JODHPUR “I began my journey into Rajasthan - a desert land with a profusion of royalty and history, splendour and hedonism - with Jodhpur. Jodhpur is Rajasthan’s Blue City – everywhere you look, the houses are blue. The most fascinating thing about this city, however, is its palaces and forts. And I was privileged to stay in the one that deserves more than a mention in the history of the most beautiful private dwellings in the world – Umaid Bhavan.

Designed by Henry Lancaster, this is literally the king of India’s palaces. You’ll find that its décor is a mélange of Buddhist influences, Art Deco and Rajputana all at once, making this a place where you stop and stare at the most innocuous of things. And with 365 rooms, you can rest assured you’ll be kept very busy indeed.”

VARANASI “I was introduced to Varanasi by someone referring to it as the oldest living city on earth. Varanasi can also be called the City of Lights, the City of Learning and the Holiest City in India. As I went along, discovering this city’s ways, I couldn’t decide what to call it - all the names meant something and more.

At first, I thought Varanasi began and ended at its Ghats – for here is where the Hindus come to die,  or  to  be  cremated  or  even to cleanse their sins by a dip in the Ganges. An army of 50,000 priests look after all these needs and I was able to soak in the sight of all of it in tandem on a boat ride on the 'River of Heaven'.

I came away from the most spiritual city in India with a newfound acceptance that, in the circle of life, there will always be human beings trying to make peace with death.”

KERALA “My companions on this trip told me we were about to set foot in 'God’s own country.' And, after having spent some time in the East, I took this seriously as everything here is much more than it is supposed to be.

The Venice of the East had much to capture my attention – the sleepy backwaters of Vembanad lake in the heart of the famous backwater region, bird sanctuaries that are home to a  host  of migratory   birds  from   the   Himalayas,  organic  spice  plantations, the Syrian Christian churches  in  Kottayam,  the  beautiful  houseboat  at  Alleppey, the historic Fort Cochin and a Dutch palace with murals depicting epics on its beautiful walls.

In between all the sightseeing, I took time off to experience Ayurveda at its most authentic and finest, a rejuvenation of my mind and senses that will keep me coming back for more.”

TIGER RESERVES, RANTHAMBORE “I check in to Vanyavilas, which has a real jungle camp kind of atmosphere. Well, a jungle camp on nineteen acres with old trees, flowers, a water body. There is no mystery here. Everyone in Ranthambore is here for the tigers. Sure, there are about thirty species of birds and leopards and sloth bears but it’s the Royal Bengal Tiger we’re here for. And, I get to see one. A definite highlight on my trip.”

AURANGABAD “After a leisurely breakfast, it was time to explore the legendary Ajanta and Ellora. Ellora is the finest example of Indian rock cut architecture and it took men of three religions – Hindus, Buddhists and Jain monks – and five centuries to make them the wonder they are. The most marvelous of all is the stupendous rock temple of 'Kailash' – for this is no ordinary temple. Architecturally and sculpturally, art historians deem this as undoubtedly the finest cave temple in the world. I felt dwarfed by the magnificence of the world’s largest monolithic sculpture, sculpted out of a rock by 7000 laborers over a 150-year period.

The Ajanta Caves, on the other hand, are a study in Buddhist culture. Spanning a period of 800 years, these caves were monastic retreats that were accidentally rediscovered by a group of British officers while traversing the Sahyadri hills. Carved with nothing more than a hammer and chisel, the monks excavated chaityas, chapels for prayers, monasteries where they lived and taught and carried out ritual performances.

When in Aurangabad, don’t forget to make a trip to see the weavers of a dying art called the Himroo weave. Most Himroo weaves are now machine-made and I was fortunate to walk away with some authentic Paithani fabrics, one of which took an entire year to make. From the temples of this ancient and beautiful craft, I now began to understand the magic of Aurangabad – truly an unforgettable destination.”