Pink City: Lux­ury Steeped in Tra­di­tion

LUX­URY STEEPED IN TRA­DI­TION

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - BY GIL­LIAN RHYS

A re­fresh­ing way to ex­pe­ri­ence Jaipur and its sur­round­ing coun­try­side while still stay­ing in the lap of lux­ury.

In the midst of ne­go­ti­at­ing the hec­tic roads of Jaipur, the bustling cap­i­tal of Ra­jasthan, our driver sud­denly swings the car into a dis­creet drive­way. We pass through a tur­reted “ele­phant gate” painted a pretty pale pink and fol­low the grav­elled route flanked by ver­dant gar­dens before pulling up out­side a palace painted in the same pink as the re­gal en­trance­way. Half a dozen smil­ing and smartly dressed men each wear­ing a dis­tinc­tive candy pink tur­ban wait to wel­come us. We are greeted – rather fit­tingly for The Pink City – with a glass of rose sparkling wine.

So far, so Jaipur per­haps but in­side is a com­plete sur­prise. Su­jan Ra­jma­hal Palace, now a lux­ury bou­tique ho­tel, may be ap­proach­ing 300 years old but its in­te­rior has been dec­o­rated in a re­fresh­ingly con­tem­po­rary way. Each of the pub­lic spa­ces is adorned with fan­tas­ti­cally strik­ing, cus­tom made wall­pa­per from bright pinks and turquoise blues to sul­try Art Deco Chi­nois­erie and In­dian in­spired de­signs. The chan­de­liers, an­tiques and paint­ings re­mind you how­ever that you are stay­ing in a royal res­i­dence.

As palaces go Ra­jma­hal is on the pe­tite side rather than a mam­moth mau­soleum with just 14 guest rooms – it was com­mis­sioned by Ma­haraja Sawai Jai Singh II for his wife. So­ci­ety in­te­rior de­signer Adil Ah­mad, re­cently com­mis­sioned to spruce the place up, has achieved a sump­tu­ous cosi­ness that feels like a pri­vate home al­beit a very grand one. Jaipur’s royal fam­ily still own Ra­jma­hal (it is run by Su­jan, the renowned com­pany be­hind three lux­ury tented camps in Ra­jasthan) and the princess has an of­fice in the grounds though they re­side in the far larger City Palace in old Jaipur (the ho­tel can ar­range a pri­vate tour of this palace as well as se­cure you a set in the royal box at the polo).

While still a royal res­i­dence, Ra­jma­hal played host to the likes of Queen El­iz­a­beth the sec­ond, the Prince and Princess of Wales and Jackie Kennedy as the framed black and white pho­to­graphs and the names of the suites at­test. Beau­ti­ful car­pets gifted by another dis­tin­guished vis­i­tor, the Shah of Iran, hang on the walls as the Ma­harini mag­nan­i­mously wanted every­one to en­joy them. The fam­ily’s love of “the sport of kings” is also re­flected in

The Polo Bar, lined with tro­phies and pho­to­graphs.

Our Palace Room is reached via a stun­ning mar­ble stair­case and like all the guest rooms and suites lies dis­creetly be­hind mir­rored doors which adds to the feel­ing of a pri­vate home. In­side our host tells me “A Ma­harini does not make her own cof­fee,” before ex­plain­ing that there are no fa­cil­i­ties for hot bev­er­ages in the room: “You ring, and we will bring you cof­fee.”

Once you’ve ticked off sight­see­ing in­side the old walled city and the Am­ber Fort; and shopped ‘til you’ve dropped in the bazaars and boutiques, Ra­jma­hal Palace pro­vides a whim­si­cal oa­sis. We spend our days ex­plor­ing in the early morn­ings, af­ter break­fast­ing on fresh juice and stuffed parathas, and re­treat­ing to Ra­jma­hal in the heat of the af­ter­noon. The ho­tel has the bonus of a large, glam­orous look­ing swim­ming pool sur­rounded by invit­ing sun loungers. The de­signer has had fun here too with a shady ter­race com­plete with mir­rors and mod­ern chan­de­liers which look spec­tac­u­lar at dusk. And a note for shop­ping fans: there’s a branch of the revered New Delhi based Kash­mir Loom at Ra­jma­hal so you can stock up on the best cash­mere shawls with­out leav­ing the grounds.

Another unique touch is that af­ter­noon tea is served to ho­tel guests every day be­tween 4 pm and 6 pm. You may have it wher­ever you wish, but one par­tic­u­larly charm­ing spot is on the man­i­cured lawn un­der a se­ries of at­trac­tive open sided tents (pale pink of course).

A pleas­ant sur­prise for the (rel­a­tively) diminu­tive size of the ho­tel is that there are three din­ing rooms, each more strik­ingly de­signed than the other: the grand Ori­ent Oc­ci­dent is open for din­ner while the cool mint Colon­nade and 51 Shades of Pink (dec­o­rated as the name sug­gests) restau­rants both serve break­fast and lunch. All of­fer the same menu of In­dian and West­ern dishes; we stuck res­o­lutely to the for­mer which is ex­cel­lent.

We also tried one of the Su­jan Ra­jma­hal Palace’s pri­vate din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences one evening, din­ing in one of the afore­men­tioned tents on the lawn. At night the scene is en­tic­ingly lit by lanterns and makes for a gor­geous venue. As a Ra­jma­hal guest, ar­range­ments may also be made for

WE ARE GREETED - RATHER FIT­TINGLY - WITH A GLASS OF ROSE SPARKLING WINE

a pri­vate din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at the City Palace. su­jan­lux­ury.com

Some 80 kilo­me­tres out­side Jaipur deep in the coun­try­side is a for­mer royal hunt­ing ground turned exclusive re­treat. The tran­quil Aman­bagh, part of the elite Aman re­sorts, sur­rounded by the Aravali Hills is the per­fect an­ti­dote to en­er­getic Jaipur.

As we draw nearer we pass through a vil­lage en­tirely de­voted to the craft of stone ma­sonry. Ap­par­ently, or­ders are placed for these stat­ues from far and wide across the re­gion. The land­scape be­comes rock­ier and the road bumpier un­til we reach the an­cient walled grounds of Aman­bagh. Within are palm, mango and fig trees and a camel trots down the drive­way ahead of us. “He is Babu, our in-house camel,” ex­plains our driver. Lucky old Babu be­ing an Aman camel I can’t help but think.

Although Aman­bagh is 21st cen­tury built it’s clas­sic fairy­tale In­dia in its de­sign: all ro­man­tic domes and arch­ways, colon­nades and court­yards, in pink mar­ble and sand­stone. Our room is a Pool Pavil­ion, a stand­alone villa with its own pri­vate swim­ming pool. We spend most of our time in the ter­raced gar­den and are joined var­i­ously by fam­i­lies of mon­keys and colour­ful but­ter­flies and birds that swoop over the pool.

Some guests come to Aman­bagh for sa­fari trips to the nearby Sariska Tiger Re­serve (fur­ther afield Ran­tham­bore may be more well-known, but Sariska is less crowded and has a high rate of tiger sight­ings); others book in for the four to 21-day Ayurvedic pro­grammes. And there are eas­ily do-able day trips to lesser vis­ited sites such as the tem­ples of Neelka­nth, serene Som­sagar Lake (good for pic­nics or med­i­ta­tion) and the aban­doned city of Bhangarh

where you are more likely to en­counter mon­keys and peacocks than other tourists. As such it makes for a spe­cial place for a yoga session. But one of the unique, un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ences of Aman­bagh is sim­ply to wit­ness ru­ral Ra­jasthani life around you.

One evening we joined aarti at the lo­cal road­side tem­ple where de­vout lo­cals banged drums, rang bells and chanted to her­ald the last hour of prayer. Another night we joined ‘The Cow Dust Tour’, so named af­ter the In­dian phrase for the time of day when the cows are lead home, stir­ring up dust as they go.

Just before dusk we head out in an open topped jeep and pass a smat­ter­ing of chha­tri, a hill­side fort and tem­ple (once con­nected by tun­nel) and a “haunted” vil­lage. In the golden light we pass camel and carts and goats be­ing herded. Long, loopy tailed lan­gur mon­keys re­gard us from stone walls and smaller macaque mon­keys crouch over­head in the trees. There’s an abun­dance of peacocks and it’s easy to see why this area is a bird watch­ers’ par­adise even though at the time of our visit many have al­ready mi­grated.

Women in brightly coloured sa­faris and head­scarves of orange, yel­low and pur­ple farm the fields for wheat or okra, the for­mer im­pres­sively balanced on their heads in huge parcels and the lat­ter a lo­cal spe­cial­ity that later we see be­ing sold in the vil­lage cen­tres. As we drive through tiny en­claves small chil­dren run out wav­ing and call­ing “good­bye!” to us and we are in­vited in for chai sev­eral times.

That evening we sam­ple both okra and goat on the Aman­bagh’s su­perb pan In­dian menu. We es­chew the pleas­ant air con­di­tioned din­ing room each meal for the ter­race, over­look­ing the fab­u­lous swim­ming pool and ser­e­naded every night by tra­di­tional mu­si­cians. There are also op­por­tu­ni­ties for pri­vate din­ing on the lan­tern lit roof ter­race or more in­trepid lo­ca­tions in the sur­round­ing coun­try­side.

As with all Amans there’s a calm­ing en­ergy about the re­sort that’s hard to leave. And of course the spa is fan­tas­tic (the suites are par­tic­u­larly stun­ning). As well as Ayurvedic treat­ments, fol­low­ing a con­sul­ta­tion with a tra­di­tional In­dian medicine doc­tor, there’s a range of body treat­ments on of­fer such as the Ma­haraja or Ma­ha­rani mas­sage which I opt for. The masseuse ap­plied just the right amount of firm pres­sure to sort out my back ten­sion and I emerged feel­ing as if I was walk­ing taller.

And if you haven’t had your fill of shop­ping by the time you reach Aman­bagh, the bou­tique here has a tight, ex­pert edit from some of Jaipur’s finest in­clud­ing The Gem Palace and Kash­mir Loom. This be­ing Aman they promise to fetch more from Jaipur if you wish. aman.com/re­sorts/ aman­bagh

IN THE GOLDEN LIGHT WE PASS CAMEL AND CARTS AND GOATS BE­ING HERDED

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