It has been a while since our last news letter found its way to you.

Banyan Tours (India) completed 15 years of Operation last month and celebrated in Goa with team members from all our offices present. Oscar presided over the festivities with aplomb.

There have been a handful of new hotels in the last twelve months but to me the standout launch of the year is the Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad. Sitting in one of it's alcove gardens at dusk having a drink, the city, 400 feet below bustling with evening activity, twinkling and ever present though sufficiently removed after a day of wandering through the streets - is one of my more memorable travel experiences.

As always,

PRODUCT REVIEWS

Taj Falaknuma Palace Hyderabad - "Mirror of the Sky"
                                                                              – Bindu Lall

It is difficult to describe in words the regal opulence, elegance and old world charm of this former residence of the Nizam of Hyderabad. From the moment you enter the property you feel like you have stepped back in time. The ride on the original royal horse carriage that transports the guests from the main entry to the palace steps ensures that one immediately feels like royalty. The clip clop of the horse’s trot is at once quaint and exciting, as one rides by old buildings and gardens, overlooking the city below.

On arrival at the palace guests are met and greeted promptly by the waiting management and offered a welcome drink. The introduction to the Falaknuma Palace begins immediately as you are first shown the fabulous panoramic view of Hyderabad from the terrace, and then the façade of the palace. As you sip your drink, you notice a liveried man holding a golden standard standing at the steps, quite motionless, at attention. He is standing at the same spot that the Nizam’s military commander would stand to receive the monarch.

While walking up the steps of the palace you are informed that one always walks up the left staircase and descends the one on the right- for good fortune, ofcourse.

What awaits the guest inside can only be described as breathtaking refinement. Ten years of restoration (not renovation, as it will be pointed out to you), involving painstaking efforts of various experts from India and abroad, with the hands-on involvement of Princess Esra(The present Nizam’s wife), speaks volumes of the love and passion that has gone into the project.

The ebullient fountains, frescoed walls and ceilings, timber ceilings, stained glass windows, Venetian chandeliers and imposing marble staircases, offer incomparable sensory pleasure. Nothing here is accidental or by the way-it is all deliberate and replete with lavishness. Behind all this lies a very interesting history, so don’t miss the champagne tour of the palace, which is conducted daily.

Guests can revel in the luxury of the Scorpion-shaped hotel’s sixty rooms and suites. Each one has been thoughtfully furnished and appointed, replicating the grandeur of the royal apartments. Because they are well lit and spacious, the rooms are cheerful. The Presidential suite, with its personal garden and pool, is particularly impressive and suitable for the present day Nizams visiting Hyderabad. In our opinion, though, the base category rooms are perfectly fine, great bathrooms and super beds, making an idea haven away from the bustling city.

The dining experience at the Palace is no less regal. For those with a passion for food, this is the perfect place for leisurely gastronomy. Celeste, the all-day dining restaurant, serves Italian and Mediterranean cuisine; this is also where breakfast can be had. Adaa serves authentic Hyderabadi Cuisine that the city is so famous for, in a fine dining setting. The Durbar hall is ideal for grand banquets or groups, with lovely chandeliers, parquet flooring and impeccable service. However, for an ultra grand experience, there is the 101-dining hall. As the name suggests this room houses a table with 101 seats. The Jade room, which houses a rare ivory art collection, is the place to head to for afternoon tea.

Located away from the heart of the city, but with a stunning view over it – and combined with its spa and swimming pool, for our guests Taj Falaknuma Palace can be easily recommended for a three to four nights stay—a perfect combination of regal luxury and unique culture of Hyderabad.

Hyderabad is a city to be discovered – contact us for more ideas on how to create a balanced itinerary of food, culture, pearl shopping and relaxing. With this really wonderful new hotel opening, Hyderabad is becoming a hot destination in our mind and we are thrilled to be seeing an increased number of clients now visiting the city.

The Leela Palace Delhi
                                - Salim Javed

Latest addition to the already long list of Luxurious hotels in the capital, the Leela Palace Delhi is an ambitious and expensive project. After a soft launch in Jan’10, this 260 room property is aiming to create new level of luxury and guest comfort. Located in the heart of New Delhi’s plush Chanakyapuri Diplomatic Enclave it is a 30 minutes drive from the airports, in close vicinity of the Presidential Palace, leading foreign embassies and monuments like Humayun’s tomb, India Gate and Qutub Minar, is well located. Intricate designs, glittering interiors, impressive façade, expansive ceilings and a lobby offering afternoon tea all create the impression of a true modern-day palace.

Although the property is taking time to open completely (it should be fully operational before the season), the restaurants, the bar and majority of the rooms have been open for guests since last month. I had dinner at their royal Indian speciality restaurant called Jamavar post-inspection – the food was really very good, and the service levels certainly raising the bar in Delhi.

The rooms are big and look supremely comfortable, extra thick snoozer mattresses, cosy duvets, signature pillow menu and excellent butler service. Technology has been used to the fullest: from ultra hi-tech security check in, fully interactive I-pod controllers in the rooms to a water proof LED television in the bathrooms; perhaps a bit fiddly for some, it is not overwhelming and is impressive. It’s all set to create a buzz and is a property to watch out for in the coming season. With pricing and positioning at the right level, especially with such huge base category rooms, they shouldn’t have any problems. We will have no hesitation using it for our clients who are looking for luxury comforts and service over the more heritage option.

Some Facts: All rooms are outside facing and large windows ensure ample natural light and great views outside. They have a huge inventory of 121 rooms in the base category (Deluxe rooms), 89 Royal Premiere, 39 Royal Club rooms (not much difference room wise but you get lots of value add) and rest are Suites offering a nice mix and variation as per your budget. They claim to have the biggest rooms/suites in the town spanning over 550 sq.ft., while the Presidential Suite sprawls over 4300 sq.ft. Four speciality restaurants (all day dining, Indian, Japanese and European), Bar (known as the Library) and a lounge at the lobby level will make them stand out for their F&B. An ‘all weather’ roof top swimming pool and an excellent spa run by Espa add to the appeal of this interesting new option in the city.

Madhya Pradesh update:

Samode Safari Lodge - Mardari, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve
                                                                      – Avijit Sarkhel

Located at the quieter edge of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, at the Gorhni gate in the southwest corner of the Park, Samode Safari Lodge, brought to us by the family of Samode (known for their 3 properties in and around Jaipur, Rajasthan) is a welcome addition to the luxury end of the wilderness lodges of Central India.

The lodge is spread over 11 acres of grasslands and forest. Samode follows the vernacular style of architecture with tastefully done interiors, offering both style and comfort. Twelve private chalets, set in open country, overlooking an infinity swimming pool and a spacious dining area, offer a relaxed stay with great service. A wide choice of dining is on offer - be it the light Mediterranean lunches at the main restaurant, an elaborate private bush dinner or a more private romantic meal outside your chalet. Each guest space consists of a living room, bedroom, private courtyard and an indoor-outdoor bathroom. The bathroom interiors are particularly attractive with exquisitely hand painted Gond paintings, from the nearby Dindori village.

A well stocked library, internet on request (in the office only), telescopes for star gazing and a spa (will be ready by October'11) are some additional facilities for guests. The lodge can organize private excursions on request as well.

The safaris to the park are mostly to the nearby Makdhi zone with very knowledgeable naturalists. The vehicles can seat eight guests comfortably. A pair of binoculars, blankets, hot water bottles (in winters) and bird / mammal guide books are all stocked in the vehicle. A lovely picnic hamper is laid out during the ride in the mornings with a wide choice of tea, fresh filter coffee, excellent shortbreads and cookies. With the opening of Samode Safari Lodge, a new standard has been set in the wilderness circuit of Madhya Pradesh and we expect to be sending many guests to the property.

Sarai at Toria – Panna Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
                                                                      – Avijit Sarkhel

On the west bank of the beautiful Ken River a new eco-lodge has come up not far from the Madla gate the Panna National Park. Raghu Chundawat, conservation biologist, and Joanna Van Gruisen, naturalist and photographer, have opened a well conceptualized lodge at Toria, close by to Panna Tiger Reserve.

The lodge offers six independent spacious cottages with mineral-oxide finished floors, elegant living rooms and bathrooms. Some of the cottages are interconnected for families and friends. The dining takes place in a shamiana (marquee type space) with a river view and meal options include light salads, soups and the more complete Indian meals with surprise bbqs by the river-side.

The lodge is personally managed and run by Raghu and Joanna and a team of charming staff from the surrounding villages – and the property itself has minimal impact to the natural grasslands. Rainwater is harvested and tree felling is avoided. The lighting is effective but minimal and opulence is limited to the necessary. A safari into the park and a boat ride on the Ken River with Raghu and Joanna is a must do. Panna is a beautiful park to explore - quiet, rich with birds and a very interesting history of tiger conservation – tiger sightings are not to be expected. The location of this lodge is excellent – being a mere 30 minute drive to Khajuraho, making a day trip to these fascinating erotic temples possible or perhaps to visit the Temples in the morning prior to a flight to Delhi or Varanasi

Mumbai Live!
                    - Salim Javed

I was in Mumbai a few weeks ago and took the opportunity to witness a typical day in this City of Dreams. The limited time I had didn’t permit me to do it in full length but I did manage to get the taste of the bustling Monday morning in Mumbai on this newly introduced experience called Mumbai Live!

We started the day at a leisurely pace from The Gateway of India, and drove past the iconic colonial buildings around the Kalaghoda area(clients can also choose to walk). Kalaghoda, a crescent shaped sub-precinct, has a very distinct visual identity because it houses a fine collection of heritage structures build in Victorian Neo-Gothic, Indo Saracenic and Edwardian Neo Classical styles. Here one can also visit some of the city’s most renowned art galleries, museums and cultural spaces, including pavement galleries.

We then reached the Crawford Market. To me it was a pleasant surprise as the market was clean and well managed, and unlike usual bazaar walks I found it very gentle and easy. An impressive entrance, designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of the famous novelist Rudyard Kipling, takes you inside a manicured grid of colorful stalls offering every item of daily need, fresh fruits, vegetables, grocery etc- a very pretty setting for some photographic moments. Our next stop was Churchgate Railway station. We reached in time to see the Dabbawalas in action for the lunch box delivery – it’s still a mystery for me to understand "how do they do it…" and while I was trying to figure out the process, Morgan, my guide on the walk, took me straight into the station (reminded me of London Paddington!) for a short train ride up to the Mahalaxmi station in one of the daily local trains.

While Morgan was busy buying tickets, I watched the shoe-polish boys at work in one of the corners and I was awestruck by their speed.... The first class compartment was nearly empty, with only a few passengers, as the journey was in the opposite direction of the office commuters. It was a 15 minutes ride to Mahalaxmi station, a perfect way to witness the daily commuter’s routine! From Mahalaxmi we walked for about 5 minutes to reach Dhobhi Ghat, and watched the washermen washing the city’s laundry-in open air and all by hand ofcourse. After this we took the car back to the hotel, finishing the tour.

Optional stops: Mani Bhawan followed by a sea-food lunch at Trishna or north Indian cuisine at Kyber (both in Kalaghoda area) on the way back.

Overall it was a very well planned and executed experience, offering a really nice mix of heritage and local life of Mumbai in half a day. The highlight of the tour for me was the train ride!

Note - This tour would be best if done in the morning – best started at 0900 from Taj, Colaba or Hotels in this area. If you want to suggest this tour for afternoon – then the trains may be a bit crowded.

NEWS, UPDATES & SPECIAL OFFERS

Shakti Ladakh - the 2011 season has started

Shakti restarted its operations in Ladakh last month and will run through until the end of September. This year three new houses have been added to bring the village house inventory up to 6 for 2011, and all have been renovated, restored and refurbished. Local weaving and handicrafts have been combined with painstaking restoration work to bring the houses up to an even higher standard than ever before. Each house is different and has its own charm – and an itinerary combining any of the 6 houses will provide a different mix for a journey through this stunning mountain kingdom. As with Shakti Ladakh in the last few years, there is a sample journey but each itinerary is tailor made, based on the interests of the traveler, the number of nights available and the availability of the houses. Please contact us for further details. www.shaktihimalaya.com

Sujan adds Ranvas to its portfolio

Sujan Luxury Hotels, owners of Sherbagh (in Ranthambore) and The Serai (outside Jaisalmer), have announced the addition of Ranvas, at the magnificent Ahichhatragarh Fort, to its portfolio. The Mehrangarh Museum Trust had meticulously restored Ahichhatragarh Fort, at Nagaur, Rajasthan, for 17 years before opening it as a boutique hotel in 2010. We look forward to experiencing Ranvas under Sujan’s expertise.


Ananda in the Himalayas Special Offer

Ananda has special promotional offers of "Stay 7 Pay 6" or "Stay 14 Pay 12" and "Stay 21 Pay 17" on all Wellness Packages. These are valid on all new bookings made till August 31, 2011 for stays from June 15, 2011 till January 31, 2012. Contact us for more information and bookings.

New Devigarh Spa and Special Offer

Devi Garh introduces spa treatments from the French beauty company L'Occitane. Devi Spa by L'Occitane' offers a fusion of Indian and Mediterranean treatments in a luxurious setting. Devigarh offers a special summer package which includes many attractive add-ons including spa treatments. Valid from 1st April to 15th October 2011 for a minimum stay of 03 nights. Contact us for more information and bookings.

New Home Stay "Hill House" In Periyar, Kerala

Hill house is located on a 600 acre multi crop estate at Kuttikanam which is 40 Km from the Periyar Game Sanctuary. Situated in the hills at 3500 feet above sea level, Hill House offers fabulous views and a peaceful atmosphere, where guests can relax in the middle of a busy itinerary. Although the house has four bedrooms, including a smaller one in the loft, the entire house will be offered exclusively for a single booking at a time.

New flights for Delhi-Gwalior-Mumbai

Air India announces daily flights for Delhi-Gwalior-Mumbai sector. The national carrier will operate a 122-seater Airbus A319 aircraft, configured in two classes, namely executive and economy.

Direct flight connectivity from Jaipur to Hyderabad.

Jet Airways has announced the launch of new flights from Hyderabad to Jaipur (in Rajasthan) which will give a big boost for tourism in Hyderabad. Other flights have also started to Bhubaneswar(in Orissa), Vijayawada(in Andhra Pradesh), and Nagpur(in Maharashtra).

More flights to India from Drukair

Betting big on India as a potential source market for tourist arrivals, Bhutan’s national carrier, Drukair, will increase flights to New Delhi to 5 per week from the present four and that to Kolkata to daily services from 3 per week, beginning May 15, 2011.

Delhi Metro airline check in facility

From June 2011 passengers traveling to the airport by Delhi Metro can check-in, collect boarding cards, and check registered baggage at New Delhi Railway station airport services. Banyan has tried out this new facility and while it is a much needed facility for the city we feel it is not suitable for our guests. We will keep you updated on any further developments.

FESTIVALS

Bateshwar Fair – Colourful, Exciting and Authentic!

Although this fair has religious significance and history it also has an important commercial value. Thousands of livestock including buffalos, cows, camels and horse, are traded and sold and bought. Visitors come from far and wide and guests will have the chance to see people from various parts of the country in their native dresses and jewelry. This is also the time that devout Hindus will bathe in the waters of the Yamuna to cleanse themselves of all sins. Lots of activities, games, music and dance entertain the visitors. It is a veritable fair with something for everyone.

Takes place at Bateshwar, close to Agra, 28 Oct -10 Nov 2011. Contact us for more details.

Sacred River Festival – Under a Silver moon…

The Sacred River Festival is held each year on the banks of the Narmada River at Maheshwar in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

It features three nights of classical music and cultural performances under a moon-lit night sky and against a backdrop of thousands of oil lamps. Maheshwar is an important Hindu pilgrimage centre with its many temples along the sacred river. Most of the temples date back to the 18th C and are worth visiting.

Various parts of the event take place at different locations. The setting and atmosphere is truly unique. The festival can be enjoyed from various places like the temple steps, the Ahilya Fort or from boats on the river.

Interested guests can take part in music and dance demonstrations which provide insight into the traditions and history of Indian music and dance.

The 250 year old Ahilya Fort which offers accommodation at this site is truly a hidden gem. Situated high above the banks of the sacred Narmada River, Ahilya Fort was the capital of one of India's celebrated women rulers-Ahilya Bai Holkar.

Takes place on 4TH Feb - 7TH Feb 2012 at Ahilya Fort, Maheshwar. Please contact us for more details.

FOOD & SHOPPING

South Indian dining in Delhi

As the heat descends on Delhi with a force, we are reminded of how delicious a light south Indian lunch can be! For those visiting Delhi, throughout the year, a good dosa and a south Indian coffee can be a perfect light lunch in between exploring the city.

A masala dosa, which comes in many forms, is typically a large, thin, crispy pancake made out of fermented rice flour, usually filled with a masala potato and veg filling - served with a lentil and vegetable stew (sambar) and coconut chutney. There are a range of options from which to choose but it’s hard to beat a simple ‘masala dosa’ or for those looking for a bit more of a kick, the ‘Mysore masala dosa’ with its thin layer of chili paste on the base of the dosa. Aside from dosas, chose from a range of items such as idli (soft pillows of steamed fermented rice flour, also served with sambar and coconut chutney). In Tamil Nadu these delicacies are a typical breakfast dishes, but in Delhi it has transformed into a great lunch option (the North Indians perhaps need a bit more of a spicy kick start to their morning!).

There are no fancy restaurants serving South Indian dosas (perhaps some five star hotel coffee shops, which is never the real thing) but there are two favourite locations in Delhi, that are hugely popular and very clean - but true local restaurants and an experience in themselves! First, there is Sagar Ratna in Defence Colony, South Delhi. This is an institution for Delhiites who often queue up outside the door. But the queue moves quickly and its located in a safe and pleasant local market - once inside the menu is in English but there is a wide range of options so if unsure just opt for a Masala dosa with a fresh lime soda (sweet or salted - both!) and follow it up with a South Indian milky coffee. Defence Colony is close by to South Delhi hotels such as The Aman New Delhi and The Oberoi.

For those staying or in fact exploring the area nearer to Connaught Place (The Imperial, Claridges, Taj Mahal Palace) there is the equally good Sarvana Bhavan.
Rating: 3/5 Stars

Sagar Ratna :
18, Defence Colony Market, New Delhi,
Rating: 3/5 Stars

Sarvana Bhawan:
46, Janpath,New Delhi
2 P-15, Connaught Circus, (Near Madras Hotel), New Delhi

Indian designers in Delhi and Mumbai (and where to eat when hunting for them!)

The range and accessibility of home-grown Indian designers is at an all-time high in metros in India today - and finding pieces that will work back at home as well in India is vastly improved.

A visit to Khan Market (closed on Sundays) is a well known shopping experience for those visiting Delhi – and here you will find a good selection of Indian designers as well as Ensemble and Ogaan both of which bring together a great range of designers under one roof. Dining options in Khan Market are good - for those looking for a great kebab there is the famous Khan Chachas, once a hole in the wall they have now opened their own restaurant. But alternatively if a lighter, western lunch is the order of the day head to Amichi - a true Italian deli in the heart of Khan Market serving fantastic pizzas and salads. Both Amichi and Khan Chacha can be found in the middle lane of the market.

If you are in Mumbai, the options are equally wide. For those staying in the Fort area, which for Banyan clients that usually means the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, you just need to step outside the hotel (ask the concierge for directions) to Bombay Electric, which carries selected ranges from Indian designers with lovely and helpful staff on hand. For a hidden, much loved gem - head back into the Taj Hotel, to Joy Shoes an institution in Mumbai especially loved for its well -made Indian leather sandals.

For those looking for more options, all under one roof, head over to Palladium in Lower Parel in Phoenix Mills where again on the second floor you will find a wide range of Indian designers. There are lots of dining options - for typical Western India coastal dining there is Gajali (great for a prawn curry and beer after the shopping!) or the informal, western Indigo Deli which serves great brunches (Eggs Benedict is delicious) and the usual salads and sandwiches.

Contact us for a full list of addresses.

Face to Face with Christine Manfield

Celebrity Chef and Gastronomic Traveller

1.
How did your interest in the Culinary field begin and who was your biggest inspiration.?

I became interested in food and cooking as a young adult and travelling broadened my horizons on all levels and gave me the courage to step from a career as a teacher into restaurant life. I have never looked back with any regret. There have been many people in Australia and around the world who have inspired me, who have fed my passion and obsession for all things gastronomic.

2. What do you enjoy most about your work? What are your greatest stresses? Your greatest joys?
Every day is different, the fun lies in the challenge of what gets thrown at me, my work keeps me engaged and active. There is no second best. Staff management is definitely the biggest stress with running a restaurant, keeping them motivated, inspired and happy. The juggle of time between life and work is also difficult with such an all consuming job, that’s why you have to totally love it otherwise it will destroy you. My work is like one long thrilling joy ride.
3. Since when have you been visiting India and any particular gastronomic experience which still remains a highlight, it could even a small roadside meal.
I am addicted to the kebabs from street vendors in Mumbai (Bademiya) and Delhi (Khan Chacha and Aap ki Kathir), the chat snacks at Soam in Mumbai, the divine Moplah cooking of Faiza Moosa at Ayesha Manzil in Tellicherry, the curry leaf chicken at the Windsor Pub in Bangalore are all standouts. There are so many more food memories.
4. Of all the varied Indian cuisines, do you have a favourite region and is there a special dish that you would recommend of the region. Also, any Indian cuisine would you like to try that you haven't before?
I like it all, from Kerala to Maharastra to Rajasthan and Bengal, it would be too hard to pick just one. I am looking forward to trying the Muslim food of Hyderabad when I visit this month, especially their biryanis.
5. You will soon be visiting Hyderabad the Mecca of Biryani and Muslim food in India, any expectations ?
I expect it to be different to what I already know and for it to be sensational. I will be packing as many street snacks into my time as I can.
6. Do you have a guilty food pleasure and what do you love cooking the most?
You bet! Freshly baked bread, I am a sucker for flaky paratha and rumali (handkerchief) bread. I like to cook anything that is packed with flavour, so my repertoire is extremely diverse.
7. What is your favourite holiday destination and why?
India, Spain, Thailand and Turkey – they each offer a completely unique and rich travel experience, the food is sensational and each culture celebrates its culinary history.
8. What's been your proudest moment so far?
My enduring and loving relationship with my partner of 33 years, she brings so much joy and balance to my life.