The Oberoi Amarvilas at The Taj Mahal

I wrote here about how awe-inspiring it was to see The Taj Mahal. I often talk about being underwhelmed by certain destinations and famous landmarks (Pisa, the Mona Lisa, Italy when it's 110 degrees out), but The Taj Mahal exceeded every expectation. And the only hotel to stay at is The Oberoi Amarvilas. You only need one night, and with every room facing The Taj Mahal you can admire the gleaming white marble at every time of day from the comfort of your room. Wake up to watch the sun hit the minarets, tour the monument during the day, and return to watch the sunset over it. If you want to go to dinner at the hotel or enjoy a cocktail on the terrace, the views are there too.  It is built to show off India's most famous attraction to visitors from around the world and does it very, very well.

Pool Complex with Taj Mahal in the distance

Entrance to Amarvilas

Lobby

Table for Two with a View

Room

Bathroom

Living Area in Room

Lobby Bar

View from Terrace

Taj Mahal

Looking from the Taj Mahal to the entrance of the complex

National Geographic: The Gems of Jaipur

Jaipur was my favorite place on my tour of India, including staying at the Oberoi Rajvilas, this fall.  Here is my post on National Geographic's blog. Enjoy! 

"The distinctive shade of terra-cotta pink is what I first noticed about Jaipur, India, the capital city of Rajasthan, the Land of Kings. Bazaars, gardens, and palaces show flashes of pink, a color with historic roots. Back in 1853, the city draped itself in this warm hue to welcome Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, on a royal visit.  Now, all buildings facing the main street within the city walls must maintain the pink color.

Behind this bright color is an equally vibrant city. Driving from the heart of Jaipur to my hotel on the outskirts of town, I saw the chaos of daily life on full display–bustling barber shops, games of catch, cooking around a fire, and friends sharing a drink.

During my time in Jaipur I explored the history, royal heritage, intricate architecture, and, of course, the shopping that it is known for. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries:

 

Shopping

You’ll find fabulous goods for sale in Jaipur. Gem Palace is still run by the same family that established the shop in 1852. Even if it’s out of your price range, you’ll still enjoy the warmth of the staff and feeling like a queen while you try on millions of dollars’ worth of jewels. If you’re looking for something within budget, seek out the high-quality goat, camel, and water buffalo leather markets. Central Jaipur has hundreds of stalls to peruse, and you can barter with the owners. 

Read the rest here

Exploring the Land of Kings: The Oberoi Udaivilas

Spa pool at The Oberoi Udaivilas
For a stay in Udaipur, there is no better sense of place than at the Oberoi Udaivilas.  A quick flight from Mumbai takes you to Rajasthan, one of the most popular areas for tourists in India. And for good reason--the royal history, gorgeous lakes and hills, palaces, and fabulous hotels.  Walking down the airplane stairs and onto the tarmac, I breathed in the cooler air.  Gone was the humidity and heavy air of Mumbai.  I was so excited to explore the "Land of Kings." And with much better, frizz-free hair! 
Forty minutes from the airport, I boarded a boat on Lake Pichola for a quick ten-minute ride to the Oberoi Udaivilas in the darkened nighttime air. 
 The scented air at all Oberoi hotels I visited on this trip will remain with me-hints of jasmine and other flowers that I've never smelled before.  Arriving at Udaivilas felt like I was arriving to stay with my friend, the King of Rajasthan. Rose petals are showered upon each guest upon arrival. Bags are whisked away and immediately brought to your room.  All guests enter the palatial lobby and then through my favorite candlelit room pictured above. 
From my room, I had this view of the Royal Palace's lights and moon.
Dinner was al fresco with local musicians, and I loved the imaginative and comforting take on Indian food. Can you ever eat enough garlic naan? I loved it and the ladies I dined with, though the whole place felt very honeymoon and I missed Andy. I lived vicariously through the other deliriously happy couples eating outside.
Dinner Entertainment
I returned to my room, which I loved, and watched Om Shanti Om on DVD, a 2007 Bollywood smash hit. If you want the perfect movie to get you in the mood of India, watch this one! 
My room, perfect for watching Om Shanti Om! I loved this classic bathtub
Everything looks different in the daytime, so I went exploring early the next morning through the open-air hallways and to the pools and spa (fitness center time was very needed). 
Entrance to my room The long pool outside my roomPool chairs outside my room The Main Pool at Oberoi UdaivilasSteps leading to more rooms & main pool
Beautiful green area and statue playing trumpet
I loved these elephants & decorative pool
I loved exploring the bustling city of Udaipur and then returning to my oasis at Udaivilas again.  It became a theme of my India trip-the contrast of down-and-dirty exploration and returning to peace, quiet and true beauty at the hotels.  I witnessed heartbreak and joy on the streets every day and could reflect upon the culture and chaos each night without worrying about the water or food.
From the Royal Palace (a must-see during your stay in Udaipur), there are wonderful views of Udaipur, like this one below, with the mountains in the distance.
I recommend booking a guide through Greaves India, as they have access to the most knowledgeable (and fun!) guides. This recommendation coming to you from a straight-up tour guide snob. There are so many terrible ones out there-Greaves has the best connections. 
Great view of Oberoi Udaivilas from the Royal PalaceThe Jagdish Temple in the center of Udaipur-a great place to visit Shopping at Soma in Udaipur

Trident Bandra Kurla & The New U.S. Consulate in North Mumbai

While in India, I had a chance to tour some Trident branded hotels, a more business-oriented, lower-priced chain that is part of the Oberoi brand.  Think of Trident as Hyatt and Oberoi more along the lines of Park Hyatt, the company's top-of-the-line luxury brand. 

Trident Bandra Kurla LobbyWhile the Trident Bandra Kurla is a hotel that Americans visiting as tourists will likely never book, they may book it if they're on business. It's an area that is considered to be the new financial and commercial district of North Mumbai.  This is also where the new, huge U.S. consulate of Mumbai is being built.

New U.S. Consulate Under ConstructionSouth Mumbai is where I stayed, at The Oberoi, and North Mumbai is growing every day. It was interesting to tour a hotel in an area that will feel very different in five years, a buzzing hub of finance and business. The restaurants are nice for business lunches and dinners.  But I wouldn't recommend it to a tourist, as it's really far away from everything you'd want to see in Mumbai. 

Trident Bandra Kurla PoolRoom at the Trident Bandra KurlaChandelier in Lobby

Across the World in Mumbai, India

Everything is turned up a notch in India.  I mean way up.  Before I left, I found this quote of Mark Twain's:
"India, the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous poverty, of splendor and rages, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps...the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined."
The Gateway of India
And how true it is after just two days.  I just wrapped a very quick visit to Mumbai before moving on to Udaipur today.  I stayed at The Oberoi Mumbai, a super sleek hotel that caters to a business crowd but was really comforting for me.  As I toured the hotel, I kept thinking that this is the new face of modern luxury in India.
Lobby at the Oberoi Mumbai
I especially loved the bright red piano in the lobby and the pops of red woven throughout the entire hotel's decor.  The piano was put to great use in the evenings during cocktail hour and dinner. 
The sea-facing views at The Oberoi are fantastic with a look at the Queen's Necklace, or Marine Drive. Marine Drive is home to many Art Deco buildings and reminded me a little bit of South Beach.  Many of them are rent-controlled today and not well kept, unlike the newer, extremely pricey apartment buildings that are built next door. 
View of Queen's Necklace from Room at The Oberoi Mumbai
Locals in Mumbai try to book reservations at the hotel restaurants and often can't because tables are full. The Hotel Hassler in Rome is one of my favorites and I found out they have a relationship with the Oberoi Mumbai's Vetra Italian restaurant, providing recommendations for food and chefs.  I had the greatest Indian meal, especially the almond tikki, at Ziya, run by British superstar Chef Vineet Bhatia. 
Bedroom at The Oberoi MumbaiGreat bathroom at The Oberoi MumbaiLiving area & Desk in Suite
The spa at The Oberoi Mumbai is open TWENTY FOUR HOURS! I absolutely loved getting a treatment at 10:30 p.m. after a super packed day.  Granted, I fell asleep towards the end of the massage but it was still wonderful. 
Looking down to the lobby from the top floor
Every minute, 51 babies are born in India.  Cities like Mumbai, with a population north of 18 million, are a stunning study of contrast.  Americans know Mumbai from Slumdog Millionaire and I was excited to see the Victoria Terminus Station where they sang Jai Ho at the end, hands-down the most gorgeous train station I've ever seen. It's also absurdly busy, with 1,500 local trains running a day and 3,000 buses.  The architecture in downtown Mumbai, much of which remains from the British rule of 1858-1947, echoes of Victorian and English styles.  I had romantic visions of the colonial rule due to these buildings, though I know that is far from the truth. 
Victoria Terminus Station, Mumbai
But even in my brief visit, Mumbai is so much more than the slums, the larger ones existing on the outskirts of the city.  A quickly changing landscape with a frenetic pace but at the same time there are countless people on the streets sitting and doing nothing.  I could easily be friends with the men and women I met, all ambitious, smart, worldly and fun to talk with about our shrinking world.  Education is extremely important for India, as parents want their children to do better, to study at the universities here or leave and return to help make the country better. 
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai
The world's first BILLION-dollar home in MumbaiMy favorite $3 sandals at the markets in Mumbai
"26-11," as they call it over here, was the day in 2008 (started November 26, ended November 29) when terrorists took over famous landmarks and hotels in Mumbai, including The Oberoi Trident, which is connected to The Oberoi Mumbai by an underground passage.  Over 160 people were killed from these attacks.  And I just came from Amman, where hotels were attacked in 2005.  I haven't been scared for a minute.  How can you be? Every safety precaution is taken at these hotels, and overly so now.  These hotels are in cities that need to be visited to be fully understood.  I felt very safe in Mumbai, especially snuggled up in my bed at The Oberoi.  Little touches made this hotel for me, like the universal plug adapter at the computer desk, fluffy bathrobes and slippers, tech-savvy blackout screens for the windows, and most especially the pure, genuine service from the staff.