Jaipur – India’s historic Pink city of Hawelis, bazaars and magical sites

Jaipur, popularly known as the pink city, a name given by the Prince of Wales in 1876, is situated in the royal deserts of the Rajasthan state. Amidst the dust, noise and an occasional camel cart vying for road space, Jaipur is surrounded with magical sites. Palaces, havelis, bustling bazaars and temples take centre stage in this beautiful city. Not only is this a perfect holiday destination for solo travelers, it’s also ideal for families, friends and especially women who travel either with friends or alone, looking for some history, luxury and tranquility.

Travels to Jaipur, India

My travels to India have been frequent. Having visited our neighbouring country quite a few times, staying at various luxury hotels, our favourite hotel stay has to be the Samode Haveli. Tucked away from the bustling crowds of Jaipur and set upon a verdant garden, this stunning Mansion is a peaceful oasis and the perfect place to escape the crowds of the city.

A palace in Jaipur. Samode Haveli. Peaceful and tranquil.
Women traveling in India

Our arrival and check in was seamless as the friendly staff guided us into the regal lounge passing breezy corridors. With opulent interiors and a sprawling courtyard, every turn you make is just full of surprises. Despite the April sun, we were lucky enough to avoid the heatwave. The best time to travel across India would ideally be February – March.

Swimming pool in Jaipur, India
Luxury hotel in India

This luxurious getaway is all about modern Rajasthani colours and elegance amplified in stunning suites that exude romance. Each room, uniquely decorated with grand rugs, giant tubs and canopy beds boast a distinctive character and the brilliant staff do their utmost to make sure you are well looked after. The best customer service in India, undoubtedly.

Safe travel destination in India

This was our base for a few days during our “Jaipur sight-seeing” adventures. With a hearty breakfast fit for royalty teamed up with some Chai tea, we decided to explore the city of Jaipur on our second day.

Historic places in India. Places to visit in Jaipur. Hawa Mahal

The Hawa Mahal was a quick stop. Built in 1799, the Hawa Mahal is also called the “Palace of Winds”, made of pink and red sandstone and some 953 windows. A prominent landmark in Jaipur, shaped like a crown, it was built for the Royal ladies where they could watch the daily life of the city through the windows without being visible to the public. (If you look closer, it does remind you of a beehive though).

Places to visit in India with family
Jaipur places to visit.

The City Palace was our next stop, built somewhere in 1729 AD. This beautiful palace boasts the blend of Rajput, Mughal and European architectural styles. With gardens, pavilions and temples, you can easily spend around 2-3 hours here. There are three main gates to the palace and four smaller gates in the third courtyard, believed to represent the four seasons. We were also told that the City Palace houses two silver jars, recorded in the Guinness Book of World records as the largest silver vessels in the world. (Yes, sometimes I’m a wealth of useless information).

Safe cities for Women in India
Indian travel with family.

The world’s largest sundial was our next stop. Apparently, India has five of them but the largest is found in Jaipur. Jantar Mantar is quite an interesting visit. The guide helps you with the local time calculations and the best time to visit is probably during the afternoon hours. (That is of course, if you appreciate the scorching sun and the 40 degrees heat). The Jantar Mantar is designed for the observation of astronomical positions and is also one of the most comprehensive and best preserved of India’s historic observatories.

The Amber Fort by far was one of our favourite places in Jaipur. The construction dates back to 1592 and in the year 2013, the fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage.

Historic locations in Jaipur. Amber Fort.
Amber fort Jaipur

The journey alone is a fun ride up to the palace. A little rickety but fun nonetheless. We opted for the easy jeep ride. (Definitely no to the Elephant ride).  

Places to visit in India with family.
Travels with family

Made out of marble and sandstone, the courtyards, halls and gardens are magnificent. The Sheesh Mahal was just stunning with its walls and ceilings carved with flowers made of glass. It is said that lighting just two candles would look like a million stars glittering in the ceiling. The King’s bedroom remains shut, however, we did visit the “Sukh Niwas” his very own bachelor pad where he “relaxed” with his ladies. Ok then… Moving swiftly on to the Char garden where us common folk can relax whilst admiring the whole city and the gorgeous views.

Women traveling.
Sightseeing in India. Jaipur

The Jal Mahal was the final sight seeing stop for the day – Not really allowed to entre the water palace but you are allowed to observe it from afar. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Jaipur, this really is a serene sight. I still did not quite understand why it was off limits, but “rumor” has it that this palace will soon be transformed into a luxury restaurant (or was it hotel?). Make sure to visit the palace after sunset as the palace is then illuminated and looks all the more spectacular.

Traveling with family
Family adventures in India.

Safe to say that we did experience quite a bit of the Jaipur sightseeing and what’s a visit to India without a little shopping? I will not rant on about the usual shopping malls and brands, but I will elaborate on the bazaars where our haggling skills were tested (and passed with an A- ).

Solo travels
Jaipur .

The Nehru Bazaar is a market built in customary Rajasthani style houses with hundreds and hundreds of foot wear, bags, sarees and crafts. Not only do you find some lovely souvenirs but the saree selection is just brilliant! I walked away (paid and walked away) with sarees for just 800 Sri Lankan rupees (but that’s probably because my husband fluently bargained in Hindi. A hidden talent I discovered in Jaipur).

The Bapu bazaar is also a one stop spot for all types of clothes. Fancy some costume jewelry and bangles? Then head down to the Tripolia Bazaar or Johari Bazaar. The plethora of choices and colours makes it Instagram worthy too!

Overall a wonderful trip to Jaipur. The food is delicious, the places are luxurious and of course, a safe city in India.

food and drink in India
Sunset and wine in Jaipur.

Places to eat :

  • The Grand Peacock restaurant: Just minutes away from Samode Haveli, they serve up some affordable and delicious Indian food. Don’t forget to try their “Murg Malai Tikka”, Kadhai Paneer” and the vegetarian thali.
  • Anuraag Villa restaurant: Their Zeera Aloo (Fried potatoes with cumin) and Aloo Ghobi seems to be the popular choice.

Don’t forget to check out Samode Haveli: https://www.guestreservations.com/samode-haveli/booking?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3pax3tj15AIVibbtCh1J8QXjEAAYAiAAEgI6uvD_BwE

Abu Dhabi – Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Having read quite a few articles on the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, it has always been on my “must visit” places. I have been privileged to visit the two largest mosques in the world – Mecca and Madina and with this, the third largest.

The grandeur and beauty can be seen from the outside just a few km away from the entrance rising 11m above sea level. Glistening pools surround the mosque amplifying the stunning architecture.

With over 1000 columns and 80 domes, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s dream was brought to life by skilful calligraphers from the UAE, Jordan and Syria. The wandering tourist sees beautiful verses from the Quran embedded in arabic.

The largest dome (The main dome) is 85 meters high with a diameter of 32.8 meters. With lavish open spaces, the mosque is open for prayers to both muslims and non muslims. Despite the large crowds, you feel a sense of serenity and absolute peace. You feel the presence of power and kindness.

First opened for prayers in 2007, the mosque can host over 40,000 worshippers in the main prayer hall that show cases a hand knotted carpet of 5,600 square meters that tok over 1,300 craftsmen to complete.

Another astonishing feature of the mosque is the 5,625 m2 large carpet in the main prayer hall. It has been hand-knotted by about 1,300 Iranian craftsmen.

A prayer for Dad and one hour later, well worth the visit and as long as I return to Abu Dhabi, this will always be my place of serenity.

The (true) servants of (God) the most gracious are those who walk the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, reply with (words of) peace – Quran 25:63.

Cambodia Day 1 – Siem Reap. A taste of ancient Southeast Asia.

A resilient country, recovering from a dark past, Cambodia has now become a tourist destination for both luxury travellers and backpackers alike. With stunning landscapes and exotic temples, ten days in Cambodia gives you ample time to cover Siem Reap, the charming gateway to Angkor temples, Phnom Penh ; the scenic riverside city and Battambang ; known for its bamboo train rides.

Our abode for the night and the next few days was the Golden Temple Retreat. There was no particular reason for choosing this but the reviews were great so we thought – why not?
We were greeted at the airport by “May” the Guest relations officer with cold towels and king coconut water, and in addition a few traditional sweets like milk rice and jak fruit wrapped in betel leaves.

The hotel is small, snug and the staff extremely friendly. Genuinely friendly. They go out of their way and are very obliging.

We tried a few dishes like the Khmer chicken curry and beef along with lime pickle rice and washed it down with Angkor beer. It tastes quite good actually! The food – a mix of Thai and Sri Lanka so far. Mild spices and lots of coconut milk.

The pool at the Golden temple is quite big and despite the high occupancy, you still feel at home.
We hopped into one of the local Tuks and headed over to the Phare, Cambodian circus. If it’s your first time in Cambodia like myself, this is certainly a must watch. Pre book your tickets via get your guide or Viator to avoid the queues and disappointment. It was packed with around 350 people and the circus was unique and entertaining.

Mostly street kids passionate about arts, theatre and the circus performing their hearts out. They have some serious talent! It’s around one hour and well worth the money. If you are unable to follow the story, you do have giant tv screens with English and French translations but I bet you really wouldn’t care when you’re fixating on the well built boys summersaulting and juggling ten oranges all at once !

Our temple hopping adventures take place during day 2, 3 and 4 and we can’t wait to check out what’s in store!

  • Golden Temple Retreat gives you easy access to wherever you want to go.
  • There’s a free airport pick up and drop off included
  • The rooms are spacious with large balconies. (Bathrooms have no doors so if you are traveling with a friend ; this might be .. Well!)
  • The staff : Icing on the cake. Helpful, always with a smile and absolutely amazing
  • The Spa is excellent, clean and quite affordable
  • Cocktails : generous
  • They even have an Apsara show with dinner and a cooking class in the morning with a certificate for participation
  • Ooooh and a farewell t shirt as a souvenir ! Book direct via: http://retreat.goldentempleretreat.com 

Exploring Istanbul – Hagia Sophia

Alphonse De Lamartine – The famous writer and poet once said that “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul”. How very true. Istanbul modestly boasts beauty everywhere. Istanbul boasts some of the best food in the world. Istanbul boasts majestic palaces overlooking the vast Bosphorus and Istanbul boasts mesmerising history, culture and heritage.    Needless to say, wandering in Istanbul was just amazing!

Almost there!

We started our morning by visiting the “Holy Wisdom” – Hagia Sophia. Previously a Church constructed in 537 , an Orthodox Basilica which was then a mosque somewhere in 1453.

Gorgeous mosaics

An architectural landmark in the heart of the city and now a museum, the Hagia Sophia is the perfect place to observe both the Byzantium and Ottoman effects all under one roof. The Christian mosaics and the black and gold calligraphy discs honours both religions in the most beautiful way.

Beautiful Hagia Sophia

During the period where this was a mosque, they not only ensured all the Christian paintings were in tact by plastering carefully over it, but when it was finally converted to a museum, the unearthing of these paintings resulted in both religions standing side by side – a depiction of harmony (something we sadly lack in this day and age).

Covered in multi coloured marble, the walls and ceiling are spectacular as you try to take this all in (while frantically clicking and capturing every single angle from your Phone or camera),  the 100+ columns that lead you to the first floor shares decorative creations of the Byzantine Empire.

The stunning Hagia Sophia

Listen to the stories unfolding around you as various tour guides share the mysteries and secrets housed within these walls. A peek over the wooden framed windows also give you a glimpse of the blue domes.

A peek from the first floor

Needless to say, if ever you are in Istanbul, you really must spend a solid hour or more at the Hagia Sophia.

  • A ticket is priced at 40 TL (10 USD)
  • Your attire doesn’t really matter since it’s a museum and not a religious place of worship
  • A guided tour gives you all the information you need to know. If you cannot afford a guided tour – eavesdropping on other tour groups also works well!
  • Once you reach the first floor, don’t forget to take a picture right towards the middle which gives you panoramic views.
  • A few repairs are currently underway but you are certainly not marred by this.

Hagia Sophia

Günaydın Istanbul and Mövenpick Istanbul Golden Horn!

Turkey has been on my bucket list for a few reasons and Istanbul has always been a “must visit” because of the Hagia Sophia and the beautiful blue mosque. So 2017 was about crossing something off my bucket list (since marriage and babies- well, clearly nowhere in sight!)

Stunning views

After a 9-10 hour flight all we needed was a good snooze. The taxi ride from the airport cost us around 130 TL (25-27 pounds ) and nearly our lives (and I thought Sri Lankan tuk tuk rides were bad!). It was quite exhausting since he didn’t speak English and the only Turkish word I was aware of was “chicken” – not really helpful. After a 45 minute drive of honking, arm waving and conversations we just didn’t comprehend, we arrived at the Hotel.

Personalised touch

On arrival we were greeted by the extremely friendly staff who were so genuinely helpful. Along with an upgrade, we checked into a lovely room on the fifth floor overlooking the picturesque city and stunning waterfront views. A personalised message from the General Manager, a bottle of Turkish wine (another must try by the way!) and some chocolates and Turkish delights hit the spot.

All day dining

The Mövenpick Istanbul Golden Horn is perfectly located with an amazing spa, an All day dining that serves up the finest Mövenpick breakfasts and the sky dome – all the way on the tenth floor with views, drinks and dinner.

Amazing food

The breakfast buffet offers a wide spread of both local and international cuisine. From Lentil soup, salads and olive stations to fresh pastries, yogurts, an egg station and plenty of Turkish cheeses and fresh juices. We were also offered some lovely banana and chocolate pancakes with Mövenpick ice cream – an absolute treat! (I clearly remember telling myself that I will be visiting the gym shortly after. I did visit the gym “area” also known as the Spa!)

Pancakes and ice cream

The Spa offers various treatments and we opted for the Swedish massages. The massage was not aggressive and very relaxing with a soothing oil, which lasted around 55 minutes. Thereafter the “package” offers a Turkish bath. This was a first time experience for both my friend and definitely something you must try when in Turkey! We walked into the “Hamam” and relaxed for around 10-15 minutes. At this point I was glad it was just the two of us since I wasn’t quite sure how fun and insanely awkward communal bathing can be and I wasn’t ready to find out as yet..

Spa room

Fifteen minutes later both our therapists walked in singing some Turkish tunes, and began bathing us. (It was also the first time someone not only bathed me but serenaded me at the same time!) With a vigorous bubble massage that leaves you feeling absolutely refreshed they then allow you to relax a little more.

Turkish bath

The food – We experienced both the all day dining and the sky dome for dinner on two occasions. The view from the tenth floor is stunning and the food splendid. Between the two of us, we tried the cheese platter, the pita and kebab, beef and Turkish sausage pizza and the red and white Turkish wines. Comfortable rooms, gorgeous views, good food and coffee – nothing quite like a hotel that ticks all your boxes especially when you get back after an exhausting tour or sightseeing in town.

Skydome wine and dinner

The overall experience was truly Mövenpick – we certainly made memories and I’m quite sure I’m well scrubbed for the next few days!

Outside the Mövenpick Golden Horn



Netherlands – Keukenhof

The most beautiful spring garden in the world – Damn right! When we planned our trip to the Netherlands, the Tulip fields were definitely on the bucket list. Given that it’s open just 8 weeks every year, we were lucky enough to spend an entire day at Keukenhof!

Tulip fields

I actually did not know that there were over 3000 varieties of tulips, and sure as hell did not know that it originated somewhere near Turkey..

Yet somehow the Netherlands rule hands down with a marvellous variety of tulips spanning over 30+ hectares ! I’m not even pollen your leg… (Geddit?)

A full day is ideal to enjoy the tulip fields. Known as the largest flower garden in the world, the place comes alive once every year for a few weeks with working windmills, stunning flower beds and Instagram worthy clicks every step of the way.


Bloomin’ heck!

You can even purchase the bulbs (which we did, but didn’t really work out in Sri Lanka where the temperature reaches 30* degrees ! It probably deep fried the bulb I planted…

During our visit, the Tulip fields were around 80% in bloom and even the indoor flower exhibitions were lively and crowded.

Don’t forget to book your ticket early, visit during the end of April if you want to see the Tulips in full bloom and carry a map of the gardens with you. It’s far too large and you are bound to get lost, (You wouldn’t mind it though since it’s such a breathtaking place to lose yourself), but if you want to cover some good ground, then a map is necessary. (Or if you are directionally challenged like I am!)

The Darwin Hybrid tulips were one of my favourites with its pyramid shaped blooms. You really can’t explain how magnificent these tulip fields are.. Just visit and make sure you bring home a souvenir and kudos if you actually grow it!

I would plan ahead and go along with a tour company to Keukenhof. It’s around 40-45 minutes from Amsterdam, they drop you right at the entrance and allow you ample time to stroll the tulip fields as well as drop you back in the City Centre. I found this to be rather convenient. We booked ours via www,getyourguide.com and it was very professional and well timed.

So get ready to spend an entire day or a good half day since it’s well worth it!