Courting the past
Suryagarh resort in Jaisalmer is not magical. It's not a real fort but indeed as real it can get. The orange flags and banners that adorn the imposing façade rendered in Jaisalmer's traditional yellow sandstone recreate the Rajputana grandeur of yore. Taking from the typical Rajputana architecture, the massive gateway leads you to the main entrance through a pebbled pathway. You expect to see a cannon and you find one but the sati handprints on the walls of the entrance hint at Manvendra Singh Shekhawat's attention to details. It was at a party in Mumbai that Manvendra, then a model, heard a nasty remark being made about his father, resolved to reconnect to his soil and that's how Jaisalmer got its first boutique hotel in 2010. Located at Kahala Phata, Sam Road in Jaisalmer, it is designed as a sun fortress where every part of the sprawling building faces the sun.
Inside, it's the same story. The courtyards, terraces, the gokhadas or jharokas, exquisitely carved doors, treasure chests, Jaisalmer sandstone flooring, screen print on walls, period teak furniture everything there holds testimony to the illustrious past of the Rajput clan. But Manvendra takes the story by seamlessly blending the past with the luxuries of today. Though such examples abound in the resort but the upholstery, art works in the restaurants particularly, stand out in this regard. Local scenes and life make its way to everywhere, like the imaginatively done up display counter at Draksh, the bar, at the resort. Here, a photograph of the local tribesman played inspiration to the face that has been carved in sheesham wood and the handlebar whiskers attaining the role of shelf.
Manvendra's interest in art and aesthetics is evident. He pursued designer Raghvendra Singh Rathore to design the insignia and conceptualise the scintillating ceiling at the reception. So it's not surprising to know that the young gun is planning to open an art room at the resort which will not just showcase antiques, paintings from his family's collection, and stones that he collects but also conduct workshops and demonstrations of local crafts. At its amphitheatre too, the visitors get a whiff of the rich Rajasthani culture as a group artistes present their peculiar art traditions from their repertoire.
The resort also facilitates an equally mesmerising experience of its surroundings. It benefits as much from its distance from the city as it does from its proximity to the Sam sand dunes. Astride a camel, whose name could be Shah Rukh, Rocket or Lallan, you can see a musician, afar, playing ravanhatha, one of the oldest living instruments, for a clutch of foreigners. Suddenly, the loud ring tone of a cell phone — latest item number of Bollywood — causes rupture in this old world setting. Chottu Khan, the camel owner, takes out his mobile and negotiates a deal. Later on, enjoy the high tea experience listening to the lilting melodies on the traditional Rajasthani instruments beneath the star studded sky.
Soak in the smells and sights of the city, which thrives around the majestic Jaisalmer Fort, the Golden Fort or the Sonar Kila. One of the oldest living forts, you see traces of few surviving and many fading customs