To say I was surprised when I received the invite from Suryagarh to visit them in July 2016 is an understatement. The reason? I had already visited them in 2013 as part of a group of bloggers and was puzzled as to why I was being invited again. My first reaction was that the invite had been sent to me by mistake, and I re-read the mail just to confirm!
The invite brought back memories of a visit of many firsts for me. Suryagarh was my first invite as a travel blogger; it was also my first stay at a luxury hotel — a memorable, if somewhat overwhelming, stay. Like many firsts, the Suryagarh experience also set a benchmark for many things — the attention to detail, the hospitality, the warmth, the music, the celebration of all things local, and the food.
Curiosity soon replaced the surprise over the invite. A curiosity about whether Suryagarh had changed in the three years since I’d been there or if it was still the same. Added to this curiosity was the tempting itinerary sent with the mail that included a visit to the temples of Kiradu near Barmer, about 160 km away. This ‘deadly’ combination of curiosity and temptation was enough to make me accept the very gracious invite.
And on the 20th of July, after a flight from Mumbai to Jodhpur and a road journey from there to Jaisalmer, I reached Suryagarh where familiar faces and a traditional welcome by the Manganiyar singers and dancers awaited me. The chandan ka tikka and the fresh, chilled watermelon juice followed. The Suryagarh experience began. Again. 🙂
Nothing seems to have changed, I thought to myself happily. I was both right and wrong about this as I was to find out during the course of my stay at Suryagarh.
While my stay at Suryagarh led to a strong sense of déjà vu, there was also sense of novelty, of newness at the same time. Every aspect of my stay had something familiar and something new — my room, the music at Suryagarh, the food, the staff, etc.
My room, or rather suite, was different from the one I had occupied the last time around and even more beautiful. The touch of the familiar was the personalised welcome letter and some delicious barfis made by the in-house halwai. As with almost all rooms at Suryagarh, this one too had a great view looking out into the desert and rows of windmills in the distance. [Please click on any of the pictures to see an expanded view]
The music that I heard and participated in while at Suryagarh in 2013 are integral to my memories of that place. One can even say it was the highlight of my trip then. The Manganiyar group was still there, but Sikandar and Salim Khan had left and in their place was Sumar Khan, master algoza and morsing player.
If music was the highlight of my 2013 trip, much to my surprise, it was the food this time around. While I had got completely overwhelmed with the variety served in 2013, this time I was prepared.
The Grand Rajasthani Thali? Bring it on. The halwai breakfast? Sure. Bhelpuri for breakfast? Yes, please — one shouldn’t say no to chaat at any time of the day. A snack break while on the desert exploration trail? Sure.
What truly made the food such a memorable experience this time around was the StayWell programme introduced at Suryagarh under the guidance of Sangeeta Khanna, nutrition consultant and trainer, food writer and blogger, nature lover, gardener, etc. Though I had been following Sangeeta’s writings and blogs for a long time, this was the first time I met her and got the chance to interact with her. I didn’t tell Sangeeta this, but it was a bit of a fangirl moment for me. 🙂
For the StayWell programme, Sangeeta helped the Suryagarh team design and introduce a healthy menu, which included millets and other local grains, food from the Marwari kitchens of Benares, stress on seasonal produce, sweets using jaggery, etc. This new healthy menu didn’t replace the existing one; it came on as a healthier substitute.
For example, one could get regular as well as ragi waffles, regular as well as ragi dosas, regular burger buns as well as buns made from ragi, etc. Would you believe that I had a bao or a steamed bun made from ragi? It was delicious.
My favourite dish, among all that I ate, was the bajra and til puris (right) served with a potato and brinjal sabzi. The best.
Sharing pictures of a small selection of the food I absolutely loved. [Please click on the first picture and then follow the arrows to see them all in a slide show format]
It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces among the staff from my previous visit; it was even more of a pleasure to have them remember me. Sunil, whose job I think is to stuff guests with food till they have to be carried to their rooms, was there this time around too. I thought I was prepared to counter his gentle persuasions, but he still managed to make me overeat. Sunil also very thoughtfully got a kaadha for the headache I had arrived with on my first day and also sent some to my room as a nightcap. Sunil was the one who packed the most delicious puris and mirchi ka kutt for breakfast to eat on the way to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer.
Then there was Mahesh, the Spa Manager, who told me that this time around I shouldn’t create a fuss about not visiting spas like I had done on my previous visit. That didn’t stop me for refusing to go to the spa, but after breakfast on the second day, Mahesh showed up and I went meekly for a face massage session. At the end of the massage session, he said, rather smugly, “That was good and relaxing, wasn’t it?” I had to truthfully say, yes !
And Nakul Hada, the GM of Suryagarh, who took us around and shared local knowledge and his passion for Jaisalmer and the region. It was infectious, I tell you.
This trip to Suryagarh made me think and reflect about sustainability, showcasing the local, the environment, community relations, the philosophy of luxury, etc. They appear to be disconnected topics, but at Suryagarh they blend very well to create what the hotel stands for. Let me give you some examples:
- During a discussion on tourism in the region, one of the bloggers from my group asked Nakul as to why desert safaris were not being considered by Suryagarh. And Nakul’s reply? It is harmful to the environment as these vehicles cause the dunes to shift and change character. We cannot be responsible for that.
- A little known fact about Suryagarh is that it tries to take care of abandoned animals. A couple of years back, a local villager brought his blind foal to Suryagarh saying that he couldn’t take care of him. The kind people of Suryagarh got a vet in and treated the foal and restored its eyesight. The foal is now a gorgeous, frisky horse.
- I can’t think of any hotel which has local folk musicians on its payroll. For me, any organisation that patronises artists and their art is a great one and has my respect. Enough said.
Suryagarh also made me think about luxury and what it means. Sure, it means different things for different people, but the words of luxury brand specialist, Yaffa Assouline are quite apt here.
Luxury… is about sharing the art of living well… [Sharing]… quality, authenticity and craftsmanship… is integral to the philosophy of luxury.
For me, Suryagarh is the perfect example of the above statement. 🙂
Disclaimer: I was invited by Suryagah to visit and stay with them. This post is an outcome of my experience there. Needless to stay, the views and words are all mine. Thank you Suryagarh, and especially Karan Singh, Siddharth Yadav and Nakul Hada for inviting and for hosting me.