India Bespoke By Gillian Kitching

Tuk Tuk Drivers

Gillian Kitching, from Inspiration Events, is used to taking luxury beyond the generic five star experience, giving guests the chance to encounter travel as a piece of theatre, not just observing but also interacting with the places they visit and the people they meet in the most authentic and joyful way – cinematic moments to cherish for all time. Gillian shares with us her diary of a visit she arranged in February for the alumni group from Harvard Business School….

Friday and Saturday – Mumbai

Our guests arrive in Mumbai. Fast and frenetic, the city is India’s beating heart and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel offers a peaceful sanctuary away from the chaos – the perfect place for guests to rest after their journey, while also enjoying some light sightseeing. On Saturday, we lunch at the exclusive Willingdon Club and then spend the afternoon at the races, rubbing shoulders with Mumbai society and Bollywood glitterati.

Sunday – Mihir Garh

In complete contrast, we fly to Jodhpur in Rajasthan and head for Mihir Garh, a private fort set deep in the desert. With just nine luxury suites, it is the creation of Sidarth and Rashmi Singh, whose family have ruled this territory for over 500 years. Here, they have thought of every detail to create the perfect wilderness escape. After lunch on the terrace, Sidarth guides us on a walking safari to nearby villages. Beautiful children race to greet us crying, “hello and bye-bye” – full of fun and joy, they want to be in every photograph.

We return to the fort as the sun sets, to find a full moon reflected in the swimming pool. There is just time to stretch out with some yoga on the lawn before getting ready for dinner.

Shikar

I tell guests that we will be dining out this evening and that dress is casual. “But how can we be going out, when we are in the middle of nowhere?”, they ask. “Just wait and see!” I reply. After cocktails on the ramparts, Sidarth leads us to the fort’s entrance. The heavy gates open to reveal a caravan of camels in ceremonial regalia, pulling carts and escorted by tribesmen with flaming torches. “Your camels await,” says Sidarth with a grin and everyone climbs aboard. The stars and moon light the way as our desert ships trot out into the night. The mystery destination is a ‘Shikar,’ traditionally, a maharaja’s hunting camp. Here, tribesmen and women sing and dance, their faces and dazzling costumes golden in the light of bonfires on which Mihir Garh’s chefs are busy preparing a delicious barbeque.

Monday

The jeep safari leaves at dawn. We have an invitation to breakfast with a Bishnoi family, whose compound is just a short drive from the fort. Sidarth explains that the Bishnois can be considered to be the forefathers of the environmental movement, their founder having decreed, over 500 years ago, that man should not kill any creature nor cut down any living tree. The first chapatti of the day is offered to the birds and they reward us with song as we sit with the elders and share a simple breakfast.

Driving deeper into the desert, our drivers stop frequently to point out wildlife – black buck, antelope and blue bull, all once rare but now returning, thanks to Sidarth’s stewardship.

Tuesday

Another dramatic contrast. From the simplicity of the desert to the grandeur of the world’s largest palace – the Umaid Bhawan – home to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. This evening, a fleet of vintage cars from the Maharaja’s private collection carry us to Jodhpur’s magnificent Mehrangarh Fort – exclusively ours for the evening. After a tour hosted by the curator, we dine in the courtyard of the Zenana, formerly the women’s quarters – a fantasy of finely carved sandstone, so intricate it could have been made of lace.

The Maharaja's Cars

Wednesday

Time for shopping, and what better way to get around than in our own fleet of tuk tuks, given a Rolls Royce makeover, and with our chauffeurs dressed as for a Bollywood gangster movie. Spices, textiles and antiques – Jodhpur has it all.

This evening, we celebrate our Indian odyssey with dinner in the Umaid Bhawan’s ‘baradari’ – the Maharaja’s marble dining pavilion, set amid the palace gardens. As beautiful women entertain us with song and dance, liveried waiters serve delicious curries from silver platters and in the distance, endless fireworks celebrate the wedding season. A Brazilian guest sitting next to me leans across and whispers, “I love my life.”