So I have always thought about eventually visiting India but never dreamed that I would get there so soon. Thanks to Golf Vacations, Aman resorts and AirAsia, the trip for us three became a reality sooner than expected. And boy, what a trip we had. Full of ups and downs certainly, but luxuries and learning points all around.
Our flight on AirAsia from KL to Delhi was their inaugural flight! Obviously, we landed safely and into the arms of sari-clad airport staffers, media, photographers, flower garlands and chocolates. We were also adorned with the red pottu on our forehead. Mine was lopsided and Dobbes turned his face away from the lady so Mobbes is the only one with a nice pottu.
Welcome to India!
We landed at the 5-day old Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport. In terms of scale, it was impressively massive. In terms of service, well, let’s just say that being there made me long for the clockwork efficiency of Changi International. Instead of having our stroller ready for us when we disembarked, we had to collect it together with our baggage (and even then it was misplaced).
Had same stroller issues when we departed six days later. *grrr*
Anyway, the mood changed when we were received by Aman New Delhi’s impeccable guest officers and whisked away in a champagne coloured Ambassador (Made in India and retro-fitted in vintage fashion) to the 5-star resort.
With cold towels, bottled water and the air-conditioning full blast, it was an easy ride to the newest urban retreat in the Aman league of extraordinary properties. Known as their “gateway to the Indian subcontinent”, Aman New Delhi is the starting point from which exotic Indian adventures are to be had in their sister resorts in Rajasthan, Amanbagh (where we stayed also) and Aman-i-Khas (the safari retreat that was closed for summer. Too bad for us).
Our first glimpse of the hotel was that of fervent relief; understandable when you’ve been travelling for the past seven hours with a frisky two-year old.
Aman New Delhi
The hotel in the evening…
The thing about travelling with children is that having comfortable dwellings during a trip is so important. Gone are the days when I would just bunk on a friends couch/floor in NYC for a month. These days, I make sure that our quarters have the right amenities for Dobbes: kettle, sink, freezer, ample running space etc.
Our dedicated butler “Shawn” (his stage name…), was waiting smilingly with our door open and the delights of the room ready for our use. And what a room it was!
Aman deluxe room on top floor
In addition to the fruit basket, chocolate and wide range of complementary snacks waiting for us, the room was a gift in itself. A fusion of contemporary lines and traditional Indian design, it was a space of absolute tranquillity and timelessness. Olive-hued Khareda stone lay underfoot, warmed by handmade rugs in muted earth tones and dark wood panels accentuated by discreet lighting, Bose sound systems and flat screen televisions.
Not to forget, the sizable private plunge-pool…
Dobbes displays his plunge-pool antics…
Our room access key and “Do Not Disturb” sign…
In the morning, we were better able to appreciate Kerry Hill-designed building located on Lodhi Road, overlooking the sprawling Lodhi Park (like Central Park but in New Delhi. Haha.)
We rose bright and early to greet the day and were in turn, rewarded by the melodic recitation of classical mantras by a sari-garbed Indian lady in the hall. She sat on the floor and in front of her were little wreaths of bright marigold flowers which she gave away as blessings.
For two mornings, we dined sumptuously on traditional Northern Indian fare at the Aman restaurant. Understandably, my husband and I did not want to subject ourselves or poor Dobbes to street food in India.
And with the Aman kitchen at our disposal, there was no need. The stuffed paratha, masala dosai and poori dhal served was easily the best I have ever tasted of Indian food anywhere.
Enjoying my paneer and gobi-stuffed paratha
There were no signages at the entrance of this dining space (nor for that matter, the others as well as the spa) to preserve an easy environment of being in a luxurious home.
The second day, I had a 90-minute massage at the spa called the Aman signature. Done with Ma’ee, it was a blend of long strokes and deep rubs in an altogether magical healing session.
Love the Aman Spa… what a sanctuary of calm and class…
Day two in Delhi was a blaze of colour. Rising up bright and early, we were taken by our soft-spoken Aman excursion guide Gaurav to the flower market. We were treated to huge bundles of fresh flowers, buzzing flies and street carts selling nimbu pani, or lime juice. I bought some but didn’t really like the street version as it was warm.
On the way back we caught a glimpse of Qutab Minar, the world tallest brick minaret. All around Delhi, we would glimpse a domed ruin, forts and monuments in various stages of old. I pointed out a stately ruin to Gaurav and asked him what it was.
The Qutab Minar
“I don’t know Ma’am,” he replied honestly. “The Mughals, during their time, built all sorts and so many that historians are still trying to identify most of them and what they were used for.”
On a quiet street with Dobbes
Quick dip in the main pool at Aman New Delhi
In the afternoon, we threw ourselves into Old Delhi and just took in the colourful sights and sounds. It was a very hot and sweaty affair like being in a cauldron of oil. But the whirlwind of colours, animated faces and cacophony of sounds was well worth the time and effort.
Dobbes romps at the Red Fort
Bustling Old Delhi
After a while, Dobbes could not take it anymore and went into sleep mode
Part the second: Road to Rajasthan
Our long road to Rajasthan was paved with many little creature comforts, beginning with the reclining seats in the powerful four-wheel drive Mahindra which Ratan, our ever-amiable driver from Amanbagh (which means “peaceful garden”), wielded effortlessly on through crazy Indian traffic.
He wore a classic-cut safari shirt with a striking looking Rajasthani turban in the ubiquitous marigold shade.
“To be a driver in India, you need three things, Sahiba,” said Ratan. “First, you need a good horn. Second, good brakes. And third…”
“A good driver!” I pipped in.
Ratan laughed. “No, Sahiba. You need good luck!”
We roared. Ratan explained that all guests to Amanbagh were called Sahib and Sahiba for gentleman and ladies respectively. It is a form of respectful address, harkening back to colonial days of India and even before in the times of Maharaja and Maharani.
We took a short detour in Agra to visit the monument of love, Taj Mahal, Considering he was battling diarrhea and headache due to food intolerance (it was the lentil soup…) Mobbes did okay.
Lucky for Mobbes (and Dobbes), we had a comfy, very roomy car
First glimpse of the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, specially built by loving husband and tyrant-king Shah Jahan
With the modern wonder! We have already been to the Eiffel Tower and now Taj Mahal with Dobbes. Next up will be the Great Wall, btw…
They say that touching the white marble will seal bonds of love.
After our Masala pitstop at a “classy joint” called Hotel Highway King (I braved the toilet there – one hole into the ground, no flush…), Ratan delivered us to the warm reception at Amanbagh in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. Remotely-located and built on the grounds of what used to be a Maharaja’s hunting retreat, we took about 4 hours to get there from Agra.
Amanbagh, the countryside retreat of Maharajahs…
Its isolation from the maddening crowd is definitely an Aman signature. No other hotel properties are within 50km radius of Amanbagh. Deep in the midst of the stunning Aravelli hills, the resort is a real oasis of luxury, with its 24 haveli suites and 16 pool pavilions surrounding a jewel of a pool.
The lovely pool
We were greeted by the lovely Amanbagh staff with a welcome mantra and they tied the protective red string – known as mauli in Hindi – on our left wrist. I am still wearing the blessing today.
A ritual of welcome and blessing. So beautiful.
The red and gold colours of the mauli will fade but its protection will not unless it breaks
On our terrace
Needless to say, the size of our terrace suite overlooking the pool was becoming to that meant for a royal personage, with its pink marble floors, domes ceilings and large sunken tub in the bath quarters. Dobbes kept running around everywhere exclaiming, “Wowwwwe! Niiiice!”
Our terrace haveli suite, overlooking the pool
Amidst all this luxury, Mobbes battled terrible stomachache and nausea. The in-house physician not only attended to him but made sure the kitchen and dining staff knew that he had lentil/bean intolerance and would not let them put any in his meals…
In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Delhi, the village of Ajabgarh in Alwar is remarkably peaceful.
The Aravelli hills presented us with a dramatic landscape
We spent a morning getting to know villagers as they went about their daily routine.
Morning village trek with our guide, Sitaram
In perfect balance
One family even invited us to their home where we were invited to try a homemade hookah (water pipe).
Taking a rest on a traditional Meena-style settee-of-sorts
Nope, not until you are 18, Dobbes…
Showing digital photos to the village boys
Sitaram, our excursion guide from Amanbagh spoke was well-versed in the local flora and fauna as well as the indigenous culture of the minority Meena tribe who live in hidden valleys around the Aravelli foothills. A minority unique to the region, they are known for their colourful dress, jewellery and crafts. It was a fascinating sight to see their gem-coloured sarees dotting the green landscape of their okra, milt and corn plantations, on which they worked.
One cannot help but feel transported back to India’s golden age with chaatri (umbrella) dinners set under stone pagodas, decorated with flower rangoli on the ground. Yoga also takes on a new meaning in Amanbagh, as classes can either be taken by the pool or more interestingly, at highly evocative locations around Ajabgarh such as the archeological site of Bhangarh, 10 kilometres away or at one of the many temple ruins or forts dotting the surrounding landscape.
Onsite at Bhangarh, the town that was destroyed in a single night by black magic! The ruins were slowly excavated…
Everyone wants their photo taken!
All too soon, our journey in India came to an end. We were sorry to leave our privileged Aman sanctuary. But we did not leave without a ritualistic farewell, carefully prepared by our Amanbagh family: a mouthful of traditional candy to sweeten the parting as well as our journey home.
To read up about the luxury escapades at various Aman locations, visit www.amanresorts.com
Our thoughts about taking AirAsia flights out of KL:
Obviously, this would be a cheap option. After all, it is a budget carrier. So it sounds really good to be able to fly to farther destinations like Delhi, London and Perth for a fraction of the price you would pay on a normal carrier and flying out of Singapore.
Also, the flight from Singapore to KL is only an hour. Your bum woudn’t even warm the leather seat of the plane before it is time to disembark.
Sounds doable right?
Wrong. Well, at least not if you are travelling in threes like us, with either a young child or a baby in tow. I daresay having a small baby may be easier.
The thing about flying out to KL to take another flight is that you must understand: you are not in transit and it is not a “connecting” flight. The connecting part is all on your own savvy; no one is going to help you as you get through customs, collect your baggage only to have to check ii in again and go through customs one more time.
Factor in queues and waiting time. If you miss your next flight, tough luck on your part. So in order not to miss it, you need to rush like mad and more often than not, waste a lot of precious minutes and add unnecessary stress to your journey.
Also, the jokes about budget airlines making you pay for each and every little service is not funny when it happens to you. The benefit of being on a full-service carrier is that you are can generally be assured that you are taken care of, when it comes to things like having children’s entertainment around, blankets and pillows and drinking water. While I do not mind having to pay for food I order on a budget carrier, it is really inconvenient when they would insist on accepting only one kind of currency and won’t accept credit cards!
So my assessment is: if you’re a swinging single or a loving backpacking couple used to sleeping on airport couches due to missed flights, go on ahead and make the best of a cheaper deal.
But when you are travelling with a little ‘un, you’ll pay the price elsewhere if you stinge on good flights and accommodation.
We were lucky to get Dobbes his own seat… he is getting way too big for our laps, especially on longer flights
If the plane provides no entertainment, table top toys like this Alphabet music thingamajig is great for tots like Dobbes. Also, be sure to download lots of flashcards and storybooks on your iPhone
My take on AirAsia and other budget airlines? Save up, look for good deals on better airlines and reputable hotels when you are travelling in threes. You can save money there and cut down on souvenier-buying. After all, the journey itself is the best takeaway of all.
To find out more about AirAsia routes, visit: www.airasia.com
P.S: my next trip (without Mobbes and Dobbes though) is to central Java. I will be going solo in Solo! I will still write-up something here, so look out for it, ok?
Until then… keep on Travelling in Threes.