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G&B TEAM | New Delhi, December 5, 2012 16:27
Tags : Hotels | Luxury resort | The Sariska Palace | Rajasthani6 |
 

With the winter sun dancing on the few remaining strips of paint on my car’s weather beaten, road-ravaged bonnet, I drove west with a strange mix of excitement and embarrassment.

I was excited because I was driving on assignment, which is always a big deal for a travel journalist in his first year, and to top that feeling, I was driving to a ‘palace’, a ‘luxury resort’, in the heart of the wild Aravalis – The Sariska Palace in Alwar, a slice of Rajasthani regalia and natural splendor within arm’s reach of the national capital. Embarrassment, on the other hand, has become a close friend, a bond that grows deeper as my cars innards belch out clouds of sooty smoke at 40 km/h, and at 60 km/h, the winds carry away chips of what remains of a paint job the company called ‘Maharaja Gold’, I’m too scared to push the car any harder on a rather drivable NH-8. Motoring into the driveway of a palace in this jalopy was sure to grab eyeballs…and leave them watering with smoke and pity.

To add to my misery, 10 kms from Sariska Palace, the hitherto docile and welcoming tarmac assumes a wild character, in keeping with the mood of our ‘wild destination’ where tigers roam again, you’d think, but the treacherous craters and broken surface wreaks havoc on a small city car’s suspension. SUVs might not feel the difference but A-segment city commuters like my ageing pock-marked Korean braveheart should drive with extreme care, for the sake of your bones as much as to ensure that you don’t leave your radiator on the road.

An agonizing hour later, I reached the ‘Palace’s’ driveway, and it is a grand façade that greets the weary traveler, a study in architectural simplicity and elegance set against the backdrop of the green hills of the ancient Aravallis. After looking at all the pictures online and reading about the majesty of the place, I hoped to be treated like a maharaja, or at least his distant step cousin, my distinctly un-royal steed notwithstanding…

But I was mistaken. You don’t get the drum roll, garland and vermillion treatment that you might have come to expect at other heritage hotels, especially in Rajasthan. Was I disappointed… umm, no, not really. After all, the word palace is a bit of a misnomer. The ‘Sariska Palace’ was actually designed as a royal hunting lodge, built by the Maharaja of Alwar to welcome the Duke of Connaught for a hunting trip. And compared to Rajasthan’s other heritage resorts, it’s a more recent structure that saw completion towards the end of the 19th century.

In keeping with the character of a hunting lodge, the ‘palace’ is spacious and elegant without being opulent. Hunting trophies from the days of yore adorn the halls and walls. The hospitality staff, though not quite five star with respect to efficiency, is warm, courteous and knowledgeable.

Wildlife is at the heart of the ‘Sariska Palace experience’. Banter between tourists and the staff revolves around the sightings of the day, the best routes and locations, and ‘tigers’. Sariska has returned from the grave, resurrected by the return of the tigers. Poaching and park management are uncomfortable subjects that no one seems to have much to say about, other than criticizing apathetic government officials and corrupt and inept wildlife officials. But for now, in the glittering lights of the palace dining hall, tourists gather in the warmth of the fact that the tiger roars again in these forests.

 The palace sits right outside the park boundary and at dusk, one could chance upon deer and wild boar on the trails that lead from the palace to the park. And after dusk, jackals can be seen darting about the bushes on the trail. The Ruparail river separates the hotel from the woods. In the heat of summer, the river dries up, but the manager assured us that the animals would stay away from the lodge.

The rooms are well appointed, clean and extremely spacious. The Maharaja Jai Singh’s Superior Suite holds pride of place in the palace. This is one big room. The manager would tell you that some of the furniture, like the bed and the cupboard were from the time when the Maharaja himself was using the room. So if you have the cash, you could get to know the kingsize-bed that has carried the weight of a king and his dreams and the cares of a kingdom rather intimately.

 The lap of lavish luxury it might not be but the one thing that grants a good night’s sleep at the palace is a stomach filled with delightful gastronomical delights. The local Rajasthani cuisine served up by the palace kitchen is absolutely delicious and should rank right up there with the tiger as one of the reasons to venture into Sariska.

Victorian furniture, dawn and dusk jeep safaris in search of tigers and other forest denizens, dal bati churma and shikar tales on the walls… am I forgetting something… ah yes, all these and of course watching wild bats swooping down for insects and a drink as one lounges by the palace pool at dusk make Sariska a sepia tinged wildlife experience like no other.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017