Dinner by lamplight next to a stepwell or below an illuminated fort, a private lake cruise to see Udaipur’s palace and temples at dusk, leopard tracking from a luxurious tented camp, a tour of Jaipur from the seat of a vintage car. These five maharaja-worthy ways to explore Rajasthan offer you a glimmer of its regal past and inject a little decadence into your own itinerary.
Dine like royalty in rural Rajasthan
In the cloistered courtyard of Rawla Narlai, once the hunting lodge of Jodhpur’s royal family, you’ll climb into the back of a bullock cart. It may not initially sounds luxurious, but herein begins a dining experience of maharajas.
Sat on the plump cushions of the oxen-pulled cart, a parade of turbaned men will lead you though the tiny rural village of Narlai, their lanterns lighting the way. Eventually you’ll arrive at the village stepwell, a square well that extends down to the water table in a series of decoratively carved concentric staircases. This feat of Hindu architecture will be illuminated by lines of oil lamps placed on every step, the water reflecting the light above.
You’ll be led to a linen-covered table overlooking the well, where you’ll be served a traditional thali (set meal) which might include tender mohan mass (a fragrant lemon and cardamom curry), coriander-infused rice and fresh chapattis. For dessert you could try mawa kachori, a fruit-filled pastry that, when made for the maharaja, would be covered in silver leaf.
As you dine, you’ll be kept warm by a carefully tended fire and entertained by the melodic voice of the local jogi (a nomadic folk singer). After dinner, your entourage will lead you back to Rawla Narlai for a night in a restored royal suite.
Take an evening sunset cruise on Udaipur’s Lake Pichola
Udaipur’s series of lakes, created by damns built in 1362, set the city aside from its desert-bound Rajasthani neighbours. The City Palace and surrounding temples are perched around the central Lake Pichola and at many restaurants you can enjoy a cocktail on a roof-top terrace with prime lake views.
The best way to view the city is from the water itself, on a private cruise in a canopied boat. You’ll catch the boat from a little jetty near the palace complex and pass the old city ghats where clothes are often washed each morning and laid out to dry in the sun. The boat stops at Jagmandir Island, where you can step off to admire a summer palace used for wedding and parties by Udaipur’s royal family — it’s also provided refuge for a few fleeing maharajas over time.
Take the cruise at sunset to see the city glow a dusky pink as the light reflects off the white marble buildings. As it gets darker the Lake Palace is illuminated in the middle of the lake and the water sparkles with the reflection of the surrounding city lights.
Dine in the shadow of Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
Nothing shows India’s old-meets-new persona as well as Raas. The hotel is built in the northeastern quarter of Jodhpur’s blue walled city, around the remains of an 18th-century haveli (a traditional townhouse). The pink sandstone stable blocks now provide shade around the pool and you can still attend an evening ceremony in a tiny Hindu temple in the gardens.
The hotel’s alfresco restaurant, The Darikhana (meaning chamber of carpets) is built around the haveli’s original guest wing. From here you can dine with uninterrupted views of Mehrangarh Fort towering above. At night the fort is illuminated, its sandstone glowing rose-gold against an inky sky.
Meals are served by candlelight and prepared with spices sourced from a 200-year-old spice shop in the bazaars of Delhi (the chef is unlikely to reveal which one). Try the rich butter chicken, a local speciality, or the delicately spiced dahi kebab, a grilled vegetarian concoction of paneer, nuts and herbs. While the Indian food is excellent, it’s also the best place for a pizza we’ve found in India.
Most rooms are in a contemporary wing built from re-claimed sandstone, but for extra pizazz, stay in a heritage suite, located in one of the Haveli’s original bedrooms. Modern comforts have been installed within the bare stone walls, and arranged around Mughal archways and intricately carved alcoves.
See the sights of Jaipur in a chauffeured vintage car
As dusk descends on Jaipur, your chauffeur will seat you in the back of a vintage car, such as a classic American DeSoto, for an hour-long ride around the city. The route deliberately sweeps you away from the clamour of the old city and shows you modern-day Jaipur’s notable landmarks in the type of vehicle Jaipur’s early 20th-century high society would have enjoyed.
The journey begins its loop at Rambagh Palace, a marble confection of the Maharaja of Jaipur that’s now a five-star hotel. The Rambagh Polo Ground has hosted India’s foremost team, the Rajasthan Polo Club, for 60 years. Your drive now takes you through the green expanse, where most evenings you’ll see players at practice if not competing in a tournament.
The tour continues through a nearby deer park before wending toward Birla Temple, a resplendently white marble structure with a characteristic tapered tower. Commissioned by the moneyed Birla family, it’s one of many grand projects they conceived across India. Stained glass windows in blues, yellows and red contrast against the ethereal pale of the temple walls and tell stories from Hindu scripture. Your ride ends back at Rambagh Palace, before you’re escorted back to your hotel.
Go leopard spotting at Jawai Camp
A few hours by car from Jodhpur or Udaipur, the Jawai Leopard Camp is a remote yet luxurious wilderness retreat comprising nine stylish, spacious tents and a royal suite. But, more than this, Jawai’s setting is the habitat for a healthy population of leopards, and staying here and embarking on games drives, you’re near guaranteed to encounter them.
Jawai’s resident naturalists will lead you on games drives at sunrise and in the dwindling light of day to track the leopards. And, although these big cats take the starring role, a stellar support cast of Indian wildlife lies in store. Birds you might catch through your binoculars include native and migratory species. Then, there are the monkeys, deer, lizards and (possibly, though rare) porcupines.
The leopards share their territory peaceably with local communities and Rabari herdsmen. When you’re not following them through the dry, rocky scrubland by 4×4, you might get beckoned into an impromptu game of street cricket with the village children, or decide to hike to a nearby temple for sunrise or wander through the neighbouring villages.
And, before all this, you can start your day seated by the lake watching its occupant flamingos light up with the rising sun as you drink a freshly
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