Photo Location : Rajashtan, India
James Leacock
A trailing spouse, I arrived in Bangalore in 2008. Like many people who arrive in India for the first time, I was simply astonished at what I saw, heard, felt and smelt! After a year or so I joined a group of photographers and we began to explore Bangalore and all it had to offer. Some of my favourite places of India are Varanasi, just one of the most spiritual and moving places on earth and Amritsar with its splendid temple and of course the wonderfully welcoming and hospitable Sikhs. Probably the highlight of five or so years photography in India was the opportunity to visit the Maha Kumbh Mela a couple of years ago. Currently residing and snapping in Hong Kong, India is a world apart but I will be forever grateful for my time there and the opportunity to engage in such a truly amazing and unique county.
A farmer dashes through the tracks at the Kambala Buffalo race in Karnataka.
There are few more things more photogenic and exciting than local festivals in India - only a few. So if you get a chance to be part of any of the celebrations around Gods, historical figures, onset of seasons, full moons and nature, don't miss it.
Indians love to celebrate and consider yourself lucky if you can be included in the reverie. Not only are the festivals an exceptional way of photographing timeless ceremonies but also a great way to be invited to sumptuous feasts and night-long dance and music performances. It's like
being let into a secret! Planning a trip around a major festival or even a local village celebration is the most authentic way of getting oriented to the region's culture. What more? Consider that you will be certainly invited to shake a leg and be fed with the zeal of a worried mother. Festivals are also a time to shed inhibitions and acquire superlatives - whether it is bhaang (processed marijuana) induced merriment at Holi or largest congregation of devotees in the world at the Kumbh Mela. A mix of boisterous revelry, hypnotic strains folk tales, sumptuous food and sombre commemoration to Gods, the festivals of India offer an unmatchable insight into the most authentic social fabric of the region.
Apart from the more popular Diwali, Navratri, Durga Puja and Holi, look out for the regional festivals of the area that you are planning to visit. Chances are, that you may be able to tweak your plan and overlap the days and go on a cultural adventure - one that will be etched in your memory, forever. Even in the coming months, despite the arrival of the great Indian Summer, you can find some of the most colourful festivals of India across the span of the country; Moatsu Festival in Nagaland, Chithirai in Madurai, Ganga Dushera on the ghats of Varanasi, the film festival of Dharamsala, Hemis in Leh or Ochira Kali in Kerala fill up the days with boundless energy and fun. This is also the most ideal time to plan for the winter months between October and December. Nagaland's Hornbill Festival, Pushkar Mela and Bundi Utsav are some of the festivals to keep in mind for end of the year. And don't forget some easy hacks to make the best use of your time.
Arrive early to catch behind the scene action, find an accomodation that is close by and mingle with the locals. Festivals are valuable assets of India and an excellent addition to the itinerary for culture vultures.
Footloose in Deogarh
Journey into the heart of India.
A traveller for the last decade, Supriya has travelled to almost all parts of India, but the beauty of Rajasthan is still hard to fathom for her. The insipid browns of the dunes and sandstones are enriched with the bright colours of daily wear – pinks, reds and yellows are seen on men's turbans as well women's skirts and odhnis (shawls). And the same browns of the earth are chiseled to such perfection, that it's hard to imagine what it must have taken to build forts and palaces of such exuberance. Supriya set out to cover the state, starting her journey from the capital and then to the key towns of Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner. But what struck her as awe-striking was the rich culture in not only the main sights but the smaller destinations in between. The warm hopsitality, timeless lesser-known palaces and distinct local vibe of a place is what makes every town, city and village of Rajasthan, unique in its own way.
Nothing better than tasting the authentic flavours of Mewar
The name Rajasthan conjures up images of undulating pale brown dunes dotted with a splash of colour with the bright dresses of locals, camel back rides, majestic forts and palaces rising like massive fairy tale set ups. Lores of the royal era and unimaginable spleandor surrounds you. The sights and sounds of the state, pretty much define the Indian hospitality landscape as travellers imagine it to be. But once, when they set foot on in the vibrant land of Rajasthan, it is all what one expects, and more. Amongst the strains of heartfelt folk music and the balmy breeze that carry it to villages far and wide, one can fill the days with visits to forts propped on hilltops, museums, local markets and havelis, which hoard a million stories. Of all the experiences in Rajasthan, staying in a erstwhile palace has to be the most exquisite. Deogarh, in Rajasthan, fulfils all desires to feel like royalty of Mewar. The family's roots can be traced back to being one of the sixteen feudal barons attending on the Maharaja of Udaipur. From the vast spread of the Kingdom,
the family once ruled the fourth largest property in the whole of Rajasthan. The Deogarh family still occupies part of the palace and overlooks the smooth functioning of the parts that have been converted into the luxury heritage hotel. The customary Mewari hospitalty is tinged with personalised attention, excellent service and hours of stories of the Kings of Rajasthan if you have an ear for them. Deogarh Mahal has lifted the bar to a superior level for heritage hospitality in the state. Right from the entrance, to the courtyard and through to the rooms, the fort is befitting of what a royal stronghold would look like. A benchmark of heritage hospitality, the Deogarh family invites you into the luxurious fold of living like the Kings. Fill your days with village visits, camel cart rides, polo games, elephant football, cycling through the countryside, birdwatching and village visits to see local life at close quarters. The nature walk from Deogarh Mahal till Fort Seengh Sagar, village walk and a train ride on the 1930's built rural train from Kamblighat to Phulad are some of the other additions to immerse in the Deogarh experience. It promises an unmatchable time in the land of the Mewar Kings. So much so, that even after years, memories are hard to erase. As Yvonne from Holland puts it, these are 'romantic memories of Deogarh". My story starts around 1997 when I was traveling monthly with groups from Jaipur to Udaipur – a tiring drive of 9 hours. A restful pitstop for lunch was much needed, but we couldn't find something that would suit the clientele. Then I heard of a heritage property that had recently opened its doors to travellers.
Nothing better than tasting the authentic flavours of Mewar
Deogarh came to our rescue. It was a time when mobile phones was a rarity and finding this mysterious property was a colossal task. Being a small village with a low city gate, the bus could not pass through. We had to drive around the city to the lake. From here, a canteen car took us to the fort through narrow streets, flanked with bright shops. On reaching the gate of Deogarh Fort, it was nothing like I had imagined. A majestic entrance and a bygone era welcomed us. Flower petals were sprinkled from a gallery, the beats of drums resounded in the palace and we got nothing short of a grand fairytale welcome. Food was served on pattals (plates made from leaves) - something we had never experienced before. The heritage charm is still intact for many years. Not only with groups but I have also stayed at Deogarh privately and I am enthralled. The heritage hotel is the epitome of hospitality, with the lovely hosts giving ample personal attention to all the guests. Sweet memories of the moonlit nights in all the mirrors of the fort walls,the pelicans in the lake and the warm hospitality are still strong in my mind. There are not one but three options for guests – a choice between a caste, Singh Sagar (4 rooms in a small fort on an island) and Devshri Haveli ( a heritage villa with 8 rooms)
• Built in 1670 A.D, Deogarh is the pride of the Aravallis.
• Renowned for miniature paintings.
• Restored and renovated meticulously for an exquisite stay.
• 3 Royal Suites, 2 2Deluxe Suites & 25 Deluxe Rooms transport you to a royal era.
• Soothing Ayurevda massages available at the Spa.
• Exclusive cuisines and dining atmosphere.
• Rural train ride for panoramic views of the scrub jungle, hills, tunnels 100-foot high bridges and lonely stations.
• Royal picnic based on a 200 year old miniature painting on a family fortress.
• Village excursions.
• Bird watching and nature walks.
• Excursions to local gems like the Jain Temples at Ranakpur, Kumbhalgarh Fort and Nathdwara and Eklingi temples.
31 countries on the list of eTV
May is the month of happy tidings for travellers as well as the tourism department of India. The Government of India is extending its e-Tourist Visa facility to 31 more countries from May 1, 2015. In addition to the 45 countries that already hold this priviledge, the additional countries that are now on the same esteemed list are Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Canada, Cayman Island, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominic an Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Georgia, Grenada, Haiti, HolySee (Vatican), Honduras, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Paraguay, St.Kitts & Nevis and Seychelles. France comes as an impactful addition to the list as India gets a large number of French nationals to the country. The names of other European countries is sure to add a surge of tourists coming to the country in future years. With the above addition, the
total number of countries under the e-Tourist Visa scheme will go upto 76. The scheme will be extended to more countries in a phased manner. The Government plans to extend the scheme to 150 countries by the end of this financial year. This has been seen as major boost in the plan to aid economy hrough tourism and to build better ties with nations across the globe. India gets itsmajor share of inbound travellers from U.S.A and European nations. The country has also seen a rise in travellers from China and Japan over the years. Any addition to the list will help tourism related businesses expand.
VoA for Sri Lankans Now Available
The Indian Government has decided to extend Visa-on- Arrival facility to Sri Lanka, to promote better relations between the two countries. At a recent visit to Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Parliament and announceed, "When we connect people, bonds between nations become stronger. That is why we have decided to extend the visa-on-arrival facility to Sri Lankan citizens." He added, "We will also increase connectivity between our countries. We will strengthen ties of culture and religion. Last month we announced reduction in fees for Sri Lankan nationals visiting National
Museum in Delhi to see the Kapilavastu Relics. We will bring our shared Buddhist heritage closer to you through an exhibition. Together, we will develop our Buddhist and Ramayana Trails." The Prime Minister also added that Air India will soon launch direct flight between New Delhi and Colombo. At the moment, Indians do not have a VoA option to visit Sri Lanka.
IndiGo Airlines Flies Higher
Riding the clouds of success, IndiGo launched eight new flights connecting Delhi to Lucknow, Lucknow to Patna and Patna to Kolkata, as a plan to beef up its network within the national boundaries. Additionally, IndiGo will also connect Kolkata to Goa with the introduction of its first daily non-stop flight. The IndiGo schedule is sure to get hectic with several other connections becoming more robust; there will be a second daily non-stop flight between Delhi and Indore and fourth daily non-stop flight between Mumbai and Indore, while two new flight timings on the Mumbai-Raipur route will be announced. Commenting on the new flight schedule, Aditya Ghosh, President IndiGo said, "It gives me immense pleasure in announcing these new frequencies connecting the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Patna, Goa, Indore and Raipur. Having flown over
88 million passengers across the globe, we at IndiGo are determined to provide the best travel experience to all our customers. It is our constant endeavor to provide more flexibility of choice for our customers as IndiGo continues to offer them on time, hassle free and always affordable flying experience."
Amplified Luxury in Gurgaon; Le Meridien debuts in the city
2015 marks the decade old acquisition of Le Meridian by Starwood Hotels & Resorts. The hotel rang in the new year with an announcement of opening a Le Méridien Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, with rebranding of an existing hotel. This hotel features 285 rooms, including 22 suites, in tasteful and contemporary furnishings. A renovated signature dining venue, a new Longitude bar and superior facilities are in store for guests. Speaking on the occasion Brian Povinelli, Global Brand Leader, Le Méridien and Westin said, "As India's important hospitality market with tremendous growth potential, Gurgaon has long been on our short list of dynamic Indian cities that share our brand passions. We are confident that Le Méridien
Gurgaon will provide a unique experience, unlocking the destination through locally influenced design, programming and cuisine."

56, First floor, Institutional Area, Sector - 44, Gurgaon – 122002, Haryana, India
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