When you’re commonly accepted to be one of the oldest ruling families in the world it is only to be expected that there are greater treasures than just a few silver spoons in the cupboard. The 76th incumbent of the House of Mewar has recently opened a magnificent silver gallery, adding yet another reason to visit the beautiful lake city of Udaipur in Rajasthan.
The collection in the City Palace contains priceless family heirlooms dating back to 743AD and includes a stunning elephant howdah (the preferred mode of royal transport for centuries) decorated with a lion just to make sure the passenger can be identified, and has room in the back for a friend or the odd bag of jewels.
The largest item on display is a 1939 horse-drawn buggy custom-made in shining solid silver in Birmingham. Commissioned by the maharaja of Bikaner it was a surprise gift for his daughter as part of her dowry and the start of her new married life in Udaipur. A smaller unusual exhibit is a little ornamental palanquin used to carry a deity. This one is for Shree Eklingji, the real ruler of Udaipur and Mewar - the maharana is merely a custodian.
Apart from eying up the family silver you need to leave plenty of time to explore the rest of the City Palace complex. There are splendid palaces (11 in all), courtyards, verandas and rooms of mirror-work, tiles, peacocks, dazzling crystal and intricate miniature paintings. Some of it’s a bit of maze – deliberately designed that way to confuse an enemy attack.
For lovers of culture, history and romance, or just the plain nosy there’s nothing better at the end of the day than to wander the palace grounds in absolute peace after the last visitors have left. Pass the shopping arcade closed up for the night (once elephant and horse stables), saunter past the restaurant (palanquin storage) cross the lawns (ceremonial procession square) and then unlock the door to your room – and stay in the palace.
So said Miles Kington. I wonder if he was ever in Nemo, a village in Ladakh that's built on the Indus flood plain, surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world and cut off from everywhere during the winter. Or whether he was ever lucky enough to eat Gajar Ka Halva, a pudding made mostly from grated carrots.
Ladakh's closest neighbours are China so the Indian Army are well represented here: it's they who fly supplies into Leh airport – the second highest in the world after Lhasa – between December and end of March when the main Srinigar to Manali road is closed.
Dry goods, matches, fruit and vegetables, tomatoes and carrots, all come in this way so things get scarce in winter, the prices rocketing. Tomatoes, 120 rupees a kilo in the summer, can reach 1200 in January.
The Ladakhis are self reliant as a result – barley and wheat are grown in the short summer season, some south facing slopes of terraced fields can manage two crops in the year. All the food grown is stored below the village houses, trapdoors in the kitchen floor allow access to the basement when the temperature outside is -30 and the snow is too high to open the beautifully carved front doors.
Animals and people share the houses, sheep and yaks, donkeys and zos – a cross between a yak and a cow, prized for high yields of milk and looking like a Frank Oz creation – on the ground floor with the grain, families above. Small windows with wooden shutters try to keep out the worst of the weather, even in the Summer it's very cold once the sun goes down.
Severe winters govern everything in Ladakh. The terrain, the trees, the population. Western clothes have arrived, no question, plenty of school children wear bright pink Hello Kitty anoraks but they're worn over thick wool waistcoats and knee length tunics. Then there's the food. In a place where keeping warm is a full time task, fat is consumed in a way that we couldn't possibly imagine.
Yak butter tea is a strangely delicious staple, black tea is served with lots of milk and powdered barley – tsampa – and food is cooked in plenty of oil and butter. When choice is limited, cooks get inventive and one of the best things to eat in Ladakh is Gajar ka Halva – or Carrot pudding.
The carrot isn't a fruit – everyone knows that - but when it's served in a beaten copper dish, with slivers of roasted almonds and tiny sprigs of saffron, at over 3500 metres above sea level, no-one's going to question the wisdom of using it for one of the most delicious puddings ever made.
250 grms grated carrot
1 tablespoon butter
100 grms sugar
300 ml milk
4 crushed cardamon pods
Fry carrots and cardamon in the butter for about 10 minutes until the carrot is soft Add sugar and milk and heat until everything is sticky.
Serve in small bowls, with slivers of roasted almonds and saffron sprigs on top, either hot or cold.
If possible, use Zo milk and butter.
If not, cow will do.
Hi Alex ..
I keep meaning to e-mail you and keep forgetting!!! just to say that Andrea did sterling service on behalf of Natural High, excellent organisation, bearing in mind that we did quite a lot of travelling, 2x 6 hour train journeys, and all sorts of car trips as well. You are running a first class organisation and I hope that we will be able to use your skills again before to long.. Keep up the good work..
Last week 130 of you joined us for a talk by Michael and Nicky Dyer on "Lion Conservation - a View from the Sharp End". Mark Coreth exhibited sculptures, Jeremy Hammick paintings and we all thoroughly enjoyed wine from Yapp Brothers and fish and chips.
Michael's objective was to shine a light on a subject which has remained worryingly below the radar for many people who travel to Africa. Most people who go on safari to places such as the Serengeti see lions, but the continent's lion population is in free fall. 50 years ago there were 450,000 lion in Africa, today there are fewer than 20,000. Conservationists now project that by 2020 (yes you read that right...) there may be no lion left outside the national parks. To put that in context, just 15 years ago as much of 50% of East Africa's wildlife lived outside the national parks.
Borana is leading the way in a grass roots project that puts tourism at it's heart. It's simple stuff, but effective. Tourism not only raises awreness, but it is also a contributor to Living WIth Lions - a project that collars, monitors and protects lion across Laikipia and in the most fundamental way it (tourism) creates a force for preservation of this wild and exceptional corner of Africa.
Working with Michael Dyer we are now putting together a small number of one-off trips to allow a few people to become actively involved in the project; lion are constantly monitored and new lion frequently need to be collared and at the same time thoroughly checked for health and other valuable metrics. This is a chance to see beneath the skin of a highly effective grass roots project. If you'd like to know more give us a call or email us to find out more.
The woodsmoke, the canvas, the night sky above and the night sounds all around. Whatever it is that brings out the inner scout in all of us there are few holidays that beat proper camping and there are few places on earth that beat our top five tented camps. Our favourite, all perfectly pitched in the most stunning locations, are about comfort, style and the outdoors. What we love is the intense (sorry) experience that only sleeping under canvas can bring. And when it's combined with some exceptional wildlife, it can be life changing.
Camping can be desperate rummaging for the last dry match box when the only thing to look forward to is the cold trek to the even colder showers. Or it can be breathlessly waiting for tigers to appear in Nagarhole National Park or finding yourself the only human among thousands of buffalo in Katavi, knowing that there's a hot shower and a delicious breakfast waiting for you when you get back to camp. Guess which we prefer. The combination of frontier living, freedom from monotonous reality with the added frisson of wild life only inches away is what gives it the edge over everything else.
So here are our top 5:
OK, so it's not our normal stamping ground, but a friend of ours, author, travel writer and television presenter Richard Grant, who I travelled with in Morocco last year (see The Telegraph) is opening the doors of his historic plantation house in the Mississippi Delta to a couple or small group who want to explore the rich culture and natural history of the area.
The house, Gum Grove, sits on the banks of the Yazoo River amid 6,000 acres of cotton fields, swamps and hardwood forests teeming with deer, wild turkey, beaver, otter, coyotes, and other wildlife. The river and nearby Bee Lake offer unparalleled fishing for bass, crappie, bream and catfish, and the area is a birdwatcher’s paradise, being directly under the Mississippi Flyway migration route. Other activities available on the property include boating, a spring-fed swimming pool, and sipping wine and mint juleps on the seven-columned front porch. Meals include fruits and vegetables from the organic garden behind the house.
Using Gum Grove as a base, day or overnight trips can be taken to visit the last of the rural juke joints, where the raw Delta blues is still played by elderly musicians, to the historic river towns of Vicksburg and Greenville, to barbecue restaurants, hot tamale shacks, blues museums, civil rights sites, and various local characters and storytellers of Richard’s acquaintance.
Trips are available in April/May and October, for 5 days or 7 days. Bed and breakfast is $120 per person per night, plus car hire for self-guided tours. To get picked up and dropped off at the airport in Jackson, Mississippi, driven and guided by Richard, with all meals and alcohol provided, is $280 per person per night. Flights not included. Potential visitors should be aware that there are mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and alligators in the area...if you're interested, give drop Richard an email
After a three month ban on visitors to its national parks, India's tiger reserves are open again. In July 2012 the Supreme Court of India ordered a ban on tourism activities in the core areas of the country’s national parks after allegations that some states had permitted development within the reserves and tourism was negatively impacting on their tiger populations. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that in the last 100 years we have lost 97% of the world's wild tigers. The Indian Subcontinent remains one of the last refuges, but even here numbers are precarious - thre are estimated to be around only 1700 remaining in India.
The ruling provoked a diverse range of opinions to be aired by travellers, safari companies, environmentalists and local inhabitants alike. In common with many conservationists we believe that well-managed tourism helps to protect the tiger and other wildlife. Where there are visitors, there are tigers, where there are none the tigers have disappeared - poaching and habitat destruction continue to be huge threats.
Working with small lodges and camps owned or run by passionate wildlife enthusiasts and ardent conservationists we share their desire to shift the focus away from the tiger on wildlife trips to India. While understanding that a tiger sighting is on every visitor’s wish list, at camps like Shergarh in Kanha, Forsyth Lodge and Reni Pani in Satpura they are eager to suggest that such an experience should be regarded as a privilege rather than a right and showcase the huge variety of flora and fauna that India has to offer.
The heated debates have helped to raise further awareness of the plight of the tiger whose numbers in the world have dwindled to dangerously low levels and create some new ideas for their protection. We expect there to be changes in the parks as each state works towards running in accordance with the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s new guidelines and prepares a conservation plan for “regulated, low-impact tourism”. Such plans are well overdue but our view is that ultimately the lifting of the ban is in the best interests of the tiger.
I think you can trace the point the human race started to go off the rails, to the moment when someone decided that life as a nomadic pastoralist life could be improved upon. Actually I think you can draw a straight line between this moment and the existence of people like Alan (sorry I mean Lord) Sugar, the behaviour of premier league footballers and the current havoc in the financial markets. It all came down to the moment that someone decided that acquiring more stuff should take precedence over any other endeavour.
Having spent a week in the company of a family from the nomadic Ait Atta clan in Southern Morocco, gently migrating some 80 miles on foot between the Jebel Saghro and the High Atlas, the pace of the journey dictated by the location of water and grazing for the flocks (they feed almost exclusively on a aromatic wild thyme here), I can tell you that there is no better way to recalibrate your value system and in particular to remind yourself of the value of time.
As a cultural experience it felt entirely uncontrived; it was a pilgrimage more than anything else and we joined a Chaucer-esque cast; a family of 5, their 200 odd sheep and (disarmingly engaging and intelligent) goats, 3 dogs and 5 camels. I was accompanied by travel writer Richard Grant (who will be writing about this in the Telegraph soon) and we also had a crew of 4 muleteers and their mules and a single saint of a donkey, for whom nothing seemed too much trouble as it tottered along mountain tracks under gargantuan loads.
In short I returned having had one of the most rewarding safaris I've done in many years. Beginning in the Dades Valley in the Jebel Saghro, we walked at a gentle civilized pace over 6 days up over the snow line at 11,000 ft and into the summer pastures in the High Atlas.
To actively luxuriate in the passing of time, walking along soaring mountain passes, or over a glass of mint tea, or high up on a rock overlooking hundreds of miles of unpeopled wilderness, brought a deep sense of contentedness that built over the course of the week. A life divorced from anything with a screen and that revolves entirely around livestock rather than a craving for material wealth, does seem to be one that brings an unassailable independence – history is littered with governments frustrated by their inability to control people who don’t want any more than they’ve got. No wonder nomads the world over believe resolutely that their way of life is the best – it’s not just dewy eyed western romantics it seems.