The Suryagarh experience

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.

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

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, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon MagicSuryagarh 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 …

Suryagarh 3Or this impressive central courtyard of Suryagarh…

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

Or this smaller courtyard, tucked away in one corner of the first floor, heady with the fragrance of roses…

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

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…

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon MagicOr these pen and ink sketches in their colourful frames lining a corridor in the hotel…

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon MagicSuryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon MagicOr 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…

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

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.

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon MagicAnd 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.

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

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.

Suryagarh, Rajasthan, Luxury Hotel, Boutique Hotel, Monsoon Magic

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:

53 thoughts on “The Suryagarh experience

  1. Lovely post, Sudha! Suryagarh sounds like such a wonderful place to be in! 🙂 Lucky you!

    Would love to hear the music, if possible. Do upload it if you can. The picture of the musician playing from the jharokha, amidst all those blue and green windows is stunning. Absolutely stunning!

    You had 150 varieties of food served to you?! Wow!

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    1. Thank you, TGND. Suryagarh is a lovely place and their hospitality has spoiled me 🙂 The music post should be up this Sunday or sometime early next week and I can promise you that it will be great.

      The food was great too, but while I like food, after a while it got more than a little overwhelming.

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    1. Meera, the next time you are in India during this season, head to Jaisalmer. You will see a different side altogether as it is off season and there are hardly any tourists. The place looks different. And if you can afford it, stay at Suryagarh — they really took us around as you will read in the post to come.

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  2. You have captured the changing skies beautifully. The pictures say much more to the reader – about the ambience, the architecture, the lighting, the luxury of Suryagarh, and the local culture that she exudes. I can just about smell the first rains, the roses and the sandalwood, not to mention the aromas of the food…….

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    1. Suryagarh is a lovely place, Sabyasachi. Yes, they treat their guests like royalty. But for me that is a given considering that it is a luxury hotel. What really impressed me is the way they have incorporated “the local” into every aspect of their interaction with their guests.

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  3. The opening post is making me hanker for the remaining ones. So please post them soon! Looks like the desert monsoon and you played hide and seek. Never mind. The photographs of the overcast skies quite make up for it. I would have loved to go on the chudail trail with you as I am sure you would have made it more interesting than it actually might me 🙂

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    1. Alarmelvalli, the rains and i may have played hide and seek, but I experienced the magic of monsoons in full. As I discovered, thanks to Suryagarh, the monsoons is not only about rains. My forthcoming posts will be all about that. There will definitely be one post by the end of the week and hopefully I can manage the second one as well. 🙂

      The chudail trail was through Kuldhara village, a place I visited when I was in Jaisalmer in Februaray and one that I visited in the afternoon. I was unable to go at night this time and for an account of what happened there do visit the blogs of the others in my group.

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  4. Lovely post. IWhile I was reading, I almost felt I was there (except for the food, of course. I mean, where else can you have gulabjam and cham cham for breakfast without people looking askance :)).I hope Suryagarh will continue to do what it is doing- showcase the local culture and way of life with restraint and respect, and not making it a circus.

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    1. You would have done justice to the food. I mean, I can’t think of anyone else who would have enjoyed a halwai breakfast more than you. I would have liked to give a list of all that was served, but as I said, I gave up after the 30th dish or so. 😀

      As I mentioned in a previous post, Suryagarh’s owner is involved in the I love Jaisalmer campaign, which has really cleaned up the city. And now with the campaign moving towards other areas, I don not think showcasing local culture will even not be in Suryagarh’s plans.

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  5. This sounds like a perfect setting for a story which weaves itself in an out of different timezones. Suryagarh sounds (and looks) like a dream. I was transported to another world, literally. Look forward to more..

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    1. Time and space have a different meaning in Suryagarh, and yes it could be the setting for a great story. The question is, who is going to write it. And don’t turn around and say “You” 😛

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  6. The post brought back some very fond memories for me. I got married in Jodhpur. Before people get ideas it was a destination wedding, it wasnt. My husband belongs to Jodhpur. And I had a gala time. We were made to stay is sardar club which is a fort converted into hotel. Also the sights which met us while moving across the city made me feel like some royal highness herself.

    Funny fact! As a part of feel good factor my parents got a mercedes and a driver cum right hand man for the bride (me!). And you know every time he twitched his moustache or bowed his head and said “Khamba gani” I went all “wow”. I even said to my father and husband that if they would get me a driver like this back home, I would tip him 100 bucks each day 😀 (my husband offered to be that driver instantly :P)

    And reading about Suryagarh and all the lovely visuals is making me plan a similar trip. In fact next time I go that side, this one is my sure shot destination 🙂

    Richa

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    1. A warm welcome to my blog, Richa. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting here.

      Your wedding sounds like a dream and from the description I can imagine how pampered you must have felt and like a member of royalty too. 🙂

      Suryagarh will not disappoint, Richa. The luxury factor apart, it is the few hotels I have been to and stayed where celebrating is part of their ethos. That, more than anything else, is what will make me go back to Suryagarh. And when you visit Suryagarh, do share your experiences with me. 🙂

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      1. Yeah I felt like one and also I experienced the warmth of rajasthani people. I do believe they are some of the most family/friend oriented people to come across in our country or perhaps world wide. Yes I will go to Suryagarh and of course share my experience with you 🙂

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  7. Hi

    Reading your experience, we actually could visualize the luxury in desert.

    We are also a travel and photography website and we have shared your experience on our international website and Indian website as well.

    Please visit http://www.theholidaze.com – Blog link – http://bit.ly/18apfSQ and http://www.photokatha.in – Blog link – http://bit.ly/16DxvMu

    We would request you to share your words on both the writeups as well.

    We can also share with you the photokatha badges incase you would like to showcase on your blog. Pleas send an email to contact@photokatha.in

    We also would like to share your profile as we have many requests for blogging,photography, reviews and social media.

    Thanking you.

    Team Photokatha

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    1. Hi Ankita,
      A very warm welcome to “My Favourite Things” and thank you so much for your kind words.

      Suryagarh is a very different place and I think I have been spoilt by them. 🙂 I’m sure you’ll get to experience Suryagarh sooner, rather than later. Good luck.

      Hope to see you here on the blog again. 🙂

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  8. Hi Sudha, just read your experience at Suryagarh. Sounds amazing! We are staying at Suryagarh for a friend’s daughters wedding in Jan. The event is spread over 3 days with different pre wedding ceremonies held in different parts of the hotel. We are a large group of good friends attending the wedding. I am very much looking forward to the experience. We are also visiting, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaipur after wards.

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    1. A very warm welcome to “My Favourite Things, Indira. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Suryagarh is a fabulous place and I’m sure you are going to have a great time there. Do give my regards to the staff there, especially Karan, Nakul and Siddharth.

      If you have the time, see if you can make the drive to the ruins of the Khaba Fort. The view from there is spectacular and the feel of history and a lost era is very palpable.

      January is a lovely time to be visiting Rajasthan. It will be cold, but I’m sure you will have loads of fun. 🙂

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