My drowsy eyes prick open at the sight of a massive fort, a short drive away from Jaisalmer city. Its rustic brown façade merges with the stark wilderness of the desert, and the sheer grandeur of India’s bygone royal era calls out to me. Khamaghani. Welcome to Suryagarh.
The last time I was in Jaisalmer was over 8 years ago, and I’m glad those memories have largely faded away, because this isn’t the dry, parched terrain I remember. The sporadic monsoon rains have painted the Thar Desert in shades of green, and sprouted oases on the parched land (See: In Photos: Jaisalmer in The Monsoons). I’m surprised to open the window of my cosy, colorful room, and see a semi-green desert, with windmills spinning in the distance.
The music of the Manganiyar desert tribe echoes through Suryagarh’s expansive courtyards. The retro in-house bar serves Rajasthani delicacies and fusion tapas in earthen bowls. And a majority of its staff, though conversant in English and trained in the fine ways of the industry, are humble Rajasthani men who still uphold local traditions with much gusto.
On this bloggers’ getaway, I expect to visit the usual suspects – the Jaisalmer fort, its street markets, popular temples and such. But instead, we drive into the desert in the late evening, and as the sky turns pitch black, I lie on the dunes, wine and cheese in hand, under a million stars. The soulful singing of a desert musician tugs at my heart. We dine on a hillock overlooking the majesty of Suryagarh one night, and amid sand dunes that bear no name, the next.
Manvendra Singh Shekhawat, a former Gladrags model (justifiably so!) and the owner of Suryagarh, drives us through some of his favorite routes in the Jaisalmer desert. There are no signs here, and often no roads. We see men with their camels, and tiny villages with traditional desert homes – this is no showcase for tourists, this is real desert life. We spot desert streams and oases, green meadows with grazing cattle, even small farms in this otherwise stark wilderness (Read: 6 Offbeat Monsoon Weekend Getaways From Delhi). The terrain is so flat that we watch dark clouds pour rain at the far end of the desert. And driving close to the Desert National Park, we spot one of 200 remaining Great Indian Bustards in the world!
Late one night, some of us set out for Suryagarh’s signature Chudail aka Haunted Trail, that takes us to sites in the vicinity that are believed by the locals to be haunted – a memorial ground where Sati (the practice of women burning themselves live in their husband’s pyre) once took place, a village well where several men were killed by the then king, and Kuldehra, one of 84 villages that were abandoned overnight and cursed never to be inhabited again. Though spooky only by virtue of the dark night, I’m convinced that just as Suryagarh aspires to conserve the architectural style of the Rajasthan of yore, so it does the legends of this great state. After all, what is a better way to discover a region than to watch its stories come to life?
What are your first impressions of Suryagarh? Would you like to experience it someday?
Suryagarh is a luxury boutique hotel, located a short drive away from Jaisalmer city. The best way to get there from Delhi is to take a train to Jodhpur, from where Suryagarh is 4 hour drive. Room prices start at INR 12,000 per night. For more details, visit Suryagarh’s website and Facebook page.
*Note: I was invited on a bloggers’ getaway to Suryagarh in August 2013. Lucky me!
Also read: In Photos: Bhap Village, Rajasthan
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This post was written by Shivya Nath and published on The Shooting Star travel blog.