Jessica’s field notes from India

Jessica shares her experiences from her research trip to India.

Sending our team out on fieldwork trips to experience each of our luxury travel experiences is a key part of what we do. Not only do we make sure that each of our experiences is firmly tried and tested, but we also form important connections with our guides on the ground – all around the world.

Freshly returned from exploring the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh and Rajasthan, an Indian state full of adventure and intrigue, we asked Jessica to share her story. Between trekking through beautifully remote mountain scenery and exploring historical hill forts and palaces, we couldn’t wait to hear how she got on.

Over to you, Jessica.

A spiritual hike through untouched landscapes

Majestic mountains, golden apricot orchards, and ancient villages – exploring Ladakh’s beautiful wilderness and rich Buddhist heritage was the perfect way to kickstart my trip. Hiking along the foothills of towering Stok Kangri, we travelled through the valley; uncovering winding streams and forests bursting with warm autumnal hues. Heading up into rockier terrain, it wasn’t long before a gentle spray of colourful fabrics broke up the rugged landscapes. Left there by previous travellers, I watched as these Buddhist prayer flags fluttered in the wind, pausing only to add my own delicate string of colour to the display. Soaking in the spirituality of this tranquil place whilst breathing in the crisp mountain air, I’d never felt such an immense sense of peace.

Leaving the mountain pass behind, we stumbled upon a luscious green clearing – the perfect spot for some lunch. Dining on kathi rolls and rhododendron juice in the shadow of these mighty Himalayan peaks made for a delightfully unique pairing. And the most memorable picnic I’ve ever had.

When travelling through Ladakh, each day held some surprise or another. You never knew where you were eating lunch that day, and this quickly became my favourite part. On one occasion, we sat below the strikingly white walls of the picturesque Likir Monastery. Another, we wound our way deep through the Zanskar Valley to a quiet orchard where a beautiful spread awaited us.

Our guide – Pujin – thrived on spontaneity and always made the most of what was happening in the local area, whether that was dropping by a local fair happening that day only or paying our respects to the King of Leh in his home at Stok Palace. Being shown around by the King himself made for a tour like no other – a truly spectacular moment.

Discover Ladakh

ladakh monastery
Luxury Travel to Ladakh with Black Tomato

Tales by starlight

In Ladakh, we spent an evening in the company of a local monk, chatting by the fireside beneath the stars. We heard of his joyful childhood in the monastery, his affinity for Czech cuisine and of how the best time to play football in Ladakh is beneath the light of a full moon. The hours slipped by in his company.

If you’d like to visit Ladakh for yourself, our luxury Travel Experts will ensure your trip coincides with some of the region’s captivating festivals, including the vibrant monastic festival of Hemis Tsheu. We’ll take you inside these traditional celebrations, where you’ll see masked dances and ancient rituals before enjoying an exclusive lunch in the nearby home of a monk. Just say the word.

Explore India’s monasteries and mountains

Stargazing in ladakh in india
Himalayan views with a monk

Royal splendour at Jaipur’s City Palace

Heading south, my next stop was the romantically rosy city of Jaipur. The crowning glory? Being granted exclusive access to the private rooms of the magnificent City Palace. A place of intricate marble and red sandstone. Here, we visited the famous Sheesh Mahal (or Mirror Room), the Blue Room and the Jewel Room. My favourite? The Sheesh Mahal. Upon entering it, our guide took the experience once step further, asking the security guard to switch off the lights and light some candles instead. With the candlelight being reflected by thousands of tiny mirrors, this brought the room to life, creating the sensation of a star-flooded sky. It was absolutely breath-taking.

It is only with special permission that a handful of people are allowed access into the private rooms of Jaipur’s City Palace. Fortunately, this is something our luxury Travel Experts can arrange. If you wish to include it on your trip to India, simply let them know.

Discover India’s palaces

Hawa Mahal palace in jaipur in india
blue room in city palace in jaipur in india
city palace jaipur india

Morning prayers and bustling bazaars

In the desert capital of Rajasthan, you can feel the buzz of Jaipur from dawn to dusk. To start off our second day here, we attended morning prayers at a local Hindu temple known for its uplifting atmosphere. It was so moving to be amid all these people chanting and clapping along and to get such a tangible insight into Hindu culture and religion.

We combined this with a dawn walk through the local flower market where all around us thousands of colourful carnations and roses were laid out for local wholesalers to buy. And we planned our visit perfectly – right in the run-up to the prime wedding season. This meant the markets were a hive of activity as bridal parties negotiated for the best fabrics, gifts, and designs. It was wonderful to watch.

Leaving some (rather) intense bartering behind, we went in search of a taste of Jaipur’s cuisine. The highlight? The mirchi bada. Essentially, these are chilli fritters stuffed with a spiced potato filling (and a hint of mango). Savouring every mouthful, I washed it down with a cup of the best chai in town. This particular blend was sold from a street vendor who makes his own single use clay cups for each person – a great way to make each one feel special.

Explore Rajasthan

flower market in india
chai tea in india
jaipur street food

Haunted hillsides and fallen cities

Flung out deep in the Rajasthani countryside, lie the mysterious Pompeii-esque ruins of a once cursed city. Or Bhangarh Fort, as it’s also known. Here, spirits roam by night and black magic weaves its way through the abandoned buildings. Or so the legend goes. Believed by the locals to be haunted after a centuries-ago battle between a Queen and a Sorcerer, our next stop was the stuff of legends – quite literally. So strongly do the locals believe in its haunting that we were not allowed to visit after dusk, as those that do are said to never return.

On the day we visited, the rains had just cleared, leaving a heavy mist hanging in the air to add an eerie quality to this fabled location. There were few people around and we were easily outnumbered by the scampering macaque monkeys who have now made the temple their home. Whether you believed the story or not, a visit to this site was like stepping back in history as we strolled along deserted avenues before ascending into the Fort Palace. From these royal ruins, breath-taking views extended out across the lush green of the countryside beyond. It was here that my guide – Sita Ram – with his gentle smile and kind nature, found us a panoramic spot to pour out a cup of masala chai tea and regale me with the dark tales of this place.

Whilst this is not somewhere that many people have heard of and doesn’t figure on everyone’s ‘must-see’ list for India, this is precisely what I loved about it. If you’d like to discover it for yourself, our luxury Travel Experts will be sure to arrange a visit – by daylight, of course.

More about India

bhangarh fort in india
bhangarh fort ruins
monkeys at bhangarh fort in india

Sher Bagh: an enchanting hideaway

Where tigers roam amid ancient fortresses, I headed deep into the peaceful Rajasthan wilderness for my next stop – Sher Bagh. In the stunning Ranthambore National Park, this luxurious tented camp transports you to the plains of Africa in the heart of the Indian jungle. Here, beautiful canvas tents sat amid long grasses with pathways lit by the glow of lanterns at night.

Everywhere we turned there was a tiger motif that reminded us why we had come to this corner of India. And just a step behind us was a faultless team who anticipated our every whim – whether that was running a hot, candlelit bath in a hammered brass tub on our return from a game drive or pressing a warming brandy into our hands on a cold night. One of my favourite spots? The bar (and not just because of their signature ‘Tigertini’). Each evening, this cosy enclave transformed into a convivial den as guests gathered to share their tiger-spotting tales of the day. And with a glistening private swimming pool, delicious locally sourced food, and off-the-beaten-track beauty – I didn’t want to leave.

tiger in ranthambore national park in india
luxury tent at sher bagh in india

Final thoughts

India is such a diverse country and combining Ladakh and Rajasthan really demonstrated this as we travelled from the peace of the mountains to the vibrancy of the cities. Travelling to India, I couldn’t help but feel that no matter how long you spend and how much you do, you’ll only ever scratch the surface of this vast and fascinating country. It’s description as a sub-continent is fitting with language, beliefs, traditions and everything changing at seemingly every turn. It’s heady and intoxicating and can’t help but draw you in further.

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Ancient picturesque palaces or purple-skied Himalayan kingdoms – our trips to India are always bespoke, created for you, our travellers. Wherever it takes you.

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