At 09:00 on the tenth of September a slightly nervous Jingers addressed an assembled gathering of clients and staff welcoming them to India apprehensive to break the news of planned changes before we had even left Mumbai. Thankfully, we have a realistic group who had been watching the unfolding disaster in Kashmir and who understand the dire situation there; we will need to adjust our schedule as more reliable information filters through. I had also made the decision to leave Mumbai immediately after the briefing to personally check on the additional flooding conditions in Vadodara where we were due to stay for our first overnight on the road. This meant both Stephen Friend and myself would miss the welcome dinner, arranged for that evening at one of Mumbai’s top culinary establishments’, driving eight hours north to assess the damage and reroute the group to another hotel for their first night on the road. We arrived in a city halved by the flood waters; one half dry, the other quite obviously suffering the after effects of water thirty plus feet above normal levels.
In the early light of Friday September 11, Tim and Terry set-up ‘START’ banners and flags in front of the Gateway of India for the official waving-off of ‘Jingers Jaunts – An Indian Escapade’ and although I could not be there I was happy to be working on the first obstacle placed in our path. To smoothly exit one of the planet’s most densely populated conurbations needs planning, and the key issue here is timing; all vehicles were underway travelling north just after 07:00. The first day was spent getting clear of Mumbai and its associated satellite cities, good modern 3 and 4 lane highways proved an excellent means of doing this with some leeway given to the occasional motorcycle, camel, or trumpeting Tata making use of the wrong carriageway.
I was glad to be reunited with our group at the alternative accommodation we had sourced, the staff and management at our ‘new’ hotel were true Indian hosts making our short stay extremely comfortable and relaxing. From those who had experienced their first day on Indian roads I received very positive reports and admiring comments that such a system of road etiquette could possibly work, all done with good manners and little frustration.
Day two dawned dry! Something everyone had been praying for. Our route continued north on secondary roads passing smaller towns and finding interesting rural landscapes. The country is exceedingly green at this time of year with the monsoon just finished and all life still drinking deeply from the plentiful moisture. During the middle of the day an ageing private castle with its own car collection, just two or three kilometres off route, was available for a lunch halt. The quiet setting against its own private lake with peacocks strutting on the lawns made a nice break from the crush of humanity elsewhere. Later in the day we joined a modern highway with frequent tolls to efficiently bring us to Udaipur and our exquisite hotel. Lake Palace sitting serenely amid Lake Pichola has charm, perfect service and comfort rarely seen outside India. With every sort of spa and massage treatment available, many took advantage of some pampering attention.
The following morning we all made concerted efforts to leave the palace; most would have easily immersed themselves in the quality, service and splendour for a further day, at least. We passed Kumbhalgarh, an outstanding Mewar fort, on our way north; with more than 35km of towering walls surrounding the fortification, not surprisingly, it was only besieged once in its entire history.
A few customers are still becoming familiar with the GPS system which requires monitoring, but everyone has enjoyed the rural roads and sites that we have offered; these are simple, grassroot localities that most travellers don’t get to experience. I am glad several crews took the opportunity to visit Rohet Garh, to learn of the distinction of the Marwari horse, and to enjoy the special surroundings and its little known place in history.
Arriving in Jodhpur, weaving through the chaotic streets, turning into the palace grounds before trumpets announce your arrival at the red carpet leading to the main welcome atrium is an experience I could enjoy time and again. Just when you thought service cannot improve, grandeur cannot be surpassed, and comfort has a limit; this property proves us wrong. I defy anyone who claims any hotel in the world improves on what Umaid Bhawan Palace has to offer, this setting is truly exceptional.
Before leaving the city, Mehrangarh Fort perched majestically above the indigo blue homes of its inhabitants tells the story of a fierce past and a formidable fighting force. Rural roads then led us to Osiyan and its famous temples before bearing further west into drier landscapes of the Thar Desert. Just west of the Jaisalmer located in peaceful desert surroundings a small top quality hotel with all the comforts was our home for the next two nights. We ate at one long table, everyone mixing, laughing and recounting what in the future may seem improbable tales. At one point we sat betting on the ambient temperature, it would have been nine O’clock at night. The thermometer proved Simon Dedman correct with a guess of 31 centigrade.