Confessions of a travel editor

  • Ritu Agarwal
  • Updated: May 28, 2016 13:41 IST

The setting is surreal. An African sunset, hippos bobbing alongside the boat, and mist on the horizon from the Victoria Falls, the world’s greatest sheet of falling water.

This, for the moment, is my office. Because I am at work.

I’m a travel magazine editor, so sometimes I’m on the road, sometimes I’m in my Delhi office and sometimes I’m in the middle of an African jungle – no two days are the same. People usually assume that my life is exciting and glamorous. They are absolutely correct. Here’s why.


The Royal Livingstone, Zambia

The arrival is dramatic – our water taxis draw up to the pier and wildflower garlands, welcome cocktails and in-suite check-in follow. My villa comes with a personal butler.

Dinner is under a tree glowing with lanterns, close to the lapping river. The sky is an extravaganza of stars. Tea at daybreak is on the huge verandah, with a dazzle of zebras galloping past.

Herds of elephants and hippos are a common sight for guests at The Royal Livingstone Resort in Zambia (Getty Images)

The Royal Livingstone resort sits close to the most spectacular waterfall in the world. A hike takes me to the point where the Zambezi River, more than 2km wide here, plunges down a gorge and raises an iridescent mist that can be seen more than 20km away. My personal guide helps me jump rocks to reach the Devil’s Pool, a natural rock formation at the very edge of Victoria Falls, where the waters cascade over. It is exhilarating to stand at the edge of my world.

I return to the most decadent revitalisation ever: a spa treatment in a private gazebo by the river, with the African sunset setting the sky on fire and turning the water of the Zambezi into lava. At this moment, a herd of elephants decides to cross the river. Magic.


Tundra Lodge, Churchill, Canada

I am on the fringes of the Arctic. It is snowing and a polar bear is eyeballing me through the window of my bunk house. Does anything else in this universe even matter?

The annual movement of polar bears along the western shore of Canada’s Hudson Bay as it freezes over, creates one of the greatest wildlife viewing spectacles on Earth. So there I am one November.

Churchill is frozen and desolate, and after an Aboriginal dog-sledding experience and foodie encounters with the ubiquitous perogy (a cheese and potato dumpling served fried with onions and bacon), we board a massive bus mounted on huge all-terrain tyres for the Tundra Buggy Lodge, a caravan-like lodging parked in the heart of polar bear land.

Polar bears can be seen from inside the Tundra Lodge, a caravan-like lodging in Churchill, Canada

It is freezing. That brings the big guys out. Each sighting of this spectacular animal over the next three days is as thrilling as the first one. Male polar bears, perhaps more than 600kg, sparring and standing 10 feet tall in front of you. A mother and cub sauntering up to your vehicle. The temperature is well below zero. I can’t feel my fingers. But I couldn’t give a damn because the curious mother leaps up on its hind legs and stares me in the eye. The world stands still.


First Class British Airways To Las Vegas For A Weekend

My British Airways flight leaves Delhi at 8.20am and brings me 9,000km to Las Vegas at 6.45pm the same evening, ready for the party.

A short drive from the airport and we are on the Strip – a dazzling psychedelic world of neon lights, massive signage, glittering bill boards, over-the-top buildings – and hangovers, gaming tables and slot machines.

(Getty Images)

At the Vdara Spa next morning, a Jetlag Recovery Massage, Sauna and Shower has me enthused enough for a mid-morning stroll. The fountains of Bellagio are dancing as we enter the famous resort and make our way to a special exhibition space displaying artwork on loan from museums and private collections around the world.

Lunch is at Julian Serrano at Aria. As the sun sets, we take a chopper tour of the Strip. Maverick Helicopters straps us in and it’s a magical 20 minutes as we pass over the New York-New York hotel, Bellagio fountains and the never-fading light of the Luxor pyramid.

Late at night, Hyde, a club at Bellagio, beckons. As golden boats carrying gorgeous showgirls and hunky toy boys move through the room, spraying champagne, we party long and we party hard.


Six Senses Laamu, The Maldives

I am in an over-water hammock. Reading a book, dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean while a powder-white sandbank with a single palm tree stands framed in my view like a painting. A 20-minute speedboat ride from the international airport at Male deposits me on the private tropical island of Laamu. The resort is picture-postcard pretty: bluest of blue skies, soft white sand, palm trees and water villas.

Six Senses Laamu is picture-postcard pretty: bluest of blue skies, soft white sand, palm trees and water villas

I have my very own Man Friday. My shoes were confiscated in the boat itself. Laamu is where the concept of “barefoot luxury” is encouraged. And thank god for that. Sun, sea and sand can be sublimely sexy when you do them barefoot in a lakh-a-day uber luxury resort.

The water villas are crafted from renewable forest timber and natural materials and offer spacious, private roof-top and over-water sundecks. Mine comes with a clear glass table through which I can see a massive jellyfish squiggle in the lagoon underneath as I bite into a snack.

At sunset, Man Friday whisks me away on a speedboat manned by a crew that looks straight out of Baywatch, to a beautiful secluded sandbank for one of the world’s most remote and breathtaking private dining experiences: my very own bank of creamy sand deep in the ocean! It is like floating on a raft in the middle of nowhere.

My hunky crew sets up large comfortable chairs and an iPod with music, serving me champagne and sushi. They melt away as the sky explodes into a myriad of colours that mix with the waters and swirl all around me.


Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, India

I am on a tiny propeller aircraft from Delhi to Udaipur. As we descend, I am feeling sick. But a shiny sleek Jaguar has arrived to pick me up. My mood lifts instantaneously.

Inside the floating Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur (Getty Images/Corbis Documentary)

Our wonderful butler for the next couple of days, Samrat, tucks us into the Jaguar as we set off for the Taj Lake Palace. The fabulous heritage palace made of white marble gleams from the centre of Pichola Lake in the afternoon sun, flanked on one bank by the green Aravalli hills and on the other, by the massive City Palace.

A quick boat ride takes us to this ‘floating’ palace. Samrat leads me through the stunning palace, built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II, to the Chandra Prakash Suite. The space where the ruler held court is now a luxurious bedroom. I am waited on hand and foot as I soak in Jacuzzi size bath tubs, read in a jharokha overlooking the lake and dine in some of the most magical locations: A pontoon floating on the lake; underneath a canopy by a lily pond; and on one of the terraces beneath the stars, where I eat a Rajasthani meal with the lake in front of me reflecting the lights of the City Palace in all its golden glory, and a full moon hanging behind it. Pure sin.

Former editor of a travel glossy, the writer now works freelance and has partnered with a start-up that specialises in storytelling for a community of passionate travellers

From HT Brunch, May 22, 2016

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