and greens are subtle and melt in to the aquamarine waters! The ship wreck was fabulous,fantastic and fun but completely exhausting! For sunset we had a wonderful surprise. We were dropped on a sand patch/ small island that only reveals it self during low tide and so for a few hours in  a day you can sit in this small strip of land surrounded by water on all sides and just ‘BE.’

And at night it was a private moonlit dinner at a table set at the edge of the pier where during dessert we were able to spot a reef shark on it’s nightly hunt! Exhilarating, exciting and yet gloriously calm- that for me will always be Maldives!

Price Factor-: Maldives is expensive with Luxury Hotel rates looking to be between 500-800 dollars a night. Worth it? YES DEFINITELY especially if you’d like to explore the water… A kingdom more beautiful than earth by far , more colorful and infinitely quieter 😉

Best times to travel-: It is traditionally warm throughout the year.  But it may rain a bit between May and October….! The best time to travel, I believe however…is whenever you’d like to go!

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