A stay at Deogarh Mahal, Rajasthan, combines a fairytale setting, a royal lifestyle and care for the environment in a quiet way.
“Dhameero” is taking me to Khayyam. No, it's not a horse like Dhanno of “Sholay” but an army vehicle turned into an open car by the brilliant boys of Deogarh Palace: Veerbhadra and Shatrunjai Singh. “The idea was to have a vehicle that would consume minimum fuel yet merge with the character of the place. Our beloved ‘Dhameero' is a mix of a tractor and a big open jeep,” say the brothers.
The village of Deogarh lies on a plateau northeast of Udaipur in Western Rajasthan (about two and a half hours drive). Being 2,100 ft above sea level, it is shielded from the desert heat and is enveloped by the Aravali range. At the top of the village, and the very heart of the community, is Deogarh Mahal. With its bold battlements, domed turrets and balconies, the Mahal towers over the town below. The terraces offer a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and its rugged rock-strewn countryside dotted by a number of lakes.
Steeped in history
A fitting stronghold for one of the 16 umraos (feudal barons) of Mewar, Deogarh Mahal is over 300 years old. This stone and lime edifice was built in stages as each ruler added to it. The current family restored their ancestral home taking care to retain the integrity of its original style and the many years of history within its ramparts.
Few palaces are more traditional than Deogarh with its mud packed walls and old staircases stretching along neat curves, impeccably kept courtyards with their beautiful greens.
As we move towards our jungle lodge, sounds from the forest silence us: an owl's hoot, the staccato barking of deer, a movement in the hedges, a flap of wings on the branches high above and the cicadas making music. We are in a heritage tent beside Anjana Fort. The softly lit-up open-air restaurant is the best place to watch as the sun sinks into the fort and stars light up the sky.
Early morning, woken by a choir of birdsong, we walk the trail to spot coots, black ibises, painted sand grouse, kingfisher, Rufus tree pies and a paradise flycatcher. We hit the tracks to reach Saind Mata Temple at 1500 ft.
Lunch back amid the agricultural farm was picture perfect with local charpoys neatly laid out to stretch aching legs. Laal maas and vegetables with fresh local produce and live music of Rajasthani dhol ……what more one could ask for?
And then there is Seengh Sagar, the island fortress, an experience I shall never forget. My suite villa unbelievably exquisite, with the lake waters and the rapidly forming hues of the skyline being picture perfect. An eclectic English tea awaited me with an interesting and knowledgeable host, Col Randhir Singh of Deogarh.
Each of the four suites is built around a turret with the balcony being transformed into a daybed covered in jewel-coloured silks. I sat under a huge neem tree in the creeper-strewn courtyard listening to my host's stories while the staff whipped up cocktails from the ‘James Bond bar.' My relentless storyteller ignores my pleas and says, “What's the big deal? It's just another glass!”
Eco-conservation is the family's mission in their hospitality business, which is a complete package of environment, tradition and culture. Add to it a whopping dose of luxury. The properties are eco-friendly, disabled-friendly and use only renewable source of energy (solar) and water harvesting technologies. The owners aim to generate more than 95 per cent of their electricity using solar panels, windmills and biogas plants. All the waste generated is treated. They are establishing a sewage treatment plant, which will re-cycle sewage and make it fit for use in the garden. The spa uses beeswax candles, which are supposed to clean the air. Plastic is totally banned; laundry bags are made of jute and Haylide, which is bio-degradable, is used for cleaning utensils, the bathroom, metal polishers and for mopping of floors.
Deogarh has a relaxed rhythm and a heart-stopping beauty. No noise, no pollution… only the parakeet's high pitched call and a myriad of other chirps, whistles, and songs announce the animal orchestra... a goose's honk finishes the notes, at a distance. This is what I call the ultimate bliss!
Plenty to do
Trekking, bicycling, picnicking, bird watching
Explore the countryside on horse or jeep safari
Look royal with a vintage drive.
Enjoy a pool game in Mahal's bar
Take a ride on the local metre-gauge train
Go for day trips to Kumbalgarh or Ranakpur
Just relax in the Spa at the Mahal
How to get there
Deogarh is on the border of Mewar, Marwar and Merwara.
By road: Deogarh is a couple of miles east of National Highway 8. It is 140 km from Udaipur, 280 km from Jaipur and 170 km from Jodhpur.
By rail: Deogarh is on the Western Railway Route, between Udaipur and Marwar junction.
Nearest Airport: Udaipur (about 140 km)
Sharmila Chand is a Delhi-based lifestyle and travel writer.