THE RICHES OF IN­DIA

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Susan Kuro­sawa

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.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Tom Jel­lett

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