January 22, 2013
Slap, slap, slap is a sound that may wake you at dawn whilst you are staying in a riverside room at Ahilya Fort in western Madhya Pradesh.
As you peer thirty metres down the impressive side of the fort’s walls, you will see daily life begin. The noise is from women bashing their saris on the stone ghats or indeed men washing their over-underwear. Wearing just underwear – an item which is cleansed by bodily immersion in the sacred river Narmada – is not the done thing in India’s very reserved culture.
The Narmada is called the virgin river, and you can actually swim in it, unlike the better-known Ganges which is for the most part too polluted.
Flowing west for well over a thousand kilometres, the Narmada broadens out in the state of Gujarat before it meets the Arabian Sea.
Even if you do not embrace the many gods that Hindus worship, the Narmada has a mesmerising aura, and not just because of the many temples which stand along its banks.
Pilgrims flock to it, congregating in particular at Maheshwar where the fort stands. Apparently, just the mere contemplation of the Narmada can absolve you of your sins.
Besides the river activities there are excursions from here to such dramatic sites as Mandu and its 15th century palaces. The sophisticated water-purification systems are a wonder in themselves, and you can marvel at the impressive Dilwar Khan’s mosque. But Ahilya Fort beckons you back. It is run by Aimée, a gentle French-American woman, whose name ‘beloved’ seems to fit perfectly here; she is assisted by Kunta Bai, the owner Prince Holkar’s former nanny who decides on which of the many varying vantage points about the fort one will eat.
She gently nudges you to your allotted table and encourages you to mix with the other guests, but there is nothing so tiresome as formal western introductions here. Richard Holkar is a gourmet and loves creating new recipes. Sometimes his superb chef brings out dishes for testing; if approval is given or an adjustment to the taste has been made satisfactorily, the guests will then partake of them at dinner.
Most of the produce is from the organic garden, and the vegetable dishes are especially imaginatively made. The emphasis is on Indian food adapted for the European palate. It is really outstanding.
My last evening just had to be on the river. Aimée and Kunta Bai arranged for a few guests to be gently paddled upstream. On one side was a drinks boat from which excellent G and Ts kept coming; on the other musicians played suitably soothing music. As it got fully dark we saw ahead hundreds of candles floating on the still Narmada waters. Once amongst all these pin-pricks of light one was transported to a truly enchanted place under the stars.
You could easily stay here a week if you wanted a gentle Indian experience and perhaps link it with tiger-land, Rajasthan or my favourite Indian beach place in Northern Kerala. Earlier in my journey I visited some wonderful hotels in Rajasthan. One which was definitely off the beaten track was called Ranvas.
A small hotel created from the former Queen’s Palace in the Ahhichatragarh Fort, it contains ten havelis with royal suites that have roof terraces with incredible views across the domes and turrets of the King’s Palace next door. The extraordinary thing about staying here is that you have much of the fort to yourself. Set in thirty-six acres, the ramparts date from the 12th century.
At dusk, I walked along the entire circumference of the ramparts, some 1.8 kilometres. On the other side of the wall is the town of Nagaur. As the sun was going down I looked out over the neighbouring rooftops to see masses of children playing with their kites on their flat roofs. Some kites had their lines snapped and landed within the fort enclosure to be retrieved by helpful hotel staff. It was a scene straight out of The Kite Runner and provided another magical evening on an Indian journey.
Do let me know if I can arrange a fantastic holiday for you in India or if you are thinking of going on a safari in the school summer holidays. Now is the time to book as August availability is quite limited.
Telephone 0207 723 5858.
NB prices shown were current at the time of writing the newsletter and are not necessarily current now.
Please ask for an updated quote.
- Newsflash: first American guests to Tanzania since March 2020
- A Sense of Place – AFRICA NEEDS YOU
- Escape to Italy?
- Covid: the road still to be travelled.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 3): Tiger reserves.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 2): Khajuraho.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 1): Lucknow.
- A Sense of Place – Engaged people may save the planet
- A word on lions and a trio of treats
- A Sense of Place – India’s most holy city
- A wealth of wilderness walks in Namibia
- Travel snippets from Miles
- A trio of treats on the green island of Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago
- A Sense of Place – THE INSIDE TRACK on Cape Town guiding
- A Sense of Place – Migrations of people and beasts: East Africa
- A Sense of Place – An era of revolution and global alliances
- A Sense of Place – A walk on the wild side
- A Sense of Place – The ghost ingredient is back
- A Sense of Place – Liuwa Plains and Kafue National Parks – Zambia
- A Sense of Place – Literati in the Pink City, the Capital of Rajasthan
- A Sense of Place – A Tamil town still connected to Europe, Art Deco architecture, and temple antiquity in Southern India.
- A Sense of Place – Dreamy aquamarine sea and stunning safari with the Makuleke people
- A Sense of Place – A trio of lovely ladies in Hyderabad
- A Sense of Place – Entamanu, the wishing tree and walking with the Hadza tribe.
- We get you to places that others don’t… St Helena, Gt Zimbabwe ruins and Papua new Guinea
- A Sense of Place – Walking in the hippie hills of the Himalayas
- A Sense of Place – The Okavango: the river that never finds the sea
- A Sense of Place – The Great Rift Valley, Laikipia, Samburu warriors and Maasai Olympics.
- A Sense of Place – Escape the world in the Namib Desert
- Africa is a massive continent: a collection of 55 countries
- A Sense of Place – Zambezi Watery Wilderness
- A Sense of Place – Burma: the road beyond Mandalay
- Lake Malawi – Would you rather pay for the advertising or the experience?
- From shoe-shine boy to tourist guide in Ethiopia
- A Sense of Place – Ladakh, the Himalayas
- Dhow sailing, Lions are back in Malawi, Self-drive in Namibia
- Sacred rivers and forts, India
- Piranhas, sting rays, caimans – and still people go into the River Negro!
- Kerala, Southern India – God’s own country
- South Africa: Crucible of the rainbow nation
- Madagascar: croissants and lemurs
- Argentina vs Africa on wildlife drama
- Uganda – Gorillas and Gardens
- Mozambique & Kenya: immigration official on holiday
- Mozambique: Gorongosa and reconciliation in the bush
- Zimbabwe is ready for Tourists again
- Serengeti ecosystem and unbeatable savannah
- Lamu: crab complaining
- Kenya: circumcision
- Zambia: Ellie rescue
- Africans: always smiling
- French sketch
- Kenya: the best hosts
- First visit to Africa 1986
- Namibia, Namib Rand, Skeleton Coast and the ultimate flying safari
- A few gems off the beaten track: Fanjove Island, Tanzania; The Singular Hotel, Patagonia and Isla Palenque, Panama.
- Elephant relocation, quad bike expedition and new Sossusvlei reserve
- Templed out in Tamil Nadu and elephant refuge in Jaipur
- Kenyan sanctuary and family run camp in Zambia
- Australia: Arkaba, Tasmania and Lord Howe Island
- Australia: in the outback and off the beaten track
- India: heavenly Himalayan hideaways, Botswana: fun safari for children and Argentina: hidden homestay in a mountain desert
- Limpopo retreat, Serengeti spectacle and adventure on the Zambezi
- Value for money in Kenya and the trail less travelled in Peru
- Lions in danger, free nights and a new coastal gem
- G and T on demand, hidden beach, micro-light and sleeping on a dam
- Off the beaten track