India boasts of several hotels that were converted from grand palaces of yore, melding history with luxury to spectacular effect印度有太多脏乱的传言，但它的现代与古远、奢华与贫穷、温和与粗暴，都让人着迷。尤其是拉贾斯坦邦几千年的富丽堂皇与21世纪的奢华结合，会让你对这个古老国度另眼相看。
India boasts of several hotels that were converted from grand palaces of yore, melding history with luxury to spectacular effect 印度有太多脏乱的传言，但它的现代与古远、奢华与贫穷、温和与粗暴，都让人着迷。尤其是拉贾斯坦邦几千年的富丽堂皇与21世纪的奢华结合，会让你对这个古老国度另眼相看。
My eyes were drawn quickly to the turbans worn by the male staff at the Sujan Rajmahal Palace Hotel. Traditional and fashionable at the same time, the headgear sports a pink that was not only striking but also in sync with this rose-hued city.
Jaipur, the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan, coloured its buildings pink to welcome the Prince of Wales during his tour of India in 1876. Since then, it has been dubbed the Pink City.
Turbans of various colours have long been worn in India to denote one’s status and identity. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So before I set out to visit the local sights, I asked the hotel staff to help me put on a pink turban. Donning one, as it turned out, proved to be an art. It is more complicated than fastening a necktie or bow tie and even the locals sometimes need help to secure the 9m-long piece of cloth on their heads.
With my markedly different dressing — and trendy sunglasses — I stood out among the crowd. I had people coming up and asking to take pictures with me. I grew strangely addicted to this and ended up wearing turbans of various shades as I toured the state. The interactions I gained with the locals as a result of my headgear added a unique dimension to my 12-day trip.
India is a complex country with a long and rich history. While some people stereotype the country as dirty or unsafe, my experience was the opposite. Besides a trove of World Heritage Sites, you will also find a good number of boutique hotels converted from the palaces of yore, which have witnessed much change over the ages.
This marriage between old-world majesty and 21st-century luxury creates a refreshing glimpse of India and nurtures a greater appreciation for the extraordinary attributes of this ancient civilisation.
Take the Sujan Rajmahal Palace hotel, which dates back 250 years. It was originally built by the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II as a private palace and garden retreat for his beloved wife. In the 19th century, the palace became the private residence of senior British officials and was used to host a number of foreign dignitaries. Subsequently, it was converted into a boutique hotel and was, at one point, part of the Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces (THRP) group.
The hotel reopened as an independent entity in 2015 and is now touted as the most elegant garden-palace hotel in Jaipur. True
to its boutique hotel branding, the hotel is home to only 13 suites.
The hotel is adorned with ornate wallpaper and every corner makes for a great selfie spot. Service here is first class too. Besides having someone help me with my turban before I set out daily, my request to have a sherwani (a high-necked long coat) made by the best tailor in town within 24 hours was also duly met. The staff were also able to recommend — and secure me a table — at Jaipur’s finest restaurants.
I found it a tremendous pleasure to return to the pampering comforts of the hotel each day after touring key sights such as Amber Fort and the Hawa Mahal. As a member of the Relais & Chateaux group, the hotel’s food and beverage offerings were naturally of high standards. In line with the royal treatment, guests could choose to have their meals anywhere in the hotel, whether it was in the garden, the lobby or in their own suites.
Jaipur was my third stop in India after New Delhi and Jodhpur. I flew into and left the country from Delhi, but did not have much time to check out the sights there. However, I made it a point to spare an evening for Indian Accent, the only Indian restaurant to be listed in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking.
Located inside The Manor hotel, it offers modern cuisine made with seasonal and organic ingredients. Modern cooking techniques are fused perfectly with traditional Indian recipes. Head chef Manish Mehrotra, who has become something of a celebrity, has received countless awards and was once named by Time magazine as one of India’s most influential people. According to the concierge at the Imperial Hotel where I stayed, Indian Accent is far and above any other restaurant in India.
Over in Jodhpur in Rajasthan, I found another unique hotel: the uber-chic Raas Jodhpur, the city’s first boutique hotel. It offers a commanding view of the city’s key landmark, the majestic Mehrangarh Fort, which was built in 1459 using the same red stone found in the hill on which it stands.
Despite fierce competition from the likes of THRP’s Umaid Bhawan Palace and the ITC Rajputana, the Raas Jodhpur, built in the haveli (mansion) style, has managed to carve a niche for itself. Converted from an 18th-century mansion, the property occupies 1.5 acres, including the courtyards. The original compound included a large entrance gate and three structures hewn out of red stone. Apart from restoring and retrofitting these buildings, the hotel also built three new wings for guest suites. All boast unobstructed views of the Mehrangarh Fort, making the Raas Jodhpur a garden retreat from which to admire the fort.
Another geographical trump card of the hotel is
that it is right next to the famous Toorji Ka Jhalra, an ancient step well that has been painstakingly restored. Managed by the hotel, the well is very deep and surprisingly clean. On weekend afternoons, it turns into a gathering place for children, who leap into the well from the steps. On seeing camera-toting tourists, many of them would attempt to jump into the water from the roof of the structure, then swarm around the visitors for a peek at the shots. Their unabashed joy over this simple pleasure is a happy sight.
There are other hotels in Rajasthan that offer tourist sights within the premises. But none can rival the grandeur of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, which was converted from a 230-year-old fortress over seven years.
Located at Bishangarh Village in the Jaipur district, the luxury resort by Alila Hotels and Resorts is one of few heritage hotels converted from military structures. It sits on a granite hill and commands a 360-degree view of the rolling Rajasthani landscape dotted with havelis, as well as villages and temples.
At the foot of the hill is a local school that has been adopted by the hotel as part of its “responsible luxury” initiative. Surrounded by 2m-thick walls and turrets, the towering fortress is embellished by beautiful arched windows and the traditional jaali lattice-screen walls. Mughal and British influences intertwine, and traditional materials have been used in tandem with modern techniques in the restoration.
Conservation of the military stronghold was of paramount importance. The 59 suites feature 22 layouts to cater to its geography and each suite has been custom-designed. Windows that can be opened fully ensure that guests enjoy optimal views.
Prior to the Alila Fort Bishangarh, I had stayed at the remote Amanbagh resort in Alwar in north-western Rajasthan. This was the centre of political power for various Northern Indian royal families in ancient times, and also the territory of Shah Jahan, who ordered the
Amber Fort (also known as Amer Fort), which the Raja Man Singh began building in 1592, took 125 years to complete. There are three ways to scale Amber Fort: hike up on foot, drive up or take an elephant ride....
Treasures abound in the Sujan Rajmahal Palace hotel. One of them is the white piano in the lobby which was a gift to the hotel from Queen Elizabeth II the year after her visit to the hotel. Countless dignitaries have stayed at the hotel, including...
There are over 1,000 types of turbans in the state of Rajasthan. Known as the safa, paaga or pagri, the turban is an important part of the local dress and a symbol of different attributes, such as honour, respect and fraternal love. It is usually 9m...
The step well is a key water storage facility that is unique to India. In the 2nd century, thousands of step wells were built all over the country. Most have dried up due to the drop in groundwater levels in India. The Toorji Ka Jhalara, managed by...
India adheres to a strict caste system. The highest caste is represented by the colour blue and is believed to be closest to the gods. Thus, it used to be that someone who owns a blue house in Jodhpur belongs to the esteemed caste. Today, some locals...
Mehrangarh Fort, built using yellow sandstone in the 15th century, is one of the largest forts in India. The majestic structure stands 125m above Jodhpur, making it visible from any part of the city, including from the room of Raas Jodhpur....