The one hundred kilometre or so drive from Udaipur to Ranakpur is so beautiful, I am gripped by an uncontrollable desire to not arrive at my destination (only matched by the drive from Ranakpur to Kumbhalgarh, which I took on my way back and before which I was gripped by an uncontrollable desire to never leave). The road runs straight as an arrow, through a vast, flat but not featureless valley formed by lowering mountains, until the final stretch, when we slip into a long and winding country road and rush past sleepy villages and deeply forested ravines.
It is late evening, and pretty cool, by the time we pull up at the Mana hotel, Ranakpur. A strange looking edifice is glowing quietly in the dark. Are we still in Rajasthan or is this a remote part of the galaxy I’ve inadvertently hitchhiked to? If you’ve had an overdose of grand Rajasthani architecture and attendant opulent interiors, Mana will come as a pleasing shock to the system. As the glass doors close behind me, I find myself in an über-modern lobby that is pure function. I’m checked in swiftly, then promptly ushered to my ground floor villa accommodation, which is behind the main building. The villa’s walls are partly stone and partly glass, all held together by a simple metal frame. It’s too late for any further investigation — all that must wait till morning. I’ve always held that the test of a strange bed is how well you sleep in it and I proceed to put this thesis to the test.
The bed must have passed, because when I awake the sun is high in the sky and there’s sunlight spilling through the skylight. What the night softened, daylight reveals in hard edges — Mana looks even more starkly out of place. In fact a quick comparison is easily made. Right next door and visible from my villa’s sit-out is the stately pile of Fateh Bagh, an HRH property. A palace that was rescued from a ruined state near Jodhpur, Fateh Bagh was transported to Ranakpur and rebuilt, stone by stone, on the site. It’s a remarkable feat of restoration, and its distinctive Rajasthani turrets and cupolas shimmer in the breeze.
Mana, which was designed and created by the firm Architecture Discipline, could be from another planet. My villa boasts wood-panelled walls and furniture in clean lines. Many modern classics are featured, like the Noguchi-style coffee table. There’s an industrial mesh on the sloping ceiling that cuts out the sun’s glare but also teases natural light in. Even the flooring is muted. The idea is to calm, not stimulate or overwhelm, and it all feels rather right.
Ranakpur’s primary draw is its grand old Jain temple, whose soaring marble pillars, intricately carved, have a fearful symmetry. (Don’t miss the jewel-like Sun Temple next door.) Guests come all year and occupancies follow the ebb and tide of the pilgrim calendar. In fact, Ranakpur, midway between Udaipur and Jodhpur, is not even a place really (the closest settlement is a kasba called Sadri). But, as I discovered, it’s well on its way to becoming a great destination. There’s so much to do in this little trodden corner of Rajputana.
One of the nicest things you can do is commune with the rugged beauty of the terrain on horseback, under the watchful eye of Thakur Ajit Singh, who runs a stud farm nearby. If you’re lucky, like I was, you’ll find the desert abloom with wild yellow flowers. If you’re not feeling too adventurous, you can spend a memorable afternoon watching Ajit’s pointy-eared Marwari ponies prance about. The four hundred-year-old seat of the thakurs of Ghanerao, where the saint Meera-bai spent her childhood, is nearby and now a homestay. Mana exclusively offers its guests picnics at Thandi Beri, a stunning viewpoint inside the Kumbhalgarh wildlife sanctuary as well as morning tea at the equally stunning Ranakpur dam. For retail therapy you can visit Camel Charisma, near the hotel’s entrance, and pick up products made out of camel poop (paper), wool (rugs) and milk (soap).
Back at the hotel, you may amuse yourself with a complimentary champi or a pottery class while they rustle up lunch at Vari, the restaurant. There are plans to set up a spa. When I visited, the food was certainly competent but a bit too predictable and boring. I was told though that, based on guest feedback (which they take very seriously — going by the fact that they respond to each and every review on tripadvisor.in), the menu was shortly going to be relaunched to include a lot of local dishes. I’m wondering if they’ll have exquisite local specialities like kaleji ka raita on the menu. I’d certainly like to go back for some.
Where: Ranakpur, Sadri Road, Pali, Rajasthan
Accommodation: 9 mezzanine villas, 22 standard rooms, 7 deluxe rooms, 9 ground villas, 2 suites
Contact: 011-48080000 (for reservations), manahotels.in