If you’re looking for a window to the Thar, there are none better than those that Hotel Suryagarh Jaisalmer has to offer, literally and figuratively. The hotel promises to give you the Jaisalmer experience, the Suryagarh way, and in the two days I spent there, it delivered on all fronts.
A group of us — travellers and bloggers from all across the country — descended on Jaisalmer last weekend to experience what Hotel Suryagarh Jaisalmer had promised would be a ‘representation of a unique way of life in the Thar’. We weren’t disappointed. The drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, lasting about 4 hours, was quickly forgotten when we were pulled into the majestic driveway of Hotel Suryagarh Jaisalmer. Bathed in the golden light of what was left of the setting sun, the hotel stood out in the midst of the Thar, imperial, solitary, tranquil.
Blending right into the colours of the desert, the sand and yellow sandstone together give Jaisalmer the moniker of “Golden city of India”. Most of the curios and art work tastefully placed all over the hotel are personally curated by Mr. Manvendra Singh Shekhawat, owner and MD of Suryagarh, some from his and his family’s own collections. The furniture used in the hotel are antiques he has bought from across the State while some are replicas to keep the traditional feel.
The stillness of the desert was punctuated by bursts of song from the Manganiyar singers who heralded our arrival in the hotel courtyard. A shower of rose petals and a blessing of welcome later, we were ushered into the refreshingly cool reception of Hotel Suryagarh, where we were offered shot glasses of fresh watermelon juice and a selection of bite-sized snacks.
The elevator ride was a treat for us with its red velvet cushioned bench and mirrors all round. Our giggles of delight turned into gasps of pleasure when we were led to our rooms, Grand Heritage Rooms all, each with an ante chamber that opened up into the bedroom. Off to the side of the bedroom was a door leading off into the dressing room attached to the bathroom, which had the works: two basins, a shower stall, a toilet area and a bath tub.
A member of Preferred Boutique Hotels, Hotel Suryagarh has 64 rooms divided across five tiers, the maximum being Palace rooms, then Grand Heritage Rooms, Signature Suites, Luxury Suites and two uber indulgent Jaisalmer Suites. The hotel offers guests a standard range of facilities including a pool, a spa, a gym and a cards and billiards room.
We quickly freshened up as Suryagarh’s General Manager, Mr. Karan Singh, had invited us guests for apéritifs at sundown on the dunes. From our evening of wine and cheese under the desert stars, we were driven to a hillock adjacent to the hotel. There we were treated to a repertoire of classical folk music and dance, typical of the region, by the Manganiyar family employed full-time by Suryagarh. This was followed by an eight course alfresco dinner of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. The meal opened with dahi ke kebabs served on a bed of masala gawar phali, then came the mutton galouti kebabs, kaleji with dahi dressing, Shekhawati preparation of basa fish with caju, and to end the entrée courses, tandoori chicken. Moving on to the main course, we were served daal-baati-churma (a dish of spicy lentils – daal, unleavened bread known as baati and churma- a sweet, wheat-flour preparation with dry fruits that we could not leave Jaisalmer without trying) and a flavourful mutton biryani and raita. To end the meal on a sweet note, we were served moong dal halwa. This sumptuousness ensured we had a good night’s sleep for the next morning, we sat down to a late breakfast in the bar “Draksh”, which had been re-organised to accommodate us (as the other restaurants are currently under renovation). I tried out the local ker sangri pickle (prepared from dried desert beans and berries) and chicken aachaar with parathas, which for me were the highlights of our meal.
We spent our day getting to know the history and culture of the desert and its people. Accompanying us on the trip and playing personal tour guide was Mr. Shekhawat. He was joined by Karan Singh and the Operations Manager, Mr. Nakul Hada. They are each well-versed in the local history and culture and our visit through the district was all the better for it.
The rain had preceded our arrival in Jaisalmer, and it cast an altogether unexpected look over the desert. The vast expanses of day time sky showed hues of grey and blue, and in the monsoon nights, lightning bolts crackled across the desert sky. It truly was a spectacular show that seemed to have been arranged in honour of the “Monsoon Magic” experience Suryagarh had invited us for.
One “Dune Dinner” later we realised that Suryagarh is all about the “first-hand experience”, be it food (through their home-style cooking and local sourcing of ingredients married to typical desert flavours), the meals (alfresco breakfasts, oasis lunches, pahadi dinners) or the excursions (the Midnight Haunted Trail, the Temple Trail). The hotel’s essence is tightly interwoven with the Thar life and landscape, and it is this that adds that something special to any stay at Hotel Suryagarh. For me, it was more than a weekend stay at a luxury boutique hotel; it was an immersion into the heart of Suryagarh’s Jaisalmeri Thar.
Experienced and blogged on Suryagarh’s invitation by: Preethi Pinto (@preethimpinto)