An increasing number of us live life in the fast lane, with the pedal firmly pressed to the floor. Consequently, more and more of us require regular, all-important, rest-bites to avoid burn-out in our hectic, digitally-connected, roller-coaster lives.
As a result, the travel industry is experiencing an upsurge in single-person vacations, particularly to places such as rural India, where life is still lived at a pace straight from an Arcadian dream.
Traditionally a land of magic and mystery, India is a destination where one can experience a different sense of reality, some of which can be deeply disturbing to the Western psyche, but isn't it just that which helps us to touch base with our inner-selves? However, some soul-seekers may find the thought of this change of perspective somewhat disconcerting and be tempted to leap onto the next convenient flight to a luxury island resort instead.
The trouble is that being pampered on a tropical beach doesn't take you to even the first service station on the road to enlightenment. Finding one's inner self is not exactly the Holy Grail that you discover at the bottom of a drained glass of gin and tonic while lying on a sunlounger beside the pool.
India though, has its own enigmatic answer for those who want the full range of magic and mystery without the hassle; a wild, hot, deserted, exotic, intriguing and luxurious experience that will put you into the very heart of quintessential India while at the same time treating you to the same pampering that would be expected by a maharajah.
Where To Stay
In India's north-western state of Rajasthan you will find palaces and fortresses that are so splendid they simply defy the imagination. A blend of lakes and mountains, deserts and green fertile plains brings you face to face with a vast and beautiful swathe of Asia that is far from the beaten track; but visiting these wild and remote locations doesn't have to entail 'roughing it'. In fact nothing could be further from the truth, for this incredible state boasts some of the most luxurious palace hotels to be found anywhere in India. Guests staying in these palaces are treated like the kings who used to occupy them.
Some are internationally renowned for their splendour and opulence, such as the sprawling Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, the majestic Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur and the beautiful Lake Palace in Udaipur. These hotels have acres of landscaped gardens, huge swimming pools, billiard rooms, golf courses, polo grounds and sumptuous suites, some of which overlook royal courtyards where elephants, camels and horses are brought in daily so that guests can venture into the surrounding countryside in style.
But the mighty palaces are not the only places in Rajasthan where you can stay in supreme, unadulterated comfort. There are other, slightly more modest palaces called 'haveli' and, although most are still used by the erstwhile royal families, many have sections converted into hotels allowing visitors a glimpse into the lavish opulence of the old regal lifestyle. In recent years, the State Government has helped to promote these havelis, under a scheme called Heritage Hotels, and a representative told us:
'In a class by themselves, these Heritage Hotels extend their own unique services to the tourist. Dressed almost always in traditional turbans and dhotis, the old family retainers cater to the tourists with the same kind of care and hospitality as they do to their personal guests. In most of these havelis, the host himself is always around to ensure that the guest is comfortable and well looked after.'
He added: 'Not only has the number of Heritage Hotels risen substantially within the past couple of years, but also these are invariably booked well in advance.'
Many have traditional, large courtyards, called 'zenana mahals', with murals and carved balconies (known as 'mardana baithak'), where the nobles would sit with their visitors. Inside, period furniture and traditional decor produce an atmosphere of calm and tranquillity - a unique world instilled with its own charm and magic.
A long way indeed from the high octane, fast-lane lifestyles that many of us lead today and the ideal rest-cure for those in search of a vacation with a little more substance than the inevitable beach-side resort.
Address, phone, fax and e-mail of the hotels or palaces, rates in USD
Bhawani Singh Road, Jaipur - 302005
Tel: 0141-381907, 381919, 382424 Fax : 0141-381098
Umaid Bhawan Palace
Jodhpur - 342006
Tel: 0291-510101 Fax : 0291-510100
Post Box No. 5, Udaipur - 313001
Tel: 0294-528800 Fax : 0294-528700
Optimum seasonality guidelines
Basically, Rajasthan's climate is very hot during the summer and comfortably cool or even icy cold in winter, but in reality the state experiences extremes of temperature in its many different regions.
Jaipur, the capital, is at the north-eastern tip of the Aravali Mountains, and so enjoys relatively cool mornings, evenings and nights in summer. Midday temperatures are often hot in the extreme due to scorching surface winds, but most tourist hotels, coaches and limousines are equipped with air-conditioning. Added to this there can be plenty of rain during the summer monsoon. Winter can be icy after dark, but temperate during the day.
Udaipur, situated on the south-eastern slopes of the Aravalis, is cool and pleasant throughout the year, thanks to its lush foliage, streams and lakes.
Mount Abu, Rajasthan's famous hill station, situated further south, is very cold in winter, though pleasantly temperate during the summer.
In Rajasthan's desert-belt, consisting of Jaisalmer, Bikaner, and Jodhpur, expect drier summers and winters that are sunny by day and chilly by night.
Tourist visas are issued either for one month or for six months. In the case of the former, entry into India has to be within one month from the date of issue. The latter is valid for six months from the date of issue. You should apply for your visa in your country of residence.
Tourist visas can be extended by three months at the foreigners' registration offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Madras, or with the Superintendent of Police at any District Headquarters.
For personal protection it is recommended visitors to India obtain inoculations, prior to leaving, for cholera, typhoid, malaria and hepatitis.
Travellers should be in possession of their Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate conforming to International Health Regulations, if they are originating from or transiting Africa or South America. This certificate is valid for a period of ten years.
Further information on India: