If there was ever any country which could be accused of assault, it would be India. It pummels each of the senses with unstinting abandon. I’ve heard people say you either love it or you hate it, but I think the truth is that everybody both loves and hates it.
I was there for a friend’s wedding and decided to do a quick tour of Rajasthan in the few days preceding the festivities.
Arriving late at night into New Delhi, a short drive through dusty dervishes, litter heaps and strangely menacing construction sites, we arrived at the striking but curiously empty feeling Trident Gurgaon. Its gracious spaces and water features were very Aman-like but it still managed to feel a bit like a business hotel. Which it probably is.
The next day we flew to Udaipur, bypassing what was from all accounts a fairly tedious drive. Our initial stop there was at Devi Garh, formerly a palace of the Mewar rulers built in the 1700’s and nestled in the Aravelli Hills about forty minutes’ drive from Udaipur itself.
Devi Garh is one of the most successful marriages of old and new that I have encountered, retaining for the most part its traditional architecture, complete with courtyards, stables, fountains and prayer nooks, but with a contemporary makeover which is both subtle and ingenious. Walls are whitewashed and bare, ornamented every so often with hand-painted motifs, intricate mosaics, or inset pieces of coloured glass. Outside our room was a statue of the elephant-god Ganesha covered in silver leaf, his eyes painted with kohl, and a garland of pink frangipani about his neck.
However, the 21st century is very much in evidence – the stables have been converted into a L’Occitane spa, there is an ayurvedic garden, and a black marble swimming pool graces the upper terrace.
I loved that each of the rooms was different, and that the common areas were so uncommon. The narrowest of stairwells opened out into a magnificent billiard room. A long audience room with a podium for the prince had been converted into a salon with saffron lounges and arrangements of marigolds. Still more twists and turns later, turrets had been turned into private dining rooms open to the night breeze, lamps and candles burning low so as not to compete with the blazing stars outside.
Looking out from the tiny balcony of our cool white room, I saw bats in belfries, and bullocks at our feet. Village life continued on beneath the palace in the same way that I image it has done for centuries, but from our perch on the hilltop, once revered for its strategic defense, we were now able to have apple martinis whilst reclining on silk cushions. I suppose the greatest marker of change however, is that what was once an exclusive preserve is now available to all, for a price.