Hotel Review – Welcome to the Pleasuredome, Suryagarh, Jaisalmer

Suryagarh appealed to me on so many levels. Whilst I’d never quit luxury travel (who would?) for the last few years I’ve focused on more the off beat and experiential. For me an albeit fabulous hotel  in a mainstream destination coupled with standard sightseeing didn’t showcase what for me is, the real India. Journeys of discovery were not there, locals were not met, stories were not imagined.

Enter Karan Singh, a hotelier whose vivid imagination for creating the extraordinary is only matched by his abilities in the realms of hedonism.  Marry those two qualities, for qualities I believe they are, and something unique, flamoyouant and exceptional is the resulting offspring.  A year before, I had been out to discover for myself, what lay beyond Jaisalmer’s Fort and Sam Sand Dunes, what a woebegone experience they are now. I did find some of the places I visited on this, and other experiences with Suryagarh, but did not have the know how, knowledge or imagination to turn them into a journey into this regions past.

The Silk Route Trail restored the faith that a “luxury” hotel (he will kill me for that) can see beyond the norms of standard sightseeing. With it, he and his team have curated something  historical without bleating on about dates, and the story of this famous trail, whose heritage is being forgotten, is woven into a journey through this desert region. It was a time of the caravans and traders and people perishing in harsh climates they were ill prepared for and surviving those, could find themselves at the mercy of theives and thugs. Yet the riches they traded in, spices, silk, tapestries, precious stones and bronze ornaments  were worth this risk and these wealthy merchants journeyed from from China, the Middle East and Egypt. This trail allows one to discover just how they survived in the desert; ancient stone water markers, the surprising appearance of desert grass lands, an obligatory oasis, the first I’d ever been shown, despite this being my 5th visit to Jaisalmer.  But, it was what happened next that was extraordinary. As if on cue, and sadly no one could lay claim to the fortunate of  the happenstance timing, a camel herder appeared on the horizon and we lingered to see his herd approach the oasis, refuel, and with surprising speed, carry on their journey.  I would have thought they would have lingered. 

For us, it was onto the sati platforms and funeral pyres of the Brahmins. This truly was a journey through survival, trade and often death.

No wonder then that when the merchants arrived at their journey’s end, and having traded successfully, they indulged in a little pampering, music, dance and feasting.

While I spent a couple of hours in the spa, sampling a treatment devised around elements of the desert environment; you can choose from frankincense, sand, or salt, the team were hard at work and  by the evening, the caravan had well and truly arrived.  Laid out on the lawns was their replica of how these must have been, albeit with a gilded touch.  A moonlit sky, strains of soft music from a distance, white cushions and canopies, a sprinkle of silver accessories, local (though internationally famous)  Rajasthani singers, canapes and cocktails under the stars followed by dinner, a giant dinner, reflecting celebration and oppoulance of the end of a potentially treacherous journey.  Feasting and celebration, success and relief, nights of plenty, and plenty we had.  Martinis shaken not stirred of course, Pouilly Fuisse, Australian Malbecs, in India! I relinquished myself to the experience.

Now granted, I was hosted and spoilt and shown hospitality that could be described as convivial at worst or declared embarrasingly generous at best, but, these are experiences that money can buy.   Once in a life time opportunities and I guess that most people would marvel (I certainly did, and I do this for a living) enjoy, indulge and then head off to bed with magical memories forever etched on their minds. For me well, when such generocity, a more than persuasive host and an utter lack of will power (on both parts I might add) are married, actually, that’s more of a threesome than a marriage, there comes a point when one wonders, albeit fleetingly, if one may not actually survive this night of a celebration of survival.

But survive I did!  And then, because I do suffer for my art, I did what no regular, paying holiday maker or even hedonist would do.  I dragged myself out of my divinely comfortable bed, in an essentially air-conditioned room, after just 3 hours sleep, to head out on their Breakfast with Peacocks experience, for which one needs to be at Khaba Fort (allegedly 700 years old) before sunrise. I’ve had more enthusiastic moments, and doubtless I looked older than the fort itself, but a job is a job and I was here to experience their experiences and experience them I would.

I had been to this fort before, on my own explorations but had wondered how and why it could be worked into a sightseeing experience. The Team at Suryagarh had that one all worked out; drag guests out of bed at some unearthly hour, arrive at a ruin in the dark, have them wondering why the hell they are here and then take them through the fort.  There they are greeted with beautifully set tables, replete with crisp white linen decorated by dew fresh marigolds, and piled high with all manner of Indian breakfast choices from poories to parathas to kacchories. For something a little more palatable so early in the morning to a western palate, softly scrambled eggs on toast lightly scented with truffle oil, and of course, Dom Perignon on ice.  Well, if one has to face the hair of the dog, better make it pedigree.

As one comes to terms with this, the sun starts to rise over the horizon and peacocks, lots of peacocks (and peahens, let’s be politically correct) start to arrive.  An ancient fort, overlooking a deserted village, more stories of an imagined romantic past, a spectacular sunrise, India’s iconic bird and chilled champagne. Talk about the perfect way to surprise someone with a marriage proposal. Sadly, for me this was not to be, and we headed back to the hotel and I had to satisfy myself with the very pleasurable thought of a couple of more hours shut eye and a hot shower before lunch.

I could go on, but I think by now, you’ve got the message. Karan and the team at Suryagarh have created fabulous experiences which showcase the harsh reality of this desert land from dawn to dusk and well into the night but with story telling and exploring places that no one else in Jaisalmer will show you. Not only that, it is done with style, panache and a certain degree of hedonism which was also part of this ancient time, or that was our excuse. Karan has restored my faith that luxury hotels and genuine, fabulously curated experiences which truly showcase the culture of a destination, can go hand in hand.

The following day, a morning at leisure had been promised. I did indeed get a lie in before being surprised with a brunch which began with bloody marys, out at an oasis with a musician under a shaded tree playing music of the desert and a surfeit of ‘healthy’ snacks waiting under groaning tables.   This was surely akin to the pandering and pampering the maharajas would have had?  I joked about expecting to be hand-fed peeled grapes at any moment. The following morning they were there for breakfast. My sense is this is a place which takes, ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ to a whole new level. Hmmm, perhaps I should have asked for that husband afterall?

For more information about Suryagarh: www.suryagarh.com 

Jaisalmer is a 5 hour drive from Jodhpur. Daily flights are available from Delhil, Mumbai and Jaipur.

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