If crowded Goan beaches dotted with karaoke bars and suspicious stimulants aren’t your thing, the desert offers an alluring yet quiet haven to escape the city bustle this new year. Unique stay settings, combined with the colourful culinary and shopping experiences that Rajasthan has to offer, here are the most luxurious places to stay as the festive season begins:
Lying in the lap of the Thar Desert, Suryagarh lies about 18 kilometres from the airport towards the south of Jaisalmer city. Its simplistic architecture is a quiet change from plush edifices in the city, as is its earthy cuisine – try the dal bati churma – that has been cooked by locals. The gastronomic experiences hosted by Suryagarh are wide in their offerings: you can choose to have breakfast at daybreak amidst a flurry of elegant peacocks accompanied by a warming cognac or dine on the dunes enveloped in cheery folk music and a hearty fire. Afterwards, the ‘Tash’ lounge – a British-inspired cards and billiards room offers a lounging area with a choice selection of cigars and liquor. Bolder guests can indulge in ‘Talwaar Baazi,’ mock-medieval duel classes or head for the ‘Chudail Trail’, a midnight walk through the haunted realms of Suryagarh. The hotel also hosts private NRI royal weddings and other such events. The best time to visit is between January and February when the festival of Rajasthani arts, handicrafts and food is in full swing.
Mihir Garh, Jodhpur
Mihir Garh is an architectural delight for first timers and returning guests alike: the ochre-hued property has been designed to look like it has been fashioned out of the sand. The fort borrows its design and architecture from rural influences: even the furnishings, linen, fireplaces and the flooring employ local artisan work from Khand and Haji villages. Mihir Garh encompasses nine suites spread across 1,700 square feet, with their own private Jacuzzi and plunge pools. The suites have been named Alishaan and Shandaar after the pedigreed Marwari stallions (the owner is a keen rider, and also hosts an Equestrian Programme for guests). The intimate setting of each suite, since 2009, has attracted a plethora of celebrity guests such as British Prime Minister David Cameron and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. After a vigorous day, luxurious spa therapies are available to indulge in at the Tulsi Spa, while meals can be partaken by the lakeside.
The Leela Palace, Udaipur
A steaming dish of ‘laal maas,’ (a local delicacy) is probably enjoyed best when paired with the sun setting over the Aravali Range from the terrace of The Leela Palace, Udaipur. Hosting 72 rooms, and eight suites (the Maharaja suite is priced at Rs 2.5 lakh per night), the five-star property is a rich combination of modern facilities and traditional ambience. This extends to their salon by ESPA where Indian treatments meet premium hair care and styling services. Finally, opt for astrology lessons or head for a boat ride across Lake Pichola: there is no dearth of activities here.
The Serai, Jaisalmer
Sitting on the undulating dunes with nothing but an infinite star-lit sky and a warm bonfire outside a tent is possibly the best therapeutic experience the stark desert offers. The Serai, Jaisalmer takes this a step forward with its 6 tents based on a hundred-acre private estate, replete with a heated pool, a private walled garden and a jet (14 tented suites are also available). The Serai also offers several tailored experiences such as camp safaris, desert drives and sundowners where animal enthusiasts can catch a glimpse of the increasingly rare Great Indian Bustard or the gazelles. While an evening can be spent relaxing under the care of expert ayurvedic therapies at the spa, the rest of Jaisalmer with its imposing forts and colourful locals is also waiting to be explored.
If you’re looking to spot the elusive Ranthambore tiger, without missing out on the traditionally opulent Rajasthani hospitality, Aman-i-Khas presents an opportune experience. Open from October to May every year, this wilderness camp rests on the borders of the Ranthambore National Park, surrounded by waterholes and open grasslands. It features 10 luxury air-conditioned tents that borrow their designs from Mughal travelling tents, and include three sections divided by cotton drapes. Open-top safaris are a common leisure activity, as are walking tours through the Park and the hills to sight other animals and active birdlife. The effervescent camel safaris are also available, with guides leading guests through villages to watch the locals hard at their craftwork. Aman-i-khas also offers reiki, yoga and meditation sessions. After a full day, partake of local and western delicacies – the property boasts an organic garden to ensure fresh produce -- before settling down around the campfire while the sounds of the inhabitants of the Park snoozing fill the night air.