A holiday to India can be a daunting prospect for many travellers because it’s so different from life in the UK. So wouldn’t it be great to get help from a Brit who runs a hotel in the country? I spoke to George Bristow, who owns Bristow’s Haveli, a traditional hotel in the old walled city of Jodhpur, about where to start when visiting the sub-continent.
George told me that many people’s first experience is on a coach tour of the popular sites, but he says that won’t necessarily give you a view of the ‘real India.’ “India’s so different for people, so unusual, it can be a bit of a mind-blower,” said George. “Doing a coach tour means you’re in and out of the hotels, and in the bus all day doing the sights. After a while, you’ve done that – you’ve got the t-shirt and you want to do something different. Spending time in India is a different concept.”
George feels that a stay in a calmer part of the country can ease people into their holiday. “A lot of people start by spending a week with us,” George explained. “They can chill out and we tell them all about India – what to do and what not to do. Then we can get them a car and a driver and they can chug off to do a bit of touring.”
Bristow’s Haveli was originally a traditional family home, which George restored and converted into a five-suite guesthouse with a garden. It’s located in the old, historic ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur, which got its name from the colour of the buildings, as George explained to me. “It was a very important southern Silk Road town, famous for spice and opium being taken across the Great Thar Desert. It became very wealthy and the merchants painted their houses blue, hence the ‘Blue City.’ Some says it’s Brahmin, some say it’s for good luck.”
And it’s famous for its fort, which is UNESCO listed. “Mehrangarh Fort is the biggest fort in Asia,”said George. “It’s astounding. It used to be the Maharaja’s Palace.”
George says Jodhpur itself is undergoing something of a renaissance with lots of new festivals to keep people entertained. “It’s become very fashionable. Where the old city was quite abandoned for many years, it’s now having a rebirth. And we have lots of events. There’s the Jodhpur Riff, a big music festival, a Sufi Festival, the Jodhpur Desert Festival. So throughout the year, there’s always something going on.”
And he told me a lot of his guests are artists, writers and musicians who want to spend longer in India and take it at a slower pace. George also runs craft holidays where people can learn some of the traditional techniques used in the area. “This coming year, we’re doing a block printing course, tie-dyeing, a shoemaking workshop and papier mache sculpture.”
But if you just want to get out to capture the stunning scenery, you’ll be able to do that. “If people are interested in art or photography, we take them out to all the unusual places,” said George. “We have a jeep that we can use for touring.”
I asked George what advice he’d give to someone planning their first trip to India. His response was surprising – don’t even try to plan! “There’s no denying that India is chaotic but that’s part of its charm,” laughed George. “The thing to do is just to go with it. You can’t fight the system. The moment you arrive in India it will take you over and whatever you plan isn’t going to happen. Something else will happen equally as interesting. So you just take India day-by-day.”
Find out more about Bristow’s Haveli and the beautiful city of Jodhpur at BristowsIndia.com.