A Shekhawati escapade – Castle Mandawa

In Travels on June 23, 2010 by Ticket, please?

What can I say about a memory that is as fresh as that February morning, and refuses to fade away even after a year? That is Castle Mandawa for you my friends. Highbrows accustomed only to the Udai Vilases and the Devigarhs may retire now itself because this cozy miniature would not live up to the snob-value that you oh-so live by.

But those looking for a night’s getaway from Delhi, for a bespoke royal experience, more so, a palace to yourself, dump your bags in the boot, pick up a few friends or a special someone and head straight to Mandawa, all of 240kms from Delhi. This one doesn’t need a plan. Though you do need to check availability.

Typically, I favour word-of-mouth or recommendations from friends. And they were well versed with my taste and penchant for such cozy getaways. So on an early February morning, a bunch of us take off for a whiff of a royal holiday. The morning mist was a rarity to most of us, but nevertheless quite captivating. The drive is car-friendly and offers sumptuous parathas on the way for a king-sized breakfast. After all, the getting there must be an equally rich experience, isn’t it?

The sheer excitement of the sudden escape, curiosity to seek the unfamiliar, a relaxed mind embracing the morning fog, the company of great music and friends helped us reach the destination with even greater expectations. But we accidentally landed first at a close cousin of our Shekhawati abode – The Desert Resort Mandawa. I find the term Resort disgustingly commercial for my liking, especially after all that royal bragging. So with long faces we step inside to check out the property anyhow. In two minutes flat, we knew we weren’t looking for options.

The small Rajasthani town of Mandawa greets us with narrow lanes, longer purdahs (it is such a sight even today!), bright coloured shops of handicrafts and the warm welcome that an Indian Bazaar can create in the hearts of its visitors. And to our gaping surprise, tucked away in the middle of this hullabaloo is Castle Mandawa! An even narrower lane takes us in to a muddy entrée, tall old walls and a fascinating fortress at the end. Ladies and Gentlemen, we had finally reached our Shekhawati splendour.

The old world charm, the mysterious aura of the castle are enhanced with beautiful and graceful Rajasthani women in joyful bright clothing, peeking out from various corners. The story had begun! Handsome Rajasthani men, with their profound moustaches (the only ones I adore with facial hair) greet us with tilaks, respectful bows and a smiling namaste. Modern living and mannerisms felt quite distasteful at this moment. This is also when we realized how presumptuous we had been in not booking our suites in advance. There was only one Royal suite available and another deluxe room. Of course there was a toss, but did it really matter who took which room, since none of us intended to waste a single moment here. The concierge takes us through a courtyard where women are pounding spices and greet us with their beautiful smiles. Colourful frescoes and arches in the passages lead us to the sprawling residential section of the Castle housing 70 rooms & suites, interspersed with lawns, dignified with an ancient cannon and a pool cum Shekhawati bar tucked in a private corner.

The Royal suite was indeed a feast for the senses with its sheer magnanimity and grandeur, representing the flavours of an ancient era. The bathroom which is a topmost priority wherever I go, is another splendid royal treat and offers you enough space to do a bath-ballet if you’re up for it. A series of arched windows create room for great ventilation and offer some splendid views of the town. After a bathroom that does so much for you, we couldn’t seem to contain the explorer’s instinct and headed out.

Like many restored fortresses, Castle Mandawa is home to tradition as well as contemporary hospitality. Family portraits, antique cannons and arms have many a tale to tell of this family run palace-hotel where tradition still runs strong. It is strongly recommended to explore the Castle at your own pace. Spending leisurely hours over a drink in the colonial verandah is a sure favourite.  A close second is the comfort of the Diwankhana, the formal drawing room decorated with family portraits and a prominent display of antique armour. Such magnificence commands royal poise and mannerisms too. We loved to put up that act, even if just for a bit. The view from the ramparts over the town and the surrounding landscape is an unbounding experience.

There are 70 rooms, a verandah bar, conference facilities and an Ayurvedic centre. The hotel can organize camel and horse rides, jeep safaris, gala dinners, puppet shows and folk dances, theme weddings, turret dinners, and offers a billiards room, pool table, table tennis, vintage car rides and lastly a heritage walk of Mandawa, which sadly did not find its way on our slim itinerary.

At Mandawa, whether it is a quiet breakfast on a terrace offering great views of distant temples, a laid-back lunch in the mural-painted dining room, sharing a drink and interesting conversations in the congenial setting of the verandah bar, or an alfresco dinner under the stars, entertained by Rajasthani folk singers and dancers, every meal becomes a memorable occasion. Though I must admit that my obese expectations from the much heard of Rajasthani cuisine did not match up to a finger-licking experience.

Having experienced all that fare, it was time to bid adieu to this splendour and go back to run our rat-races. Basking in the glory of this short-lived trip, the return journey was a quiet rewind of what was to become an unforgettable memory.


2 Responses to “A Shekhawati escapade – Castle Mandawa”

  1. Nice write!
    Loved every bit of it!

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