When the invitation from DMC Designer Incentives and Five Star Filler (their UK representation) to attend a fam trip to India arrived in our inbox we knew we just had to go. Having been fortunate to travel all over the world with our job, we had somehow never managed to get to India and it was absolutely top of our bucket list.
Day One - Delhi & The Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel
We flew overnight from Heathrow to Delhi on Virgin Atlantic and with the four and a half hour time difference, it was great to be able to hit the ground running. Sarvin and Dimple from Designer Incentives DMC pulled out all the stops from the minute the plane landed with an airside escort greeting us when we stepped off the plane and whizzing us through immigration. At our first hotel, The Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel (formally the Taj Palace) in Delhi, we received a warm welcome and were given beautiful Club Rooms.
After lunch in the hotel we were taken on a tour of Old and New Delhi. We started at India Gate, the Arc du Triumphe of New Delhi, then were taken by tuk tuk to the President's Residence (trying saying that after a gin or three), Rashtrapathi Bhawan. We then hopped on the metro and popped up right in the middle of Old Delhi - it was sensory overload the minute we emerged, sounds, smells, chaos, everything we imagined Delhi would be! Cycle Rickshaws took us through the narrow streets, past spice sellers, jewellers, fabric shops, the odd cow and pretty much anything else you could think of. It was such an amazing, immersive experience and great to be thrown into the tour - a must for any groups arriving into Delhi for the first time.
Following a refresh back at the hotel, we had a property show-round and dinner in Orient Express restaurant. Themed around the train, and harping back to old colonial times, this award-winning restaurant serves up European cuisine in a setting similar to a compartment of the Orient Express.
Day Two - Aerocity & The Imperial Hotel
Day Two took us to a new area of Delhi, near the airport, Aerocity. A collection of huge international hotels all grouped together and most impressively, working together, to attract large events groups. We saw the Pullman, The Novotel, the brand new Andaz (we loved the design led elements) and the JW Marriott, where we ate a Japanese lunch and also saw the Dalai Lama which was surreal to say the least!
That evening we were taken to one of the most famous hotels in Delhi, The Imperial. An iconic property in the heart of New Delhi, it was fantastic to see and a great place for incentives groups for their first night or two in India. Dinner was in The Spice Route restaurant, heralded as one of the top ten restaurants in the world earlier by Condé Nast Traveller. A great place to celebrity spot, we had an incredible South East Asian meal and felt very privileged to have experienced it.
We reflected on our experience of Delhi, old and new, and the two day whistle stop tour. Delhi, like the rest of India, is a complete mix of juxtapositions. Wealth and the latest technologies, sit side by side with extreme poverty and pollution. Elements of it very much harp back to bygone times and lost empires, whilst other parts could give anywhere in the Western world a run for their money. Delhi is a great city to introduce groups into India and with good international flight access, it's a fabulous starting point on a tour of the golden triangle.
Day Three - Train to Agra, Taj Mahal, Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel & Rambagh Palace, Jaipur
The next morning was an early start and a transfer to the train station, where we travelled to Agra. Just being at the train station was an experience in itself but once aboard we were served tea and breakfast and sat back to enjoy the countryside whizzing past. On arrival in Agra we were greeted by colourful cycle rickshaws and taken to the entrance of the Taj Mahal.
Strict security is in place to enter the site but with the volume of visitors this is somewhat reassuring. We entered through one of the side gates and as we got closer us, and other visitors around us almost fell into respectful silence as the anticipation mounted, the realisation that we were going to see it IRL was huge. We stepped through a very dark old gateway and there framed in front of us was the Taj Mahal in all of it's glory. It was a moment I shall never forget. We spent time wondering around the gardens and seeing the buildings from different angles. Being up close to it, you really got a sense of the scale and beauty and ingenuity of the architecture. It was incredibly impressive, and very moving.
In the afternoon we were taken out of the heat to the Oberoi Amarvilas hotel. Part of the small Vilas collection comprising the very top-end of the luxury Oberoi chain portfolio, the hotel was modelled on an Indian palace and is just exquisite. With every room offering a view over the Taj Mahal, we can't imagine anything more romantic than staying here. All 102 rooms were opulent and richly textured with teak floors, hand-knotted rugs, marble-inlay furniture and sumptuous silk cushions — a true showcase of Indian craftsmanship. It was the perfect place to catch our breath after the morning's adventures.
After a lunch and showround, we headed off by coach to our next stop for 2 nights, the city of Jaipur.
On arrival at the beautiful Taj Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, we got off the coach at the entrance and were greeted by torch bearers, drummers, trumpeters and painted elephants, a dreamlike experience in the dark! We were escorted in procession along the hotel drive in vintage cars and horse and carriages, all being led by the elephants. Dancers lined the hotel verandas and we were greeted with marigold wreaths and blessings. With such a huge, magical welcome, we burst into tears. Again.
The Telegraph says about the Rambagh Palace "One of India’s most exquisite hotels. Rambagh Palace - the former residence of the Maharajas of Jaipur - isn't one for budget travellers, but it offers an unbeatable combination of history, heritage, flawless service and fine dining." And that's exactly what it was. Our bedroom was so big, and the ceiling so high, the bed looked tiny, even though we could have slept any which way round in it. The sprawling verandas and lush green lawns were the closest we got to old colonial India and the perfect place to sup a G&T. A hotel show round and beautiful dinner in Survana Mahal restaurant rounded off an amazing and emotional day.
Day Four - Amber Fort, Camel Polo, Oberoi Rajvilas, Royal Palace
Our last full day in India saw us seeing some of sights in Jaipur. Also known as the Pink City, it was stunning to drive past the many temples and dusty streets and get a sense for just how ancient many of the buildings were. After a short drive we were met by jeeps and taken up narrow tracks to Amber Fort. The very last part of the ascent was on foot but was worth the climb. The magnificent fort comprises an extensive palace complex, built from pale yellow and pink sandstone, and white marble and the intricate detail in the design and architecture were mind boggling and the views from the top spectacular.
After our visit to the fort, Designer Incentives organised a little surprise, we were taken a few kilometres out of town to Dera Amer, a wonderful camp and forest venue that groups can use. Rescue elephants greeted us on arrival and led us to a field where a camel polo match had been set up for us. What a hoot!
Following Dera Amer, just when we thought the trip couldn't be topped any more, Designer Incentives took us to the Oberoi Rajvilas Hotel for a showround and lunch. And we fell in love. Everything about this resort, from the tented rooms to the private villas with pools, from the style and decor to the incense burning in every corner and the water fountains filled with marigold and bougainvillea petals, from the discreet service to the (very gorgeous) General Manager, Abishek Sharma, filled us with joy. As hotels go, this is right up there, in our Top 5. We didn't ever want to leave!
That evening was our final night in India and Designer Incentives pulled out all the stops. We had been measured up the evening before for saris and by the time we returned to the hotel, the saris and all accompanying jewellery were waiting in our rooms. The group all got dressed up and we felt a million dollars! We were taken to the Royal Palace in Jaipur where we were greeted by beautifully painted elephants, drummers and torch bearers and had a private drinks reception with the Prince of Rajasthan. What a special occasion! After drinks we were taken through to the family's private apartment for dinner. An amazing final night, one that we'll never forget.
To travel to India is a privilege. The colours, sounds, sights and smells are all such a feast on the senses, not to mention the wonderful people and amazing food! Designer Incentives ensured every detail of our India trip was taken care of and the level of hotel products we experienced and service standards there-in were superb.
Our India FAM was a trip of a life time and we can't wait to go back!
Our thanks to Designer Incentives for many of the photos in this blog post.