For a writer, there are two types of stories that are incredibly difficult to write: one is about something that was awful, and the other is about something that was simply amazing.
Both share a similar challenge: to write beyond the obvious (good or bad) and give your readers a chance to come to their own conclusions.
And both share a similar solution: just tell the truth.
See and Do
Jaisalmer is very close to the end of the world for India. About 100km from the Pakistan border, this small city rises out of the desert and disappears back into it just as quickly as it appeared. Its claim to fame is the 11th century fort that functions as the town's tourist drawcard and a living heritage sight.
Over 5000 people still live and work inside its walls. It could truly be called the world's largest inhabitable sand castle, and it's hard not to be charmed by the sandstone mansions (called havelis), Jain temples, and colorful quilts that fill Jaisalmer's twisted streets.
But there's a place about 10km away from Jaisalmer that, impossibly, is even more charming than the city itself. Suryagarh, a boutique fort hotel outside of town, opened its 62 rooms less than four years ago and is doing everything in its power to become a poster child for India's "Incredible" campaign.
It starts with the ride to the hotel, during which you're escorted by "guards" standing in the back of a jeep and holding the hotel's signature flags.
Inside the main courtyard, you're greeted by drums, traditional singing, rose petals that flutter down from the sky, and the fort's priest, who blesses you before inviting you inside.
The location, in a desolate strip of desert, makes your stay even more realistic. After all, forts were always built in the middle of nowhere and they, like Suryagarh, were self-sufficient. Everything you could ever ask for is here--evocative rooms that manage to be modern, a swimming pool in the shade, blazing fast WiFi, hummus, cheese and olives!!!, cocktails, nightly snacks on your bedside table, and a staff that knows your name and remembers you're allergic to eggs.
Suryagarh isn't a hotel. It's a destination in itself, one that showcases the best of Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert by getting you off the the tourist trail and into a whole different frame of mind.
Think multi-course dinners on the dunes where you're serenaded by live-in musicians and dancers who still practice the music and craft of their ancestors.
Imagine rides through desert ghost towns and stops at hidden Jain temples that reminded us of the fairytale landscape of Bagan.
Picture picnics in verdant valleys, camel rides followed by sunset cocktails, and breakfasts with magicians and peacocks.
All this, and more, is possible, and it all combines to make Jaisalmer an unmissable stop on your India journey--no matter where you decide to stay.
Just don't make the mistake of giving Jaisalmer only one night. If you do, you'll miss the men in multicolored turbans peeping through the yellow sand, women in colorful saris herding sheep, brothers singing traditional songs on top of moving cars, peacocks plucking for seeds while snakes slink into the desert, and the moon setting as you sip a glass of wine in the dunes.
Suryagarh graciously hosted our time in Jaisalmer, but what they provided was above and beyond what we expected. We weren't guests; we were family. At first I was skeptical--were they doing this just for us? But after sneaking conversations with other guests, I became convinced that this is just how staying here was. It's an experience, one you can't afford to miss.
Think this is all beyond the realm of possible? Think again. When we checked the rack rates at the hotel, they started at around US$100 per night! Three day packages for two start at around US$350 and include several of the activities that we were fortunate enough to experience.
Jaisalmer is accessible by train and bus from most parts of Rajasthan.
Since we were short on time, we booked a private car for our ride to Udaipur. If you're short on cash, the AC bus leaves at 7pm, costs 700INR, and takes 12 hours to reach the "white" city.
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