It has been a long, but relaxing, drive from Jodhpur and we have just crossed Jaisalmer city. Suryagarh, my destination, is still a few kilometres away when the cab I am travelling in stops suddenly.
As I look around for the reason for the sudden halt, Partap Singh, the cab driver, announces grandly, “And here, madam, is your escort service,” indicating two turbaned men approaching our vehicle.
“My what?” I ask with some trepidation.
“Your escorts from Suryagarh. They will be leading the way to the hotel in an advance vehicle.”
The men approach my window and bow low with folded hands and say a warm Khamma Ghani, the traditional greeting in Rajasthan. I roll down the window and squeak out a Ghani Khamma in return with a answering smile and hope that my embarrassment at their unexpected “escort service” does not show too much.
The men, with their flaming saffron turbans, get into an open jeep and lead the way and within minutes the fort-like Suryagarh is visible in the distance. Rising imposingly from the flat desert landscape, it looks like the very desert has sprouted the hotel.
I almost expect my escorts to toot a horn or a blow a trumpet announcing my arrival, but thankfully they do nothing of that sort ! At Suryagarh, I am welcomed with more warm smiles, musicians singing Padharo mharo desh, a shower of rose petals, chandan ka tikka, watermelon juice… and am shown to my room in a matter of minutes.
The Suryagarh experience has begun… 🙂
Suryagarh is a boutique, luxury hotel located about 13 km from Jaisalmer on the Sam road. I was part of a larger group of 9 travel bloggers from India who had been invited by the hotel to experience the magic of monsoons in the region.
At first glance, one might be forgiven for thinking that Suryagarh is a restored fort or a heritage palace. (When I had visited Kuldhara earlier this year, I had seen the hotel in the distance and had mistaken it for a fort till my car driver corrected me !) But the fact is that Suryagarh is a new construction and was completed in 2010. Spread out over many acres, one might think that there are many rooms in Suryagarh, but actually there are just 64 rooms and suites. Built almost entirely of the local golden-yellow Jaisalmer stone, the architectural style is local as well with jharokhas, latticed windows and screens, and courtyards holding sway. In fact, Suryagarh is all about the local as it celebrates and showcases the region it is based in. For example:
This external stepped courtyard had me imagining a music concert in open air and under starlit skies …
Or this impressive central courtyard of Suryagarh…
Or this smaller courtyard, tucked away in one corner of the first floor, heady with the fragrance of roses…
Or at Rait, where I had my first spa experience ever with a deep tissue massage that left me relaxed, stress-free and back pain-free for a while…
Or these pen and ink sketches in their colourful frames lining a corridor in the hotel…
Or the colours in my room. Sorry, did I say “room”? I meant my luxury suite. 😀
I am going to borrow parlance from interior design magazines to describe my suite. The colour palette of brown, beige and gold is inspired from the colours of the desert outside. The brown on the walls, the curtains and the pillow covers should have made the room look dull, but somehow it all works beautifully and the overall effect is one of “restrained elegance and opulence”. Just as the colourful attire of local women lends colour to the external environment, colorful cushions in the room provide the bright “pops of colour”.
Or the interiors of the bar, Draksh, which has the extended moustache of a Rajasthani man as the backdrop behind the counter and beautiful artwork on its other walls…
Celebrating and showcasing the local is also reflected in the food served at Suryagarh. While food is integral to hospitality anywhere, at Suryagarh it is taken to another level altogether.
The variety of food served at every meal and also in between mealtimes resulted in me feeling like a beached whale! I stopped counting after the 30th dish, and it is safe to assume that over 150 different varieties must have been served in the 2 days that I was there. One of the more memorable meals was the halwai breakfast where traditional Indian sweets like laddoo, chamcham, and gulab jamun and savoury items like samosa, kachori, puri bhaji, chana chaat, parantha and mirchi wada were served. When I travel, the waistband of my jeans always loosen within a day or two; this is the first trip that they actually felt tight.
Local delicacies like ker sangri, daal baati and ghotua ladoos were also served during one of the meals. I was delighted to know that all food, including the sweets and desserts, were prepared at the hotel itself and during winters the hotel manages to grow its own vegetables. I am allergic to artificial food colouring and when I travel this can be quite worrisome. Happily, in Suryagarh, I didn’t even have to ask or request — except for some Indian sweets, none of the other dishes had any colour added to them.
But nowhere is the local culture showcased more at Suryagarh than in the music, live music, on offer for guests. Musicians from the Langa and Manganiar communities of folk musicians from Rajasthan are on the hotel’s rolls and during my stay there I heard such amazing music that it merits a separate post altogether. The photograph below shows Sikandar, a Langa musician, playing the algoza during breakfast from a jharokha on the first floor and looking into the central courtyard.
And what of the monsoon magic that I had come to experience at Suryagarh? Did I experience more than one drizzle?
Yes, I experienced the magic of monsoons though I missed seeing the rain come down or actually getting wet in the rains: it rained only when I was in my room or was having a meal. I would know that it had rained only when I looked out of the window or came out to see rain drenched courtyards.
For instance, it was sunny when I arrived at Suryagarh and I was astonished at how quickly the rain clouds had gathered by the time I came up to my suite and looked out of the window (see photo on the right). And in the 15 minutes that it took me to freshen up, I missed a rainy spell.
And again, on my second evening at Suryagarh, in the 30 minutes it took me to go to my room and freshen up, it rained and I missed it.
While at Suryagarh, I didn’t spend all my time within the hotel premises. An exciting itinerary had been planned for our group, which included visits to sand dunes, a chudail trail (unfortunately, I had to miss this as I hurt my knee), a temple trail, visit to a reconstructed fort, and much more. All this and more will be covered in the forthcoming posts.
My stay at Suryagarh has spoilt me a bit. Okay, spoilt me quite a bit. Not so much the luxury element (which admittedly got a little overwhelming after a point), but the element of showcasing and celebrating local culture. For me, travel is just not about visiting a place and ticking sights of a list and tweeting ‘been there, done that”. It is about experiencing the local culture or at least trying to in the limited time that one generally gets to spend in any place. As I mentioned in a previous post, this was my second time in Jaisalmer. This time around I saw a side of the region that I did not even know about, tasted the local cuisine and not paneer makhanwala… And as for the music, no words can convey how blessed I feel to have heard what I did. And this was because of Suryagarh.
Thank you, Suryagarh, for proudly showcasing your beautiful city, region and local culture and also for sharing it with us 🙂
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Read my other posts from the Suryagarh series:
- Jaisalmer… once more
- Something new, something old: Jaisalmer revisited
- The incredible music of Salim Khan and Sikander Langha