An enthralling conversation with Sowmya Rao Vijaymohan that makes us fall in love with India as a travel destination

Long before experiential travel became a mainstream expectation and slow travel was even heard of, RARE India was already designing unforgettable experiences that combined both the tenets. For the last 15 years, they have connected travellers to the most spectacular boutique hotels, jungle lodges, homestays and palaces in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Each of their properties is a rare gem that makes you connect magically with the destination.

Shoba Mohan (L); Sowmya Rao (R)

In our chat with Sowmya Rao Vijaymohan, partner at RARE India, we find out about a few of these, among other interesting facts on destinations, cultures, cuisines and how slow travel is an intrinsic quality of a RARE journey.

Every property is handpicked by Shoba and Sowmya | And this is just what makes any RARE property  so extraordinary – besides choosing with meticulous thought and effort, they also personally audit each one of their 70 properties every 18-24 months to make sure it continues to meet the RARE standards. What finally seeps through their checks into the RARE repository is a space that’s unsurpassed in terms of aesthetics, style, hospitality, and in-house activities.

The most fashionable properties in India | One couldn’t find a better person than a curator of terrific travel experiences from all over the country to answer that. And she gives us three names here – Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner, Svatma in Thanjavur and the Malabar House circuit in Kerala, with profuse praises for each – Narendra Bhawan for instance, “is a stunning property done up in the Art Deco style in the home of the last king of Bikaner – you can tell it’s tracing a man’s life” – and Malabar House “is known for its unmatchable zero-mile radius cuisine, besides the aesthetics of the space”.

On the whole, she describes RARE India properties to invariably have an element of style in them – “A stylish property never falls out of trend – the definition of luxury may change with time – what’s considered luxurious today may not be so in a few years – but style is timeless”

Must-visit destinations in India | As a travel connoisseur, Sowmya tells us about some extremely attractive destinations in the country that one doesn’t hear of in mainstream itineraries. The first one she chooses is Thanjavur – a city resplendent with ancient temples, spellbinding music, and dance and a unique style of South Indian cooking you won’t find elsewhere.

And if along with culture you seek a little romance, her suggestion is Boondi Kota for the enchanting Boondi Fort. Besides the fort, the city is known for its original style of artwork, textile, and food.

Talking of destinations, here are a couple of rather unconventional recommendations that will dramatically enhance your experience: When you plan your next mountain vacation, let it be at the  Snow Leopard Lodge in the winter months – even if you’re going to the notoriously cold desert mountains of Ladakh, take the journey in August-September for meditative tranquility, breathtaking views and the sight of the rare snow leopard. Likewise, fauna enthusiasts must visit Central India in peak summer – April to June – for terrific animal sightings.

To wind up our rendezvous, we ask Sowmya to define slow travel for us | “Slow movement & travel is a mindset, it’s a cultural initiative that has and should burgeoned into a way of life. In travel it is about giving yourself time to comprehend and relish what you are doing - giving yourself the time to learn and even unlearn a few things, it emphasizes connection to local people and culture”.

The interview made us envision how fascinating India can be for a traveller, particularly one with a cultural bent. All you need is an expert like RARE India who really knows where to take you and how to make you see the place from a most delightful perspective.

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