THE RICHES OF INDIA
THE recent magazine poll of the top 100 hotels in the world was a sorry thing for Australia. Not one of our properties made the list. Given that the majority of voters were US-based readers, this must mean we don’t cut the mustard when it comes to service and standards.
Piffle, if you ask DepartureLounge , who reckons we have world-standard city hotels by the bucketload, not to mention island resorts, eco-lodges and luxury wilderness camps. Such lists, however, are weird things and Lounge imagines there must have been squawks of discontent from the Hyatts and Ritz-Carltons of this world at the news a hotel in India was ranked as Travel+Leisure’s No. 1.
It’s no shock that India is now an official high-end destination. When Bill Clinton made a state visit to India in 2001, he was put up at Rajvilas in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and pictures of him at his mobile command centre were beamed into lounge rooms across the US. Hey, India didn’t look like such a dump after all.
Such publicity proved to be priceless for India. Many American tourists who sashayed to Rajvilas also stayed at sister resort Amarvilas in Agra and the tented camp Vanyavilas near the entrance to Ranthambore National Park (where Clinton spotted a tiger; perhaps a remotecontrolled presidential version, growling on cue). All of these properties are part of the Oberoi hotel group, which includes Udaivilas at Udaipur: No. 1 on the Travel+Leisure list (Amarvilas and Rajvilas were placed 10 and 11).
Udaivilas is as worthy a winner as others in, say, the top 20. Its big selling point is the air of utter fantasy: any guest staying here, floating amid emerald gardens and wafting down marble colonnades, would feel like a make-believe maharaja or maharani. The hotel, which has been open just a few years, sits in a 12ha estate that was once a royal hunting domain. It’s on the banks of Lake Pichola in this peaceful, hill-ringed Rajasthani city and, like a mirror image, it faces Taj Lake Palace, a princely pile built in 1754 on its own little isle in Lake Pichola and home to a succession of ruby-encrusted personages. Ironically, this authentic palace rated 82 on the list; it is part of a real-estate harem of castles, palaces and fortifications owned by the Maharana of Udaipur, whomLounge met in Sydney last December. When asked the whereabouts of his wife, the stylish gentleman leaned forward and murmured conspiratorially: ‘‘ At home, my dear . . . holding the fort.’’
Lounge is rather obsessed by India and has her own list of best hotels, none of which would make any international list. Creaky old Chapslee at Shimla, owned by Lounge ’ s old friend Reggie Singh, with its high single beds and rooms stuffed with curiosities (including Lounge on many an occasion), would have to be included. The chic little Malabar House at Kochi in Kerala and the 1928-built Narain Niwas at Jaipur would also make such a list; in times past, Lounge packed her feather duster for stays at the latter but, like India itself, no doubt all is now severely swept and airconditioned to Florida levels.
IT’S not all good news for India, though. Tour operator and wholesaler India Unbound predicts a shortage of hotel rooms in the lead-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games (October 3-14) in Delhi. Spokeswoman Faith Pandian says a booming economy and a sharp growth in local travel have led to at least a 25 per cent rise in room rates and tourism services over the past year. The message is to go now, while the Australian dollar is strong, value is still good and hotels are not blockbooked for the Games. www.indiaunbound.com.
Select Hotels has advised Lounge of a funny little tea tale. One of its members is the Lodge at Tarraleah in the Tasmanian Central Highlands, where a communication error recently resulted in the ordering of supplies of Tanzanian, not Tasmanian, tea. General manager Niall Mitchell is a Scot and must have a burr as thick as a Highlands mist. His request for the Tasmanian product was misheard by his buyer and resulted in organic tea from the Mufindi Estate in the foothills of the Livingstone Mountains in Tanzania being airfreighted to the Apple Isle.
Mitchell says he is nonetheless ‘‘ delighted with the result’’, especially as the tea was grown on a registered fair trade estate. The Lodge at Tarraleah, recently named as one of the best new hotels in the world by US-based CondeNastTraveler magazine, obviously serves a good cuppa, best enjoyed with one free night on the house if booking a two-night deal (until September 30). Also included is a $100 activities voucher; the lodge is a two-hour drive from Hobart, Launceston or the Devonport ferry terminal. Pack the thermos. www.selecthotels.com/tarraleah. ■ FIND of the week: Proud Welshman Emyr Griffith has gathered hand-picked country hotels, guesthouses, inns and farmstays into a terrific accommodation collection. Lounge can’t pretend to be first with the news: Griffith launched Wales: Great Little Places 14 years ago.
There’s great value to be had, even at posh manor houses and ancestral halls. www.wales.little-places.co.uk. ■ LOUNGE loves: James Jeffrey’s thoroughly charming and very amusing new book PaprikaParadise , extracted this week as our cover feature. If you buy one travel narrative this year, this has to be it. Bill Bryson, you’re on notice. ■ LOUNGE loathes: News that the third series of the reality transplant APlacein
(LifeStyle Channel) will screen from August 20. That appalling grizzler Nigel Farrell is enough to set back French tourism hundreds of years.
That the recent and much-publicised Seven New Wonders of the World poll has spawned not just seemingly endless debate but a rush of imitators. Latest to hit Lounge ’ s desk is a New Zealand list from no less august an authority than Kiwi Travel Blog, which places Milford Sound at the top and the Moeraki Boulders at No. 7. It leaves Lounge feeling quite listless.