The royal state of Rajasthan is full of hidden gems – historic, with rich heritage and many unexplored. If one looks beyond the likes of Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Jaipur, a tiny hamlet of Narlai near Ranakpur in Pali district makes a subtle but magnificent appearance. The village of Narlai holds many a hidden treasures that are fascinating for nature lovers, adventurers and history aficionados.
Tucked in between Jodhpur (140 km away) and Udaipur (120km away), in the foothills of the Aravalli, Narlai greets everyone with a laidback lifestyle, one that might not be as grand as its counterparts, but surely rich in history and heritage. The drive to Narlai is enchanting through a forested scape, luminous green during monsoon and takes one through narrow roads with a ‘traffic jam’ of herds in between. Narlai doesn’t have those attractive boutique cafes, the never-ending huge forts or a special shopping street. Then what’s so special, one may ask? This quaint town is built around a beautiful Rawla (a royal palace) that’s made up of many stories lost in the sandstorm of time.
History of Narlai
To give a little back story: Narlai was a village bestowed upon Maharaja Ajit Singh as a gift by his older brother, the then reigning monarch of Jodhpur. The Rawla – a palace usually used as a Hunting Manor by the Jodhpur royals dates back to the 17th century. The beautiful place forgotten during the freedom struggle was revived and brought back to its glory by Maharaja Ajit Singh’s son Swaroop, without changing its intrinsic beauty for which it was once known. While the enclosed premises house the ‘Rawla’, it is ‘Narlai’, the village & its people, which come together to form the entire experience.
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Activities & sightseeing go hand in hand here as every pursuit takes you to a different locale with its own unique charm. Be it a mesmerizingly surreal dinner at the 16th century step-well, high tea at the lake, riding Marwari steeds that once mounted the royal cavalry & were the stars of the polo team, a village & crafts tour, or the leopard spotting adventure… everything’s on the list here.
Sunrise walk up the Elephant Hill
Time flows at a different rhythm compared to the rest of the world when in Narlai. Here the day starts at 5 am in the quest for sunrise from one of the highest places in the town –Elephant Hill. The granite rock which houses the Elephant statue has been the village’s mascot since time immemorial, keeping a watchful eye on the sleepy town. A member of the Rawla staff walks the travellers through the town to the foot of the rock, taking in lots of colourful scenes as they approach the steps of the hill. There are a whopping 756 steps in all that one has to climb before they can witness the mesmerizing sunrise. The higher you climb, the more spectacular the views get.
At the top of the rock, look down on an absolutely beautiful sunrise and a breath-taking view of the countryside. You can then soak in the views as you sit down at the foot of a huge elephant statue (from which the hill takes its name) for tea and biscuits that the guide kindly brings with him, making you forget the tiring climb.
Leopard safari and high tea in the jungle
When staying in a ‘Hunting Manor’ of the bygone era, how can the trip not feature a ride into the jungle? No, there’s no hunting involved anymore! It’s all about the wild leopard and that too within a few kilometres of the Rawla.
Adventurers can hop on a jeep in search of leopards with a wildlife safari. A little struggle here and there and you can spot them in their natural habitat. As one considers themselves lucky after the leopard-spotting, there comes another surprise in Narlai. There is a high-tea party set in the middle of the wilderness where you can be treated with a spread fit for the kings. The setting sun as the backdrop makes for a perfect picture and memory.
Mystical dinner by the rampart
A perfect end to a day steeped in history in Narlai is the mystical dinner in a 16th century step well. Yes, a step-well! A glamorous dinner fit for the royals is arranged in this step well, which is lit up using more than 500 oil lamps for these occasions. When one opts for this magical dinner, a few kms away from the Rawla, they are transported to the step well through an ox-drawn cart. An evening at the re-excavated stone step-well or ‘Baoli’ under a starry sky is a spectacle to say the least. Encircled by a lush mango grove, the night is lit up by hundreds of lanterns with a spellbound surrounding that combines art, culture & history.
Rajasthani folk music played by a local musician sitting under the step well keeps you company as you relish a delectable spread of authentic Rajasthani cuisine. You wouldn’t want the happy trance to end as you sit on the top tier and gorge on the food served in traditional brass plates.
Best time to visit:
Early monsoons (July) and winter (December-February) are the best seasons to visit this different side of Rajasthan.
For those who enjoy a walk and mingling with the locals, a village walk is an ideal activity to soak in the culture of the ever-so-welcoming Narlai community.