Royal Treat­ment

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....

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