People think twice about a Rajasthan road trip with a kid in tow, but here is a fellow travel happy mom, Shweta Singhal, showing you how its done with a special recommendation for Suryagarh.
The plan to visit Jaisalmer has been on the cards for the past 8 years, ever since we moved to NCR. But never happened since it demands more than a long weekend. And with a child who hates car rides and is only open to overnight train rides, it increasingly looked difficult. And then, when the plans finally got in place like a neat stack of cards, I was overjoyed! My husband, R and I were going to do Jodhpur – Jaisalmer – Bikaner by road, while my in-laws with daughter would fly in and out of Jodhpur. Everyone is happy…well, almost.
The pre-planning to get all the 5 suitcases in our SUV required military attention, but it got done. We started off at about 715 am to make the best use of the morning time. Our first stop was directly in Jaipur, where we reached at 1130 am. We had planned to eat at Sharma dhaba, and catching up with a cousin of mine. She informed me, though that no dhaba would be serving lunch at that time. So we ended up at a relative’s house to enjoy a veritable feast for lunch, not a smart idea when about 340 km more needs to be done. We finally left Jaipur at 130 with enough gajak, mathri and kachori packed for the next 7 days! That’s marwari khatirdari for you J
Jaipur – Kishangarh – Beawar – Jodhpur – this route suggested on google maps takes one through excellent roads, even though there are some 7/8 odd places to stop for toll. I wanted to take a coffee break around 5 pm at Chatra Sagar in Pali. But putting pali dam in google maps took us to a private property near chatra sagar, with almost an hour wasted, we turned and continued onto Jodhpur. Pali has to wait for some other day. The evening drive for an hour after sunset (at about 6 pm) was the toughest, with no street lights and oncoming vehicles using high beam. We reached our hotel in Jodhpur, quite exhausted at 7 pm. Shower – dinner – sleep.
After a lazy morning breakfast at the hotel and a second one for local treats at Janta Sweet Home, we picked up parents and daughter from the airport and started onward to Jaisalmer. We weren’t expecting a 4 lane highway like the one from Jaipur to Sikar, but the road to Jaisalmer was worse than expected, with a lot of construction going on in parts. We took a much needed break at about 5 pm at Heritage resorts. They have a nice garden and clean loos. We crossed Jaisalmer town and I got the first view of the Jaisalmer fort. It looked beautiful, all lit up in the evening. Our hotel was 15 kms away from the town towards sand dunes. And much before we reached it, we got our first sight of a fort palace on a hill top. Even if you have visited Jaisalmer before, Suryagarh is reason enough for a re-visit. It is a stunning newly built fort palace hotel.
<The evening, when Suryagarh pretties itself up with subtle lighting>
K loved Suryagarh. Her favourite part was the morning lavish breakfast spread. The hotel has many pets, all of who come to the courtyard and she delighted in that – petting the baby donkey, seeing the sparrows (non pets!) come to the table and drink water from our glasses, getting close to the resident peacock strutting about and playing with the white masakalis (pigeon-like).
We spent the next 2 days leisurely soaking in the desert atmosphere and hospitality there. A visit to Jaisalmer fort is a must. However, what we didn’t anticipate was the strong sun and the heat even in the third week of December. We hired a guide to show us around one of the largest inhabited forts in India.
<Jaisalmer Fort, the largest inhabited fort in India>
< The fort has lovely jharokhas with jaali work>
Then we went to Trio for lunch, spicy and decent food. I couldn’t convince everyone to see the patwon ki haveli and we came back to the hotel after the fort visit. The evening cultural program, the leisurely meals in the open courtyard, the endless nooks and corners to read a book, the organic garden behind with rows of neat herbs and other plants – so many ways to relax at Suryagarh that the night and the next day quickly passed by.
<Sunrise the next morning, just before our cycling trip>
The next morning, we did end up having a small adventure. The hotel does have few unadvertised bikes for guests, and while the staff said they couldn’t be taken out of the hotel premises, the hotel manager was perfectly fine with our request. So, dressed warmly and with 3 small water bottles stuffed in our side pockets (since the bikes have no holder for a bottle), R and I left for a cycling trip. The idea was to do a short trip, not more than 10 – 15 kms. I googled Bada Bag, a picturesque cenotaph and the map gave me couple of options. I selected the closest one and after cycling for 5 kms, landed near a stone quarry. The weather was nippy and it was lovely to see the open wide landscape, with nothing but gigantic windmills dotting all over.
<cycling across a windfarm>
We asked a local near the quarry and got redirected to Ludarva, another site that showed as about 10 km away. We gamely cycled till there. What we didn’t realise was that the route back to the hotel would be another 25 – 27 km!! Soon, we ran out of water and enthusiasm to cycle. R who is used to cycling was game for this, but the last 5 km was sheer torture for me. We had started our trip at 710 and my watch showed 1010 am, the only thing that kept me going (for the last 5 km) was the thought that the lavish breakfast spread at the hotel would end at 1030!
<beautiful straight empty roads in most parts, maintained by BRO>
<Breakfast at Suryagarh in the open courtyard was a sublime experience with this artist playing from one of the balconies>
The last day in Jaisalmer was spent at Damodra Desert camp, an excellent choice to spend the night in the desert. We had an early light lunch at Suryagarh and left for Damodra. We reached the campsite, we were shown into our tents; had some tea / coffee and set off in a jeep towards the dunes. Half an hour later, we were transferred to camels which I loved, so much so, that after getting off everyone on the dunes, I asked the camel guy to take me solo with the camel running. Exhilarating, a bit scary only when the camel decided to run down a dune in full speed!
My daughter, K loved the Thar desert as well. Not every kid (or adult) enjoys a camel ride and K hated it. But no child can resist running up and down the dunes, trying sand boarding and enjoying the dramatic sunset.
It’s a great way to spend the evening. We were back at the camp post sunset. All the rolling around in the sand required a bath, which delayed us for the evening cultural program. The camp hostess had mulled some wine in true Christmas spirit and gave it to all the guests. Great way to start the evening. Good food, great cultural show and the most magnificent sky with a canopy of stars that I had seen in a while.
The next morning, post a quick breakfast, we set off back to Jodhpur. A quick lunch at Samsara resorts (much grander than our stop en route to Jaisalmer), and we reached the city around 330 pm. We decided to visit Mehrangarh fort before checking into our hotel. The fort perched on its own hilltop looms majestically and can be seen from almost everywhere in the old city. The entrance gates, the vast expanse within, the artefacts showcased in the palace rooms all make for a stunning experience. But it is quite a walk and we were really tired after the journey from Jaisalmer and the tour of the fort.
Since this was our last night in Jodhpur before going back home the next day via Bikaner, my husband and I wanted to make the most of the night. Dinner was at Pal Haveli rooftop, with stunning views of Mehrangarh fort lit up in the evening. (Another great spot in the old city is the restaurant at Raas, but that was all reserved for in-house guests).
<view of Mehrangarh Fort from Pal Haveli roof-top restaurant>
Another quick stop at Janta Sweet Home, this time with parents and my daughter, and then we were off to Bikaner.
K loved Rajasthani sweets especially the halwa at Suryagarh and jalebis at Janta sweet home (besides the firangi chocolate pastries). But She found Rajasthani food at restaurants quite spicy. We usually ordered pasta or pizza for her outside the main hotels.
A bit of the earlier day repeat – 4.5 hour car trip to Bikaner city, parking the SUV in the old city then a mad dash in an auto to reach Junagarh Fort before the last entry at 430 pm. We made it! After the crowds at Jaisalmer and Mehrangarh forts, this one seemed almost empty at that hour. Which is a shame – this is one of the most beautiful palaces from inside, with stunning work done on the walls and ceilings in several rooms – anoop mahal, music room etc. We then made our way to the newly opened Narendra Bhawan, a beautiful residence of the last king of Bikaner, now converted into a hotel.
And finally the long journey back to Gurgaon.
Shweta also shared her Vietnam adventures with us, you can find that here.