Monday, 14 December 2009

Solo travelling - now for women

Solo travelling has redefined the meaning of freedom and independence, and has become an aid to discovering your inner self. Find out why more and more women are joining the solitary bandwagon.

Meet Rhea. She is a typical 24-year-old conventional Indian girl. She has lived a very sheltered life. She wasn’t given the freedom most teenagers usually get such as going out at night with friends. To even hear of any rebellious act, be it smoking or leaving home, would scandalise her gentle-thinking mind. She has never disobeyed her parents; she had always been the perfect daughter.

But…deep inside her heart a desire to escape and break free was beginning to consume her heart and mind each passing day. She would daydream about adventures and experiences she’d only read about. Exploring new places, meeting different people, walking on an endless road, emptying her mind of all fear, anxiety and tension, discovering herself - sampling a taste of freedom that she didn’t know existed. But she never had enough courage to translate her wish into reality. Until one day, she decided to do what most Indian women would never even dream of – travel alone.

Just do it
I know what you’re thinking: ‘She isn’t the kind of girl to set foot alone in a country like ours?’ But it’s true. Today, several Indian women today have travelled on their own and many are working on doing the same. Travelling solo is fast becoming a trend among urban working women; some do it just to get away from all the stress, some for the thrill and some simply prefer being by themselves rather than amongst a rat-pack.

Although there are many people who want to go solo, but there are many fears that cloud this desire and melt their courage. But it is conquering these fears that mark the beginning to the adventure. Setting out alone might seem difficult, especially dealing with the opposition you face from friends and family stating how unsafe and nonsensical the idea is. Ritu, CEO of Silversmith India, says, “The first time I decided to travel to Pondicherry alone, my friends’ reaction was ‘why would you want to go alone? It’s very unsafe, plus it’s simply boring!’. I actually had a hard time convincing them what it feels like to enjoy some alone time.”

Of course, travelling solo is not only for those who want to defy societal norms or escape pressures at the workplace. It is also for people who want to rediscover themselves. There are times in life you simply want to be surrounded by new people and travelling solo is a great way to make new friends. The only thing that is important is whether you want to do this or not. It’s all about the first step. The day you take the first step, the others will automatically form, and then there’s no looking back.

The benefits

A trip alone is the road to liberating your soul; it redefines being independent. An experience like no other, it will change your life forever. When you’re alone, you don’t need to wait for someone before you start your exploration; there is no one to tell you where to go or what to do; you do as you feel; you make your own choices. Besides, being alone is a wonderful way to find some inner peace and do all those things you ‘never had time for’. Read a book, listen to music, dance or simply indulge in a coffee and dessert—because there are times when life should be only about you.

Solo essentials
a) Your sole companion
Agreed you’re planning a solo trip, but you do need a companion, albeit a silent one, who’s there with you, but yet inconspicuous despite its presence. Pick up the latest volume of Lonely Planet India or an Outlook Traveller Getaways guide, a traveller’s bible and every tourist’s prized possession. High-end, mid-range or budget hotels; eateries, places to visit and how to get there, it works as the perfect guide.

b) Be prepared to expect the unexpected.
There may be times you’ve planned everything about your trip to the T and yet some expected situations come forth. Shruti, a PR executive, cites an example, “I’d set out to visit a beautiful tree house in Munnar and booked it three weeks in advance. But when I finally reached the hotel, the gentlemen who took my booking abruptly says “I’m sorry ma’am, but the tree house is currently occupied by a couple and will only be available tomorrow night.” I was aghast, I angrily reminded him about my booking and the fact that I had cross-checked its availability before leaving, but he just said sorry. I was lucky to find another place thanks to a friend, otherwise my trip would’ve been a disaster!”

c) Do not rely only on the internet
Check and cross check your bus/ train/ air tickets and timings and hotel reservations. “I was aboard the Kanyakumari express to Ernakulam and according to the Indian railway website I should arrive at the station within 24 hours. But just at the end of 24 hours in the general sleeper class, on an unconfirmed ticket, I find out that my destination is yet 12 hours away! Ever since this goof-up I also advise people to cross check any reservation made via the internet with the company directly,” says Nishrin, a counsellor.

Published in Rouge (now iDiva), Mumbai Edition, dated October 11, 2008

Friday, 11 December 2009

Madonna’s village retreats in India

During Madonna’s recent visit to India, little did people know of her secret getaway to the villages of Rohet and Luni, near Jodhpur. Rohet Garh and Fort Chanwa Luni, Madonna’s village retreats, qualify as some of the most luxurious places to stay within the environment of a village.

Ever wondered why many of us want to become celebrities? The glamour, fame, recognition, brands they own, the fast cars they drive, their faces in every newspaper and on magazine covers, the money they make, the love of the people who idolise them—their lives are nothing less than extraordinary. That’s precisely the reason why we show such elevated interest in their lives; to us, our lives are too ordinary. But even celebrities nurture the desire of living an ordinary life (well, maybe just a little bit), because they pay a heavy price for their fame and name—their privacy.

Their personal lives, much like ours, are something they prefer to keep guarded. They seek isolation from the crowds every now and then, and where better than a rural location for that? A balance between revelling in luxury and simultaneously being able to explore the true, unseen culture of a destination or the way the villagers live is now becoming a reality. Enter Rohet and Luni, relatively unknown villages located on the outskirts of Jodhpur city in Rajasthan, where relics of the past have been converted into modern luxury mansions. On her recent visit to India, Madonna was one of the many celebrities who chose Rohet Garh and Fort Chanwa Luni as her secret getaways.

A stay in Rohet Garh means experiencing all things royal. So at your arrival, when there are several turbaned men and women waiting outside the gate with folk dancers and musicians performing amid grand fanfare, don’t look around—all this fuss is being made specially to welcome you. What else can make you feel like royalty more than a procession-like welcome?

If you thought that the desert is all Rohet village has in the name of nature, think again. As you enter the premises, peacocks let their feathers out and gleefully prance around adding to the vibrancy of the ambiance. The 34 personally-decorated rooms are replete with colourful traditionally-designed frescoes on the walls, bed-sheets and cushion covers bearing Rajasthani prints and modern bathrooms; some rooms even have personal swings! The restaurant here serves mouth-watering Rajasthani delicacies made by chefs who’ve been specially trained by the late Thakurani Sahiba, who has authored Cuisine of Rohet Garh and Quick and Easy Rajasthani Cuisine; the former, in fact, was published due to popular demand from visiting guests. The property also houses modern luxurious amenities such as a swimming pool, a lounge area, sprawling lawns, serene verandahs, spacious pavilions and terraces to unwind at.

This luxurious property has existed since time immemorial and holds historic relevance. My curiosity led the kind hosts to take me to their room at the property and through a visual representation that puts together pieces of an era gone by, depicting the story of this ancestral home. It was conferred upon the first amongst their kin, Thakur Dalpat Singh I, in 1622 AD for the courage and bravery he embodied in the many military campaigns under the banner of the Rathores. Through generations, this home has been a loyal bystander to the family in its good and bad times, and now it’s the face of Rohet’s rich culture and lives to tell its story.

However, Madonna is not the only person of her stature to have discovered Rohet Garh. Literary stalwarts Bruce Chatwin and William Dalrymple practically lived at Rohet Garh for several months at a stretch working on their respective books, The Songlines and The City of Djinns. Patrick French, Simon Winchester and Jeffery Morehouse have also explored this hidden retreat.

Be warned though, with the intriguingly diverse activities that you can indulge in at Rohet Garh, you may not want to return home. Royal picnics are only the beginning of the pampering programme. You could even opt for watching up to 200 different species of birds while sitting by the many lakes around Rohet, or head out to the wilderness camp where seven luxurious teakwood tents are laid out in the midst of the sandy wilderness. You could even avail of Madonna’s personal choice—the extensive tailor-made equestrian programme that ranges from a full day’s riding to a six days’/six nights’ riding safari surveying the various areas around Rohet. But if true village life raises your curiosity, then take a village safari, where you can glimpse into the simple lives the locals lead and witness their traditional customs and ceremonies.

Tall, colossal iron gates mark your entry into this ancient fortress. The sheer size and build of this architectural marvel is vividly reminiscent of scenes from Bollywood epics centred on historic themes. Largely untouched by the mechanisms of renovation, Fort Chanwa has been a popular location for film and television shoots. Carved out of the red sandstone that Jodhpur is known for, the fort is replete with ornate lattice work friezes, intricate jharokas, courtyards, towers, waterwheels, stables, passages and rooftops with panoramic views.

Many of the 31 uniquely decorated rooms are placed in secret pavilions that appear as if out of nowhere, and, along with the unexpected stairways located around, lend a touch of mystery. Elegant four-poster beds, long flowing curtains, Rajasthani paintings made by local artisans, quaint lamps and ethnic furnishings speak of a bygone era. The one thing that you must not miss is an interesting creation preserved from the olden days—the water purifier. A retro ‘Aquaguard’ system, it’s made of stone and looks more like a maze. Water used to be poured from one end and would get filtered of any impurities or dirt via the various turns it would take, after which it would reach the other end where a bucket was kept to be filled.

You can relax in the blue waters of the large swimming pool and have the kind staff serve you your favourite drink. For people with more refined tastes, there’s golf, horseback riding and camel safaris, whereas for the quintessential traveller a day out meeting and interacting with the villagers and tribals will prove to be more exciting. The village safari here will give you the opportunity to meet people from different communities such as Bishnois, weavers (called Prajapats), who will demonstrate weaving charpoys in their homes, and potters (called Moilas). Some locals also introduce you to the many customs and traditions followed here. I was specially intrigued by the opium consuming tradition. According to the villagers, opium is consumed (in extremely mild concentrations) at any and every celebration; it’s to mark a happy occasion.

To truly enjoy an authentic Rajasthani meal, guests here are served in typical rural style with traditional ceremonies arranged before the meal, followed by local entertainment and folk dances, usually in the evening. Although the now famous black buck was popularised in a negative way by Salman Khan’s hunting escapade, guests are taken for sightings of black buck, chinkara and blue bull antelopes in open jeeps.


Rohet Garh
C/o Rohet House, PWD Road,
Jodhpur - 324 001
Rajasthan, India
For further details, call 02912431161, visit or email /

Fort Chanwa Luni
VPO: Luni, Dist. Jodhpur
Rajasthan, India
For further details, call 02931284216 or visit

Published in Andpersand magazine, January, 2009 issue.

On the road - from Mumbai to Delhi

When you look at the map, it seems daunting at first. So many states to cross; so many kilometres to cover. That’s before you realise that people sometimes zip from Mumbai to Delhi in a matter of 24 hours. But you would try to do this drive in a day only if you weren’t looking for a holiday. If, like us, you’re planning on stopping at places en route and soaking in the beauty of the journey and not just the destination, then this is a drive worth doing over, five, six or even seven days.

Starting off
We set off one bright, sunny morning, having strapped ourselves comfortably in an Innova. It was a good start: the weather was pleasant, we had peppy music and had thoughtfully stacked up on food and drinks. Driving through Maharashtra was wonderful. The roads lay wrapped in miles of greenery, occasionally separated by calm rivers. We took a detour to Daman, where we stopped for a bite and spent some time lazily lying on Devka Beach.

Further on, the roads in Gujarat were lined by factories; at some places, there were fields on one side and power plants on the other, providing a distinct contrast. The drive went fine till we reached Surat, from where construction work for a new highway was going on up to Vadodara. This stretch was replete with rough patches, heavy traffic, diversions and narrow lanes. We took 7 hrs to complete a drive that should have taken just three. When we reached Vadodara, we were so relieved that we hit the bed without even bothering to eat.

Dream road
We explored Vadodara the next day and then off we were on the road again. If the Surat-Vadodara stretch was a nightmare, what followed seemed like something aimed to make amends. The Mahatma Gandhi Expressway, or the National Expressway 1, between Vadodara and Ahmedabad, was a dream road on which we practically flew in less than an hour. This expressway has been planned so well that the dividers have foliage standing tall at 5 to 6 feet, so that while driving at night, headlights do not distract drivers on either side. There’s one thing to remember, however, before hitting this road: carry food and water, and take a restroom break. There isn’t much you’re going to find on this stretch till you reach Ahmedabad.

The final stretch
We drove on to Udaipur, a long journey that didn’t seem tough because of the fabulous roads. Cornfields and rice plantations on either side of the road added a green touch, and the delicious food at the dhabas lifted our spirits. Stone mountains lined the road as we drove into Udaipur, where we checked into a heritage property.

The next day, we set off from Udaipur to Delhi. It was an exhausting drive, but the roadside vistas made it easier. All around us were barren mountains, tiny temples, black-faced langurs, and camel carts loaded with fruits and vegetables. We had our run in with absurd truckers and that perennial bane of anyone driving in India: cattle that refuse to heed to horns or logic. First, a trucker cut us sharply at a toll booth and then mocked us like a teeny brat. Soon after, a cow ran madly in front of our car, forcing us to turn sharply. And then there was a donkey who insisted on standing in the middle of the road, quite unaffected by the swirling, honking traffic around it.

Thus, with much incident, we reached Delhi, where after a day’s rest, we headed back to Mumbai. This time, we halted at Ajmer the first night and at Ahmedabad the next, so that the journey would be more comfortable. We also used our relaxed itinerary to discover dhabas in Rajasthan that serve authentic, delicious dal-baati-churma, and thus feeling pampered and rested, returned home.

An excerpt from Outlook Traveller Getaways' latest book 'Driving Holidays in India'.