Pensioners head to India in search of Real Marigold Hotel experience


Iain Bell said The Real Marigold Hotel inspired his return to northern India

As the BBC’s The Real Marigold Hotel returns to TV screens for a second season, many elderly Britons are following in the footsteps of the programme’s stars and seeking adventure in Jaipur, northwest India.

The three-part series was inspired by the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – itself an adaptation of a Deborah Moggach novel – which follows a group of elderly Britons living out their retirement in Jaipur.

Shown on BBC2 last January, the first series saw eight elderly celebrities, including TV presenter Jan Leeming and darts champion Bobby George, on a similar journey in northern India, allowing them to discover for themselves the realities of retiring abroad.

The cast of The Real Marigold Hotel, series one.

During the filming of the programme, the cast stayed at the Khatu Haveli in Jaipur’s Pink City. The hotel’s proprietor, Amar Singh, told Eastern Eye that he’s seen a substantial influx of guests – particularly older Britons – since the Khatu Haveli was featured on the show, though he said he was yet to receive any enquires from people wanting to retire at the hotel.

“They’ll stay for a few weeks and relax and do the things the BBC cast did,” he said in a telephone interview. “Even before the show aired, most of our guests were from Europe and the majority were from the UK. That majority is much larger now after the show.”

Since the programme began airing in Australia, Singh added he has also seen a respectable increase in guests from that country as well.

Iain Bell, a retiree from Surrey, said that he and his partner were inspired to revisit Rajasthan after watching The Real Marigold Hotel.

“We thought we would like to come back to the north and it seemed like a lovely opportunity to visit the area and see the Khatu Haveli at the same time,” he said. “It brought back memories from when we were here before. We wanted to relive those because we used to come to India regularly and I thought it was time we came back.”

Bell, 63, added that he also included some of the sites from the show into his two-week itinerary, including the Amber Fort and some of the markets that were featured, as well as a visit to the same astrologer that Jan Leeming went to see.

He added that although he would be happy to spend the rest of his retirement in India, “issues regarding property ownership” presented a major sticking point.

Dinesh Patnaik, deputy high commissioner at the High Commission of India in London, said the past 12 months had seen a significant increase in the number of enquiries from older Britons considering retirement in India, though he could not provide any official figures.

Travel agencies in Britain have caught on as well, with companies including Audrey, Wild Frontiers and On the Go Tours offering itineraries based on the programme or the film.

“A lot of travel agents are coming to us, saying: ‘We have an interest, how do we get a visa for long-term stay?’” Patnaik said. “There are some enterprising people here who are realising the potential of getting people together and saying we will do the trip for you.”