While the sand dunes and the Thar dessert seem to have a magnetic pull to all travelers and wanderers, the journey from Jodhopur airport to Jaisalmer is particularly long, 4 hours to be exact. If you’re smarter you might opt for a train journey sadly the rail connectivity isn’t much stronger than their air counterparts.
Of course the perks of staying at a beautiful hotel is that your ride from the airport to the hotel is done in nothing less than a comfortable SUV that has an ipod with a list of music, wonderful traditional Rajasthani snacks and sweets, plenty of beverages and even magazine to lighten the journey. Delayed flights, endless waiting at the airport, annoying passengers on the flight and a tiring journey are soon forgotten the minute you see your first sand dune en route. My car stops rather suddenly as I’m told we’re in the city and are to be escorted by the royal guard to my hotel. Two pleasant turbaned men bow their heads in welcome and request our car follow their jeep.
For a minute I think they might actually be royalty till I realize it’s just one of the many things this hotel does to make its guests feel regal and to remind their guests of this royal land. Dusk begins to fall as I follow the jeep through massive fort like walls into what can only be described as a fort. I can hear the beating of drums as the day changes into night and I drive through a stretch till I reach the main gates and am welcomed by a traditional drummer and several staff. I get another pleasant surprise as I’m garlands and given a small shower with flower petals just before I enter the hotel.
Every sign of exhaustion is long forgotten as I marvel at the interiors and exteriors of the hotel. After reading and listening to people’s various experiences, it would seem I have finally found my way to the magnificent Suryagarh Hotel in Jaisalmer.
The entire hotel is built to resemble a Rajasthani fort, perhaps even the Sonar Killa ( Golden Fort ) of Jaisalmer itself. The more you pay attention to the intricate work in every nook and corner of the hotel, the more baffling it seems that the entire property has been built from scratch. I had romanticized it in my head and imaged it to be an abandoned Fort which has been converted into a hotel but the truth is that an extremely passionate young gentleman decided to built this luxurious property that does an excellent job of preserving, highlighting and explaining Rajasthani traditions.
It is this strong sense of pride ( Rajasthanis are very proud people ) that is subtle but evident is what attracts me the most about this hotel and it’s done in small but prominent ways.
If you wake up on a Sunday morning and choose to dine out in their fabulous courtyard, you can hear faint strains of the tanpura being played, some traditional folks songs and some tunes slightly more familiar.
Every evening is a cultural song and dance program with folk singers belting out their tunes and pretty girls dolled up in shimmery colourful ensembles twirling and swirling away while an interpreter narrates the story or the song being sung. Of course this is done at night under the stars while you sit on caned benches and sip on some fine wine or perhaps their signature Suryagarh Sunrise cocktail ( vodka based and fabulous btw ).
Each room is incredibly comfortable and I wouldn’t expect any less but it’s the thoughtful local sweet or mithais that are presented everyday instead of chocolates or mints is their subtle hint that their in-house sweet maker is the real star in this fortress. Every day the mithai changes and its worth every calorie because it is delicious. When you get out of your room to attack the buffet it’s really the dessert counter that stands out because the man who’s churning it out from the kitchen I’m sure is a magician.
If you’re an early riser then you might be lucky enough to enjoy your breakfast with the peacocks that come to visit and I must admit is has this very Jodha Akbar- esque feel to it.
They say breakfast is the most important part of the day and it would seem Suryagarh has embraced this thought with much vigor. Their special crafted Halwai breakfast is another stellar way of highlighting how rich their cuisine is. Ideal on a lazy Sunday morning where you’re fed treats from their kitchen including chaat, kachori, mithais of course and plenty more, each dish unresistable till you’re ready to fall right back into bed. Of course if you’re like me and you decide to hit the desert post such an elaborate meal then you will need all the sustainance from this breakfast.
One of the many signature experiences this hotel offers is an excursion into the Thar Dessert. While most people including myself were expecting mounds of sand and dunes till the eye can see, the reality of it was sparse , harsh and intensely beautiful. The desert has much to offer if you pay attention but that I shall focus on another time. Let’s just say the experience will help you understand that it is the desert that really defines Jaisalmer and not it’s tourist traps or things you’ve read in popular guide books.
The excursion really ends with a luscious meal titled the Silk Route Dinner that takes place out in the open in their fabulous grounds under the stars and with much fan fare might I add. Rose petals are strewn all over and little lamps that are lit up to decorate the space. The musicians and dancers return to entice you more and you’re plied with enough food and drink to really make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time to be entertained and waited on hand and foot. While I’m entranced with all the entertainment and festivities not to mention the various kebabs and appetisers that keep doing the rounds it is the main meal that is the highlight of this entire experience. An enormous thaal full of rice and meat ( almost biryani like preparation ) where you sit on the floor ( as you have the entire night ) and enjoy a community meal. It makes you feel extremely decadent and honestly so far away from where you are now and it is a glimpse of the regal past. I was of course rudely jolted out of my fancy and rather wild imagination when my legs began to cramp and my iphone almost froze from the cold.
Jaisalmer is beautiful and there is much to explore but staying at a property like this is unlike any I’ve experienced so far. It is true after all, Suryagargh really is a gateway to the Thar.