I can happily swim off the cliff and take flight. Like the pigeons that flutter above the shimmering infinity pool that flows miraculously into nothingness, down the enchanting terrace of the 400-year-old Samode Palace. The stately architecture in all its graciousness embraces modern features with ease, shrouding a bubbling jacuzzi under a romantic chhatri with views of surrounding hills and the plunging valley below.
The water stings from the lingering winter, making the dip in the warm jacuzzi ever so delicious. Thus we flirt between hot and cold, Long Island Iced Tea in hand, contemplating a siesta on the welcoming lounger beds, all made up with cheerful yellow towels. The service is efficient yet discreet with smiling genies in traditional livery floating around to grant our wishes on a platter.
In the heritage hotel circuit,Samode Palaceis a name that’s whispered with hushed awe as the property most others aspire to be. Gnarled roots of giant banyan trees hang down the steep twisted cobbled road leading up to the palace, transporting us to another century. And then it appears, climbing upwards into a hillside, magnificent in a weathered Naples Hue. Entering the imposing gates, we’re greeted by the bowing sentinel of the curled moustaches before we climb the lofty steps, knowing from now, we’re special. We’ve joined the ranks of the late Jacqueline Kennedy, Mick Jagger, Jeremy Irons, the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and, of course, our own home grown Bollywood VIPs who’ve all been cradled in this ultimate lap of luxury.
Things to See and Do
The palace’s self-assured sense of history does not pickle you into old-fashioned fiefdom. Instead, it lets you luxuriate at your own style and pace, only adding to the romance with its magical setting and well-groomed details. Tastefully restored by the descendants of the ruling family, Raghavendra and Yadavendra Singh, it awed visitors when it first opened as a hotel in 1987. It has been awarded the ‘Best Heritage Hotel’ title in the country for five consecutive years and featured as the world’s fifth Best Hotel by The Times.
We can see why. A sprawling palace with endless wings, terraces and courtyards at different levels, it offers a surprise in every corner. The Sheesh Mahal, shimmering like a jewel box with its glittering mirrors, the detailed frescoes of the grand Durbar Hall, the antique wall murals in the Sultan Mahal, the princely lounge and the warm colours filtering through windows with stained glass mosaics makes it a treasure-house of some of the best preserved art and craftsmanship of the Rajput-Mughal era. One can spend hours gazing at the fine strokes and find something new every time in the amazing frescoes that conjure up a bygone era. A surprisingly uncensored bathing scene of a rajah with his consorts, the blood oozing from a leaping tiger, just struck by a hunter’s arrow, a queen holding a miniature king, presumably a baby prince… it’s a mesmerising world in paint that’s miraculously survived the centuries.
The marble mosaic pools below and the infinity pool above are the highlights for most visitors. The central courtyard is a favourite for lunch, just like any other spot you may fancy to be served in. And to ease any stress that all this might cause you, there is an onsite spa that offers steam and sauna, along with a range of treatments to pamper you.
Out and away
Just a walk down the cobbled path out of the palace gates into the village takes us to a medieval village market with tiny colourful shops, where we pick up local jootis from a cobbler who makes them himself. The faded pink and green tumble-down havelis on both sides of the lane are dotted with chatting ladies in fluorescent orange and greens, kids who’ve learnt to say “hello” to tourists, men eating lunch, as they fondly shoo away pet goats, accompanied by the characteristic hiss of sizzling ovens and rhythmic pounding as rows of ironmongers beat hot iron into mouldings. The locals are content to eat rotis with onions and chillies for lunch in front of their houses, under the winter sun, far removed from the opulent world of the Palace, though grateful for the tourists it brings to their shops.
Located 4 km from the palace is Samode Bagh. The erstwhile garden retreat of the Samode royals with its 20 acres of lawns and gardens, an original marble pavilion and a 200-foot-long row of fountains, fed from natural springs and wells, transfers us back in time to another century. The Bagh’s resident guests are put up in luxuriously furnished air-conditioned tents, so like the former royals they can wallow in luxury, even while enjoying the outdoors. A paradise for birdwatchers, the Bagh provides many ways to chill, from indigenous hammocks to table tennis or pool under thatched roofs, a swimming pool and a well-stocked bar. Activities offered include camel safari Rs 1,650 per camel for two, horse safari Rs 1,650 per horse for two, jeep safari Rs 3,300 for one to four persons.
Nearest airport: Jaipur’s Sanganer Airport (55 km/11/2 hrs). Resort transfer Rs 2,600 approx
Nearest railhead: Jaipur (41 km/ 1 hr).
Best option TO
Ajmer Shatabdi (dep: New Delhi 6.05 am, Delhi Cantt 6.38 am; arr: Jaipur 10.30 am). Resort transfer Rs 2,600
Best option FROM
Ajmer Shatabdi (dep: Jaipur 5.50 pm; arr: Delhi Cantt 9.55 pm, New Delhi 10.40 pm)
Take NH8 to Chandwaji. At the Chomu signboard, take service lane to exit highway and head towards Chitwadi Modh. Follow signboards ot Samode Palace
En route halts
Motel Behror, midway between Delhi and Jaipur
Story by Lipika Sen