Thursday, 1 March 2012

Indian Odyssey with John Brookes I

On a freezing day in early February (just one day after most flights were cancelled from London Heathrow because of snow), I left for India with well-known British garden designer, John Brookes (above), in search of plants in Rajasthan. We travelled for 10 days together. We visited palaces and watched poojas; saw gardens and gurus; climbed temples and tourist spots; but the primary purpose of our voyage was to see what grows in Rajasthan. 
Soft landing at Tikli, where Martin and Annie Howard have created a beautiful garden
John is no newcomer to the world of Mughal gardens and lived for many years in Iran, so one of the aims of our trip was to visit many of the little-known gardens of Rajasthan, to see how modern India has adapted to the world of gardening; what plants are growing and whether the gardens feature in tourist itineraries today. John will be recording his views on his own blog, and I shall also cover our travels here, but there is one aspect of our trip that will stay with us forever .... the huge number of steps we had to climb at every destination! 
I doubt that either of us can count the number we climbed on our 10-day tour, but there were thousands. And to enjoy the true spectacle of Rajasthan, you have to scale stairs of all types to  enjoy the views and appreciate the vastness and majesty of this land. There were days when we felt we could climb no more, but we did! John was positively heroic and never once complained! But  one aspect of the trip that surprised us both were the low temperatures we encountered on arrival. Gone were the balmy days you'd expect in India in February, and we spent the first week of the journey huddled up in sweaters and blankets, surveying frost damage.
The most photographed hotel in India? Taj Lake Palace at the heart of Lake Pichola in Udaipur
Experienced Indian travellers will know only too well how hard it is to find a flight that gives you a soft landing! Most arrive in the middle of the night and tip you out at Delhi feeling like a stunned mullet in the early hours of the morning, as did ours. But we travelled straight to Tikli, near Gurgaon and spent the next day relaxing with Martin and Annie Howard in their lovely home and John and Martin spent several hours in the garden together. And, once rested, we flew on to Udaipur to start work. This glorious lakeside city, which has featured so often here on my blog, is enjoying a good season following last year's monsoon and our ruffled flight feathers were soon smoothed by serene views of Lake Pichola from our hotel.
Views over the surrounding countryside from Udaipur's Monsoon Palace
No visit to Udaipur is complete without a visit to the Monsoon Palace outside the city, where you can appreciate the true scale of this lakeside city from above, but most spectacular is the sunset, and although we shivered our way through it, warmer weather was on the way, and we wouldn't have missed the spectacle of the sun disappearing from sight. We spent two days in Udaipur and visited all the major sights, including City Palace and its gardens,  as well as Saheliyon ki Bari, which I've reviewed previously.
John watching the sunset in Udaipur

Fortunately, the weather began to warm up a little after our first couple of days in Udaipur and we were able to exchange sweaters for seersucker and stride out into the sunshine to enjoy the sights. In the next part of our journey, we move onto more palaces and gardens of Rajasthan.
Saheliyon ki Bari, Udaipur


  1. Superb entry to the series with your insight and stunning views! Looking forward to your updates about your trip to this wonderful country.

  2. What a wonderful time you both must have had. Thank you for the glimpses into these beautiful gardens.


  3. Glad you are back but what a wonderful time you had with John! Can't wait to hear all about it. Lovely photo's Charlotte and I expect you have many many more. The Taj Lake looks mystical. Ronnie x :-) (have great problems commenting on Blogger via Wordpress hence having to use my Google Account)

  4. So surprising about the cool temps at the start of your trip. Sounds like you had plenty of exercise! Definitely looking forward to this continued coverage!

  5. I love reliving our own trip to Rajasthan through your pictures and commentary. Looking forward to part 2!

  6. C 'est avec les livres de John Brookes ainsi que qu'avec la visite de son jardin il y a presque 30ans que j'ai commencé mon jardin et je m'étonnais encore l'autre jour que l'on ne parle plus de lui dans le monde du jardinage en France en tout cas.
    Merci pour les beaux reportages!

  7. Thanks for the tour. Lovely! David/:0)

  8. That sounds like a truly fantastic trip! I am looking forward to read about what you found growing elsewhere in Rajasthan.