Sunday, March 31, 2013

"If he's not a driver, what are we doing in his car?" And other stories from Gujarat, India.

Good evening from the lovely state of Gujarat, as usual living a Travelife on the edge. And a happy Easter as well.

Somewhere else in India earlier today, we had a really long and enjoyable Easter lunch consisting of great conversation with a local friend and a most delicious Indian meal -- amidst a very glamorous cutting-edge setting.


Anyway, the three of us were talking so much about travel and life, and all sorts of other things.

My friend was his usual jaded self, while having dinner last night and then at lunches with two friends of mine here in India over the last two days.

But he succeeded in charming this girl enough over dinner last night and then at lunch today, that she gave up a family event to have a last meal with us today.

I was very happy to see her again, of course, especially as it was Easter Sunday.


And at the end of it all, she said to him: "I'll never forget you, you know that."

Hmm. This is the second lady he's charmed in India so far -- in spite of the dry humor, jaded attitude and all.

However, our long lunch meant we ended up leaving for the airport to catch our flight to Gujarat really late.

If you read this blog, you'll know that I like spending as little time as possible in airports. This is because I'm in them every week, so it's a matter of time management and efficiency.

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I usually try to get from driveway to check-in counter to lounge in 15 minutes.

Then I work in the lounge until my name is called. I'm always the last one to board the plane simply because I'm trying to fit too much into 24 hours and one life.

Please don't follow my example in this case, though, as there's a good chance you will miss your flight. I haven't missed one yet, but...


Well, today, we had a pretty plush BMW 7 series zoom us from our fabulous 21st century hotel to the airport.

The flight to Gujarat was at 635 PM and we got to the airport at 540 PM. My usual time, in other words.

The hotel attendants were on standby when we arrived, waiting to take care of us at the airport, so I wasn't too worried about the close time.

But, shock of my life.

To get to India, we flew on one of Cathay Pacific's great new jets from Hong Kong to India.

But within India, we were doing domestic flights on local airlines. So this story concerns a local airline. When we got to the check-in counter of the local airline earlier, it was actually already closed for the flight.

Now most people reading this will probably say: Of course, it's closed at 540 PM.

But that's never happened to me, you see, and I always have this 45-minute window for check-in and boarding in my mind.


Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong 
to most major cities in India



Strangely, neither of us was particularly worried.

I was mulling the options in my mind and they included returning to the city and staying one more night at our fabulous hotel and trying to get out to Gujarat first thing in the morning.

Or flying on the plane without our luggage. The hotel would have to find a way to get it to us in Gujarat.

But with a bit of that luck we always have in a Travelife, the local airline suddenly opened the counters for us. We got on the flight, and our baggages made it too.

I even had time to pass by the bookstore to check out a history book on India I wanted to buy.

*     *     *

Read more about our trip to India
in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine

*     *     *


My friend, who is so not used to flying this breathless way, said to me, in his usual dry way: "Well, you got your wish. The shortest waiting time at the airport."

I was just happy to make the flight as my business meetings in Gujarat start tomorrow.


When we got to Gujarat, we were pleasantly surprised to find another airport way better than anything in Manila.

It was modern, clean, big and very pleasant. We found our driver quickly and in a matter of minutes, we started out for our hotel.

We were five minutes out of the airport, when my friend suddenly said to me in the vernacular: "This guy isn't a driver. You do know that, right?"

I looked at my friend, sitting next to me, with a quizzical look.

Whatever did he mean? After all, if this guy in the front seat wasn't the driver, what was he doing driving us to our hotel? And what were we doing in his car?

Besides, I'm so used to getting picked up very quickly at airports and just sitting in the car doing something like texting or emailing as we're driving to the hotel, that I hadn't even bothered to look at the driver at all.

I just saw the signboard and got into the car.


This was when I think my friend suddenly said to the guy driving the car, in his usual straighforward manner: "Can I ask you what you do? You're not a driver, are you?"

This was so not the kind of conversation I was expecting, with a driver on the way to our hotel.

I almost fell off my seat with the answer.


Our "driver" looked back at us and said: "No, I'm not a driver. The real driver is sick today and I decided to volunteer, just because I wanted to see what it's like to be a driver and I love driving my car around. You're riding my car and I'm in finance."

OMG. What are the odds of this happening? Of course, I got this I-told-you-so look from my friend.

And to end this story, as I've got a really early start tomorrow, I just have to tell you what our "driver" really does for a living. He's regional head of private banking for one of the largest banks in India.

He deals with clients who invest a minimum of US$500,000 with him.

And, yes, he was driving us from the airport to the hotel. I still don't know how that happened, but we're safely in the hotel.

Sigh. Never a dull moment in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Afternoon tea in the Jaded Room of one of the most beautiful palaces in the world

So there we were in one of the most beautiful palaces in the world, in incredible India, living a Travelife. And we'd decided to have afternoon tea after a morning of sightseeing.

I told my friend: "Oh let's do that. It'll be nice to have one with all the works."

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We were staying in one of the most understated but luxurious palace hotels in the world, and of course we had to have afternoon tea with champagne and everything possible.

Scones, finger sandwiches, India delicacies, tiny cakes and all.

I looked at the little booklet of hotel services that I'd stuck into my bag before leaving the hotel for sightseeing earlier that day.

It said that afternoon tea could be ordered and served in the Jade Room of the palace.

*     *     *

Read more about this amazing hotel
and our trip to India
in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine

*     *     *


Not one to miss a beat, my friend said, somehow alluding to himself: "That should be called the Jaded Room."

He'd said it, not me. And that's how I started referring to him as "Mr. Jaded."

And, yes, it's a completely appropriate re-naming of a perfectly beautiful room in his honor.

The Jade Room of the palace is simply beautiful. It's my favorite room, in fact. But if he was having afternoon tea in it, it should certainly be temporarily renamed "the Jaded Room."


Mr. Jaded came along on this trip to photograph India.

He's not a professional photographer, but a pretty big businessman who happens to be passionate about photography. With his two bazooka cameras and a couple of smaller ones, he takes the most wonderful photos.

But there are really few people more jaded than him in this world, as he himself likes to admit.

Ironically, the only other super jaded person I know in this entire universe -- it's a pretty even competition -- lives in the same neighborhood as him. It's not too far from my neck of the woods.


So I often like to tease him: "What's wrong with your zip code? Why is everyone so jaded? It must be something in the water..."

I'm just kidding, of course.

Unfortunately for him, the palace decided to serve our afternoon tea on the terrace instead of in the Jaded Room, as the weather was fine and there was a beautiful view outside to accompany our tea.


Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong 
to most major cities in India


So we never did get to have our afternoon tea in the Jaded Room.

However it was wonderful just the same, on the terrace, watching the sun set on another day in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Eggs benedict for breakfast and a lot of shopping in India

Yesterday in India, living a Travelife, I almost missed breakfast for the third morning in a row because I was trying to catch up on sleep, after one late night after another.

We're having pretty fabulous dinners in the city's best restaurants every evening.

And, of course, this means we're sitting around until close to midnight all the time, just talking and enjoying the food.

Not that I'm complaining about a great Travelife. But it does mean that I've been sorely in need of sleep.

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But yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed to get to breakfast for my usual array of vegetable and fruit juices and an eggs benedict.

My friend had been patiently waiting for over an hour for me to join him, so I showed up with the most apologetic look I could manage, at breakfast.

Nope. Obviously this wasn't the apologetic look...

I was planning to have an Indian breakfast yesterday -- complete with the Indian sparkling wine they were so generously serving like water.

But when I saw eggs benedict on the menu, I just had to have it.

I usually order eggs benedict wherever I am, and I still have to have a lousy one yet. The one at the beautiful palace hotel we're staying at in India was simply delicious.

*     *     *

Read more about this amazing hotel
and our trip to India
in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine

*     *     *


On a Travelife to South Africa a few months ago, I think I ordered eggs benedict 14 mornings in a row.

I wasn't at all disappointed.

Then, apart from some sightseeing yesterday, I just had to get my shopping fix out of the way.


Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong 
to most major cities in India


Some of the things I love buying in India are clothes and home decor.

The clothes are on the traditional side, but they're always in beautiful jewel colors and with intricate work. They look lovely in India where everyone is wearing something like it; but everywhere else, they look completely exotic.


This isn't part of my exotic wardrobe, but my travel wardrobe.
I brought 8 of these Tinsley dresses to India, to take me from sightseeing in the heat
to elegant and fancy dinners at night -- all in one go.

But if you know me, you'll know that I love wearing exotic clothes.

And I don't really mind being the only person in the room wearing something completely different, as long as it looks good.

In fact, the few times I wear a little black dress to a cocktail party, I get so many comments from people not used to seeing me in the kind of dress lots of other people would wear.

This store was shopping opportunity #1.

So I had about two opportunities to shop for about 10 minutes each yesterday, and I loaded up on jewel-colored clothes.

My friend was my sounding board for my shopping. He thought lots of the stuff I was buying was strange because he attends all these high society functions, escorting ladies wearing svelte and sleek Herve Leger-type of outfits.

They look gorgeous, but fashion is intensely personal and those kinds of dresses are just not my style.


We also had a most interesting lunch with two ladies. 

One of them regaled us with stories about the royalty and VIPs of the world she'd met.

I was so fascinated, especially as these were first-hand accounts. And before I knew it, we were having dessert and it was already 430 PM.

And then as quickly as it began, it was time for cocktails and another enjoyable dinner. And then another day almost ended in my never-ending, never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Photos all morning and a magical concert in the garden of one of the loveliest understated hotels in the world

Good evening from India, living a never-endingly eventful Travelife.

It's been a pretty fantastic trip so far. I am so glad I decided to come to this rather undiscovered part of India for a bit of exploration and a bit of a holiday at the same time.

I wish I could write more about it, but this is about it for now.

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I'm really enjoying myself on this trip, that'll take me to three cities in India.

One of them I've been many times before, but the other two cities are completely new destinations for me.


It's the perfect combination of luxury, history, the good life, heritage, interesting people, excellent food, and good shopping. And all in a place not too many people have heard of yet.

You'll read about it soon enough, I hope, in Travelife Magazine. As always, we're there first -- and never in the usual tourist way.

The experience of the best of local culture is an essential ingredient of a Travelife.


Today, after breakfast, we set out to discover more of the city.

My friend and I both like taking photographs. So we spent most of the morning wandering around an amazing ancient site taking photos of everything.


Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong 
to most major cities in India


It was really fun and relaxing to have nothing on my mind save for the idea of capturing an intensely personal experience and some indescribably beautiful moments via photographs.

We were the only foreigners in the entire place -- yes, that's how off the beaten track this place is.

So everywhere we went in this site, people came up to talk to us or else they wanted their photos taken with us. Of course, we obliged; and I'm posting some photos taken with some of the kids and the ladies. The children were really so charming.

They all have serious expressions on their faces, as you can see here. But after the photos was taken, there was shouting, jumping and smiling all around. It was really very funny.

The kids taking photos of me with their mother's phone....


Then in the early evening, we sat in the garden of our hotel for a very unique concert of some truly magical music. I was completely mesmerized by the music and the soulful voices of the singers, who formed part of a local troupe.

The evening was cool and beautiful, the moon was almost full and orange, and there we were in the garden of one of the most incredible, luxurious and yet understated hotels in the world, listening to music that made me shiver.

Click here to watch a portion of the private concert tonight

*     *     *

Read more about this amazing hotel
and our trip to India
in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine

*     *     *

Yes, it was one of those surreal moments when I felt incredibly lucky to be doing things I love and to be experiencing so many fantastic things in this world.


Then we had dinner in the city's fanciest restaurant.

We ordered everything we wanted and shared the dishes. The food was so good.

It ended up being another long and rather philosophical meal, as well as another pretty wonderful day, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The best table in the city for dinner in India, and a red dress I'm thinking of buying

Dinner tonight.  The best table in the most fabulous restaurant in the city.
Living a never-endingly eventful Travelife.
Even my jaded companion seemed to like it...

Today we arrived in India on a pretty fabulous new airplane of Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong, very early in the morning. I actually had a migraine when we left Manila, and it was pretty horrible enough to make me want to bang my head on the window onboard.


Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong 
to most major cities in India


As soon as we got to the CX lounge in Hong Kong, the first thing I did was get on the Internet and google "what to do when you have a migraine on a flight." Yes, it was that bad.

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But -- guess what the wonders of a nice and spacious airplane can do.


We boarded the CX flight for India and it was the new business class design, which is very nice and comfortable.

There were only three other passengers in business so we basically had the front half of the plane to ourselves.

That luxury of space, a very nice dinner, and four solid hours of sleep on a flat bed -- and my migraine was gone, by the time we landed in India.

Dinner on Cathay Pacific to India...


From the airport, we proceeded to the gate of our hotel where a horse-drawn carriage met us and drove us up a hill.

Right in front of the main building of our beautiful hotel, two staff members were waiting with champagne and cocktails.

4 AM this morning in a never-endingly eventful Travelife...

This would all have been pretty matter-of-fact in a Travelife, except for the fact that it was 4 AM. How surreal was that?

Surreal, but absolutely wonderful.

*     *     *

Read more about this amazing hotel
and our trip to India
in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine

*     *     *


At about 5 AM I went back to sleep, only to wake up a few hours later to make it in time for an appointment with one of the city's most famous designers.

Several hours after landing in India,
we had tea with a famous Indian designer.

This is a Tinsley Manila dress, by the way.
 I brought 8 dresses of the same style to India 
because they take me from sightseeing days to fancy dinners so nicely.

I skipped a lovely breakfast on the terrace of our fabulous hotel to get an hour more of shut-eye, and then we were off to meet the designer and then to discover the city.

This designer made lovely hand-stamped fabrics and she worked out of a simply beautiful heritage home that is one of a kind. It's a centuries-old home that has been in her husband's family for generations.


We had tea with her and she showed me a lovely red dress that I'm still thinking of buying, even now. Usually I make quick decisions on such things -- but today, for some reason, I thought I should sleep over it.

My friend took a couple of photos of me in the dress, and these have turned out to be some of my favorite photographs on the trip so far -- so perhaps I'll buy the dress tomorrow.


Is this a fantastic table or what?

It's been a busy but adventurous and happy day.

And dinner tonight was just amazing, even for a Travelife. Apparently it takes months to book this very special table, but we were lucky to get a cancellation.

Talk about the best table in the city -- and an exotic meal prepared by the executive chef himself.

We sat here all night talking about travel and life, and the joys of a never-endingly eventful Travelife.