I’ve always wanted to stay in an Indian Palace. One with intricately hand-painted walls, halls extravagantly decorated with fabrics and mirrors, plenty of marble and a pool overlooking hills and an abandoned fort sounds about right. Ross tour leader Peter Whitehead says he’s found just the place.
“Samode Palace is a fabulous example of Rajput-Mughul architecture. It started life as a rugged fortified stronghold, deep in the Aravalli range of hills, about 40km north-west of Jaipur in the heart of Rajasthan. The present owners, Rawal Raghavendra Singh and Yadavendra Singh, are descendants of the royal family of Samode. They restored the palace in the late 1980s and opened it up as a boutique hotel.
The three-storey façade that greets you once through the grand arch at the entrance is the stuff of fantasy. (Hollywood location scouts had the same reaction as me when they first saw Samode, and it’s used in the film of the MM Kaye book, ‘The Far Pavilions.’) Adding to the magic when we stayed last year was a swanky Indian wedding. Rose petals and marigold petals lined every single pathway, and the front façade and main courtyard were festooned with fairy lights. The groom arrived on a white charger! The wedding was held in the main courtyard, near the incredible scallop-edged pool. It looked like a no-expense spared extravaganza from our vantage point – and there were fireworks, literally, at the end of the night.
The marble pool is very beautiful, but we found ourselves drawn to the rooftop pool, with its view over the harsh landscape of the hills, with a ruined fort on one peak. Looking out at the hills, you can’t help thinking that Samode would have been a difficult place to defend, even though the encircling ranges give a wonderful sense of enclosure.
The palace had some serious upgrades in the 19th century when the resident royals went all out for decoration. This is probably the most famous part of the hotel, Darbar Hall, which has hand-painted walls and a mirrored gallery.
Just outside the palace complex is Samode village, which is a fascinating place to wander around. You can watch traditional artisans still manufacturing farm implements by hand. I spent a lovely couple of hours delving into the narrow lanes and getting a real sense of the essence of rural India.
The royal family also made a family getaway nearby called Samode Bagh. The gardens here are laid out in the geometric Mughal style.
There are wonderful pools, fountains and pavilions, and lush plantings of bougainvillea, oleander, roses, marigolds and of course Jasminium Sambac. This plant is grown for garlands and Indian women often wear a small twist of the intensely fragrant small white flowers in their hair. And we’d already seen the importance of marigolds and roses – there must have been kilos of petals lining those paths at the palace. Here’s one more look at them.
Peter Whitehead is leading a tour to India in February for Ross Garden Tours, that takes in two nights at Samode Palace. See the full itinerary here.
Photos: Peter Whitehead