Heavenly Heritage

Hand carved stone vessels, filled to the brim with scented waters and decorated with flower mandalas, have been placed auspiciously to guide our journey through ancient sandstone halls. I dip my head under carved arches and enter a courtyard of rambling bougainvillea in bloom ascending balconies of shuttered windows. I’m in the centre of a giant treasure chest. Climbing stairs to the grand entrance, I turn and survey what I’ve left behind; a spectacle of preserved history, secrets held in rooms and walls, mirrors striated with patina holding memories of ages and faces long gone.

Lilting and melodic Rajasthani music is playing in the main courtyard. We linger here only for a moment before we are swept into a private alcove and refreshed with lime soda and presented with the heavy brass key to the Maharajas Suite, an upgrade, courtesy of the owner, the Maharaja of Samode himself, His Royal Highness Yadavendra Singh with whom we’re conducting an interview. It’s also an excuse, of course, to taste the fabulous life of Maharajas!

There are no lifts in this stunning heritage hotel, and the porters carry our luggage on their heads up narrow stone stairwells, higher and higher, until we are settled in our magnificent room overlooking the dusky, sun drenched Aravalli Range. Eagles circle high above us, and flocks of rock pigeons swoop in formation around the grounds before settling back on the roof above our room at the highest point Samode Palace.

I stare out to the shimmering desert below, the silence, the solitude, the bliss of it all has captured my spirit. This is where I can dream for hours. A pattering of little feet is heard. A squeal of delight, ‘Look Mummy a bath in the middle of the room!’ In front of our four-poster bed is a huge bathtub with shiny old-fashioned taps and plenty of bubble bath that we enjoy immensely later in the night. Our suite also has a lovely dinner table for eight, a sofa you can snuggle on, a walnut-coloured desk at which one can pen letters or type engaging travel blogs.

The palace was home to Indian royalty less than a century ago, and we still feel taken into the welcome fold of a certain humble luxury by the wonderful staff, most coming from the local medieval village of Samode surrounding the ramparts. Every want and need is catered for and a there is a certain romantic magic that is subtly created here. It truly feels like you have come to visit a long lost friend in their house, albeit one of the grandest in India, rather than an anonymous guest at some five star hotel.

Exploring the Palace, we are startled to find immaculately preserved rooms of hand-painted glory depicting Krishna and his consorts in various stages of frivolity and elegant poise. The Mughal Mahal has secret windows and tiny rooms with walls are covered with scalloped cut mirrors, in our opinion the jewel in the crown of Samode Palace. And down in the lavish Dubar Hall, magnificent chandeliers quiver as they await the next imperial reception, a glorious example of Mughal design and architecture.

In the shine of the late desert sun, we sit beneath trees on striped towels, occasionally taking a dip in the marble mosaic swimming pool and later in the private infinity pool on a high up terrace.

Paloma is in heaven, playing with doves in the cool waters, watching out for cheeky long-tailed monkeys on the rooftops of the village below.

Later, under a little crescent moon we feast on delicious Rajasthani cuisine. Paloma is entertained by a traditional spangled puppet show and leaves clutching a pretty Maharani doll. Entering our suite, the covers on our bed have been folded back, music is playing and the lights are dim. Martini’s await Ben and I and we sip them looking out to a starry sky and muse on the goings on here of Rajputs of the past, dreaming of where our future adventures will take us.

Wandering Rainbows

Nestled into the back of the ambassador taxi we hurtled through the orange dust of an Indian midnight from Delhi airport to Jaipur. Paloma was finally asleep in my lap, after her unfortunate decision to stay awake for most of the flight over. It only took one hour of breathing in the pollution and that unmistakable smell of India for me to feel like I had somehow come home. The holy cows lying hither and thither on the road, the warm air, the jangly coloured trucks with painted messages of ‘Honk Please’ and ‘Blow Horn’ on them – not that Indian drivers need a further invitation for tooting incessantly.

Jaipur, the fabled ‘Pink City’, ancient and crumbling and set in the dusty desert seduced us with her charms even by night. When we woke, we found it’s bazaars filled with treasures, city streets chaotic with wandering Sadhus, incense smoke and flower garlands with which I decorated my family for our immersion into our temporary Indian way of life. Paloma’s new mantra ‘Have no fear’ was evident when she asked to sit in her own seat behind the rickshaw driver who wove through the chaos with the same mantra, speeding between the sleepy cows and wandering pedestrians. Paloma laughed with delight as the rickshaw wallah swerved on the wrong side of the road over bumps and potholes, throwing her up and down, more fun than anything on offer at Birchgrove Park, watching the world swirl by like an natural globetrotter.

Today we are clad in matching pristine white kurta pyjamas ready to revel in the annual festival of colour known as Holi. Young boys race to the side of our bicycle rickshaw, liberally smearing our faces with neon pink, canary yellow and emerald green pigment powders.

Paloma is a hit and as soon as we have stepped from the rickshaw and entered the temple complex she is stolen away and covered with kisses, blessings and clouds of holi powder. She runs with the village children, chasing cheeky temple monkeys and posing for snaps with Indian families. Someone offers her a bag of powder and she delights in annointing everyone with her Holi blessings. We are swallowed by the melee and dance to the temple drums with the frenzied crowd, laughing all the time until our cheeks hurt.

Before long we have become top-to-toe walking rainbows. As we leave the beautiful and ornate Govind Devji temple, more festival-goers shower us with bursts of colour thrown up or pumped into the air with plastic pistols. Our rickshaw driver is getting as much attention as we are and he cycles us away to another part of town where painted elephants trumpet and sparkle in the descending sun outside the Old City walls.