Words: SONIA NAZARETH
Photographs: HIMANSHU PANDYA
GREAT FROM: New Delhi, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur
GREAT FOR: A luxurious stay amid rustic nature with a big dose of culture
Your hotel shouldn’t merely be a place to lay your head. After a day’s adventure, if you’d like to return to a place where you can feel a sense of history, Rawla Narlai fits the bill. Set in Rajasthan’s Aravalli hills, 120km from Udaipur, what was once the hunting lodge of the Jodhpur royal family is now a boutique hotel.
If you’re the kind of traveller who prefers the journey over the destination, you’ll appreciate the drive through a forested scape – it’s a luminous green in the monsoon – to get to the laid-back village in which the lodge is sited. Rawla Narlai has fortuitously retained and restored a section of the original building. The common areas and rooms are tastefully peppered with antique furniture, portraits of ancestors and artefacts. On a rainy day, recline in these common areas, looking out at the green courtyard and the giant granite rock that rises like a phoenix above the lodge. Complimentary guided walks (best at sunrise or sunset) are available to ascend “the rock” – it’s over 700 stairs to the top. And, from that height, you’ll have striking views of the rustic surrounds.
Rawla Narlai offers a number of excursions – from riding pure-bred Marwari horses that once belonged to royals, to treks that take you through the village, desert, fields, hill and forest. But, while you’re here, make sure you make the 50km drive to the 15th-century, impossibly romantic, isolated and near-impregnable Kumbhalgarh Fort.
If it’s overcast when you’re driving to the fort, the mountain peaks of the Aravalli range will peep out from a whirlpool of mist. The fort has rounded bastions, immense watchtowers and a wall whose rampart extends for about 36km (and along which, at its widest, eight horses could run side-by-side). For other interesting contrasts, pop into the whimsical turquoise, green and white rooms of the Badal Mahal, within the earthy fortress.
About 50km on, you’ll find another marvel: the temples of Ranakpur. The milk-white marble temples, which were built in the 15th century, are a lesson in craftsmanship – fine filigree covers everything from the 1,444 pillars in the main Jain Temple to the concentric carvings on the ceiling. Then, make your way back to the hotel. A fitting end to a day steeped in history is Rawla Narlai’s stepwell dinner – make a reservation in advance. Just a short drive away from the property, this experience is as much about the food as it is about artistry. The evening begins with a chat with the resident royal in the courtyard over a glass of wine and ends at the 16th-century stepwell lit by flickering oil lamps under a starry sky. And, somewhere between digging into the delectable Rajasthani thali and listening to the haunting devotional folk songs of a local jogi, you’ll realise you’re a world away from your city life.