Gajner Palace. An oasis in Rajasthan
Gajner Palace in Rajasthan, has to be experienced to be believed.
What do you know the western part of Rajasthan for? Jaisalmer? Bikaner? Deserts?
What if I told you about an Oasis, steeped in history, bejeweled with greenery and wildlife, which exists not 30 Km from Bikaner?
Unbelievable? That’s exactly what I thought when we decided to visit there on a long weekend.
The drive was long, winding down from Gurgaon past Kotputli, before we headed through Sikar and then on towards Gajner on the NH 11.
After crossing Bikaner, I was convinced, seeing the landscape around us, that it would turn into another of those overhyped Photoshop phenomena, which look beautiful in the pictures, but turn out to be damp squibs.
All around us was dry, barren land. Not a tree in sight. Almost cursing myself for agreeing to this holiday, we pulled off at a signpost on to a ‘kuccha road’ leading to the Gajner Palace.
Once we entered the palace grounds, however, we were stunned by the change in the landscape. The first sight of the palace was awe-inspiring.
We were greeted at the entrance by the sight of peacocks, casually strolling across the road, as if our presence meant nothing to them. You could smell a certain freshness in the air, and after the dry arid wind that kept us company till we reached, it almost felt like we’d been transported through a wormhole into another place and another time.
In the middle of the desert was this green paradise, seemingly uncorrupted by civilization. And it was far beyond anything I imagined.
The Gajner Palace was built by Sir Ganga Singhji as a Summer Palace, and was later used as a hunting resort during the days of the Raj.
Off late, it has been adopted by the HRH group of hotels, restored and offered to the discerning tourist as a getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.
If you’re looking for a Hotel or a Holiday that involves partying, street food and an experience of the colorful and noisy, but enjoyable chaos, that signifies many places in India, this place is not for you.
However, if you are a nature lover, or someone who enjoys a quiet getaway, surrounded by greenery, silence and solitude it is very difficult to find a place that beats the Gajner Palace.
The property is built on the shores of the Gajner Lake, a man made reservoir, built to attract migratory birds, which were then hunted by the Maharaja and his guests.
Hunting has long since been banned, but the legacy remains.
The main palace is now the heritage wing of the hotel, and it has additional modern wings as part of the property.
When we visited, we stayed in the Heritage Suite, which overlooked the lake. These rooms are restored from the days of the Maharaja, complete with their original fixtures, bathroom fittings and accessories. If you want to experience life as a Maharaja, this is among the closest experiences you’ll have of it.
After checking in and watching the sun set over the shimmering lake, we headed to the main courtyard, where we were treated to an authentic Sufi performance, by a troupe of local performers from Rajasthan.
Raw, unpolished and unplugged… they may not have been the best performers I have come across, but under a starry sky, seated in the lap of history, it was one of the best performances I have experienced.
Dinner was at the restaurant, where we were treated to a nice mix of European and Indian food.
The next morning we set out to explore the Gajner Sanctuary, where we saw animals like wild boar, jackals, deer and Black bucks apart from innumerable birds against a barren desert landscape peppered with green cover all around the resort.
No trip to Bikaner and its surroundings is complete without a visit to the Bikaner Palace, and that is exactly where we spent the rest of the day.
It was an interesting visit, seeing how each generation had added its own signature to the palace and its construct. All through the visit, an overenthusiastic ‘official’ guide singled me out to give me a personalized experience of each and every aspect of the palace and its attractions. While I was thrilled in the beginning, I quickly realized that the string attached to all this attention was a handsome tip, which was expected at the end of the tour (For some reason I attract this wherever I go – maybe ‘bakra’ is written all over my face)
After an entertaining (but heavily crowded) visit to the Bikaner Palace, we headed back to Gajner, where we decided to take a sunset boat ride on the lake.
The golden aura created by the sun, reflected off the gentle ripples in the lake was, for the lack of any other word, mesmerizing.
The last evening spent at the resort was not as enjoyable as the first, probably because we all knew what was to happen the next morning. All good things come to an end, and soon the beautiful experience of living like a Maharaja would end too.
The next morning, on our way out, we passed by the beautiful greenery, the birds in the trees and the peacocks in the palace grounds again.
And with a tinge of sorrow, we waved our goodbyes to one of the best holidays we have had in Rajasthan.
All Pictures © Digital Banjara Media Pvt. Ltd.