Bikaner Revisited, Royal Bikaner, Travel, Royal Rajasthan, Rajasthan

Bikaner revisted: Something old, something new

Bikaner, Rajasthan, Travel, IndiaI first visited Bikaner in February 2013 as part of a larger tour of Rajasthan with a group. Bikaner, the fourth-largest city of Rajasthan, was our first stop and it turned out to be the perfect introduction to the state as well as the perfect beginning to what turned out to be a great trip.

In the day-and-a-half that we had in Bikaner, our group was able to visit Junagarh Fort, the camel research station and the royal centotaphs at Devi Kund Sagar. We even managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Bhandasar Jain Temple, but could not explore the city’s famed havelis and markets.

Five years later (and almost to the day in February 2018), I was back in Bikaner courtesy an invitation from Narendra Bhawan. And this time around, thanks to their curated trails, I was able to explore new places — the havelis and markets of Bikaner — and re-visit old ones like the royal cenotaphs. In addition, I also visited the Laxmi Niwas Palace and Bikaji ki Tekree, the site of the first fortified settlement in Bikaner. I also got the opportunity to travel out of the city into the desert one evening for a sundowner and a special dinner. An unexpected bonus of this trip was getting introduced to two master artists of Bikaner and an opportunity to see their work (more about this in a separate blogpost!).

Presenting my “Bikaner Revisited” experiences, beginning with a brief history of the city.

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The Narendra Bhawan experience

At first glance, the red sandstone structure that is Narendra Bhawan Bikaner doesn’t stand out or give any indication to the luxury boutique hotel that it claims to be. In fact, it looks more like a haveli or mansion of a merchant rather than the one-time residence or palace of Narendra Singhji, the former king of Bikaner.

Once past the rather modest entrance gates, you will cross a small courtyard covered with paving made from the same deep red sandstone, that Narendra Bhawan is constructed from — the local building stone. You will then pass through an arched entrance and climb up a few steps clad with golden yellow Jaisalmeri stone. And that’s when the change happens !

The floor tiles change to colourful vintage tiles. Carefully curated artefacts fill your sight, and deep and luxurious furniture beckon you to sit down and take it all in… But, wait for there is more to see and explore. You pass through a door and enter the very bold and beautiful foyer where large black and white tiles create a chequered floor pattern. Glass cabinets with the most interesting curios twinkle in the light reflected from the art deco lamps on the ceiling. At one end of the long foyer is a bright red piano…

You look around in wonder and accept the welcome drink offered to you by the ever smiling and friendly staff of the hotel and let it all sink in. This is how my Narendra Bhawan Experience began.

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Postcard from Rishtan, Uzbekistan

Postcards from… is a new series and is all about one picture perfect postcard from a place I have recently travelled to. I was in Uzbekistan (my second time!) last week, revisiting some old favourites and visiting new places.

This postcard is from Rishtan in the Ferghana Valley of Eastern Uzbekistan, famed for its fruits, art, and automobile manufacturing units. No prizes for guessing what is the theme of this postcard is. 🙂

Rishatan, Ceramic Artist, Rustom Usmanov, Uzbekistan
Oct. 14, 2018: Display at the workshop of the master ceramic artist, Rustom Usmanov at Rishtan in Uzbekistan 

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Tranquebar, Trankebar, Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu, Danish Colony, Colonial Heritage, History, East Coast, Coromandel Coast

Exploring Tranquebar

There are two ways to explore the former Danish colony of Tranquebar (or Trankebar as the Danes spell it) or Tharangambadi (as it is known officially). The first is as a day trip from Pondicherry or Nagapattinam or any of the nearby temple towns and the second is to base yourself at Tranquebar, like I did, and then explore the town at leisure.

Tranquebar, Trankebar, Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu, Danish Colony, Colonial Heritage, History, East Coast, Coromandel Coast

This coastal town is on the east coast of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, about a 100 km south of Pondicherry. Either way, you will soon discover that the sea and the citadel of Fort Dansborg at Tranquebar are its best known sights.

In fact, the first thing a visitor to Tranquebar will see is the Dansborg citadel — to me, it looked like a giant slice of commercial kesar ice cream shimmering (or melting) in the heat.

And if you stay at The Bungalow on the Beach, like I did, then a view of the sea and the Dansborg Fort, is a constant (see the header and the photo on the left).

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A holiday at Wallwood Garden in Coonoor

My first night at Wallwood Garden in Coonoor was a memorable one. I had arrived earlier that evening and was shown to my room immediately by Geetha, the manager. “You must be so tired — first the flight from Mumbai to Coimbatore, and then the drive to Coonoor ! Since you’re a writer and will appreciate some quiet, we have put you in Camphor.”

Writer? Me? I was so chuffed at being called a writer that the rest of Geetha’s words about the room and its amenities didn’t register as I was mentally preening. Till she mentioned the word “room heater”.

I snapped out my self-absorbed reverie to see her pointing towards the said contraption and showing me how it worked. “Surely, I won’t need this, right? I asked. I may also have giggled nervously.

“I’m afraid you will for it gets very cold after sunset. Besides, there are extra blankets and quilts in the cupboard should you need them,” Geetha said seriously. “You did read the mail we sent about the weather and appropriate clothing for Coonoor, didn’t you?” I hadn’t read the mail, but wasn’t going to tell her that.

“Of course, of course,” I said airily, ushering her out of the room.”I’ll be fine and will manage”. That night I needed two blankets + one quilt + the room heater to “manage”. I don’t know when I stopped shivering and went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning to the most awful racket; it took me a few seconds to figure out that the sky wasn’t about to come crashing down on my head and that it was a family of monkeys partying on the roof. And that’s how my holiday at Neemrana’s Wallwood Garden began ! Continue reading “A holiday at Wallwood Garden in Coonoor”

A holiday at The Bungalow on the Beach in Tranquebar

When I arrived at The Bungalow on the Beach in the sleepy coastal town of Tranquebar — or Tharangambadi as it is locally known — around 11 am on that humid and muggy August day last year, I was in a bit of a funk.

My train to Karaikal (the nearest railway station) from Chennai had arrived nearly 4 hours late, which meant that I had missed breakfast (my most important meal of the day) and also a morning’s worth of exploring Tranquebar. Not only was I hungry, I also had the beginnings of a migraine which, I knew from past experience, had the potential to ruin my holiday.

My mood did not improve over the peaceful drive from Karaikal to Tranquebar or the first sight of the blue-green waters of the Bay of Bengal or the beautiful heritage Bungalow that was going to be my home. The warm welcome at the Bungalow did make me feel a little better, but by that time all I wanted to do was to do was to sleep off my migraine.

But when I was ushered into Princess Louise, which is what my room was called, all thoughts of sleep vanished. 🙂

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