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india



Above The Samode Palace’s entrance is as grand as the word palace suggests.

Undiscovered Rajasthan destinations

Motor around Rajasthan at daybreak and the sun comes out over endless cornfields, the Aravali Hills rising up off the horizon above low-hanging ground fog. Huge white egrets sail over the green expanses past eucalyptus, jutting palms and brilliant bouganvilla blossoms. Winding white marble staircases snake up hills to shrines and cenotaphs perched high above the plains. On the highways, trucks filled with orderly rows of new tractors and two-wheelers attest to the booming economy, sharing the road with camel carts, monkeys, herds of goats and omnipresent cows. Sari-clad ladies watch from the fields, splashes of fuchsia, cadmium, crimson and aquamarine. Your car navigates around white-turbaned dhoti-wearing cyclists with mobile phones pressed to their ears. Look closely and the occasional jackal slinks across the road and into the underbrush. Rajasthan has always been legendary, and now it is discovered. But there remain unusual and still-remote destinations where a sense of classical India survives
by Stanley Moss
photographed by the author

 

Back to Part One: Firenze

 


Above Samode Palace’s swimming pool.

 

WHEN YOU SLEEP a night at Samode Palace you dream of history. The 400-year old structure is still much as the rulers might have known it centuries ago: 43 opulent suites facing classical courtyards, maintained in the retro style of the maharajahs. Wide, low couches and soft four-poster beds, and déco-inspired marble baths speak unabashed luxury. Chittering birds dart past your balcony, and jacarandas surrounding the ornate pool below color the landscape with their eerie blue-purple blossoms. Don’t leave anything out on your terrace: the monkeys will get it, and though that’s part of the experience, never engage them: they’re notoriously ruthless.

You reach the palace, only one hour by car from Jaipur, via a twisting road, which takes you through an ancient village nestled in a canyon below an old fort. Proceed through an overgrown banyan gateway and you’ve left modernity behind, immersed in vaulted chambers decorated with vast murals and filigree, hallways covered in thousands of tiny mirrors, endless hand-made details rarely seen in our era. The voice of a live singer echoes through the cavernous courtyards, and you may even catch a traditional puppet show in progress.

Guests on the Rajasthan circuit typically stay an average of two nights; meanwhile, the property caters to weddings, events and conferences. You can avail yourself of traditional fare in the revival style dining room (try the Indian BBQ and a tasty dessert called Malpua), but a more romantic option would be a private dinner overlooking the infinity pool and its traditional dome.

Samode Palace’s compact gift shop down by reception turns out to be a super find. Shopping India can be a stressful experience, but here you’ll discover taseful art objects, camel bone boxes, traditional jewellery and pashminas from Kashmir at competitive prices, a great convenience.

A two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio insures the expected level of service. Subtle details like the Maharajah’s crest on all the restaurant china add to this memorable journey into the elegant past.

Samode Bagh, one of two sister properties, is a family resort with rustic tents and stables set in a massive walled garden, about 20 minutes down the road. And Samode Haveli, an opulent palace in Jaipur from the same management, looks to be another interesting lodging choice.

Samode Palace
Rajasthan
India
www.samode.com

 




Top Shahpura Bagh’s guest-house entry. Above The Infinity pool, opened last year.

 

SHAHPURA BAGH IS your chance to experience first-hand a 30-acre heritage estate, the summer residence of the rulers of Shahpura since 1630. This oasis, surrounded by dry lakes, has abundant wildlife watching, with six spacious luxury suites and four deluxe rooms crafted in a restored déco-style country guest house. (Dry lakes usually fill up abundantly during the monsoons, as they were built as water harvesting sites. Rajasthan has been facing water scarcity for the last few years and hence the sad state of lakes in these parts.)

The airy lodgings feature vintage furnishings, vaulted ceilings, vast tiled baths, and a central corridor opening out to a beautiful new infinity pool, perfect for cutting the heat of the day.

Words like history, family, and generations come to mind. This intimate view of life in a family house helps you gain a sense of the values held dear: stewardship, conservation and sustainability. It’s a hybrid kind of vacation, dining with the family, sipping scotch with the patriarch in the salon before dinner, meeting the matriarch early in the morning in the sunlit breakfast porch. The food served is fresh, rich, hearty, spicy and traditional. All the milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs come from the property’s dairy.

Real sustainable tourism like this affords extraordinary experiences rich in memorable details. You can take an open jeep into the local village, where your host Sat Singh, a National Geographic photographer in his professional life, points out family tombs or shows you a local health clinic, or walks you into the courtyard where a traditional potter is at work making clay water vessels on a wheel in the same manner as his ancestors, or stops on a country road to give some men returning from the fields a ride home. You can visit a deserted fort at dusk, and, from the parapets, watch bats swarm into the night sky from the cistern where thousands live—the sight of a lone fruit bat swooping by, its wingspan as broad as that of a barn owl or a hawk an unforgettable moment. And little reminders like a stack of paper bags made in local cottages from recycled Hindi newspapers add to the mix.

The unexpected and unconventional amenities and snapshots make Shapura Bagh a welcome stopover on your Rajasthan odyssey.

 

Shahpura Bagh
Darbar Ki Kothi
Shahpura
District Bhilwara
Rajasthan 311404
India
Telephone +91 982 812-2012 and 812-2013
www.shahpurabagh.com

 

 



Top View of the dawn over Udaipur. Above Fateh Gahr’s pool, restaurant terrace and Aravali Hills.

 

FOR AN INTERESTING RETREAT at the end of a trip around the golden triangle, Udaipur’s chakra-wise Fateh Gahr is a youthful, fun option for a stopover in the city of the famous Lake Palace.

Open only a year and a half, the newly-constructed hilltop citadel of 51 rooms was built under a special government designation called a ‘heritage renaissance structure’. This means that much of the décor has been repurposed from the ruins of an old palace 150 km away, and shaped into an open, spacious, terraced, wind-blown property. There are exceptional views of Lake Pichola, an especially attractive and convenient location away from the overload of the city.

While the property has convenient elevator access, much of the experience consists of transiting a lot of marble steps connecting broad verandas. Through casual wandering you come upon a succession of old archways, columns and statuary, window and door details. In the lobby you can catch displays of ceremonial family armaments, exotic examples of superior craft.

Eco-savvy, the property takes advantage of solar panels and small windmills for a share of its power needs. It’s a perfect scale for groups of eight to ten.

Highly recommended is room 47, with its corner exposure, terrace and view of the Monsoon Palace on a presiding hilltop. The lower level features terrace suites with private plunge pools. This property offers comfort, convenience, good value in a casual, informal atmosphere, an optimistic harbinger of the new India.

Fateh Garh
Sisarma, Udaipur
Rajasthan
India
Telephone 91 99286 66-009
www.fatehgarh.in

 

 



Top Dusk in Rajasthan, viewed from the rooftop of Ramathra Fort. Above View from the ramparts, showing platform bed at left, water cachement in distance.

 

ECO-TOURISTS AND BIRD-WATCHERS ARE a committed lot, and the resorts who cater to them need to be appropriately committed, well-situated, and offer authentic activities. Ramathra Fort, a six-suite and six-tent renovated fort in rural Rajasthan functions as a tourist hotel close to nature, yet featuring all the modern luxuries.

A five-year renovation and restoration by descendants of the founder has given new life to their seventeenth-century ancestral home, which now hosts guests from all over the world. Ramathra Fort’s suites are furnished in a rustic style, they are spacious, austere and comfortable, made all the more luxurious by private open-air terraces with outdoor bathtub and opulent shower. The fort casts a distinctive silhouette against the Arawali Hills, its perimeter wall crowned with parapets and wide ramparts, a fantasy from the princely past.

This is an ideal stopover for those in transit through Rajasthan, close to Sawai Madhupur and the Ranthambhore tiger zone, situated in the interior, undisturbed by urban intrusions. The government expanded the vast, protected zone in 2009, so that Ramathra Fort now sits at the edge of its new perimeter.

Until recently, tigers roamed the area, as well as bandits. While the dacoits have long disappeared, increasing numbers of wildlife appear each year. Naturalists and birders delight at the 67 species of birds sighted.

In an environment of no pollution and no noise, there’s no such thing as rushed itineraries. An almost-deserted village sits a short walk away, surrounded by irrigated fields. You may well catch a ceremony at a local temple just down the hill. There, festivals and rituals connected to specific deities occur. It’s an opportunity to experience living heritage, where ancient traditions still exist.

Another way the fort retains the character of the original lifestyle is through authentic homestyle cuisine. Everything served is sourced fresh, nothing frozen. Seasonal vegetables come only from local villages, with produce free of chemical fertilizers. The cook, who comes from one such village, does a superior job of presenting the finest rich flavours of the regional cuisine, perhaps the best food tasted in a circuit of properties in Rajasthan.

Ramathra Fort is well suited as a retreat, as the site for a small reunion, art safaris, or simply a getaway to the back country. Minimum stay two nights, tariff all-inclusive except for wilderness drives, and family-friendly. Bear in mind there are no tents March to October, and no wifi until 2011, though your G3 mobile phone works perfectly. Appropriately for the spirit of the place, there are no televisions to be found. The profound silence which envelopes the fort at night guarantees an outstanding sleep in the ultra-comfortable bed.

Ramathra Fort will add two more suites in 2011, keeping the size of the property at a sweet and managable scale for a truly personal stay.

Ramathra Fort
PO Sapotra, District Karauli
Rajasthan
India
+91 9829013475
www.ramathrafort.com


Part Three: Paris

 

Lucires luxury travel special

 

 

CONNECTIONS IN INDIA ARE—to be brutally candid—difficult at best. Even the most seasoned traveller needs the help of a professional planner to get from point-to-point with the minimum of hassle. You might encounter sluggish trains, washed-out roads, or culture shock in the lawless badlands of the Haryana–Uttar Pradesh border, cancelled or overbooked flights, weird way stations with characters out of a Hindu David Lynch movie. Anything can happen, or nothing, but it is better to be insulated from the start.

Lucire highly recommends Travelscope India, who successfully move voyagers, experienced and novice, to the farthest ends of the subcontinent, drawing on their own carefully built network of lodgings and conveyances—private cars to chartered jets, remote properties to luxury beyond imagination. If you go, don’t puzzle it out yourself, please. India’s big cities are booming, but beyond the metropolis you still need to seek the help of insiders. It will make all the difference.

Travelscope India
www.travelscopeindia.com
Mohan Narayanaswamy, Managing Director: mohan@travelscopeindia.com

 

 






From top The passage off Samode Palace’s reception area. Camel bone box in the gift shop. A small hammered metal vessel in the gift shop. The Maharajah’s monogramme on the dishes. The inlay marble pattern on the bathroom floor.

 

 



Top Dusk over Rajasthan, from Shahpura Fort. Above Sat Singh, General Manager and National Geographic photographer.

 

 

Below A rescued doorway at Fateh Gahr. Bottom Classical statuary in the alcove at Fateh Gahr.


 

 




Above, from top Light-filled bedroom in the suite at Ramathra Fort. A restored colonnade. Rajasthani women gather reeds on the lakeshore.

 

 


Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.

Related articles
Lucire 2010 | The Global Fashion Magazine Luxury getaways in India
Stanley Moss ventures to northern India and identifies four of the best resorts in the region, for everything from ecology to the ultimate spa experiences
Lucire 2010 | The Global Fashion Magazine In praise of Devi Garh
Stanley Moss is taken away from the daily grind, transported to the alternative reality that is Devi Garh in Rajasthan
photographed by the author

 

 

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