It's a resort... It's a fort... It's Suryagarh. Standing in solitary splendour amidst infinite stretches of soothing beige, the luxury boutique hotel arrested attention from a distance.
Its elevation and sprawling scale had made it amply visible and the quietude around--it's 15 km beyond Jaisalmer--heightened its imposing presence. As I entered its grand portals I felt it was a worthy tribute to Rajputana heritage.
Built in local sandstone and that lovely honey-mustard hue limestone, or colloquially Jaisalmer stone, within its fort look-alike contours the whimsical romance of palaces came alive. Almost immediately I was greeted by fountains and sweeping courtyards, jaalis (lattice screens) and jharokhas (jutting windows), spanking mosaic floors and carved pillars, bastions and battlements, and the piece de resistance, an ingeniously-designed baoli or step-well.
In the colonnaded corridors around the central patio and in the lobbies traditional artefacts in metal and wood--a lot of these rescued from crumbling havelis--provided a nice casual touch.
The names of spaces were as impressive as their aesthetic interiors. The spa was just so aptly called 'Rait', 'Draksh' was the bar, 'Neel' the indoor swimming pool in calming turquoise shades, and 'Akhara' the gym, which niftily had hanging lights designed as mudgals (wrestling clubs).
Over conversation with the young proprietor Manvendra Singh Shekhawat what shone through was his entrepreneurial vision, spirit of conservation, and the zeal to research and execute, even if that meant rolling up his sleeves to achieve a target, or aborting an implemented original plan. "This was intended as a passageway, but by happy accident it's The Legend of Marwar," he explained, referring to the fine dining restaurant in vermillion tones.
Suryagarh has 62 tastefully appointed rooms and suites. Lavish upholstery, smart woodwork, luxurious bathrooms, and a window view of either the gardens or the terraces are consistent elements across all categories. The leitmotif lattice work displays bits of itself in the rooms, the most prominent being wooden screens and metal lampshades.
All rooms pamper a guest, with the top-end Jaisalmer Suite being indulgence in the true sense. Dressed in radiant Jaisalmer stone and embellished with vibrant local textures, it comes with a private terrace and personal splash pool overlooking the desert landscape, besides the services of a dedicated butler. I had checked into the Luxury Suite and took pleasure in its generosity of space and features that included a powder-room and a cosy dining alcove.
The bathroom, I was glad to note, had elegant, easy-to-operate fittings and not state-of-the-art ones that leave you feeling clueless and dim-witted. I preferred the rain shower cubicle over the tub and its frills. Just the thought of rain and desert was tempting enough to opt for it. The one disappointment was the towels: considering this was a boutique experience I would have liked them fluffier and fragrant.
One of the best cheese omelettes I've tasted was at Nosh, the coffee shop. I wouldn't be able to say the same about other breakfast options, especially the Indian selection, which I felt needed fine-tuning. An oily Aloo Parantha is a definite no-no. I found the Oriental dishes too not up to the mark with a medley of sauces overpowering flavours. But where the chef scored was in the Marwar Thali.
Not only was its presentation attractive, each item on the menu, from Kair-Sangri, Gatta, Papad Sabzi to the ubiquitous Dal-Baati-Churma was flavoursome and flawless. My advice: to savour the thali, build up an appetite. Another pick for me was the chef special: Mushroom Cappuccino, a delectable soup, served with basil-honey crostini and roast pepper salad.
Suryagarh is as much about its indoors as it's about the outdoors. During the day, I found its porches and terraces with inviting sun-umbrellas and comfortably padded sarkanda chairs, perfect spots to uncoil. As the sun dipped and the lights began twinkling Suryagarh basked in a fantastical mellow afterglow.
If the daytime demanded bringing out the glares, the cool evenings summoned sitting under starlit skies. And what better place than the baoli that transformed into a stage for performing arts: dance, music, magic-show, martial arts and puppetry.
The hotel also arranges outings to the small Lakhmana dunes, relatively quiet when compared to the touristy Sam dunes. Here a sunset camel ride is followed by high tea or dinner on the dunes in an especially set-up airy pavilion.
There are few hotels that are destinations in themselves. Suryagarh is one of these.