India’s Top Treasures

Written by  Maxine Albert

ASIA INDIA
India always promises a fascinating journey. Majestic palaces, ancient temples and forts punctuate the diverse terrain. The riot of colors, flavors, aromas and sounds that make up everyday life are unforgettable. Cars, sacred cows and three wheeled tuk-tuk moto-taxis share the streets with food carts and pedestrians in turbans, business suits, dhotis and saris. With outstanding accommodations, top destination spas, excellent cuisine and famous sights, there’s something for everyone.

Jaipur: The Pink City
Jaipur, Rajasthan’s lively capital, famed for its signature pink buildings has a unique heritage with its rich culture, flamboyant lifestyle, hand blocked textiles, handicrafts and traditions. I strolled the colorful streets passing bejeweled men and women alike clad in striking hues of yellow, purple, red, gold, blue and green. The fabled pink city is renowned for its vibrant fabrics and gems on display in fashionable shops such as Idli, Hot Pink, Andraab, Soma and legendary Gem Palace.
City Palace, which includes the Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces plus a huge complex of courtyards, gardens and buildings set right in the centre of the Old City, dazzled. The opulent 18th-century palace of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II is now an estimable museum and current residence of the Jaipur royal family. Located high on a hill, surrounding the city is the stupendous Amber Fort, a star attraction.
Opened last year, Sujan Rajmahal has been spectacularly transformed from a royal palace to a luxury boutique hotel, a Relais & Chateaux member, by Sujan, the prestigious Indian Company known for polished safari camps. Photos of Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth II and other notables who were guests when Maharaja, H.H. Sawai Man Singh II and his wife, the glamorous Maharani Gayatri resided here, adorn the main salon and the suites named after them. I felt like I was living the ultimate fantasy in my Jackie Kennedy suite.
This reimagined palace is a celebration of color and style. It’s both elegant and whimsical; each of the suites and public spaces is distinct: pink on pink breakfast room, turquoise and violet print of the Kennedy Suite, fuchsia bedspread in the Art Deco Maharani Suite. Contemporary flourishes together with 18th century paintings, Persian carpets, marble staircases and elaborate chandeliers create modern regal splendor. I savored a luscious Jaipur Thali lunch under a shading marquee in the floral garden and later dined in a candle lit tent. With an art deco pool, the Sujan Spa, superb cuisine and an exceptional staff offering private tours of the City Palace, insider shopping and visits to polo matches, guests get an unrivaled Rajasthani experience.
www.sujanluxury.com/raj-mahal

Himalayan Splendor
Perched on a lush 100 acre estate in the foothills of the mystical Himalayas, acclaimed Ananda Resort & Spa (www.anandaspa.com) was once a Maharaja’s Royal Palace. Close by is the holy town of Rishikesh, made famous by the Beatles’ pilgrimage to see the Maharishi many years ago. This luxurious retreat featuring handsome rooms, suites and villas with balconies offering panoramic views is a favorite of Kate Winslett, Uma Thurman and Oprah who was here a short time before my visit. The air was so fresh, the place so serene with scattered spots to sit, take in nature and listen to the birds, it felt like Shangri-La.
Meditation and yoga classes are held outdoors in the garden amid fountains and gazebos. After a consultation with the Ayuvedic (Indian Holistic) Doctor based on my dosha (body type) I headed to the sprawling 21,000 square foot spa to begin my program. This high temple of healing features 24 rooms, hydrotherapy facilities and a spa menu with over 80 options including Ayurvedic treatments, Western massages, rituals, baths, scrubs, beautifying, detoxing and destressing therapies.
The signature Ananda fusion massage that combines Thai, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Swedish and Tibetan techniques with poultices and stones transported me to a deep state of relaxation where I could feel my entire body let go. I also found the Hatha Yogic breath work called Pranayama to have a profoundly calming effect. Whether you come for wellness, rejuvenation, a tune up or merely to pamper yourself in the splendor of sublime creature comforts, you’re bound to experience Himalayan bliss. Don’t miss the boutique, a veritable shopper’s paradise.
Ananda is now offering bespoke fitness programs through a partnership with acclaimed Delhi-based Sumaya. This affirms their strong commitment to integrating the connection of body, mind and soul. I learned exercises that can easily be done when I travel - fantastic! The cushy facilities include a pool, tea lounge and restaurant where you choose from either the tasty menu geared to your body type or from delectable local and international dishes.
There’s something about taking the time to slow down, commune with nature and honor ourselves that is healing.
www.incredibleindia.com

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