Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jodhpur to Chanoud Garh

On Monday we were woken again by the call to prayer at 5.00am. However we enjoyed our slow start to the day; breakfast in the breezy pavilion then a swim and we were ready to depart at 10.45am. 

There was the usual short tuk tuk ride out of the old city and 20 odd minutes spent shopping in the spice shop for some marsala mixes, (This shop supplies Herbie’s Spices!) saffron, vanilla beans, and tea. We were on the road to Chanoud Garh by around 11.30am.

The road out of Jodhpur is possibly the worst road we’ve experienced in India – down to a single lane as the new four lane highway is being constructed. We eventually arrived at the imposing entry to ChanoudGarh around 2.30pm, a grand palace in the centre of a dusty (but relatively prosperous looking) village in water starved western Rajasthan.

We were warmly welcomed by Thakur Ajeet Singh ji and his two sons, our hosts for our stay and the descendants of the ruling family who built and then extended the fort/palace and its surrounding estates over the past 300 years.

A late lunch was the first thing on the agenda, served in the gorgeous, restored hall (now the dining area) on the middle level of one of the original wings from the 1700s. We were served a beautiful meal cooked in the family kitchen while “J” regaled us with stories about the decision made by him, his brother and sister to return to the dilapidated and run down family estate 7 years ago, to embark on its restoration and then run it as a small 9 suite hotel here in the heart of west Rajasthan.

It took them five years to get the property to its current state, and it has only been operating as a hotel for the past two years.

There were lots of WOWs when we were shown our suites. Ours is huge with lots of pics of ancestors on elephants and tiger shoots and there is a bathroom that is almost the size of our whole Coogee apartment. The wing we were in was built in the early 1900s in Victorian style, to house all the Britisher guests in the manner to which they were accustomed. The property has been restored to a very high standard and with style and taste.

It was very hot again today, so hot and humid it saps your energy, but we were ready by late afternoon for a guided walk around the property – a chance to imagine what life was like when the palace and its fort was at its peak. 

We enjoyed high tea (very British) with tea, cake and pakoras on the west facing terrace as the sun was setting (spectacular). I enjoyed getting this bird's eye view of the village houses clustering around the walls of the palace, the farm animals coming in after a day’s grazing, the cows coming in for milking and all the peacocks preening themselves on top of the surrounding houses and roosting on the nearby satellite tower.

With dusk rapidly approaching J led us into the former “ladies palace” area – unoccupied these days but the site of a Hindu temple to Shiva that has great importance for the villagers and the family. As some local women led drumming and song chants, a priest led an end of day prayer ceremony for the Shiva God – magic!

We had time to cool off in our suite’s spacious shower and a chance to put our feet up before evening drinks on the cool and breezy east terrace, decorated with lanterns and silk cushions. J is very articulate and the conversation ranged over an enormous number of subjects – everything from British attitudes to India during the time of the Raj, and restoration nightmares.

Then it was dinner, back in the pretty dining hall again and another superb meal this time cooked by a small army of staff who prepared a beautifully balanced, mildly spiced, delicious and fresh Indian meal that we rated higher than any previously. It was just difficult to do it justice after all the food we’d been served today. Lucky us!

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