The monsoon rains have already had their way with the road. Even though it is early July, patches of NH8 out of Gurgaon are the consistency of instant soup. As towering trucks and thrusting SUVs lurch their way through the mud-coloured consommé pooling in potholes, we resign ourselves to the dull frustration that accompanies any road trip in and out of Delhi. But the feeling is short-lived. The minute we turn off the national highway at Kot Putli, there is real countryside, the kind that welcomes the rain. There are freshly ploughed fields, sheesham and neem trees laden with fruit, and the rolling hills are green once again. Even the overturned truck that’s fallen into a roadside ditch seems like an aberration rather than the standard-issue street furniture it’s become on the main highway. Delhi and its sprawl, the roiling traffic, seem suddenly of another world.
We drive deeper into the hills and, in an hour, reach the town of Patan and head into an enclosed valley that lies at its end. The Aravalli Range rears up on three sides as we enter the hollow where sits Patan Mahal, a restored 200-yearold palace, amidst its fruit groves and vegetable gardens. As the eye travels up the green hillsides that enclose the Mahal, it lingers on ruins from Rajasthan’s feudal past: stone walls, hunting towers, the ornate skeleton of Badal Mahal and, right on top, a 13thcentury fort that guards the mouth of the valley. Time and weather have made these relics immensely picturesque.
In the afternoon stillness, a koel calls desultorily. Pigeons explode from their perches as I open the door to my verandah to look out over a prospect of neem and jamun trees leading to the vegetable garden. A humid torpor hangs in the air. I return to the cool dimness of the room for a nap.
I wake up in the late afternoon to the sound of thunder. Lightning crackles on the hilltops and the clouds have claimed the fort. I walk out on to the chequered marble terrace of the Mahal and shiver as the first raindrops sting me. There is no one, nothing else around: only the sounds, sight, smell and feel of the rain, the clouds massed above, the hills sizzling with occasional electric currents. The rain dies down and the sky is washed pink.
Deep cane chairs are laid out under the chhattri-canopies on the terrace and we look down at the town disappearing into the dusk as swallows do their final dives for the day over our heads. Drinks and onion pakoras, a cool breeze tugging at the tablecloth, darkness all around.
After breakfast the next day, the manager Umesh Tripathi takes me around the organic farm that adjoins the Mahal. The fields are sowed with bajra, bhindi and brinjal, lined with banana, pomegranate, papaya, guava, jamun and ber. Purple jamun litter the ground and we pick through them to find ones that aren’t too squishy. Suresh the maali reaches up and finds us some more on the tree and we now each have a stained handful of fruit to eat and spit as we walk up to the little dam that straddles the stream bed at the end of the farm. Again, there is no one there, only bulbuls burbling in the bushes, a burnished copper crow-pheasant stalking though the undergrowth, a boy in the distance taking goats to graze. No sound of traffic, human hubbub, machinery, amplified music. Stillness.
On the way back, we approach a whitewashed building with a handpump outside. It too is cool and quiet, the compound shaded by bel trees, sacred to Shiva, their tri-fold leaves a mnemonic for his trident. We climb the stone steps to the open pavilion where the Shivalinga is. One can sit there for a long time, not doing anything, looking out at the hills and trees. Back in the Mahal, I go for a swim in the octagonal marble pool. If the Mahal is a period piece, with its arches and panelled doors, giant four-postered beds and coloured-glass windows, the pool is Orientalist fantasy. Elephants’ heads spout water on the edges; sweetsmelling damask roses and muraiya skirt the lawns. I am now getting used to the princessly life.
Back to the terrace for sundowners, we sit under a clear sky and a gibbous moon two nights past Guru Purnima. By nine, the town is quiet; no nightlife in Patan, it seems. As the moon rides higher in the sky, the valley is bathed in milky light. The marble terrace gleams Taj Mahal-like. The looming hills and trees seem shrouded in mystery. The deep boom of a large owl breaks the silence; there will be good hunting tonight. It’s been far too long that I have looked out on landscape limned only by the light of the moon. Late at night, I sit on my verandah and soak in the beauty. Tomorrow we head back city-wards, but today, Dilli door ast.
Things to see and do in Patan
Just sleep, eat, read and gaze out to the hills. If you feel more energetic, swim in the jewel-shaped pool, eat fruit off the trees in the organic orchard, and explore the quiet Shiva temple and picturesque Gopaldwara house located on the property.
To walk off those sumptuous meals, hike up the hillside to the ruins of Badal Mahal and the 13th-century fort-eyrie that is a relic from the area’s turbulent past. There’s a baoli nearby. Walk down the steps to the well. Visit the lac bangle-makers in Patan town. Or learn how to cook laal maas and other signature Rajasthani dishes.
Road NH8 from Delhi is a smooth drive. Patan lies on the Kot Putli-Sikar State Highway, 23 km from the turn-off at Kot Putli on NH8. From Delhi, even with heavy traffic we reached in less than 4 hrs.