About Aline Dobbie
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Udaipur first penetrated my conscious when I was a young teenager at boarding school in Winchester England. The geography teacher was a wise lady whom I respected greatly and she knew that I lived in India and thus she gave me the task of mounting a small exhibition of the journey our HM The Queen and HRH Prince Philip were making around India.
The year was 1961. Udaipur…the Maharana and the palaces and lakes all came into my knowledge and I resolved to visit one day. Well that wish was fulfilled in November 1997 when we visited India; it was my husband’s first experience of India and he too was enchanted. Then we returned briefly in 2008 but this year we had the real pleasure of really experiencing Mewar and Udaipur in late February.
On this occasion we drove from Ranakpur and its famed Jain Temple down to Kumbhalgarh. I had never been to this amazing fort and this was thus an experience to be savoured. The southern area of Rajasthan comprises Bhilwara, Chittorgarh, Udaipur and Rajsamand districts known as the Land of Mewar.
The fundamental reason for great pride in this royal house is that the rulers of Mewar defended their ‘motherland’ against the relentless and continuous invasions of Muslims and Moghuls. The valour, sacrifice and dedication to their land is unique and legendary.
Above, Sunset Udaipur
The history of Mewar is so rich with tales of courage, determination, devotion to duty. The rulers inspired the people of this land to fight against slavery, injustice and subjugation. The rulers of Mewar believed in the concept of Ram-Rajya i.e. a Divine Kingdom. Rana Kumbha was a true man among men and the fort of Kumbhalgarh was built by him and it remains a massive monument to his life and work.
Interestingly he was the only ruler who established, strengthened and expanded the territories of Mewar. He strove for peace and harmony and made a huge contribution to the Arts, Architecture, Music and Literature as well as the concepts of Learning encapsulating philosophy and pursuit of knowledge.
Rana Kumbha embarked on building this massive fort on the high hills of the Aravali range (apparently the oldest mountain range in the world) and his thought was to protect his lands from the Muslim invaders and other warring factions. It is sobering to realise that the walls of this fort are second only in length to that of the Great Wall of China.
Below, a panoramic view of the Fort.
As one approaches by car the valley is a delight. There is evidence of prosperity among the farmers and the oxen are still being used to walk the wheel round for grinding or producing water from the wells. It is almost as if time has stood still. Yet the youngster are in school uniforms and attending schools or loitering around as teenagers do the world over! The trees and vegetation plus the fields full of grains make it green and attractive and so I was full of anticipation.
We were to stay two nights at the Aodhi Hotel which belongs to the HRH Group of Hotels. It is a most pleasant place built out of the local stone and apparently was the first in the present Maharana’s line of hotels. HH Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar is a man who saw that modern India would benefit from heritage tourism and set about making his properties and land attractive to travellers. Rajasthan evokes exotic, colourful, historic, and diverse attractions from semi desert to jungle to fertile valleys and the Aravalis and lakes such as at Udaipur.
The hotel is set on the side of the hill and one has good views of the fort’s great entrance on the horizon. The property is full of birdlife which enchanted me and quite a few cheeky monkeys who would bounce about on the roof of our covered veranda and look at me…..I just kept the mesh screen door firmly shut to keep their inquisitive looks as just that!
The peacocks called at sunrise and sunset, the parakeets chattered as did the Seven Sisters (Jungle Babblers) and the Tree Pies. The bedroom suite was most comfortable and the swimming pool is a delight.
There are several places in which to eat – though only one restaurant – but they can serve you by the pool, or on a terrace or in the restaurant. The food was good and the service eager with the redoubtable Dhul Singh heading the waiters. Of an evening there was some Rajasthani music and dancing beside the pool to entertain visitors.
Above, Peacock of Udaipur
We went to the Son et Lumiere our first night which was a good experience and it would be even more so for foreigners if it were to be in English. The history and struggles and fortitude of the people of Mewar comes through loud and clear. The following morning we went and did a tour of the Kumbhalgarh Fort with a knowledgeable guide.
He was passionate about the place and hoped the fact that it is a World Heritage Site would compel the Archaeological Survey of India to ensure that this great heritage building is well maintained and kept in pristine condition. I have photographed the place comprehensively. Many decades ago the Maharana gave the fort to the Government of India. UNESCO World Heritage Sites have reputations to maintain and I fervently hope that all necessary precautions will be taken to maintain and enhance this magnificent great fort.
The fort is situated on the peak of the Jarga mountain at a height of 3766 ft. It is 80 kms from Udaipur. Truly the story of the maharanas and Kumbhalgarh is magnificent but without writing a whole long history I cannot give you the details here, suffice to say from the early medieval period right through the centuries this royal line fought and maintained its position and safeguarded its lands.
The maharanis of the various rulers were courageous women who committed jauhur which is self-immolation on occasions when their men folk were defeated or killed. The concept of falling prey to ravishing marauders could not be contemplated and the story of these great women walking into the flames is …well a true legend.
As with most great historic forts or citadels Kumbhalgarh experienced severe challenges and despite heroic fighting was once overcome by Moghuls under Akbar. Maharana Pratap was as courageous and far sighted as Maharana Kumbha but he too experienced hardships and defeats; he is generally considered to be the Bravest Maharana of Mewar and he had been enthroned in 1572 AD; however when Akbar was successful and overcame the defenders thankfully Pratap escaped capture and death. After his passing in January 1597 his son Amar Singh made Udaipur the capital of Mewar and the long line continued as it had from 734 AD.
We left Aodhi and drove through the valley and reached the big interstate highway and were easily in Udaipur within an hour and a half.
Above, Aodhi swimpool
We were warmly welcomed at the Fateh Prakash Palace which is on the shores of Lake Pichola. We were given a lovely spacious suite and felt very comfortable and eager to experience all that Udaipur has to offer. But ….first lunch on the Terrace overlooking the lake and its sublime view of the Lake Palace, the Jag Mandir Island and the surroundings area.
HRH Group has two hotels at the lakeside and Shiv Niwas Palace has a lovely courtyard with elegant pool and poolside dining. The bougainvillea on the palace walls are a true delight covering everything in their startling magenta colour. We watched the sunset over the lake…..it was a stunning evening and nothing could have matched it and thankfully my photography worked well. Later on we went and watched the Son et Lumiere over the City Palace. Again a good experience and this time in English so we were fully able to understand the long history of struggle, determination, commitment and success right up to the present day. A good supper of Thai prawn curry was just the ticket for us both!
HH Maharana Arvind Singh of Mewar, Custodian of Mewar was in his office the following day and we had a good chat. We had met previously at the lovely wedding of the princess of Dungarpur to the heir to the house of Rajkot which had taken place in Bengaluru in late January.
Now we talked of Udaipur and Mewar. I worked out that HH was two years older than me and therefore must also have been a teenager when The Queen visited in 1961. Time passes and history has to be preserved and made available to travellers and tourist in this modern age. In that respect all of us who are responsible be we royal or writers are custodians of our shared heritage.
The City Palace, the Classic and Vintage Car Collection, elegant boutiques, the Palki Khanna restaurant in the courtyard of the City Palace there is so much to see. What impressed both Graham and me was that so many Indians are enjoying their own heritage whereas in 1997 there were very few Indian tourists. India has a huge burgeoning middle class who are able to afford to visit their own country and this is really good to observe and the Indian Tourists are very welcome now all over the world.
That evening, we went to the Jag Mandir Island by way of a boat trip on the lake and were welcomed and had a very good tea. There is a small hotel on the island but good facilities for hosting a wedding.
The Spa is very good and the place is charming. It is worth recalling that allegedly the great Shah Jahan was given sanctuary here by the then maharana when he had ‘severely displeased’ his emperor father…Shah Jahan you will all know went on to build the beautiful Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife. We left the Jag Mandir Island in a launch specially sent for us and I have a lovely memory of the gloaming as we call it here in Scotland, of the light fading and the twinkle of the lights surrounding the buildings of this little island and the great palaces and hotels on the shores of the lake.
We dined outside at Shiv Niwas and I chose European food and was rewarded with a beautiful seafood risotto and lobster. The restaurant at this palace is really nice and with caring staff and we lunched there again next day. On a previous visit we had been to and thoroughly enjoyed the Car Collection which is elegantly housed in the city with a very good restaurant alongside. There is also another HRH hotel alongside. We took the opportunity to visit the studio of some Pichhwau artists whose work is exquisite and continues the long tradition of Rajasthani artwork.
Udaipur has much to commend it and I advise people to allow at least two nights for this city to really enjoy it. The airport was enlarged in 2008 and there are several flights throughout the day. Another alternative would be to drive down to Dungarpur and spend a couple of nights at their lovely palace and then perhaps drive on to Ahmedabad along the big interstate highway to see the sights of Gujarat and depart by international airline from there. Those who would like to pursue the story of Gandhi….Bapu, the Father of the Nation of India would enjoy visiting the famous Sabarmati Ashram and other heritage sites of Ahmedabad.
For me saying ‘phir milengi’ (au revoir) to regal Rajasthan after two weeks was sad…..but there is always the next time with lots of pleasures and experiences in store! Enjoy.
Dubrovnik is a city that captured my imagination way back when I was very young. It had the same sense of romance and history that it shares with Venice, Prague, Krakow and places like Lucca in Italy. That it was designated a World Heritage Site is a great relief because in our living memory the city and its citizens had experienced severe challenges….which thankfully are now well behind them all.
We visited in September 2014 and I do recommend that time of the year for its warmth and sunshine and the sea is also still warm enough in which to swim and relax. We took a small apartment for ten days but actually a week is a good length of time.
Between emerging as a settlement in the 7th century and its conquest by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th, Dubrovnik repeatedly held a significant position beyond what could have been expected of this tiny city-state. Its diplomatic expertise was legendary, its political stamina extraordinary; its merchants, trading throughout the huge Ottoman Empire, enjoyed privileges denied to other Western states. A politically skilled and commercially enterprising ruling class took every opportunity to maximise the Ragusan Republic’s wealth.
But Dubrovnik also faced the extreme dangers posed by Venetian plotters, Ottoman aggressors, a terrible earthquake in 1667 and, finally, Napoleon. In modern times, the city has survived the besieging Yugoslav army in 1991-92, which heavily damaged but did not destroy Dubrovnik’s cultural heritage. The roof tops demonstrate how much had to be restored or rebuilt and the ancient graceful little city in the sunshine is a memory I will treasure.
Whether you visit for the total experience or just one concentrating on heritage, or you want to position yourself for sand sea and leisure or indeed go out to the Adriatic Dalmatian Coast for the sailing you can be assured of a good time. I loved the position of our apartment which overlooked the Bay and the lovely island of Lokrum and we accessed the medieval city through the Ploce Gate. There are three gates, the western Ploce Gate, the northern Gate and the Pile Gate on the east. I consider our view day in and day out with sunrise and stunning sunsets was superb.
Croatia has about 1200 islands and some of them are large and others are tiny but in terms of heritage and nature and eco conservation there are good developments here and as for the sailing….well we observed all the lovely craft that entered the bay be they large or small. Cruise ships are a feature and as someone said to me there was a day in 2006 when about four or five of them all came together and that must have been a nightmare because logistically it is a tiny citadel and the influx of all those thousands would have been a great challenge. I believe there is a directive that only two cruise ships are allowed to anchor in the Bay these days, but then some are virtual behemoths! Others I quite fancied that also have sails as a feature and a more select number of passengers.
The Old City Walls are an absolute essential to experience provided one is fit and well. We walked into the city on a sunny morning when significantly there were no cruise ships and were on the walls at 08.45 hours….thus we could enjoy 75% of the walk alone or with very few companions….whereas on cruise ship days and later in the day one could see ‘crocodiles’ of people and that must have been very hot and thirsty work.
As it was we were glad of a long cool fresh orange drink above the Maritime Museum and then we went back to our apartment for the swimming togs for the afternoon spent on Banje Beach which literally was just down the stairs for us.
There are high class restaurants and ordinary bistros and cafes and some are really impressive in their service and standard of cuisine and others are underwhelming. However, sitting in the early morning sunshine with a cappuccino and perhaps an omelette or continental breakfast people watching is enjoyable. The beer is very good and local wines in carafes are good value. We enjoyed the calamari, and some good pork and others just fed their pizza hunger….some very good pizzas they seemed to me but I am wheat sensitive so cannot indulge.
The Maritime Museum was particularly impressive as Dubrovnik by virtue of its position has dominated that part of Europe and the Republic of Ragusa had a rich and eclectic maritime heritage with early maps, maritime scientific instruments and models of ships plus perhaps the earliest surviving charts of the oceans and the archival photography of the shipbuilding was very interesting. For anyone interested in naval architecture, sailing or boat building this is a must…even for this uninitiated sailor!
We went on a boat trip around the walls and in the Bay which was interesting because the boatman talked of the time of war in the early 1990s and showed us buildings that had been blasted by the Serbs from their gunboats, but thankfully now the whole area has become the backdrop for a great many scenes of the globally famous saga Game of Thrones!
We then visited the lovely Island of Lokrum which is a delight. Take your swimming costume and towel because the swimming is very good and safe and the walks are lovely. The island is home to a huge number of peacocks that have no predators so are happily colonising the whole island and add a touch of the exotic.
The first mention of Lokrum was in about 1023 AD. According to legend Richard the Lion-Heart was cast ashore here after being shipwrecked in 1192 while returning from the Crusades. He actually came ashore in Lokrum but at the request of the people of Dubrovnik he agreed to build a church in the city itself. The name of the island of Lokrum is derived from the Latin acrumen, sour fruit. The Benedictines commenced gardening in this little idyll and then the Emperor Maximillian Ferdinand continued the tradition in the 19th century. In 1959 a Botanical Garden was started and continues today. This is a lovely day trip which I recommend heartily as the swimming is good and varied and there are some good café restaurants in shade, or you could take a picnic…but the cafes are charming and the peacocks come along and potter around you.
In Dubrovnik the Stradun, which is the main street off which open many narrow lanes leading to other small squares and alleys, there is very often live music and various music festivals take place. On Saturday and Sunday and one day in the week there is an open air market which is fun and some of the produce is totally yummy. We adored the candied orange peel which is sold in strips in bags and is so moreish….plus lovely syrups and eau de vie.
The Croatians and People of Dubrovnik make you feel welcome though sometimes the sheer numbers of tourists can be overwhelming….which I suspect is the result of the fame of the series Game of Thrones.
We made an excursion to Montenegro and so enjoyed that day out as well. The tiny country of Montenegro is less than one hour’s drive and is truly beautiful with a sort of combination for us of the mountains of northern Mallorca…the Tramuntina and the sea lochs of the West Coast of Scotland. There is also a rich history to this tiny country and we drove along the coast to the walled town of Kotor.
It too is a UNESCO World Heritage site and deservedly so. The town is known for its nautical tradition and the merchant navy and indeed many Montenegrin sailors have gone out to other lands and sailed the seas. The little citadel abounds with both Catholic and Orthodox churches and the major landmark is St Tryphon’s Cathedral from the 12th century.
After the most delicious panna cotta and coffee in a lovely restaurant we walked around and enjoyed this gem of a place but then bundled back into the coach to go down the coast to see the beautiful St. Stefan Island which is photographically world famous and I was able to take some good photos too. Sadly it seems to have become the playground for Russian oligarchs and others whereas it origin was the island home of five fisher folk families….
And one can no longer actually visit as a tourist. Then we stopped in Budva and looked around. This is where old meets modern in a challenging way to my eye but apparently Montenegro is the destination for those who need serious dentistry at moderate prices – it had become a haunt of the Russians who now seem to be changing their minds. We found a most excellent restaurant down on the marina and had a leisurely lunch.
Returning from Montenegro was lovely in the westering sun; the sunset that evening was totally stunning and I was able to capture it on the return and when we arrived back.
Dubrovnik, has number of luxury five star hotels, most of which were situated right on the water’s edge beneath where we lived. We frequented the Excelsior on three nights and found its food, service and welcome excellent. It has the most wonderful Spa and inside swimming pool as well as a pool right down by the water’s edge and is in a stunning position. I have happy memories of seeing the new moon come up over the Bay of Dubrovnik whilst the sun set behind the citadel with a warm breeze, a chilled beer in my hand and the prospect of a good delicious meal ahead. A truly lovely place.
For more great photos, see my collection from the trip.
Mallorca in Spain, is so well known to so many people yet there are those who have never yet been and have an idea that it might not be what they wish for a holiday.
We recently returned after a nine year absence in May this year and were delighted with our week; indeed the time was too short for both relaxation and discovery which is what we both like to do.
Our favourite destination is Puerto Pollenca because it is a well maintained charming town with superb beach and bay and also close to other interesting places like Pollenca and the old town of Alcudia. Primarily we want to relax, absorb the sunshine, walk to the markets, swim in either the pool or in the sea and eat good food. The surrounding area for scenic drives is beautiful.
However Mallorca is now recognised as a major cycling destination and all the good apartment complexes and hotels provide facilities for the biking fraternity. Moreover the island has plenty of wide good flat roads for the biking teams to practice and enjoy.
Presumably they also like the challenge of the Tramuntana Mountains from time to time! Also to be found along the Bay of Puerto Pollenca are the ardent sky surfers and windsurfers who launch from around the area between the eastern end of Puerto Pollenca and the western end of Alcudia.
Sailors and motor yacht enthusiasts love Mallorca with its many lovely marinas and safe harbours. Some of these marinas are for the luxury motor yachts and are the haunt of the celebrity crowd.
On this occasion we stayed at the new luxury OD Port Portals Hotel at Porto Portals which is a fashionable small marina west of Palma. There are two pleasant beaches and the smart shopping and restaurant area is a favourite with the yachting crowd.
Urban life in Mallorca developed from the time of 123 BCE following the conquest of the island by the Roman Consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus and the area known as Pollentia became a large urban development between the 1st century BCE and the 3rd century largely because of the strategic location between the bays of Pollenca and Alcudia. Indeed it became the most important city in the Balearics during the Roman period.
Today, we can visit those Roman remains beside the old heritage town of Alcudia. Do not confuse that with the modern town which is full of high rise hotels and apartment blocks and provides the form of holiday that is essential for some but not what I look for whereas Puerto Pollenca and Pollenca are a delight with their respective markets.
Puerto Pollenca’s in on a Wednesday and Pollenca’s on Sundays. The old town of Alcudia however is charming and to be recommended and has some boutique hotels and charming restaurants and designer boutiques.
Moreover we found two of our favourite restaurants are thriving and I recommend L’Aup near Pollenca for its delicious food in a garden environment and Restaurante L’Ovento at Alcudia Port for its stunning fish and old fashioned personal service – both are family owned restaurants and it is a pleasure to see local Mallorcans come in and relax.
Palma the capital city is charming and I would recommend it for a City Break perhaps in the low season. There is much to see including the wonderful cathedral La Seu which was started in 1230 but not completed till 1601. The Palau de L’ Almudaina is the Spanish Monarchy’s royal palace close by and the Passeig des Born is like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. You have to walk ‘The Born’!
We had previously experienced the old-world wooden train from Palma to Soller and it is really worth doing. The little train journey shows the beautiful valley of Valle de los Naranjos (Valley of the Oranges) and it is an old town with charm built on the wealth of the citrus trade. From Soller one takes a heritage tram down to Port de Soller.
Long ago this was the main outlet for the produce grown in the valleys and terraces grown around Soller. These days it is a beautiful harbour with lively shops and restaurants. From here one can take a bus back to Palma so it makes a very pleasant day out.
Lluc is a revered place of pilgrimage since the foundation in 1250 of the Monestir de Lluc. Today Lluc is a large ensemble that includes a church, choir school, the old Augustinian monastery, a small museum, accommodation for pilgrims and a restaurant and souvenir shop for visitors.
Deia will be forever associated with the English writer Robert Graves who lived there in 1929 and he is buried in the cemetery beside the parish church at the top of the town. It is very fashionable these days and several celebrities own homes in the vicinity.
The mountain range in the north west of Mallorca is the Serra de Tramuntana and if you rent a car this is an exhilarating drive taking you from Palma up to the peaks and pines of this craggy mountain range. The highest point is Puig Major and one can then proceed to Pollenca and Puerto Pollenca.
On this occasion we had rented a self-catering small apartment which had its own communal swimming pool. It was very well equipped with comfortable beds and excellent hot shower and in a splendid quiet location yet close to the promenade and the beach. We did look however at one or two small villas and found a couple to our liking for another occasion; certainly for whole families the villa option is essential along with a hire car.
We found that hiring a car for three days was adequate as the rest of the time we just walked. Puerto Pollenca also has a rather nice small nature reserve right in its heart and we find that because it is such a favourite destination for English speaking tourists everything is very easy to achieve.
In the past on a longer vacation, we drove all over the island but in a week one is really looking for gentle pursuits on foot. I did swim and enjoyed it and the young families around us for the half term break were having a lovely time. The beach also has provision for the disabled to enjoy the sea and actually enter the shallow water on a specially provided vehicle – the Lifeguards have responsibility for this equipment.
Roast suckling pig, paella, seafood, lovely duck with cherries, good wine and homemade flan and other sweet delights are the ingredients for a lovely evening meal – or the gorgeous ice-creams – in a lovely temperature that might just need a light jacket…..at lunch one can put together glorious olives, cold meats, amazing salads and sweet Mallorcan oranges together with cherries and strawberries and honey almonds…..beautiful Mallorca, we will be back!
All photos Aline Dobbie.
Spring has sprung as they say and the milder sunny weather has returned to Scotland. We live in the beautiful Scottish Borders which have gentle hills and valleys and famous rivers like the River Tweed running through – the Tweed is world famous for the salmon that are spawned and live and then leave the river and go to sea and return to spawn again and this river is the haunt of serious fishermen and women for both trout and salmon.
The hills are alive with sheep and bird life, the fields full of young cattle and the air on a summer’s day is mellow with the sound of contented livestock and the curlew’s cry in the sky.
Peebles is a most attractive town to visit south of Edinburgh and it is an easy drive of 25 miles with many lovely little restaurants and coffee shops in which to assuage your hunger and rest your feet. Peebles has a nearby castle called Neidpath standing proudly right on the banks of the Tweedand the River Walk is a delight.
At nearby Innerleithen Traquair House is a wonderful old mansion that is reputed to be the oldest inhabited country house in Scotland. I can declare an interest in that over 40 years ago I used to rent the cottage that is now the very attractive tea room and it is full of interest and charm. Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, these are all fine Borders towns and worth a visit and one can see the ruined Abbeys that are so evocative of times past.
Abbotsford is the historic house of the great Sir Walter Scott the 19th century writer who helped to create the romance and myths of Scotland and this fine old house is very close to Melrose which is famous for its rugby.
Another area of Scotland that we love particularly is Argyll and the area around Oban. That region is in the Highlands of Scotland but with wonderful coastline and sea lochs (lakes), and little villages and hills and valleys; there are superb historic gardens to visit with ancient castles and keeps and other heritage sites. It is a sailor’s dream area and much loved by ‘yachties’ and the marine wildlife are abundant as are the birds.
From end of April to end of October Scotland is a wonderful country to visit, the early months show you her beauty in Spring which turns into Summer and then by late September the Autumn colours prevail and they can be truly stunning and rival Canada or the East Coast of America in their vivid array. Further north from Oban there is yet more stunning country and the Western Isles which are easily accessible by ferries which ply to and fro across those waters.
Ferry Tickets can be bought in a group to make it economical and indeed last year we went by ferry from Oban to Mull and then drove across to Iona which needs another tiny ferry ride. The historic and beautiful tiny island of Ionahas great Christian traditions and heritage and is really worth visiting. On a good day the sea around is an azure colour with the white sand, the yellow gorse bushes and bluebells in May – outstandingly beautiful.
Tobermory is the colourful town in north Mull from which you can take a ferry to Ardnamurchan and then again it is wild and stunning Scotland with so few people. The lack of people would be the great find I imagine for most visitors! Deer, seals, otters, and birdlife – these are in abundance for those who have patience and are quiet and respectful of wildlife. From Mallaig one takes a short ferry ride to the famous Isle of Skye.
Yet again wonderful vistas open up with much to see and do. One can access the mainland by the Skye Bridge and visit Plockton which is enchanting heritage village and then drive down and visit the famous Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie – this could be the most photographed castle in all Scotland at the confluence of three lochs.
This must be the most romantic of Scotland’s castles and is beautifully presented and has a wonderful visitor centre as well. There are small hotels and guest houses and B & Bs in which to stay very comfortably mostly with their ensuite bedrooms (which I find essential) and a very good breakfast of your choice provided each morning.
Above is the chapel at Dawyck.
Other places I strongly recommend are Pitlochry, Dunkeld, Aberfeldy, Inverness, Perthand the area around Loch Tay. Around Oban the most wonderful and huge loch (lake) is Loch Awe which we love and visit regularly, but Loch Tay is also very large and has lovely areas around it with interesting things to visit and enjoy. Everyone has heard about Loch Ness and the mythical monster therein.
I have not even touched the Far North of Scotland, or indeed the East Coast, or the Kingdom of Fife with St Andrews the original famous home of golf, but in one short article that cannot all be achieved adequately.
In 2014 Scotland and Glasgow plays host to The Commonwealth Games, The Ryder Cup and the anniversary of the Victory of the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago. In early August HM The Queen will along with the nation commemorate the start of the Great War of 1914-1918 in Glasgow Cathedral and in September Scots vote on whether they will stay within Great Britain and the United Kingdom or become independent…..I am passionately for remaining a proud nation within Great Britain and the United Kingdom.
Most visitors might start their visit to Scotland by arriving in Edinburgh by plane, train or car. It is a most delightful city with so much to intrigue and entrance.
Edinburgh is not a big city and I think that is part of its magic; certainly as a teenager when I returned for tertiary education that was the feeling I experienced which made for a sense of security.
Moreover, because there are four universities and other colleges of education the city is alive with thousands of young people, many of them from overseas; indeed Scotland now has many thousands of foreign students studying at her various universities four of which are considered ‘ancient’ i.e. very very old, the oldest of which is St Andrews on the coast of Fife together with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, but there are modern institutions that have been designated as new universities and these provide a plethora of courses for overseas students.
The new Missoni Hotel joins The Balmoral and The Caledonian and others as a luxury destination and there are also good boutique hotels like Channings, The Howard and others.
Edinburgh is full of good B & Bs which can suit many budgets. Most tourists find the whisky centres of great interest and a visit to the distilleries in the Highlands & Islands can be very rewarding! Knitwear and designer wear for the cold can be found in lovely specialist shops and there are Harvey Nichols and Jenners as well as designer shops on the famous elegant George Streetwhich are a delight. George Streethas many restaurants and cafes; some of these are beautiful conversions from erstwhile bank properties.
In decades past, Edinburgh had numerous grand bank buildings which are now mostly superfluous as so much business is now done on the telephone and internet banking so they have become gracious restaurants that particularly at Christmas are decorated and give one a really festive feel. Indian restaurants abound as do Thai and Chinese along with good budget priced French and Italian and Mexican.
In my personal opinion Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’s Cathedral (in which we were married), The Palace of Holyrood House, the Royal Mile which is the ancient street between those grand buildings, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh, the New Town of Edinburgh (which is not new at all as it is over 250 years old, but just not as ancient as the Old Town!), Princes Street Gardens and Arthur’s Seat are some of the main attractions.
At Leith which is the port for Edinburgh and had its own ancient history the Royal Yacht Britannia sits at anchor and is a worthwhile attraction and nearby there are many restaurants in which to eat and rest your weary feet. Every year in July HM The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh make a week long visit to the City and undertake engagements in Scotland. The Royal Family value dearly their country seat at Balmoral Castle which is personally owned by HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales has the nearby mansion of Birkhall.
He is a keen gardener and the castle grounds and the mansion both have lovely gardens which people visit when the Royal Family is not in residence. At the end of the famous three week long Edinburgh Festival (which takes place in August and early September) there is always the most stupendous firework display which is set off with the background of the castle. On a fine dry night it is nothing less than stunning accompanying grand classical music being played in Prince’s Street Gardens.
The City’s streets are awash with pedestrians and there is always a good festive atmosphere. The fireworks display also takes place on New Year’s Eve and that is the Winter Festival which also lasts for three weeks over Christmas, but it could be very cold and may not be that attractive to some visitors for that reason!
The Castle itself is fascinating and is now often used for grand events and government functions. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is always a wonderful event and usually booked out months ahead of the three weeks duration. Foreign armies and relevant bodies take delight in also participating in this annual and stirring event when the skirl of the pipe bands, the skills of the armed forces and others are shown to perfection against the backdrop of the amazing Edinburgh Castle.
Below the west coast of Scotland and Traquair House (in that order)
Top photo credit: equivocality.com and Edinburgh Castle shot from wikipedia.org.
Admidst the grey and cold in Europe lately, in my mind’s eye I am back in the sunshine and warmth and clear skies of Kerala where I spent six weeks recently. My Comfort Corner for three whole blissful weeks was Kumarakom Lake Resort.
The morning would start at 06.30 hours with me making us a pot of our favourite breakfast tea; I had requested a teapot for our heritage villa with its plunge pool and Jacuzzi. I had also specified a jug of fresh cold milk in the fridge….these are essentials for a tea purist such as myself!
Out on our little veranda of the heritage villa I would sit and observe the mist clearing on Lake Vembanad with the fishermen gliding out in their canoes about their daily tasks, then the sun would nudge in at about 06.50 and the soft sunshine would bring the whole garden and its water channels alive whilst the birdlife tweeted and chirped and made themselves busy.
The garden staff would be working and always wish with a smile as they picked up leaves and left the beautiful surroundings immaculate. The newspaper girl would come with our daily paper and those intent on Yoga would walk to the Pool Pavilion for their morning session.
Meanwhile I could read my tablet with its emails and the paper and Graham would go on his daily constitutional walk around the property. Then there would be a dip in our plunge pool with a burst of Jacuzzi followed by a glorious hot shower and the prospect of a superb breakfast. Again we had asked for fresh orange juice despite the many others on offer and a bowl of curd.
After that…well the buffet delighted with dosas, eggs of any sort, bacon, breakfast dishes, fresh fruit like papaya and pineapple and masses of breads. By this time the resort is busy with people departing or arriving or deciding on their morning’s activity but we would return to the villa and josh the Housekeeping Team about their latest towel artistry on our bed and go off to the infinity pool and find where we wished to sit.
The tranquil Lake Vembanad is just right there, the pond heron is watching for fish, we even saw an otter and another time we watched a water snake. The Kettavellums would arrive with disembarking passengers or ready to take people out for a day or overnight….others would arrive to lounge or swim and me….well I would be in my beloved infinity pool in lukewarm water swimming, relaxing and looking out onto the beautiful lake with all its activities.
At midday we returned to our little villa for fruit and cool drinks but others ordered snacks and drinks from the Pool Pavilion; we had decided we would become spherical if we ate too much so contented ourselves with fruit and a swim in our plunge pool in bright sunshine. Having brought two Kindles full of books we were not short of reading material and so the afternoon would be spent either in the cool of our room or on the veranda.
At 3.30 to 5.30 pm there is complementary tea and snacks served on the lawn and that is a nice time of day and an opportunity to meet other guests and exchange information or just enjoy the coming and going. The tea is masala chai or a tea of your choice or even coffee if you so wish. The snacks….well they are freshly made banana fritters, savoury eats, and more prosaic items like shortbread biscuits if that is what you want. In the late afternoon light it was a most attractive venue with the greenery, the flowers, the birds and the guests’ comings and goings. Then at 5.30 the Sunset Cruise would depart daily for those wishing to observe the sunset. We have done this previously but instead would return to the infinity pool and watch the sunset from there in the warm water and it is spectacular.
I should add that Kumarakom Lake Resort has another huge pool in the meandering pool with villas alongside and others liked that very much and it always looks most inviting. Whether in a Pavilion Room (which they consider their most basic provision) which is large and luxurious with beautiful bathroom with its own heated Jacuzzi, or the Pool Villas or the Heritage Villas (such as ours) or indeed the two Presidential Suites there is something to satisfy everyone.
In the evening if there was a large party of guests they might be given dinner on the lawn preceded by a cultural show of dancing or martial arts; sometimes the guests were encouraged to don Indian cultural clothes which seemed to work a treat with a party of Americans; there were quite a few Americans on this visit and they were delighting in it all.
The Buffet Dinner also has a la carte and there is the alternative of the Seafood Restaurant. Our favourite entertainment was the Ottanthullal Dancer called Kannan who is very skilled and amusing and if you haven’t ever seen him is a revelation with everyone loving his antics. The food is multi cuisine so most people are satisfied and the a la carte takes care of anything special.
The Executive Chef and his Team and the Maître D are always keen to give you what you want and all the waiting Staff soon know a guest’s likes and preferences. In no time at all they knew what we liked and when and anticipated our needs…..the senior management, junior management and all the Staff are particularly friendly and attentive and there is no question of what can sometimes happen in India where the staff are too busy chatting to each other to see to the guests’ needs! A happy crew who work hard and add to one’s enjoyment.
Naturally there is Ayurveda which people really enjoy, but also a little lady demonstrates weaving, and the potter encourages you to try his skill. Graham made a special pot….which is amusing! There is naturally a shop for gifts and jewellery, antiques and the usual requirements.
The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is nearby and there are other visits that can be arranged. I would definitely recommend a night in a kettavellum (spice boat) or at least an afternoon with lunch if that has never been experienced. There is also a smaller craft which if hired early in the morning takes you to the smaller channels and waterways to observe the start of the day in Kerala…this was enjoyed by everyone who did the two hour trip.
Kerala has much to commend the State. It is a green lush friendly place with lovely homestays, hotels, beach and lake resorts…all of which usually offer Ayurveda for those who seek an alternative to conventional medicine. But, if you want luxury and comfort but without the ‘bling’ KLR as I call it will tick all the boxes….good service in immaculate amenities in a beautiful location and with good food, lovely swimming pools and nature all around you with the tranquil lake and gardens and wildlife. Even the Prince of Wales loved it here when he and the Duchess spent two nights over his birthday last November!
Kumarakom Lake Resort
Kumarakom North, Vayitharamattom
Kumarakom, Kerala 686566, India
Phone:+91 481 252 4900
Top photo credit only: www.luxoindia.com
As we do annually we caught the ‘red eye’ down to London’s City airport to attend two frenetic days at the World Travel Market at Excel. City Airport is right next door on the banks of the old river Thames and it is all so convenient for us. 50,000 people from around the world converge for the four days of this vitally important travel mart annually. It is always inspiring and now that the UK is coming out of the financial depression there was a real air of optimism this year.
My expertise is in India and Indian Ocean countries and Greece. This year I had written a special feature for The Buyers’ Guide about four beautiful Greek Islands in The Cyclades. This has been very well received.
I was invited to film an interview with the chief secretary for Tourism for Bodoland in Assam which was a pleasure and this is an area that is hardly known but unspoilt beautiful and a wildlife treasure of India with big beasts, big cats, elephants, birdlife and butterflies; the local tribes are into weaving and silk production.
We attended a party at the Goa Tourism stand and they asked me to give an impromptu speech of welcome which was also a pleasure. Goa takes its tourism seriously and professionally. Equally, we met with the chief secretary for tourism for Karnataka and he had a proposal for me which involved highlighting this lovely State’s glorious wildlife.
A favourite hotel is The Imperial in New Delhi and we were glad to chat to their general manager and colleague. Kerala has a host of lovely places and Kumarakom Lake Resort is a special favourite with us. India has lovely places, Orange County Resorts in Karnataka, CGH Earth resorts in Kerala, Reni Pani in Madhya Pradesh as well as Ahilya Fort.
The Samodes in Rajasthan and others in that lovely princely state….indeed there is so much diversity, not forgetting West Bengal where I have so much family history and which has woken up to promotion of its heritage and spiritual tourism. A cruise down or up the Ganges is a must and a walk through Kolkata with Living Roots.
Greece was a stand with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and the Greek Cycladic Isles were well represented. I looked in at Poland and South Africa and Scotland and Italy and Srilanka and The Maldives as well as Bhutan…..I could go on and on….but after two busy days we wended our weary way home to bed in Scotland, safely and efficiently with BA!
Annually we make a pilgrimage to some of our beloved beauty spots in our native Scotland to see first the gorgeous spring blossoms in mid-May and then again in mid-October we go to glory in the ‘amber colours’ of autumn.
This year we went up to Dunkeld which is an ancient little town in Perthshire and stayed at the Atholl Arms Hotel. This quaint old hotel played host to Queen Victoria’s daughter the Princess Royal in the second half of the 19th century so you will gather it is a heritage building; the food was excellent however, the bed was comfortable and the shower was hot. It is well located right beside the famous River Tay which is actually the longest river in the whole of the United Kingdom.
The weather lightened soon after our arrival and we pottered about in Dunkeld which has an ancient cathedral, some of it in ruins but nevertheless attractive with fine river walks and other interesting sites.
We then drove up the A9 to Pitlochry which is an attractive town beside the Tay full of shops, cafes, heritage interest, a famous theatre and lovely scenery. Then we proceeded up to Blair Atholl where the Duke of Atholl’s fine castle stands in the valley and is truly lovely. It is about 20 years since I visited but it is well worth the stop to see round.
Onwards we went to Bruar where the House of Bruar is a most elegant shopping complex where some of the finest clothes manufactured in Britain can be found – the home of fine wools, cashmeres and other glorious upmarket clothing. There is moreover a very fine Food Hall which would rival Harrods or Fortnum & Mason in London. I indulged myself with chocolates and other goodies for Christmas.
At Pitlochry during the autumn colours there is a hugely popular sound and light show, held among the giant trees of Faskally Wood once the light has gone….I did not manage to see it myself but am assured by young grandsons that it was ‘awesome’. It is called ‘The Enchanted Forest’.
That evening as the light died with a glorious sunset we had a lovely bottle of house wine back at the hotel and then a splendid dinner…and so to bed. The next day we went to see The Queen’s View which is where Queen Victoria marvelled at the beauty of the Scottish scenery and fell in love with Scotland.
We drove along Loch Tummel having passed the Pass of Killiekrankie (renowned for a battle three centuries ago). That whole area of Perthshire is beautiful and in the autumn one can be lucky and see the Stags preparing for the rut with their roaring and stamping. We had coffee in Kenmore which is at the east end of Loch Tay and then drove along the south shore of this famous long loch.
I reflected that I had first set eyes on it 50 years ago when very young and then had the good fortune to catch two great salmon in its dark waters in April 1965. Playing a 25lb salmon took almost an hour before I won against this king of fish; then half an hour later I managed to land an 18lb salmon as well! – a memorable afternoon indeed. Now I would not think of fishing as they are far too precious to kill, yet those experiences gave me my lifelong love for Scotland and her wild places.
Aberfeldy is another lovely little town to the east of Loch Tay and worth a visit. We however made our way along the south shore and stopped for a light lunch at the Ardeonaig Inn which is now a most elegant place with upmarket facilities and excellent cuisine. Half a century ago that inn was not a place for a young girl to enter whereas now it is a wedding location and honeymoon destination and most elegant and well managed. Times change and progress happens!
Killin is the town at the west end of the loch and the famous Falls of Dochart give the visitors much pleasure. There are one two small hotels here as well. After that we made our way home by way of the road through Strathyre and Callander and then home to Peeblesshire where we live.
The colours of autumn in Dawyck the Arboretum at Stobo which belongs to The Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh are well worth a visit and at this time of the year the colours of the Acers are truly stunning. There is moreover a first class little restaurant serving home made good food.
Scotland welcomes visitors throughout the year but I generally recommend that people come between late April and the end of October. It can become very cold over Christmas and New Year though the City of Edinburgh hosts a world famous Christmas Festival with ice rink, fireworks, street parties and Christmas Market. Haste ye Back!
I had long wanted to visit the Samode properties in Rajasthan India and then someone distinguished raved about their newish safari lodge at Bandhavgarh. That was the stimulus I needed and we arrived in mid February to stay at Samode Haveli in Jaipur. We travelled by Shatabdhi train from Delhi where we had stayed with pleasure yet again at The Imperial. The train journey is fast and efficient and one arrived in good time for lunch.
Samode is a beautifully presented town hotel that was/is in fact the town residence of the princes of Samode. Samode itself is a little town about 50 minutes travelling north of Jaipur…but more of that later. The haveli is a large regal residence in the Indo-Saracenic construct which is the signature look and décor for all the Samode hotels. This charming place has ancient rooms carefully furnished with every comfort and lovely courtyards, lawns and flowers in full bloom giving their fragrance to al fresco meals; the swimming pool is large and so beautiful and there is a spa to one side. A stylish shop and a business centre complete the facilities.
We loved it and were soon at home with attentive staff, good food, either Indian or a fusion of European and Indian. The swimming pool gives a centre for leisure and there is a Jacuzzi. Located at the end of a narrow lane in Jaipur one is immediately aware of the antiquity of this city and the haveli becomes a haven when one has gone out to sight see or experience something or indeed shop! We spent three nights there and then had the delightful prospect of transferring to the Samode Palace.
The rulers of Samode trace their descent from Prithiviraj Singh ji, the 17th prince of the Kacchawaha Rajputs who ruled the kingdom of Amber (later known as Jaipur) 450 years ago. Traditionally the rulers of Samode were the principal thakurs (nobles) of the royal state of Amber now Jaipur. These fine nobles served the Maharajas of Jaipur and their successors the Rawals of Samode continued to wield power and influence through the 20th century.
Samode Palace is a total delight…and indeed it has been the setting for a number of well known films on India which necessitated heritage settings. The palace is 500 years old and it remains a haven of tranquility under the impressive Sheogarh Fort on the hill tops. I recommend that you stay three nights at Samode to fully appreciate this lovely serene and interesting place.
There are suites, royal suites and beautiful public rooms with their stunning ancient murals and décor; there are two swimming pools each charming; one on the ground floor and large but the other higher up and an infinity pool with its own Jacuzzi as well with shady areas in which to rest and relax and also eat a light meal. We were given a most charming and spacious royal suite which is at the top of the building so necessitated quite a climb, but there are bedrooms on lower floors.
The peace, the change in the light, the birdsong are all part and parcel of this rural place. The Staff are well trained and attentive and knowledgeable and eager to please. The dining room is stylish with a buffet and also a la carte. Then there is a second restaurant for evenings should you fancy a change. The spa is good and there is also a business centre. There is a good hotel shop.
The florist carefully laying out flower petals for an evening function delighted me; the Classic India Car Rally 2013 used this palace hotel very sensibly as a stop along their route and delighted us with all their great cars that had been shipped into India for the rally. We were invited to go on a camel cart ride to see the sunset. This was amusing and enjoyable and when we reached our destination and said farewell to the camel owner a butler and two assistants served us a splendid tea on a sand dune and we waited companionably for the sunset which did not disappoint.
Then we amiably all climbed into the jeep and returned home in the twilight waving at the camel owner as he made his own way home. That ride to the sunset showed the small town, its surrounding countryside, the buffaloes returning home, the peacocks scurrying by, the bird life preparing to roost and the people all waving and calling out. Life in rural Rajasthan today, the dichotomy of the medieval but the camel owner chatting on his cell phone….that is what pleases me.
We had lunch at Samode Bagh. Bagh means garden in Hindi and the Bagh is modeled on the geometric style of a Mughal garden and was built 250 years ago and has been historically used by the Samode family for private retreats. It is charming with the most beautiful comfortable tented accommodation (in fact the roof is tented whereas the walls are brick) with every comfort and full ensuite shower room and verandah.
Naturally the Bagh also has a swimming pool and Jacuzzi and beautiful open area for sitting and relaxing and dining. I really liked this place and could see it as a venue for a family reunion with plenty to do and space to run around for children or indeed a wedding or a conference.
On our return to the Palace we walked through the town and looked at all the shops and bought some items….I needed some jutis (handmade local shoes) and loved some bangles, and then a shawl. As for the gems….well the gemstone dealer was astounding with his variety of gorgeous precious and semi precious stones that almost fell out of his paper packets….Oh for a lottery win and then one could seriously buy and have something designed and made in Jaipur which is a centre for jewellery.
These Samode Hotels are located 240 kms from Delhi International airport, but Jaipur has its own modern airport and as I said efficient train connections. Equally the car drive to other destinations in Rajasthan or to Delhi is very easily achieved on modern roads.
There is a fourth Samode Hote: the Samode Safari Lodge at Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh….what can I say…stylish, comfortable, welcoming, luxurious yet in keeping with its environs, with attentive Staff and Naturalist…and the stars of the show are the tigers and other wildlife of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.
For more photos, check out my gallery of Samodes in Rajasthan: https://plus.google.com/photos/105833357733916819450/albums/5859339444989131969 .