TRAVEL IN STYLE: GUILTY PLEASURES vs GUILT-FREE INDULGENCE
All that’s really good in life, I’m told is bad for me or OK in controlled doses. ‘Everything in moderation.’ I can’t tell you how much I resent that phrase. It’s riddled with guilt, negative association and control. But I try to abide, in terms of chocolate, shoes and wine. There is one pleasure, however, for which I make no excuse. It requires no justification, no explanation and no reasoning. It’s the one guilt-free indulgence into which I delve with carefree abandon.
Uber-luxury travel is an addiction. As serious as any. It no longer suffices to stay in an average 5*. If it’s not at the very least 5* deluxe, rated by similarly like-minded discerning travellers and boasting the least number of villas/suites spread across the maximum number of acres, I’m in danger of entering frenzied tantrum mode. But if it satisfies that criteria, hook me up, feed my veins and leave me be while I get my fix. As for my India trip, so far so boutique. I’ve discovered some local gems, rare finds and even been the solo guest at a Royal palace. But this is where my over-excitable hyper nature gets to be unleashed. It’s been said that once you taste India’s uber-luxury, little else compares. I thought the Middle East had upstaged that title, or that my monumental splurge in Indonesia & Malaysia couldn’t be toppled. To date, it remains indestructible; at the height of glam. As a luxury travel writer, I’ve certainly savoured what I consider to be the epitome of fantasy and think of myself as something of a Connoisseur. But what’s to come forces me to re-evaluate everything I know about the very unique ‘super-deluxe’ category.
I’ve sampled the clever marketing of 7* hotel labelling, tried the PR hype of new luxury eco-friendly resorts and tested the Journalism spin of ‘Best Spa / Beach / Suite in the world’. But I’ve realised that the essence of greatness requires few words. Gimmicks are current and comparatively short-lived. Legacy and grandeur are timeless and simply speak for themselves. Welcome to Jodhpur…
To give myself the best chance of experiencing all that’s both local and luxurious, I split my time in Jodhpur between two properties. Both 5* deluxe (though we’ve already established that’s far too broad a classification), both very intimate yet both completely contrasting. The first is a luxury boutique Haveli. The second needs little introduction other than the Royal Palace, home to Jodhpur’s Royal family and location of Liz Hurley‘s eponymous fairytale wedding.
RAAS BOUTIQUE LUXURY HAVELI
RAAS basks in the shade of Mehrangarh Fort’s Eastern Victory Palace and Gate. It is quite literally a stone’s throw from the fort, directly below though still slightly elevated.
Designed in delicate rose-red sandstone, it’s somewhere the style-savvy travellers will feel at home. Nikhilendra Singh’s creation comprises 7 buildings; 4 date back to the 18th century, 3 are recent.
Coined Jodhpur’s first boutique hotel, it already has that elusive ambiance – part refuge, part-rendezvous-vous, shared by the world’s leading intimate boutique hotels.
Raas adds a cutting-edge, contemporary property in a classic setting to the mix, against the imposing backdrop of the fort that dominates the skyline and acts as the main draw to the city. Against an inky night sky studded with stars, the spotlit fort glows.
Every aspect of the Haveli, from dining to swimming, is styled to bathe in the magnificence of Mehrangarh. Whilst there, Conde Nast Japan are on location on a fashion shoot. A beautiful male model appears in cool lavish linens and sharp shirts. They’re photographing in the private outdoor Sala directly opposite my suite. It’s a stunning space, designed in earthen materials, secluded from prying eyes and set in stone. Think, the Flintstones meets Marrakechan Riad. Late afternoon, it basks in a hazy lazy close heat which adds to the sensuality and intimacy, ideal for a lover’s late lunch date.
Situated within the pulse of Jodhpur‘s old market town, the surroundings are a photographer’s delight ensconced within an olde world of baby blue roofs, cows, street-sellers and a very local mosque.
SARDAR MARKET; KALEIDOSCOPIC ASSAULT ON ALL THE SENSES
As a culture-vulture, I lose myself in a kaleidoscopic assault of the senses. Early morning I take a stroll.
Cows and bulls liberally roam the crowded streets navigating rickshaws, workers, cars and bicycles. Myriad market-sellers set up stall in Sardar market with a spectrum of decorative Sarees and bangles.
Echoes of morning prayer loom above the city from the neighbourhood mosque, weary men sweat in the heat peddling rickshaws overloaded with inflated papayas, the overpowering stench of cow muck wafts down alleyways to attack the back of my nostrils, yet my stomach rumbles as I pass freshly-cooking rotis and fried Jalebi sweets.
Sardar market is heaving at any time but in this heat and humidity it’s almost overwhelming. Sheer determination and pure ‘nomadness’ keep me at my mission to explore and discover.
During my rambles, I spot a young girl dressed in a striking Saree, dripping in jewellery and painted lips. Curious, I ask her father if I can take a photograph. He happily agrees, beaming with pride as he tells me she’s dressed for a religious Hindu festival known as ‘Gangaur.’ It’s for all unmarried girls and prays to Lord Shiva for a good husband and married life. This girl is 9 years old.
Shortly after, I spot women from the main procession heading the same way.
The central focus of the market is the Girdikot clock tower, around which rows of spirited sellers take to the streets in columns of multicolour.
I watch in awe as the chaos somehow flows and everyone lives a full life in and around Sardar market.
A meander back to Raas for an understated lavish breakfast rounds off an idyllic morning. The beauty of Raas lies within it’s ‘localness.’ Comically, however, suites are equipped with ear plugs for those who may be sensitive to the 5am call to prayer billowing from next door’s mosque.
RAAS; RIAD EXPERIENCE IN RAJASTHAN
Raas is the complete riad experience. It’s considered menu leans towards ‘European’ flavours, mainly of Morocco, Spain and Italy, whilst dinners delight international fine wine and dining lovers.
It’s private, luxuriant and it’s surroundings are bursting with atmosphere. It’s ground-breaking cutting-edge design is carved into the heart of the old town, which enables Raas to capture the vitality of the people of Jodhpur in all their unedited charm.
The haveli is a luxurious one-off but life surrounding the haveli is the story.
- Mandawa, Home of the Historic Havelis (ani-shah.com)
- Gold Is Where the Heart Is, Jaisalmer ‘Golden’ Fort (ani-shah.com)
- Impressions of India; Portraits of a People (ani-shah.com)
- Raas Jodhpur / By The Lotus Praxis Initiative ~ HouseVariety (kitticoon.typepad.com)
- Maharaja Express Indian Splendor Journey : Unveiling the Royal Splendors of India (slideshare.net)