With its myriad regions and sub-regions, cultures and sub-cultures; cuisines, dialects and local traditions – navigating India’s vast waters can be as daunting as it is richly-rewarding.
In keeping with a recent resolution to explore more of my motherland, the last year has seen me experience several shades of her eclectic diversity. Spanning the long length of the country, my various travels were surprisingly unified by a common quality: a timeless sense of old-world charm.
Whether you’re planning a dedicated trip to India or are simply looking for your next weekend getaway – here are my top picks of places offering an inviting escapism.
Lying snugly at the foothills of the Himalayas, this picture-postcard hill-station was once the unofficial summer capital of Indian Royalty and the British-Indian government during colonial times. It’s just as enchanting to visit during the snowy winter months, as Mussoorie is one of the few places in the world where you can experience the radiance of a winterline.
The many shops, stalls and structures lining the town’s iconic Mall Road date back decades, running from the Mussoorie library to the Cambridge Book Store, where you can glimpse the literary great Ruskin Bond at his live readings over the weekend.
Mussoorie is in fact steeped with a storied history, with the heritage Savoy Hotel the original inspiration behind Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Style! The adjoining town of Landour is peppered with picturesque homes inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and counts several eminent authors among its residents (including Mr. Bond himself).
While I’d recommend camping out at the JW Marriott Mussoorie (a sprawling destination in its own right championing local traditions such as garhwali get-togethers); it’s definitely worth paying an afternoon’s visit to Landour’s Rokeby Manor. The boutique hotel is as quintessentially-rustic as it gets in this neck of the woods with a comforting menu to match its cosy feel! You can walk off that chilli-cheese toast after, with a wistfully-romantic meander around the surrounding hillside… If for nothing else, then to work up another appetite for pitstops at Char Dukaan or the Landour Bakehouse!
For more on what to do and see, and of course where to eat, have a read of my detailed travel guide to Mussorie, here.
The pinch-me-setting of Udaipur – also commonly-known as the City of Lakes – will have you besotted from the moment you set sail on the serene waters of Lake Pichola. The luxury hotels dotted around its shores are housed in formal palaces, transporting you back to the dazzling opulence of a bygone era. The sheer magic of The Leela stole a little piece of my heart on my last visit, casting a captivating spell with its fairy-tale like beauty… (Read more about my memorable experience, here).
While in Jaipur, it’s the cosy grandeur of the Rambagh Palace which has won me over time and again. From the iconic forts to the local uncut diamond markets, there’s no dearth of of high-level draws to visiting the Pink City (travel guide coming soon!), but do make sure to carve out the good part of a day at the former residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
Start with High Chai, choosing between the Victorian-style afternoon tea and a sumptuous Indian spread (or you know, both). Stay on for their signature Martinis in the marbled verandah after. If you’re lucky you might even have the pleasurable company of the Palace’s resident peacocks! Find out more, here.
Moving further down South, there are few places in India which match the quaint character of Fort Kochi. Shaped by a panoply of lasting influences – from the historic Jewish diaspora to Portuguese and Dutch settlers – this tiny port-town in Kerala is a treasure trove of antique shops and spice markets, quirky art cafés and colonial architecture, heritage churches and even an ancient Synagogue built over 400 years ago.
The best time to visit is between December and early April, when the town’s old-world charm meets contemporary art and culture on a global scale, manifesting in the Kochi Biennale. The town’s striking settings (from galleries housed in old warehouses, to the elegantly decaying bungalows) are a natural playground for the thrilling explorations that the art extravaganza entails.
Cool your heels by nightfall in the whimsical courtyard of the Old Harbour Hotel (an institution among the town’s institutions, built over 300 years ago), or at the Malabar House, as you tuck into the the local Malabari cuisine – think freshly-caught fish and boldly flavourful stews mopped up by spongy appams (or hoppers as they’re commonly known in the West!).
As for where to stay, I’d definitely recommend the lovingly-restored Brunton Boatyard hotel – which occupies the site of an old Victorian boatyard overlooking the harbour in Fort Cochin… For a detailed hotel review & itinerary for your stay in Kochi, have a read here.
Find more travel inspiration in India, here.
Where should I go next? Fuel my wanderlust by sharing your experiences & recommendations in the comments below, or by tweeting @foodiediaries.