The giant orb of a setting sun guided us down river, casting magical lights on the rippled water as, surrounded by the stark cliffs, we spotted nilgai, owls, vultures, storks and crocodiles.
This was our spectacular introduction to Kota, Rajasthan, why had no one mentioned this to me before? In a world of over tourism, instagram infuencers and an overload of information, how, how did I not know about this? I was traveling with friends, two ladies I’d met in a spa in Kerala. Lisa, French, astute, shrewd, who doesn’t let you get away with a thing looked at me,
“You’ve never been here before, no?”
I was still in awe of the sunset, the water, the magic of the moment and lets face it, the rather hot boatman. my guard was down, I responded rather distractedly,
I missed the possible warning note, she continued,
‘You’ve never sent clients here before, no?’ Still gazing around in wonder, smiling, being at one with the moment, I replied, vaguely questioning myself
‘Err, no, no, I haven’t,’ and gave an appologetic smile.
‘And, you are an Indian expert, yes? Well, tell me, how could you miss this in all your 20 years?’
She had a point. How could I have? Had I also falled prey to the mainstream destinations? Hardly, so why had Kota stayed off my radar quite so pointedly? They talk about it being the third largest city in Rajasthan, that’s hardly a selling point to be fair but why hadn’t I seen beyond, when its something that I’m known for?
We made it back to the hotel, the summer palace of the Kota royal family, which overlooks the river, a serene location and the kind of charming that Rajasthan used to be before it fell prey to the glitz and glamour. A chilled Kingfisher beer, snacks, a chat with the family and the kind of wonderful home-cooked food and service one only gets in India when being looked after by staff who have worked for the same family for generations.
In the morning, whilst we were having breakfast in the garden, a black shouldered kite, perched not 5 feet away, swooped down to try and take an Indian palm squirrel, and as we gazed at the prolific bird life on the river, we saw a Marsh Mugger Crocodile swimming by.
Then onto the city palace, so well curated and beautifully maintained and wonderful artwork. The experience enhanced by our knowledgeable, passionate and hilarious guide Bhati, and the fact that there were no jaded locals trying to sell you over-priced tat. In fact, there were no other tourists in sight, just staff in vibrant pink saris who invited us over to share their mid-morning chai and who then delighted in showing us the palace themselves and encouraged us to pose for photos in various locations.
India you never fail to surprise and delight. Kota, you proved to be a very pleasant surprise. Of course, that’s not all there was to do, but I’d promised to visit a barely known festival and had to head off but Kota is one destination I will be returning to.
Thanks to Brijraj Bhawan Palace and Ijyaraj Singh for this new treat, and it’s just 4 hours from Delhi by train!
For more information: https://www.brijrajbhawanpalace.com/
My book, Escape to India, is available on Amazon.com/.co.in/co.uk