The beautifully tended 47-acre grounds of the Rambagh Palace afford a perfect, peaceful antidote to the hullabaloo of modern Jaipur. Peacocks, golden orioles, and blossom-headed parakeets preen on the lawns, and iridescent golden lilies and magenta bougainvillea spill over the parterres.
The Rambagh Palace was built in 1925 as a sprawling country retreat for Jaipur's royal family. It became a hotel in 1957 but retains the air of a romantically regal residence. The elegant Rajasthani decor, newly refurbished, includes opulent brocades and antique carved furniture. The raj-y mood suits the loyal clientele.
After a day exploring the rich tapestry of Jaipur's history, guests gather in the thirties-style Polo Bar surrounded by nostalgic photographs of the handsome Maharaja of Jaipur on the polo field. Guests of the hotel may encounter the legendary Gayatri Devi, formerly Maharani of Jaipur, as she strolls in the garden. She lives adjacent to the hotel, and recounts engaging tales of her former summer retreat and its famous visitors.
Best accommodations include the ten Kamal Mahal Suites and the Prince's Suite, which each have a private porte-cochere entrance. The Maharani Suite's Art Deco-style marble bathroom is the essence of luxury. There is a fabled boutique in the shopping colonnade, which makes pre- or post-dinner jewelry buying so tempting. $205-$775. Bhawani Singh Road, Jaipur 302005, India; 800-448-8355, 91-141-381919.
Over 600 miles away, in Kerala, the smooth waters of Vembanad Lake turn silvery at dawn. The only sound is the light slap of waves against the hull of the Kettuvallam at Taj Garden Retreat moored on the palm-fringed shore. This expertly managed, handcrafted houseboat is the most effective way to escape the world. A dramatic 74 feet long and 10 feet wide, the two-bedroom, air-conditioned craft is fashioned in the style of traditional rice boats that once plied the lake. The curved teak hull has a Gehry-esque superstructure of bamboo and woven palm. There's a parlor, five open sitting decks, an upper viewing deck, and a kitchen. $135-$200, including meals. Kumarakom, Kottayam, Kerala 686563, India; 800-448-8355, 91-481-524377.