2021 is calling for a leisure travel experience, Gaurav Bhatia suggest journeys to the wanderlusts

Gaurav Bhatia

With vaccine out and dropping active and new coronavirus cases, leisure travelers are all set to drive occupancies across the country

When people across the nation are taking a sigh of relief with the availability of multiple Covid-19 vaccines and drastically dropping case count, leisure wanderlust has started to pour into the domestic destinations. While you plan for your trip with your loved ones, here’s what luxury market analyst and inveterate traveler, Gaurav Bhatia Sotheby’s Ex MD has to suggest to fellow wanderlusts.

“When you are travelling almost after a year, a trip into the heart of India is what you might be looking for,” says Gaurav Bhatia.

A complete Indophile who left his corporate job in New York City in his twenties to move back ‘home’, he is an ardent admirer of Indian heritage and culture, one who never fails to make “yet another trip within India.” Calling it “true luxury” and “the ultimate” for bespoke experiences Bhatia asks you to “discover the many Indias with India. For no two destinations are alike, be it its scenography, culture or cuisine.”

I love old fashioned holidays the kind we did as children with our parents and grandparents. Holidays that were around conversations, card games, outdoor hikes with great food and lots of bonding. Today I feel holidays are more a status symbol. It has become about which international destination you go to, where you stay, what restaurants you eat in and what you buy.

Life has become too commercialized. Which is why I insist on travelling within India a few times in the year with the children to expose them to our rich culture. It’s not about London or Paris or Italy every time. And neither about Thailand or the Maldives.”

“Whether it’s the regal and earthy soils of Rajasthan, the Nawabi air of Lucknow, the pure magic of Kashmir or an immersion into spiritualism in Banaras, there’s nothing like India.”

While sharing his escapade of a stay at the Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, he says, “You will feel like the medieval era is meeting the modernity. With an amalgam of old-world charm with ultra-modern service, the Rambagh is the quintessence of luxury in India. Another favourite is the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur with its splendid architecture and nod to the jazz age.

And you are literally living with the Maharaja who occupies his private annex right next to you. Finally what has my heart is the Samode Palace outside of Jaipur. Quaint with seventeenth century frescoes and a façade that will make you fall in love, Samode is a lesson in genteel living. It simply enthralls. We got married here. These three remain my favourites for their exceptional history, architecture and cuisine matched with impeccable service.”

However, if you are planning to visit the cooler climes, the hills to witness panoramic sights of misty mountains, Gaurav Bhatia suggests the Switzerland of the East, Kashmir. “Oh Kashmir in a heartbeat. Kashmir has my soul and I return to it every year. And now, thankfully that the past problems in the state have eased considerably, there’s nothing quite like it. Srinagar is an epicenter of luxury – with its divine shawls, a personal weakness of mine, impeccable craftsmanship, ambrosial fruits, dry fruits and spices and delectable culture and cuisine.

Our trip usually begins at The Lalit Palace Hotel in Srinagar, once the original palace and culminates in the mountains at the underrated Highlands Park Hotel in the ski-town of Gulmarg. It’s an old fashioned ski resort nothing very fancy but with lots of soul. There’s a feeling of nostalgia and old school and you meet old families that have been coming for generations much like us. I would go there as a child, frolic in the snow, ski and just be outdoors. It is really the mecca of skiing in India.

If you are looking at something fancier perhaps try The Khyber Resort, in Gulmarg.” Situated at the serene Pir Panjal range, it is one of the most romantic ambient hotels in the world. You can choose rooms that face the Apharwat range and you will see a breathtaking view of the snowcapped mountains and enjoy some of the best Kashmiri delicacies along with the sublime Kahwahs. “But Kashmir is Kashmir,” he sums it up.

Any destinations on his wish list? “The Glenburn in Darjeeling and I really want to discover Chettinad. Those would be just lovely. If I ever get my fill of Kashmir and Rajasthan that is,” he sums up with a subtle laugh.