HYDERABAD: The four hours I spent travelling from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer were exhausted in looking at the vast brown spaces dotted with occasional dry shrubs and in general, a desolate landscape that wouldn’t inspire a traveller to burst into song (except in films!). I was heading to Suryagarh Palace Hotel near Jaisalmer, for an experience of the Thar Desert and the legendary Rajasthani hospitality.
Soon an escort vehicle from the hotel received mine half way, out stepped two dashing young men dressed in smart uniforms with colourful turbans, welcomed me cordially and promptly went back to their vehicle to lead mine. We travelled on the vacant roads (peacefully lonely), as the Suryagarh’s flags in the front vehicle fluttered in the warm desert air. As we neared a golden hued imposing edifice - the Suryagarh Palace building, standing alone in the stark nothingness, its dignified silence seemed to command a respect that is reserved for very few. To me it looked like a classy piece of ethnic jewellery, its subdued shine enhancing the elegant craftsmanship.
At the entrance I was received by liveried men with huge flags, sitting atop bedecked camels who led my procession to the beat of drums. As I got down from the car, the rich, rustic singing welcomed me with “kesariya baalam aaonee padharo mharo desh…” I always yield to this song, which speaks volumes of the desert people’s warm and welcoming heart. I walked on the red carpet, under a shower of rose petals (filmy style), to the accompaniment of the priest’s auspicious chants. Thus received royally (though it was quite embarrassing to me and amusing to readers it is more or less customary for the hotel to welcome their VIP guests this way) I checked into my luxurious suite: filled with sweets, fruits and fragrances the huge spaces were meant to sprawl, relax and laze.
After a Tapas lunch and a long siesta, I was ready to be pampered at their spa, aptly named “Rait”, a reverent tribute to the desert sands. The Brazil girl clad elegantly in a lehariya saree (she’s on an exchange programme to India, obviously in love with this land) gave me samples of four oils to choose from, for my massage. Yeshi took over, with lots of smiles and “ma’ms’ delivered with utmost tenderness. She treated me like a flower and my feet like petals; rubbing sea salt on them ever so gently. Later she gave me a “Dyra” massage, quite popular with most of the guests: designed to deliver radiance, healing and a quick sense of inner and outer wellbeing. She, being fond of talking and I, ready to listen to her tales from Bhutan, we hit it well while her strong and firm hands were kneading every muscle of mine, pulling, pushing and thumping, till I moaned in pain. Her delicate frame belies the strength it holds. Amazed, I said to her, “Yeshi, with your strength you can easily thrash your husband if ever in a fight!” The girl burst out laughing…Soon I heard the singing of the Manganiyars coming from a distance. Yearning to be there, I cut short the massage, had a quick shower and dressed up to reach the Sunset Patio. The night was romantic with a full moon above, the cool air of the desert carrying the rich voices of the singers, unfolding the tragic love story of Moomal- Mahindra. Their singing mesmerized me and when the two dancing girls pulled me to the dance floor, I didn’t resist. Swirling with them to the rustic music gave me a high which I never experienced elsewhere.
Later that night, in the enchanting Central Courtyard with dimly lit lamps on the ground giving it an ethereal look and the star filled sky above lending a dream like setting I dined from their rich “thali” with an array of delicacies like tulsi paneer, dahi kebab, anjeer kofta curry, lassoni palak, chana kadi, dal batti churma, bajra roti, jaisina pulao. With desserts like badaam ka halwa and khajoor ki rabdi, I threw caution to the wind and fully indulged: the feast was certainly meant for those who don’t count their calories. The finale was the kesar- kasturi liqueur which sent me into a deep slumber. Or was it Yeshi’s massage?
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; blogs at www.vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)
- Nearest Airport: Jodhpur 300 kms
- Rail: Jaisalmer is connected to the major cities of India through broad gauge and metre gauge
- Road: Jaisalmer is connected to the rest of the state with well maintained roads
- Places of interest nearby: Jaisalmer city with its bazaars; splendidly carved havelis and the magnificent Jaisalmer Fort; Sam and Khuri sand dunes; temples, palaces, forts, royal cenotaphs; Desert National Park, etc