The chilled drinking water and the cold face towels offered by the smiling turbaned men at Jodhpur railway station were refreshing, indeed, after the 12-hour train journey from Delhi. Bound for the Suryagarh hotel in Jaisalmer, we still had to cover 249km, and dreaded it. But as our Fortuner sped across the desert, we forgot the rigours of the journey, engrossed in watching peacocks and blackbucks, a stunning rain-drenched landscape and the gaily attired local people. The roads were good and it took us a mere three-and-a-half hours to reach Suryagarh.
The sound of nagada filled our ears as we entered the hotel premises. The hotel was a stately structure made of yellow sandstone, its entrance dominated by two large cannons. Suryagarh Jaisalmer exuded all the charms of a typical Rajasthani palace – intricate jali-work and carved floral motifs for decoration; large windows with coloured glass panes; grand courtyards; seemingly antique furniture; and halls dotted with period pieces, including traditional weapons and paintings. Then to learn that it was never a palace but was built just five years ago as a hotel was a surprise, indeed.
My suite, the Grand Heritage, contained a queen bed and a separate study-sitting area. It overlooked a courtyard, beyond which stretched the vast Thar desert that continued into Pakistan.
The chirping birds and a husky voice singing in the distance woke me up next morning. I followed the melody to the main courtyard to discover a veiled woman, in a pink ghagra (a traditional long skirt), crooning a Rajasthani tune. What a wonderful start to the day!
The hotel takes special pride in its breakfast spread and specially designed meals. The ‘Halwai breakfast’ consisted of traditional Rajasthani sweets, chaats, samosas, puri bhaji, mirchi vadas, and different varieties of halwas. Lunch and dinner were equally elaborate affairs. Starters included kebabs, salads and crispies with a variety of dips. The main course included both Continental and Rajasthani dishes. I chose the latter, of course. The Rajasthani thali was delicious. Do not miss the ‘Laal maas’, a typical Rajasthani meat dish. Rabbit and quail meat were on the menu, too.
It was a delight to tuck into my queen bed every night after eating the chef’s special mithai lying on the bedside table, while a quote from W. B. Yeats wished me goodnight on behalf of Suryagarh Jaisalmer.
By the end of my three-day stay, I was sure of one thing – people from Rajasthan take an immense pleasure in feeding their guests. Not only the ambience and the food, but the extremely courteous staff, too, made our stay an excellent experience. Service was always swift and delivered with a respectful smile.
To cleanse your body of the urban toxins, pay a visit to Rait, the spa. The treatments draw inspiration from indigenous healing traditions. This being the desert region, sand is used as a key element for many of the treatments. Rait also claims to be the only spa in the country to offer the IMRS (integrated magnetic resonance stimulation) therapy, in which the magnetic field of one’s body is re-aligned with that of the earth.
The hotel also makes arrangements for local sightseeing. We were not only taken to see Jaisalmer’s popular tourist attractions, but also to some little known places, including villages of different local tribes, an ancient cemetery and an abandoned village. We went on a camel safari. A community dinner was arranged in dining tents set up in the middle of the desert, where a local bard sang traditional songs for us. For a while, it almost felt like we had gone back in time when camel caravans would cross the deserts, stopping by night to pitch their tents under the stars.
Location: Kahala Phata Sam Road, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan 345001 (nearest airport is at Jodhpur, a three-and-a-half hour drive)
Tariff: From Rs 12,000 until September 30; from Rs 16,000 October onwards
Accommodation: The Palace room, the Grand Heritage room, Signature suite, Luxury suite and the Jaisalmer suite
Contact: Tel: +919001995880, +91-02992-269269